Lest we forget – let’s get the Anzac Day thing out of the way first. I actually don’t like footy on Anzac Day. It’s not some misplaced notion of bespoiling the sacredness of the day a la Good Friday. It is actually the trouble caused by the necessity of comparison. Playing football is nothing, repeat nothing, like going to war. Awarding a medal to the footballer who best exemplifies some simplified notion of the spirit of the day is insulting to all involved. A Jesus medal is not awarded to the footballer on Easter Sunday who has best resurrected his career. Also it reminds you just how unimportant football really is – an inconvenient truth, as ever.
Adelaide is more meritorious than Melbourne. The same two sides do not play on Anzac Day each year based upon the extent to which they either thought of the idea first or are the club with the most Eddie McGuires. Rather in the SANFL, since 1998, the day features a grand final rematch. So today the Browns were off to Adelaide Oval to see Norwood play host of sorts to North Adelaide.
Working on the remembrance theme the other reason for attending the game was Norwood was celebrating 30 years since its 1984 ‘history makers’ premiership. As the family’s elder statesman celebrates his birthday on 24 April (every year) the family chipped in to buy him a ticket to the relevant luncheon and I also attended so as to not seem rude.
So some history on the history makers. In 1984 Norwood became the first, and still only, team in the SANFL to win the premiership from 5th spot. The grand final in front of more than 50,000 fans was a pulsating match in which Norwood beat Port Adelaide by 9 points. The moments most memorable, for Norwood fans anyway, are the fight in the goal square between Craig Balme and Tim Evans during the national anthem (the last time players went into position before the national anthem), Keith Thomas’s incredibly courageous running mark in the third quarter (seriously, google it – it’s amazing) and Michael Aish’s run down the outer wing in the last quarter leading to a Keith Thomas goal. For connoisseurs of the defender like myself (I still somewhat shakingly believe Ben Hart should have won the 1998 Norm Smith) and the elder statesman we particularly appreciated the steadfast performances of Lester Ross (Jr), Justin Scanlon and Tom Warhurst (Jr).
The lunch was impressive – held in the McLachlan Room at the new Adelaide Oval, we overlooked (in both senses of the word) the reserves game as we were served good food, good wine and got to hear the recollections of 1984 from Neil Balme, Michael Aish, Garry McIntosh, Phil Gallagher, Keith Thomas, and Tom Warhurst. In a funny sort way of it was interesting to see Aish has maintained the rage over his treatment at the hands of John Harvey in the game (Harvey was brought in to the Port Adelaide team specifically to mark Aish and king hit him about 30 seconds into the game). It is the only time I have heard Aish say anything unkind about anyone and at lunch he recounted with relish (and a delicious pear tart) the opportunity he got, and took, to even up with Harvey in front of the western grandstand at the Parade the following year.
It was useful to learn that Craig Balme had spent all week preparing what he was going to say to Tim Evans at the start, which clearly achieved the desired effect. Also particularly interesting was Keith Thomas’s perspective on all of this. While, undoubtedly, the star of that game it is clear Thomas talks about it somewhat reluctantly and overly humbly. Being a key part of Port Adelaide’s recent revival as the club’s CEO he has had an opportunity to hear the other club’s perspective on 1984 and the shame that surrounded the Port player who failed to prevent him from taking that mark.
From there we left the lunch, wrapped in nostalgia’s warm embrace, and eschewed some of the best seats in the house, dead centre on the second level of the members, to find the rest of the family set up in the first tier of the Riverbank Stand. It is not the best place to watch footy in this new stadium but is sufficient.
The match itself left very little to write enthusiastically about, other than with a touch over 10,000 at the ground its attendance rivalled the AFL game in New Zealand and a number of NRL games over the weekend. As it had done in the reserves, Norwood effectively kicked itself out of the game. By three quarter time when Norwood led, literally, by 8 points, they should have been sufficiently comfortably in front to withstand the last quarter charge from North Adelaide. North took control at the stoppages and moved Miles up forward to combine with Luke Mitchell and Ryan Burton to overwhelm the Redlegs’ undersized defence (and kick straight once inside 50). Given his presence on the ground and Carlton’s lack of a tall forward line it is difficult to understand how Mitchell never really got a go with the Blues.
Norwood had a few too many passengers, particularly when it mattered and it would appear its lack of midfield depth is testing its ability to implement its proven forward press. I imagine there will be some tackling and kicking practice at the Parade this week. No walk across the ground to end the afternoon this day as we were frequently threatened by the Adelaide Oval management that it would incur a fee of $5,000 – a bit pricey after having forked out for a fancy lunch. However, on the walk back to our sneaky park in North Adelaide we were left to reflect that at 1-3 the Redlegs may need to channel the spirit of 1984 to have a chance of remaining at the top of the brewery chimney this year.