FOOTBALL IN THE 21st CENTURY SENSE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA still means the Australian-rules game or AFL (Australian Football League).
The South Australian Football Association was formed at the Prince Alfred Hotel, next to Adelaide Town Hall, in 1877. Now called the South Australian National Football League, it is the oldest continuous AFL competition in Australia.
That meeting in 1877 also decided the future of Australian football by opting for the game's first set of uniform rules.
John Acraman is acknowledged as the father of South Australian football by bringing over the first footballs and goalposts from Victoria, where the game was invented, in 1859. He set up the original Adelaide Football Club.
But the Australian football being played in South Australia before 1877 was more like rugby.
At the 1877 meeting, Adelaide club captain Noel Twopenny argued that the South Australia Football Association should adopt bylaws of Sydney Football Association – a rugby group. Twopenny argued for running with the ball – a crucial characteristic of rugby.
But future South Australian premier Charles Cameron Kingston, representing the South Adelaide club, favoured the Victorian practice of players having to bounce the ball every five yards.
Kingston argued that Victorians had no problem bouncing the ball and that South Australia aligning with Victoria was essential to setting up intercolonial football. Kingston had every Victorian rule endorsed – with one South Australian rule added: no pushing in the back.
Thus South Australia was instrumental in shaping the Australian game and ensuring it continued as a entity.
AN AUSTRALIAN CULTURAL CROSSROADS CHOICE MADE IN ADELAIDE IN 1860s/70s
Prominent English-born early businessman John Acraman is credited with bringing Australian football to South Australia. Acraman’s diverse business interests, after arriving in the colony in 1846, included coastal and River Murray shipping, insurance, pastoral management and agents for Guinness Stout. He was on the board of governors of St Peter's College, a collector of fine arts and one of the oldest members of the Adelaide Club. Acraman also was a keen sportsman and later an official of the South Australian cricket, rowing and lacrosse associations. In 1860 at Adelaide’s Globe Inn, Acraman, with William Fullarton and Robert Cussen, met Henry Harrison who, with Tom Wills, was “father of the Victorian game” of football. Acraman imported five (round) footballs to South Australia from Victoria and is reputed to have erected the first set of goal posts used in the colony. The original Adelaide Football Club, founded on April 26, 1860, at the Globe Inn was South Australia’s Australian (then Victorian)-rules football club. Acraman became captain of one of the Adelaide club teams, with John Brodie Spence (brother of reformer Catherine Helen Spence) leading its other team. An avid player during the 1860s, Acraman was still directly involved in the game, as president of Adelaide, when the South Australian Football Association was formed in 1877. He was later vice president of North Adelaide Football Club. Acraman has been dubbed the “father of South Australian football" and,In 2002, he was inducted into the South Australian Football Hall of Fame.
The South Australian Football Association’s record 13 teams in 1877 were trimmed to seven in the next season, with North Adelaide, Willunga, Prince Alfred College, Gawler, Kapunda, Bankers and Woodville dropping out. Norwood came in to make in a seven-team competition. For 20 years, Norwood, South Adelaide and Port Adelaide began to dominate with teams not up the standard dropping out. The association began to stabilise from 1897 into the eight teams that would make up the South Australian National Football League for the first half of the 20th Century. One club lost soon after early success was Victoria. Formed in 1874, Victoria finished second in the interclub competition in 1875 and won in 1876, becoming a founding member of the South Australian Football Association in 1877, sharing its first premiership with South Adelaide. It was nicknamed the Bumblebees and had its home ground at the foot of North Adelaide’s Montefiore Hill. Struggling to compete in its later years after an exodus of players, the club disbanded in 1884 and became a North Adelaide Football Club – but not related to the present club. One of the Victoria Football Club’s notable moments was playing at the first intercolonial match involving a South Australian club. This game was in 1877 on the Adelaide Exhibition Grounds against Melbourne Football Club, with the visitors winning, one goal to nil. Five teams – Natives, North Adelaide, Norwood, Port Adelaide and South Adelaide – were left 1896. Natives and North Adelaide struggled and were allowed to field 23 players against the other three clubs’ 20.
ONLY THREE YEARS YOUNGER THAN LONDON'S HOSPITALS RUGBY CHALLENGE CUP (1874)
The original Adelaide Football Club had a final triumph in 1888 by defeateing the British Lions rugby union team at Adelaide Oval in July 1888 – playing Australian rules. Adelaide’s win was fittingly symbolic. Formed in 1860 as a social outing, Adelaide codified Victorian rules that became the Australian game. It disbanded in 1876 when other clubs followed Kensington club’s rugby-like rules. “Old Adelaide” rejoined the South Australian Football Association that adopted its rules in 1877. Its open playing style saw it finish third but the club declined. After three years in mothballs, Adelaide rediscovered its style in 1886 to win the premiership – captained by J.D. Stephens, with goalsneak Richard Stephens shining. In 1887, Adelaide thrashed Victorian Football Association premiers Carlton by an nine goals to three, with Stephens kicking six. Poor management let many key players leave and, after wooden spoons in 1891-93, the club disappeared. Adelaide club had brought Australian football a long way from the typical 1861 adjourned game between 40 Past and Present Collegians in the wintry northern parklands. Spectators were mainly horsemen and “ladies, who kept guard of the prizes they presented to players … With hearty goodwill, the players went to work; in about an hour, the College party gained a goal ... they were rewarded with another goal after about two hours exertion …A horse ... bolted across the playground. Master Gwynne immediately rode in pursuit but ... one of the players ran between the horses causing them to fall and throwing Master Gwynne. No one was injured.”
The South Australian Football Association changed its name to the South Australian Football League in 1907 (20 years later it became the South Australian National Football League or SANFL). At that stage, the SANFL was set to consolidate as the oldest surviving football league of any code in Australia and one of the oldest football competitions in the world, being formed in 1877, a few years after the United Hospitals rugby challenge cup in London. The South Australian competition struggled through an 1896 economic depression and was suffered from a lopsided competition with South Adelaide, Port Adelaide and Norwood clubs dominating the newcomers North Adelaide (1893), West Adelaide (1897), West Torrens (1897) In 1899, the association brought in the electorate system where players were allocated to clubs based on their district. Sturt joined the competition in 1901. The competition was on an upswing until suspended by World War I (1916-19) The SANFL continued on for the first few years of World War II but, from 1942-44, operated with merged clubs: Port Adelaide-West Torrens; West Adelaide-Glenelg; Sturt-South Adelaide; Norwood-North Adelaide. In 1946, the teams were expanded to add a 19th player on the bench. Ovals such as Jubilee (1898–1906), Thebarton (1922–2012), Kensington (1875-97), Glanville Hall Estate (1870-79), Hindmarsh (1905-21), Wayville Showgrounds (1927–1939) and Bice (1992–1993) have been left behind. The SANFL continues to manage all levels of football below the national AFL clubs in the state.