Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
In the pretty planned port city of Adelaide, history, leisure and urban aesthetics intertwine around the green spaces envisaged nearly 200 years ago by the British-Malayan Surveyor-General William Light.
Centrepiecing number 26 of these 29 Park Lands, the Adelaide Oval has been the picturesque showcase for sport in South Australia since its opening in 1871. Three decades after it staged the city’s first cricket matches, a South Australian soccer XI walloped crew members of the HMS Katoomba 9-0 stationed at Port Adelaide. However demotivated the opposition – the damaged ship had long been in dry dock and would soon be sold for scrap – this marked Adelaide’s introduction to international football in July 1904.
The year before, representative teams from North Adelaide, South Adelaide and suburban Woodville had contested the first local championship, joined in 1904 by Port Adelaide Pirates, the city’s oldest surviving club.
Whenever touring sides came over – England’s Amateur XI in 1937 and 1951, Blackpool in 1958, Hearts in 1959 – these prestigious fixtures would take place at Adelaide Oval. Invariably players such as Arsenal centre-half Bernard Joy would seek out Adelaide resident and cricketing legend, Don Bradman, whose memorabilia can still be found at the South Gate. For the Blackpool game, a crowd of 18,000 turned out to see Stanley Matthews, Australia holding the Lancastrian visitors to a 1-0 win, a more encouraging scoreline than the 0-10 and 1-13 whitewashes either side of the war.
Since 1945, Adelaide had been enjoying a boom in the domestic game with the waves of immigrants fleeing Europe. Seeking to maintain a link with their homeland through the game they loved, each community formed a club. One of the most prominent was black-and-white striped Juventus, rebranded Adelaide City in 1977 as founding members of the National Soccer League, and still referred to today as Juve or the Zebras.
Back in the 1950s, there was also Polonia Adelaide, FK Beograd, Adelaide Croatia, Burnside Budapest and, most notably, Hellas, formerly Hellenic and Olympic, who wore the blue and white of their Greek ancestry. Merging with the long-established West Adelaide in 1962, partly to divert attention from the growing trouble at fierce derby games with Juventus, the Greeks attracted better players and duly won their only national title in 1978.
Their home was the Hindmarsh Stadium in the western district of the same name, close to the Adelaide Oval. Adelaide City duly moved here in 1986, the same year as the first of their three NSL titles. Today branded Coopers Stadium after its beer sponsors, the ground is done out in the signature red of its tenants since the formation of the A-League in 2003, Adelaide United.
Each major Australian city was to be represented in this new nationwide franchise venture. By then, West Adelaide and Adelaide City had both fallen on hard times. With England-born property developer Gordon Pickard backing United, the A-League berth went to the newly founded Reds. The north end of the Hindmarsh Stadium was duly called the Pickard End, while the West Stand had already been named in honour of Mario Balletti, father of Juventus (later Adelaide City).
It was at his sports store in Hindley Street, in the shadow of the Adelaide Oval, that the club had been formed in 1946. Balletti would be its president until 1960, and then involved in soccer administration in South Australia.
Built that same year of 1960, the old-school Hindmarsh still echoes the golden days of pre-A-League soccer in Adelaide – despite 20 years of A-League football and the Olympics of 2000 when it was graced by Pirlo’s Italy and Xavi’s Spain.
Well over half a century after their formation, Adelaide’s community clubs still exist in some form or other, competing in the National Premier Leagues South Australia, soccer’s second tier Down Under. Although there is no system of promotion and relegation with the franchise-based A-League – some argue that there should be – the sense of local colour and continuity with the past is palpable at this level.
When the 2023 season kicked off, it was the 117th year of an active South Australian league. Campbeltown City have historic ties to Budapest, Adelaide City to Juventus, Croydon FC, bizarrely, to Polonia, and West Adelaide to Hellas, while FK Beograd have reverted back to their original name after a long spell as White City Woodville. In 2021, governing body Football Australia allowed clubs to re-adopt their traditional names and symbols, hence Adelaide Croatia Raiders, heirs of Adelaide Croatia.
Each has its own ground of a few thousand capacity, filled for derby games such as the revived City v West Adelaide clash. In 2022, City faced the moneyed newcomers whose had taken their place in the inaugural A-League nearly 20 years earlier, Adelaide United. In a ding-dong game in the Australia Cup, the semi-pros in Juve colours pegged the Reds at 2-2 but lacked experience in the subsequent spot-kicks.
With the Hindmarsh only holding 16,500 – although 18,430 crammed in here to see Italy play Nigeria at the 2000 Olympics, the same capacity earmarked for the Women’s World Cup in 2023 – major footballing events still take place at the Adelaide Oval. Liverpool’s visit in 2015 attracted 53,000, similar to the attendance for Adelaide United’s one and only Grand Final win a year later, a 3-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers.
For the Women’s World Cup, Adelaide’s Fan Festival is on Festival Plaza, just over the River Torrens from the Adelaide Oval.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Payment is by metroCARD or your own bank/credit card by tapping into the yellow machine on board. There are no cash payments. A single trip (A$4.05 peak/A$2.25 off-peak – Mon-Fri 9am-3pm, all day Sun) lasts 2hrs. At the airport, there’s a metroCARD distribution outlet by car rentals on the ground floor of the multi-storey car park.
There’s a taxi rank to your left as you exit the airport terminal. Adelaide Independent Taxis (+61 132 211) should charge around A$25 into town, A$30 to the Hindmarsh Stadium.
Other city buses run on the same metroCARD system, as well as trams and the suburban rail network. The Central Bus Station is on Franklin Street, the train station on North Terrace, both in town.
The three lines of the city’s free tram service covers much of the downtown area, including the BTANIC route from Adelaide Railway Station to Adelaide Entertainment Centre near Hindmarsh Stadium.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for soccer fans
Any drinking tour of Adelaide should involve bar-lined Hindley Street, where The Rosey sits behind a historic façade (‘Est 1846’), match action shown in its recently refurbished Sports Bar and a lively atmosphere throughout. The bar and beer garden of the Black Bull Hotel at No.58 is another popular pitstop, either for cocktails, eats or the nightclub above.
Close by, The Little Pub echoes the same era (‘Pouring beer since 1851’) but dons its party hat every night with cocktail jugs and drinks promotions. TV screens, music sessions and pool also feature.
Further along Hindley Street, daytime-only Peter Rabbit has becalmed many a hangover with its quality breakfasts served in a leafy garden – but isn’t afraid to mix a mean cocktail (note the Adelaide Gin) if that’s what it takes.
Several venues in one, with plentiful screens in the Sports Bar within The District and prime panoramic views at Sôl Rooftop, not to mention a casino and hotel, SkyCity Adelaide on North Terrace has transformed a historic railway station into an entertainment complex behind a gleaming exterior.
Another local landmark, Harry’s Bar combines tradition with contemporary drinking habits in a spacious heritage building dating back to 1879. Screens keep you abreast of the action while a terrace overlooks the constant bustle of Grenfell Street.
Keeping its heritage intact since 1849 – the historic, two-storey building isn’t out of a film set – The Archer on a prominent corner of O’Connell Street has gone from hotel to bank to radio station to, most recently, the library of a Lutheran church. For the last 20 years or so, it’s been a top-notch pub comprising a beer garden area, a Gin Wall, a string of 15 beer taps and a separate space for pool. Sports action is screened in the Bistro Bar. Closed Sundays and Mondays.