1991 – Port Adelaide gets screwed

1991 – Port, Adelaide and the SANFL

Note: Id hoped to find more information on this.

The Port Adelaide Magpies were founded in 1970, winning 36 SANFL flags and 1 VFL/AFL premiership in 2004. They joined the AFL in 1997 after an unsuccessful attempt in 1990. This page is dedicated to the story behind the 1991 attempt.


in 1981, the SANFL decided to try to enter a composite team in the VFL but SANFL requests to the VFL in 1981 were politely declined due to the VFL not considering national expansion at the time, despite applications also coming from East Perth in the WAFL in 1980. In 1985 The National Football Council commissioned a report that recommended South Australia enter a team into the VFL, as a joint effort between Norwood and Port Adelaide, two of the more successful and oldest SANFL clubs.

With financial troubles affecting half its clubs, the VFL evidently saw expansion as its saviour in 1986 and set the wheels in motion inviting both the SANFL and WAFL to the league. This coincided with the appointment of the VFL Commission in 1985.

In 1986, the VFL invites both the WAFL and SANFL to submit teams to the league. The SANFL registers the Adelaide football club, but declines the invitation although it does continue negotiations. The WAFL accepts agreeing to pay the license fee up front. The SANFL refuse to pay a license fee of any kind and in 1987 set up a player retention scheme to prevent the best talent leaving the SANFL. The VFL sets up Brisbane instead of an SA team. In 1987, West Perth director John Clinch advises the SANFL against joining the VFL saying it had ruined the WAFL.

The events of 1990

Early in 1990, the SANFL had met and unanimously voted to reject joining the AFL before 1993, further rejecting a license fee and demanding the league consist of no more than 14 teams. However the AFL was determined and began negotiating with Port Adelaide, who were already concerned that they were subsidising the rest of the SANFL clubs due to their strong support.

Port Adelaide, working with AFL Commissioner Alan Schwab, signed a Heads of Agreement with the AFL on July 4th 1990 which was kept secret for almost a month, but when revealed many in the SANFL felt that it was a betrayal. The SANFL ordered Port Adelaide to withdraw the bid. Further Port was told if its bid was successful, it would be removed from the league and games would not be permitted at Football Park.

The terms of the deal offered to Port were far more generous than those previously offered to the SANFL for its composite team, amongst other things it included a negotiated license fee of just $1.5 million. (The SANFL would later attempt to get this deal for itself and the Adelaide Football Club). The deal would have left two Port Adelaides, one in the AFL and one in the SANFL.

To further complicate matters, at the urging of several SANFL clubs, Justice Olsson awarded a temporary injunction against Port preventing it from proceeding further.

On August 6th, the Club addressed its members, with at least one Board member revealing he had voted agains the decision. However Port remained defiant. The SANFL announced it would submit a counterbid when its directors voted 10-1 (Port being the only exception) to join the AFL.

The battle was far from won. While the SANFL had announced its plan, the AFL demands included dropping the case against Port and paying its costs. Port argued that the actions taken were a breach of the Trade Practices Act. The SANFL would end up giving Port Adelaide a pitiful fine of $8,000 for not dropping the case. Port would go on to win the 1990 SANFL premiership – and gloat about winning it in the face of considerable adversity in the annual report.

Timeline of the Saga

  • May 1990 – The SANFL and its clubs unanimously resolve not to enter a team until 1993
  • Jul 4, 1990 – Heads of Agreement submitted to the AFL, kept secret for a month
  • Aug 6, 1990 – Port members are told the board voted 7-1, SANFL submits own team
  • Sep 19, 1990 – Adelaide is officially accepted by the AFL Board

Timeline of Events leading up to the Saga

  • 1981– The SANFL approves a composite club application to join the VFL who advises that applications are not being accepted at that time
  • 1985– The NFL conducts a study into a national league. The VFL shows no support for the study. The NFL report states that a SANFL composite team should not enter the league, but a joint Port-Norwood team should.
  • 1986– The VFL presidents vote to begin League expansion
  • 1986– The SANFL is invited to join the VFL, but declines (it does continue negotiating). The SANFL forms the Adelaide football club Inc
  • 1987– The SANFL introduces a Player retention scheme to stop talent deserting to the VFL.
  • 1989– 7/10 SANFL clubs report losses
  • 1989– VFL income approaches 30 million, SANFL and WAFL income combined was 12 million.
  • 1990– The VFL formally becomes the AFL
  • 1990– May – SANFL clubs unanimously vote against joining the VFL before 1993, further the SANFL states that it will not pay a licence fee and no more than 14 teams should be in the league.
  • 1990– Port signs a heads of agreement anyway to join in 1991. The terms offered to Port were far more favourable than those offered to the SANFL previously. (its understood that the licence fee for Port would have been just 1 million
  • 1990– Port Adelaide plays Geelong in a trial match
  • 1990– Sep – The SANFL formally applies to join the AFL under the same terms offered to Port Adelaide.
  • 1990– OCt – Adelaide Football Club sub licence is formally signed and Adelaide enters the AFL.


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