It’s early-afternoon. Robert O’Callaghan, wine-maker and umpteenth-generation Port Adelaide barracker (his great grand parents lived in Lipson Street) and I are walking around Wellington Square. It’s 26 degrees, sunny; the dappled shade of the European trees has us all in picnic mode. Renoir could be making notes in a beer garden.
Down Jeffcott Street. Past Luther Seminary. Through a little bike lane. Past the distinctive Robin Boyd house. Aquinas College.
There’s something of the parish about Adelaide; especially old, inner Adelaide. The mighty Torrens. The varsity and its grounds. The cathedral (pop in for evensong). The Arts Centre. The little pubs. The parks.
I’m thinking that all of life’s physical and spiritual needs are catered for in Adelaide.
And, at the heart of it, the Adelaide Oval.
It’s important not to forget that the Adelaide Oval was a one of the best grounds in the world before the AFL discovered it, and before the deal was stitched up to re-develop it. The only difference now is that footy – the game of the people (there are some who need constant reminding of that) – has returned to a place where memory has fermented over many years to deliver the richest sporting drop.
And so this first AFL match back at the Adelaide Oval, Showdown Whatever (superfluous and exploitative marketing designed to cast you in the role of numbskull), captures so much about the city.
There are many Adelaides, but on this day, the argument is best made by constructing two: the Crows and Port.
The Crows are of conservative Adelaide – the Adelaide of YSL polos (possibly lemon) and old scholars’ footy sides – of people who own things: stations, farms, grand homes in leafy St Peter’s. Their investment in Rupert’s various enterprises (“We got him started you know”) has reaped significant dividends: he’s been their text-book protector (and benefactor), his ability to package capitalist rhetoric so successful he’s managed to persuade a fair chunk of working class Adelaide to barrack for the Crows!
Then there is Port Adelaide. Port Adelaide is what Collingwood aspires to be. Port Adelaide is the club of the people.
Which is one of the many reasons – apart from Ken Hinkley and Hamish Hartlett and Chad Wingard and…I could go on – I am having a dalliance with Alberton.
Odd really, when I consider my heritage. My father, who was a boarder at Concordia College (in Adelaide) and then eventually graduated from Concordia Seminary, despised the tough-nuts of Port. He preferred the genteel double blues, named for Oxford and Cambridge, whom some of locals thought were streets in Unley. (Even those who’d been to the ivied schools of the city.) I inherited Dad’s love of Sturt, and distaste for Port. When I was watching more closely in the mid-80s, Port were true to their thuggish reputation. (But what a time for SA footy!)
I had also experienced the joys of football as practised by infamous mid-grades amateur club, Port United. They never bothered naming a side after training on Thursdays, because they didn’t know who’d be locked up on Friday night.
I can live with that now.
We head past Colonel Light and down the hill and inside.
There is no doubt, the Adelaide oval remains spectacular. The playing surface makes you want to take your shoes off and be eleven again, running round in a forever-game of chasey, knowing you can land from a great height and just bounce up from the soft-firm grass. The stands are huge, reaching steeply into the pale South Australian sky, yet open. They are gapped so you can still see the Adelaide Hills and the cityscape, and the northern end hasn’t been changed, with its extensive grassy mound in front of the scoreboard and the Moreton Bay figs, and St Peter’s in the background.
Robert and I have seats at the official Port Adelaide function. After doing an interview with the ABC’s Matt Clinch (very Collingwood but becoming very Adelaide in that Roger Wills sort of way), Anthony Tucker (very Adelaide and barracking for Old Scotch) and Jamo (a top bloke from Werribee who has made Adelaide home – a premiership will do that to you I imagine), I return to the function to hear David Koch (South Australian name, that) speak. He is so right for the Port Adelaide moment; nearly as right as Ken Hinkley is. David Koch speaks in footy language in a way which says that he has grown up with it, lived it, loves it, gets it – but importantly respects that the others in the room get it. It is a speech to a community, a footy club, not to a customer-base.
That community is as diverse as you will find. In the room there are the Italian suits and designer frocks of the fashion-savvy; just as there are the black slacks and black shirts (which serve to highlight the teal members’ tie) from Lowes. There are some who have made their way through medicine (g’day S. Lane and Bridget) and the law, and those who have made their way hiring out scaffolding.
The trademark Port Adelaide goatee is alive and well. Many blokes look like close relatives of Simon Whitlock. There is ink on show- but it’s old ink. More of the 80s than of the moment, although I saw more women with tattoos behind their ears than at any other president’s function.
Andrew Demetriou’s words are complimentary in the extreme. It’s the ingratiating speech of the visiting dignitary. Only the club name has been changed from last week’s. I’m not sure who’s writing them these days – or who wrote this one four years ago – but they should have a chat to Kochy and Ken Hinkley before they write the next one.
Andrew’s giveaway was the use of the term CBD. AFL football was “bringing people into the CBD” he explained. Very AFL. Now, what can we sell you? For a man of his heritage, and a man of his past, and a man who has had a close association with the Humanities, Andrew Demetriou uses the language of commerce very comfortably. I am left to wonder: did Andrew Demetriou start life barracking for Port and move to Norwood in a Magill Road conversion?
The meal is line and length (the Andrew Zesers of chicken) and the Tattachilla wine possibly chosen for its South Australian name. So much of the week had been an affirmation of all things South Australian: it was all Max Basheer and Barrie Robran, Popeye and Knuckles.
As the players warm up you have to admire what the locals have done. The state has a fantastic sports culture, footy culture. And those who lead the way had taken a big risk on this Adelaide Oval venture. They’ve pulled it off.
There is a hint of relief in some sections.
And the people have approved with their feet. It’s a sell-out, with others still trying to find a way in.
From the western stand, the view, with the sun high in the sky, and, later in the afternoon, with the sun behind, is superb. Conditions are perfect for footy; the players have every opportunity to show what they’ve got.
And in the first quarter the Port unit do. Lobbe is strong and athletic; he can jump high to get the pure tap; he can absorb the crashing opponent. He will be a key all season. He demonstrates he can also kick a goal when, from a square-up free, he registers the first of the AFL era.
The crowd is into it. In all the festivities, no-one has forgotten that this is a game for four points. It has ramifications for the ladder now, and at season’s end; it has ramifications for footy in the Adelaide community. Who will make the Adelaide Oval theirs?
The tribes go at it.
Port dominate the first quarter. Polec reads the game brilliantly and keeps getting the Sherrin and streaking away, his raking left-footers doing damage. Trengove and mates are solid across half-back. Ebert has physical presence. Dangerfield is nowhere to be seen, again. Chad Wingard takes another step in developing the creative genius which resides within him. K. Cornes and T. Boak are the understated steadiers. Hartlett draws the eye.
Eddie Betts helps the Crows into the game – as do the umps. Dangerfield gets away with a Whitten flick, and Betts snaps another. It’s 14 shots to 6, yet the Crows are in touch. Port should be further in front. Their big men are providing the structural superiority – the Crows have no forward line, just a few seagulls in search of chips.
It’s hard not to like Paddy Dangerfield, but some of his decision-making has a hint of smart-arse about it. I haven’t seen that before. You still have to get the basics right, and perform them optimally at every opportunity. Then you can play for a spot in the Six O’clock News package. (Late news in this case).
The Crows come out scorching in the third quarter. They get back into the game with sheer tenacity but that level of pressure cannot be sustained no matter how long you’ve spent in the Arizona air. Port have been happy to suck in the fumes along Grand Junction Road and they’re on top of the ground. John Butcher comes into the game. Jay Schulz starts to mark a few. Wingard has a perma-dazzle about him (except when chasing – which may prove costly against superior opponents). Port manage to win the quarter.
The Crows look spent.
Hinkley brings Matt White on and he travels at two to their one, coming home like Kiwi, for a couple of goals. It’s a party now. Butcher, surely recruited from Borneo, check-sides from the pocket and the Sherrin lands in the crowd. He cackle-laughs. Gray, Wines and even old Dom Cassisi keep contributing. Hartlett’s strong running and powerful right boot (so elegant) are rewarded. He wins the medal. I see glimpses of G. Ablett senior in him. Or at least Daniel Menzel.
Then there is Justin Westhoff. Humphrey, because he says nothing. One of those players who defies simple description. Like they’ve pulled him from a McCubbin painting – the same one Michael Tuck and Dustin Fletcher came from (only Dustin doesn’t have whiskers).
The faithful lap up the moment.
It’s a fantastic win on a massive day for the nation of South Australia and its capital city.
The Crows are under-manned. They lack forwards. Their mid-field will be excellent on its day, but no better than anyone else’s best.
Port are impressive. Like Geelong, they realise that skills matter. That’s the base. Then learn how to play a style which suits the abilities of the players. So my logic works in reverse: that Ken Hinkley has them playing a Geelong-style suggests he believes they have the ability to do that. No hint of the Lyon-Roos sensibility there.
Footy is so interesting.
Thousands of happy fans make their way across the bridge to the city and beyond.
Robert and I head up the hill, through the lanes of the gentry’s North Adelaide. We stop for a couple at the Queen’s Head. Hardly a soul there! Conservative Adelaide has gone home to hug the teddy bear. We get a beer in about a minute. (Those who frequent the Adelaide Test match will know that is a modern miracle).
Robert loves Port Adelaide. We re-live the game over delicate and tasty pizzas. And a bottle of Rockford Basket Press.
It is a balmy Adelaide evening. Good food. Good wine. And I’m sitting with the bloke who made it.
Rich in history, rich in lifestyle, Adelaide has had nothing to prove for a long time.
It lives well.
Footy is part of that.
Our votes: Ebert (PA) 3 Hartlett (PA) 2 Wingard (PA) 1
John Harms @ratherbeatlunch
More Harms and other curiosities at:
PORT ADELAIDE 5.4 7.8 12.11 19.13 (127)
ADELAIDE 1.1 5.2 8.5 11.7 (73)
Port Adelaide: Wingard 4, Schulz 3, Gray, Wines, White 2, Lobbe, Ebert, Westhoff, Boak, Butcher, Hartlett
Adelaide: Betts 4, Grigg 2, Johnston, Douglas, Smith, Kerridge, Podsiadly
Port Adelaide: Ebert, Hartlett, Wingard, Lobbe, Trengove, Polec, Cornes.
Port Adelaide: Polec (cut head)
Adelaide: Shaw (wrist), Crouch (lower leg)
Port Adelaide: Alipate Carlile replaced by Matt White at three quarter-time
Adelaide: Lewis Johnston replaced by Jason Porplyzia in the third quarter
Umpires: Fleer, Schmitt, Pannell
Official crowd: 50,397 at Adelaide Oval