1000 Spectators attended the first game of Australian Football on the Gold Coast between Southport and Centrals. Southport went on to win the first GCAFL premiership over Ipswich.

Within four days of the formation of the Gold Coast Australian Football League (GCAFL) (Click here to read article) the first Australian Football club on the Coast was born. Southport Australian Football Club (Southport AFC) was commenced on May 22, 1961. The inaugural meeting was held at the Labrador home of John McCann. Eleven enthusiasts (2 women and 9 men) attended this momentous event. The members of the first committee from that meeting were: (Patron) Robert Radcliffe, (President) William (Bill) Woods, (Vice President) Les Betteridge, (Treasurer) Roy Franks, (Secretary) John McCann, (Players representative) Don Brown (Committee members) W Mason, Ken Long, R Beveridge (Click here to read article).

The first training session was convened for the following weekend, Sunday May 28, at the Labrador Sports Oval.  Twenty-four attended this first session and plans were soon underway for the first match. Within weeks training numbers had swelled to forty. Ken Long was initially appointed coach but he gladly stood aside when the more experienced Ken McDonald made himself available. The South Coast Bulletin reported on June 7 that the Southport club would wear black and white and call themselves the Magpies (Click here to read article). An informal meeting at which Collingwood supporters had the numbers was all that was needed to decide the club colours and logo.

The GCAFL initially split the Coast into four regions with ambitious hopes of forming a true competition from virtually nothing. It soon became apparent that two teams were a more realistic start for the fledgling league.  Roly Daniels, the inaugural GCAFL President, was proactive in the formation of a second club Centrals, based at Palm Beach. At the same time in Ipswich, similar attempts were being made to re-launch a code that had first been played there in 1870. Within a couple of months inter city matches were organised and a competition began to form with three viable clubs (Southport, Centrals, and Ipswich) in existence.

Southport AFC owes a great debt to those who founded football on the Gold Coast and in particular John McCann who had dual roles with the club and the league. Those men who drove the beginnings of Gold Coast football in the first couple of years were: Roly Daniels, Max Mathers, John McCann, Bill Woods, Frank Forest, George “Bink” Hawker, Rob Alsop, Laurie Gill and Bob Gear.

Club Patron Robert Radcliffe was the publican at the Southport Hotel. A few weeks after the formation of Southport AFC a social club was also commenced, and much of the social activities and fundraising was conducted at the Southport Hotel. By July 21 two months after the initial meeting, the original constitution of the club was adopted and by August 4, money had been raised not only to purchase jumpers and footballs, but also for the erection of two floodlights on the Labrador Sports Oval.

Media interest in the first game was keen and reasonable publicity was generated. League officials were ecstatic when over 1000 spectators arrived at the Labrador Sports Reserve behind the Old Grand Theatre for the inaugural Southport v Centrals match on Sunday June 25, just a month after the club was commenced. The Southport team for this great day was: Ken McDonald (Captain), Bob Stringer (Vice-Captain), Robin Best, Des Hall, Graham Watson, Bob Manuel, Bert Sherring, Graham Radcliffe, Ian Radcliffe, Roy Rose, Laurie Roberts, Don Brown, Jim Carmichael, John Burke, John Gray, Len Anderson, Barry Chorley, Peter Thrift (Click here for team photo).

The team did not want for talent, with Bob Stringer boasting a win in the coveted Bendigo 1000, Laurie Roberts and Jim Carmichael were both also accomplished sprinters, John Burke was a nationally ranked mile runner and Roy Rose an Olympic archer. Recovery training sessions of a Sunday often involved long runs from Main Beach to the Southport Spit and back. These runs were interspersed with sand hill sprints led by one of the elite runners in the group. The sessions were often made more interesting with a string of topless and nude bathers lining the beach.

Coach Ken McDonald brought his experience from metropolitan leagues in Melbourne to the club. He was renowned for his exquisite skills and bullet like stab pass. 20-year-old Don Brown arrived on the Coast in his hand painted Vanguard. The lanky former Seymour footballer with the “Zulu” haircut made an immediate mark. His great mate Peter Dalgrin, who had played for East Launceston and Sandy Bay in Tasmania, also proved to be a talent. Army duties in Canungra meant Dalgrin travelled a significant distance to play and train. Over the next few years he led the recruitment of Army personnel that was to prove very important to the Magpies over the next two decades.

Juniors and junior development were part of the club ethos from the very beginning. A curtain raiser junior match was also played against a Centrals team on the day of the first match. The following Southport boys wore the black and white: M Gavin, C. Manuel, R. Aueb, R. Allen, D. Franks, P. Nolan, P. Renner, K. Ball, E. Chatfield, P. Bond, G. Chaffey, G. Maurice, P. Hicks, D. Shipman, D. Diamond, K. Smith, D. Magin, L. Carmichael.

Chris Manuel (Labrador), Don Franks (Surfers Paradise) and Peter Nolan (Southport) were to all play senior football. Franks won a GCAFL League Medal almost a decade later and his uncle Roy, after helping establish the Magpies, was instrumental in the early strength of the Surfers Paradise club.

The club’s playing history commenced successfully with a dour battle in which the Magpies ran out winners. Former New South Wales schoolboy representative players Ian and Graham Radcliffe made promising debuts for the club. Ian Radcliffe had played Rugby League with the defunct Southport based All Whites club.  He won the first Southport AFC Best and Fairest (Click here to view photos of 1961 Best and Fairest trophy) (Click here for photo of Ian Radcliffe with trophy)Southport President Bill Woods umpired the inaugural GCAFL match. Southport 8.10.58 (Brown 2, Sherring 2, G. Radcliffe 2, Gray, Manuel) defeated Centrals 6.11.47 (Click here to read match report).

After a further two matches were played against Centrals (with one win each) the season was interrupted for the first Gold Coast representative match against a Royal Australian Navy side at Salk Oval.

Ken McDonald led the Gold Coast to victory. Gold Coast 7.10.52 defeated Navy 5.17.47. Southport’s representatives were: K McDonald (Captain/Coach), R Stringer, I Radcliffe, G Radcliffe, R Rose, D Brown, R Manuel, J Carmichael, R Russell, W Welsh (Click here to read match report).

The Gold Coast team was brilliantly captained by veteran Ken McDonald, and … put up a wonderful performance, especially when it is realised the team comprised 70 per cent former Rugby League players.

(South Coast Bulletin, August 16, 1961, p.40.)

By August Ipswich had finally entered the competition and the club was to have its first road trip with a bus to the Old Golf Links Park in the western city. An initial defeat was soon reversed when an Ipswich team full of Wacol based Army recruits travelled to the Coast and were soundly beaten.

Ipswich victories over Centrals set up an intercity Grand Final on Sunday September 25, the day after Essendon had just defeated St. Kilda in the VFL Grand Final in front of 104,846. Ken McDonald, Graham Radcliffe and Peter Dalgrin were the stars for the Magpies as they took out their first premiership. Southport 9.12.66 defeated Ipswich 7.11.53.

Other articles/photos:

(Mid season win over Centrals)

(Late season win over Ipswich)

(Team photo)

(Foundation President – Bill Woods)

1961 Match Results

Date  Venue Home Away Southport Goal Kickers and Best Players
Sunday 25 June Labrador Sports Ground Southport 8.10.58 Centrals 6.11.47 (Brown 2, Sherring 2, G. Radcliffe 2, Gray, Manuel)
Sunday 9 July Salk Oval Centrals 10.4.64 Southport 4.15.39 (Best: D. Brown, G. Radcliffe, Manuel, I. Brown, Rose, I. Radcliffe, McDonald)
(G. Radcliffe 2, McDonald, Manuel)
Sunday 23 July Labrador Sports Ground Southport 10.8.68 Centrals 4.5.29 (Best: Manuel, G. Radcliffe, Stringer, Carmichael, D. Brown, I. Radcliffe)
(D. Brown 4, Stringer 2, I. Radcliffe 2, Manuel, G. Radcliffe)
Sunday 20 August Old Golf Links Park, Ipswich Ipswich 8.16.64 Southport 5.6.36 (Best: Chorley)
(Long 2, Brown, Rose, Woods)
Sunday 3 September Labrador Sports Ground Southport 8.12.60 Ipswich 8.8.56 (Best: Sherring, D. Brown, Russell, I. Radcliffe, G. Radcliffe)
(Brown 4, Russell 2, Manuel, I. Radcliffe)
Sunday 25 September
Grand Final
Labrador Sports Southport 9.12.66 Ipswich 7.11.53 (Best: McDonald, G. Radcliffe, Dalgrin)