The South Australian National Football League
(SANFL) is the premier league and governing body
for the sport of Australian rules football
in the state of South Australia
Originally formed as the South Australian Football Association on the 30th of April 1877, the SANFL is not only the oldest surviving football league of any code in Australia, but one of the oldest football competitions in the world, forming just a few years after the United Hospitals Challenge Cup (1874), the oldest rugby football competition and over a decade before the The Football League (soccer). Additionally, the Magarey Medal awarded to the league's best and fairest player is the oldest individual award in Australian rules football.
The SANFL owns Football Park (also known as "AAMI Stadium" due to a naming-rights agreement), which is the largest stadium in South Australia.
The league has a total audience including television and radio of over 1.5 million and has the highest attendance of a regional league of any football code in Australia with an average of over 3,000 spectators a match. The league registered a 6.8% increase in crowds in 2008.
Consisting of a single division competition, the season is based around a 23 week "home-and-away" (regular) season starting in April through to September. The top five teams play off in a series of finals culminating in the Grand Final, always held at AAMI Stadium in October, generally the week after the AFL Grand Final.
When not playing with the two Adelaide-based AFL clubs, Port Adelaide Power or Adelaide Crows, AFL-listed players can play for their SANFL clubs. Those recruited to these AFL clubs who have not previously played for an SANFL club are allocated to a club by means of a "mini-draft.
Despite the AFL pushing to rebrand it, the SANFL is also the only remaining state competition to retain its identity and history.
Several clubs share their nicknames with AFL/VFL
clubs. This is purely coincidental: the teams are not named after each other. The SANFL's Eagles
, for example, came into existence almost 90 years before the AFL's Eagles
In the period 1877 to 1886 South Park, Willunga, North Adelaide (the original club of that name, not the current North Adelaide), Prince Alfred College, Gawler, Kapunda, Bankers, Woodville, and Victorian all left the Association. A brief profile of some of these clubs follows:
- Adelaide (the original club) - formed in 1860; disbanded in 1873; reformed in 1876; merged with Kensington in 1881; disbanded in 1882; reformed and merged with North Park in 1885. Their colours were black, red and white and they were premiers in the SAFA in 1886.In 1888 the touring British Rugby team played South Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Norwood and Adelaide at Australian Rules. They defeated Port by a goal . The tourists played 19 games of Australian Rules overall,winning six and drawing one. They were coached by two Essendon footballers, Jack Lawlor and FG McShane.
- Bankers - formed in 1877 and after losing all 15 of the matches it contested that year it disbanded at the end of the season.
- Kensington - formed in the early 1870s, Kensington affiliated with SAFA in 1877, but by 1881 it had merged with the Adelaide club. The clubs colours were scarlet and white and its home ground was Kensington Oval.
- South Park - formed in 1877 and disbanded in 1884.
- Victorian - formed in 1877 and with their home ground at Montefiore Hill, the Victorian team were premiers in 1877 (equal with South Adelaide). The clubs colours were orange and black. The club changed their name to North Adelaide in 1883, although it was not linked to the modern day North Adelaide, which formed from the Medindie club. Victorian disbanded after the 1884 season.
- Willunga - formed in 1874, and affiliated with SAFA from 1877 to 1885. Willunga then joined the newly formed Southern Football Association, a rural league.
- Woodville (the original club) - formed about 1868 and affiliated with SAFA 1877, the club forfeited two matches in its first season due to lack of numbers and disbanded at the end of the season. Many of the Woodville players then moved to the newly formed Norwood club.
- Kapunda - formed in 1866 and is possibly the oldest football club in Australia to enjoy an uninterrupted identity.
- Gawler - formed in 1868, joining the SAFA in 1887 until 1890, folding by 1894. The Gawler Football Association was created out of its demise.
At the end of the 1990 season the Woodville and West Torrens clubs merged to for Woodville-West Torrens which competed for the first time in 1991.
The league's revenue is derived from its audience (paid attendance, media) and payments from both the Adelaide Crows
and Port Adelaide Power
AFL clubs for maintenance of the league's homeground AAMI Stadium.
The SANFL is classed as a semi-professional competition. In in 2008 the league had a salary cap
of $400,000 (excluding service payments). This is the second highest in Australia for an Australian rules football competition behind the AFL.
Umpires for the SANFL Matches come from two sources:
- The SANFL Senior Panel - Providing umpires for the League, Reserves & U/19 Competitions.
- The SANFL Academy - Providing umpires for the U/17 Competition.
This includes Field, Boundary & Goal Umpires.
Umpires are selected on the basis of fitness, skills & ability. Most umpires have followed a pathway to get to SANFL level.
The Football Budget is a 32-page magazine sold at all SANFL League games. A special edition is produced for the Grand Final. The word 'Budget' is an old term, similar to 'digest'.
SANFL is broadcast locally in South Australia on ABC Southern
Until early 2008, it was also broadcast nationally on ABC2 television
. Despite a large number of complaints, ABC removed national coverage in early 2008. The Grand Final was previously broadcast on Fox Sports Australia
however this was disontinued in 2008.
In 2007, the SANFL measured a record 1,415,000 total television viewers.
SANFL is also covered by local radio stations such as Life FM
(live) and ABC Local Radio
Although SANFL crowds now competes heavily with the 2 AFL national league clubs, the SANFL still has the second highest attendance
of any Australian rules football league and the highest attendance for any regional league of any football code. It continues to publish attendance figures.
A crowd of 34,128 attended the 2008 SANFL Grand Final between Central District and Glenelg at AAMI Stadium.
Patrons at the SANFL pay at the gates.
The following are the most recent attendance figures
|| Home & Away
|| No. Games Played
|| Grand Final |
|| 34,128 |
|| 30,493 |
|| 25,130 |
|| 28,637 |
|| 24,207 |
|| 28,199 |
The earliest recorded football club in South Australia was Adelaide Football Club, formed in 1860. The early years of football were poorly organised and dogged by argument over which set of rules to adopt. In fact, after a match between Port Adelaide and Kensington in 1873, it was remarked that neither side understood the rules clearly, and there was uncertainty over which team had won. However, as they years progressed, there became a growing push for uniformity and structure in South Australian football.
In 1877, 12 of South Australia's football clubs met to develop a uniform set of rules and establish a governing body. The South Australian Football Association was formed at a meeting at the Prince Alfred Hotel in King William Street, Adelaide on the 30th of April of that year, the first governing body of its type for football in Australia, and adopted rules similar to those used in Victoria. The inaugural 1877 season was contested by those 12 clubs: South Park, Willunga, Port Adelaide, Adelaide, North Adelaide, Prince Alfred College, Gawler, Kapunda, Bankers, Woodville, South Adelaide and Victorian.
Norwood joined the Association the following season in 1878, and went on to win the next six premierships. Norwood, along with South Adelaide and Port Adelaide, dominated the early years, winning 23 of the first 24 premierships between them. However, club numbers were diminishing. South Park, Willunga, North Adelaide, Prince Alfred College, Gawler, Kapunda, Bankers, Woodville, and Victorian all left the Association within the first 10 years. By 1886, the Association had been reduced from 12 to four clubs.
But the Association experienced a resurgence in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The addition of West Adelaide (1887), North Adelaide (1893), West Torrens (1897) and only the demise of Adelaide (1893), meant the Association comprised six clubs by the turn of the century. In 1898, the Magarey Medal was awarded to the fairest and most brilliant player for the first time (see #Magarey Medal).
The Sturt Football Club joined the Association in 1901, but performed poorly initially, finishing last in its first three seasons. In 1902, Port Adelaide adopted its now famous black and white colours, and the competition was beginning to take a more familiar form. In 1907, the Association changed its name to the South Australian Football League.
Heavyweights Norwood and Port Adelaide continued their domination of the league, and were joined by West Adelaide and North Adelaide and between them, the four clubs won all premierships between 1901 and 1913. Amazingly, West Adelaide followed three straight wooden spoons from 1904-06 with four out of the five premierships from 1908-1912. This was to be the most successful period in West Adelaide's history.
World War I
The SAFL managed to maintain competition for the first two years of World War I
, 1914 and 1915, with Sturt winning their first premiership in 1915. But by 1916, clubs were sustaining high losses to war and competition was suspended and did not resume until 1919.
Sturt won the first premiership of the post-WWI era, beating North Adelaide in the Challenge Final replay. Glenelg became the newest addition to the league in 1921 and started poorly with five consecutive wooden spoons. In 1927, the South Australian Football League changed its name for a third time, adopting the now familiar, South Australian National Football League. Meanwhile, Port Adelaide celebrated a golden era during the inter-war years, with 12 grand finals yielding five premierships.
World War II
As with World War I, the SANFL managed to continue competition for the first few years of World War II
. However, by 1942, the war forced all clubs to merge in order to field a side. Mergers were geographically determined with Port Adelaide merging with West Torrens, West Adelaide merging with Glenelg, Sturt merging with South Adelaide and Norwood merging with North Adelaide. This wartime competition continued from 1942-44.
Norwood began the post-war era in superb style winning three premierships by 1950. However, this period was dominated by Fos Williams
' Port Adelaide, winning seven premierships, including an amazing six in a row from 1954-59 (although the 1959 premiership was won under the stewardship of Geof Motley
Port Adelaide continued their dominance of the competition with three more premierships by 1965. In 1964, for the first time in 60 years, the SANFL admitted two new clubs, Central District
. Both clubs performed poorly, and many questioned the purpose of introducing two more teams, in particular Woodville, who were closely surrounded by existing clubs, Port Adelaide and West Torrens. Meanwhile a new power, Sturt, hit the competition, winning five straight premierships from 1966-70. Sturt shared a fierce rivalry with Port Adelaide whom they played in four consecutive Grand Finals.
Sturt began the 1970s by defeating Glenelg in a rain-effected Grand Final by 21 points. North Adelaide secured back-to-back premiership victories over Port Adelaide in 1971 and 1972 and defeated VFL premier Carlton by one point in the end-of-season Championship of Australia
match. Port Adelaide continued their success, winning two premierships themselves (1977, 1979), and finishing lower than 3rd only once for the decade. Other premiership winning clubs in the 1970s were Sturt (1970, 1974, 1976), Glenelg (1973), and Norwood (1975, 1978). The SANFL made the biggest shift in its history, moving all operations to the new Football Park in 1974. Central District and North Adelaide played the first ever match at the ground on May 4, 1974. The first SANFL Grand Final was played at the Ground the same year, the first away from Adelaide Oval (Sturt versus Glenelg). In front of a crowd of 58,042 people, Sturt won by 15 points despite kicking into a stiff breeze in the last quarter after leading by just 5 points at three-quarter time. The 1975 season was highlighted by Glenelg's score of 49.23 (317) against Central District. In fact, the winning margin of 238 points was larger, at that time, than the previous highest score ever recorded by a side in a single game. In 1976, Sturt defeated Grand Final favourites Port Adelaide by 41 points in front of a record Football Park crowd of 66,897. Norwood won the 1978 premiership in their centenary year by beating Sturt in the Grand Final by the narrowest of margins - one point - after Sturt had lost just one game for the entire season. During the 1970s, football in South Australia experienced an increase in players moving across the border to play in the higher standard VFL competition.
The exodus of quality players to the VFL continued in the 1980s and inevitably the quality of competition began to drop. Sensing the change, in 1981 the SANFL submitted a bid to enter a composite South Australian team in the VFL, but were rejected. Following this failed attempt, the SANFL introduced a Player Retention Scheme in 1988. The aim of the Scheme was to provide financial incentives to top players to remain in South Australia. While this Scheme saw a short-term increase in the quality of the competition, attandences soon began to drop again.
Meanwhile, on-field, night football came to the SANFL in 1984 with floodlights installed at Football Park following a long battle with nearby residents. The heavyweights Port Adelaide, Norwood and Glenelg dominated the competition, winning eight premierships between them.
The 1990s was the most turbulent decade in the history South Australian football. The SANFL continued to resist the temptation to enter a side in the AFL. However matters came to an abrupt head on July 31, 1990, when the Port Adelaide Football Club
, feeling it was subsidising the other SANFL clubs, made an independent bid to the join the AFL. The shock announcement took everyone by surprise and instigated the most controversial period in South Australian football.
The SANFL was left with little option but to submit its own bid to enter the AFL. In a thirty-minute meeting the SANFL formed the Adelaide Football Club, a composite side made up of players from all SANFL clubs. While Port Adelaide had by far the largest supporter base in South Australia, they could not compete with the SANFL's offer of a composite club and the use of Football Park.
In November 1990, following a vicious legal battle, the AFL announced the Adelaide Football Club had been granted the licence and would enter the competition in 1991.
After a tumultuous summer, the Adelaide Crows debuted in 1991 wearing the state colours of navy blue, red and yellow. While the Adelaide Crows enjoyed crowds of over 40,000 every week and dominated local media coverage, crowds at local SANFL matches plummeted. The 1990s was the first decade in the SANFL's history that it was not South Australia's premier football event every weekend.
In 1997 a new Port Adelaide entity, nicknamed the 'Power' as the 'Magpies' emblem was already used by Collingwood, was finally entered into the Australian Football League.
Locally, Port Adelaide Magpies dominated the competition winning seven premierships in the 1990s.
The first decade of the 21st Century
has been dominated by Central District Bulldogs
, who have won seven of the nine premierships so far. Sturt
won a premiership over Central in 2002
, and the Eagles, who had been consistent runners-up to the Bulldogs, including a 125-point thumping in the 2004 Grand Final, finally triumphed in 2006, defeating the Bulldogs by 76 points. Central District bounced back and dominated season 2007, finishing minor premier then beating North Adelaide
in the Grand Final by 65 points.
In 2006, Central District hosted night games for the first time at Hamra Homes Oval (Elizabeth). The first game under lights in Round 1 against Sturt attracted a crowd of over 7,000.
Future & Expansion Plans
There has been talks of expanding the SANFL to include teams from other states, especially those in regions unwanted by the AFL, and to serve as a second-tier national league.
The most pushed for expansion team from Darwin, Northern Territory, formed as a representative club of the Northern Territory Football League. The first of a series of trial matches was held in 2006, with a long term view of admitting a Darwin side into the SANFL. A strong crowd at Marrara Oval witnessed North Adelaide defeat a composite NTFL squad by 27 points, demonstrating that a Darwin team could be competitive. There is a push to make the event an annual match. The push for a Northern Territory team in June 2007 intensified, with Darwin and Alice Springs (with the proposed venue being Traeger Park) both competing for a licence, with the NT government supporting Darwin and businesspeople like Dick Pratt supporting the bid of Alice Springs.
Although there have also been rumours of inclusion of a Tasmanian club from both Hobart and Launceston in mid-September 2007, the Tasmanian Devils Football Club, run by AFL Tasmania, committed themselves to the Victorian Football League for a further five years.
Unlike most Australian rules football
leagues, like the AFL
(where the percentage is worked out by: "For
" ÷ "Against
" × "100
"), the percentage on a SANFL ladder is worked out by: "For
" ÷ "For
" × "100
The Magarey Medal is awarded to the fairest and most brilliant player in the SANFL each season and is the oldest of its type in Australia.
The medal is named after William Ashley Magarey, a former SANFL administrator. In 1897, Magarey became chairman of the South Australian Football Association, as it was then known. In 1898, in an effort to stamp out rough play and improve respect of umpires, Magarey instituted the medal to be awarded to the player deemed by umpires to be the fairest and most brilliant for that season. The inaugural winner of the medal was Norwood's Alby Green. Magarey died in 1929, but his name lives on and the Magarey Medal is still awarded to the fairest and most brilliant SANFL player each season.