The Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round of the AFL season is fast approaching this weekend.
While it took until March of 2011 for the Gold Coast to finally have their own team in the AFL, Australian rules football has been played on the Glitter Strip since 1961, when the Gold Coast Australian Football was established.
The Southport Magpies (now Sharks) were the first football club formed on the Gold Coast, originally based at Owen Park.
The first ever game was played on June 25, 1961, between the Central Football Club and the Sharks, at Labrador Sports Reserve. Two more encounters were established for that year, with Centrals winning the second and Southport taking the final match for the year.
The first ever grand final saw Southport win over Ipswich by 13 points.
The first representative side was selected following Southport-Centrals matches, as they defeated the Royal Australian Navy team.
In 1983, the QAFL granted the Magpies entry, however due to the Western Magpies having their moniker, Southport were forced to change their name to the Sharks.
The Brisbane teams always thought the Gold Coast teams were lesser opposition and wouldn’t be serious contenders, however Southport surprised the whole competition by taking out the QAFL premiership in their first season. The Sharks won again in 1985, before falling by ten points in the 1986 decider.
1986 marked the year the VFL expanded nationally, with plans announced to introduce teams in Brisbane and Perth. The Brisbane licence was awarded to a Paul Cronin-headed consortium, paid for by Christopher Skase. Many expected the Bears, as they were known, to play at the Gabba, however Skase chose for the team to be based on the Gold Coast at Carrara Stadium.
VFL finally made its way to the Gold Coast when the first home game for the Bears was played, against Fitzroy, in front of a crowd in excess of 17,000.
Although the Lions won that game, it was a milestone on the Gold Coast.
In 1989, the Bears signed a 30-year lease of Carrara Stadium with a further ten years option. The first night match was held in July that year, with the Bears hosting Geelong in front of 18,198.
In 1992, the decision was made for the Bears to permanently move north to the Gabba, following poor public transport and low crowds. A $10 million loss was encountered between 1990-1992, which prompted the decision to relocate.
At the conclusion of the 1996 AFL season, the Brisbane Bears-Fitzroy Lions merger was announced, leaving a vacant spot in the league. Southport had begun bidding for entry into the AFL that season, however the AFL granted Port Adelaide the licence. Southport followed this decision by winning four consecutive premierships from 1997-2000 before the Brisbane Lions’ threepeat.
The GCAFL was absorbed by AFL Queensland in 1996, with a Gold Coast tier being included. In 2004, the Coast had begun to attract attention from other leagues in Australia for expansion and the Sharks continued to bid but failed each time.
In August of 2004, it was revealed that Southport failed to lure Melbourne to relocate to the Gold Coast, however AFL returned in 2005 when the Lions played Essendon in a preseason match in front of 16,000 at Carrara Stadium.
The AFL then included the Gold Coast as a regular fixture, hosting one pre-season and two home-and-away matches at the venue from 2006.
North Melbourne began their three-year deal on the Gold Coast in 2007, playing ten home games across the three seasons. North were touted as being the likely Melbourne team to relocate and following another successful year, the AFL offered the Kangaroos a $100 million package to relocate.
This failed after James Brayshaw led a campaign to ‘Keep North at North’. Brayshaw was soon announced as the new president and confirmed that the club would stay at Arden Street.
In March 2008, the AFL won the support of the leagues clubs to establish teams on the Gold Coast and in Western Sydney. John Witheriff headed the GC17 bid and when Labor was re-elected in the 2009 state election, funding was secured for the $60 million redevelopment of Carrara Stadium to turn it into a 25,000-seat stadium. The Gold Coast Football Club became a reality. Soon 42,000 supporters signed up and 110 sponsors committed to the club.
The club entered the TAC Under 18 Cup for the 2009 season, finishing fifth before being eliminated in the semi-finals by the Geelong Falcons. All 11 home matches were played at Carrara Stadium, prior to its redevelopment.
In 2010, Gold Coast entered the Victorian Football League, playing matches at Southport, Labrador, Broadbeach and also making a trip to Cairns.
Even though former AFL players Nathan Ablett, Danny Stanley, Daniel Harris and Sam Iles were part of the team, the club still only managed five wins for the season.
On July 20, 2010 the club’s identity was announced: the Gold Coast Suns. During that function, the club’s guernsey and song were also announced.
The Suns finally took to the field, playing their first home match in Round 2 of the 2011 season. However, due to Metricon Stadium not being completed yet, the match was played at the Gabba.
AFL finally returned to the Gold Coast in May when the Suns played their first ever match on home soil, in front of a packed home crowd against Geelong. This finally meant that the Gold Coast had a team of their own in the AFL and the rest is history!