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AFL’s Forgotten Years
Reclaiming the AFL competition’s earliest era 1870–1896
For almost 100 years, the AFL competition has been deemed to have started in 1897 when the VFL was formed after eight clubs seceded from the VFA. But new research, by former AFL Commissioner Colin Carter, makes it clear that the VFL’s founders, the VFL clubs and media commentators agreed that 1870 was their competition’s, and thus the AFL competition’s, first season. A lot of football history has been misplaced and this book outlines why these foundation years must be included in the AFL competition’s history, and the players and administrators who set up the game during those years be recognised for their pioneering achievements.
Carter’s research is forensic, working through contemporary reporting, commentary, and data to establish the view—which he claims as “irrefutable”—that the AFL competition’s starting season was not 1897, but 1870. This was clearly the view of all followers of the game, until the 1920s, when the narrative changed.
AFL’s Forgotten Years includes many charts and illustrations from VFL-endorsed publications that show clearly the administration’s view that 1870 was the competition’s inaugural season.
"Colin Carter is a decorated football administrator who has turned his mind to the history of the game, explaining in clear terms when Victoria’s football competition began and why it is the precursor of today’s AFL competition. Colin’s case for recognising the years from 1870 to 1896, an important history lost through politics and time, is supported by facts. Supporters should approach this book with open minds and lift their eyes to the great truth—the AFL is the oldest football competition in the world."
—Mike Fitzpatrick, AFL Commission chair, 2007 to 2016.
"The Carter argument is compelling. Clearly the AFL was born of the VFA. The defection of eight clubs didn’t erase their histories pre-1897. Colin’s push maybe unpalatable with clubs whose place in premiership tallies will be adjusted negatively but a true history of the game’s origins is far more important. Clearly 1870 is the AFL competition’s birthdate."
—Mike Sheahan, sports journalist and media commentator.
Colin Carter is a former AFL Commissioner (1993-2007), and Geelong President (2011-2020). Before he joined the AFL Commission he was a strategic planning consultant to the VFL, responsible for such seminal issues as the structure of the national competition, the draft and salary cap, and the restoration of relations between the League and the Melbourne Cricket Club which saw the development of the Great Southern Stand. In 2021, he was commissioned by the AFL to write a position paper on the potential of a Tasmanian-based AFL club. Although born in Western Australia, he is a true-blue Geelong supporter.