South Adelaide Football Club EST.1876

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The South Adelaide Story

The first mention of football being played in South Australia comes from a newspaper report in 1843 seven years after the colony was first settled.

This was probably some version of Gaelic football, as it was played between Irish colonists on St. Patrick's Day. However, the new version of football, which we have come to know as Australian Rules, began in Melbourne in 1858 and one of its founders, Henry Harrison, visited Adelaide to promote the game in 1860. At a meeting at the Globe Inn (where Myer now stands in Rundle Mall) a local football club was formed, known as the Adelaide Football Club.

This new club arranged matches between its members, who lived north and south of the River Torrens, and with another group known as Collegians, whose members attended one of Adelaide's private colleges. Other clubs were soon formed at Modbury (1862), Port Adelaide (1870), Gawler, Woodville, Kensington, and Willunga.

In 1875/76, a number of players broke away from the old Adelaide Football Club to form what became known as the South Adelaide Football Club.

The team we now know as the Panthers had its beginning at a meeting in the Draper Memorial schoolrooms.

From its very beginning, it wore blue and white, colours which it has carried right through the 140 years of its history to the present day. South Adelaide was credited with the premiership of the newly formed South Australian Football Association in its first year of operation in 1877, and then won another six premierships (and finished runner-up seven times) in the next twenty years.

Early Success: South Adelaide won the inaugural South Australian Football Association Premiership in 1877.

South Adelaide Finished top with a record of 10-1-2 scoring 22 goals and conceding 1. 

Characters from those early years included its first secretary, Charles Cameron Kingston (pictured above top-right wearing his trademark top hat).

Kingston played for the club during its first two seasons. He then took on the role as the clubs first secretary, a position he held until 1879. He was also President of the club from 28 consecutive years until 1904, during which time he was also Premier and Attorney-General of South Australia, a member of the committee responsible for drafting the constitution for the Commonwealth of Australia, and Minister of Trade in the very first Federal Government.

A fiery character both on and off the field, he once got arrested in Victoria Square when he challenged another politician to a duel with a set of pistols he had sent to him!

Another standout during the club’s early years was Dinny Reedman, who was captain of South Australia in both football and cricket, and represented Australia in cricket as well. A ruckman and defender, he captained South Adelaide for 11 years (including five premierships) and is an inaugural member of both the AFL and SANFL Halls of Fame, as well as being captain of The Greatest South Adelaide Team.

In 1899, new boundaries were enforced which meant that South lost many of its best players to rival clubs.

And while in the early twentieth century the premierships may not have been so regular, the players made their presence felt, like Jack Tredrea.  Jack played league football between 1903 and 1922, and interstate football continuously from 1905 to 1920. He captained South Australia, was an amazingly fit and agile player, who missed only two club games throughout the whole of his career, and a great stab pass. A great admirer of Tredrea was legendary Collingwood ruckman Dick Lee, who arranged to have a photo of Jack hung in the Collingwood rooms, where it remained right up until the Second World War.

Frank Barry became the club's first Magarey Medallist, winning the league's highest honour in 1915. Shortly after claiming the medal, Barry headed off to the war claiming he "hoped to do as well at Gallipoli as on the football field, and if VC's were about he would be a trier". Sadly, upon his return from the war he would never return to the football field for South Adelaide .

Dan Moriarty (pictured right) was South Australia's greatest player between the wars, and remains the only player to win three consecutive Magarey Medals (1919, 1920 and 1921). Moriarty missed only one game in seven seasons and played 22 consecutive state games. He too was an inaugural member of both the AFL and SANFL Halls of Fame. Today the club’s locker rooms  are named in his honour.

In the 1930's South won two premierships (1935 and 1938) with a formidable team which included 1935 Magarey Medallist Jack Cockburn, and South Adelaide Hall of Famers Laurie Cahill and Jack and Jim Dawes. This period was also notable for the goalkicking exploits of Chris (Diddy) Munro, who remains the only SAFC senior player to have kicked 100 goals in a season. (Danny Del Re came close in 1995, kicking 92 goals) 

In the post War period, one of South Adelaide's greatest players, Jim Deane made his mark. Deane was a gifted and elegant midfielder with a devastatingly accurate dropkick. He won Magarey Medals in 1953 and 1957, as well as claiming a then record six Knuckey Cups.Deane was captain and coach of South Adelaide for many years, as well as playing two seasons for Richmond in the VFL. Today the clubs Bistro and Grandstand at Flinders University Stadium are named in his honour.

In 1964 South won its third premiership for the century under the fierce leadership of captain-coach Neil "Knuckles" Kerley.

Kerley took the team from bottom to top in a historic win for the club, defeating the mighty Port Adelaide in the Grand Final, one of the great games in SANFL history. 

A key player in that side was Peter Darley (pictured left), who himself became captain-coach of South Adelaide and captain of South Australia. He was one of the state's best ruckmen ever, and won the Knuckey Cup a record seven times during a career that spanned 205 league games and 13 state games between 1962 and 1974. Today the club’s function room at Flinders University Stadium is named in his honour.

The tall and personable David Kantilla (pictured left) from the Tiwi Islands, was also a member of that 1964 premiership side (he was rated Best on Ground in the Grand Final) and is a dual Knuckey Cup winner. "Soapy", as he was affectionately known, was selected in the AFL Indigenous Team of The Century.

Magarey Medallists to wear South's colours since the great Jim Deane include; Mark Naley in 1991, who had a brilliant career as a rover with South Adelaide and the State, and is a premiership player with Carlton, Andrew Osborn in 1998, dual Medallist Joel Cross (2012 and 2015) and Bryce Gibbs (2021).

South's last appearance in a Grand Final was in 1979 when it played in both the reserves and league Grand Final on the same day. The senior team had a disappointing day, losing to Port Adelaide in poor weather conditions where the coin toss played a significant part in determining the result. The reserves won their Grand final with many players going on to excel in the league team. 

In 1991 a composite South Australian team, the Adelaide Crows entered the national AFL competition, followed in 1997 by Port Adelaide.  Each SANFL club lost some of its best players to these clubs, and the SANFL has had to adapt and survive as a second-tier competition. Many challenges, including reduced crowds and financial support for the local teams have had to be addressed. Nevertheless, it has remained a strong competition generally acknowledged to be the second-best competition after AFL and a good springboard for players with AFL aspirations.

In 1991, the South league team coached by John Reid achieved for the minor premiership for the first time but had a disappointing finals campaign. Prominent players in this period were David Kappler, the late Mark Naley, Darren Trevena, Michael Bennett and David Stoeckel. The brilliant Mark Naley, returning from premiership success with Carlton, won the Magarey Medal, and he is rightly included in South’s greatest players.

In 1993 the South Adelaide Football Club moved south to Noarlunga, naming its grounds Hickinbotham Oval, after distinguished player and administrator Alan Hickinbotham, later renamed Flinders University Stadium. The first league game at the new home ground in 1995 (vs Glenelg) attracted a crowd of over 10,000 (pictured right). The move down south has added a new dimension to the story of one of the most historic and famous sporting clubs in South Australia. 

During its early years, the club’s matches were played at the old Jubilee Oval, which was located next to Frome Road in what is now the University of Adelaide. Prior to this, in the 1890's, they had made use of a ground in the South Parklands close to Hutt Street and the old Arab Steed Hotel, where players often used to go for half-time drinks! Other ovals which the club has used for home matches include the Kensington Oval (which was right next to the tram), the Adelaide Oval (which was a real favourite for both players and spectators), and now the new oval at Noarlunga.

The SAFC now provides a focus for football in the Fleurieu area.  Its recruiting "zone" spans from the metropolitan suburbs of Happy Valley and Reynella, down the southern coast through McLaren Vale and Victor Harbor and also includes Kangaroo Island.

In 2002 the SAFC named its Greatest Ever Team, and all 21 players were inducted into its inaugural Hall of Fame. Additions to the Hall of Fame have been made every few years since. 

Many South players have gone on to become part of the AFL national competition, including AFL premiership players Mark Bickley, Clay Sampson, Nigel Smart, Kym Koster, Caleb Daniel, Beau McCrerry, Simon Goodwin and Tom Sparrow who was coached by Goodwin in Melbournes drought breaking Premiership in 2021. 

1997 & 1998 Adelaide Crows Premiership Captain Mark Bickley.
1997 Adelaide Crows Premiership player Clay Sampson.
1997 & 1998 Adelaide Crows Premiership player Nigel Smart.
1997 & 1998 Adelaide Crows Premiership player Kym Koster.
1997 & 1998 Adelaide Crows Premiership player and 2021 Melbourne Premiership Coach Simon Goodwin.
2016 Western Bulldogs Premiership Player Caleb Daniel.
2021 Melbourne Premiership player Tom Sparrow.
2023 Collingwood Premiership player Beau McCreery

Many others  have gone on to have successful AFL careers in SA or interstate. While this has been great for the individual players, it has also meant that a lot of talent has been lost, arguably more so than from other SANFL clubs. 

Some have returned to play with South, notably Mark Naley (Carlton) Clay Sampson  (Melbourne, Adelaide & Richmond) Jason Torney  (Richmond & Adelaide) , Kym Koster (Western Bulldogs & Adelaide) and Keegan Brooksby (Gold Coast, West Coast & Hawthorn) 

In 2022 the Club produced the number one AFL draft pick, Jason Horne-Francis, now playing with Port Power. 

After a decade in the doldrums, the South senior team contested the SANFL finals in 2006 under coach Rob Pyman and again in 2011 coached by Ron Fuller. It reached the preliminary final in 2014 with coach Brad Gotch, and played finals again in 2016. Ironically in both the 2014 and 2016 final series the Panthers were ultimately eliminated by Adelaide SANFL and Port Magpies teams comprised largely of AFL-listed professional footballers. 

The league team narrowly missed the finals in 2015 after injuries to key players late in the minor round. However, the year was not without success, as Joel Cross can now take his place amongst South's greatest players after winning his second Magarey medal.

Only two other South players, Jim Deane and Dan Moriarty have won the medal more than once. 

Champions: Joel Cross (left) and Nick Liddle (right), two stars of the modern era at South Adelaide.

The Club has produced three Ken Farmer medallists (SANFL’s leading goalkicker award) in Danny Del Re (1995), Michael Wundke (2013) and Brett Eddy (2016) . 

2016 marked the 140-year anniversary of the South Adelaide Football Club, an event celebrated with a commemorative guernsey displaying the names of over 1700 players that had played senior football since the club’s inception. 

After a reasonably successful period in the second decade of the new Century, senior coach Jarrad Wright built on this, taking the senior team to consecutive preliminary finals in 2020 and 2021, the first time in over 50 years this had been achieved by the SAFC. In Round 9 2023, Jarrad Wright became just the fourth senior coach to read the 100 game milestone. 

South Adelaide secured the services of ex-AFL player Bryce Gibbs for the 2021 season, and he immediately stamped his mark on the SANFL competition, dominating games from the midfield and winning the Magarey Medal. 

In the memorable 2021 SANFL finals, when South defeated North Adelaide and Norwood before ultimately losing to Glenelg, the exciting Jason Horne-Francis produced his own highlights reel in last appearances for the Panthers before being drafted into the AFL.

From 2020-2022, all clubs had to contend with restrictions due to the COVID pandemic,  losses of revenue and reduced salary caps. During the 2021 season the Port Adelaide Magpies and Adelaide SANFL teams dropped out of the SANFL competition due to COVID restrictions but resumed in 2022. 

South Adelaide continues regularly to produce successful junior teams and AFL draft players. Losing players to the AFL has had a significant effect on senior team performances.   In recent years the pre-season and mid-season drafts have been particularly problematic with insufficient time to replace drafted players. The 2023 U18 team finished top, defeating Sturt by two points in the exciting Grand Final. This was the South Adelaide's first Junior Boys Premiership since the Under-16 side in 2021. 

Sid Draper was awarded the Jack Collins-Alan Schwab AFL Life Members scholarship which will assist with Draper’s education and personal development.

The conclusion of the 2023 season saw three champions play their final games for the Panthers; Bryce Gibbs, Matt Broadbent and Matt Rose. Keegan Brooksby won his second Knuckey Cup and Joel Cross and Nick Liddle were inducted into the SAFC Hall of Fame. 

In 2018, the South Adelaide Football Club receive the 5th licence to field a team in the SANFW. Krissie Steen would become the inaugural head coach and would guide the Panthers to the Premiership in their inaugural year. in 2019, Rick Watts would take on the role of head coach and like his predecessor would lead to the Panthers to the 2019 Premiership over North Adelaide. South Adelaide remain still the only team to win back to back Premierships in the SANFLW Competition. 

In every season the Panthers have been in the SANFLW, they are the only team to have played in finals in every year, playing in 4 Grand Finals and winning two Premierships. 

The Panther women lost the 2023 Grand Final in heartbreaking circumstances when a controversial free kick and 25 metre penalty resulted in a last-gasp winning goal to the opposition. The Panthers Development League side won their first Premiership in 2023. 

12 Female players have been drafted from South Adelaide over the six seasons they have been in the competition. Nicki Gore inaugural best and fairest player for the SAFCW was the first of these, her image part of the players’ mural at the Club entrance. 


South Adelaide has a long and rich story, and the club is entering a new chapter is being written at Flinders University Stadium. The Club will celebrate its 150-year milestone in 2026 with the release of a commemorative history book. 

Original written by former Club Historian John Althorp and periodically updated by the SAFC Heritage Committee .

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