Reporting on football’s governing body’s weather policies last week, combined with the excitement of all 18 AFL coaches going down the slide into the ice bath pool as part of Big Freeze 4 on Monday, we were drawn to further considering snow, rain and the links to football from a historical perspective.
While Melbourne isn’t known for snow – the city has seen it on a number of occasions. The State Library of Victoria reported the first snowfall in the colony of Victoria in July 1840, followed by ‘memorable snowfalls’ in July 1882, August 1899 and September 1905.
Moving out of Melbourne, snowfall in the regional city of Ballarat was declared in 2014 by the Ballarat Courier as being ‘not as rare as you think’. The Courier covered snow falls in and around the city from 1887 to 2014 through images and included photographs of snow falling during the Central Highlands Football League Grand Final in 2004 (9 July 2014) where Hepburn 11.7 (73) defeated Clunes 4.7 (31) (more 2004 snow footy photos here and here score).
This wasn’t the first time that footy has been played in the snow in Ballarat. Newspapers reported snow falling during the third quarter of a match on 11 June 1911 at Ballarat City Oval between Golden Point and South Ballarat (The Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times, 13 June 1911, p3). The snowflakes were said to be ‘very large’ and the snow fall, which lasted for half an hour, was ‘So heavy … that it was impossible to distinguish the players at any distance’. While spectators’ umbrellas were covered with snowflakes the men ‘who were wet through and covered with mud appealed for the bell to be rung’. However, this ‘could not be done … and the men had to continue in the snow’ (The Register, 12 June 1911, p7). South Ballarat won, and at the end of the game there was a ‘rush for cabs and trains’ and half an hour later the ‘ground was a sheet of white’ (The Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times, 13 June 1911, p3).
The Herald reported changing weather conditions in the Ballarat competition again in July 1921 – the weather ‘provided variations of sleet, snow, hail and rain’ as well as a ‘short spell of sunshine’ in the half-time break (The Herald (Sporting Edition), 30 July 1921 p2). The ‘sodden ground’ was said to make ‘clever play difficult’ (The Australasian, 6 August 1921, p25).
Changeable weather is a feature of life in Melbourne which impacts on football. The Herald remarked in May 1915 that at midday the conditions for footy appeared to be ‘bright and bracing’ but by 2pm, with rain ‘falling steadily’, ‘players and spectators made up their minds to face a wet afternoon’. The hardness of grounds had been identified by players as the ‘chief fault’ that season ‘which had contributed to accidents’, so some recent rain was said to have had ‘a good affect on the turf’. But this was not to continue: ‘this afternoon’s showers made it more or less slippery’ (15 May 1915, p3).
We noted earlier this year that seeing the ball in fading light was a problem in the past, but this also was a concern in bad weather. A writer in the Sporting Globe commented on the benefits of using a white football, which could be better seen in the rain (but presumably not in the snow). The writer had seen a white ball ‘tested under appalling conditions’ and would ‘say without hesitation that it was an unqualified success’. Unfortunately local testing in 1952 wasn’t seen by some as promising – but the author declared that the test conditions were in fact the problem: ‘with the shade temperature 93 degrees and in a howling northerly, to try to test any football innovation was foolhardiness’. The Football League was reportedly looking for innovations with ‘a special committee … investigating the production of a special ball to help lift the game when grounds are sodden and light bad’ (2 April 1952, p12).
We were pleased to find historical evidence of football administrating taking out insurance against significant rain falls, for as we know – money has been, and continues to be, part of the game. In 1940 the Victorian Football League was paid £1000 ‘in rain insurance’ for the Grand Final match where Melbourne beat Richmond (Daily Mercury, 3 October 1940, p. 5). Apparently rain ‘kept thousands away from’ the Grand Final but ‘The game was insured against 10 points [2.54mm] of rain falling between 10.30 and 2.30’. In fact 13 points [3.302mm] of rain were recorded (points measurements were changed to mm in January 1974 by the Bureau of Meteorology), and the £1000 was added to the gate takings of £4,528 for a crowd of 69,061 people which The Argus described as ‘remarkably good’ (30 September 1940, p9).
Regardless of conditions – spectators seemed to be able to muster much enthusiasm and excitement for the game – which impresses us greatly. The photograph from 1929 in from the Truth newspaper at the top of the post captures this essence too – with the caption declaring that that the ‘West Australian youngsters didn’t mind the rain at the football’.
We hope you all can all look as excited as these young people when you’re watching your team play footy this long weekend!