Football Park 50 Years – History Makers


After the SANFL played ‘bridesmaid’ at Adelaide Oval for way too long, the SANFL built its own stadium at West Lakes, with the historic first game at Football Park played on May 4, 1974. Incredibly, now half-a-century ago.

North Adelaide – back-to-back premier in 1971-72, Champion of Australia in ’72 and unlucky runner-up in ’73 – was to play Central District, which had only entered league company a decade before. But the Bulldogs were not an easy assignment, as they had a taste of finals footy in 1971-72 and boasted a strong line-up.

The Roosters had the best footballer of the time, triple Magarey Medallist Barrie Robran, who, although at his peak, would sustain a devastating knee injury against Victoria on the SCG less than a month later, curtailing his brilliant career.

“It certainly wasn’t a good christening at Football Park for the Rooster faithful,” Robran recalled. “We may have won the toss and we certainly did kick the first [league] goal but that was about where it ended for the Roosters that day. We were outplayed by a superior Central District team.

“There were no excuses. I do remember the day being a splendid one for playing outdoor sport. Our opposition were very well coached and drilled. Their coach, Tony Casserly, has always been a favourite of mine, both as player and coach. He was always a very strong and positive influence when he played for Central District. They had many talented players during that ‘Casserly era’, but Tony was always the most influential in the field of play.”

And it was Casserly who earned the first touch in that game, jumping over the top of the ruckmen and palming the ball down. The following day’s Sunday Mail recorded the ‘firsts’ for Football Park: knock – Casserly (Central), kick – Zorich (Central), mark – Phillips (North), handball – O’Connor (Central), goal – Hearl (North), point – Chiron (Central) and win – Central.

“The enormity of playing there did not register until many years later. It was an honour to play at Football Park.”

Central District's Tom Zorich

When highly-respected ABC-TV reporter Mike Sexton was preparing a story on the closing of Football Park a decade ago, he came across some footage of pre-game activities from that first game, which included the first bounce. In reviewing the footage Sexton saw what he thought was North Adelaide’s Terry von Bertouch collecting the first kick of the game, which has created a minor controversy in putting Zorich’s claim to fame in jeopardy.

“My memory is a bit unclear but it wasn’t a clean disposal,” Sexton said. “Terry forced the ball forward and it was collected by a Central bloke and roosted to the other end. So, depending on what constitutes a kick, it could have been Terry von Bertouch, or as recorded in history, Tom Zorich.”

As for von Bertouch – the father of Australian netball stars Natalie and Laura, who are married to Norwood premiership footballers Jace Bode and James Gallagher – he is circumspect about the issue. A rover, von Bertouch started in the centre that day and rested in the forward pocket on Bulldogs Hall of Famer Sonny Morey.

“I know I got the first ball from the ruck contest and sent a scrubby little kick out of the centre,” von Bertouch said. “Barry Hearl kicked the first goal but after that the rest of the game is a bit of a blur for me. We expected to win but we got beaten fairly comfortably. I remember the ground – it was wide open. The stand was on the western side and that was it. The other side of the ground was just one level.

“The following day’s paper had a list of firsts and had Zorich as having the first kick. Well, mum rang up the paper the next day and told them they were wrong, ‘my son had the first kick.’ At that first bounce I was standing Phil Ashmead and I remember asking him many years later who had the first kick and he still reckons it was Tom Zorich.”

Footage of the last quarter of the historic Football Park game is readily available to view on-line but the opening bounce has apparently been seen by very few people, although the search is still on. As for how Zorich feels about who got the first kick at Football Park, he is a bit ambivalent to it all after the passage of time.

“It was my second league game and I was just in awe of what football had done in developing their own footy oval,” Zorich said. “I saw Football Park rise from mangrove swamps to a football stadium. And for a kid from Elizabeth, to play some league footy and play that historic game was a thrill.

“When I was selected, there wasn’t any thought other than to play and win the game. Tony (Casserly) primed us up. I was at half-back standing Rodney Robran. Tony got the first touch, Terry (von Bertouch) toe-poked it. I gathered the ball and belted it forward. So, I believe I had the first official disposal – that’s my memory.

“The enormity of playing there did not register until many years later. It was an honour to play at Football Park.”

Besides von Bertouch, and Barrie Robran, the Roosters line-up included Barrie’s brother Rodney, Hearl, who kicked three goals, David Marsh (four) and John Phillips. North’s Neil Sachse, who played in this game, transferred to VFL club Footscray the following season and in his second game had a collision that tragically left him a quadriplegic.

The Football Budget for the first game at SANFL’s new West Lakes headquarters on 4 May 1974.

The Bulldogs line-up included Dean Mobbs, Peter Vivian, Lyle Skinner, David Saywell, who booted seven goals, and Morey, who a decade earlier recorded the first kick in Central’s first game at league level.

“That game was certainly a historic match,” Morey said. “We won by five goals and Saywell kicked seven. I know we were well primed and we played well. Playing in the back pocket my job was to stand the resting rovers, including von Bertouch, who was a good footballer – slippery, very quick and a good team player. For me, the success I had playing in the back pocket was based on playing up the ground, getting a few metres ahead of my opponent and getting to the drop of the ball, and let them chase me.

“As for the first kick that day, it definitely was Tom (Zorich). The ball landed in his arms at half-back and he booted the ball deep into attack.

“Football Park back then was a stand on the western side and concrete all the way around – it was just so barren.”

While the ‘firsts’ at Football Park were recorded in the media the day after the game, what about the last game? It was the SANFL grand final between Norwood and North on October 6, 2014. The Redlegs won 10.12 to 4.8 for back-to-back flags for the first time since 1922-23.

Seconds before the final siren sounded, Lewis Stevenson smashed the ball on to his boot for a clearing kick from deep in the Redlegs’ defence, the final official disposal at Football Park. Just earlier, Norwood’s Andrew Kirwan had the final handball, while the Roosters’ Leigh Ryswyk took the last mark.

And the last goal? At the 24.47-minute mark of that final quarter, dual Magarey Medallist Mitch Grigg received a handball from Matt Thomas and kicked truly from just inside the 50m arc. There’s no debate about that kick.

North Adelaide runs out onto Football Park as the Roosters step into history.


Saturday May 4, 1974

Central District      4.2  13.4  18.7   21.13    (139)

North Adelaide      5.3    9.5  13.9   16.13    (109)

Best – Central: Mobbs, Vivian, Casserly, Skinner, Maksimovich, Andrews, Saywell, Kleinig, Ashmead, R. Cochrane. North: B. Robran, McInnes, Marsh, Von Bertouch, McCann, Sachse, R. Robran.

Scorers – Central: Saywell 7.1, Reed 3.2, Mobbs 3.0, Vivian 2.1, Kleinig 2.0, Ashmead 1.3, Maksimovich, Casserly 1.1, Skinner 1.0, Chiron 0.3, Russell 0.1. North: Marsh 4.1, Hearl 3.4, von Bertouch, R. Robran 2.1, McCann 2.0, B. Robran 1.2, Payne, Stringer 1.1, Sachse, rushed 0.1.

Umpire – R. Bennet. Crowd – 11,221 at Football Park

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