AFL drops ball on WW1 Centenary Match

In October 2014 I wrote to the AFL suggesting that they organize an exhibition game in London to mark the centenary of a famous match played in 1916 as a fund raiser for the British and French Red Cross. The match was played on Saturday 28 October 1916. The game was organised by the former Olympic champion swimmer and the later Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Lieutenant Frank Beaurepaire.

The match was promoted as the “Pioneer Exhibition Game of Australian Football in London”. It was held at Queen’s Club, West Kensington before an estimated crowd of 3,000, which included the (then) Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and King Manuel II of Portugal.

The members of the competing teams, Australian Training Units and The Third Australian Divisional Team, were all highly skilled footballers, the majority of whom had already played senior football in their respective states. The two sides wore distinctive Guernseys – one with a Kangaroo emblem and the other a map of Australia.

A reenactment of that match would be an excellent post season reward for the All Australian squad and/or could be opened up to players who have family connections to the First World War and in keeping with the sentiment of the origins of the game could be a fund raiser for wounded returned soldiers of recent conflicts.

The idea was dead batted by Tony Peek on the basis that the AFL was already committed to centenary celebrations and, further, that ‘October now falls within the annual leave period for our players and our experience in more recent times has been that clubs are not prepared to play exhibition games so soon after the season given the work load on the players. In the New Year, I will refer your suggestion to our contact at AFL Europe to see if it something they could organise at a local community level to mark the occasion’.

The game is more deserving of being celebrated at just a ‘local community level’. Whether AFL Europe has been contacted and has plans I could not say. It would be interesting to know whether the AFL Players’ Association share the AFL’s position.

Post season games such as the Irish Rules games have happily been embraced previously and given the significance of the WWI centenary, a reenactment of the fabled 1916 London Match would be a wonderful commemoration of the importance of football to soldiers serving overseas.  South Melbourne’s Bruce Sloss was the first of six of the players to be killed at the front. For these men the London Match was likely the last game of football they ever played.

The London Match was significant in the history of Australian Rules as it was one of the first representative games played overseas.

Sadly, as reported in this year’s AFL Football Record’s ANZAC edition, the AFL is not even prepared to produce a memorial plaque to be placed at the site of the match – a project being undertaken by Dan Minogue, grandson of the ex-Collingwood player of that name who played in the famous game.

It is shameful that the AFL has no real interest in this historic game. Perhaps that might change with Nick Richardson’s soon to be released book “The Game of Their Lives” dedicated to the match.

With four months until the game’s centenary a commemoration match could still occur if the will is there.