Tasmania has a long and proud football history, dating back to the 1860s. Ours was the first state outside of Victoria to play the game, with football clubs established in New Town, Derwent and Stowell in and around 1864.
A number of clubs came and went and by 1879, the Tasmanian Cricket Association had officially formed a club (called the Cricketers) and Hobart had four senior football teams. Arguments about the rules of the game were solved at a meeting of club secretaries on 12 June, 1879, which formed an association and decided to adopt Victorian rules with slight modifications. The association was based in Hobart and was the forerunner to the variously-named southern competitions.
This association included Railway, Hutchins, New Town, Cricketers, City, Richmond and High School clubs. The first rostered game of this competition was played in 1879 in Hobart and, after an influx of new clubs, the first statewide premiership was held in 1881 in Launceston, seeing the home side easily prevail against the southern Railway club.
By 1886, football had well and truly come into its own in Tasmania, and disagreements over gate takings led to the Southern Tasmanian Football Association (STFA) securing a dedicated ground at Cornelian Bay. The ground was christened on the Queen's Birthday, 1886, with a match between Essendon and a representative Southern side.
For much of the first half of the 20th Century, football was played all over Tasmania, but with each region governed by its own association and rarely competing in inter-regional games. Inter-regional games, including the NTFA, North Western Football Union and the TANFL in the south, began to gain momentum after WWII and Tasmanian football continued to produce quality players and compete strongly in interstate games.
At the end of the 1985 football season, it was decided to restructure the competition into a statewide format. The TFL Statewide League was broadened to include North Launceston and East Launceston (later merging with City South to become South Launceston). Teams from Burnie and Devonport joined the competition in 1987. The introduction of a statewide league led to the consolidation of the remaining northern clubs into the Northern Tasmanian Football League (NTFL).
In 1996, mergers among a number of smaller southern leagues saw the creation of the Southern Tasmania Football League (STFL). The Statewide League went through a number of changes during the 1990's before eventually been wound up and a return to regional football.
The NTFL is the premier football competition in the North of the State, complemented by the Northern Tasmanian Football Association While in the south of the State the Southern Football League is played under a two tiered structure - a Premier League and a Regional League.
AFL Tasmania is the peak football organisation in the State responsible for the development and promotion of the game within Tasmania. It is responsible for administering the Tasmanian Devils and Tassie Mariners programs and plays a key role in supporting junior development and assisting Australian football competition at all levels.
Tasmania in Competition
The Tasmanian Devils, Tasmania's highest representative side, has played in the Victorian Football League (VFL) since 2001 and played in the finals in 2003, 2004 and 2005. However, Tasmania has been taking on its interstate rivals from as early as 1886.
The original Melbourne Football Club visited Hobart on 14 July that year and the match ended with the TFA defeating Melbourne by 44 points. Since that time, Tasmania has consistently produced some of the all-time great players, and moments, of Australia's native game.
Players such as John Leedham, Ian Stewart, Darrel Baldock, Royce Hart, Peter Hudson, Rodney Eade, Alastair Lynch and Matthew Richardson are household names in the game. Of the 21 Legends in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, Tasmania currently has three members.
The 1958 Australian Football Carnival side was recently voted by AFL Tasmania as Tasmania's greatest-ever team. It defeated both South Australia and Western Australia at that carnival held in Melbourne and boasted some of Tasmania's greatest players, including Leedham, Baldock, Stuart Spencer, Rex Garwood, Arthur Hodgson, Brian Eade, Neil Conlan, Don Gale, Trevor Leo and Colin Moore.
Tasmania's 1960 victory at York Park over a star-studded Victorian line-up is one of the state's finest victories. No one except the Tasmanian players gave Tasmania a chance but, as has often been the case, Tasmania prevailed by seven points against all odds to claim one of our most famous wins.
Fast-forward to 1970 at the famous North Hobart Oval when Tasmania took on Western Australia. West Australian captain and legend Graham 'Polly' Farmer said before the game: "if we can't beat Tasmania, we might as well give the game away". Before 20,000 fans, Tasmania, thanks to a goal with 30 seconds remaining from former St Kilda Premiership player and then-Clarence coach John Bingley, made Farmer eat his words by winning in a two-point thriller.
It's hard to rate great victories, but surely none were better than the win by the Tasmanian State of Origin team over the Victorians at North Hobart in 1990, 30 years on from our first victory over the 'Big V'.
This oft-recalled match saw Tasmania's AFL stars join our local heroes to defy the Vics by 33 points in front of a packed house, with a rampaging eight-goal last quarter.
Coached by Tasmanian and former Essendon player Robert Shaw and captained by Hawthorn midfielder Darrin Pritchard, Tasmania gave a glimpse that day of what it would be like to have a team in the big league and how competitive and successful it could be.
Perhaps we first truly dared to dream of a team in the AFL on that day 24 June, 1990.