The History of Gridiron Australia
American Football commenced in Australia in 1979 with the formation of the Waverly Oval Raiders. The Waverly Oval raiders were started by Stephen Jones with school and work mates. In 1983 teams from both New South Wales and Victoria started to form and play each other in a social competition.
In early 1984 an advertisement was placed over a Sydney radio station advertising for American football enthusiasts to assemble. The response was remarkable and seven teams formed in Sydney teams comprising enthusiastic amateurs who had been throwing the ball around on Sunday afternoons were formed.
The first season saw all games being played at a disused rubbish tip. There were no goal posts, no medical supervision and no insurance. The early pioneers did not wear helmets but found kick boxing protective headgear useful. 1984 also saw the first interstate clash when a team from Melbourne travelled to Sydney to play. NSW won the match 30-7. American Football had arrived in Australia.
Fred and Melba Burson were the first people that imported football equipment into Australia to use. They also did things like bring coaches out from the University of Hawaii for clinics at their own expense. Luckily for Gridiron in Australia, Fred had the money to actually have the equipment on stock in Australia. Their efforts helped lay the foundation for the sport to develop in Australia so that other leagues could start up around the country. Also in 1984, the Australian American Football Conference was founded (later renamed the Australian American Football League).
In November 1989, the Grand Prix Challenge was held in Adelaide, a four-way competition involving Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales. New South Wales went on to win the Challenge.
In 1990 the Down Under Bowl concept arrived in Australia and is still going strong. Each year, individual American States are invited to field High School all-star teams, travel to Australia, and spread the growth of the game down under. Games are played against local Australian teams and between US teams. These games are run by International Sports Specialists Inc (ISSI), a company based in Utah, USA. 1998 saw the most successful year yet with 36 teams travelling to the Gold Coast in Queensland to compete in the Down Under Bowl.
Tasman competition came to Melbourne in January 1991 when Victoria played the visiting South Auckland Raiders from New Zealand, finishing in a thrilling 19-19 draw. A series of interstate Bowl games were to be played between all major states in October/November 1991. The Victorians were rewarded with a good win. The following week saw the NSW state team go down to the Victorian Eagles at Olympic Park. This left Victoria as the National State Champions for 1991.
The National Gridiron League of Australia (NGLA) was formed in January 1991 “to govern and promote American football on the national level and to represent Australian gridiron on the international scene.” Gridiron Australia (GA) was formed in 1994, with the aim of replacing the old National Gridiron League of Australia.
By 1995 American football was being played in every State and Territory in Australia, a total of approximately 100 teams. In 1995 Darren Bennett became the third Australian to play in the NFL when he was selected as the punter for the San Diego Chargers. The first Australian to play in the NFL was Colin Ridgeway, who played Aussie Rules for Carlton in the 1960’s before being picked up by the Dallas Cowboys as a punter. After him came Colin Scotts, who went to college in Hawaii before being drafted to play with the Phoenix Cardinals and then the Houston Oilers in the middle to late 1980’s.
Gridiron Australia’s first National Championships were held in the nation’s capital, Canberra, in January 1996. Both senior and junior teams from New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia attended. South Australia won the Senior Championship 34-0 and New South Wales won the Junior Championship 12-8.
In 1996, 24 US teams toured Australia and New Zealand as part of Down Under Bowl VIII. Both Victoria and South Australia recorded wins over US teams. In 1997 the Australia Day Championships were held in Sydney, with Queensland taking the Championship. In 1997 Australia resumed its international campaign against New Zealand. On 1 August 1997 the Australian Bushrangers played the New Zealand Haka in Auckland, New Zealand. The game, the inaugural Anzac Bowl, was a great success. On 7 January, the Australian American Football League (AAFL) was formed.
On 31 January 1998, the Bushrangers played Team Hawaii in Honolulu during the National Football League’s Pro Bowl week. Trips to Europe and Japan are also planned. Australia also participated in the inaugural World Cup, held in Italy in June 1999.
In May 1998, the AAFL was dissolved, with Gridiron Australia becoming the only national body involved in the management of Gridiron matters in Australia.
There are currently seven active member states and one affiliated body – Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, Gridiron Victoria and the Australian Gridiron Officials Association.
Gridiron Australia is a member of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). Gridiron Australia currently has approximately 3,000 members nationwide across approximately 70 teams.
The Australian Gridiron League is a national tournament run by Gridiron Australia. The event is held biennially. The event consists of Mens and Womens games and is held in a fly in fly out, home and away format.
The Junior Nationals is an in-camp tournament held biennially for under 19s. The Outback Gridiron Team is the Australian representative team which competes every four years in the International Federation of American Football World Cup. The IFAF 2015 World Cup was Australia’s most successful to date with Australia finishing 5th. The next World Cup is slated for 2019.
The Women’s Outback Team competes every four years in the IFAF Women’s World Cup. Australia attended for the first time in 2017.
The Junior Outback Team competes every two years at the IFAF Junior World Cup. In 2016 the Junior Outback competed at the World Cup in China.