Melbourne is routinely depicted as a sport loving city with our devotion to Australian Rules football characterised as an obsession. The writer George Johnston, author of the novel My Brother Jack, likened it to a ‘mad contagion’ which took hold of Melbourne each winter. [i]

The huge crowds at games and extensive media attention appears to validate this image. But not everyone is so interested in football. As long ago as 1876 there were critics of football.  John Stanley James  writing as the ‘Vagabond’ in the Argus observed ‘an excessive cultivation of the bodily powers to the neglect of the mental.’ While ‘No Ball’, a correspondent to the Hobart Mercury in 1876 complained of that newspaper’s attention to ‘endless squabbles about football.’

The spread of football mania in Victoria was depicted in the Melbourne Punch

The spread of footy mania in Victoria as depicted by Melbourne Punch, 27 June 1895, p 407.

Anti-football sentiment really found a voice in 1967 with the creation of the Anti-Football League, the real AFL, as it’s members like to refer to it. Two journalists at the Melbourne Sun, Keith Dunstan and Douglas Wilkie were so fed up with the endless talk about football they decided to create an anti-football league. The AFL was formally launched in the Melbourne Sun on the 17 June 1967. From the beginning the name was something of a misnomer as Dunstan wrote, ‘we do not hate football. We are rather fond of the game in a healthy kick a piece of leather around sort of way. It is the ballyhoo that we can’t stand’.

A feature of anti-football day was the ritual burning of footballs.

Keith Dunstan pictured at an anti-football day.

The Sun, 17 June 1967.

It was pointed out that in Melbourne that week there were nearly 27 hours on television of football telecasts, discussions, post-mortems etc. [ii] It was clearly too much. And that was with only 12 teams rather than 16, and no internet coverage!

Dunstan first feared the AFL would be a flop [iii] but it soon found support. It made clever use of parody and humour to offer an alternative viewpoint. It wisely linked itself to a charity, the Berry Street Babies Home, and raised money through the sale of merchandise such as badges (a square football which would not bounce), non-season tickets, cuff-links, T-shirts, stickers, and a poster reading, ‘This is a football free zone’. They even had a song in mock imitation of footy club songs called ‘Grand Finale’ sung to the tune of ‘There’s a hole in my bucket’. It began:

Oh we are the Traitors,
The VFL baitors
We’re aiming to cut footy’s image to size
We think big Barassi isn’t that classy
To us he’s a Little Boy Blue in disguise

Other initiatives included the Wilkie medal, for the person who had done the least for football that season, the burning of footballs, and the mock burial of a football at sea. Many of these activities occurred on an annual anti-football day which was held close to the day of the VFL Grand Final.

The AFL provided Sun cartoonist Geoff Hook, with plenty of ideas.

Non Finals Tickets on Sale cartoon

Cartoon by Geoff Hook, Melbourne Sun, c. 1971 used with permission

 Non Footy Crowds Up cartoon

Cartoon by Geoff Hook, Melbourne Sun, c. 1971 used with permission

Later, cartoonists and artists such as Michael Leunig followed in the tradition of critiquing the excesses of Melbourne’s footy mania.

Absolute Grand Final cropped

                  The Absolute Grand Final, by Michael Leunig, H98.98/28
Reproduced with permission from Michael Leunig

A poem and illustration by Michael Leunig.

Football disorder by Michael Leunig.
Reproduced with permission from Michael Leunig

At its peak the AFL had 7,000 members, and during its first decade raised over $100,000 for the Berry Street Babies Home, now known as Berry Street. It went into hiatus in 1997 but in 2007 it was revived to continue the crusade against ‘all the ballyhoo’. [iv]

Written by Tim Hogan, Manager of Victorian and Australian Published Collections, Collection Development and Discovery.


[i] Johnston, George, ‘This Sporting Life’,  in Robert Goodman and George Johnston, The Australians, Rigby: Adelaide, 1966, p. 256.

[ii] Dunstan, Keith, ‘The Year of the Anti-Footy League’, Melbourne Sun newspaper, 17 June, 1967, p. 19.

[iii] Dunstan, Keith, No Brains at All: An Autobiography, Penguin: Ringwood, Vic., 1990, p. 194

[iv] Barrett, Damian, ‘Smoking Ball is Back’, Herald-Sun, 12 May, 2007, p. 23.


Further reading
Klugman, Matthew, ‘Football is a Fever Disease Like Recurrent Malaria and Evidently Incurable’: Passion, Place and the Emergence of an Australian Anti-Football League, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Vol. 28, No. 10, July, 2011, pp. 1426-1446.

Dunstan, Keith, Sports, Cassell Australia: North Melbourne, Vic., 1973,  ‘The Football Passion’, pages 213-246.

Michael Leunig website,

Jeff Hook website,

Bridges, Jim, Harvey, Paul, Ross, John, Kicking Behinds: Cartoonists at the Footy, Penguin: Camberwell, Vic., 2003.

Our thanks to Geoff Hook and Michael Leunig for permission to use their images.


This article has 4 comments

  1. Yes!! I joined the AFL when it first started and I still have my little red badge. Although I don’t mind watching a game such as the Grand Final, I hate the hype and how football rules our media and at times, peoples’ lives. I often feel quite an outcast when I have to admit that I don’t follow any team.

  2. Love it! Today, on what is commonly known as Grand Final Day, I remembered with great fondness Keith Dunstan and Douglas Wilkie’s Anti-Football League. Peace reigns in my little neck of the woods. The sun is shining, birds are singing…. and there’s not a football in sight, nor a neanderthal roar of a crowd within earshot!

  3. Sharon Devlin ( Phillips)

    My father Alf Phillips designed the ” Anti football league” badge and had the conversation with Keith Dunstan offering to design the badge. Dad worked for K.G.Luke all his working life, designing badges, medals and medallions.

  4. Wow Sharon congrats on having an artistic dad who designed badges.
    I am a keen badge collector and I would love to be able to obtain one of these anti-football badges. Can you tell me where I might be able to get one?
    I love the game, played myself for many years in Canberra and Victoria country, however am very fed up with the AFL and the current hype, scandals, crazy rule changes and gambling on the sport. Sincerely Keith lord

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