Early VFL Final systems


Early VFL Final systems

The perceived need for a structured final system was, perhaps, the most important single reason that eight senior clubs broke away from the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in 1896, and formed the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1897.

The system used in today's elite Australian rules football competition, the Australian Football League (AFL), generically known as the McIntyre System, has incrementally evolved over the years from the various finals systems used by the AFL ever since it emerged from the VFL in 1990.

Each of the various systems the VFL used to determine its premiership team had, in their turn, been derived from the VFA premiership system that had operated essentially unchanged from 1877 to 1896. [It is important to recognize that the earlier VFL systems had been constructed to determine each season's premiers and, especially in the case of the VFA system, all of them were "Premiership" systems. They were not "Finals" systems; and to speak of them in terms of them being "Finals" systems is anachronistic. The Page-McIntyre system, first used in 1931, was the first system to guarantee a scheduled "Grand Final" match that would definitely be played in any given season.]

Each of the changes instituted by the VFL up to and including the first (1931) McIntyre system, the Page-McIntyre system, had been introduced to address some specific (real or perceived) injustice, weakness, or anomaly in the prevailing system; or to protect and maximize the VFL's income stream.

The current AFL finals system is, therefore, based upon a series incremental changes and adjustments that have been made over the years — in response to various changes in the nature of the AFL competition’s participants, the number of participants, constraints imposed by the seating capacity of various sporting stadia, the geographical location of the participants, and the stipulated requirements in relation to the home/away location of each finals match — since the Page-McIntyre system was first used by the VFL in 1931.

The nature, form, and content of any or all of these post-1931 changes and adjustments can only be clearly understood within the context of precisely how, where, when, and why the Page-McIntyre system itself had sequentially developed from the earlier conventions contained within the rules of the VFA.

The Victorian Football Association (VFA)

The two earliest controlling bodies in the history of Australian rules football were formed within a week of each other: the first, the South Australian National Football League (SANFL), which had been formed to control the domestic competition in the Colony of South Australia on 30 April 1877. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SANFL#1877-1900] and the second, the Victorian Football Association (VFA), which had been formed to control the domestic competition in the Colony of Victoria on 7 May 1877. [Another sporting event of great significance in 1877 had been the first Test match between England and Australia, that had been played from 15-19 March 1877 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.]

In May 1877, the VFA's eight foundation "senior clubs" of Albert Park, Carlton, [Carlton were the premiers in the first year of the VFA competition (1877). (Maplestone, (1996), p.24)] East Melbourne, Essendon, Hotham, Geelong, Melbourne, and St Kilda, and the nine foundation "junior clubs" of Ballarat, Hawthorn, Northcote, South Melbourne, Standard, Victoria United, Victorian Railways, West Melbourne, and Williamstown, all agreed to play matches against one another under a common set of rules.

The practical difference between the "senior" and "junior" clubs was that they fielded teams of 20 players and 25 players respectively (with no "reserves") in all of their matches during the season, regardless of the status of their opponents. [Maplestone, (1996), p.24. Maplestone records that Essendon, although considered to be a "senior" club, was permitted to field a team of 25 men in its match against the far more skilled and far better performed "senior" club of Melbourne, at Richmond Park, in July 1877. Despite having five more men on the field, Essendon lost the match 2 goals to nil.]

The VFA Premiership

From the competition’s 1877 inception, the VFA premiership was awarded to the team at the top of the VFA ladder at the end of each home-and-away season.

In the first eight years of the competition (1877-1884), only the goals kicked were recorded as part of the final score of each match.

Under the VFA rules of play there was a set of goal-posts that were 7 yards (6.4 metres) apart, at each end of the ground, and another set of posts at 20 yards (18.3 metres) each of side of the goal-posts. If the football was "forced behind", or had been "kicked behind" by a member of the attacking team, it was returned to a point on the central goal-to-goal line exactly 10 yards in front of the goal-posts, and was kicked off by a member of the defending team towards his own team's goals. If it had been "kicked behind" by a member of the defending team, a boundary throw-in (performed by the field umpire) resulted. [Mapleston, (1996), pp.22, 24.]

So, despite not being officially registered as part of the match scores, every "behind" certainly influenced the outcome of every match.

The "behinds" scored during a match were first recorded as part of a match’s final score in the 1885 VFA season. Yet, despite this change to the VFA conventions in 1885, in all of the years from 1877 to 1896 only goals counted in relation to the premiership ladder; and, although any "behinds" scored were recorded as part of the match’s score after 1884, those "behinds" contributed nothing towards a team's point total. [The VFL, in its first year first year (1897) stipulated that a "goal" earned a team 6 points, and a "behind" earned 1 point, regardless of whether it was "kicked" or "forced". This scoring system still obtains in the 2008 AFL competition.]

Thus, according to the VFA set rules, a club’s position on the end-of-season premiership ladder was determined by:
* (a) the number of matches won, and, if a distinction need to be made amongst equals,
* (b) the goals for divided by goals against, and if a further distinction was needed,
* (c) the team that had scored the most goals outright.

In 1896, with all of the preceding criteria operating, both Collingwood [In relation to teams within the VFA competition, is important to note that although a team described as "Collingwood" played a match against the Essendon Football Club in (pre-VFA) 1873 (Mapleston, 1996, p.428), the club now known as the Collingwood Football Club was not formed until 1892; and this Collingwood team played its first VFA match on 7 May, 1892.] and South Melbourne were tied in equal first position on the ladder. An elimination playoff was ordered; the first in VFA history. [It is not clear whether the match was presented as "Premiership Match" or as a "Grand Final" at the time.]

Collingwood eventually won the very close match 6 goals to 5. [Although the scoring of a behind had an effect on the ensuing play under the rules of the VFA, the premiership was determined solely on the basis of goals scored. So, even though the "scores" were Collingwood six goals and nine behinds versus South Melbourne's five goals and ten behinds (Ross, 1996, p.34), the official "result" of the match was Collingwood 6 to South Melbourne 5.] The scores had been tied for most of the last quarter, with Collingwood only scoring its winning goal at the very end of a hard-fought match. According to the hastily prepared VFA rules applying to a tied result at full-time, a tied score would have automatically meant an extra 20 minutes of play. [Ross, (1996), p.34.]

The Victorian Football League (VFL)

Over the years the various teams comprising the VFA competition had come and gone, [Although it is hard to determine the precise number, according to the records of the Essendon Football Club (as shown in Mapleston, 1966, pp.430-439) there were at least 55 discrete, different clubs playing at some stage of the VFA competition between 1877 and 1896.] and the standards of the teams participating in the competition had waxed and waned year by year. A number of the best teams playing in 1896 competition were seriously concerned with the wide range of performances that were being displayed across the aggregate of the VFA’s constituent teams and the level of opposition they provided to those best teams.

In 1894, the Geelong Football Club had suggested that a number of the strongest Melbourne-based clubs, along with clubs from other important regional centres such as the cities of Ballarat and Bendigo, [At the time (1894), these two centres were, at least, the economic and population equivalents of Geelong, Victoria, The Geelong Football Club had suggested the inclusion of teams from Ballarat and Bendigo in the hope of making the senior, elite VFA competition more representative of the State of Victoria as a whole.] form a breakaway group.

The Geelong proposal was that the VFA should have two divisions; with clubs in the top division, the VFA's best performed clubs, playing against each other over the season, and not playing against the weaker clubs at all. [For example, the 1894 VFA premiers, Essendon, played their matches in the following sequence: Fitzroy, Williamstown, Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, Collingwood, Melbourne, St Kilda, Richmond, Geelong, Carlton, Footscray, North Melbourne, St Kilda, Fitzroy, Melbourne, South Melbourne, Carlton, and Geelong. They only lost one match, the last match of the season against Geelong: they beat Fitzroy (6 to 3), Williamstown (9 to 2), Port Melbourne (10 to 4), South Melbourne (9 to 7), Collingwood (7 to 4), Melbourne (5 to 3), St Kilda (8 to 3), Richmond (11 to 6), Geelong (6 to 4), Carlton (9 to 4), Footscray (7 to 0), St Kilda (16 to 5), Fitzroy (8 to 6), Melbourne (10 to 3), South Melbourne (9 to 5), and Carlton (14 to 3); they drew with North Melbourne (two goals each, even though Essendon scored 2.9 to North Melbourne's 2.6, only goals counted towards the final match result according to VFA rules); and the lost to Geelong (4 to 6). (Maplestone, 1996, pp.438)] This proposal was strongly supported by the Essendon Football Club and the Melbourne Football Club. [A club which was, to give it its full name, "The Melbourne Cricket Club Football Club".] Whilst Geelong's proposal was not acceptable to the VFA as a whole, no new clubs were admitted to the VFA competition in 1894, 1895, or 1896; thus, it seems, there was a certain amount of general sympathy for the notion of a senior VFA division. [Ross, 1996, pp.13, 18; Maplestone, (1996), pp.46, 47.]

In mid-1896, the pro-Australian Rules newspaper, "The Argus" [The newspaper was named after "Argus Panoptes". The name was chosen, so the "The Argus" claimed on its banner, because it saw everything — due to it having "1,000 eyes".] published a strong editorial to the effect that the overall poor standard of the VFA competition was resulting in a significant loss of spectator numbers to the VFA; and thus to Australian rules football. The editorial also noted that there was an increasingly significant loss of many potential champion players as young men were turning to other sports; it continued: "It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that some of the leading clubs contemplate following the lead of the Victorian Cricketer's Association and reorganizing the Association on a fresh basis…". [Maplestone, (1996), p.47.]

On 3 October 1896, [Another significant sporting milestone with many future implications that could never have been predicted at the time had taken place earlier in that year, when King George I of Greece had opened the Games of the I Olympiad at the Panathinaiko Stadium in front of 80,000 spectators on 6 April. 1896.] a meeting was held between representatives of what were indisputably the six strongest, best performed, [The Geelong Football Club was the exception to this criterion; however, the other five considered that Geelong’s poor performance in the seasons immediately preceding the 1896 VFA season should be overlooked because Geelong "had done so much for the game" (Ross, 1996, p.34).] most powerful, and most financially secure VFA clubs in 1896 (viz., Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, and South Melbourne), and two other clubs, invited by unanimous decision of the other six to make the numbers up to a reasonable competition size of eight teams: St Kilda, specifically to increase the representation of those living south of the Yarra, [On the basis of the on-going standard of its team's performance over the years in the VFA competition, the obvious choice would have been the Port Melbourne Football Club. However the club was excluded from the six teams' deliberations due to their collective experience of the violent and unruly behaviour of the Port Melbourne supporters. Although by any objective standards, St Kilda was not a very well-performed team over its years in the VFA, it certainly was the next best south-of-the-Yarra team after those of South Melbourne and Port Melbourne.] and Carlton. [Whilst the offer to St Kilda was unconditional, the offer to Carlton was conditional upon " [Carlton being able] to reassure the new league that it possesses an appropriate ground" (Ross, 1996, p.34).]

From this meeting the Victorian Football League (VFL) came into being.

Once the VFL had been constituted, its first official meeting was held on April 12, 1897, where the assembled delegates elected Essendon’s Alexander McCracken as its first President, and Collingwood’s E.L. Wilson as its first Secretary.

The 1897 VFL Premiership

The new Victorian Football League played its first round, composed of 4 matches on Saturday May 8, 1897. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1897_VFL_season#Round_1]

Learning from their VFA experience, the VFL stipulated that all teams playing in its competition must have an equal number of players: all teams would have 20 on-the-field players and no "reserves", Whilst there were no "reserves", any player who left the playing field could resume his place on the field at any time.

The team of 20 on-the-field players were, in order of their "rows" across the ground: [Taken from Maplestone, (1996), p.51, where there is a photograph of a page, "Plan of Play-Ground", taken from an 1870s issue of "The Footballer", that displays the names and positions of all twenty players.] ::Goal Keeper: 1 (in goal)::Backs: 3 (one on the central goal-to goal line, and one on each flank)::Half-Backs: 3 (one on the central goal-to goal line, and one on each flank)::Centre Players: 3 (one on the central goal-to goal line, and one on each flank)::Centre Forwards: 3 (one on the central goal-to goal line, and one on each flank)::Centre Forwards on Goal: 3 (one on the central goal-to goal line, and one on each flank)::Goal Sneak: 1 (in goal)::Followers (3). Unlike all of the other positional players who were more or less fixed in their positional location, the "followers" followed the moving ball. They also contested the boundary throw-ins. [Whilst the followers contested the boundary throw-ins, there were no "ball ups" for them to contest; and, so, in many senses they were far more "followers" than "ruckmen".]

Each match was started, rather like today's Rugby Union and Rugby League matches, with the teams separated on each side of the half way line. The team that won the toss, lined up in their defensive half of the playing field. The team that lost the toss kicked the ball off from the centre of the centre line with a place kick, drop kick, or punt kick, towards its own scoring goals. Immediately the ball was kicked all players went to their field positions.

In the event of a goal being kicked by either side, the field umpire retrieved the ball from the goals and took it to the centre of the ground, where the opposition team restarted the match, in the same fashion, with a kick-off.

Ignoring certain other minor changes to the rules of play, [Such as, for example, the abolition of the push-in-the-back rule (it had been revoked in an attempt to reduce the umpires' interference on the flow of the game). After the first round matches, it was immediately obvious that this rule brought with it a considerable amount of danger (e.g., a player could now push his opponent as forcefully as he could into the fence, without any fear of punishment). The push-in-the-back rule was reinstated before the second round’s matches on the following Saturday (Ross, 1996, p.39).] the following very significant changes had been made, right from the outset, to the VFA premiership system under which all of the teams now constituting the VFL had previously played: [Ross, (1996), p.34.]
* The matches were to be played with a rugby ball. [Later, footballs that had been specifically developed by T. W. Sherrin in the early 1880s for Australian Rules Football, that were somewhat "blunter" than the rugby balls, in order to facilitate drop-kicks and stab-kicks (both of which, in order to be successfully executed, required the ball to "sit up" for a fraction of a second), and the bouncing of the ball (which require the ball to come straight back), were introduced into the competition as the standard football. By 1910, the Sherrin "Match II" footballs were being used all around Australia, and Sherrin's company manufactured special footballs for the 1910 finals matches. Later, Ross Faulkiner footballs, a variant on the Sherrin football, were the choice of many (for example, you will never see a photograph of Jack Dyer with a Sherrin football; he is always holding a Ross Faulkiner football).]
* All teams to have 20 players.
* In any given round, all matches to be played on the same day, and at the same time. [Ignoring the slight difference in weather conditions between the case of the seven Melbourne-based teams — with the grounds of the most distant pair, Carlton and St Kilda, being just 1½ hour's walk from one another — and that of the eighth based in Geelong, Victoria 73 km away, it is obvious that this stipulation produced a far more even competition that those of later eras, where games were played, on occasion, on different days, in different cities, in different climates, under different weather conditions, at different times of day, under different lighting conditions, on different playing surfaces and, in some cases, in a covered stadium.]
* Each team would be given 4 premiership points for a win, and 2 points for a draw.
* In all matches, both "goals" and 'behinds' to be counted towards the final score of the match; with "goals" scoring 6 points, and "behinds' scoring 1 point.
* The total score of each match to be taken into account in the calculation of the premiership ladder.
**Thus, the calculation changed from goals for divided by goals against to what is now known as "percentage”; points for, divided by points against, and multiplied by 100.
* Each of the eight teams to play each other twice; once "home", and once "away". [Consequently, no team got a better draw than another; unlike the case with the VFA draw, where certain teams would play each other twice, and others would play each other only once in any given season. This also meant that, throughout the season, each team played each of its opponents once in front of its own supporters.]
*At the end of the home-and-away season (i.e., after 14 matches for each team), the top four teams to play off against each other in a round-robin series.
**Three rounds, of two matches each, to be played at the same time at two different venues on three consecutive Saturday afternoons:
***(1) v (2) and (3) v (4); (1) v (3) and (2) v (4); (1) v (4) and (2) v (3).
* The winner of the round-robin series to be declared the premier. [The winner was determined by the team that (a) had won the greatest number of matches (with 4 premiership points allocated for a win and 2 points for a draw), (b) (if needed) the team with the highest "percentage" points for divided by points against divided by 100, and (c) (if needed) the team that had scored the most points outright.]

The 1897 home-and-away season had ended with Geelong on top of the ladder: [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1897.html#lad]

In the 1930 VFL season a single substitute player, known as the 19th man, was introduced; this meant that a team now had 18 "run on" players, and one "reserve" on the bench. Because the 1930 VFL rules were such that a substitute player was to be paid a match fee only in the event that they took the field, it was almost exclusively the case that the 19th man only ever substituted for a player that was so injured that he could not continue. Also, once substituted, a player could not return to the field of play under any circumstances.

In the 1946 VFL season a second substitute player, known as the 20th man, was introduced; this meant that a team now had 18 "run on" players, and two "reserves" on the bench. Once again, because the 1946 the VFL rules were still such that a substitute player was to be paid a match fee only in the event that they took the field, it was almost exclusively the case that the 20th man only ever substituted for a player that was so injured that he could not continue. Again, once substituted, a player could not return to the field of play under any circumstances.

It was not until the (?) late 1950s that the 19th and 20th men were paid their match fees regardless of whether they took the field or not.

In 1978, the 19th and 20th men were converted into interchange players, meaning that any two players could be rested at any time, and could return to the field. A third interchange player was added in 1994, and a fourth interchange player was added in 1998, increasing the AFl playing squad to its current size of 22 players.

The 1900 VFL Premiership

At the end of the 1900 season there was yet another premiership controversy.

At the end of the home-and-away matches, Fitzroy sat on top of the ladder with 11 wins, 3 losses, 168% and 44 points. [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1900.html#lad]

After the three Group A round-robin matches, Essendon (12 points) was ahead of Fitzroy (8 points) and went on to play the winner the Group B winner, Melbourne. Melbourne had just scraped in on 8 points, ahead of Collingwood and Geelong (each also had 8 points, but had lower percentages).

Melbourne beat Essendon in the Semi-Final 7.3 (45) to 5.13 (43), mainly due to the fact that (a) Essendon finished the match with 17 players on the field (Bill "Newhaven" Jackson had suffered a severe knee injury in the first five minutes of the game [Maplestone, 1996, p.57.] ), and (b) the Essendon captain George Stuckey ran into an open goal and kicked a "behind", having mistaken the point post for a goal post. Melbourne went on to play, and beat, the "Minor Premiers" Fitzroy 4.10 (34) to 3.12 (30), thus becoming the 1900"Major Premiers".

The controversy was over the fact that that Melbourne had not only just scraped in to the Semi-Final, but they had also ended their home-and-away season in lowly sixth place on the ladder, having only won 6 of their home-and-away matches (compared with Fitzroy's 11), having lost 8 matches, achieving 101.7%, and having only gained 24 premiership points.

The 1901 VFL Premiership

In 1901, the VFL made yet another change to its premiership system in order to correct for the weaknesses demonstrated at the end of the 1900 seasom.

The new system, immediately christened "The "Argus" system", had been conceived, developed, and very actively supported by the strongly pro-VFL Melbourne newspaper The Argus.

It was introduced in order to increase the overall fairness of the VFL finals system — by providing all finalists with a far more realistic chance of getting to the Grand Final and winning the premiership — whilst still providing a small, reasonable advantage to the team that had finished first on the ladder at the season's end.

Also, given that the system involved 14 rounds of home-and-away matches, and an end-of-season competition of an extra 14 matches in all, including a guaranteed Grand Final, it had the decided advantage of not compromising the VFL's income stream from its new policy of only having four final participants.

The original "Argus" system" (1901)

In brief, the "Argus" system" was as follows: [Maplestone, (1996), pp.52-55; Ross, (1996), p.54.]
* All of the conventions of embodied within the structure of the 1897 premiership ladder continued unchanged.
* A significant difference was that there was no longer a "challenge" right for the "Minor Premiers".
* At the end of the home-and-away series of 14 matches, the team on top of the ladder was declared to be the "Minor Premiers".
** In the case of 1901, the end of season ladder looked like this (with Geelong the "Minor Premiers"): [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1901.html#lad]

* All of the eight teams took part in the final series.
* Once more the eight teams were placed in one of two groups, according to their end of season ladder position:
** the first group (A), of teams 1, 3, 5, and 7 (i.e., Geelong, Essendon, South Melbourne, and Carlton).
** the second group (B), of teams 2, 4, 6, and 8 (i.e., Collingwood, Melbourne, Fitzroy, and St Kilda).
* Each group played three round-robin matches as they had in 1898, 1899, and 1900.
* 1n 1901, the results of each round-robin match was added to the end-of-season ladder, according to the prevailing conventions, producing what was then called the "Final Ladder".
** In 1901, the "Final Ladder"looked like this: [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1901.html#flad]
* Two Semi-Final matches were then played by the top four teams on the "Final Ladder" (1 vs. 3, and 2 vs. 4): Geelong (1) played against Collingwood (3), and Essendon (2) played against Fitzroy (4).
* The winners of the two Semi-Finals (Collingwood and Essendon) then played against each other in a match designated the "Grand Final".
* The winner of the "Grand Final" match (Essendon) was declared the "Major Premier" team because, under the 1901 rules, there was no provision for the "Minor Premier" (Geelong) to "challenge" Essendon.

The 1902 VFL Premiership

After the 1901 Final Series was over, many expressed concern with the apparent injustice that the highly successful Geelong team, first on the 1901 end-of-season ladder with the greatest number of wins (the 1901 "Minor Premiers"), and first on the 1901 "Finals Ladder", came third in the finals competition.

In order to address this perceived anomaly, the VFL made an adjustment to its 1901 system, restoring the "Minor Premier's" right to "challenge".

However, the 1902 right to "challenge" had a difference from that of 1898-1900; the "Minor Premier" now had the right to "challenge" the winner of the Preliminary Final, even if it had also taken part in the Preliminary Final.

The amended "Argus" system" (1902)

The amended "Argus" system" [In other words, it is the original "Argus" system" as that original system was amended by the VFL, it is not a entirely new, "amended system" that had been devised by "The Argus" newspaper.] followed the 1901 rules and structure, with one exception:
* Each of the eight teams played each other twice during the home-and-away season.
* At the end of the home-and-away series, the team on top of the ladder was declared to be the "Minor Premiers".
* All of the eight teams played in a round-robin competition (the same as 1901) in which 12 matches (3 rounds of 4 matches each), were played at the same time at four different venues on three consecutive Saturday afternoons.
* As in 1901, the results of each round-robin match was added to the end-of-season ladder, producing a "Final Ladder".
* Depending on the circumstances of the season the ensuing Premiership Final series was composed of either three or four matches:
**Match One — designated a "Semi-Final":
***(1) v (3) at venue A, on the first Saturday afternoon of the final series.
**Match Two — designated a "Semi-Final":
***(2) v (4) at another venue, also on the first Saturday afternoon of the final series (held at the same time as "Match One" at a different venue).
**Match Three — designated a "Preliminary Final":
***WinnerMatch One vs. WinnerMatch Two on the second Saturday afternoon of the series.
***If the winner of this match was also the "Minor Premier", the winner to be declared the season's "Major Premier".
** Match Four — designated a "Grand Final":
***WinnerPreliminary Final vs. "Minor Premier" on the third Saturday afternoon of the series.
***This match was only ever required in a season in which the "Minor Premiers" had not won the "Preliminary Final". [Unlike 1898, 1899, and 1900 seasons, there was no requirement for the "Minor Premiers" to have gained at least 8 match points in the final before they were able to issue a "challenge". Therefore, even though these matches conttinued to be called "challenge" matches, it seems that they took place automatically, rather than as a consequence of a formal challenge, at the end of any season in which the "Minor Premiers" did not get through to the "Preliminary Final".]

The VFL's prescience was immediately rewarded when the 1902 season's "Minor Premiers" Collingwood failed to get on to the last match, in which Essendon 6.9 (45) had defeated Fitzroy 4.10 (34).

Collingwood then challenged Essendon, and went on to beat Essendon in the "Grand Final" 9.6 (60) to 3.9 (27). [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1902.html#flad]

The VFL Premierships (1902-1930)

Except for the 1924 VFL season, all VFL premierships from 1902 to 1930 were determined by:
* (a) the results of the year’s home-and-away competition, as reflected in the clubs’ positions on the end-of-season premiership ladder;
* (b) the results of any further competition the VFL might choose to conduct in order to further modify that end-of-season premiership ladder;
* (c) the positions of the top four teams in the end-of-season premiership ladder (as modified); and
* (d) the results of the Premiership Finals that had been contested between the eligible four teams, according to the structure of the 1902 "amended "Argus" system". [It was replaced by the Page-McIntyre system in 1931.]

Given that the number of teams in the VFL competition varied over those years — with, for example, 4 teams in 1916, 6 in 1917, 8 in 1918, 9 in 1919, 10 in 1908, and 12 in 1925 — it is important to identify the nature of the manner in which these four aspects operated in each of the years concerned.

VFL home-and-away matches (1902-1930)

* 1902-1907: eight teams played each other twice in a 14 match home-and-way season.
* 1908-1914: ten teams played each other twice in an 18 match home-and-way season.
* 1915: nine teams played each other twice in an 18 match home-and-way season, with each team having 16 matches and 2 byes.
* 1916: four teams played each other four times in a 12 match home-and-way season.
* 1917: six teams played each other three times in a 15 match home-and-way season.
* 1918: eight teams played each other twice in a 14 match home-and-way season.
* 1919-1924: nine teams played each other twice in an 18 match home-and-way season, with each team having 16 matches and 2 byes.
* 1925: twelve teams played in a 17 match home-and-way season. [Matches 12 to 17 were the "home-and-way reverse" of matches 1 to 6.]
* 1926-1930: twelve teams played in an 18 match home-and-way season. [Although each season's first round matches meant that each team played the other eleven teams once, the second round displayed a wide range of variations: in 1926 and 1927, matches 12 to 17 were the "home-and-way reverse" of matches 1 to 6, whilst match 18 was the "home-and-way reverse" of match 9; in 1928 and 1929, matches 12 to 18 were the "home-and-way reverse" of matches 1 to 7 (i.e., the first seven matches of the round); however, in 1930, matches 12 to 18 were the "home-and-way reverse" of matches 5 to 11 (i.e., the last seven matches of the round).]
**The increase from 17 to 18 matches in 1926 was to guarantee that each of the twelve teams had nine home games in every season.

VFL round-robin series (1902-1907)

From 1902 to 1907 a two division, three match round-robin series was conducted, as demanded by the "amended "Argus" system" that had been introduced in 1902, in order to produce the season’s four eligible finalists and its "Minor Premiers".

VFL Premiership Finals (1902-1930)

In 1924, the VFL determined its Premiership team with a round-robin premiership competition that it had reinstated from 1898 (see [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1924_VFL_season#1924_Round-Robin_Premiership_Competition] and [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1924.html#fin] ).

In all of the other years from 1902 to 1930 the VFL Premiers were determined by a series of Premiership Finals that were conducted according the structure of the "amended "Argus" system"

Because the "Minor Premiers" also won the "Preliminary Final" in 1903, 1904, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1911, 1918, 1927, and 1928, no "Grand Finals" were held in those years. [In relation to understanding the official records, even though there were four final matches played in 1928, no "Grand Final" was played that year. There were two Second Semi-Finals between Melbourne and Collingwood because their first match was drawn. Collingwood was both the "Minor Premier" and the "Preliminary Final" winner — and, thus, the "Major Premier" — in the 1926 season.]

However, because the season's "Minor Premiers" did not win the "Preliminary Final", "Grand Finals" were played in 1902, 1905, 1909, 1910, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, 1929, and 1930.

Collingwood's four VFL Premierships (1927-1930)

The Collingwood football team was both the VFL's "Minor Premier" and "Major Premier" in the four consecutive seasons of 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930. All of the finals matches at the end of those seasons were played under the rules of the 1902 amended "Argus" system".

It is a matter of record that, having beaten Richmond in the Preliminary Finals of both 1927 [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1927.html#fin] and 1928 — having had to play two Semi-Finals against Melbourne in 1928, due to a draw in the first [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1928.html#fin] — Collingwood were, so to speak, "outright" premiers in 1927 and 1928.

However, on the basis that Collingwood lost to Richmond in the Semi-Final of 1929, and lost to Geelong in the Preliminary Final of 1930, and on the basis that Collingwood only won its premierships in 1929 [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1929.html#fin] and 1930 [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/1930.html#fin] in virtue of it being the "Minor Premier" and, as a consequence of that fact, having the right to "challenge" the winner of the Preliminary Final, they were, so to speak, "saved by the challenge" premiers in 1929 and 1930.

The Page-McIntyre system (1931)

In the context of Collingwood having won four premierships in a row by the end of 1930 (the last two of which were gained through "challenge"), it is not at all remarkable that the VFL instituted a new finals system in the 1931 season, the principal feature of which was the removal of the "Minor Premier's" right to "challenge".

In 1931, particularly to ensure that there was a "Grand Final" at the end of every season, [ One of the driving reasons for the foundation of the VFL in the first place.] and to ensure that the finals contests were genuine, the VFL abandoned the amended "Argus" system" of 1902 that had served it so well, and instituted what became known as the Page-McIntyre system. [It was known as the "Page-McIntyre system" after Percy "Pip" Page at the time the Secretary of the Richmond Football Club, and later the long-time Secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club, and the Melbourne legal academic Kenneth McIntyre. There is no evidence that Page contributed anything in terms of the concepts embodied within, or the mathematical justification of the system’s claims, and there is very little evidence that Page did anything else that simply use his considerable influence as Richmond’s delegate to the VFL to introduce and advocate McIntyre’s system, which he had discussed at some length with McIntyre in order to be satisfied with its structure, to the VFL; however, the first in the sequence of the McIntyre systems is always referred to as the "Page-McIntyre system".]

In summary, the Page-McIntyre system, involved no rule changes, and no changes in the manner in which the end-of-season ladder was constructed.

The principal differences were:
* No round-robin contest to establish a "Final Ladder".
* The Premier team was decided by a finals competition between the top four teams on the end-of-season ladder.
* The final matches were arranged in such a way that teams finishing at (1) and (2) on the end-of-season ladder were rewarded by being given a "second chance", with those finishing (3) and (4) always playing "elimination" matches.
* There were four Finals matches, all of which played at the same stadium (unless exceptional circumstances obtained, that stadium was always the Melbourne Cricket Ground), on four consecutive Saturday afternoons — with the entire season scheduled such that the Grand Final match was held on the last Saturday in September [The reason for it being held on the last Saturday in September was to capitalize on the fact that, every year, a large number of rural Victorians were in Melbourne at that time attending the twelve day long Royal Melbourne Show — also, the (then half day, now full day) Melbourne "Show Day" public holiday, which applied to those in the Melbourne metropolitan area, always fell on the Thursday immediately preceding the VFL Grand Final, adding to the festive nature of the week leading up to the Grand Final. The last Saturday in September was also the last day of the Royal Melbourne Show each year.] — as follows:
** First Semi-Final:
***(3) v (4), on the first Saturday afternoon of the final series.
***Loser is eliminated; winner goes on to play in "Preliminary Final".
** Second Semi-Final:
***(1) v (2), on the second Saturday afternoon of the final series.
***Loser goes on to "Preliminary Final"; winner goes on to "Grand Final".
**Preliminary Final:
***LoserSecond Semi-Final v WinnerFirst Semi-Final, on the third Saturday afternoon of the final series.
***The loser is eliminated, and the winner goes on to the "Grand Final".
** Grand Final:
***WinnerSecond Semi-Final v WinnerPreliminary Final on the fourth Saturday afternoon of the final series.
***The winner of this match is declared the season's Premier team. [It is only at this point in VFL history that the label of "Premier Team" also has embedded within it "Winner of the Grand Final" in every case.]

This system remained unchanged from 1931 to 1971.

In 1972 the VFL introduced the McIntyre Final-Five system

ee also

* AFL finals system
* AFL Grand Final
* Grand final
* McIntyre System
* Playoff
* Round-robin tournament
* History of Australian rules football in Victoria (1853-1900)

Footnotes

References

* Hogan P: "The Tigers Of Old", Richmond FC, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-646-18748-1
* Maplestone, M., "Flying Higher: History of the Essendon Football Club 1872-1996", Essendon Football Club, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-959-17402-8
* Ross, J. (ed), "100 Years of Australian Football 1897-1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported", Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN 0-670-86814-0

External links

* [http://stats.rleague.com/afl/seas/season_idx.html AFL Statistics: Match Scores 1897-2007]


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