The ball used for Australian Rules has evolved significantly since the game was first played in the 1850's. The ball used today is much more 'modern' than most people realise. The extent of the changes is easily visible when one consults old photos, or looks at old footballs in club museums. The article below identifies the important changes over time, and introduces the major brands of ball used in our game today.

Table 1: Summary of Changes in the Size of Australian Rules Footballs
Date Code Circumference Length Weight
Pre 1877 N/A N/A N/A
1877 VFA 26 inches N/A N/A
1892 Rugby 25½ - 26 inches 30 - 31 inches 12 - 13 ounces
1905 Victoria 23½ - 24½ inches 29½ - 30½ inches N/A
1930 ANFC 22¾ - 23¼ inches 29½ - 30 inches N/A
1939 ANFC 22¾ inches 29½ inches 16 - 17 Ounces
2013 AFL 545 - 555 mm
(21.45 - 21.85 in)
720 - 730 mm
(28.35 - 28.74 in)
62-76 Kpa Pressure

1850’s – Round or Oval Ball

In 1859, when the first laws of the new football code (soon to be dubbed 'Victorian Rules') were being formulated, the rules did not specify which ball should be used. In these early years, it is likely that the first games were played with a round ball. The occasions when a rugby (oval-shaped) ball was used were cause for comment. For example, in reference to the 1860 General Meeting of the influential Melbourne Football Club, the Argus reported that:

After the meeting a scratch game was got up, in which about 40 gentlemen joined. The ball, which was of rather a novel shape — oval, was kicked about merrily until the waning light rendered it difficult to distinguish friends from foes. – The Argus 28-Apr-1860 p5

Tom Wills, a central figure in formulating the original laws of the new Victorian football code, had attended Rugby School in England and appears to have played a role in the eventual adoption of an oval-shaped Rugby-type ball. The shape of the ball used in an early (1860) Melbourne versus Richmond game was the subject of another interesting comment by the Melbourne Argus. In this game Tom Wills was Richmond captain (although, curiously, also a member of the Melbourne Football Club Committee, and an attendee at the earlier General Meeting mentioned above). Wills exercised his right as visiting captain to use the Rugby ball.

Another drawback to an otherwise almost perfect afternoon's enjoyment was the objectionable shape of the ball, which was oval, and is said to have gained the prize at the Great Exhibition, besides being of the kind now in use at Rugby School. This class of ball may fly further than a round one, but assuredly, in nine cases out of ten, does not fulfil the expectations of the propeller, more particularly if there be any wind. Considerable dissatisfaction was expressed when the game began at the Richmond captain's maintaining his right to the choice of ball, and a great deal more after the play was over. – Argus 14-May-1860 Football: Melbourne v Richmond p5

Argus 15-Jun-1864 p8 - Early Advert
Argus 15-Jun-1864 p8 - Early Advert

The adoption of the Rugby ball as the standard was a gradual process. In this early period, a regular and organised competition did not exist. Clubs could make their own decisions. The Carlton club, for example, preferred the round ball. As described by the Argus, Carlton attributed their loss, in a 1865 match against South Yarra, to the shape of the ball:

The Carlton Club ascribe their defeat to the fact that they were obliged to play with the oval, or Rugby ball, while they had always been accustomed to a round ball; and they complain that their opponents would not allow a round ball to be introduced even after they had won the first goal. – Argus 11-Sep-1865 p5

The Victorian rules were certainly not universal across Australia. South Australian football clubs, for instance, remained round ball enthusiasts. At their 1876 meeting to decide the draft rules for the South Australian Football Association, the clubs determined unanimously to play with the round ball in preference to the oval one.1 Nevertheless, when the rules were written in April 1877, rule 14 specified that a rugby ball was to be used.

However, after an inter-colonial match between a South Australian combined team and Melbourne in August 1877, it was reported that:

During the first part of the game a No. 6 ball had been used, but on the game being again resumed a smaller ball, No. 2 size, was substituted, that being the customary size of ball used by the Melbourne Club. - South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail 18-Aug-1877 p15

Regardless of shape, most footballs were imported from England, though cheaper practice balls were occasionally manufactured locally.

1860’s and 1870's - Rugby Ball and First Innovations

Richard Linton and William Gilbert owned shops near Rugby School in England. By the 1850’s they were the two main suppliers of balls for the school. These early balls were made using inflated pigs' bladders inside a leather ball, and the variation in the size of the bladders meant the balls were different sizes.2

Richard Linton introduced ‘indian rubber’ inner tubes into his balls in the 1860's, and a hand pump to blow up the balls. Linton also claimed to have invented the distinctive oval shape of the ball. Unfortunately for Linton, he did not patent any of these inventions and they were widely copied. 3

William Gilbert’s business also grew. By 1877 Gilberts were producing 2,600 balls per year and were increasing the number they exported overseas to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.4

Rubber bladders meant that the 1870’s and 1880's saw standardization in the size of the ball. In 1872 the English Football Association revised its rules, and for the first time included measurements for the ball in their rules5 In Melbourne, for the first time, Australian Rules Football rules specified the size and shape of the ball:

Rule 1–- ..The ball to be used shall be the no2 size Rugby (26 inches in circumference)
(Laws of the Game – Victorian Football Association (1877) - Source:The Yorker, 2010, Issue 41 p25

In England, the specifications for the ball in rugby itself were not written into the rules of rugby until 1892, so rugby balls could still vary greatly in shape and be legal. In Australia, most footballs were imported and Gilberts dominated the market, providing the standard ball size and shape.

The South Australian Advertiser 25-May-1886 p3
The South Australian Advertiser 25-May-1886 p3
Independent - Footscray - 6-Jun-1885 p4
Independent - Footscray - 6-Jun-1885 p4

Rugby balls were larger and rounder than modern Australian Rules footballs. The different shape is obvious when one sees old images, as the examples below demonstrate:

unidentified footballer - Source: State Library of Victoria H2012_81 - studio of Timothy Noble c1874-78
unidentified footballer - Source: State Library of Victoria H2012_81 - studio of Timothy Noble c1874-78
The Footballer 1879 Cover - Source: State Library of Victoria
The Footballer 1879 Cover - Source: State Library of Victoria

1890's - T.W. Sherrin and an Australian Ball

TW Sherrin - Source: State Library of Victoria  H28190_537
TW Sherrin - Source: State Library of Victoria H28190_537

Tom Sherrin was twenty-two when he started his sporting good manufacturing company in 1879. The store was known for cricket balls and boxing gear, and it is probable that he began manufacture of footballs around this time. The Sherrin company website indicates that in 1879 Tom Sherrin first designed a ball more snub nosed than a regular rugby ball.6

Sherrin won prizes in International Exhibitions in Melbourne (1880) 7 and Adelaide (1881) - but these were for the design of cricket balls, rather than for football designs (which is sometimes implied). Sherrin exhibited at the 1888 Centennial Exhibition, but he is listed as a Cricket Ball Manufacturer and not as a sporting goods manufacturer.8

A surviving image of the Sherrin stand at the 1888 exhibition shows an array of sporting goods on display: framed photos of teams using Sherrin balls; various balls and boxing equipment on display and hanging from a bar suspended above. A second image, of Sherrin's own Brittannia team (c1886), also exists. The team is shown posing with a ball inscribed 'Manufactured by TW Sherrin'. Both photos appear in Syd Sherrin's recent publication 'Sherrin: The Family Behind the Football'.

Though Sherrin manufactured footballs it is not clear how popular they were. The 'Victorian Football Guide 1894', published by the Victorian Cricketing and Sports Company, did not include Sherrin’s name on any of their branded footballs, but his name did appear as a supplier of punching balls for boxing.

There was also a lack of advertisements for Sherrin branded footballs at this time. Brands such as the ‘Gilbert Ball’, on the other hand, were used frequently. This situation changed around 1893-94, with the beginning of a rise in the importance of Sherrin manufactured balls.

A few factors may have affected the situation.

In 1892 the first definition of the size of the ball had been written into the rules of Rugby. The ball was set to a circumference of 25 ½ to 26 inches, a circumference laterally of 30 to 31 inches, and a weight of 12 to 13 ounces.9 As the VFA's Laws of the Game indicated that a No.2 Rugby ball was to be used, Rugby's change also affected Australian Rules Football. If Sherrin was already making footballs that were shorter than stipulated in the new rule, he could either conform or intentionally make a distinctively shorter ball.

Sherrin was a member of the Britannia Football Club, the forerunner of the Collingwood Football Club. In 1892, he was elected a member of the newly-formed Collingwood Football Club Committee. Sherrin's close relationship to the rising Collingwood team may have added to his influence.

The first advertisements for Sherrin footballs began to appear, starting in 1893 in the Bendigo Advertiser. The start of this advertising campaign also coincided with the worsening economic depression in Victoria, where the lower-priced ball may have gained popularity - though interestingly, Sherrin's prices do not appear to be significantly lower than Gilbert's.

Outside Victoria, the Gilbert ball remained as the market leader.

When top VFA clubs, including Collingwood, broke ranks and formed the Victorian Football League in 1897, Sherrin became a major supplier to the League, initiating a relationship that is still strong 115 years later.

Bendigo Advertiser 1May1893 p3
Bendigo Advertiser 1May1893 p3
West Australian 28Aug1895 p1
West Australian 28Aug1895 p1
Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle  15Apr1899 p2s
Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle 15Apr1899 p2s

At some point Sherrin began making a ball that was qualitatively different from the standard rugby ball. This ball was smaller end-to-end, and smaller in circumference. How this occurred, and whether this was a gradual change, is not clear.

What is clear is that Sherrin's rise as an important manufacturer of footballs occurred in the 1890's, and that his ball became the standard ball used in Victoria (probably for both Rugby and 'Australian Rules' ). The Sherrin ball was distinctively Australian in shape, and was to take over as the new standard ball, at least in Melbourne, for Australian Rules Football.

1900’s – A Standard Ball

Daily News Perth 8-Jun-1905 p9
Daily News Perth 8-Jun-1905 p9
By the 1900’s the size and shape of the football was still not consistent across the (Australian Rules) football states. The new blunt-ended ball produced in Victoria was still not universal. However this was about to change:

In 1904 a committee was appointed to discuss the advisability of manufacturing a standard ball. At this time the South Australians used a large pointed ball, while a shorter, blunt-pointed one was favoured by Victoria. In 1908, at the Jubilee Carnival, at which all the States and New Zealand competed, the blunt-pointed ball was used, as it was found more serviceable. (Sunday Times (Perth) 19-Jun-1938 p4s)

An important change for the Australian game was the formation of the Australian National Football Council (ANFC) and the accompanying standardisation of the rules between the states. A hugely significant development was the removal of any reference to a Rugby ball, and the adoption of a range of standard measurements.

For the first time, the laws of Australian Rules football designated a distinctive ball. The ‘Victorian’ ball had triumphed. However, this did not mean the start of a situation where different balls were used for Rugby and Australian Rules. During this period, advertisements appeared for many brands, and it seems no distinction was made: there were no advertisements for a 'Rugby' ball, as opposed to a 'Rules' ball. At this time, all footballs were advertised together, indiscriminately.

Rule 1 ....The ball to be used shall not be less than 23 ½ nor more than 24½ inches in circumference laterally and not less than 29½ nor more than 30½ inches longitudinally. The ball to be approved by the field umpire
Victorian Football League Laws of the Game 1910 - The Victorian Football League Constitution, Rules, Permits and Laws of the Game, 1910, Saxon and Buckie Printers

In 1912 Syd Sherrin took over from his father Tom. A factory fire in 1914 meant the factory had to be rebuilt, and the First World War exacerbated problems, but by 1927, Sherrin were producing around 20,000 footballs per year.10

Don and Fordham

Apart from Sherrin, other local manufacturers were also competing for business.
H. Fordham in Brunswick, for example, supplied balls in Western Australia, and had a close relationship with the Victorian Football Association. In 1909, despite objections from other manufacturers, Fordham won the VFA tender against five other tenders to supply his footballs for the season at 13/6 each.11

Robert Don was another Brunswick supplier. A promotional piece in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader in 1914 indicates that Don produced over 30,000 footballs in 1913: ‘A Record for Australia’. Even if Don were not given the prestigious contracts, Don footballs were well used.12

Reporter-Box Hill 27-May-1910 p3
Reporter-Box Hill 27-May-1910 p3
Leader - Melbourne 29-Jun-1918 p22
Leader - Melbourne 29-Jun-1918 p22

1910’s - Joe Burley and Footballs in Western Australia

Joe Burley, originally from Victoria, began production of his own brand of footballs in Western Australia in 1907. The Burley footballs quickly became popular. (Joe’s brother Fred founded another well-known company in Sydney - Berlei Underwear).13

A 1939 article on the Burley company records its origins:

The first ball used in Australian football was the English Rugby ball, and it was not until 1904 that the ‘Sherrin’ and ‘Fordham’, two Victorian balls, were introduced in WA. As they were of smaller pattern, and better adapted to the game, these two balls immediately became popular. Then, in 1906, Mr. J. L. Burley produced his ‘Western’ football in this State. Although league delegates were not enthusiastic about this ball, Mr. J. Capp, who was then secretary and delegate of the East Fremantle club, offered to have the ball tried out and to report to the league. In a match between East Fremantle and West Perth, played on the Fremantle Oval, on June 14, 1906, the first "Burley" football was used. 14

Western Mail 8-Aug-1946 p26 - 01 JF Burley
Western Mail 8-Aug-1946 p26 - 01 JF Burley
Western Mail 8-Aug-1946 p27 - 02 JL Burley
Western Mail 8-Aug-1946 p27 - 02 JL Burley

By 1912, in a new advertising twist, Burley was advertising the Burley as the official ball of the Western Australia Football League (WAFL). Their competitors, another local manufacturer Hugo Fisher, responded that the Fisher was the official ball - and so the ads continued. By 1923 the WAFL had tried, and failed, to stop the advertisements. The Daily News reported the League's position:

The attention of the League at its last meeting was drawn to the fact that certain football-makers were advertising their ball as the official ball of the League. As there is no official ball it was decided that the manufacturers be informed that the League used only locally-manufactured balls, and that none is regarded as the official ball. 15

A quick glance at some 1929 advertisements reveals that nothing changed:

Western Mail 30-May-1929 p23
Western Mail 30-May-1929 p23
The Daily News Perth 26-Jul-1929 p10
The Daily News Perth 26-Jul-1929 p10

The phenomenon of competing claims to the official football was not limited to Western Australia. In 1930 a Sherrin advertisement in the Victorian Football Record included the claim Sherrin had been used by the VFL for 'all interstate matches since its inception'. Interestingly, the advertisement noted recommendations by the All Blacks and English rugby teams, supposedly demonstrating the appropriateness of the Sherrin for both Australian Rules and Rugby.
VFL Record 1930 Round 1 p25
VFL Record 1930 Round 1 p25

Interstate rivalry was expressed in arguments over which football to use. For example, interstate games between South Australia and Western Australia in 1923 and 1926 used both a Burley ball and a Sherrin ball - in alternate quarters.16 For the 1927 Interstate Carnival in Melbourne, the decision whether to use a Sherrin or a Burley was left to the opposing teams. Failure to agree meant each brand was used for half a match.17

Burley the football manufacturer has since merged with clothing manufacturer Sekem. The firm still produces footballs under the Burley name. 18

1920's - Ross Faulkner

According to the company website, Ross Faulkner began production of footballs in 1927.19 His firm rose quickly as a supplier. Faulkner 'Native Brand' footballs were soon a recognised brand name - and are still produced today.

Like H. Fordham before him, Faulkner initially formed relationships in the Victorian Football Association. He was club president at Northcote and later President of the VFA. Faulkner became the exclusive supplier of footballs for the VFA. He also sponsored the Victorian Sub-District League, and donated balls and a shield to the VSDL.20

VFL Football Record 1931 VFA v VFL p.21 Ross Faulkner Advertisement
VFL Football Record 1931 VFA v VFL p.21 Ross Faulkner Advertisement

Strategic relationships were certainly important for manufacturers of football products. It was therefore not uncommon for these men to occupy positions on football club committees. Faulkner officiated at Northcote and Fitzroy; Sherrin officiated at Collingwood; and Burley officiated at East Perth. Kenneth (later Sir Kenneth) Luke, who manufactured trophies and medallions, rose to the position of VFL President.

The importance of sponsorships can be illustrated by one further historical example. In 1934, Jim Francis, a Hawthorn player of some note, moved to Carlton. Francis is now mainly remembered for his various roles at Carlton (captain 1936,1942-43; coach 1956-58; Hall of Fame 1996). The father of Jim Francis explained his son's 1934 departure to the Hawthorn committee: “his son wanted to go to Carlton as the Hawthorn club would not purchase football material from his firm.”21

A Smaller Ball

By the early 1920's (Australian Rules) football authorities in Victoria had begun to agitate for a smaller ball. An attempt to amend the Law in 1923 (to reduce the circumference of the ball from 23 ½-24½ inches to 23-23½ inches) was unsuccessful.22 This Victorian move suggests the shape of the ball used for Australian Rules in the twenties was still evolving. A smaller ball would have meant the Rules ball was significantly different from the standard Rugby ball - and that the same ball could no longer be sold for use in both codes.

Pressure to change the size of the ball did not end, and in 1929 the Australian National Football Council did change the size of the ball, allowing for a ball even smaller than that requested by Victoria in 1923. What did this new ball mean, and did it change how the game was played?

Spectators in the 1930's saw a dramatic change in the game as full-forwards throughout Australia set new goal-kicking records. The change to the out-of-bounds rule (which forced more direct play up and down the field), along with other factors, was responsible for the higher scoring, but the new smaller ball may also have been a factor.

The standard size of footballs shall be 22 ¾ inches to 23 ¼ inches in lateral circumference, 29 ½ inches and no more than 30 inches longitudinally, not less than 16 ounces and no more than 17 ounces of weight.
Australian National Football Council Laws: Important Amendments to Operate from this Year – Advocate Burnie 8-Apr-1930 p3

In 1931 Rugby Union officials changed their laws to define a football as being 24 to 25½ inches by 30 to 31 inches.

1930’s - New Brands and New Technology

The traditional method of creating a football was to make it by hand.

The leather used in the manufacture of the best footballs is specially selected ox hide. The leather is cut into four sections, something like the shape of very large Moreton Bay fig leaves, and these must weigh 3oz. each. The hides from which these leather leaves have been cut are all hand-worked or "hand-stuffed". They then are placed in grease for three months. This method of greasing produces much better leather. After the greasing process the leaves are put through a mangle, and on this compressed to an appreciably large size. After this the leaves are carefully sorted and numbered. A set of four is laid aside for each football ready for the stitcher.

There is a top side and a bottom side to a football. The bottom side is the business end which receives the most wear, and so is made of the better quality of leaves. All the stitching is done by hand with steel sewing needles. In fact, except for the shaving and stretching apparatus, no machinery is used at all in the making of the ball, and it is entirely an Australian industry. – Sunday Times – Perth 19-Jun-1938 p4s

Though this method would be treasured and retained for the best footballs, new technology would enter into the making of footballs. Competitors strove to improve their product and to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Technology (White, Rubber, Inflatable)

Three new changes were trialled in the 1930's - the use of white footballs for night play, an experiment with rubber footballs for wet weather, and the introduction of the valve to inflate the ball.

Night football games - the first since 1878 - were played in the 1930's. In the same decade, for the purposes of training, floodlights were introduced at many grounds. Sherrin supplied a white ball, especially made, for the first night match in 1935. Soon there were competitors. Not far behind were Ross Faulkner and Preston Football Club President Harry Zwar with their ‘Prestonite’ white football.

Sporting Globe 5-Jul-1939 p10 White Ball
Sporting Globe 5-Jul-1939 p10 White Ball

Leather soaks up water, and in wet weather the ball becomes hard and heavy. All-rubber footballs for wet weather games were trialled in the 1930's. This was not successful because the balls floated. In 1935 a ball with a rubber fabric cover was introduced especially to improve handling in wet weather. The Gippsland Times credited the invention to an Albury footballer named E.J. Clutterbuck.23 (There is no indication as to whether Clutterbuck was working for one of the major football manufacturers).

In April 1935, a meeting of the Victorian Football League discussed the use of rubber footballs on wet days. Most agreed that the rubber balls handled better in wet weather, but not dry weather.

Disagreement over whether to depart from tradition, and disagreement as to whether it was sensible to use different footballs in different weather conditions, meant the issue was indefinitely deferred.24 Graziers, Tanners and Football manufacturers worried about a potential loss of revenue, as the industry was producing leather for over 60,000 footballs per year in Victoria alone.25

New suppliers continued to enter the market.
Sporting Globe 8-Apr-1939 p4 Kromo Football Advert
Sporting Globe 8-Apr-1939 p4 Kromo Football Advert
Sunday Times Perth 21-Jul-1935 p2s
Sunday Times Perth 21-Jul-1935 p2s

Another new innovation associated with the late 1930's was the inflatable ball (with valve) introduced by Melbourne firm Nutting and Young. Unfortunately, the Second World War delayed the introduction of the valve football until the early 1950's.

A close-up of a ball in a 1939 Sporting Globe photograph displays the standard ball of the time. It is immediately evident that there is no valve.

Sporting Globe 29-Jul-1939 p5 - Season Champions
Sporting Globe 29-Jul-1939 p5 - Season Champions

In 1953 footballs with valves were still novel. The Benalla Football Club, coached by former Carlton strong man Bob Chitty, purchased one of these balls. The local paper reported the event:

Club has purchased one of a new line in footballs, available from a local sports dealer, for training. Ball is produced by the Melbourne firm of Nutting and Young, and is canvas lined to minimise the possibility of it losing shape. Main feature of the ball, however, is the patented 'esy-flate’ plug, replacing the conventional tit in the usual bladder. The ball is laced before being pumped up giving a smoother surface - and a needle (supplied) is placed in the ‘ezy flate’ and attached to the pump. The ‘ezy-flate’ is self-sealing, and maximum air pressure is 11 lb. This ball has attracted quite a deal of attention throughout the State. Sherrin balls are used in the V.F.L. and in the 0. and M. two balls must be submitted one of them a Sherrin. (Benalla Ensign 30-Apr-1953 p12)

Sporting Globe 19-Aug-1939 p6 New Type of Football
Sporting Globe 19-Aug-1939 p6 New Type of Football
Sunday Mail Brisbane 12-Apr-1953 p20
Sunday Mail Brisbane 12-Apr-1953 p20

There were more changes to the size of the standard football at the end of the thirties. A slightly smaller ball with more snubbed ends was introduced.

Consistency of shape remained an issue at the ANFC. In 1938 the national body again attempted to standardise the shape of the ball.

1940's - A Smaller Standard Football - Wartime Restrictions

Delegates to the 1938 ANFC meeting again agreed that a new ball was required. This time the ball shape was the issue. The Argus reported on the meeting:

On the suggestion by Canberra that there should be a standard size of football throughout Australia, Mr. S. Sherrin, a leading Melbourne manufacturer attended by invitation Victoria also suggested the measurements laid down before 1929 22 3/4 in. to 23 1/4 in. round and 29 1/2 in. to 30 in. long. (two lines above - sic). Mr. Sherrin said that several makes of balls were smaller than the standard previously adopted. There had been objections in Victoria to the long pointed ball. He thought the best size was 22 5/8 in. by 29 1/2 in., which was smaller than that in general use. Mr Rush said that Victoria was more concerned with the shape than of (sic) the size which could remain on the present margins. On the motion of Mr. Stooke (W.A.), it was agreed that the desired shape was 22 3/4 in. by 29 1/2 in. and not pointed. Samples will be sent to every manufacturer. Mr Sherrin handed the balls on view to New South Wales and Queensland – Argus 4-Nov-1938 p20

The Advertiser Adelaide 6-Jan-1939 p19
The Advertiser Adelaide 6-Jan-1939 p19

2. (vii) The standard size of footballs shall conform as far as possible to the specifications of 22¾ inches by 29½ inches and of the shape agreed upon at 1938 Council Meeting, sample of which is available to manufacturers on application to the Council Secretary. The weight of the ball to be not less than 16 ounces or more than 17 ounces.
Part II General Provisions - Australian National Football Council – Laws of the Australian National Game of Football – Issued by the Australian National Football league 1944 (Source SLV)

In 1939, the last football season before the start of World War Two, the new changes were introduced.

Rationing was introduced soon after the start of World War Two, and was applied to food and petrol for individuals, and to the prioritization of essential materials for the war effort. In July 1942 a wide range of leather and rubber goods were forbidden to be manufactured for the duration of the war. This included typewriters, surfboards, dart boards, golf club grips, bath mats, golf tees, model aeroplanes and football bladders (except sizes suitable for match play).26

Production of footballs was allowed again in 1944, but for the remainder of the war (and until near the end of the forties) rubber and leather for footballs was scarce. The VFL was reduced to using second hand, patched, and reconditioned bladders in new covers.27

Also, during this period, many footballs were donated to the armed services. Newspaper stories from the 1940’s reflect this scarcity. With footballs hard to get, even the rumour of a free football could stir people into action.
Argus 28-Apr-1947 p20
Argus 28-Apr-1947 p20

1950’s - Artificial Rubber and Waterproof Balls

Synthetic rubber was not new, but World War Two created an explosion in its industrial manufacture and improvements in quality. After the war, bladders made from synthetic rubber became stronger, and soon nearly all bladders were synthetic. Over time the quality and strength of the bladders also increased.

In the 1950's football administrators searched for a better wet-weather ball.

During the 1950 ANFC Carnival in Brisbane, incidentally the first Carnival to ever involve the Victorian Football Association, a special white waterproof football was used for night games. This ball was supplied by Ross Faulkner. It was instantly popular and its use debated. The white coating on the ball made it more waterproof than untreated leather. The use of the new ball was banned by some Leagues and adopted by others. In 1953, at the ANFC Carnival in Adelaide, the white ball was again used - for a number of matches, including matches featuring WA, Tasmania and the VFA.28

However, by 1956, even after a three-year investigation, the VFL had yet to adopt a wet weather ball.29

The Mail - Adelaide 18Jul1953 p6s
The Mail - Adelaide 18Jul1953 p6s

The Football also provided employment. For the photographer, it provided a good photo.
Examiner Launceston 14Apr1951p1
Examiner Launceston 14Apr1951p1
Australian Women's Weekly 10-Jun-1950 p13
Australian Women's Weekly 10-Jun-1950 p13
The Age 16Apr1952 p11
The Age 16Apr1952 p11
Argus 16-Apr-1953 p3 Miss Marlow Sherrin
Argus 16-Apr-1953 p3 Miss Marlow Sherrin

1960's and 1970's - International Business

In 1972 Sherrin was sold to Spalding, a U.S company. It was just one of a large number of Australian brands being bought by international interests. Later, in 1982, Sherrin closed the original Collingwood factory and began to produce footballs from a factory in Sunshine.

1980's-1990’s - National Expansion of the Victorian Football League - and of Sherrin

The VFL introduced three interstate clubs (Sydney, Brisbane, West Coast) in the eighties, and more in the nineties, and re-branded itself 'AFL'. The AFL enshrined the Sherrin as the official ball. With the AFL now the 'top tier' of football competitions, the prestige that came from supplying the ball for the WAFL and SANFL was diminished. In 2001 Sherrin signed a long-term contract as the supplier of footballs for AFL competition. Sherrin was thus able to forge a new identity as THE Australian Football. Other manufacturers will no doubt continue to innovate and challenge Sherrin's market position.

Beyond the AFL however, in other football competitions, variation in the size of the ball is still common. Players still have their favourite ball and argue its merits. Variation was certainly part of football in the past, and is in itself a tradition. In the past rules were introduced at various levels so that the opposing team could select the ball. In interstate matches, there were even rules stipulating that different 'makes' of balls should be alternated after each quarter.

Today - Continuing Innovation

Innovation in football design has not stopped. Sometime during the 1980's-1990's period, the 'official' ball was again reduced in size. Today, in 2013, the football for AFL competition is smaller than ever:

4. Football – 4.1 Dimensions and Weight - Unless otherwise determined by the AFL, a football shall be of a symmetrical oval shape and conform to the standard size of 720–730 millimetres in circumference and 545–555 millimetres transverse circumference and be inflated to a pressure of 62–76Kpa.
Laws of Australian Football 2013 – Australian Football League

A variety of firms continue to manufacture footballs. Most of them still seek innovations. Nylon laces replaced kangaroo hide in the 1970’s. Sherrin introduced the first sponsor-branded football in the 1992 AFL final series (McDonalds logo). More recently Sherrin have produced fluorescent footballs, and GPS clips inside footballs for ball tracking.

A recent article by Professor Hans Westerbeek of Victoria University is interesting. In his 'On the ball: does the AFL need to design a better footy?', Professor Westerbeek argues there is far too much inconsistency in the shape and performance of Australian Rules footballs. He suggests scientific testing and synthetic (rather than leather) covers could result in a better football.30 Today, Australian Rules football is one of the few ball sports still holding out in an age of synthetic materials: Soccer, Rugby and American Football now commonly use synthetic balls.

We can be sure the standard Australian Rules ball will continue to change as the game itself evolves. Should we be striving for the 'perfect' ball, or is tradition more important? Variation and imperfection in the ball undoubtedly encourage randomness and unpredictability in our great national game - and that is not always a bad thing.

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End Notes

1. South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail 19-Aug-1876 p18
3. ibid
6. visited 26-May-2013
7. INTERCOLONIAL JUVENILE INDUSTRIAL EXHIBITION, 1879-80. (1880, March 5). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 9. Retrieved May 25, 2013, from
8. THE CENTENNIAL INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION. (1889, January 15). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 93 Supplement: Melbourne Centennial Exhibition 1888 The Argus Supplement. Retrieved June 3, 2013, from
9. visited 3-June-2013
10. visited on 26-May-2013
11. VICTORIAN ASSOCIATION. (1909, April 24). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 17. Retrieved May 27, 2013, from
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30. - visited 6Jun2013