Sturt and Port Adelaide were fierce rivals in the SANFL. (Photo: Sturt FC)

The SANFL is a long and historic competition that has been around since 1927 when it was renamed from the South Australian Football League. We take a look back in time at a golden era of football.

In the 1970s, SANFL football was, for many, at its best. It was tough; brutal, uncompromising, and had some of the greatest footballers we have ever seen.

The two teams that dominated the landscape were the Port Adelaide and Sturt Football Clubs. One player who got an inside look at the league during that time was Sturt’s back pocket, Kevin Schultz.

Moving to Adelaide at just 16, Schultz spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum and remembers what it was like the day he got the call to come to the Double Blues. There was no fancy car, glitz, or glamour, just a simple knock at the door by one of the greatest coaches of his time.

“I was home on a Sunday with mum and dad,” Schultz said.

“Next minute, there was a knock at the door. I opened it, and I thought this can’t be right; it was Jack Oatey. He came down, especially just for the day to come and see me with my parents to see if I wanted to go up to Sturt.

“He told me what he was going to do [with my football], and I think it was about three weeks later I went up with mum and dad. Sturt set me up with a place, I stayed there, and that’s how it all started.”

The old-style football of the 70s

In today’s SANFL and AFL, there are strict guidelines, from what players eat to how and where they train. Everything is managed down to the finest detail of the workloads put on players. In the 70s, Schultz recalls it being vastly different.

“It was very laid back,” Schultz said.

“In them days, you could go out and have a beer, but nowadays you can’t really, not like we did. The training was still reasonably hard as we trained multiple days during the week, but it was more laid back, not so strict on your nutrition and all that sort of stuff.”

With such a focus now on limiting the amount of contact during a game for players due to concussions, rules are in place to protect the players.

Long-term health is paramount, but as Schultz describes, back in his day, the umpires were very down the line with their rules. Everything was fair game.

He hinted that the game back in his day was far more physical than what football is today, and that is what he thinks people like to see.

“Back in them days, you could have a bit of a push and a shove, a good hip, and shoulder. There were always mini brawls around you,” Schultz said.

“Nowadays, it’s just too inconsistent with the umpires and the free kicks. Back in the 70s, and 80s, if the free kick was there, they [the umpires] would pay it, or they would let it go.

“It was far more physical back then because you were allowed to hit, you were allowed to bump, and I don’t think the game as a whole is better for it [changes in rules]. They should go back to how it used to be, within reason, obviously.

“Where you could have a good hip and shoulder and don’t get fined as that is what people like to see, that physical side of football. But as soon as someone touches or accidentally bumps someone, there is a fine. They have to let the players play.”

The first SANFL game at Football Park in 1974. (Photo: SANFL)

Gameplans were much simpler

Football today is overtaken with intricate details for both the attacking and the defensive sides. So much energy is put into specific game plans during the week for the upcoming opponents.

Everything is covered. From plan A all the way to plan D, but in Schultz’s era, everything was much simpler for the players.

“It was virtually, Jack Oatey was the coach, and what he said, we did,” he said.

“We didn’t have all these position coaches and all that; there might be the odd one. But you played your position, and you played how Jack wanted you to play.

“Back in the 70s and 80s, Sturt and Port Adelaide were the top dogs, and there were some damn good players amongst them. But you just go out and play your game.

“Jack told you exactly what he wanted, and you just go out and do it; sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but that’s how simple it was.”

Schultz’s SANFL debut in 1974

For young players being told that they are making their senior debuts, they can tell you when and where it happened. What time, what the weather was, everything.

Just being along for the ride was good enough for an 18-year-old country SA boy in the city. But that all changed in 1974 before Sturt’s Round 13 clash against Woodville. Schultz recalls the moment he learned he would play with the heroes he grew up idolising.

“I nearly fell over backward when I was told,” he said.

“There was a phone call, and it was Jack [Oatey]. He said ‘Kevy, you’re playing your first game tomorrow.’ I didn’t believe him; I didn’t know what to make of it.

“I was excited but also a bit wary because I was playing with these blokes that you idolise for years.

The 1974 Sturt Premiership photo. (Photo: Sturt FC)

“Playing with the likes of Rick Davies, Brendon Howard, Michael Graham, Ken Whelan, you are in a bit of awe of them.

“I was only an 18-year-old going up there and playing with some of the greatest to ever do it.”

For the record, Sturt would win that Round 13 clash at Unley Oval by 68 points and go a game clear on top of the ladder en route to winning the SANFL premiership.

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Port Adelaide and Sturt the top dogs of the SANFL

That year, Schultz got his first taste of SANFL league football. At the time, some of the best players in the competition’s history were at their peak.

For an 18-year-old making his way in the game, he still remembers who the big boys of the competition were.

“Without a doubt, it was Port Adelaide and Glenelg as well. But mainly Port Adelaide,” he said.

“They were the ones. When you have players like Russell Ebert, Bruce Light, Darren Cahill, and Brian Cunningham, they were definitely the side to beat.

Port Adelaide captain Russell Ebert holds the 1977 Premiership cup aloft. (Photo: PAFC)

“Glenelg were around the mark; they had some good players like Peter Marker, Graham Corners, Neil Kerley was their coach. But generally, that’s all it was about, Sturt and Port at that time.

“From 1970 through to 81, Port had won four flags, three of which were in a row, and Sturt won three while being runners up in 78 as well.”

Port Adelaide and Sturt a fierce rivalry

For a young kid making his way in SANFL football, coming face to face with some of the greats every week can be daunting. Even for the most experienced player.

In Schultz’s case, when he knew that Port Adelaide was next up, he knew exactly what to expect coming up against a John Cahill-coached team.

“Straight away, you knew that as soon as you were playing Port Adelaide, the crowds turned up at Alberton or Unley as they were usually tight games,” Schultz said.

“You had class players on both sides; they were the two dominant sides back then.”

Russell Ebert was a superstar of the SANFL in the 70s. (Photo: SANFL)

“You knew that when you went out on that field, it was going to be hard. There was no mucking around either.

“Just because I was a young 18-year-old, I was fair game. I got a couple of clips from just about everyone. I remember running straight into Russell Ebert, and he flattened me.”

One memory sticks out for Schultz

Having played league football for the Double Blues for four years, Schultz’s time with the club is filled with many memories.

One sticks out for Schultz as he remembers his Sturt career: playing the mighty Port Adelaide at the then-called Football Park.

“Football Park, playing against Port Adelaide,” he said quickly when asked.

“I was told the night before that someone had pulled out. Jack rang me and said you’re in. I got to Football Park, and back then, you needed the suit, the tie as Sturt supplied that for you.

“But what got me was just before the game, Oatey told me who I was playing on.

Brian Cunningham was a superstar for Port Adelaide in the SANFL. (Photo: SANFL)

“You’re on Darren Cahill and Brian Cunningham, rotating he said to me. They were the top players back then, the top-class rovers, and Jack said that’s your job, those two, you have to stand them. I didn’t know what to say, to be honest.

“Before the game, Paul Bagshaw told me to just play my normal game, and they are only people like us as I was really young. In the end, I think I played well, held them both goalless from memory.

“I just played my role like Jack had taught us. Bagshaw came up to me after the game and said well done, and my career went on from there.”

Adelaide and Port leaving SANFL?

With current Port Adelaide president David Koch saying in August that the club might be looking at leaving the SANFL and joining the VFL, the South Australian State league would suffer. If Port goes, many expect Adelaide to follow suit.

That would leave the SANFL with just eight teams competing. Schultz thinks both clubs should stay where they are as it would ruin the league if both left.

“I think they have to leave it as it is,” he said.

“The SANFL is in good shape, I have watched a few games, and the standard is pretty good. I think it would be silly if they [Port and Adelaide] decide to leave, I get why, but I think it would ruin the SANFL.

“There wouldn’t be any point in having a competition with only eight teams. It would ruin the league.”

As we sit down at a coffee table in a country town in South Australia, rehashing all the memories of what the SANFL was like nearly 50 years ago, Schultz has a couple of final thoughts that stick with him forever.

One that was simply playing SANFL football was all he had his mind set on. The other? Playing under one of the greatest coaches of his era: Jack Oatey.

“That’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said.

“That I played under the great Jack Oatey. A legend of a coach, an unbelievable coach, he gave me the start up there.

“Going up as a 16-year-old, you’re pretty naive, and the first training session you walk in, and you are in awe, all these big stars like Paul Bagshaw, Michael Graham, Brendon Howard, Mick Nunan, Rick Davies, Malcolm Greenslade, Ken Whelan. You walk in, and those guys are all there.

“That was exciting. It was an honor to do it, and I’m glad I did it.”

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