Rule trials aren't new as footy loses sense of history

As the competition committee contemplates nine potential alterations to the game to improve it as a spectacle, the "don't touch the game" advocates have been finding voice.

However football's history undermines the broad sweep of their argument, as change has always been part of the game with more than 130 rule changes occurring since 1897.

And believe it or not one of the most accepted changes was trialled during a game just over 50 years ago.

Marking out the rectangle at Princes Park in 1966  for a trial during a game played for premiership points.

Marking out the rectangle at Princes Park in 1966 for a trial during a game played for premiership points.

At the end of July 1966, Carlton and Fitzroy took matters into their own hands in order to ease congestion creeping into the game by trialling a rule change during a game played for premiership points.

Coaches Ron Barassi and Bill Stephen agreed to test a rectangle in the centre of the ground that would become the forerunner to a centre diamond being introduced in 1973 and the centre square in '75.

At the time the game was heading for the seventh consecutive (and 15th out of the previous 16) season of teams scoring fewer than 80 points a game. Sides had averaged more than 80 points a game in all but two seasons between 1930 and 1950.

The remarkable mid-season rule trial is a reminder that the game has grappled with congestion previously and made amendments in order to make the game more attractive.

With Carlton two games out of the eight and Fitzroy winless on the bottom the two innovative coaches came to a gentleman's agreement to trial the rule.

Carlton secretary Gerald Bourke oversaw a 45×27-metre rectangle being painted on the Princes Park surface the day before the game.

Under the ''keep-out'' rule, which the clubs agreed to follow but didn't expect umpires to enforce, four players from each team were allowed inside the rectangle at each centre bounce with other players allowed to enter the rectangle as soon as the ball was bounced.

First bounce: Carlton v Fitzroy, 1966, with the trial rectangle on Princes Park.

First bounce: Carlton v Fitzroy, 1966, with the trial rectangle on Princes Park.

The day before the game The Age reported that Stephen, the Fitzroy coach, had declared "congestion is a bad thing for football" while on the morning of the game an unnamed VFL official said the trial was "premature but within the rules".

Carlton won the game by 27 points, kicking 13.9 (87) which was their fourth-highest score for the season and the first time in 10 weeks they had managed more than 80.

The Blues had been bogged down in low-scoring encounters, with 130 points the highest aggregate score in the preceding nine games.

After the game Barassi and Carlton ruckman John Nicholls endorsed the move, with Barassi telling The Age that if the rule was brought in it would "make scoring easier and bring about more positive play."

Former Blues premiership player Adrian Gallagher could not recall the 1966 game specifically but remembers the introduction of the diamond making a huge difference.

In 1969 the AFL introduced a free kick for players kicking the ball out of bounds on the full and in 1973 the centre diamond, which eventually became the centre square.

"Those two rules were good changes," Gallagher said this week.

Between 1969 and 2014, average scores per team sat above 90 points a game while the average team score of 83 points in 2018 is the lowest since 1968.

There has only been one team score more than 150 points this season – Melbourne's 159 against Carlton in round nine – the first time that has happened since 1966.

With the AFL unable to trial rules in AFL games played for premiership points because of integrity issues they are understood to be also exploring the possibility of trialling changes during practice matches played in September.

SOME SIGNIFICANT CHANGES TO ENCOURAGE SCORING

1925-1938: Free kick awarded against player who kicked or forced the ball out of bounds.

1969: Free kick awarded against players who kick the ball out of bounds on the full.

1859-1876: After the ball passed behind the goal line, it had to be kicked in directly towards the opposite goal by a member of the defending team from any part of a line drawn 20 yards from, and parallel to the goal line. In 1877 the line was reduced to 10 metres from the goal line.

1973: Centre diamond introduced.

1975: Centre diamond becomes centre square.

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