The 1902 North Adelaide premiership team. Picture: nafc.com.au

South Australian football history is long - and loaded with mystery and myth. But it should not continue the thought nothing went into the record books before 1907.

South Australian football history is long – and loaded with mystery and myth. But it should not continue the thought nothing went into the record books before 1907.

Walk down North Terrace today, enter the State library and the SANFL History Centre is presenting the 145-year history of organised football in South Australia with an eye to detail. It is an extraordinary exhibition.

Walk into the lobby of the new “Precinct” at the Port Adelaide Football Club at Alberton Oval, turn left and be hit by a story that begins in 1870 – seven years before Australian football gets its first organised competition in a colonial city.

South Australian football has played out in three centuries. Port Adelaide was there at the beginning.

Port Adelaide, since 1870 – and at the table as a foundation member of the SA Football Association (that became the SA Football League, the SA Football League Limited and finally the SA National Football League) on April 30, 1877 at the Prince Albert Hotel next to the Adelaide Town Hall on King William Street.


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Organised Australian football began in Adelaide before the game’s founders in Melbourne later that year created the Victorian Football Association (that was splintered to form the VFL at the end of 1986 and adapted to the national AFL in 1991).

Every minute, every detail from the very first game that began at 2.45pm at Adelaide Oval on May 12, 1877 is part of the SANFL’s history. But too often, the first 30 years are ignored – usually out of ignorance – while they remain shrouded in mystery and overwhelmed by myth.

The one misconception that must end is there is no football worthy of a mention in the record books before 1907 when association football was termed “league football”.

This is more relevant today after a dark weekend for Port Adelaide in the SANFL.

On finishing with just one goal – and 1.4 in total – against North Adelaide at Prospect Oval on Saturday, many were looking for the record books. Was this Port Adelaide’s lowest score in the SANFL?

No, it was not.

Port Adelaide had many no-goal games in its foundation years from 1870-1876 and at the start of organised football in 1877. In an era when scores were based on goals – and not behinds – Port Adelaide was scoreless in three games in 1877 – in round 3 with a 1-0 loss to Victorian; and twice to South Adelaide in rounds 11 and 13.

Since behinds were officially counted towards a match result from 1897, Port Adelaide’s lowest scores have been:

1.1 (7) against North Adelaide (6.10) at Alberton Oval in the opening round of the 1900 season (May 5, 1900).

1.2 (8) against Norwood (4.10) at Adelaide Oval in round 9 of the 1900 season (June 23) when Port Adelaide claimed its last wooden spoon in any major competition.

1.4 (10) against Norwood (0.5) in the mud battle at Alberton Oval in round 3, 1909 on May 15 when club great and future Magarey Medallist “Shine” Hosking scored an opportunist goal to settle the game in Port Adelaide’s favour.

And now 1.4 (10) against North Adelaide at the weekend.

So many SANFL record are defined as “from 1907” – the legacy of the industrious and meticulous work former league statistic Ern Kolosche.

But it is time to end the myth and recognised there were significant records written in South Australian football before the tag of “association” was removed to become “district” football in the 1890s and “league” football in 1907.

Is South Adelaide to be recognised as having its biggest win (180 points) from 1897 when it beat West Torrens on Kensington Oval, 25.31 to 0.1. This is the fourth-largest winning margin in SANFL history. It was followed up by a 137-point win against West Torrens (165-28) at Adelaide Oval later in that 1897 season.

Or does the 1907 rule wipe away these victories to say South Adelaide’s biggest winning margin is 130 points against Sturt in 1993?

SA football recognises the Magarey Medal – first awarded in 1898 – as Australian football’s oldest trophy. No one would erase the triumphs before 1907. In fact, many wish they could solve the mystery as to what happened to the medal in 1900 and 1904.

Football history does not need to be truncated by convenience from a date in 1907. It needs to be completed research on all that did happen from 1877 to 1907.

There are outstanding historians such as Trevor Gyss uncovering what did happen in the pioneer days of South Australian football. There are more and more resources to blow the dust of the newspapers of record from the 19th century.

The SANFL has a superb group of volunteers led by Chris Halbert at the league’s history centre to preserve and promote South Australian football history from its earliest moments in the 1860s and in particular from the formation of the league in 1877.

It was a bad weekend for Port Adelaide in the SANFL. But not one that rewrote the record books. In fact, the record books need to be quickly updated to end this myth that nothing of significance happened before 1907.

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