Australian Rules football has been played in South Australia on an organised competitive basis since 1877 (approx.) when the South Australian Football Association was formed. In that year, the Association (the forerunner of the SANFL of today) included such clubs as Adelaide, Bankers, Gawler, Kensington, Kapunda, North Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Price Alfred College, South Adelaide, South Park, Victorian, Willunga and Woodville. Over the next 30 years or so many new clubs were formed and as a consequence, several new associations sprang up to accommodate them.
During these formative years of competitive football in South Australia, there were many groups of individuals who played football matches against each other without going through the formalities of forming associations, or indeed in some cases, even bothering about forming clubs. Students from Adelaide University, for example, had, from around the turn of the century, combined to play an annual match against students from Melbourne University without there being a University Football Club as such, and members of Saint Francis Xavier played regular matches in the early 1900s but didn't form a football club until 1911.
The main drive for the formation of a new amateur football association came from the University students. In 1906 they formed the University Football Club, recruited several students playing for senior district clubs, and applied to join the SA Football Association, foreshadowing the example of their Melbourne University counterparts who were admitted to the Victorian league in 1908. However, their application was refused on the grounds that the admission of a University team would break up the electorate system where players qualified for clubs on the basis of electoral boundaries. Undeterred, the students applied again in 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1910, each time being refused on the same grounds.
In April 1910 after the fifth successive unsuccessful application, a special meeting was called at the University to discuss the matter. This meeting was chaired by the President of the University Sports Association, Dr. Cavenagh-Mainwaring, and addressed by Professor Darnley Naylor, who eloquently put the case for University's admission to the SA Football League (as it then was), on the grounds that it would benefit football and amateur sport. Some of his comments (as reported in the Advertiser 22/4/10, p.8) follow:
Section 2 of the constitution of the league said the object of the league was 'the encouragement of football.' That was hardly the object they had in view when they refused the students' application, as because of that refusal the students were only able to play one game a year - that against the Melbourne University. The situation was without parallel throughout the world - that the University should be prevented from playing a game by the body which was supposed to have at heart the promotion and extension of that game. Universities, throughout the world, had always been regarded as the home of clean, pure sport, and the Adelaide University had always been loyal to that tradition. He wanted to appeal to the sport-loving public of South Australia with every confidence that they would help them by the pressure of public opinion.
The Chairman expressed the opinion that the case for admission would be strengthened if the University had a team playing successfully in regular competition. To this end the time might be right to form a purely amateur league, as the Glenferrie and St. Bartholomew teams, amongst others, were in no association and so might be interested in joining.
This meeting laid the foundation for what was to follow. At the annual social of the St. Bartholomew team in August 1910, the Secretary of the University Sports Association S.W. Jeffries spoke of the possibility of forming a new amateur association (Advertiser, 29/8/10, p.10). His speech received favourable responses from the secretary of St. Bartholomew (R.F. Middleton), as well as from representatives of teams from Glenferrie (T.L. Gepp) and Marlborough (J. Redwood). It was these four clubs, Glenferrie, Marlborough, St. Bartholomew and University, which then agreed to explore the details involved in forming a new football association based on amateur principles. That summer must have seen a lot of activity by these clubs, because six months later the ground work had been completed, and a formal meeting was held at the University on March 8th 1911. At the meeting were two representatives from each of the four clubs, namely T.L. Gepp and D. Giles (Glenferrie), F.B. Frinsdorf and Powell (Marlborough), R.F. Middleton and Neil (St. Bartholomew), and S.W. Jeffries and H.W. Stoddart (University).
After discussing the results of each of the club's efforts over the summer, it was apparent that a new football association was feasible and indeed desirable, and accordingly it was resolved to form the SA Amateur Football League (SAAFL).
So the Amateur League was formed at this meeting at the University on March 8th 1911, and the representatives there wasted no time in installing a management body. They elected the officers of the Amateur League including Professor Darnley Nayloras President, S.W. Jeffries as Chairman, Roy F. Middleton as Secretary, and D. Giles as Treasurer.
Another item of business was to consider applications from four other clubs wishing to join the new association, namely Concordia College, St. Francis Xavier, Stanley and Torrenside. However, after considerable discussion it was decided to accept only St. Francis Xavier, the remainder being rejected, partly on the grounds of lack of home ovals.
Another meeting was called for March 17th at the University. S.W. Jeffries presided and two delegates attended from each of the five founding clubs. The main business of the meeting was to adopt the newly drafted constitution and rules of the Amateur League, and this task extended over two meetings. Also at the March 17 meeting, applications from Our Boys Institute and Rosslyn to join the Amateur League were discussed, but both applications were rejected. It seemed that the new football association was going to be, if nothing else, a rather exclusive organisation. However the founding members were probably keen to ensure that the Amateur League started off in a small way so as to increase the probability of its long-term viability.
At a later meeting on April 7th, applications from Prospect, Stanley and Semaphore Central were rejected. Then at a meeting on April 24, the University delegate put the case for admitting Semaphore Central, a very strong football club that had just been balloted out of the SA Football Association (then the equivalent of the current SANFL Reserves competition). However, it was agreed that it was too late to admit them for the 1911 season, but that the Amateur League would be pleased to consider an application from Semaphore Central for the 1912 season.
And so it was finally agreed that the match programme for the inaugural season of the Amateur League would involve competition between five clubs only, namely Glenferrie, Marlborough, St. Bartholomew, St. Francis Xavier and University; and University is still a member of the Amateur League as at the time of writing, eighty four years later, which is fitting for a club that played such a dominant part in the formation of the SAAFL.
The inaugural clubs drew many players from the SA Football League - University boasted eleven, St. Bartholomew had eight, Glenferriesix, St. Francis Xavier five and Marlboroughone. It may have been this strength that caused the clubs to form a new association rather than the alternative of simply joining an existing association. At the time there existed several metropolitan associations including Adelaide and Suburban, Metropolitan, Port Adelaide and Suburban, S.A. Junior, and United Church. Undoubtedly, a team with eleven former League players such as University would tend to dominate any of these associations, and so a new association with a select group of clubs able to draw on former SA Football League players would seem a preferable alternative.
It was decided to use just three grounds for the first year of competition in 1911 - Jubilee Oval, Price Oval and University Oval. The Amateur League was fortunate in that two of these grounds were 'brand new'. The 'old' one was Jubilee Oval situated on the south-western corner of Frome Road and Victoria Drive, about a hundred metres south of the Adelaide Zoo. The Amateur League used it again in 1912, but only infrequently thereafter, until Teachers Training College used it as a home ground from 1927 until 1935 when the Mackinnon Parade ground became available. The Jubilee Oval was built over by the University in 1946 and there are now five University buildings where it once stood.
University Ovalwas newly developed and still exists today on the corner of Sir Edwin Smith Avenue and War Memorial Drive. The Oval had only been completed in 1910, which was opportune for both the University team and the new association. Until then the University team had used Adelaide Oval for its biannual home match against Melbourne University, and other spasmodically arranged matches against assorted opponents were played wherever a ground was available.
Price Oval or Hawthorn Oval as it is also known, also still exists today, and had also just been developed. It was located on a site originally known as Bloor's Estate (Advertiser, 8/5/11, p.10), and the Oval was named in honour of the South Australian Premier Tom Price who lived in the Hawthorn district.
The first match of the first season of the Amateur League was played at Price Ovalon May 6, 1911, and it coincided with the opening of the ground by the Governor of South Australia. Much preparation went into promoting this gala event, and special trains were scheduled to run from North Terrace to the ground to cater for the crowd of over 2000 people in attendance. The Mitcham Brass Band played at the opening, cadets from Adelaide High formed a guard of honour for the Governor, and an exhibition was given by the Y.M.C.A. Gymnastic Club. The South Australian Amateur Football League had arrived!