Explore the History of australian football

In Adelaide, as across most of the British Empire, Thursday 2th June 1902 was declared a public holiday in honour of the coronation, in London, of King Edward VII. However, the king became ill, the coronation was postponed,[1] and the public holiday cancelled. Nevertheless, some of the celebratory events scheduled for the day went ahead. Among these was an interstate football match at the Adelaide Oval between South Australia and the Victorian Football League. There was some talk of deferring the match until Saturday, but the SAFA’s decision to proceed as planned - taken after discussions on Wednesday afternoon with Victorian team delegates - proved to be fully vindicated, as the match attracted an immense crowd for the time of more than 10,000 spectators.[2] Moreover, the football produced by both teams was excellent, with at least one Victorian observer venturing the opinion that “the contest was the finest ever seen in Adelaide between the two combined teams”.[3]

In 1902 most, though by no means all, Australians were loyal subjects of the British Empire, and updates on the king’s health overshadowed almost everything else in the newspapers of the week of the planned coronation. The fact that there was widespread, and genuine concern among the general population was emphasised at half time of the match when, to the accompaniment of the Central Mission Band, “The occupants of the pavilion rose en masse, and every head around the fences was uncovered. At the close of the anthem cheers went up from every part or the ground.”[4]

The visitors were captained by thirty-five year old Peter Burns of Geelong. Originally recruited by South Melbourne from Ballarat Imperials in 1885, Peter Burns went on to enjoy virtually unrivalled popularity in the Victorian game until his retirement as a player eighteen years later.  His combination of a neo-Herculean physique, immense courage, fervent athleticism, and irreproachable on field behaviour perfectly encapsulated the 'ideal of manhood' which was in vogue at the time.

On the field of play, Burns was an instant success, and made a sterling contribution to South's 1885 premiership triumph.  A member of further South Melbourne premiership teams in 1888-89-90, Burns was equally effective whether positioned at full back, or in the ruck, in which latter case he was perfectly capable of remaining on the ball all day.

In 1892 he transferred to Geelong and went on to give excellent service for another ten years.  He captained Geelong in 1896 and 1900, and also captained Victoria several times.  In 1902, at the age of thirty-six, he was compelled to retire after sustaining a serious leg injury, but he maintained his involvement in football until 1941 by acting as Geelong's official timekeeper.

Burns’ deputy was Tod Collins of Essendon, another fine all round performer. The South Australians were captained by Arch Hosie of Port Adelaide, who had also been state skipper in 1901.

The South Australian team wore black and white guernseys, while the Victorians were in blue and gold. In 1901, the two states had played one another twice, with the Vics triumphing in Melbourne, and South Australia in Adelaide. Both matches were close, and another tight encounter was expected.

The VFL dominated the opening exchanges, in terms of possession at any rate, but play was, for a time, concentrated near the centre of the ground. Finally, the Vics managed to penetrate the South Australian defence, and register the first goal of the game. South Australia responded brightly, but a concerted spell of attacking yielded only a behind, and when the VFL next attacked they showed how it should be done as Essendon’s Fred Hiskens goaled after taking a fine mark.

The next few minutes saw the South Australians in the ascendancy, but wayward kicking for goal prevented their mounting any real scoreboard pressure. Jack Kay and “Bos” Daly were the main culprits, as both missed easy shots from close range, the former seeing his kick swerve and strike a behind post, and the latter managing just a behind.

The VFL, with Fontaine particularly prominent, responded energetically, and when Charles Baker took a fine mark within goal kicking range looked set to extend their lead. However, the St Kilda player’s kick fell short, landing deep in the goal square, and South Australia managed to clear.

The visitors continued to dominate, however, and another Victorian goal was not long in coming. South Melbourne’s Charlie Goding was the scorer, his deft snap capping a swift, incisive forward thrust from the blue and golds.

During the closing minutes of the quarter South Australia tried desperately to reduce the deficit but were blighted by poor kicking for goal. At the first change the visitors deservedly held sway by a margin of 15 points, 3.2 (20) to 0.5 (5).

There was a comical start to the second term as Ern Jenkins of Fitzroy gathered the ball near the centre of the ground and inadvertently sent it deep into South Australia’s forward lines. That was where it remained for several minutes, but despite their best efforts the black and whites could only manage minor scores. Some of the misses were risible, and the crowd responded with a mixture of derision and laughter.

Midway through the second quarter South Australia finally managed to elicit two flags from the goal umpire. John Earl of North Adelaide was the scorer. Prior to the arrival of Tom Leahy in 1910, John Earl was the man saddled with the responsibility of leading North Adelaide's rucks, a task he performed with considerable distinction for the better part of a decade.  This was one of half a dozen appearances he made for his state. At the end of the 1902 season he would be among the best players afield in his club’s grand final defeat of South Adelaide, a distinction he repeated three years later when Port Adelaide was vanquished.  Tall and thin, he was an excellent palmer of the ball, and was one of the few footballers of his generation to wear a cap while playing.  In 1908, his penultimate season, Earl was the first recorded winner of North's best and fairest award. 

Buoyed by their breakthrough, the South Australians continued to attack persistently, but the Victorian defence held firm. When the visitors at last managed to mount an attack of their own it ended in disappointment as Hiskens, running unchallenged into an open goal, kicked lackadaisically, and only a behind ensued. Not long afterwards, however, the Vics managed their fourth major of the afternoon.

South Australia’s response was again lively and, on this occasion, telling, with first Earl and then Daly kicking truly. A couple of behinds to the black and whites followed, and for the first time in the match the home state was in front on the scoreboard.

The closing minutes of the second term saw the ball being propelled swiftly from one end of the ground to the other. When the bell sounded, both sides had added a goal to their respective tallies, and the scoreboard showed South Australia holding the narrowest possible lead at the main break. Scores were South Australia 4.11 (35) leading the VFL 5.4 (34).

South Australia rushed into attack at the start of the third quarter and O’Brien marked superbly within easy goalkicking range, but only managed to register a behind. The blue and golds rallied, and after Hiskens had registered a couple of behinds Melbourne’s George Moodie  kicked his team’s sixth goal. At this stage of the match the Vics were dominating the rucks and combining together better than South Australia. Some of their interplay was intricate and tricky, and had the home state floundering. A seventh goal soon followed off the boot of Moodie’s Melbourne team-mate Tom Ryan, and the signs were worrying for the home state. To their credit, the South Australian players responded well, producing their best sustained football of the quarter to put the Victorians on the back foot. Once again, however, poor kicking for goal let them down, and several excellent scoring opportunities produced only one major score, courtesy of North Adelaide sharpshooter “Bos” Daly. The VFL’s response was swift and incisive and within minutes they had added an eighth goal. At three quarter time the Victorians held an 11 point advantage, 8.7 (55) to South Australia’s 5.14 (44).

The last term panned out in a way that few, if any, of the spectators at the ground could have anticipated, with South Australia dominating from start to finish. Barely a minute after the resumption Daly notched a goal to reduce the margin to 5 points. Shortly afterwards the deficit was reduced by a point, and then Daly goaled again to give the home state a lead which was never relinquished. The crowd was now making more noise than at any stage of the game, and the South Australians responded with some truly superb football. Moreover, their kicking for goal, previously so wayward, was now precise and at times brilliant. Further six pointers came off the boots of Kay and Daly and, midway through the term, the home state appeared to have the match in the bag. When Miller kicked South Australia’s tenth goal the crowd, sensing victory, cheered themselves hoarse. The Vics made a semblance of a recovery thanks to a goal from Ryan but South Australia comfortably ran out the remainder of the match, and moments before the final bell O’Brien rubbed salt into the visitors’ wounds with his side’s eleventh six pointer. Final scores were South Australia 11.15 (81) defeated the VFL 9.8 (62).

The vibrant health of football in South Australia at this point in time was further emphasised a couple of months later when the black and whites journeyed to Melbourne and again overcame the might of the Big V, albeit by the rather tighter margin of just 8 points.


[1] The coronation eventually took place on 9th August 1902.

[2] This was a larger crowd than had attended either the 1900 or 1901 grand finals. The population of the Adelaide Metropolitan area at the time was just over 160,000.

[3] “The Argus”, 27th June 1902, page 7.

[4] “The Advertiser”, 27th June 1902, page 7.

SA goalsneak Anthony "Bos" Daly

Victoria's captain, Peter Burns

Jack Kay (South Australia).

Croweaters Earn Bragging Rights - Interstate match, Thursday 26th June 1902: South Australia versus the Victorian Football League at the Adelaide Oval