Playing and watching sport became contentious issues in Australian society during the First World War. The middle and upper classes believed that, although sporting activities taught useful social values, sport was less important than the ‘greater game’ being played in Europe. However, the working class saw sport more as entertainment and a way to escape the daily grind of work. These opposing viewpoints often came into conflict.
Sport’s (and especially football’s) ability to attract spectators who were eligible for military service meant that the football codes were often accused of lacking in patriotism and subverting the war effort. Once it became apparent that the war would not be over quickly, and as the casualties of the Gallipoli campaign became known, the middle and upper classes saw sport as frivolous. As a result competitions associated with these classes, such as rugby, cricket, tennis and hockey, were suspended for the duration of the war.
In contrast, working class sports such as rugby league continued, and the Victorian Football League (VFL) maintained a reduced competition from 1915. This match between the 1915 VFL premiers Carlton and an Army Camp side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was part of the patriotic war effort. The Camp team, wearing the Collingwood strip, was made up of current and former AFL players who had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and were drawn from various military camps around Melbourne. A number of reserves played for Carlton as some members of their premiership team elected to play for the Army Camp team. Carlton won this exhibition match 13.11.89 to 10.9.69
The match raised 248 pounds for the Wounded Soldiers Fund and attracted 6000 spectators. In contrast the Grand Final a week before had gate takings of 1469 pounds and attracted 39,211 spectators.