Lightning football is a shortened variation of Australian rules football, often played at half of the duration of a full match.

Lightning football is typically used as a means to accommodate a small tournament inside a single day or weekend, particularly at junior or amateur level; these tournaments are generally known as lightning premierships or lightning carnivals. At the top level of Australian rules football, lightning matches have most recently been staged as part of the Australian Football League pre-season competition.

Lightning football is distinct from AFLX, a different shortened variation of Australian rules football. Lightning football is not significantly different from standard Australian rules football other than the length of its games, while AFLX is a heavily modified variant played with on a smaller field with fewer players.


The use of the word lightning, as a synonym for "fast", to describe an Australian rules football tournament appears to have originated with the first lightning carnival staged by the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) in 1940.[1] The term may have been adopted from its use in chess, which had used the word lightning in the same context for many years: "lightning chess" tournaments were seen in Australia from as early as 1909, and were played under modified rules in which players were allowed at most ten seconds to make each move, allowing an entire tournament to be completed in just a few hours.[2]

In a preview of the 1940 SANFL Lightning Carnival, the Advertiser journalist Jim Handby discussed the suitability of the name; while he surmised that the choice of name was primarily due to the short time over which the premiership was decided, he speculated that the shortened matches could lead to a particularly high-paced style of gameplay.[1]

The term "lightning premiership/carnival" has generally entered the Australian vernacular for a condensed carnival of shortened matches in any game or sport. The term was, for example, attributed to a 1945 South Australian seven-a-side rugby union tournament, long before the sport of rugby sevens was formally codified.[3]


Unlike other abbreviated sports, such as Twenty20 cricket, rugby sevens or Australian rules football's AFLX, lightning football is not a strictly codified sport in its own right. In many cases, the length of the game is the only difference in the rules between the full and lightning versions of the game; in other cases, some rules are modified for lightning matches.

Most commonly, lightning matches are played at half of the length of a regulation game. In the most recent lightning matches in the Australian Football League (AFL) pre-season competition, lightning matches are played over two halves, each lasting 20 minutes with time on, compared with the normal match length of four quarters each lasting 20 minutes with time-on.[4] However, this varies from tournament to tournament, and the length is often simply adjusted based on the number of games required to be played and the time available to play them in.

In more recent incarnations of lightning football organised by the AFL, several experimental rules, many designed to speed up the game, have been trialled. The most notable variation was the introduction of a free kick paid against the last player to touch the ball before it goes out of bounds (except from a spoil or smother), rather than restarting play with a boundary throw-in; this rule was used in the AFL's 1996 and 2011 lightning matches,[5] and as revised in 2012 to penalise a player only if the last touch was a kick, handpass, or crossing the line while in possession of the ball.[6]


Early history

The concept of holding a one-day tournament of shortened Australian rules football matches dates as early as the 19th century. During a weekend's break in the 1896 VFA premiership season, a Charity Cup event was held in which four clubs – Essendon, Collingwood, South Melbourne and Port Melbourne – contested a knock-out tournament of shortened matches; as is the case in modern lightning premierships, new rules were trialled during the event.[7]

World War II

Lightning premierships saw an increase in frequency around World War II, when many such events were staged as wartime fundraisers. The first occurred during 1940, the first football season following the outbreak of World War II. On 13 July 1940, the SANFL staged its "Lightning Football Carnival" at the Adelaide Oval, attracting a crowd of almost 17,500 people, with Sturt victorious; the carnival was an eight-team knock-out tournament, with each match played over two periods of 14 minutes each.[8] The Victorian Football League then staged its version, known as the "Patriotic Premiership", on 3 August 1940, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, attracting more than 30,000 people, and won by St Kilda; this was a twelve-team knock-out tournament, with each match lasting a single period of 20 minutes.[9] Both tournaments were considered great successes, and both leagues held further wartime Lightning Premierships in 1941 and 1943.

In addition to the sport's two biggest leagues, the Tasmanian Australian National Football League (TANFL) held two wartime Lightning Premierships, both in 1941,[10] and many smaller leagues also held events. Most notably, the Broken Hill Football League, staged a "Patriotic Premiership" on 6 July 1940, one week before the inaugural SANFL event, which consisted of a four-team knock-out tournament, with matches played at just under half-length (two periods of twenty minutes without time-on).[11]

Post World War II

In the ten years following World War II, most of the major Australian rules football leagues sporadically held lightning premierships. Although there was no longer a war to fund, the events were still held as charity fundraisers. The SANFL was the most active proponent of lightning football, staging four post-war carnivals between 1946 and 1950;[12] the VFL staged lightning premierships on public holidays in 1951 (Jubilee Day), 1952 (Empire Day) and 1953 (Coronation Day); and post-war lightning premierships were also staged by the Victorian Football Association (1946),[13] the North Western Football Union (1951)[14] and the TANFL (1953).[15]

Since the 1950s, lightning football has been seen only occasionally at the top levels of the sport. Specific events have included:

Lightning football at lower levels

Among the more notable senior lightning football events around Australia are:

Annual lightning carnivals have become common in many junior leagues and school competitions. This is not limited to Australian rules football, with many other sports contested under a lightning premiership format.

Top level lightning premiership winners

This table lists winners of stand-alone lightning premiership series played in the major Australian state leagues.

Year League Winner
1896 VFA Essendon[21]
1940 SANFL Sturt[22]
VFL St Kilda
1941 SANFL South Adelaide[22]
TANFL Cananore (July)
North Hobart (September)
VFL Collingwood
1943 SANFL West Adelaide/Glenelg[22]
Combined World War II team
VFL Essendon
1946 SANFL Sturt[23]
VFA Williamstown[13]
1947 SANFL Sturt[23]
1948 SANFL Port Adelaide[24]
1950 SANFL Sturt[23]
1951 NWFU Ulverstone[14]
VFL Collingwood
1952 VFL Melbourne
1953 TANFL New Norfolk
VFL Richmond
1971 Rothmans Cup Hawthorn
1972 VFA Coburg[25]
1973 VFA Geelong West[26]
1974 VFA Preston[27]
1975 VFA Prahran[28]
1976 VFA Coburg[29]
1977 VFA Caulfield[30]
1978 VFA Werribee[31]
1979 VFA Sandringham[32]
1996 AFL Essendon


  1. ^ a b Handby, Jim (12 July 1940). "Prospects in Lightning Premiership". The Advertiser. Adelaide, SA. p. 14.
  2. ^ "Chess and Draughts: gathering of players an interesting function". The West Australian. Perth, WA. 15 July 1909. p. 9.
  3. ^ Half, Scrum (10 August 1945). "Seven-a-side Rugby Lightning Premiership Tomorrow". The Advertiser. Adelaide, SA. p. 11.
  4. ^ "NAB Cup Fixture Released". Port Adelaide Football Club. 26 October 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  5. ^ "NAB Cup 2011 new rule trials". World Footy News. 14 December 2010. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  6. ^ "New rules for NAB Cup". Australian Football League. 24 November 2011. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  7. ^ "Football". The Argus. Melbourne. 2 June 1896. p. 3.
  8. ^ Rover (15 July 1940). "Lightning Football Carnival raises more than £1000 for patriotic and charitable funds". The Advertiser. Adelaide, SA. p. 7.
  9. ^ Taylor, Percy (2 August 1940). "Unique competition". The Argus. Melbourne. p. 14.
  10. ^ "Second Lightning Premiership in South". Examiner. Launceston, TAS. 8 September 1941. p. 7.
  11. ^ "Carnival success at Western Oval". The Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW. 6 July 1940. p. 1.
  12. ^ "Lightning Premiership". Williamstown Chronicle. Williamstown, VIC. p. 3.
  13. ^ a b "Williamstown win lightning premiership". Williamstown Chronicle. Williamstown, VIC. 5 July 1946. p. 2.
  14. ^ a b "Lightning Premiership Won By Ulverstone". The Mercury. Hobart, TAS. 2 July 1951. p. 15.
  15. ^ "Lightning N.T.F.A. Premiership". Examiner. Launceston, TAS. 17 March 1953. p. 15.
  16. ^ Devaney, John. "1971 Rothmans Channel 7 Cup". Fullpointsfooty. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  17. ^ "History of the VFL 1877 - 2009". Sportingpulse. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  18. ^ "Australian Football International Cups". World Footy News. 16 September 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  19. ^ Edmund, Sam (30 April 2011). "Red heart's stronger pulse". Herald Sun. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  20. ^ O'Meara, Patrick (1 March 2011). "Riddell forced to take on favourites". Sunbury Leader. Archived from the original on 23 April 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  21. ^ Observer (8 June 1896). "Football – The charity matches". The Argus. Melbourne. p. 6.
  22. ^ a b c "Lightning Premiership Carnival". The Advertiser. Adelaide, SA. 7 June 1946. p. 5.
  23. ^ a b c Kneebone, Harry (26 June 1950). "Sturt wins Fourth Lightning Premiership". The Advertiser. Adelaide, SA. p. 6.
  24. ^ Kneebone, Harry (7 June 1948). "Port Adelaide Win in Lightning Carnival". The Advertiser. Adelaide, SA. p. 4.
  25. ^ Geoffrey Fithall (25 September 1972). "'Big Bob' retires as player". The Age. Melbourne.
  26. ^ John Holland (24 September 1973). "Prahran by 35 points". The Age. Melbourne. p. 22.
  27. ^ Tom Jacob (23 September 1974). "Vintage Port – here's cheers". The Age. Melbourne. p. 21.
  28. ^ Ken Piesse (22 September 1975). "Roosters unruffled". The Age. Melbourne. p. 27.
  29. ^ Marc Fiddian (20 September 1976). "Cook all heart in Port win". The Age. Melbourne. p. 31.
  30. ^ Marc Fiddian (26 September 1977). "Port's cup full". The Age. Melbourne. p. 31.
  31. ^ Marc Fiddian (25 September 1978). "Prahran steps on the Bullants". The Age. Melbourne. p. 27.
  32. ^ Marc Fiddian (24 September 1979). "At last the Lions roar". The Age. Melbourne. p. 29.