The earliest English sporting newspaper was Bell's life in London, first published in 1822. With this as a model, Australia's first sporting newspaper was named Bell's life in Sydney. It appeared in 1845. In South Australia Bell's life in Adelaide had a short life between 1861 and 1862. South Australia's earliest sporting newspaper was the Mercury and South Australian Sporting Chronicle, published between 1849 and 1851, which included sporting news amongst its more general news.
Nineteenth century sporting newspapers, as well as the sporting columns of the major newspapers, tended to concentrate on horse racing. The 'sport of kings' involved large amounts of money, which is possibly one reason why newspapers throughout this period, and later, gave predominance to reports and articles about horse racing in their sporting columns.
Most newspapers during the 19th century included sporting news. The weekly newspapers, the Observer and the Chronicle contained more in-depth coverage, written for lesiurely weekend reading. Reports covered not only local sport, but also interstate and overseas events. With the advent of telegraphic communication two forms of reporting emerged. As telegraphed news was expensive, being charged at a rate per word, brief initial reports of interstate and overseas news were printed as they arrived, with fuller reports published later, following the arrival of interstate and overseas mail by ship.
Throughout the 19th century the interest and participation of Australians in sport grew enormously, reaching its peak in the 1890s. In 1876 the South Australian licensed victuallers' gazette and sporting chronicle began, running for 10 years. Although once again concentrating on horse-racing, the newspaper gave coverage to cricket and the emerging preoccupation of Australian rules football. Yachting and athletics were also covered, as well as rowing, archery and shooting. The introductory editorial stated that 'sporting in all its branches' would be a feature of the newspaper, providing reading matter for 'the sportsmen and sportswomen of South Australia'. Unfortunately the sportswomen and their sports actually received no direct coverage in the columns of the Gazette.
By the 1890s most workers had achieved increased leisure time. As a result general sporting participation rose dramatically. This saw the advent of newspapers such as Marcus Waldrene's Sporting life. Although women were now playing cricket and hockey, and participating equally with men in the bicycle craze, they seldom featured in newspaper reports apart from occasional paragraphs giving hints for how 'lady cyclists' might protect their complexions (Observer, 2 July 1898, p. 21) and similar advice. Many church sporting clubs existed for women in particular, but information about these seem to be confined to rare reports in individual church newsletters and paragraphs in country newspapers.
Before the advent of the first commercial films in 1894, journalists wrote detailed descriptions of sporting events, down to descriptions of a boxer's clothing, for example. Some of the earliest films to be produced were of sporting events, including the finish of the 1896 Melbourne Cup. Fixed position cameras limited the degree of sporting coverage possible in the early years of film-making, dictating that sports in a small arena such as wrestling and boxing were chosen for the first films. From the 1930s the popularity of the cinema, followed by the growth of radio and television, brought major changes to sports reporting in newspapers.
The Critic, South Australia's middle-class answer to the Sydney Bulletin, gave detailed sporting news, including photographs, from its inception in 1897. Horse racing was still a strong focus, but cricket, cycling, bowls and football also featured. The Critic employed the Adelaide newspaper and commercial photographer Henry Krischock who provided early action photographs of football matches, as well as horse races and other sports and events. The Critic was also the official organ of the newly formed Automobile Club of South Australia.
Newspapers followed sporting trends closely. The advent of tennis, lacrosse and indoor skating from the 1870s brought articles and illustrations in the early illustrated newspapers. The Pictorial Australian printed drawings of lacrosse being played in the South Parklands in 1885, and of the skating craze in 1888-89. From 1893 this newspaper published many photographs of local sporting teams.
Victorian sporting newspapers such as the Sportsman were a major influence on the development of Australian rules football. This was not as strongly marked in the South Australian press, although certainly issues of violence in the game and the role of umpires were discussed. In 1877, the South Australian licensed victuallers' gazette reported 'Some discussion has arisen during the week with regard to the danger attending the game of football - the fact of Charles B. Poole, a member of the Bankers' Team, having died, it was stated, from the effects of rough treatment whilst playing...' (9 June 1877, p. 5). In 1899 the Advertiser reported on a game played at Victor Harbor between the local team and Goolwa: 'The play was very rough, and one member of the Harbor team lost several teeth' ('Encounter Bay', 22 July 1899, p. 11).
Sports writers were frequently sportsmen, or former sportsmen. Traditionally these journalists wrote under pen names such as 'Third Man', 'Handlebar', 'Goalpost' and 'Tarquin'. From the 1920s writers including Ossie O'Grady, Jeff Pash, Lois Quarrell, Gordon Schwartz, Geoff Roach and Michelangelo Rucci have used their own names, trading on their existing profiles.
By the time of the First World War, sports reporting had become an important feature of the weekend newspapers, in particular the Sunday newspapers. The Sunday mail, from its inception in 1912, provided increasingly detailed coverage of a variety of sports, particularly football, and included action photographs. Country and suburban sports results were printed in the Sunday mail in the years following the Second World War. These generally appear in the last edition of the newspaper, known as the 'state' edition.
Cuneen, Chris. 'Elevating and recording the people's pastimes: Sydney sporting journalism 1886-1939,' Sport: money, morality and the media, Richard Cashman and Michael McKernan (eds.), Kensington, N.S.W.: New South Wales University Press, 1980, pp. 162-176
Grow, Robin. 'Nineteenth century football and the Melbourne press,' Sporting traditions, vol. 3, no. 1 (November 1986), pp. 23-37
Marquis, Len. South Australian newspapers: a selection of material from the extensive research notes gathered for a proposed history of the press in South Australia by Leonard Stanley Marquis/ prepared by Ronald Parsons, Lobethal, S. Aust.: Ronald Parsons, 1988
O'Grady, Oswald James. Oswald James O'Grady: an autobiography together with the story of Reid Murray Holdings, [Adelaide, S. Aust.: O'Grady Family, 1997?]