Fixtures

DateRHome vs Away-
05/20 09:50 10 Carlton vs Sydney View
05/21 03:45 10 Geelong vs Port Adelaide View
05/21 03:45 10 Western Bulldogs vs Gold Coast View
05/21 06:35 10 North Melbourne vs Melbourne View
05/21 09:30 10 Adelaide vs St Kilda View
05/21 09:30 10 Richmond vs Essendon View
05/22 04:10 10 Greater Western Sydney vs West Coast View
05/22 05:20 10 Hawthorn vs Brisbane View
05/22 07:20 10 Fremantle vs Collingwood View
05/27 09:50 - Sydney vs Richmond View
05/28 03:45 - Brisbane vs Greater Western Sydney View
05/28 03:45 - Geelong vs Adelaide View

Results

Date R Home vs Away -
05/15 07:20 9 [18] West Coast vs Melbourne [2] 38-112
05/15 05:20 9 [15] Greater Western Sydney vs Carlton [6] 75-105
05/15 03:40 9 [13] Gold Coast vs Fremantle [3] 69-33
05/14 09:40 9 [14] Adelaide vs Brisbane [3] 66-102
05/14 09:25 9 [6] Sydney vs Essendon [16] 105-47
05/14 06:35 9 [7] St Kilda vs Geelong [5] 90-80
05/14 04:10 9 [17] North Melbourne vs Port Adelaide [11] 46-115
05/14 03:45 9 [12] Hawthorn vs Richmond [8] 94-117
05/13 09:50 9 [9] Collingwood vs Western Bulldogs [10] 51-99
05/08 06:40 8 [7] Carlton vs Adelaide [14] 116-68
05/08 03:10 8 [3] Melbourne vs St Kilda [4] 93-55
05/07 09:25 8 [3] Brisbane vs West Coast [18] 105-30

The Australian Football League (AFL) is the pre-eminent and only fully professional men's competition of Australian rules football. Through the AFL Commission, the AFL also serves as the sport's governing body and is responsible for controlling the laws of the game. Originally known as the Victorian Football League (VFL), it was founded in 1896 as a breakaway competition from the Victorian Football Association (VFA), with its inaugural season commencing the following year. The VFL, aiming to become a national competition, began expanding beyond Victoria to other Australian states in the 1980s, and changed its name to the AFL in 1990.

The league currently consists of 18 teams spread over five of Australia's six states (Tasmania being the exception). Matches have been played in all states, plus the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, as well as in New Zealand and China to expand the league's audience. The AFL season currently consists of a 23-round regular (or "home-and-away") season, which runs during the Australian winter (March to September). The team with the best record after the home-and-away series is awarded the "minor premiership". The top eight teams then play off in a four-round finals series, culminating in the AFL Grand Final, which is normally held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground each year. The grand final winner is termed the "premiers", and is awarded the premiership cup. Carlton and Essendon are the joint-most successful clubs in the competition, having won sixteen premierships apiece. The current premiers are Melbourne, who won the 2021 AFL Grand Final.

History

VFL era (1897–1989)

Background and founding

The Victorian Football Association (VFA) was established in 1877 and quickly went on to become Victoria's football competition. During the 1890s, an off-field power struggle occurred between the VFA's stronger and weaker clubs, the former seeking greater administrative control commensurate with their relative financial contribution to the game. This came to a head in 1896 when it was proposed that gate profits, which were always lower in matches involving the weaker clubs, be shared equally amongst all teams in the VFA. After it was intimated that the proposal would be put to a vote, six of the strongest clubs—Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne and South Melbourne—seceded from the VFA, and later invited Carlton and St Kilda to join them in founding a new competition, the Victorian Football League (VFL). The remaining VFA clubs—Footscray, North Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Richmond and Williamstown—were given the opportunity to compete as junior sides at a level beneath the VFL, but rejected the offer and remained for the 1897 VFA season.

1897–1900s: Inaugural VFL season and early years

The VFL's inaugural season occurred in 1897. It made several innovations early on to entice the public's interest, including an annual finals tournament, rather than awarding the premiership to the team with the best record through the season; and, the formal establishment of the modern scoring system, in which six points are awarded for a goal, and one point for a behind.

Although the VFL and the VFA continued to compete for spectator interest for many years, the VFL quickly established itself as the premier competition in Victoria. In 1908, the league expanded to ten teams, with Richmond crossing from the VFA and University Football Club from the Metropolitan Junior Football Association. Professionalism began from the 1911 season, with clubs permitted to pay players beyond the reimbursement of expenses for the first time. University, after three promising seasons, finished last each year from 1911 until 1914, including losing 51 matches in a row, in part caused by its players' focus on their studies rather than football, and in part because it had chosen to remain amateur; as a result, the club withdrew from the VFL at the end of 1914.

Beginning sporadically during the late 1890s and consistently from 1907 until World War I, the VFL premier and the premier of the South Australian Football League met in a playoff match for the Championship of Australia. South Australia's Port Adelaide was the most successful club of the competition winning three titles during the period along with an earlier victory.

1915–1945: Three VFA clubs join VFL

In 1925, the VFL expanded from nine teams to twelve, with Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne each crossing from the VFA. North Melbourne and Hawthorn remained very weak in the VFL for a very long period. Although North Melbourne would become the first of the 1925 expansion sides to reach a grand final in 1950, initially it was Footscray that adapted to the VFL with the most ease of the three clubs, and by 1928 were well off the bottom of the ladder.

Between the years of 1927 and 1930, Collingwood became the first, and only VFL team, to win four successive Premierships.

1946–1975: Post-war golden years

In 1952, the VFL hosted a "national day", when all six matches were played outside Melbourne. Matches were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Brisbane Exhibition Ground, North Hobart Oval, Albury Sports Ground and Victorian country towns Yallourn and Euroa.

Footscray became the first of the 1925 expansion teams to win the premiership in 1954.

Melbourne became a powerhouse during the 1950s and early 1960s under coach Norm Smith and star player Ron Barassi. The club contested seven consecutive grand finals from 1954 to 1960, winning five premierships, including three in a row from 1955 to 1957.

Television coverage commenced in 1957 with direct telecasts of the final quarter permitted. At first, several channels competed through broadcasting different games. When the VFL found that television reduced crowds it decided no coverage was to be allowed for 1960. In 1961 television replays in Melbourne were introduced although direct telecasts were rarely permitted. Other states and territories enjoyed live telecasts every Saturday afternoon.

In 1959, the VFL planned the first purpose-built mega-stadium, VFL Park (later known as Waverley Park), to give it some independence from the Melbourne Cricket Club, which managed the Melbourne Cricket Ground. VFL Park was planned to hold 155,000 spectators, which would have made it one of the largest stadiums in the world – although it would ultimately be built with a capacity of 78,000. Land for the stadium was purchased at Mulgrave, then farmland but predicted to be near the demographic centre of Melbourne's population.

The VFL premiership trophy was first awarded in addition to a pennant flag in 1959; essentially the same trophy design has been in use since.

In the 1960s, television began to have a huge impact. Spectators hurried home from games to watch replays and many former players took up positions as commentators on pre-game preview programs and post-game review programs. There were also several attempts at variety programs featuring VFL players, who generally succeeded in demonstrating that their skills were limited to the football ground.

The VFL played the first of a series of exhibition matches in 1962 in an effort to lift the international profile of the league.

The 1970 season saw the opening of VFL Park, with the inaugural match being played between Geelong and Fitzroy, on 18 April 1970. Construction work was carried out at the stadium as the 1970s progressed, culminating in the building of the now heritage listed Sir Kenneth Luke Stand. Queen Elizabeth, was a guest at the game and officially opened the stadium to the public. The 1970 Grand Final between traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood, arguably the league's most famous game, which saw Carlton recover from a 44-point deficit at half-time to win the game by 10 points, featured a famous spectacular mark by Alex Jesaulenko, and was witnessed by a record crowd of 121,696.

1976–1981: VFL leaves Australian National Football Council

In 1976, the National Football League, which was the national administrative body for Australian rules football at the time, established the NFL Night Series to succeed the Championship of Australia. Played concurrently with the premiership season, the Night Series was contested among twelve clubs from the VFL, SANFL and WANFL invited based on their finishing positions from the previous year. The event was mostly played on Tuesday nights, with night games at Norwood Oval in Adelaide, and all games were televised live in colour on Channel 9, which opened up unprecedented revenue streams from television rights and sponsorship opportunities for the sport. The NFL began plans to expand its Night Series to incorporate more teams from the VFL, SANFL and WAFL, as well as state representative teams from other states.

In November 1976, the VFL announced that it was withdrawing from the NFL's competition, having arranged more substantial television and sponsorship deals for its own Night Series for 1977 to be based in Melbourne and feature only the VFL clubs. Light towers were erected at VFL Park specifically for the event. The VFL established a proprietary limited company called Australian Football Championships Pty Ltd in 1978 to run the Night Series, and offered shareholdings to the other state leagues in an attempt to lure other states into the competition.

For the three years from 1977 until 1979, the NFL and AFC competitions were run separately as rival Night Series. In 1978, the Tasmanian representative team competed in both the NFL and AFC series, but all SANFL and WAFL clubs and the minor states teams remained in the NFL Night Series. In 1979, the WAFL clubs and the New South Wales and A.C.T. representative teams defected from the NFL Night Series and joined the AFC Night Series, leaving the NFL Night Series mostly composed of SANFL teams. The NFL Night Series was not revived in 1980, and the SANFL clubs joined the AFC Night Series. Although the NFL itself continued to exist as an administrative body into the early 1990s, the power gained by the VFL as a result of its Night Series take over was one of the first significant steps in its spread interstate and ultimately its take-over (as the Australian Football League) of administrative control of all football in Australia.

In 1980 and 1981, the first years after the NFL Night Series had ended, the AFC Night Series competition was at its largest, with all VFL, WAFL and SANFL clubs plus the four minor states teams (selected under residential qualification rather than state of origin qualification) competing for a total of 34 teams. The size of the competition was reduced from 1982, and thereafter only the top two or three teams from the SANFL and WAFL and the winner of the minor states' annual carnival were invited.

In 1987, the Night Series reverted to only the VFL teams. The competition was pushed earlier into the year, with the final played on 28 April. The following season, the competition did not overlap with the day premiership season at all, and became entirely a pre-season competition. The Night Series is generally considered to be of equivalent importance as the pre-season competition and the VFL Night Series (1956–1971), and records relating to the three competitions are often combined.

With the number of players recruited from country leagues increasing, the wealthier VFL clubs were gaining an advantage that metropolitan zoning and the Coulter law (salary cap) restricting player payments had prevented in the past. Country zoning was introduced in the late 1960s, and while it pushed Essendon and Geelong from the top of the ladder, it created severe inequality during the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1972 and 1987, only six of the league's twelve clubs – Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Richmond – played in grand finals.

1982–1989: Professionalism, bankruptcy and expansion

Evolution of competition
Year States Salary
cap
Average
salary
TV rights
per year
Draft Zoning
1980 · Victoria no $11,000 $600,000 no yes
1991 · Victoria
· South Australia
· Western Australia
· New South Wales
· Queensland
$1,500,000 $46,429 $6,000,000 yes no

The 1980s was a period of significant structural change in Australian football around the country. The VFL was the most popular and dominant of the state leagues around the country in terms of overall attendance, interest, and money, and began to look towards expanding its influence directly into other states. The VFL and its top clubs were asserting their financial power to recruit top players from interstate. As a result of this, rising cost pressures were driving some of Victoria's weaker clubs into dire financial situations. One of those clubs, the South Melbourne Swans, became the first VFL club to relocate interstate. The Swans moved their home games to Sydney in 1982, officially renaming themselves the Sydney Swans the following year. Under the private ownership of wealthy Dr Geoffrey Edelsten during the mid-1980s, Sydney became a successful team on-field.

Throughout the 1980s approaches were made by SANFL and WAFL clubs to enter the VFL. Of particular note were approaches by the East Perth Royals in 1980, the Norwood Redlegs in 1986 and 1988, and an East–South Fremantle merger proposal in 1987. None of these attempts were successful despite Norwood trying again in 1990 and 1994.

In 1986, the West Australian Football League and Queensland Australian Football League were awarded licences to field expansion teams in the VFL, leading to the establishment of the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears, who both joined the league in 1987. These expansion team licences were awarded on payment of multimillion-dollar fees which were not required of the existing VFL clubs. In 1989 financial troubles nearly forced Footscray and Fitzroy to merge, but fees paid by West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears, propped up the struggling VFL sides.

The 1980s first saw new regular timeslots for VFL matches. VFL matches had previously been played on Saturday afternoons but Sydney began playing its home matches on Sunday afternoons and North Melbourne pioneered playing matches on Friday night. These have since become regular timeslots for all teams.

The first National Draft was introduced in 1986 and a salary cap was introduced in 1987.

AFL era (1990–present)

The league was officially renamed the Australian Football League in 1990 to reflect its national composition.

1990–2006: A professional national competition

In 1990 the AFLPA, the players union, signed its first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the league which outlined wages and conditions in what was becoming a sole source of income for players who had previously had part-time or full-time jobs outside of football. Functionally, the AFL gave up control over its Victorian-based minor grades at the end of 1991 – clubs continued to field reserves teams in a competition run by the new Victorian State Football League, and the under-19s competition and zone-based recruiting were abolished and replaced with an independent system.

Midway through 1990, the SANFL's most successful club, Port Adelaide, made a bid for an AFL licence. In response, the SANFL gained an injunction via Glenelg and Norwood against Port Adelaide, allowing it time to establish a composite South Australian team called the Adelaide Crows, which was awarded the licence and joined the league in 1991 as the fourth non-Victorian club. The same year saw the West Coast Eagles become the first non-Victorian club to reach the grand final, which was won by Hawthorn. The Eagles would then win the premiership in 1992 and 1994. In 1994, the Fremantle Football Club was formed in Western Australia, and joined the AFL in 1995, becoming the fifth non-Victorian club.

The VFA took over the Victorian Football League name in 1996. In 1996 several Victorian clubs were in severe financial difficulties, most notably Fitzroy and Hawthorn. Hawthorn proposed to merge with Melbourne to form the Melbourne Hawks but the merger ultimately fell through and both teams continued as separate entities. Fitzroy, however, was too weak to continue by itself. The club nearly merged with North Melbourne to form the Fitzroy-North Melbourne Kangaroos but the other clubs voted against it. In 1994 Port Adelaide was awarded an AFL licence but could not enter until a Victorian team had folded or merged. At the end of 1996 Fitzroy played its last match and merged with Brisbane to form the Brisbane Lions. This allowed Port Adelaide to enter the AFL for the 1997 season as the sixth and only pre-existing non Victorian club.

Through the 1990s there was a significant trend of Melbourne-based teams abandoning the use of their small (20,000–30,000 capacity) suburban venues for home matches in favour of the larger MCG and Waverley Park. The 1990s saw the last matches played at Windy Hill (Essendon), Moorabbin Oval (St Kilda), Western Oval (Footscray) and Victoria Park (Collingwood) and saw Princes Park abandoned by its long-term co-tenant, Hawthorn. The transition to the use of only two venues in Melbourne was ultimately completed in 2005 when Carlton abandoned the use of Princes Park. In 1999, the league sold Waverley Park stadium and used the funds in a joint venture to begin construction of a brand-new stadium situated at Melbourne's Docklands. Representative state football came to an end, with the last State of Origin match held in 1999.

2006–present: New frontiers and challenges

In the late 2000s, the AFL looked to establish a permanent presence on the Gold Coast in the state of Queensland, which was fast-developing as a major population centre. North Melbourne, which was in financial difficulty and had played a few home games on the Gold Coast in previous years, was offered significant subsidies to relocate to the Gold Coast but declined. The AFL then began work to establish a club on the Gold Coast as a new expansion team.

Early in 2008, a meeting held by the AFL discussed having two new teams enter the AFL competition. In March 2008, the AFL won the support of the league's 16 club presidents to establish sides on the Gold Coast and in Western Sydney. The Gold Coast Suns were established and joined the AFL in 2011 as the 17th team. The Greater Western Sydney Giants, representing both Western Sydney and Canberra, were then established and entered the league as the 18th team in 2012.

On 25 April 2013 the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand hosted the first ever Australian Football League game played for premiership points outside Australia. The night game between St Kilda and Sydney was played in front of a crowd of 22,183 on Anzac Day to honour the Anzac bond between the two countries.

A national women's league comprising a subset of AFL clubs began in 2017. Thirteen AFL clubs placed bids to participate in the women's competition. Eight clubs – Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs – were granted licences to participate in the inaugural season. Six clubs joined the league in the coming years; Geelong and North Melbourne entered the competition in 2019, while Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast made their debut in 2020. The remaining four clubs—Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide, and Sydney—will enter AFL Women's in the 2023 season.

On 14 May 2017, Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast played the first-ever AFL match for premiership points in Shanghai, China, attracting a crowd of 10,114 at Jiangwan Stadium. Port Adelaide won the game by 72 points.

In 2020, the AFL season was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first round of matches was played in front of no crowds due to the pandemic, before the season was suspended on 22 March due to health concerns and strict government regulations on non-essential travel. After nearly two months of planning with the assistance of state governments and health officials, the season resumed on 11 June, with the length of the season reduced from 22 matches per team to 17 matches. The grand final was played in October at The Gabba in Brisbane, the first time it was held outside of Victoria since the creation of the league due to the spiking cases in that state. The pandemic caused the league to lose out on up to $400 million in anticipated revenue, and also precipitated a 20% cut in industry jobs.

In 2021 the grand final was played in September at Perth Stadium in Perth, because an ongoing COVID-19 lockdown prevented the match from being played with spectators the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Victoria. It was the first grand final played in Perth and the second consecutive grand final to be played outside Victoria. The event set a new attendance record for Australian rules football in Western Australia, eclipsing the previous record set in 2018, despite not featuring any WA based teams and being played during the COVID pandemic.