Australia’s own code of football was played by clubs in South Melbourne and Albert Park as early as 1862, but it was June 1874 when the Red and White received its birthright. That Friday evening in the Temperance Hall, Napier Street at Emerald Hill, a group met to form a football club and four weeks later, on July 15, it was named the South Melbourne Football Club.

South Melbourne was soon prominent in Association football. Home games were played at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground from 1878, and the Club was runner-up to Geelong in 1880, attaining its first Premiership in 1881. Another followed in 1885, and three more between 1888 and 1890. Of the 57 matches played in 1888-1890, South lost on only six occasions.

The next chance for a Premiership came in 1896, when South Melbourne and Collingwood finished equal on games and goals scored for and against. This resulted in the first Grand Final, in which South Melbourne was defeated by one goal. On Friday 2nd October, the eve of Grand Final Day, six leading VFA clubs, including South Melbourne, met to form a breakaway competition called the Victorian Football League.