Australia was still 43 years away from federation in 1858, the MCG seated a few thousand at the most and cricket was still the favoured sporting pastime.
But on August 7 that year, the fabric of Australian society changed forever when students and staff of Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College came together at Richmond Paddock – now Yarra Park – to play what would come to be known as the first recorded game of Australian Rules football.
There were 40 players on each team and the goalposts were nearly a kilometre apart. Trees dotted the field. Both teams picked an umpire – Melbourne chose Tom Wills, widely regarded as the “father” of Aussie Rules, and Scotch chose Dr John Macadam, a chemist, teacher and politician.
It was decided the winner would be the first to two goals. Scotch scored the only goal of the day, so the match continued a fortnight later, with MGS scoring an equaliser. With both teams unable to score a second goal the match went into a third day on September 4, but was declared a draw with neither team able to score and cricket season looming.
Whether this was the first game of what we now call Aussie Rules has been hotly debated; scratch matches involving the kicking of balls had already been played for years. But it is the first game with recorded evidence.
The Melbourne Football Club was formed the next year and by 1862 was playing in the Challenge Cup, the first recorded Aussie Rules competition.
But the historic match between MGS and Scotch is still being celebrated. It is the oldest continuous football competition in the world. And aside from the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, which began in 1829, it is thought to be the world’s oldest continuous sporting competition, pre-dating the Melbourne Cup, Wimbledon and even The Ashes.
The game is now named the Cordner-Eggleston Cup, after Don Cordner and Mick Eggleston, MGS and Scotch luminaries respectively. It has also produced AFL players; Tom Hawkins and Cyril Rioli played in the match during their schooldays.
Scotch won their most recent clash, on May 25, and the weight the competition carries was evident. MGS and Scotch supporters lined the white picket fence at Edwin Flack Oval, and when Scotch won their supporters lit a flare to celebrate their victory.
Scotch coach Stephen Holding says Aussie Rules is a big deal at the school. “This is everything at Scotch, there is a lot of history and tradition,” he says.
“Winning this is really big and important for the school. Footy’s big here. It’s a special part of history and for these kids to play a role in it is fantastic.”
MGS coach Michael Ford says: “It means a lot to the lads from both schools.
“They know when they enter the school they get an opportunity to play in this game that relives the heritage of Aussie Rules.”