Supriya Ghosh

Australian rules football in Western Australia

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Representative team  Western Australia
First played  1881, Fremantle
Australian rules football in Western Australia
Governing body  West Australian Football Commission
Registered players  100,009 (total) 12,050(adult)
Single match  52,781 (1979). WAFL Grand Final. East Fremantle v South Fremantle. (Subiaco Oval, Perth)

Australian rules football in Western Australia is the most popular sport in the state.


Early Beginnings

Organised football in the Perth/Fremantle region of Western Australia dates back to 1881. Back then though rugby union was the dominant football code. Only one senior club, "Unions", played Australian Rules.

In 1883 a second club, "Swans", emerged, but Australian Rules' growth remained much subdued compared to that of Victoria and South Australia.

However, in those days many young men of Perth's wealthier families were educated in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.

On returning home from there they naturally wished to play the sport they'd grown up with and no doubt exerted some influence on their less affluent peers as to such. Coincidentally, the press at the time reported there was a growing dissatisfaction with rugby as a spectacle.

During the 1880s, the discoveries of gold, firstly in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Murchison regions, led to a dramatic increase in WA's population, including many players and supporters of Australian Rules from the eastern colonies.

In 1885 one of the leading rugby clubs, Fremantle, decided to change to Australian Rules. It was quickly joined by three other clubs - Rovers, Victorians, and a team of schoolboys from The High School. The schoolboy side lasted just two matches, but the three other sides went on to contest what in retrospect was viewed as the first ever official Western Australian Football Association (WAFA) premiership, won by Rovers. And virtually overnight Australian rules football became the dominant code for the spectator as well.

Progress of Australian Rules in Western Australia still lagged behind the big football cities of Melbourne, Adelaide and Geelong however and is evidenced by the unstable nature of the clubs that participated in the early years.

In 1886 a new club Fremantle based club Unions joined.

In 1887 Fremantle left the WAFA and the West Australian Football Club joined but they would only play two seasons before they disappeared.

In 1890 Unions would rename themselves Fremantle as those involved in the game saw the need to identify themselves with the region they were located in.

1891 Saw two new clubs arrive, Centrals and East Perth, but they would be gone after one and two seasons respectively.

1899 would be the last season Fremantle would take part. Despite Unions/Fremantle being the most dominant club in the WAFA up to this point winning the competition 10 times in its 13 years of existence, problems with debt saw the club disappear and some people involved with the old entity formed South Fremantle Football Club in its place. Despite the fact that many involved with Fremantle moved onto South Fremantle the new club is not seen as a continuation of the old and did not lay claim to its proud records to that date.

1899 was also the last time Rovers would take part. The move to regionalisation which saw Unions take on the old Fremantle's name and colours made it difficult for this club that didn't represent a particular area to attract players. They folded and were immediately replaced by Perth Football Club who were promoted from the Perth First Rate Association.

Major gold discoveries at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, coupled with a major international economic depression, caused immigration from the eastern colonies to accelerate. These migrants included a large number of footballers including some celebrated players, and the Goldfields competition (later known as the Goldfields Football League) was comparable in status and standard to the Perth competition for many years. (This was shown by the fact that it had a separate seat on the Australian National Football Council until 1919.) The higher standard of play that naturally followed, helped to increase the game's popularity and increased the professionalism of the WAFA.

By 1901, the WAFA had grown to have six teams. Up to this point, five sides at most had been in the competition, and this number had invariably changed from year to year, as clubs came and went. And by 1906 there were eight teams — being West Perth, East Perth, East Fremantle, South Fremantle, North Fremantle, Subiaco, Perth and Midland Junction.

In 1908 the WAFA was renamed the West Australian Football League (WAFL).

Unlike many other sporting competitions, the WAFL didn't go into recess during World War I, although two teams — North Fremantle and Midland Junction — were "casualties" of the war, competing for the last time in 1915 and 1917 respectively.

In 1921, the WAFL introduced the Sandover Medal, for the fairest and best player over a season, as voted by the field umpires. The medal has been awarded annually ever since.

Claremont entered the league in 1926, bringing the number of teams back to seven.

In 1932, the WAFL was renamed the Western Australian National Football League (WANFL) - the "national" concept in the name being adopted by the SANFL and a couple of other leagues a few years earlier.

Swan Districts entered the league in 1934. The eight competing sides still remain today and are generally referred to as the "traditional eight clubs".

Because of World War Two, the league only ran an "under age" competition between 1942-44. However, the three premierships won during this time are given equal status to any other, in official records. All clubs competed, with the exception of Swan Districts who could not form a team in 1942, although they were back in 1943.

The 1960s saw crowds get bigger and bigger, as WAFL football captured the hearts and minds of the WA public like never before, and in the 1970s and early 80s it was easily the biggest show in town.

However, during this period more and more star WAFL players were looking to head to the Victorian Football League (VFL), enticed by the bigger money and the fact that it was more and more gaining a reputation as the "big" league.

This is perhaps best evidenced in that Victoria (i.e. the VFL representative team) had by far the best record in interstate games for a long time. But in 1977, when the first proper State of Origin match was played, it saw Western Australia inflict its biggest defeat on a Victorian team.

In 1980, the WANFL dropped the "N" and the "ern" and reverted to being called the WAFL.

At this time crowds were as big as they ever were. Soon afterwards, however, interest in the WAFL began a slow decline, as it became increasingly obvious that even larger numbers of the WAFL's best players were going to head east.

Entering the National Competition

By 1987, the WAFL had decided that the future of the game in WA depended on it entering a team in the VFL. The West Coast Eagles were formed and entered the VFL (the VFL was renamed the AFL in 1990). With many of Western Australia's best players now competing in a team that represented Western Australia on a national scale, it was suddenly apparent that the WAFL was now a second-class competition.

In 1990 the state league was renamed the Western Australian State Football League, but it had reverted to WAFL by 1991.

In 1992, the West Coast Eagles made history by becoming the first interstate club to win an AFL premiership. The win resulted in a huge boost to the side's popularity, put pressure on Subiaco Oval to expand and ultimately led to demand for a second AFL licence for the state.

Another locally based AFL team, the Fremantle FC were formed in 1995.

The popularity of the AFL with 2 sides, particularly with the Western Derby, cemented the position of WAFL as a second-class competition. WAFL clubs have struggled ever since with their sudden demise from being technically equal to any VFL club, to feeder club status. However, they have enjoyed some benefits, such as the funds flowing from the WA-based AFL teams and the influx of talented players from other states, attempting to make a name for themselves.

In 1997, Peel Thunder — somewhat controversially — became the ninth WAFL club. Throughout their brief history, they have struggled to compete with the traditional eight clubs, which are generally opposed to their presence. This is partly because having an odd number of teams forces one team to have a bye each week.

Also in 1997, the WAFL was renamed Westar Rules, in a failed attempt to revamp the league's image. However the name again reverted to WAFL in 2001.

Recent years have seen the WAFL stabilise itself as a league a step down from the AFL. Obviously the sudden player drain brought on by the expansion of the VFL into the AFL has lessened the standard of play, however this has recovered somewhat, with "veteran" AFL players returning and new players coming through.

Recent History

Western Australia was the first state to trial the derivative social game of Rec Footy in 2003.

Involvement and attendance in Australian Rules reached record levels in Western Australia 2004. The total attendance, including AFL games was a record 1,030,000. The 2005 WAFL grand final between South Fremantle and Claremont attracted 22,570 to Subiaco Oval.

In 2006, the combined membership of Fremantle and West Coast AFL clubs was a record 79,804 members. [1]


In 2007, there were around 12,050 senior players in WA and a total participation of 91,009, with a participation rate of around 4% per capita, making it equal third most supported state (with Victoria and South Australia). [2]

Attendance Record

  • 52,781 (1979). WAFL Grand Final. East Fremantle v South Fremantle. (Subiaco Oval, Perth)
  • Major Australian Rules Events in Western Australia

  • Australian Football League Premiership Season (West Coast Eagles and Fremantle home games)
  • Western Derby
  • West Australian Football League Grand Final
  • Notable Western Australian footballers

    Graham 'Polly' Farmer was the first West Australian to be inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame as a legend. He was also named as the ruckman in the AFL Team of the Century. Barry Cable was elevated to legend status in 2012.

    Other great players from WA to have been inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame are Jack Clarke, George Doig, Ross Glendinning, Denis Marshall, Merv McIntosh, Stephen Michael, George Moloney, Graham Moss, Wayne Richardson, Jack Sheedy, William 'Nipper' Truscott and Bill Walker. In the 1980s and 90s players such as Brad Hardie, Nicky Winmar, Jim and Phil Krakouer, Mark Bairstow, Glen Jakovich, Guy McKenna, Dean Kemp and Peter Matera starred in the AFL. More recently high profile Western Australian players in the AFL have included Ben Cousins, Lance Franklin, Simon Black, Patrick Ryder, Peter Bell, Jeff Farmer, Aaron Sandilands, Dean Cox, Daniel Kerr and Nic Naitanui.

    Representative teams

    The Western Australian Australian football team is nicknamed alternatively the "Sandgropers" or the "Black Swans" and have played representative matches, either as State of Origin or as a state team representing the WAFL against all other Australian states.

    Governing Body

    The governing body for Australian rules football in WA is the West Australian Football Commission.

    Professional clubs

  • West Coast Eagles (Australian Football League)
  • Fremantle Football Club (Australian Football League)
  • Perth metropolitan leagues

  • West Australian Football League (semi-professional)
  • Western Australian Amateur Football League
  • Metro Football League (was Mercantile Football Association)
  • Sunday Football League (defunct)
  • Regional leagues

  • West Australian Country Football League
  • Avon Football Association
  • Central Kimberley Football Association
  • Central Midlands Coastal Football League
  • Central Wheatbelt Football League
  • East Kimberley Football Association
  • Eastern Districts Football League
  • Esperance District Football Association
  • Fortescue National Football League
  • Gascoyne Football Association
  • Goldfields Football League
  • Great Northern Football League
  • Great Southern Football League
  • Hills Football Association
  • Lower South West Football League
  • Mortlock Football League
  • Newman Football League
  • North Midlands Football League
  • North Pilbara Football League
  • Ongerup Football Association
  • Peel Football League
  • Ravensthorpe & Districts Football Association
  • South West Football League
  • Upper Great Southern Football League
  • West Kimberley Football Association
  • Women's

  • West Australian Women's Football League Official Site
  • Masters

  • Masters Australian Football WA Official Site
  • Principal Venues

  • Subiaco Oval
  • Fremantle Oval
  • Arena Joondalup
  • Leederville Oval
  • East Fremantle Oval
  • Claremont Oval
  • Bassendean Oval
  • Lathlain Park
  • Rushton Park
  • References

    Australian rules football in Western Australia Wikipedia

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