The Homes of South Australian Football


FOR all but a 40-year chapter of its winters, South Australian football has been a guest rather than a king of its own domain. It began in South Australia with the game’s cradles in the parklands in the 1860s, to Adelaide Oval (under the uneasy watch of the state’s cricket masters) on the formation of the SA Football Association in 1877.

From 1877-1973*, Adelaide Oval was the so-called “Mecca” of South Australian football. It was the scene of many firsts, such as “intercolonial” games while sheep grazedon Montefiore Hill, matches under lights in 1885, record attendances for a women’s game in 1929 and premierships being decided in a play-off, now known as grand finals.

The relationship between SANFL and SACA had become more than “uneasy” –there were strong differences of opinion that led to the League looking for their own facility. Even the move to West Lakes, after the SANFL and SA Cricket Association reached the end of their partnership at Adelaide Oval, almost brought the game to its knees. Before Stage 1 of the two-stage build of the 80,000-seat, concrete-and-steel bowl was complete, the project -with one grandstand encircling the field -was challenged by rising cement prices busting the budgets. Stage 2 never happened.

Fans often felt uncomfortable in a venue tagged “Pleurisy Park” when it was swept over by cold winter winds off the gulf. Even the need for floodlighting was delayed for five years by a Royal Commission in 1979.

The turning point for Football Park was a sunny Saturday in late September 1976 when Sturt upset the red-hot Port Adelaide for the SANFL league premiership. Officially, 66,897 fans were recorded in the game’s attendance, yet league officials say there were almost 80,000 as they kept opening the gates. The police shut down the turnstiles and then continued to usher the public on the field, outside the boundary line.

Notable at Football Park, in contrast to Adelaide Oval, no grandstand ever carried a name to honour a famous player or administrator.

By the time the SANFL built Football Park, the game was well established as the city’s most-popular sport. But the code was trying to find its way to be “Australia’s Game”, a national game. The complex national agenda certainly started to change while South Australia repeatedly beat the “Big V” of Victoria before locked gates in Tuesday night State-of-Origin battles at West Lakes. Those games built on State pride ultimately became screening tests for SANFL stars drawn to the big money of theVFL, particularly from 1986.

Football Park was home to South Australia’s first AFL entry, the Adelaide Football Club, in 1991 and then for Port Adelaide from 1997. However, the facilities needed upgrading and the State Government offered $100 million towards the upgrade.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes the AFL, SACA and the state and federal (?) governments were pushing for a return to Adelaide Oval.

Football Park had served its purpose. It hosted 458 AFL matches for a grand total of 16,092,916 fans on the infamous aluminium benches and later the plastic seats. While some lamented leaving a venue known for having the best playing surface in Australia, the re-entry to the 50,000-seat Adelaide Oval with its new look based on pavilions has brought the game “home”.

Sign up to receive the latest SANFL news straight to your inbox.