Introduction

By the 1920’s electricity was slowly being rolled out to workplaces and suburban homes around Melbourne. In 1879 technology was not up to scratch for night football, this time it was to be politics which ended the chance of regular night games.

Night Football Interstate Success

Outside Victoria there had been a number of moves toward playing football at night with a number of successful one off events.

Recorder -Port Pirie 24Sep1926 p1
Recorder -Port Pirie 24Sep1926 p1
In 1926 a night football match was played in Port Pirie SA as part of their Jubilee celebration. Local teams Proprietary and Solomontown played in the game which was billed locally as the first football match in Australia played under electric light. Apart from the 20 per side matches in Victoria in 1879 they appear to be correct. (Recorder Port Pirie 24Sep1926 p1)

In Queensland, with it’s warmer evenings, a number of stadiums were set up to host events at night. In 1927, 6000 people at the Exhibition Ground in Brisbane watched China defeat Brisbane in Soccer 6-3 under lights. In 1929 Brisbane Rugby Team v Barambah indigenous team under lights at the Brisbane Cricket Ground (Sunday Mail-Brisbane 4Aug1929) and in 1932 Ipswich Queensland begins rugby league night matches - (Brisbane Courier 17Mar1932 p5), in 1934 NSW defeat Ipswich under electric lights to begin their Rugby League tour of Queensland Western Champion – (Barcaldine 7Jul1934 p12)

In New South Wales in 1928 Newcastle Coursing and Sporting Club, hosted a four team rugby league teams under lights.

In 1933 Sydney Rugby League held a11-a-side summer night Football competition at the showgrounds. The first match was between University and Western Suburbs.(The Sydney Morning Herald 28Oct1933 p20).

The concept of profitable night football was being demonstrated, especially in the warmer summer months when natural light lasted longer into the evenings.

Melbourne's Motordrome

In 1924 a concrete motorbike race track was installed in the Amateur Sports Ground on the Yarra, beside the MCG and Punt Road Oval. The new stadium was called the Motordrome but would later be renamed Olympic Park. It's owners were keen on night football, but it was 10 years before it eventuated.

A consortium called Melbourne Carnivals, ran the newly built Motordrome. Influential businessman John Wren was the name behind the scenes. Wren had strong links to racing, liquor and gambling and had significant involvement in State politics. Wren was a keen Collingwood supporter.

The owners of the new stadium added lighting for night racing and were keen to add football to their venue.

Night Football Proposals

Melbourne Carnivals proposed numerous schemes to get football to their stadium. In 1924 they unsuccessfully proposed a 10th VFL team of Public Services Players.One of the selling points for the use of the Motordrome was the fact that "Special flood lights would be installed, so that if nessecary, the game could be played in the evening, as the ground would be made as light as day." (Argus 5Jul1924 p22) But in 1925, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Footscray were added instead

In February 1925 Melbourne Carnivals attempted to gain admittance of the Public Services team to the VFA, agian proposing games on Monday nights, again unsuccessfully. - Argus 13Feb1925 p5

In September 1925 an unknown backer proposed Summer night football in Melbourne, using VFL players, but creating new teams, using extensive lighting and with Carlton's Princess Park suggested as a possible venue. (Argus 24Sep1925 p6) Due to cricket most grounds, including Princess Park, would have been unavaiable..but the Motordrome would have been available and already had the lighting.

Day Time Football

Football was regularly played at the Motordrome by the Midweek Industrial League, Tramways teams and the Victorian Football Association.

Argus 10Aug1925 p9 Motordrome
Argus 10Aug1925 p9 Motordrome


In 1925, the new look VFA began playing their finals series at the Motordrome before reverting back to Association ground in 1928. In the 1927 series, sensationally, both semi finals at the Motordrome were drawn and had to be replayed.

The Motordrome becomes Olympic Park

In 1933 the concrete track was removed and the ground renamed Olympic Park. The concrete track had proved dangerous and the ground was refitted for midget car racing.

Argus  29Aug1933 p5 New Football Arena
Argus 29Aug1933 p5 New Football Arena


The VFA played two more final series at the ground in 1933 and 1934. The 1934 Grand Final, which would have been the fifth at the ground, but had to be moved to the Melbourne Showgrounds after heavy rain delayed the match and Olympic Park was already booked for other purposes for the following week.

The VFA did not return in 1935. (Argus 30Apr1935 p11)

Western Mail - Perth 3Jan1935 p36 Midget car racing in Melbourne
Western Mail - Perth 3Jan1935 p36 Midget car racing in Melbourne


Richmond v South Melbourne Trial game

In 1935 Richmond Football Club were renegotiating their agreement with the Richmond Cricket Club for use of the Punt Road Oval.

As an alternative to Punt Road Oval, Olympic Park was modern, next door to Punt Road Oval and was not affected by the cricket season. Management at Olympic Park were also offering a larger percentage of the gate.than Richmond received at Punt Road. (The Age 30Mar1930 p24) In this climate and before the start of the VFL season, Richmond organised a night time game at Olympic Park.

This would be the first Australian Rules game involving a major teams under artificial light since 1879. As such the match was highly reported in the Australian Rules States and it’s success would be noted and remembered. Richmond and South Melbourne had both been Grand Finalists in 1934, so even without the novelty value, a big crowd would be expected.

It must be remembered that the lights had been used since 1925 and there had been at least once instance where soccer had been played on the ground at night. (Argus 9Oct1934 p8) This would be a new for the football community, but the lights had been in use at the ground for a long time and their quality and reliability were well known.

The VFL gave permission for the match and Richmond would play on 30 March with a white ball especially prepared by Syd Sherrin (Argus 22-Mar-1935 p14).

The Age 1Apr1925 p5 Night Football
The Age 1Apr1925 p5 Night Football



Teams

Friday Night Team Lists only. Source: The Argus 29Mar1935 p11
Players marked with * are mentioned in the Argus or Age Newspaper Match reports.

Richmond

Dave Baxter
Dave Baxter
Percy Bentley
Percy Bentley
Jack Dyer
Jack Dyer
Martin Bolger
Martin Bolger

Source: All cards from the 1935 Hoadleys Victorian Footballers Series - Source: Australian Football Cards

B:Martin BolgerMaurie Sheehan?Fred Heifner
HB:Jack Baggott*Joe MurdochBasil McCormack*
C:Bill GarvieDick Chirgwin*Candy (Probably M. Candy from Ararat)
HF:Pat Davey*Dave Baxter*Jack Dyer*
F:Clarrie Jordan?Jack Titus*Fred Crapper * (Probably))
Foll:Percy Bentley*Bert Foster*
Rov:Dick Harris*
Emerg:Horrie Edmonds*


South Melbourne

Dinny Kelleher
Dinny Kelleher
Alan Welch
Alan Welch
Jack Bisset
Jack Bisset
Bert Beard
Bert Beard

Source: All cards from the 1935 Hoadleys Victorian Footballers Series - Source: Australian Football Cards

Joe Garbutt, the Port Melbourne Player, trained with South Melbourne in the 1935 pre season but eventually played the 1935 season with St Kilda.

The Age newspaper report on the Monday after the game listed that South Melbourne were missing a number of key players including Bill Faul, Jack Bissett, Austin Robertson, Laurie Nash and Bob Pratt.

Pratt and Bissett were listed on the Friday night list and therefore although listed, they did not play.

B:Hec McKay*Joe Garbutt*Jock McKenzie*
HB:John Austin?Brighton DigginsLinsday Richards?*
C:Harry ClarkeFrank Davies?*Jim Reid?*
HF:Roy McEachenWilber Harris?Alan Welch*
F:Fred Backway*Bob PrattBert Beard*
Foll:Jack Bisset*Dinny Kelleher
Rov:Herbie Matthews*


Syd Dineen a centreman for Preston played on the night for South Melbourne.

The Match


TeamQ1Q2Q3Final
Richmond 4.3 (27) 7.6 (48) 11.6 (72) 14.8 (92)
South Melbourne1.1. (7) 4.1 (25) 6.6 (42) 8.8 (56)


Goal Kickers:
Richmond: Titus (5), Harris (2), Edmunds (2), Jordan, Davey, Foster, Baxter, Bentley
South Melbourne: Backway (3), Davies (2), Matthew, Welsh, McKenzie

For the winners none was more conspicuous than Basil McCormack – (Argus 1-Apr-1935 p7).

25,000 people crowded Olympic Park to watch Richmond and South Melbourne.

When they last met in the 1934 Grand Final, Bob Pratt had kicked his 150th goal for the season, but South Melbourne lost by 39 points.

Ivor Warne-Smith writing in the Argus reported that the lighting was good, the white ball easy to see. Although players found marking and handling the ball slightly more difficult. The low lights also meant that players could be temporarily blinded by the lights when there was a boundary throw-in. (Argus 1-Apr-1935 p7)

From the beginning until the final bell the players of both teams, in spite of their strange surroundings and the soft training, did remarkably well and strove valiantly to keep the enthusiasm of the gathering alive. Unfortunately the spirit of a competitive game was missing. Players did not have the urge to win, which puts that extra ounce of devil into their play.....Stuill, the spectators enjoyed themselves in a quiet way, and night football would seem to have great possibilities given a competitive flavour.” Ivor Warne-Smith (Argus 1-Apr-1935 p7)

The Age report on the success of the match recorded the popularity of the car races before the game, and at half time as well as the good visibility and a good game. (The Age 1Apr1935 p5)

The night was a booming success for Richmond and the club profited by 200 pounds. On the night a match for the next week was announced over the loud speakers to cheers from the crowd.

VFL Night Football Ends


Argus 6April1935 p25
Argus 6April1935 p25
The week following the Richmond v South Melbourne Game, a second match with improved lighting was scheduled between Richmond and Collingwood (Argus 5-Apr-1935 p12). Tickets were sold, but at an emergency meeting of VFL the League voted 13-9 to not permit the game (Argus 6-Apr-1935 p25).

Richmond argued that Punt Road was being used for District Cricket Finals and had been obliged to experiment with night football, which had been a financial success.

A range of reasons were given for not supporting the venture, issues such as
  • Ensuring the League controlled all games
  • Pre season games taking away from the importance of league games,
  • Difficultly for lower placed teams to sell season tickets if they lost in pre-season matches
  • The whole issue of night football being a bad thing..”Do we stand for Day football or Night Football”

Richmond’s experiment was financially successful but the debate regarding night football became wrapped up in issues about the benefits of running a pre-season competition.

On the night of the VFL vote, an attempt was made to allow the Richmond v Collingwood game, but not to allow further pre season games until the VFL had ruled. The Richmond delegate, as acting chair for the night disallowed the amendment forcing the committe eessentially to vote on allowing unlimited pre season games between League teams, which was defeated.

The vote against the preseason competition was dominated by the weaker teams.

AGAINST (14): Carlton 2, Essendon 2, Fitzroy 2, Footscray 1, Hawthorn 2, Melbourne 1, North Melbourne 2, St Kilda 2
FOR (9): Collingwood 2, Footscray 1, Geelong 2, Melbourne 1, Richmond 2, South Melbourne 1
Source The Age 6Apr1935 p.16

Richmond re-signed at Punt Road Oval which meant that the VFL returned to a situation where none of the grounds had lighting for night football. (Though many were istalling sufficient lighting for night training.)

Further Night Football in the 1930s

The VFL decision to stop night football did not end night football in the 1930s but future games would be sporatic and charity affairs.

In South Australia a very different lesson was learned from the Victorian experiment and a number of successful games were played under lights including West Adelaide versus Sturt at Wayville Showgrounds only a few weeks after the Richmond South Melbourne game.(Advertisor - Adelaide 17Apr1935 p22). Night football would continue in the following years.

In 1935 a charity night football game where Jockeys defeated Police was also a popular event. (Advertisor - Adelaide 6Jun1935 p11)

Chronicle - Adelaide 30Apr1936 p38
Chronicle - Adelaide 30Apr1936 p38


Argus 27Sep2012 p12
Argus 27Sep2012 p12
In Victoria Olympic Park remained a venue for football and occasionally hosted night football matches.In September 1935 the VFA Premiership teams Yarraville and Camberwell played a post season challenge game under lights but the lighting was poor and attendances low. (Argus 27Sep1935 p12) Rather than a problem of success which the VFL had faced, the VFA returns had been poor with complaints about the quality of the lighting.

The following year, on 21 Sep 1936 a VFA v VFL charity match was played under lights at Olympic Park. The match was played the first week of the VFL finals and no players from the four teams appearing in the VFL finals appeared in the VFL team, thus the game is not counted among VFA v VFL games.

Strong finishes by VFL teams in the final quarter were common in Interstate games and again in evidence here. Although the Association team led at half time, the VFL finished strongly to win by 29 points. See Argus 21Sep1936 p14 and Argus 25Sep1936 p15

Aftermath

Though still a novelty the game night football had become practical and profitable. The next step would be moving past the novelty stage and finding a place for regular night football.



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