SANFL Coca-Cola Mini League – Third Time Lucky.


An enduring feature of my SANFL following youth and beyond was the half-time Mini League matches.

Two seven minute halves were played between teams assembled from schools within each club’s zone. Although SA primary schools went up to Grade 7 (i.e 12 year olds), this competition was initially restricted to 11 and unders, essentially stopping at Grade 6 kids.

If you were really lucky, your game would be featured on Channel 7’s World of Sport the next day, with commentary by Ian ‘Daisy’ Day. (We never were).

In 1970, my school, Elizabeth South Primary, was somehow assigned two appearances for Central District that year. I was given my first taste of competitive footy in the largely Grade 5 team that donned the recently adopted blue-with-red-and-white-Vs guernsey of my beloved Bulldogs.

We met at the Goodman Road gates of Elizabeth Oval at noon on Saturday 30th May, to board the faded light blue Transway bus that was used to transport the team to Thebarton Oval. In charge of the two dozen or so scruffians was Brian Dawkins, Centrals Mini League manager. This was also the date of the State election that heralded the second phase of the Dunstan era.

After forty five minutes of tootling through the pungent northern suburbs (Pooraka, with its assorted slaughterhouses being the worst nasal nemesis), we arrived for my first visit to Thebby. Mr Dawkins pointed out our changerooms and reminded us sternly to meet there again at quarter time of the league match, “or else you won’t get your pie and coke after the game”.

I went off to find a copy of the Football Budget. This was essential as inside the back cover was a listing of the ten teams complete with names and numbers. My heart leapt when I saw my name in print, avoiding my worst fears that it would say “Central District – Names unavailable at time of publication”.

I’m still not sure what I found more enticing, the thought of pulling on the Doggies jumper, getting in for free, playing in front of a crowd or the “pie and coke after the game”.

After an evenly matched first term in the ones, we lined up eagerly outside the changeroom (our opposition probably lined up Eaglely). Being the smallest kid, I was shuffled to the back of the queue, as we waited patiently to receive our (hopefully) cleaned black shorts. I reached the front and was handed the last remaining pair of Joncos. Mr Dawkins handed me a pair of size 30s, I was barely a size 24, so had to resort to rolling the waistband down a few times. With my brand new white anklets forming a lairish buffer between my Centrals socks and my Blue Star boots, I felt like a cross between Julian Swinstead and Superman.

Once we were all changed, the “clatter clatter” of nylon sprigs on the changeroom floor gave way to “oohs” and furthermore “aahs” as the post-match catering was brought in.

The thrill of filing out onto an actual league footy ground and taking our positions hard up against the inside of the boundary fence near to the Centrals dugout,  was tempered by the fact that Torrens had put a big gap in the scores with a big second quarter. This was as close to the action as you could possibly get and I think I learnt a few new words of “encouragement” from Dogs coach Denis Jones.

I was one of the four reserves for the match and when the half time Mini League siren blared, I raced on to my designated wing, that is, until I felt my borrowed shorts head downwards. According to Gaye Bishop, Glenn’s mum, who was watching from the stands with Kym Grasby’s mum, I spent most of the time running around holding up my dacks with one hand and waving the other. I don’t remember touching the ball but I was flattened a couple of times in my attempts. Like me, the team was pantsed 6.5 to 0.0. But I did get my “pie and coke”.

In 1971, ESPS was rostered only once, against Westies at Adelaide Oval on 10th April, the Saturday of the Easter weekend. Despite this team including the Grade 6 players that were already in the school first team, such as future Blood Bruce Ramsay, we again lost 3.2 to 0.0. Somehow I made the side again.

As in 1970, we played across the ground, those famous short square boundaries bookending our abbreviated playing area. I was stationed in a forward pocket, within earshot of the vocal Doggies crowd. I can’t remember touching the ball, but who cares, I’d played footy on the Adelaide Oval, where, later that year, Centrals would turf the toffs from Unley out of the finals race.

So that was the end of my Mini League career, or so I thought as I scoffed my “Glover Gibbs and coke”. It was a shame that the Railway Station Pie Cart didn’t do the catering as I could have done with some pea soup.

Over the following summer, quite possibly while admiring Ashley Woodcock’s upright stance, if not his run-making against the World XI, I hoped like hell that the Mini-League officials would see common sense and open it up to all primary school grades.

They did and ESPS was duly granted a fixture against Woodville at Elizabeth on Saturday 22nd April 1972. I only jagged a spot in the school’s best twenty when future SANFL field umpire Randall Deverson left war-torn Elizabeth for the mediocrity of Dernancourt, opening up a spot on a half forward flank.

No bus was required that day, as I hopped, skipped and blind-turned my way up Philip Highway, cut through the High School and arrived at world football HQ. The new Mini League manager, one Terry Hicks, ushered us towards the thirds changeroom behind the Centrals grandstand, but the three-game veterans among us knew the drill. This time we were in the white shorts, I dished off a slick, Tony Casserly-like handball and we won in front of our adoring home crowd by a few goals.

We formed a guard of honour as the Big Doggies returned after the big break. I think I caught a cheeky wink from Kevin Johns and may have even had my hair ruffled by Robin Mulholland.

If only we were given an Amscol Footy Colour to go with our “pie and coke” it would have been the best day of my life.


About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Good stuff, Swish. I hope you got some helpful advice from the crowds.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Sensational Swish some famous and infamous names there,I didn’t play much footy at school so have very limited memories of Burnside Primary re mini league.A couple of mates who were younger made the Sturt combined squad and there was a mistake and they played about 5 weeks in a row against poor unsuspecting other primary school sides,I remember,Todd Viney kicking 7 goals in a score of 13-8 to 0-0 and the rapturous applause of a big,Unley oval crowd.i do remember kids buying the budget for there name and Ian Day commentary of the mini league vividly.

  3. A good read that made me ready for a pie and sauce.

    Hopefully will at least find a 4N20 in the freezer.

    Looking forward to Swishers story from the cattery next week.

  4. Swish- Just reading this on the tram. There’s not much on this planet to rival the excitement of mini-league. Getting three cracks is a sign from above. Pie and coke is just a bonus.

    The CEO where I now work is a former captain of the Dogs’ twos. And yes, he drives a Holden.

    Thanks Swish.

  5. Gibbs or Balfours Swish?

  6. A great read, Swish. Cheers.
    Sounds like it was indeed great fun.

    Alas, I most of the names you have referenced here mean nothing
    to a boy from the western suburbs of Melbourne.

  7. Mark Duffett says

    I remember taking solace if the mini-league Centrals got up even though the big boys were getting done. It always seemed a good omen for the second half.

    But now I know which school was getting all the turns. I’m still dirty that neither of mine (Salisbury and Riverton) ever got within cooee of being called up for mini-league, at least while I was there.

  8. Brought back memories of playing across Footy Park in 1975 for Sturt v Glenelg, as the GF replay from 74. No idea who played for us, maybe even Rulebook. Pretty sure we lost but it wouldn’t only have been from bad umpires. I do remember the jumper I had being multiple sizes too big; now the jumpers are multiple sizes too small!

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

    Dave – I gave as good as I got

    ‘Book – Yep, it was scary when those combined teams were mismatched late in the season

    King – I’ll see if I can freight some up there

    Mickey – did Kapunda ever get a run? Say g’day to Dr Spog

    Crio – for a refresher on Adelaide’s pies (and pasties and pastys) remember this?

    Smokie – I’m sure that each state would have its own version of this story. Some brands endure, some have faded away. There must be some equivalent Little League tales from youse Vics. But you must remember P. Jonas at least?

    Mark – pretty sure that I remember Salisbury getting a crack (does the name Gary Secombe ring a bell?)

    Good As – with the camber on Footy Park, it would have been a struggle to see the heads of the forwards from the backline.

  10. Mark Duffett says

    Must have been before my time, Swish, even Harry was goon by then.

  11. South Australians seem to still call it mini league rather than Auskick. They also are the only state that blows the siren after 7 minutes for the teams to switch ends.

  12. Michael, Auskick is different to Little League/Mini League. Auskick is a learning/training programme and often these centres provided teams for the Little League, which is halftime footy. When I first moved to Melbourne I was astounded to see the littlies playing the full length of Vic Park etc, rather than the far more modest field set across Glenelg Oval that I was accustomed to seeing and playing (v. North a million years ago)

  13. Yeah, they are two different things. The mini league is at SANFL games and features local primary schools that play in the Saturday morning schools competition. Auskick is at the AFL games and features the Auskickers from local clubs that play in the Sunday morning clubs competition.

  14. Well done Swish, that brought back a few memories, playing in the Surrey Downs PS side for West Torrens against the Woodville combined side at Adelaide oval. We got done, in front of the smallest crowd of the season. But I did play on Adelaide Oval so I was very happy.

  15. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Swish.
    My small primary school never had the chance to play Little League. I always looked on in envy when the little leaguers ran out at half time at the VFL/AFL games i attended as a kid.

  16. Thanks Swish. Your nostalgic writing kindled my memories of the first year of SANFL Mini League, 1969. I played for Sturt in a combined side, the best three players from each Saturday morning game being selected for battle that afternoon. Believe it or not there was a finals series that year and I watched Sturt win and parade a cup on the Adelaide Oval, from the members’ grandstand. I was ineligible having already played my three or five games (probably selected because I was tall). I had forgotten about the pie and Coke and names in the Budget but do remember best players and goalkickers for junior grades in the Advertiser, especially when I kicked five on Miller Reserve but that is another story…

  17. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks again

    Mike S, Crio, Dave – well done for sorting that out

    Max – Surrey Downs was way cooler than Dernancourt, zoning was weird back then (Torrens)

    Luke – maybe your boys might get a crack one day

    Dr Mike – yeh, I vaguely remember those Mini League finals too and the premiership table in the Budget each week

  18. Swish, wish I’d been at Adelaide Oval yesterday…fancy seeing Borewood and Port both lose finals in one arvo.

  19. Brenton levi says

    Wow mate great story I played for port adelaide at adelaide oval in first mini leauge game can’t remember what year I went to lefevre primary if any one can help to find team list or if it was telecast I know there were pictures in paper any help would be appreciated I remember wearing trevor obst number my mum was stoked he was her favourite player she was one eyed port adelaide

  20. wyu lile holutt says

    hi,footy freaks
    my entrance to this site, brought back my career in mini -league. Coromandle primary must have affiliations with Sturt football club,as that is the guernsy l wore at Westlakes footy park/arena.l was selected by forces unknown to me,as l had no knowledge whatsoever of the rules and skill needed to play ,other than a girl jumping of my back at recess time, to mark a ball…don’t know even if there was a ball.Neverless l ended up at half time to play a mini league game,before l heard the siren l was sucker punched by a player in red and black,l believe.Waking from concussion in the change rooms,l was quickly given a coke,how belittling l felt and since then anmesia has dogged my daily living,up to this very day,causing all sorts of problems.By the greatness of family and friends and civil behaviour l have some acknowledgement on how to fit in mainstream society,with out causing too much trouble to those l very much believe giving me a lucky break,FMC.The holy grail might be a dream as kid and encourage proper training and mentoring to develop a true full nourishment in aussie rules and other sports.
    aka blah,blah,blah

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