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  • Writer's pictureDavid JA Grant

Australian football history: The 1974 South Australian season

In 1974, the FIFA World Cup, featuring the Socceroos, was held in West Germany. It was also the year that FIFA awarded the distant 1986 World Cup to Colombia, only for it later to be moved to Mexico. Closer to home, the 1974 South Australian football season was Adelaide City’s championship year. The club, known at that time as Adelaide Juventus, played their home games at Kensington Oval and were chief rivals of West Adelaide Hellas.

Adelaide Croatia's Will Slager (centre) during the 1974 South Australian Cup Final at Hindmarsh Stadium against Cumberland United. (Image source unknown)

West Adelaide was the reigning league champions, winning the 1973 league competition by a gaping ten-point margin. However, 1974 proved far closer, with West Adelaide sitting top of the ladder for most of the year. Indeed, they remained an elusive single point ahead of Adelaide City for most of the year, with the title only being decided on the last day of the season.

The two had beaten each other by a 1-0 scoreline in the home and away fixtures, and the title would be decided on the final day of the season. West Adelaide required a win against FK Beograd to take the championship. But a draw would suffice if Adelaide City failed to win their match with Campbelltown City by less than two goals.

Opposite an advertisement for colour television sets, the 1974 official season review concludes that “in the last match of the season, W.A. Hellas could only manage a 1-1 draw against Beograd Woodville, and the 4-0 win of Adelaide Juventus over Campbelltown City resulted in W.A. Hellas losing top place and the Championship going to Adelaide Juventus.

1974 South Australian Division 1 standings


In an odd twist of fate, Burnside Budapest and Campbelltown City merged at the end of 1974 to become a new club - Campbelltown Budapest - ahead of the 1975 season and with only the bottom side relegated, this change meant that the new club avoided the drop based on the position of Burnside Budapest, who were second-bottom, and not that of Campbelltown City, who were bottom.

The season review continues: “Campbelltown City, newly promoted to the 1st Division in 1974, discovered that the competition in the 1st Division is much tougher than expected and would have been relegated to the 2nd Division after one season in the top division, if it was not for the amalgamation with Burnside Budapest. The new club, Campbelltown Budapest, will have another chance to prove their strength in 1975.

By definition, an amalgamation would mean that the two clubs ceased to exist, and the Campbelltown City we know today was formed towards the end of 1974, not 1963, as is currently understood. Regardless, Adelaide Budapest vacated its ground, and the new club, Campbelltown Budapest, continued into 1975 at Campbelltown City’s ground on Stradbroke Road, now known as Steve Woodcock Sports Centre.

The name Campbelltown Budapest lasted until the end of the 1978 season, and the club reverted to “City” for the 1979 season, thereby ending the “Budapest” association with the league that had lasted several decades.

So, no club was relegated from the top flight at the end of 1974, and Elizabeth City (now the Playford Patriots) came up from the second division as 1974 champions, having finished four points clear of runners-up Port Adelaide.

The 1974 'Best & Fairest' medal was awarded to Geoff Booth of Budapest. Booth, who would win the medal again a few seasons later, pipped John Perrin, Frank Lister (both of Adelaide City), and Terry Wetton (Adelaide Blue Eagles) to the accolade.

Finally, the league’s top goalscorer was a precocious 18-year-old talent named John Kosmina, who played for Polonia Adelaide (now Croydon FC). The official season review states, “Polonia’s young striker John Kosmina topped the goalscoring list with a total of 13 goals, followed by Joe Serafini of Juventus with 10. Cumberland’s David Leane and (USC) Lion’s Roger Kozuch were next with 9 goals each.”

The knock-on effect of the Campbelltown City and Adelaide Budapest amalgamation was that there was also no relegation from Division 2 to Division 3. DON United, a club based at the long-since-disappeared ICI Oval on the corner of Fletcher Road and Wills Street in Port Adelaide, were promoted from Division 3 into Division 2. But Birkalla Rovers did not go down from Division 2 to 3.

1974 South Australian Division 2 standings

With the promotion of DON United, the remaining teams in Division 3 were joined by the SA Institute of Technology, playing at The Levels, where Mawson Lakes is now located, for the 1975 season.

1974 South Australian Division 3 standings

Up for the cup

Whilst Adelaide City enjoyed league success in 1974, the side endured a forgettable South Australian Cup campaign. They lost their first-round tie 1-0 to second-division Wakefield Wanderers, a side that changed its name to the now-familiar Noarlunga United the following year.

Wanderers/Noarlunga continued their cup form in the second and third rounds with a 2-0 win at fellow Division 2 club Modbury (now Modbury Jets) and a convincing 3-1 win at Division 1 side Enfield Victoria.

Concentrate now. Enfield Victoria had previously been called Prospect United but folded in 2014. Enfield Victoria’s home ground, Rushworth Reserve, now called Anson Reserve, is currently occupied by Adelaide Victory.

Still with us? Good.

However, Wakefield Wanderers’ (Noarlunga) cup run was ended by Adelaide Croatia Raiders at Hanson Reserve in the semi-final, where the hosts won 2-1. Croatia went on to the final, with their cup run including a 2-0 home quarter-final win against Whyalla Croatia, who still exist today.

Awaiting second-division Adelaide Croatia in the final was the highly fancied Division 1 side, Cumberland, whose route to the big game included a semi-final win over Elizabeth City (Playford Patriots), a quarter-final victory over USC Lion (now of the SAASL Premier League) and early round wins at Eastern Districts Azzurri (Adelaide Blue Eagles) and Western United (Div 1 Amateurs).

Will Slager (centre) leads Adelaide Croatia out onto Hindmarsh Stadium on September 7, 1974.

(Image source unknown)

The final, played at Hindmarsh Stadium on September 7, 1974, has gone down in Adelaide Croatia’s history as one of their most remarkable and memorable moments. The side, captained by Willem “Willy” Slager, beat Cumberland 4-3 in extra time after being 3-1 down.

The other Croatia players featured that day were Steve Lapie, Jaka Banovic, Brian Stewart, Slavko Ivanof, and Joe Baxter.

The cup competition was named after its sponsor, a tobacco company called “Wills”. It was something we could now jokingly look back on, remarking it as an astonishing sign of the times if it was not for clubs in the present, such as Blackburn Rovers in England, now being sponsored by vaping companies.

Tourists from London

On May 29, 1974, a South Australian state side played a match against a touring Chelsea team managed by Dave Sexton. A crowd of around 12,000 watched the game at Hindmarsh Stadium, and it finished with a 4-0 win for the London club.

The South Australian squad contained several familiar names that are now in the Football South Australia Hall of Fame. They are Roger Romanowicz, R. Stephens, Bohdan “Bugsy” Nyskohus, Barry Reynolds, Zoran Matic, Frank Lister, John Perin, David Leane, Billy Birch, R. Russo, John Nyskohus, Henry Kolecki, and Neil McGachey.

Meanwhile, the Chelsea side included 19-year-old Ray Wilkins and goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, Gordon Banks' understudy in the England national team setup. Chelsea’s four goalscorers were Gary Locke, Micky Droy, Steve Finnieston, and John Hollins.



An excerpt from the match program when Chelsea went on to play an Illawarra side in New South Wales. (Image source unknown)

Interestingly, the match program advertised the services of the Arkaba Hotel on Glen Osmond Road and boasted indiscreetly that the Chelsea squad was residing there. It is hard to imagine the current Chelsea publicly announcing where they will be staying and, with all due respect to the Arkaba Hotel, whether their billionaire pockets would still select suburban Frewville for accommodation.

One British tabloid paper reported that the travelling squad, which consisted of 16 players, was unhappy about their daily allowance of just $3. Entering that figure into an inflation calculator yields around $30 today. It is also odd to think of Enzo Fernandez, Thiago Silva, or Raheem Sterling being offered that figure as a daily bonus—barely enough for a pub meal with lemonade these days.

Much has changed in the five decades since 1974, and we have lost a number of names from that era, including Ray Wilkins and Will Slager. But it is also recent enough to live in the memory of many a South Australian football fan, and it is remarkable to note how far the game, both on the field and off, has come.

Here’s to the next 50 years and the 2074 season.

1 Comment
Apr 06

Great article & can only hope that some day these chapters will be put into a book .. whether it's a fly alone SA book or an overall Aus football pictorial ...

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