The inaugural 1877 season was contested by those 12 clubs: South Park, Willunga, Port Adelaide, Adelaide, North Adelaide, Prince Alfred College, Gawler, Kapunda, Bankers, Woodville, South Adelaide and Victorian.Norwood joined the Association in 1878, but South Park, Willunga, North Adelaide, Prince Alfred College, Gawler, Kapunda, Bankers, Woodville, and Victorian all left the Association within the first 10 years.The SANFL introduced a player retention scheme in 1988 in an attempt to maintain the quality of the competition in the face of falling attendances.On 31 July 1990, Port Adelaide surprised the SANFL by making an independent bid to the join the AFL.
In a thirty-minute meeting the SANFL formed the Adelaide Football Club.
In fact, after a match between Port Adelaide and Kensington in 1873, it was remarked that neither side understood the rules clearly, and there was uncertainty over which team had won.
However, as they years progressed, there became a growing push for uniformity and structure in South Australian football.
The addition of West Adelaide (1887), North Adelaide (1893), West Torrens (1897) and only the demise of Adelaide (1893), meant the Association was six clubs by the turn of the century.
In 1898, the Magarey Medal was awarded to the fairest and most brilliant player for the first time.