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Pt 2: The 19th Century AFC

The original Adelaide Football Club were the premiers in 1886.
The original Adelaide Football Club were the premiers in 1886.

Part two of a three-part series about the original Adelaide Football Club, formed in 1860.

A major development in SA football occurred a decade after Adelaide became the State’s first club. The Port Adelaide Football Club was formed in 1870.

Adelaide and Port clashed on the north parklands to kick off the 1871 season and The Register noted: “Victory finally trended towards the city goals, where a general melee ensued, resulting, after a protracted struggle, in a goal for the Adelaideans. The game terminated shortly after 5 o’clock, without another goal being taken.”

Adelaide had initially ruled the roost when it came to the rules adopted by a fledgling sport that was a hybrid of rugby, soccer and Gaelic football, with plenty of its own quirks thrown in. But Full Points Footy’s John Devaney notes the rules of the Kensington club, most heavily influenced by rugby, became the popular choice of clubs in the early 1870s, leaving Adelaide struggling to survive. It stopped playing other clubs in 1873.

Adelaide was not out of action for long. By 1877 the club more than played its part in the formation of the South Australian Football Association, a move that, after years of bickering and uncertainty, finally gave footy the strong structure, the set of rules and regulations, that allowed the game to flourish.

A revolution was afoot that would significantly shape the game of Aussie Rules. On May 7 1877, the Victorian Football Association was formed. Carlton, Melbourne, St Kilda, Hotham and Albert Park were its senior metropolitan clubs and Geelong, Ballarat and Barwon its senior provincial clubs.

But the South Australians had got the jump on the Big V. Adelaide captain Nowell Twopeny was only 19 and had arrived from England just the previous year but his unrestrained enthusiasm and passion for the developing Australian game proved critical. Along with South Adelaide skipper George Kennedy and Woodville captain Joe Osborne, Twopeny put the wheels in motion to form the SAFA. Delegates from 12 SA clubs – Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Willunga, South Park, North Adelaide, Kapunda, Bankers, Gawler, South Adelaide, Victorian, Woodville and Prince Alfred College – met at the Prince Alfred Hotel in the city on April 30, 1877, establishing the governing body that had been so desperately needed, adopting rules in line with Victoria.

In the watershed 1877 season Adelaide, wearing red-and-black striped jersey, stockings and cap, with white knickerbockers, finished third, with 10 wins, three draws and three losses, behind South Adelaide and Victorian. Port Adelaide came fourth, followed by Woodville, South Park, Kensington and Bankers.

Clubs came and went in the SAFA. Norwood joined the Association in 1878 and went on to win the next six flags. Adelaide was very much a part of the merry-go-round that took place, merging with Kensington in 1881 after claiming the wooden spoon, disbanding in ’82 after again coming last, reforming and merging with Adelaide and Suburban Football Association club North Park in 1885.

That year Adelaide again claimed the wooden spoon, albeit in a competition now down to just four clubs, finishing behind premier South Adelaide, Norwood and Port Adelaide. But an advertisement in The Register of Monday, June 29 1885 gave a glimpse into the future – even though it seemed far from a bright future at the time.

ADELAIDE OVAL

WEDNESDAY NIGHT.

ELECTRIC LIGHT

FOOTBALL MATCH.

The Advertiser on the day of the novel game announced: “Mr. Creswell, the secretary of the South Australian Cricketing Association, has arranged for a football match to be played on the oval this evening by electric light. The contestants will be the Adelaide and South Adelaide clubs. The Military band will be in attendance.”

Just as they were to do when the Crows kicked off under lights against the Hawks in 1991, the fans were expected to be out in force.  “There will be sixteen entrances at the front of the oval, and members of the association will be admitted by an entrance at the back of the stand so as to obviate crushing,” The Advertiser said. There were to be six electric lamps, three on each side of the ground. Each three would be worked by a steam engine and “Messrs. F. Clark & Sons guarantee a successful light”.

Unfortunately, the great idea was just too far ahead of its time. The Register the next morning declared the lights “did not sufficiently illuminate the field”. A belt on one of the engines slipped from its wheel in the first half and “for a minute or so that side of the Oval was in darkness”. But the newspaper felt “the undertaking could not be termed a total failure”. While one author of a Letter to the Editor described the game as a “miserable fiasco”, about 8000 people came to have a look – “the pavilion and enclosure were crowded, and round the chains the spectators were very thick, every square inch of the earth mounds also being occupied”. To attract so many fans, in a colony just nearing 50 years of age, was of comparable significance to the 44,902 fans who expectantly turned out to see Adelaide blitz Hawthorn under lights in the Crows’ first premiership season game. Adelaide also won back in 1885, 1.8 to 0.8. The ball was painted white but it became progressively harder to see as the game wore on because “the colouring on the ball washed off”.

Next (part three): A premiership and farewell

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs