The Road to Amateur League

The 1910 Semaphore Central team (above) would prove to be the last team for the club that would participate in the South Australian Football Association. In March 1911, along with Prospect, they would be turfed out of the competition. Back row: R.W. Thompson; H. Sidoli; G. Kitson; M.J. Curtin (secretary); D. Linklater; A.E. Iverson; H. Hutchins. Third row: S. Cobley (trainer); P. O'Grady; N. Murison; R.H. Sangster; W.A. Martiensen; J. Liston; W. Quinn; J. Freeman. Second row: W.H. Sandrey; H.H. Beames; H. Duthie; W. Jenkins; A.J. Wilcox (C); A.H. Sangster; J. Dunston; A.E. Wilcox; A. McLaurin. Front row: E. Taylor; G. Linklater (VC)

How it was in 1910 . . . .

South Australian Football League (SAFL)

The SAFL was the premier South Australian football competition of its time and had operated since its inception in 1877. Referred to in many of the newspaper articles of the day as the “League”. By way of comparison it was the equivalent to what is today the SANFL but with the main difference it only operated a single division – the A Grade and no reserves competition.

The South Australian Football League (SAFL) was a seven team competition comprising of:

South Adelaide
North Adelaide
Port Adelaide
West Adelaide
West Torrens

The remaining teams that make up the SANFL as we know it today joined the competition much later on – Glenelg  in 1920 and Woodville and Central District  in 1964.

The League was electorate based, meaning players had to reside in the area (based on electoral boundaries) if they wished to play for that club. In the background there was a convoluted web of associations and sub associations feeding players into this system. Many of these competitions were church, community or work based associations.

The League was also supposed to operate as an Amateur association, however around this time player payments began to creep into the system. News articles of the era would from time to time mention clubs being disqualified in certain games were electoral boundaries were broken or it was identified players were receiving payments. By the 1920’s the League had all but given up on attempting to police player payments and clubs were openly paying their players.

For many years Adelaide University had lobbied the League for admission into the competition; however the League feared that as University would draw players from all over metropolitan and country South Australia this would endanger the electorate system and give an unfair advantage to University. Numerous attempts by University leading up to 1910 were all rejected. Which in time contributed to the creation of the South Australian Amateur League – University being the driving force for its establishment due to their constant rejection.

The Advertiser 22 April, 1910 – University Football Club – Admission to League Refused – Players Say Professionalism is Rampant

South Australian Football Association (SAFA)

Above: Teams competing in their respective associations based on 1910 electoral boundaries. Both Port Adelaide and North Adelaide were fed by two "junior" clubs. The perception was Port and North had an advantage with this structure. The reality was if an electorate had 10 clubs feeding the senior club it still would not alter the player pool it could draw from.

The second tier competition was known as South Australian Football Association (SAFA), it was referred to as “Association Football” or simply “Association”. Despite comprising of predominately the same clubs as the SAFL, it was run and operated as a separate association, and had its own board and committee structure. Interestingly Port Adelaide did not field a team in this competition.

The South Australian Football Association (SAFA) was a nine team competition comprising of:

South Adelaide II
North Adelaide II
Norwood II
Sturt II
West Adelaide II
West Torrens II
Portland Imperial
Semaphore Central

Effectively this association was the equivalent of today’s SANFL seconds (hence “II”) competition. Like SAFL it was an electorate based system.

In 1910, newspaper reports speak of an “agreement” that had been reached between the League and the Association, which would allow for the easier interchange of players between the two competitions. Up until this time it appeared that one of the major issues between the two competitions was that players could not move freely between the two levels. It remains unclear if this “agreement” was ever formalised as throughout this period the two bodies continued to operate independently with separate boards and committee’s.

As both systems were electorate based they could only draw players from their declared boundaries. For a period of time there had been some discord amongst the majority of SAFL clubs that North Adelaide and Port Adelaide were at an advantage as they could draw from two strong clubs within their zone (electorate) to promote to their senior team. North Adelaide could draw from both Prospect and North Adelaide II clubs whilst Port Adelaide who did not field a second’s team could draw from both Semaphore Central and Portland Imperial’s.  In reality this should not have mattered as the electoral boundaries governed what players could play for the senior SAFL team regardless of how many teams played in the junior (SAFA) competition – this situation would remain unchanged even if the clubs were reduced to seven. Nevertheless, there was a perception that two strong feeder clubs at Association level provided an unfair advantage at League level and the two competitions should be aligned. Accordingly pressure was brought to bear at board level to align the SAFA competition to that of the SAFL by reducing the number of clubs in the competition to seven.

In late 1910 this push became even stronger when the SAFL under instruction from their committee, offered the SAFA a significant incentive of £50 to reduce the number of teams from 9 down to 7. This incentive was later increased to £80 should the reduction of teams proceed. If this were to take place it was practically decided (by the League) it would be the Prospect and Semaphore Central clubs that would be sacrificed.


On Monday the 13th March, 1911 the Football League (SAFL) and Association (SAFA) held a joint meeting to further discuss the proposed reduction of clubs in the Association. The Association having had some months to consider SAFL’s wishes; had met with some internal resistance from clubs within the Association. It was agreed that the Association would renege on the earlier agreement with the League to proceed with a 7 team competition in the forthcoming season. As the season was already upon them, they should allow the competition to continue as planned – with the same number of participants as the previous year. SAFL were unmoved, standing firm on their position, and deferred the matter for the Association to decide at a meeting to be held the following week.

The Advertiser 13 March 1911 – Association and League Meet

With no formal affiliation between the League and the Association as such, the Association should have been under no obligation to act on the Leagues demands. It is uncertain how much of an incentive the initial £50 offering was on their decision, especially as financial records at the end of the previous season show the Association had a balance of £17. Later this enticement was increased to £80 – which possibly was sufficient inducement to sway their thinking.

At the Association meeting the following week on Thursday the 23rd March, after some token resistance from the North Adelaide delegate, the matter was put to a vote by way of a ballot to decide what 7 teams would constitute the Association. The ballot was resolved along the following lines:

Sturt II – 18 votes
South Adelaide II – 18 votes
West Adelaide II – 18 votes
Norwood II – 18 votes
West Torrens II – 18 votes
North Adelaide II – 16 votes
Portland Imperial – 10 votes
Semaphore Central – 8 votes
Prospect – 2 votes

The delegates of both Semaphore Central and Prospect clubs took no further part in the meeting and were unceremoniously ejected. The two clubs were now out in the cold looking for a competition to field their senior team.

The Advertiser 23 March 1911- Prospect and Semaphore Central Thrown Out

The Register 23 March 1911 – South Australian Association

Whilst there is no record of any Semaphore Central dissension at the meeting, it is possible the vote was known in advance and it may have been a futile exercise to put up any opposition. Regardless the decision must have caused somewhat of a stir within football circles as seen by the Letter to the Editor of The Advertiser, from the West Adelaide delegate defending his position.

The Advertiser 27 March 1911 – Letters to The Editor

As it turned out Semaphore Central did not have very much time to ponder their predicament as the following evening Friday 24th March the Portland Imperial Club held their AGM.  One of the proposals put forward was that a formal invitation should be extended to Semaphore Central to amalgamate with Portland Imperials to form a Port Adelaide II team which would participate in the Association competition that coming season. It was decided that the AGM would be reconvened the following week at the Globe Hotel, Port Adelaide where Semaphore Central would be formally approached to merge with their club.

The Advertiser 28 March – Amalgamation of Two Clubs

Portland Imperial photo taken circa 1903. Earlier newspaper reports indicated Portland Imperial colors were blue and white and they adopted the Port Adelaide style prison bar jumpers around the turn of the century. It is not clear from these old black and white photos what their colours were. Prior to becoming Portland Imperial the club was known as Portland Natives but changed their name some time in the late 1890's. Photo courtesy of Port Adelaide Enfield Library - History Section


On Tuesday the 28th March as planned the Portland Imperial AGM was reconvened at the Globe Hotel with an exceptionally large attendance with Mr F Ward of Portland Imperials presiding. After some discussion both parties agreed the two clubs would be best served by their union under the banner of Port Adelaide II. Furthermore it was decided that the Port Adelaide Senior Football Club should also have a presence on the committee and were formally approached to place two of their committee on the committee of the junior club.

The new club was to be domiciled at Portland Imperials Oval in Royal Park (?unknown? – if anyone has further information please respond in the comments section below). For Semaphore Central this partially solved a dilemma as one of the problems they would face was their senior team was of such a high standard, having won the preceding years premiership, that it would not easily slot into an existing metropolitan competition. There would have been significant resistance to a team of that stature entering one of the suburban competitions as the team was simply too strong.

In the preceding year’s Association final series, Semaphore Central had accounted for Sturt in the Grand Final – only to lose it a week later after Sturt exercised their right of challenge, having finished minor premiers. The rematch, it was decided by the Association was to be played on Sturts home ground at Unley – where Sturt reversed the previous weeks result. Semaphore Central were a force in Association Football, just as Semaphore Central II (B Grade – or Central II as it was known) were a force in the Adelaide and Suburban Competition also having won the flag the previous year. The merger with Portland Imperials would at least dilute the A Grade senior playing list to the extent that it would be a more palatable option for any prospective association willing to accept their nomination.

After the merger of the two clubs was complete it became apparent that Portland Imperials stood to lose much more than their new partner. The club lost its identity and was absorbed into the Association system as Port Adelaide II. There is no mention of Portland Imperials as a club beyond 1911. One can only assume they existed simply at Association level (Port Adelaide II) with an A Grade Team and fielded no junior teams beyond this. There is mention of junior teams playing under the name of Royal Park but it is uncertain if they have any affiliation with the original Portland Imperial Club. Conversely Semaphore Central retained its identity and presence as a club. It continued to field teams in the Adelaide and Suburban Competition and had the opportunity to rebuild. In fact that very same year Semaphore Centrals had entered teams into the newly formed Port Adelaide and Suburban Junior Association.* Essentially all Semaphore Centrals had lost was a chunk of its A Grade team and the prestige of playing in the Association competition – the nucleus and identity of the club remained intact.

Photo: Port Adelaide II South Australian Football Association Premiers 1911 - displaying the premiership cup. The combined Portland Imperial and Semaphore Centrals team went through the 1911 season losing only one game. Points won 1,009 - points lost 263. Back Row: H. Barreau, J. Robertson, R. Sangster, H. Soar, J. McKeough, S.C. Stidson, E. Butler, J. Dunstone (Com). Third Row: D. Watson (Trainer), A. Donnell, l. Stidson, W. Dare, C. Andersen, S. Woolman, L. Wisdom, O. Martienson, H. Lane. Second Row: G. R. Hayter (Trainer), M. J. Curtin (Delegate), J. Lane (C), J. Hodge (Chairman), P. Crowley (VC), C. Mathison, F. Adams. Front Row, G. Linklater, A. Chaplin, P. Rowen, T. Shiels, A. Godson, S.C. Bettison.

The Advertiser 25 March 1911 – Port Adelaide and Suburban Association

Individually at Association level both Portland Imperial and Semaphore Central had been extremely strong in their own right. As a combined unit they were a powerhouse taking out the 1911 Association Premiership losing only a single game for the entire year (see related article).

The Register 11 October 1911 – Port Adelaide II Premiers of South Australian Association

South Australian Amateur League

As a backdrop to these events the Semaphore Central committee had been working feverishly to ensure the clubs senior team would participate in competitive matches in the forthcoming season. Upon their rejection from the Association a letter was despatched to the newly created South Australian Amateur League requesting at late notice that Semaphore Central be allowed to join the new League. This letter was received and tabled at the Leagues meeting on the 7th of April, 1911. No reason was given but Semaphore Centrals request was declined.

The Register 8 April, 1911 – Football Amateur League

A further letter was despatched in mid-April asking the League to reconsider their position and was tabled at the League meeting on 21st April, 1911. This second application received strong support from University, however the League delegates believed it was too late to admit a sixth team into the competition as the draw had already been completed. The League formerly extended an invitation to Semaphore Central (along with Prospect) to apply again for season 1912 when their application would then be reconsidered.

 The Register 26 April, 1911 – Football

Having lost the majority of their A Grade team as a result of the merger with Portland Imperial (Port Adelaide II) and having been rejected from any involvement with the newly formed Amateur League, Semaphore Central were faced with the prospect of playing their senior team in the in the Adelaide and Suburban competition. Unfortunatley there are no records available that indicates how they fared during the 1911 season, but it is clear from newspaper articles that most of the 1910 team are now playing for Port Adelaide II. A number were also promoted to the senior Port Adelaide team during the year, with P. O’Grady landing a berth in the losing Grand Final against West Adelaide.

The next we hear about Semaphore Centrals efforts in securing a place in the Amateur League is a newspaper article in April 1912 taken from the Amateur Leagues AGM, which clearly states that the competition should be more interesting this year with the inclusion of Semaphore Central and St Peter’s old Collegians. Interestingly Prospect’s efforts to join the league were again rejected and St Peters were included in their place.

The Register 19 April 1912 – Amateur League

As far as can be ascertained Semaphore Centrals first game in Amateur League took place at Prince Alfred College on the 4th May 1912 against Glenferrie. The Glenferrie team was named, the Semaphore Central team was unnamed. The same week Marlborough took on St Bartholomew and University took on St. Francis Xavier with St Peters having the bye. No results were detailed in the paper the following week for the Semaphore Central Glenferrie game.

The following week, 11th May, Semaphore Central Vs St. Francis Xavier in the South Parklands and won by 2 points.

The Mail 11 May 1912 – Semaphore Central v St Francis Xavier

The starting line up for Semaphore Central was:

Semaphore Central vs St. Francis Xavier (on south park lands, opposite Parkside Hotel):  Semaphore Central (from) A. Baker, H. Birt, W. Brunnell, S. Donnell, R. Foster, O. Kahlbaum, M. Kneebone, A. Levy, J. McDonald, A. Moir, R. Moore, A. Motley (Captain), F. Pendergrast, J. Quinn, E. Rose, D. Sage, W. Shenle, W. Thurgaland, A. Weir (Vice-Captain), and A. Yeo . . . . some very familiar names, even today!

A look back at the Semaphore Central II team that won the Adelaide and Suburban Association Grand Final in 1910 was made up of the following players:

Birt, Blackham, Brunell, Darling, J. Darling (Captain), Eaton, Kahlbaum, Levy, Mc Leod, Motley, Quinn, Shand, Weir, Wisdom, Yeo, Drummond

Most of these Central II (B Grade) players have reappeared 2 years later in the A Grade team – highlighting the fact that most of the A Grade had moved on to the Port Adelaide II team and effectively the Central II team had become the A Grade team.


* Reference to Junior competitions appears not to mean “underage” junior teams as we know them today, but rather B Grade or lesser grades. When referring to underage teams the term “Youth” was usually used in the title of the Association i.e  The Adelaide and Suburban Youth’s Association

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