1898 VFL Grand final


5.8 (38) 3.5 (23)
1 2 3 4
FIT 2.5 (17) 4.5 (29) 5.6 (36) 5.8 (38)
ESS 1.0 (6) 3.1 (19) 3.2 (20) 3.5 (23)
Date24 September 1898
StadiumJunction Oval
Australian Football
Hall of Fame
1. Albert Thurgood (1996)
VFL Grand Final 1899 →

The 1898 VFL Grand Final was an Australian rules football game contested between the Essendon Football Club and Fitzroy Football Club, held in Melbourne on 24 September 1898. The match was played to determine the premiers for the 1898 VFL season. Fitzroy won the match by 15 points. The game was played under atrocious ground conditions in front of 16,538 people at the Junction Oval.

The match is recognised as the first VFL grand final, although the term "grand final" was not in wide use until 1931. It was the first time that Victorian Football League premiership was decided in a final match, as the 1897 premiership was won under a different finals system by Essendon when they finished above three other clubs on the finals series ladder.

Both Fitzroy back pocket Stan Reid and the Essendon full-forward Charlie Moore later died in South Africa in active service during the Anglo-Boer War—Moore on 5 May 1901, and Reid on 23 June 1901.[1]


During the 1898 home-and-away season, all teams played each other twice. The final end-of season ladder was as follows:

(P) Premiers
Section A
Section B
# Team P W L D PF PA % Pts
1 Essendon 14 11 3 0 756 374 202.1 44
2 Collingwood 14 10 4 0 657 363 181.0 40
3 Fitzroy (P) 14 10 4 0 568 467 121.6 40
4 Geelong 14 9 5 0 645 425 151.8 36
5 South Melbourne 14 7 7 0 482 538 89.6 28
6 Melbourne 14 5 8 1 529 545 97.1 22
7 Carlton 14 3 10 1 382 634 60.3 14
8 St Kilda 14 0 14 0 339 1012 33.5 0

Rules for classification: 1. premiership points; 2. percentage; 3. points for
Average score: 38.9
Source: AFL Tables

Qualified for finals
# Team P W L D PF PA % Pts
1 Fitzroy 3 3 0 0 182 56 325.0 12
2 Essendon 3 2 1 0 132 77 171.4 8
3 South Melbourne 3 1 2 0 104 110 94.5 4
4 Carlton 3 0 3 0 37 212 17.5 0

Rules for classification: 1. premiership points; 2. percentage; 3. points for
Source: AFL Tables

Qualified for finals
# Team P W L D PF PA % Pts
1 Collingwood 3 3 0 0 203 98 207.1 12
2 Geelong 3 2 1 0 210 88 238.6 8
3 Melbourne 3 1 2 0 95 150 63.3 4
4 St Kilda 3 0 3 0 71 243 29.2 0

Rules for classification: 1. premiership points; 2. percentage; 3. points for
Source: AFL Tables


According to the 1898 premiership system, the eight teams in the VFL competition were divided into two sections based on their positions on the ladder: the first group were the teams that finished first, third, fifth and seventh and the second group were the teams that finished second, fourth, sixth and eighth.

The teams in the two sections played three rounds of four round-robin matches on three consecutive Saturdays:

The winners of the two sections were Fitzroy and Collingwood, respectively (for results of all of the round-robin matches);[3] and, a week later (17 September 1898), the two teams played each other at Brunswick Street Oval,[4] with Fitzroy winning the match 2.10 (22) to 1.5 (11).[5][6][7]

"Grand final"

The 1898 rules stipulated that, if the team at the top of the ladder at the end of the home-and-away season (the "minor premiers") had not won the "sectional final" match between the two sectional winners, the "minor premier" had the right to "challenge" the winner and, having done so, the winner of that grand finale match was declared the season's premiership team.

Venue selection

The VFL had not anticipated a challenge final in the match fixtures before the home-and-away season began, nor had it made any sort of a tentative venue booking to provide for such a possible eventuality—this was a significant omission given that each of the grounds were to be top-dressed and otherwise "cultivated" in preparation for the oncoming cricket season immediately after the scheduled football season was over.

Although Essendon and Fitzroy could not agree on the choice of a single venue, they suggested three mutually acceptable venues for the match:[8]

The Junction Oval, venue for the match

After the VFL referred the decision to the VFL's Match Arrangement Committee,[8] they, upon the express instructions of that committee, rejected the suggestions of the two teams outright and the match was controversially scheduled to be played at the Junction Oval.[9]

The Junction Oval was in an appalling condition,[8] as the ground had not been used since the second Saturday of the sectional round-robin match three weeks earlier (3 September); and, since then, it had been thoroughly top-dressed and "cultivated" in anticipation of the coming cricket season.[8] Also, the cricket ground's asphalt cycling track that lay between the boundary line and the fence presented a considerable danger to the footballers.[8]

Despite being the "challenger", Essendon flatly refused to play in the scheduled match,[10] declaring that it would rather forfeit the match and the premiership than play on such a dangerous surface.[8] This view was also strongly supported by Fitzroy, whose captain, Alec Sloan, had also taken the step of signing a statutory declaration to the effect that, in his opinion, the ground was entirely unfit to play on.[11]

Essendon immediately lodged an appeal with the VFL against the match arrangement committee's decision, partly on the basis of the condition of the ground and partly because the committee, asked to decide on one of three mutually acceptable venues, had chosen a fourth that was acceptable to neither participant.[8]

The VFL, perhaps somewhat driven by the fact that the attraction of a finals system was one of the major reasons that the eight teams had left the VFA and formed the VFL in the first place, had a special meeting to hear Essendon's appeal. While it chose to endorse the committee's decision, it also did everything it could to convince Essendon to play the match.[8]

Essendon did not actually agree to play the match until the night before the game;[8] ultimately, this "in-doubt-until-the-last-minute match" was still attended by 16,538 paying spectators; it certainly would have been a much larger crowd otherwise.

The ground had been in such a dreadful condition that, in the week prior to the match, over 40 dray-loads of rubbish, soil and street-sweepings had been taken from the ground.[8] All of this last-minute work greatly improved the playing surface at the ground, with sportswriters noting that while the ground was imperfect, it was nevertheless fit for use. Dry, windy weather and patches of ground where the topsoil had not bound meant that players often fell on the grassless slippery ground for want of some sort of grip,[12] and play was often impeded by clouds of dust.[8][13]

To prevent any repeat of the events leading up to the 1898 challenge final, the VFL agreed that from 1899 they would schedule for a possible challenge final in advance.


In 1898, all VFL teams had 20 on-the-field players and no "reserves". Although there were no reserves, any player who had left the playing field for any reason at all could resume his place on the field at any time. Fitzroy selected a set of brothers in its team: Jim and Mick Grace (see TALK page).

The Fitzroy[14][15] and the Essendon teams[16][17] were as follows:

B: Stan Reid Johnny Power Jerry Nolan
HB: Alec Sloan (c) Pat Hickey Jack Dalton
C: Eddie Drohan Harry Clarke Kelly Robinson
HF: Chris Kiernan Bert Sharpe Bill Dalton
F: Fred Fontaine Jim Grace Alf McDougall
Foll: Mick Grace Bill McSpeerin Bill Potter
  Pat Descrimes Paddy Noonan  
Coach: None
B: Ted Kinnear Ned Officer Hugh Gavin
HB: George Stuckey (c) Jim Anderson George Vautin
C: Joe Groves Harry Wright Alf Gray
HF: Tod Collins Colin Campbell George Hastings
F: Conrad ten Brink Charlie Moore Gus Kearney
Foll: Charlie Forbes Arthur Cleghorn Pat O'Loughlin
  Bill Jackson Son Barry  
Coach: None


Fitzroy, winning team.[18]

Essendon had beaten Fitzroy in their round 1 and round 8 matches by 53 and 43 points, respectively. Fitzroy had beaten Essendon by 29 points in the third match of their round-robin Sectional matches.[19]

Both teams had great difficulty playing football in the appalling ground conditions—as evidenced by the low scores—and the tough, bustling Fitzroy team handled the conditions far better than the Essendon team that had hoped to spread the game out as far as possible.[12] Fitzroy took the lead in the first few minutes of the match, and Essendon were never able to catch up.[20]

Essendon were further demoralized when Fitzroy champion forward and follower Mick Grace, renowned for his marking skill and kicking prowess, flew high over a pack to take a spectacular high mark and kicked a long-range goal.[12]

In a very tight, defensive second half, as the playing conditions deteriorated even further, only one goal was scored.[12] Fitzroy went on to beat Essendon 5.8 (38) to 3.5 (23).[21]


Grand Final
Saturday, 24 September (2:50 pm) Fitzroy def. Essendon Junction Oval (crowd: 16,538) Report
2.5 (17)
4.5 (29)
5.6 (36)
 5.8 (38)
1.0 (6)
3.1 (19)
3.2 (20)
 3.5 (23)
Umpires: Crapp
J. Grace 2, M. Grace, McDougall, McSpeerin Goals Collins 2, Moore
M. Grace, Reid, Drohan, Hickey, Potter, Sloan, Descrimes, McSpeerin, J. Grace Best Forbes, Stuckey, Jackson, Cleghorn, Hastings, Gavin, Officer, Kearney
  • Fitzroy won the first VFL Grand Final (there was no "grand final" in 1897), and its first premiership, by 15 points against minor premiers Essendon.
  • Fitzroy led by 10 points at half-time before keeping Essendon to one goal in the second half.

See also

References and footnotes

  1. ^ Main, & Allen, "Moore, Charles", and "Reid, Stanley", pp. 3–10 in Main & Allen, (2002).
  2. ^ "The Major Premiership", The Argus, 22 August 1898, p. 7.
  3. ^ "1898 Rounds". stats league.com. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  4. ^ The match's venue had been decided by lot (Ross, (1996), p.42.)
  5. ^ "Football: The Semi-Final Match", The Argus, 17 September 1898, p. 14.
  6. ^ "Observer: The Football Premiership", The Argus, 19 September 1898, p. 6.
  7. ^ "Semi-Final – AFL Tables". stats league.com. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Maplestone, (1996), p.53.
  9. ^ One of the VFL's Match Arrangement Committee was also a member of the St Kilda Football Club (Maplestone, (1996, p. 53), who played their home matches at the venue.
  10. ^ "The Football Premiership: An Important Development: The St. Kilda Ground Dispute: Essendon Abandons the Match", The Age, 23 September 1898, p. 6.
  11. ^ "The Football Premiership: A Disagreement", The Argus, 23 September 1898, p.6.
  12. ^ a b c d Ross, (1966), p.42.
  13. ^ Markwell (1 October 1898). "Football Notes". The Australasian. Melbourne, VIC. p. 751.
  14. ^ ""1898" (Brisbane Lions Website, 1 May 2006)". Archived from the original on 30 December 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  15. ^ AFL Player Statistics (Round by Round): Fitzroy Football Club 1898 Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ AFL Player Statistics (Round by Round): Essendon Football Club 1898 Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Maplestone, (1996), p.54.
  18. ^ Stan Reid is at the far right of the group.
  19. ^ "Sectional Round 3 – AFL Tables". stats league.com. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  20. ^ Maplestone (1966), p. 53-54.
  21. ^ John Harms (August 2011). Grand Finals Volume 1: 1897-1938. Slattery Media Group. p. 29. ISBN 9781921778322.