Words and research by Mark ‘Schwishter’ Schwerdt
The SANFL’s new headquarters, the imaginatively named Football Park, was built on reclaimed swamps in an seaside area to be known as West Lakes (annexing the best bits of Royal Park, Seaton, Semaphore Park, Tennyson and Old Port Reach). Freed from the shackles of the SA Cricket Association, the original plans were for a modern stadium capable of supporting an attendance of 80,000.
I attended the first match that was played there. If is fair to say that the ground was not yet fully completed, but it was deemed sufficiently inhabitable by Round 5 of the 1974 season.
That May 4 clash was between North Adelaide and Central District. The Roosters had finished 1st, 1st and 2nd in the previous three seasons, compared to the Bulldogs’ 3rd, 3rd and 6th. Both sides had 2-2 records although North was coming off a ten goal loss to 1973 premiers Glenelg and Centrals had flogged South Adelaide by a lazy 95 points the previous week.
The prevailing sense of urgent pragmatism is evident from these extracts from the Football Budget. With a state game against WA scheduled for May 18, this opening day had the collective members of the SANFL management as toey as a Roman proverbial.
The first match was not surprisingly full of records – first touch went to Centrals Captain-Coach Tony Casserly, who leapt over Centrals’ ruck Peter Maksimovic to record the first hitout. First kick went to Bulldog second-gamer Tom Zorich, who is now a long-term member of the SA Football Commission and a prominent sports and leisure store proprietor (naturally). North’s Barry Hearl notched the first major.
I was there to witness the first bounce from the northern forward pocket, but many others at the game missed it as they had chosen to join a very long queue near the Members’ Stand to sign the visitors book instead. I often wonder what happened to that book.
North had the edge early, but Centrals banged on nine second quarter goals. The margin stayed within a 3 to 6 goal band for the rest of the proceedings. North looked anything but finals material. Centrals were at their best throughout, but David ‘Sally’ Saywell’s seven goal haul makes me smile every time I watch this, as does the coolness of Sonny Money in a back pocket.
The shot of the final score is currently my @swishtter Twitter avatar.
The original Footy Park scoreboard certainly lacked the history and charm of Adelaide Oval’s. It was no more functional than the boards in use at Elizabeth, Prospect, Thebarton or any of the other local grounds for that matter. In fact it may even have lacked the rudimentary shelter that was provided at the other grounds via the little storage hutch that the Coca-Cola sponsored versions had. It was in use for the first half-decade of Footy Park’s operation.
For the record (and since there doesn’t seem to be a full shot of the entire scoreboard), I can advise that scores from the other games were:
C – West Adelaide 12.14 D – Glenelg 32.25
E – West Torrens 21.20 F – South 14.20
G – Sturt 26.17 H – Port 12.12
J – Woodville 12.11 K – Norwood 27.17
The results of Race 8 from Cheltenham, the Elgin Hcp over 1500m were
5 – So Be It (2.10, 0.95)
9 – Bonnie Voglio (0.95)
8 – Alfura (7.85)
If you want the Victorian dividends, they’ll be through any minute now.
By 1975, the scoreboard board had some slight tweaks, but it was still a sad disappointment.
Football Park was essentially a work in very slow progress for the next decade. It was years before the under cover sections extended the full 360 degrees, along with the infamous aluminium seating that eventually ringed the entire ground. I remember watching the 1978 Grand Final from the highest accessible point behind the northern goals, being within touching distance of some dodgy barbed wire atop the wall behind me. It was still a cold and barren concrete wasteland. But it was ours.
At least by then, the new fangled semi electronic board was in operation.