History of the SANFL
Football in South Australia has a long and colourful history. The first official record of Australian Rules being played in SA dates back to 1843.
Originally established as the South Australian Football Association on April 30, 1877, the South Australian National Football League is not only the oldest surviving football league of any code in the nation but is also one of the oldest competitions in the world.
The SANFL’s best and fairest award, the Magarey Medal, is the oldest individual football award in Australian football, having first been awarded in 1898.
The earliest recorded football club in the state was Adelaide Football Club, formed in 1860. In the early years of South Australian football, the competition’s rules and regulations were constantly under negotiation. There became a growing need for a structure in South Australian football.
Twelve SA football clubs met in 1877 to develop a set of regulations and establish a governing body. From that meeting, held at the Prince Alfred Hotel in the city, the South Australian Football Association was established.
The clubs involved - Adelaide (est. 1860), Port Adelaide (est. 1870), Willunga, South Park, North Adelaide, Kapunda, Bankers, Gawler, Prince Alfred College, South Adelaide (est. 1876), Victorian and Woodville - all contested the 1877 season.
South Adelaide was the inaugural premier. Norwood joined the Association in 1878 and went on to win the next six flags.
The first State Game was played between South Australia and Victoria in Melbourne in 1879.
However, by 1886, the Association had been reduced from 12 to four clubs. In 1888, Medindie Football Club is admitted to the SAFA - it is later renamed North Adelaide.
In 1901, the Sturt Football Club joined the Association and in the following year, the Port Adelaide Football Club adopted its black and white colours. The Association was renamed the South Australian Football League in 1907.
WORLD WAR I (1914-1918)
The competition continued in the first two years of WWI (1914 and 1915) but by 1916, football was suspended due to high losses of players to the war effort. The competition did not resume until 1919.
INTER-WAR YEARS (1919-1938)
Glenelg Football Club joined the competition in 1921 and won its first flag in 1934. West Torrens Football Club won its inaugural premiership in 1924. The League made its final name change in 1927, becoming the South Australian National Football League.
WORLD WAR II (1939-1945)
The League continued as normal until 1942 when clubs were forced to merge to field sides for the competition. The wartime clubs were Port Adelaide-West Torrens, West Adelaide-Glenelg, Sturt-South Adelaide and Norwood-North Adelaide. In 1940, Ken Farmer kicked 123 goals in what was his eleventh straight season of kicking more than 100 majors.
POST-WAR YEARS (1946-1959)
In 1946, the teams were expanded to add a nineteenth player on the bench. The 1950s were dominated by Port Adelaide, who won seven flags in the decade. In 1953, Norwood and North played the only match outside SA (counted for premiership points) when the teams clashed at the SCG.
Central District Football Club and Woodville Football Club joined the League in 1964. Sturt Football Club enjoyed a golden era, winning five straight premierships between 1966 and 1970. In 1963, South Australia defeated Victoria at hte MCG for the first time in more than 40 years. In 1969, West Torrens' Lindsay Head became the first SANFL player to reach the 300-match milestone.
After a series of differences with the SA Cricket Association, the SANFL decided to move its playing headquarters away from the Adelaide Oval and commissioned the building of Football Park on reclaimed land at West Lakes, On October 31, 1972 the first seeds were sown at Football Park and the first match was contested between North Adelaide and Central District on May 4, 1974 with victory going to the Bulldogs.
In 1980, Port Adelaide's Russell Ebert won a record fourth Magarey Medal. Four years later, Football Park (now AAMI Stadium) staged its first match under lights and Norwood became the first team to win the flag from fifth position on the ladder. Glenelg's Peter Carey retired in 1988 after playing a record 448 SANFL matches.
Woodville and West Torrens Football Clubs merged in 1991 to form the Woodville-West Torrens Football Club (the Eagles), which recorded its first premiership just two years later.
The local football scene also changed dramatically in 1991 with the entry of the Adelaide Football Club (the Crows) into the AFL.
In 1997, the Port Adelaide Football Club - nicknamed the Power - became the second South Australian club to enter the AFL.
The same year, the Crows won its first premiership. In the process, it became the first AFL club to win all four finals on its way to premiership glory. The club achieved back-to-back premierships the following year.
Locally, Port Adelaide Magpies dominated the competition winning seven premierships in the 1990s.
2001 saw a raft of upgrades at AAMI Stadium, including the completion of a new bus terminal, the introduction of the free Footy Express bus service, the establishment of the Crows Shed and the opening of a new 7000-seat northern grandstand.
Season 2002 marked 125 years of football in South Australia. The SANFL celebrated this 125-year achievement by staging its 2002 Season Launch at the Adelaide Town Hall in the exact same room where the papers were officially registered.
In July 2002, Football Park was renamed AAMI Stadium as part of a long-term significant investment in Australian football by the leading Australian car, home and compulsory third party insurer.
The South Australian Football Hall of Fame was established in August 2002 and in its inaugural year, inducted 114 South Australian football identities.
In May 2003, the SANFL introduced individual seating into all areas of AAMI Stadium in readiness for the beginning of the 2004 football season. Two months later, Max Basheer AM retired as League President and Commission Chairman after serving a record 25 years in the position.
On the national stage, the Port Adelaide Football Club claimed its first premiership in 2004.
So far this decade, the Central District Football Club has dominated the SANFL competition, matching Port’s 1950s record of seven flags in a decade.