Ballarat Football Club, formed on 20 May 1860 played some of its first matches on Green’s and Johnson’s Paddocks, in the vicinity of the Old Ballarat Cemetery, on the Drummond Street side. The first Ballarat team comprised fifteen players among which were B. J. Figgis, Charlie Herring and the captain of the side, A. Greenfield. When they played the strong Geelong side, the Ballarat team was beaten two goals to nil. Later teams were made up of twenty and even thirty players!
The umpire bounced the ball in the middle of the oval, but unlike the present system, ALL players then lined up in the middle of the ground, and vied for the ball. When one side scored a goal, the two teams changed ends. The game lasted for up to three hours and sometimes an extra half and hour if there happened to be a draw.
A contest ensued between Geelong and Ballarat at Green’s Paddock on 1 July 1863. W. Tims kicked a goal for the home side after only half an hour. Another twenty minutes elapsed before a Geelong player kicked a disputed goal. (A Ballarat player said he had touched the ball before it went through the posts.) There being no goal umpire, the play was stopped, and the game ended in arguments and an ‘all-in punching match which only stopped when darkness came’. The two teams then partook of dinner at the George Hotel with festivities progressing until the morning!
Clubs such as the Albion, Albion Imperial (south Ballarat), and Galatea (Ballarat Imperials or Imps) soon formed. Wynne’s Paddock, at the west end of Sturt Street was often used for these games, with Agar Wynne, after whom the Paddock was named, being called the ‘artful dodger’.
Saxon Paddock (now the City Oval) was first used for football around 1876, sixpence being charged for admission. Maryborough and Ballarat contested the first match there, which ended in a draw and drew much condemnation from the local papers who wrote:
‘Football is a manly game and does not require all this bullocking and punching. The game on Saturday gave neither honour to the players nor pleasure to the onlookers. It is not football to deliberately try to injure your opponents. If more games of this kind are played, parents will have to set aside a portion of their income to keep their sons in repair’.
Football clubs continued to be established and the game has become one of the most popular ever played.