A sell-out crowd of five hundred and nineteen people at the pre-match luncheon for the Cordner-Eggleston Cup match heard distinguished historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC acclaim the annual 1st XVIII football match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar as 'something to be very proud of' and the 143rd year of the contest as 'something well worth celebrating.'
MC for the day, Leigh McGregor introduced former Old Melburnian President Peter Beaumont who formally introduced our guest speaker.
In a stimulating and highly entertaining address, Professor Blainey traced the early development of the code of Australian Rules and pointed out that the record of history clearly established that the game pre-dated any of the well-known English soccer clubs by several years, and the allegedly similar game of Gaelic football by a much longer period.
Only Rugby, initiated by the school of that name, and played as a schoolboy game in England, had an older history than the Scotch-Grammar match.
Indeed it was the game played by the young Victorian Tom Wills (one of the two umpires at that inaugural match) when he was sent to school at Rugby. (Not bad for a boy of convict ancestry whose parents became squatters and made good).
Tom Wills was Melbourne Grammar's nomination and by then he had become secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club. Scotch's nominee was a Dr John McAdam, a Glasgow University medical graduate, and a chemistry master at Scotch at the time.
He went on to lecture at the University of Melbourne before entering politics.
The need for two umpires even then may seem far-sighted, but it was not surprising as it is believed the distance between the goal posts in Yarra Park (there were no behinds, they came later) was somewhere between four hundred to five hundred yards.
Professor Blainey conceded there were some football games played by suburban teams around inner Melbourne around the same time, but there was no doubt about it.
The Scotch-Grammar game which began on 7 August 1858 and was played out over three days.
The final score was one goal each and it was indeed the first recorded 'Aussie-style' game.
The actual rules themselves evolved later, as did the establishment of the League clubs we know today (Melbourne first, then Geelong).
There have been stories that the highly acclaimed skills of many of today's aboriginal players may have been due to early games of legend played with a stuffed possum skin, but these were not recorded, he noted.
Professor Blainey pointed out that the many thousands of people who love the game so much today owed a great deal to its pioneers, who also stood for the great traditions of amateur sport, now largely lost in the lust for money that professional sport has become.
A terrific sense of camaraderie and mutual respect pervaded the luncheon, even though the audience comprised two groups of fierce but friendly rivals for one hundred and forty three years - probably just as well, as it was certainly closer than the contest that was to come.
In this vein he concluded prophetically that in amateur sport, the game itself was more important than the actual result, and it was just as glorious to lose as it was to win.
Alas, half the audience must have been mighty glad he had reminded us of that.
It was a fine beginning to a splendidly ecumenical day, with our guest speaker being a distinguished Old Wesley Boy and a keen Geelong supporter.
Scotch College: ABN 86 852 826 445 ACN 005 650 395 CRICOS 00624A (Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students)