Southport Sharks - A Proud History
The biggest Australian Rules Football Club in Queensland, with a burning desire to join the national competition, Southport Sharks came from humble beginnings - when staff outnumbered patrons and in the local competition they were known as the magpies.
Southport Sharks has an exciting and interesting local history dating back to when it was founded in 1961. Participating in the Gold Coast Australian Football League and playing its home games at Owen Park, it quickly built up a reputation of a fiercely competitive and successful club.
Due to the massive growth experienced by the club recently, many members are unaware of the history and path that the club has travelled over the past 33 years to gain its current status.
Up until 1972 all social gatherings, whether pre or post-match, were held in a tin shed adjoining the council built change rooms. This was run by Mrs Hannell who took sole responsibility for the BBQ and bar. But unfortunately the council decided that this wasn’t allowed and tore it down. In 1972 Ken Foster, the Manager of the Pacific Hotel on the Gold Coast Highway in Southport, offered Doc and Wally an empty cellar that was once office storage space for the club house. With donated labour and materials, they renovated the cellar and called it the Southport Football Club’s DOWNUNDER BAR. It became a fully operational licensed bar, open 7 days a week, in 1973. The strong committee worked hard simply for the love of the game. They are all life members now and you can still find some of them having a drink together on a Friday night in the Lounge Bar.
Unfortunately in 1977 the Pacific Hotel was under the control of new owners, who objected to the presence of the Southport Football Club downstairs and evicted them, turning the Down Under Bar into a nightclub, once again leaving them without a social venue. For 12 months they used a function room at Bartlett’s Barn (now known as Pelermans in Nerang), where drinks were served to Southport players, officials and supporters by the publican. However this proved to be inconvenient because of the distance between Owen Park and Bartlett’s Barn and a new solution was needed.
In 1978 the committee approached the council with the proposal of building a social club adjacent to the council built change rooms at Owen Park. In principle the idea was approved but the club was required to submit plans and costing estimates. The go ahead was given and Bobby Webb oversaw the building of rooms, with the help of some donated labour at a cost of $120,000. The club was comprised of a kitchen, bar and dance floor and was approximately 40 x 65 feet in size.
The late seventies were an extremely successful time for the on-field performances of the club, with a string of Gold Coast premierships gathered along the way. It was this success at local level that prompted the decision to enter the State Competition (QAFL) in 1983. Southport faced one hurdle and that was the inclusion of another side into the QAFL (Sherwood), who wore an identical jumper to that of Southport and also called themselves the Magpies. This was settled by a simple flip of the coin, Southport lost, hence the change of jumper to its current design and its name to the Southport Sharks.
The year 1983 was a record breaking year for the Southport Sharks and they achieved what no other Football Club had managed to achieve in its inaugural year of State Competition – winning the Senior and Reserves Premierships. This was an enormous effort and honoured by the Mayor in awarding the whole team and coach, Norm Dare, the key to the city.
Southport’s dominance of the QAFL continued winning premierships in 1985 and 1987 while playing at Owen Park. Stand out players during this era were Zane Taylor, Best and Fairest 1976, 77, 78 and 85 and Gavin McGuane, Best and Fairest 1980, 81 and 82, who then went on to coach two premierships.
The club once again established a place they could call home; those years spent at Owen Park were extremely successful both on and off the field. The club’s committee had a vision for where they wanted the club to head and the direction needed to take them there, unfortunately the council wouldn’t approve any plans for expansion of the new rooms that they had built at Owen Park in 1978. Once again the club had its hands tied as far as growth was concerned and was looking for other options.
In 1987 the board of directors discovered that an opportunity existed for the development of 31 acres on the corner of Musgrave and Olsen Avenues. This was crown land that had at one stage been earmarked for a possible Rugby League Gold Coast Headquarters. For some unknown reason, the project never got past the stage of levelling the ground and the construction of embankments around the proposed playing surface. Southport submitted a proposal comprising a fifty-year lease incorporating the construction and development of a professional Australian Rules Playing Field and Licensed Club. This was approved and building began in 1988 while Southport remained in Owen Park.
Southport began training on the ground in February 1989 and the Licensed Club was officially opened on April 15th 1989.
To fund this huge project Southport injected between $450,000 and $500,000 of its own funds that went towards ground development, drainage, underground sprinkler systems and mounds surrounding the oval. Many commented that the playing surface at the new Fankhauser Reserve was the best in Queensland.
To fund the lavishly appointed Licensed Club, Vice President Wally Fankhauser donated an estimated $2.2 million to ensure that the club would be financially secure in its vision of creating QLD’s most successful Club. In those days Wally Fankhauser used to place hot potatoes soaked in garlic butter as snacks on the bar!
1989 was an extremely successful year for the club both on and off the field. With the opening of the clubroom facilities, the players produced premierships on all three levels, Senior, Reserves and Colts. This resulted in one of the biggest parties Southport has ever thrown and was a perfect beginning for its new home at Fankhauser Reserve. Premierships followed in 1990 and 92 but then a small drought followed through the mid 90’s. This was broken in 1997 in the renamed QSFL competition and continued with premierships in 1998 and 99, and again in 2000 when it became the AFLQ.
Queensland introduced poker machines in licensed clubs in February 1992, and Southport, on approval of their application, was granted a license and 18 machines were installed on 1st April 1992. It wasn’t long before Southport was reaping the rewards of its bold move into the world of gaming machines and plans were on the drawing board for extensions to the newly built social rooms to cope with the increase in patronage.
With the rapid increase in poker machines from 18 to 160 and the membership base growing to a staggering 19,500 this stage saw the committee already planning for future extensions, which were opened to the public in December 1995. In March 2000 further extensions were completed, which increased the area of the club by a further 2,000 square metres, incorporating a 1,000 seat auditorium and multi-use function centre. With the addition of an al fresco dining area and a new piano bar, the Sharks' seated dining capacity increased to over 600 seats.
Tragedy struck the club in 2002 when an end-of-season trip to Bali resulted in the tragic death of senior player Billy Hardy and injury to several of his team mates, in the Sari Club bomb blasts. The team were desperate to win the premiership the following year in honour of their mate but missed out on a place in the finals. As noted by Football Manager Matthew Kennedy at the time, “Without question the Bali Tragedy did have and will have lasting effects and we all need to work through these difficult times together. Players probably lost their focus for different reasons and didn’t work as hard as maybe they should have and were found wanting against better quality opposition“.
A reinvigoration seemed to occur at the start of the 2004 season, with the re-appointment of Norm Dare to the senior coaching role, and a turnover in players. Former Lion Marcus Ashcroft was also recruited as a specialist coach and mentor for the younger players. The club’s win-loss ratio during the season was very good with only three losses for the season. Unfortunately the team couldn't find a way to win in the Grand Final although were very brave in what has been described as one of the best Grand Finals in recent history.
Another change in leadership occurred at the start of 2005 with Matt Kennedy leaving and being replaced by Jason Cotter as Football Manager. Jason was Coach during the successful seasons of 1998 – 2000 and currently sits on the Club’s Board of Directors. Marcus Ashcroft was also offered a position elsewhere and was replaced by triple-premiership Lions player Shaun Hart. 2005 proved to be the year when Sharks returned to its former glory, making the Grand Final in all three grades. This victory has continued, with the team upholding their premiership in 2006.
With AFLQ Premierships in 2005 (coach Norm Dare) & 2006, 2008 (coach Craig Crowley) and the recent round of renovations, this Gold Coast icon has moved into another exciting era of an already successful timeline. With a host of new facilities including a new sports bar, extended food court, liquor and retail outlet, children’s facility, an impressive new Cabana Bar & Lounge, as well as a new grand reception and foyer, Queensland’s largest AFL Club has it all.
In 2017 the Southport Sharks are the only stand alone community club in the NEAFL representing the greater Gold Coast region and beyond. There is currently no underpinning Reserve grade, so the players who don’t make the NEAFL side on a weekly basis and are fit and able, will be distributed back to the underpinning QAFL state league competition consisting of Labrador, Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach & Palm Beach Currumbin. This makes Sharks a valuable talent pathway for all aspiring Gold Coast AFL players who wish to test themselves at the highest level of semi-professional AFL football.
Today Southport Sharks hosts up to 20,000 visitors a week, and has over 55,000 members. The club has definitely become a true community facility for people of all ages.