Explore the History of australian football

Percy Lewis of North

During the early years of the twentieth century the Glenelg area, which at the time boasted a population of only about 8,000, was represented in various junior level football competitions, but it could hardly be claimed that the groundwork was being laid for admission to the state's senior competition, the South Australian Football League.  Nevertheless, shortly after World War One the Glenelg Oval Association launched an audacious application for league membership and although this did not meet with initial approval there was sufficient encouragement given to ensure that the matter would not be permanently dropped.

In 1919, a prototype Glenelg Football Club participated in, and won the premiership of, the United Suburban Association, in the process raising the profile of the sport in the locality, and engendering a substantial amount of public interest together with - and perhaps more to the point - financial and political backing.  Glenelg Oval was upgraded, and fenced, and in March 1920 the mayor of Glenelg, John Mack, presided over a meeting at the town hall at which a new 'Glenelg Football Club' was inaugurated, and plans to seek affiliation with the SAFL discussed.  The SAFL at this time was a seven team competition, and there was a strong desire in League circles to eliminate the inevitable weekly 'bye' via the admission of an eighth club.  With the backing of the mayor and other local luminaries, and the strong support of neighbouring league side, Sturt, Glenelg was fast emerging as the favourite to fill the vacancy.

Events moved apace in those days: when the new football season kicked off less than two months after the town hall public meeting, Glenelg was a member of the SAFL 'B' grade, where it would reside for a probationary term of still to be determined duration.  In colours of red, yellow and black, the newcomers performed creditably for much of the 1920 season, winning 3 of their 14 matches to finish seventh.  Considering the haste with which everything had been put together, and allowing for the fact that many of the best Glenelg-based footballers had, understandably, opted to play at league level with other clubs rather than in 'B' grade with Glenelg during 1920, the consensus was that the season had been a success.  This certainly appears to have been the view of the SAFL management committee, which on 4th October 1920 unanimously endorsed Glenelg's application for full league membership, effective from the following season.  

The fledgling club was to be captain-coached in 1921 by former South Adelaide player Jack Hanley. He would be in charge of an extremely inexperienced side, with only two other players, Bill Murdoch, formerly of South Adelaide, and ex-Norwood rover William Harvey. Hard times ahead were predicted.

Glenelg’s first match in league company was against West Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval and resulted in a 77 point loss. Worse was to follow: in round two the Bays as they were popularly known [1] travelled to Alberton Oval to take on eventual 1921 premiers Port Adelaide. By the standards of the time, what eventuated can only be described as a massacre, with the Magpies romping home by 107 points, 19.21 (135) to Glenelg’s 3.10 (28).

Round three saw the seasiders making their home debut and hopes were high that playing in familiar surroundings would enable them to give a good account of themselves, although the fact that the opposition was provided by reigning premiers North Adelaide meant that not even the club’s most ardent barrackers entertained hopes of a victory.

A modest crowd of 3,500 turned up for the match, some of them, if the writer in “The Register” is to be believed, principally intent on seeing the Governor of South Australia, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Archibald Weigall, opening the new pavilion. The Mayor of Glenelg also took part in the opening ceremony which was held about quarter of an hour before the beginning of the match. Perhaps sensing that the expensive structure lacked something in the way of visual appeal it was noted that “the committee do not intend to rest satisfied with what has been accomplished, for artistic and ornamental embellishment is to be added to the initial perfect utilitarian work”.[2]

When the match got underway the home sided began brightly and had a goal on the board, off the boot of Hawkes, inside a minute. North responded swiftly and incisively though, and within a couple of minutes Davies had levelled the scores. Then Fuss made a long tenacious run which culminated with his registering the northerners’ second goal.

Just as in their opening two fixtures, Glenelg were finding it difficult to match the pace and precision of their opponents, who continued to attack persistently. Goals to Frost and Wedger gave the red and whites some breathing space, and but for some poor kicking for goal, notably by Oliver who missed a couple of “sitters”, the match might have been as good as over by the first change. As it was a goal just before the bell by Davies gave North a handy 24 point lead at quarter time. Scores were North Adelaide 5.4 (34); Glenelg 1.4 (10).

Glenelg’s players apparently bebefited from their brief rest because, just as in the opening term, they began the second quarter brightly, and inside a couple of minutes Hawkes had bagged both his and the seasiders’ second goal. The play then went from end to end for a time with no addition to the scores. Finally North’s Percy Lewis was awarded a dubiuous looking mark close in from which he comfortably converted.

Generally speaking, the play during the second term was more even than it had been in the first, with Glenelg doing their fair share of the attacking. From one such forward thrust Curnow punted the Bays’ third goal, but North responded almost immediately with a six pointer to Frost. By half time the visitors had extended their lead by a mere point after a closely fought and relatively high standard quarter.

The opening of the third term was a carbon copy of the previous two with Glenelg racing straight into attack and nabbing an early goal courtesy of Grealy. North, however, responded almost immediately with Wedger kicking truly after being awarded a free kick near to goal and directly in front. 

Glenelg made a semblance of a fightback culminating in a goal from point blank range to Grealy, but from that point onwards it was North who assumed complete control, adding three further goals before the final change. The scoreboard when the teams changed ends for the last time showed North Adelaide 39 points to the good, 12.11 (83) to 6.8 (44).

Given that North now enjoyed a match-winning lead it is understandable, if not perhaps quite forgivable, that they noticeably took the foot of the accelerator during the final term. Glenelg indeed registered the first couple of goals of the quarter, kicked by Hawkes and Rice, but any lingering hopes of a home team revival were quickly extinguished when Davey goaled for North. Much of the remainder of the play was quite frenetic but it was also somewhat unkempt and other than a couple of behinds to each side there was no further scoring. Final scores were North Adelaide 13.14 (92) defeated Glenelg 8.10 (58). All things considered it had been the Bays’ best performance of the season so far, but in acknowledging that it also needs to be admitted that the team had not yet given any real indication that it could provide the other seven teams in the SAFL with more than a token challenge.

That said, it is doubtful if many people at Glenelg Oval that day would have predicted exactly how long Glenelg’s time in the doldrums would last. Moreover, in hindsight, during the course of the next four years there must have been many who came to regard the SAFL's decision as premature.  During that time, the Glenelg Football Club blundered its way into the record books in spectacular, unparalleled fashion, losing every one of 56 league matches contested; indeed, during the entire course of its first 10 SAFL seasons, Glenelg never once finished higher than seventh on the ladder, and managed a paltry success rate of just 15.1%.  By any objective criteria, it would seem that the club was not ready for the demands of league football. Nevertheless, a league competition without Glenelg during the 1920s might have robbed aficionados of the game of the delight of seeing players of the calibre of Len Sallis, Jim Handby and Jack Owens in action.  Sallis was a combative but highly skilful centreman who played 172 games for Glenelg between 1924 and 1935, winning the club's best and fairest award on five occasions; old timers remember him for his sure ball handling, irrespective of opposition pressure, and tremendous disposal skills.  Handby, the club's first Magarey Medallist, shifted from South Adelaide in 1925 and made his debut in Glenelg's first ever league win; he was a determined, energetic and forceful player who played 123 games for the club - interestingly, without kicking a single goal - between 1925 and 1932. Broken Hill-born Owens was the first in a long line of great Glenelg full forwards; between 1924 and 1935 he played 177 games for the club, booting 827 goals, and heading the league goalkicking list on three occasions.

Two of these men, Sallis and Owens, were teammates when Glenelg surprised the football world by winning the 1934 premiership.  Prior to 1934, the Seasiders as they were popularly known at the time had never finished above 6th on the ladder, but under the coaching of former West Adelaide champion Bruce McGregor, appointed the previous year, the side had begun to play a tougher, more resolute - and ultimately much more successful - brand of football.  In 1933, Glenelg enjoyed what the Americans term “a winning season” for the first ever time, emerging victorious from 9 of its 17 league fixtures.  The following year saw it overcome a slow start to transform itself into a formidable combination, vying for supremacy for much of the season with perennial powerhouse, Port Adelaide.  In the end, both Glenelg and Port finished the minor round equal on points, and ahead of all other teams, with the Magpies' marginally better percentage securing the minor premiership.

The Seasiders' first ever league final was an ostensible disaster which may, in fact, have constituted just the kind of wake-up call required to transform them from pretenders into bona fide contenders.  Port Adelaide won with ease, 22.21 (159) to 13.16 (940, with Glenelg displaying a brittleness and indecisiveness which had not been apparent since the opening couple of games of the season.

Such frailties were swept aside the following week, however, as Glenelg came roaring home in the last quarter to defeat Sturt by 13 points, having trailed narrowly at every change.  Despite this, few pundits could see any reason to tip anything other than a substantial Port Adelaide grand final win.

The 1934 SANFL grand final was one of the most exhilarating witnessed up to that point.  Played at breakneck pace, Port Adelaide managed the first goal of the afternoon but never thereafter led.  The majority of the Glenelg players put in the performances of their lives, enabling them to resist everything that their more illustrious opponents could throw at them.  Nevertheless, when Port levelled the scores late on in the final term there would have been few members of the 30,045 strong crowd who did not expect them to go on with the job.  'Blue' Johnston (shown left), however, had other ideas, and his spectacular defensive mark on the goal line moments later effectively transformed the momentum of the game, precipitating as it did the move from which Glenelg secured the match winning goal.  Final scores were Glenelg 18.15 (123); Port Adelaide 16.18 (114).  Few at the Port could believe it, but the rest of the League rejoiced along with Glenelg.  

Best in a fairly even team display by the victors was spring-heeled centre half forward Arch Goldsworthy, with the fleet-footed roving trio of Arthur Link, Roy Colyer and Lance Leak also exerting a decisive influence. 

But more about Glenelg’s historic and heroic 1934 achievement in due course.

​Back in 1921 Glenelg, of course, finished an unceremonious last. North Adelaide failed to defend the premiership won the previous season, and indeed failed to qualify for the finals altogether, finishing fifth. The flag was won by Port Adelaide, which defeated arch rivals Norwood by 8 points in a dour, low scoring challenge final.


[1] Newspaper reports of the time interchangeably refer to Glenelg as the Bays and the seasiders. The Tiger moniker was still to be thought of.

[2] “The Register”, 23/5/21, page 3.

Seasiders Struggle - ​SAFL round 3, Saturday 21st May 1921: Glenelg versus North Adelaide at Glenelg Oval

​Glenelg's William Harvey

​Bill Murdoch (Glenelg)