Girish Mahajan

Australian rules football in Queensland

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Governing body  AFL Queensland
First played  June 1866, Brisbane
Representative team  Queensland
Registered players  180,132 (total)
Australian rules football in Queensland
Single match  37,224 (2005). AFL Brisbane Lions vs Collingwood (Gabba, Brisbane)

Australian rules football in Queensland has a history which dates back to the mid-1860s. By the early 1880s it was the most prominent football code in the state, but was progressively overtaken by the Rugby code, resulting in the local game disbanding in the early 1890s. The sport was revived in the early 1900s and continued to be played throughout the twentieth century, despite the majority of the state being considered for much of the century to be well behind the Barassi Line (the notional line dividing Australia into Australian rules and Rugby 'territories').


Australian rules football's continued surge in popularity in south east Queensland is most likely due to the continued success of the Brisbane Lions in the national Australian Football League (AFL) competition, combined with the AFL's financial support for the local game. That support saw the introduction of a second AFL club in Queensland, the Gold Coast Suns in 2011.

In Queensland, the sport is typically referred to as "AFL", or less frequently "Australian Football", "Aussie Rules" or "Australian Rules".

Early Beginnings in South East Queensland

The earliest known record of Australian rules football commencing in Queensland was in May 1866, when the Brisbane Football Club was formed, with the aim of keeping cricketers fit in the winter months. The club played its first match on Saturday 9 June 1866 at Queen's Park (now part of the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens). By 1870 four more clubs had been created: Volunteer Artillery, Brisbane Grammar School, Civil Service and Ipswich, all adopting Victorian Rules over rugby football.

The original Brisbane Football Club disbanded in the late 1880s and has no direct relationship to the modern Brisbane Bears or Lions clubs.

The first schoolboys match was between Brisbane Grammar played matches against Ipswich Grammar in 1870 – the outcome was a draw. Early games in Queensland were exceptionally long – one match between IGS and Brisbane Grammar in 1876 commenced at 10.30am and ended at 2.30pm, at which time IGS had scored 6 goals to Brisbane Grammar's nil.

During this era, no local governing body for the game was established. All rules and decisions about the rules and competitions were still made from Melbourne and was known in Queensland as "Victorian Rules".

However Victorian rules was growing rapidly and was the most popular football code in Queensland by 1880. Queensland sent delegates to the Intercolonial Football Conference in 1883.

By the early 1880s, there may have been as many as 300 players in the Brisbane and Ipswich region, as contemporaneous newspaper records show that there were at least six active clubs (Brisbane, Excelsiors, Grammars, Wallaroos, Rovers and Athenians (Ipswich)), each of which had at least two teams ('senior' and 'junior' 20s). Matches were played at the Albert Ground, Kedron Park, Grammar School and Ipswich, with occasional matches at Queen's Park.

In 1887, one of the most significant events in the history of the code occurred at this time. Independent Schools headmasters voted by 1 vote to adopt rugby football. The decision was influenced by the recent creation of a Queensland-based governing body to govern rugby, and the majority of councillors objected on the basis that the reference of "Victorian" in the name of the sport did not represent the interests of Queenslanders. This dealt a significant blow to the sport and advantage to rugby union.

Despite the advances made by Queensland football, it was clear that Victoria was progressing faster than any other state. On 21 June 1890, South Melbourne Football Club toured, playing against Queensland on Albion Park. The result of the match was a complete 6-17 to 1-0 humiliation (behinds were recorded in the scores at the time but did not actually count until 1897). The humiliation was obviously felt by the players as when Queensland defeated a New South Wales Rugby Union team shortly afterwards many of the former rugby players receded from the Australian football ranks and formed clubs of their own. Over the next few years, rugby union's popularity in South East Queensland would swamp Victorian Rules.


Information is scant on the following years as many of the competitions were disbanded, the state's top level competition went into indefinite recess.


The game was revived when the Queensland Football League (QFL) was formed in July 1903. The first premiership was held in 1904 with most games being played at Queen's Park, a sporting facility within the grounds of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

From 1905 to 1914 games were regularly played at the Brisbane Cricket Ground.

In 1908, Queensland again sent delegates to the Australasian Football Council, this time, fielding a side in the Jubilee Australian Football Carnival which saw all Australian states as well as New Zealand compete.

In 1914 a carnival to promote the code was held in Brisbane. The participating teams were Collingwood, Perth, South Adelaide and Cananore.

Between 1915 and 1919 the competition went into recess owing to World War I. Since the inception of the QFL, more than fifty teams have played in the premiership competition.

In August 1927 at a meeting of the Australian National Football Council it was decided that each of the state leagues were to include the words 'Australian National' in their names. Accordingly, the QFL was renamed the Queensland Australian National Football League (QANFL) and football continued a steady growth in Brisbane.

1940s and 60s — The Game Expands outside South East Queensland

AFL was introduced to Far North Queensland during both World Wars. In 1913, a team of servicemen briefly existed on Thursday Island. In 1944, a league of servicemen was formed around the Atherton Tableland. Teams represented included Wongabel, Wondelca, Kairi, Mareeba and Ravenshoe.

In 1952, the Brisbane Exhibition Ground hosted a VFL match between Essendon and Geelong and was the first official VFL match to be played under floodlights.

In 1955 a league was introduced to Townsville. In 1957 land was purchased in Cairns for the first dedicated field and competition began there. A league was also introduced to Mount Isa later.

Another VFL exhibition game was played at the Brisbane Cricket Ground in 1959, attracting a large crowd.

In 1964 the QANFL became the Queensland Australian Football League (QAFL), a limited liability company.

In the early 1970s, the first leagues appeared in Mackay, the Darling Downs, Rockhampton and Bundaberg.

1980s and The Brisbane Bears

Born and bred Queenslander Jason Dunstall debuted for the Hawthorn Football Club in 1985 and quickly became one of the greatest players in the game, despite remaining almost unknown in his home state. He briefly represented a Queensland State of Origin team which played in a low key game against New South Wales in Sydney.

In 1986 it was announced that teams from Brisbane (Brisbane Bears) and Perth (West Coast Eagles) would compete in the Victorian Football League (VFL) from 1987. Much of the Bears team were South Australian players from the South Australian National Football League and Victorians from the Victorian Football League. Although the team was known as Brisbane, home games were played at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast, nearly 100 km from Brisbane.

The Bears were hugely unsuccessful on the field, and with the admission of the successful Brisbane Broncos rugby league team into the New South Wales Rugby League, the popularity of Australian rules football plummeted, while the successful Broncos, made up primarily of local talent, thrived. The NSWRL had resisted the move for a team in Queensland for years but created the Broncos and the Gold Coast-Tweed Giants the very next season.

The admission of the Bears had a deleterious effect on the QAFL which weakened over the following years.

During this era, few local players, besides Jason Dunstall, were produced with the exception of Gavin Crosisca and Marcus Ashcroft who were successful at VFL level.

Demographic trends saw Victorian and South Australians (states where the code is extremely popular) migrating interstate in large numbers to Queensland. Support for Australian rules football grew, despite a lack of success from the Bears and support from fans.

1992 saw the debut for the Brisbane Bears of the most significant locally produced young talent to emerge from the state — Michael Voss. Although born in country Victoria, Voss spent most of his childhood in Queensland and represented the state at junior level where he shone, before going on to captaining the Brisbane Lions and becoming one of the all-time greats of the game. Voss was followed by a small number of players from Queensland to find their way into the newly named Australian Football League (AFL).

In 1993, the Brisbane Bears moved from the Gold Coast, to the Brisbane Cricket Ground in the inner-Brisbane suburb of Woolloongabba. Interest, crowds and membership in the team increased considerably. Games between the Bears and popular Victorian sides Collingwood, Essendon and Hawthorn drew particular interest.

In 1995, the Bears made the AFL finals for the first time.

In 1996, six sell-out games at the Gabba caused the State Government to consider funding re-development of the ground, something that would be done several times over the following years to transform the small stadium into a world class venue.

After the 1996 season, the QAFL, having weakened significantly with the introduction of the Bears, finally went into receivership. A new governing body, the Queensland Australian Football Council, was formed in 1997, alongside a new premiership competition, Queensland State Football League (QSFL).

Boom Times — Brisbane Lions Era

The Brisbane Lions began in 1996, when the AFL approved a merger between the Brisbane Bears and the formerly Melbourne based Fitzroy Football Club and on-field success increased substantially with the injection of Fitzroy players, further boosting the popularity of the code.

In a breakthrough for Australian Football in late 1990s, GPS schools in South East Queensland began playing Australian Rules for the first time since the turn of the century. Previously to this, South East Queensland private schools had been a staunchly rugby union stronghold and many schools did not allow Australian Football to be played as it would compete with rugby for players. The Jason Dunstall Cup (named after champion Queensland product Jason Dunstall) was later begun, with independent schools such as BBC, ACGS and Nudgee College, represented with teams in the first division of the Queensland Independent Schools Australian Football League (QISAFL). However interest soon waned and the trophy holds very little interest to the schools.

Also in the 1990s, the Cairns league experienced enormous growth financially on the back of gaming, with the Cazaly's social club quickly becoming the largest sporting club north of Brisbane. The Cazaly's Stadium received lights to play popular night football games and the western stand from the Gabba was transplanted to Cazaly's Stadium, enabling it to host AFL matches.

In 1999, the QSFL also went into voluntary liquidation, being replaced by a new organisation, AFL Queensland (AFLQ) in 2000. The new premiership competition was called the AFLQ State League. That year, Nick Riewoldt became the first Queensland produced player to be taken as number 1 pick in the AFL Draft, recognised as the best junior talent in the nation.

In 2001, a Women's Footy competition began in earnest.

Three successive premierships for the Brisbane Lions in 2001, 2002 and 2003 saw crowds to Australian Football League matches in Brisbane to grow to an average of over 30,000, and in terms of attendance and membership, the AFL team in 2003 was the most popular team of any football code in the state. However, despite increasing television ratings and media exposure, Australian rules football remains overall less popular than rugby league and rugby union in the state.

During the Lions premiership years, junior Aussie Rules numbers exploded in South East Queensland, and grew solidly right across the state.

Recent History

From 2005, the growing local State League expanded to two divisions.

A record number of 13 Queenslanders were invited to attend the 2006 AFL Draft camp, representing 18% of the 72 camp invitees.

Although state league crowds have dwindled with the increase in support for the Brisbane Lions AFL team, a healthy crowd of 3,257 saw the Southport Sharks defeat Morningside in the 2005 AFLQ Grand Final at the Gabba, while a crowd of over 3,000 saw the Southport Sharks win back-to-back premierships in 2006 at Carrara.

In 2006, support for the Brisbane Lions waned substantially due to two successive seasons out of the finals. From 2005 to 2006 total memberships decreased from 30,027 to 26,429 and the average home crowd fell from 33,101 to 28,305.

The impact of the Brisbane Lions fall from grace was felt at grassroots level by the sport in Brisbane. From 2006, the much celebrated Jason Dunstall Cup was no longer contested by its former powerhouse schools - ACGS or BBC. Most other major private schools ceased playing the sport at the top level. Despite the decline of school competitions, local junior club numbers continued to grow.

Nevertheless, Queensland performed extremely well in the 2006 AFL Draft with a record 11 recruits, including 8 of the first 32 picks. Surprisingly, the majority of the movement was in the regional areas, with some picks from previously undrafted regional areas such as Townsville, Toowoomba and Mackay providing AFL talent.

AFL on the Gold Coast

The Gold Coast, where a hole had been left once the Brisbane Bears moved away, had grown to become the 6th biggest urban area with nearly half a million people, many of which had migrated from states where Australian Rules is popular. In recent years, several bids were made for a new AFL franchise by the powerhouse Southport Sharks Australian Football Club, including attempts to lure a Melbourne-based club in 2004. Many of these attempts were knocked back due to the city's many failed sporting franchises. However demographic trends suggested a growing demand for Australian rules football and in 2005 a pre-season practice match between the Brisbane Lions and Essendon drew a healthy audience of 16,591. Following the match, the Australian Football League stepped up efforts to expand into the Gold Coast market. A series of pre-season games and a home and away match was scheduled at Carrara for 2006. In response, the rival NRL competition admitted a Gold Coast Titans franchise. Despite an average crowd of around 10,000 (comparatively low by AFL standards), the AFL officially announced a strategy to include a Gold Coast side in the next 5 years. A bitter turf war with the National Rugby League resulted over the use of Carrara stadium. In the same year, AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou was quoted to declare that the league would compete directly with the NRL for marketshare in Queensland.

In July 2006, with the backing of the local government and the AFL, the Kangaroos did a deal which saw them move their home games scheduled at Manuka Oval in Canberra to play a number of home games at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast in 2007. The AFL began a heavily subsidised grassroots participation program and pushed for the number of AFL games, including pre-season matches to steadily increase to ready the region for its own side. Relocation of the Kangaroos was seen by many to be the safest option for the AFL, and an existing Queensland Government deal prevented use of the Brisbane Cricket Ground for a second Queensland side until 2010. The AFL's plans were further complicated by growing competition in the market. The entry of several licences from other sports into the market as well as the proposed expansion of A-League put additional pressure on the league to fast-track the relocation of the Kangaroos.

In December 2007, after two years of resisting the AFL's push for their relocation, the Kangaroos finally officially rejected the AFL's $100 million proposal. This was despite threats from the league to pull financial assistance from the club and cancel the Gold Coast home game agreement if they don't move. The failure of the AFL to secure a stadium deal for Carrara with the Queensland Government was seen as one of the deciding factors. A consortium was selected by the AFL in early 2008 and the GC17 set out to make an official bid for the licence with criteria defined by the league. The Queensland government finally committed to funding for a stadium in early 2009 after which the AFL was granted a provisional licence pending further federal government funding. In 2010 The Gold Coast Suns were created and entered a team in the NEAFL. In 2011 they made their debut playing in the AFL and vindicated the investment in creating the new AFL side by outdrawing the rival codes.

The Gold Coast Suns

The Gold Coast Suns took to the AFL field in 2011 and when they were joined by a second new AFL team, The Greater Western Sydney Giants the extra game created per round led to a huge increase in television and media rights over the previous deal. This huge increase in revenue is seen as repaying the initial investment costs of the two new teams.

The 2015 AFL season is the Gold Coast Football Club's third season in the Australian Football League (AFL). The Gold Coast Football Club's reserves team also competed in the NEAFL. The club will again be captained by Gary Ablett, Jr. and will be coached by Rodney Eade.


In 2007, there were around 3,300 senior players in Queensland, and in 2009 there were a total of 103,358 participants. Although the overall participation per capita is around 2%, the sport is growing faster in Queensland than any other Australian state.

Attendance Record

  • 37,224 (2005). AFL Brisbane Lions vs Collingwood (Gabba, Brisbane)
  • Major Australian Rules Events in Queensland

  • Australian Football League Premiership Season (Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns home games)
  • Queensland Australian Football League Grand Final
  • Great Queensland players

    Over the years, Queensland has produced an array of talent for elite leagues such as the Australian Football League, such as Jason Dunstall, Marcus Ashcroft, Gavin Crosisca, Scott McIvor, Danny Dickfos, Che Cockatoo-Collins, Steven Lawrence, Clark Keating, Trent Knobel, Clint Bizzell, Brett Backwell, Brett Voss, Michael Voss, Mal Michael and Robert Copeland.

    Notable Queensland players in the VFL/AFL


    Australian rules football in Queensland Wikipedia

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