AFL Ladder: History & Records

Footy fans regularly scrutinise the AFL ladder throughout the season to see how well each team is shaping up. A basic AFL ladder can show you how many points each team has racked up over the course of the year, while an advanced ladder provides a wealth of useful insights.

This page delves into the history of the AFL ladder and shines a light on the most interesting records that have been achieved over the years. Read on to learn more about the AFL ladder.


AFL Ladder History

A cricketer called Thomas Wentworth Wills decided to form a football club in Melbourne back in 1958 in a bid to keep his teammates fit during the off-season. Wills was born in Australia, but educated at Rugby School in England, and he helped devise a hybrid set of football rules that served as a compromise between those of several English public schools, notably Rugby, Harrow, and Winchester.

Melbourne and Geelong football clubs were founded in 1858 and 1859 respectively, making them two of the oldest clubs in the world. In 1866, H.C.A. Harrison – a cousin of Wills – rewrote the rules. 

From 1877, both the Victorian Football Association (VFA) and the South Australian Football Association (SAFA) were operating as eight-team leagues, replete with ladders. Between 1879 and 1881, four more associations were formed, in South Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia.

In 1896, VFA clubs Geelong, Essendon, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Melbourne and South Melbourne formed the Victorian Football League as a breakaway competition, followed swiftly by Carlton at St Kilda. The VFL’s inaugural season was in 1897. The VFL would later become the AFL, so the AFL ladder can trace its history back to that year.

The VFL asserted its dominance over the VFA in the ensuing years, and it expanded by taking on VFA clubs Footscray, Hawthorn, and North Melbourne in 1925. It remained a regional competition for several decades, but that all changed when South Melbourne moved to Sydney in 1982. The VFL embarked upon an expansion drive, adding teams in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

The VFL was renamed the AFL (Australian Football League) in 1990 to reflect its new national status. Essendon finished top of the inaugural AFL ladder with 68 points, ahead of three teams – Collingwood, West Coast and Melbourne – on 64 points apiece. However Essendon ultimately lost to Collingwood in the first AFL Grand Final in front of 98,944 fans at the MCG.

By 2005, the AFL ladder featured 16 teams from across the country: Adelaide Crows, Brisbane Lions, Carlton Blues, Collingwood Magpies, Essendon Bombers, Fremantle Dockers, Geelong Cats, Hawthorn Hawks, North Melbourne Kangaroos, Melbourne Demons, Port Adelaide Power, Richmond Tigers, St Kilda Saints, Sydney Swans, West Coast Eagles, and Western Bulldogs. The Gold coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants were established as the 17th and 18th teams, completing the current AFL ladder.


AFL Ladder Record Holders

Football aficionados have experienced a great deal of excitement, drama and intrigue during the long history of the VFL / AFL ladder. Many records have been set and broken during that time. We have delved into the history books to uncover the most impressive AFL ladder records, and some unwanted records:


Most Minor Premierships

Collingwood have finished top of the AFL ladder more times than any other team. They have secured 19 minor premierships from 1902 to 2011. However, they have only managed to secure 15 premierships, leaving them one behind joint record holders Essendon and Carlton. Collingwood have been runners-up more times than any other team, losing 27 Grand Finals.


Most Wooden Spoons

St Kilda finished bottom of the VFL ladder in the inaugural year, 1897, and they have more wooden spoons than any other team. In total, they have finished bottom of the VFL / AFL ladder 27 times, which is 13 more than second-place Melbourne.


AFL Ladder Highest Score

Geelong managed a record-breaking score of 37.17.239 in an emphatic victory over the Brisbane Bears in Round 7 of the 1992 season. They went on to finish top of the AFL ladder and clinch the minor premiership, but West Coast were ultimately crowned premiers that season. The second highest score in history was the 36.22.238 that Fitzroy achieved against Melbourne in 1979.


AFL Ladder Lowest Score

The lowest score in history is the pitiful 0.1.1 that St Kilda mustered against Geelong in 1899. In the early years of the VFL, three other teams – St Kilda in 1897, St Kilda in 1899, and Melbourne in 1899 – all scored just 0.2.2. There were a lot of low-scoring games in the early years, but the lowest score since World War 1 is the 1.0.6 that Fitzroy managed against Footscray in 1953. In the modern era, it is Fremantle’s 1.7.13 against Adelaide in 2009. Fremantle finished near the bottom of the AFL ladder that year.


Highest Losing Score

Geelong lost to Hawthorn in 1989, despite surging to a score of 25.13.163. Their opponents scored 2615.171 in a thriller at Princes Park.


Lowest Winning Score

The lowest winning score unsurprisingly comes from the formative years of the VFL, when Essendon’s 1.8.14 was enough to beat Melbourne’s 0.8.8 in 1897. Since World War 1, the lowest winning score is Collingwood’s 2.13.25 against Richmond in 1927.


Highest Scores Per Quarter

Essendon secured the highest first quarter score in history when they managed 15.4.94 against Gold Coast in Round 6 of the 2011 season. The highest second quarter score came in 1996, when Adelaide put up 14.2.86 against Fitzroy. Essendon also hold the record for the highest score in the third quarter, with 13.4.82 against Footscray in 1982. The largest fourth quarter score is the 17.4.106 that South Melbourne put past St Kilda all the way back in 1919.


Largest Winning Margin

The largest winning margin was the 190-point blowout victory that Fitzroy secured against Melbourne back in 1979. That was narrowly ahead of Geelong’s 186-point margin against Melbourne in Round 19 of the 2011 season. That was the year in which they finished second behind Collingwood in the AFL ladder but went on to be crowned premiers.


Biggest Comebacks

The greatest comeback from the end of the first quarter came when Essendon overhauled a 58-point deficit against the Kangaroos in 2001. The largest second-half comeback occurred when Collingwood trailed St Kilda by 52 at the break in 1970 and still went on to win. Brisbane managed to battle their way back from a 45-point deficit against Hawthorn at the end of the third quarter in 1995. The largest comeback of all time was that game between Essendon and the Kangaroos, in which Essendon were 69 points down at one point in the second quarter.


Highest Scoring Match

The highest scoring match came at the MCG in 1978, when Melbourne (52.33.345) beat St Kilda (31.18.204).


Lowest Scoring Match

As you would expect, the lowest scoring match took place in the 1897 season, when Essendon beat Melbourne 14-8. In the post-World War 1e era, the lowest scoring match was Collingwood’s 25-13 win against Richmond in 1927.


Most Consecutive Wins

Geelong hold the record for the most consecutive victories in history, having rattled off 23 wins in a row between Round 12 of the 1952 season and Round 13 in 1953. Brisbane, Essendon and Collingwood have all won 20 in a row at one stage.


AFL Ladder Quick Facts


54 – Tom Mitchell has the most disposals in a single game following a virtuoso performance against Collingwood in 2018.


1,360 – Tony Lockett kicked a record haul of goals during his time at St Kilda and Sydney.


18.1 – Melbourne’s Fred Fanning scored the highest goals tally in a single game when he put St Kilda to the sword in 1947.

150 – Bob Pratt of South Melbourne and Peter Hudson of Hawthorn share the record for the most goals in a season.


7 – Collingwood’s Dick Lee spent a record seven seasons as the leading goalkicker, followed by another Collingwood player – Gordon Coventry – on six.


5.64 – Peter Hudson leads the way with the highest goals per game average.


12 – Essendon’s John Coleman enjoyed a record-breaking debut when he kicked 12 goals against Hawthorn.


121 – Collingwood’s Peter McKenna enjoyed a remarkable six-year streak of kicking at least one goal in 121 consecutive games.


432 – North Melbourne stalwart Brent Harvey holds the record for the most career appearances.


244 – Melbourne’s ultra-reliable Jim Stynes played a record 244 games in a row.


15 – St Kilda’s Claude Clough is the youngest player in history, as he was 15 years and 209 days old when he made his debut in 1900.


43 – Another St Kilda player, Vic Cumberland, holds the record as the oldest player in history, as he was 43 years and 50 days old in his last game.


20 – The youngest team was Greater Western Sydney in 2013, when they had an average age of 20 years and 267 days, including 10 teenagers.


28 – The oldest team was Geelong in October 2020, with an average player age of 28 years and 139 days.


718 – Mick Malthouse holds the records for the most games coached, four ahead of Collingwood’s Jock McHale.


467 – Jock McHale is the record holder for the most wins as coach with 467, and he also leads Norm Smith as the coach with the most premierships.

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