SANFL Grand Final: Last Day at Football Park

LAST DAY AT FOOTBALL PARK

By Bernard Whimpress

I never called AAMI Stadium “AAMI Stadium” and I’m not going to start now, especially not now.

A few ageing sports buffs met at the Royal Hotel, Kent Town last Wednesday night to ‘Remember Football Park’ as a preliminary to the South Australian National Football League grand final on Sunday, 6 October 2013. Among the football games and incidents recalled were:

  • The 1976 Sturt-Port Adelaide grand final when 66,297 fans packed into the ground with hundreds stationed inside the boundary fence.
  • The bomb explosion in 1975 which killed a man in the West Lakes Shopping Centre car park while a league match was underway over the road. The blast was heard as far away as Cheltenham Racecourse.
  • Des Foster’s free kick to Norwood’s Phil Gallagher near the end of the 1978 grand final. ‘Lest we forget’ say Sturt supporters.
  • Port’s David Granger (Grave Danger) unsettling Glenelg in the 1982 preliminary final and the Bays squeezing home by one point.
  • State of Origin footy in the 1980s – a high-point for the code.
  • A Crows pre-season trial game against Essendon in 1991 which drew around 30,000 people. We realised we were in for a new ball game.
  • Tony Modra’s speccies in the 1990s.
  • Showdowns – the local derbies between the Crows and Port Power.

Of non-footy matters:

  • ABBA’s Agnetha was reported losing her pants on stage in 1977 but that was an exaggeration. She and Frida wore long skirts which were detached to reveal very short mini-skirts.
  • A World Series Cricket Supertest played against the West Indies in 1977-78 saw Australian captain Ian Chappell top score with 141.
  • Gary Gilmour took a hat-trick in a limited-over game the following summer.
  • A parachutist struck the concourse roof at half-time during an International Rules football match.
  • Apart from ABBA concerts were given by Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond and many others.
  • International soccer and baseball matches were played in the 1980s.
  • The first national anthem at a SANFL grand final was sung by Barry Crocker (1979) and among those to follow were Thomas Edmonds, John Swan, Kate Cerebrano, Catherine Lambert and Greg Champion.

A journo from the ‘Tiser rang on Thursday and said he’d called me because I was believed to know everything.

‘Close’, I said, then added, ‘Aristotle was the last man who knew everything’.

‘And he topped himself’, said the reporter.

I could’ve corrected him and replied that it was Socrates but I let the matter pass. I didn’t want to seem a know-all.

What the journo wanted to know were the prices of a beer, a pie and a bag of chips inside Footy Park in 1974. I didn’t know (and that disappointed him) but I could make an educated guess. When I’d started drinking not long before beer was 15 cents a schooner. A pie was probably around 10 cents and the same for chips. ‘Add on 25 per cent’, I suggested.

I was wheeled out for an interview on ABC radio 891 on Sunday morning. We only had a quarter of an hour and Ashley Walsh wanted to know about the historical background to Footy Park, the lighting saga, the playing highlights and personal reminiscences of my time at the ground.

Attendances at SANFL matches were high in the 1960s with football crowds vastly outnumbering those of cricket at Adelaide Oval. In 1962 the league applied for the lease to the Oval but lost to the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) which had held it since 1871. By 1969 the league wanted to construct a northern grandstand on the north-western end of mound and a double-storey eastern grandstand and spend $500,000 on construction – my, how costs have risen!

The SACA had no objections to the league building grandstands and wanted football to remain at Adelaide Oval. In complex negotiations one stumbling block was the league’s wish to create a football membership for football matches only and a cricket membership for cricket matches. By 1971 the matter had gone to arbitration with the two Dons – Sir Donald Bradman (SACA) and Don (later Justice) Brebner (SANFL) putting their respective cases. The matter seemed close to resolution when the league withdrew and announced a move to establish their headquarters at West Lakes.

West Lakes (then a swamp) was one of several sites which had been considered by the SANFL for a new ground. Others were the sewage farm at Islington, Wayville Showgrounds, the West Parklands behind Adelaide High School, and at Hope Valley.

Football Park was developed rapidly and opened in May 1974 with an initial intention to create a super-stadium capable of holding 80,000 spectators. That plan never went ahead but one development which caused major angst between 1978 and 1983 was the lighting saga which resulted in over 100 meetings being held between the league, West Lakes Ltd, the State Government and Woodville Council, numerous environmental reports and the holding of a royal commission, before agreement was reached.

The highlights of the stadium’s history have been mentioned but for a personal reminiscence I related how during finals time I would have an exceptionally heavy workload as editor producing two editions of the Football Budget and this meant working on several occasions until 3 am. Footy Park was a creepy place to be in at that time of night with the aluminium seating creaking and wind whistling around the stands. I also had to make sure to let groundsman Doug Butterfield know I would be working back so that he wouldn’t release a couple of German Shepherd dogs which often patrolled the ground during the night. I had no wish to engage with them on making my exit.

And so to the final game and the ground.

Norwood play close and mean, the Freo way, the Sydney way. Last year I wrote they won ugly. I won’t repeat myself. They’re an efficient unit, they defeated North Adelaide 10.12 to 4.8 but as for the spectacle, the greater game, we’re all losers.

When the final siren blew I wished they’d get on with the presentations. I always liked the quick ceremony, the handing over of the TS Hill Memorial Trophy to the winning team and the lap of honour, to allow for spontaneity. It seems to take longer every year to erect the dais, is too formal, too stage-managed. The best part this year though is the crowd rushing onto the ground in readiness for a final dob.

I’m guiding friend Santo Caruso (Melbourne Sports Books) around after the game. Santo’s a great Redlegs man. I point out where my old office used to be at the back of the stand on the first floor alongside that of general manager Don Roach and from where eight of the twelve admin staff operated. The total staff (including the groundsmen) was around twenty.

We enter the southern members bar. I’m struck by its ugliness and explain that in my day (1979-83) it was the main dining room and contained a large gilt-framed photograph of Henry Harrison (wrongly attributed as the game’s founder) and another of John Acraman, the founder in South Australia. I had organised the framing in cedar of magnificent photographic montages of the old Australian Football Council Carnivals and these used to adorn the walls. Now there’s not a single image – of football or anything else for that matter. Footy Park has at various times in its past been described as ‘sterile’, ‘soulless’, ‘a concrete jungle’ and ‘as cold as Siberia’. This room once carpeted and polished now has less charm than that of a workers canteen in Novo Sibirsk.

The same can be said for the members bar at the northern end. In my time it was the members bar, it too carpeted – perhaps more members then wore ties and jackets (like I was now). It used to contain photos of famous South Australian teams and mounted to a wall the ball used in the state’s 1963 win over Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Again nothing, not a vestige a football memory in either place.

The main dining room on the western extension of the ground might be grander, plusher than that which preceded it but I’m saddened how derelict and shabby each of these other rooms has become. Neither encourages either refined drinking or sociability. As a facility for members these spaces represent a lowest common denominator. Each is more appropriate for pigs at swill.

Santo and I head to the centre of the arena for a few dobs. I grab a red and blue footy and proceed to demonstrate some drop-kicks, well more like stab passes without the stab, not quite a tribute to Bob Shearman, but then I’m experiencing a touch of sciatica. At least they turn end over end, maintain a decent trajectory and entrance two twelve-year-old girls from whom I’ve borrowed the ball.

Leaving the ground on the eastern side I pass the ‘Goal-kickers Bar’. In my last year at the league I themed the four outer ground bars – Medallists, Goal-kickers, Players (for club record-holders) and Premiers. Each had an array of photographs above the length of the long bar areas. They would be talking-points for drinkers, an informal link to footy history. They represented the beginning of a museum than never happened.

I peer through one window and one end of the bar has only a single photo of Colin Churchett the Glenelg champion of the 1940s and 1950s but the other end is fully represented. I don’t know what’s become of Ken Farmer, Fred Phillis, Neville Roberts, Ken Whelan, Roger Luders and some others but maybe I’ve got to be grateful for who has remained. I point to Greg Edwards who kicked 100 goals for Central District and whose loss of an eye brought an early end to his career, to Trevor Pierson who was a magnificently balanced left-footer and kicked 100 goals in a year when Woodville finished bottom, to North Adelaide’s man-mountain Dennis Sachse who would make John Nicholls look like a jockey, to South’s 1930s star ‘Diddy’ Munro, and to Norwood’s Bruce Schultz who brought up his 100th goal in the thirteenth round of 1941, then injured a knee and never played again.

Santo says it’s good to see some history has remained.

I’ve been saying in my time, in my time but now Footy Park’s time too has come. Maybe it has gone too soon.

 

Bernard Whimpress

© 7 October 2013

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) currently writing his 20th book. For the previous 15 years was Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum and Historian for the South Australian Cricket Association. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Most recent books – The MCC Official Ashes Treasures and The Greatest Ashes Battles.

Comments

  1. Wonderful piece, Bernard. I grew up at Adelaide Oval for both footy and cricket in the 60’s and 70’s. Adelaide Oval was primitive when there was a crowd, but it had character in spades.
    I can remember standing on the open concrete terraced outer at West Lakes not long after it was opened. It felt like the moon.
    The surface always seemed slippery because of the proximity to the lake and the ocean.
    But Brebner and Basheer were visionary in SA footy taking control of its own destiny. The WAFL still suffers because there is less trickle down funding for the local comp, as the WA Footy Commission lease the ground from the local council. Subi is a great location and surface, but the facilities have always been 20 years behind.
    I was at the Dylan concert at Footy Park in the late 70’s at the time of the Street Legal album. Soul less performance in a soul less venue. None of the songs were played to their original melody or tempo. “Rainy Day Woman” was a slow waltz.
    Like many creations of the 70’s, AAMI Park was functional but without heart.
    Roll on the wrecking ball.
    Thanks for the (mostly bad) memories – though the last time I was there my Eagles had a memorable win.

  2. Peter Fuller says:

    Thank you, Bernard for this splendid summary of the origins and history of Football Park. As a (non-parochial) Victorian, I find the parallels with the development of Waverley and its trajectory towards its ultimate decline quite striking. You have certainly added considerably to my knowledge.
    As a personal point of interest, I made it to the final AFL match at FP, Port v Carlton, which provided a neat symmetry, as I was at the Hawthorn v Sydney game which was the last top-level match at Waverley (without checking, I think 1999).

  3. bernard whimpress says:

    Thank you Peter B and Peter F

    To Peter B
    I never thought FP was as soulless as was made out but certainly those members bars have become so. I have a certain bias in favour of the stadium because I spent five very happy years working there. The one man whose name is now forgotten and shouldn’t be is Ray Kutcher, an engineer with the Electricity Trust, chairman of Sturt FC, vice-president of SANFL and later president of the National Football League, who was the chief driver of the building of the stadium and who seems to have been written out of history in more recent times.

    To Peter F, nice to make that double for both Waverley and FP.

  4. Malcolm Young says:

    Well done Bernard,
    A fascinating trip down memory lane. I’ve got a vast collection of Football Budgets at home (maybe one day they’ll be worth something) – collected from 1983-1991 – and well remember your name on them. There was a teacher at my then primary school (can’t recall his name) at Bellevue Heights who was also a photographer for the FB.
    Attended my first game at Footy Park around 1981 or 1982 – North v Woodville – with my Dad. Can vaguely recall there not being full seating on the western side, which is consistent with video footage of games at the ground. Went to several SANFL games up until 1990, including all of the North Adelaide Grand Finals, and sort of got used to the place.
    The whole makeup of SA footy really changed though with the Crows in 1991. I went to the first practice match against Essendon that you mentioned, as was surprised – along with probably 30,00 others – that 30,000 had bothered to turn up on a summer’s night for a practice match. That game – and the first match for premiership points against the Hawks – had me hooked. Ended up going to all Crows home games for the next 4 years – including pre-season (Foster’s Cup) – regardless of rain, hail or shine (or freezing cold). Back in those days, watching the Crows (and AFL football in general) was such a treat.
    You mentioned the rock concerts that had been held at Footy park over the years. The Advertiser ran a story on this last week. Two concerts that have been missed – which may be of interest – was an “Australian Made” concert, i think 1 Jan 1985, and I believe this had INXS amongst others. The other concert that I am aware of, is one called the 5AD Summer Special, held New year’s Eve 1975, and had several Australian bands appear, including AC/DC (with Bon Scott then lead singer). I think the majority of AC/DC fans would be surprised to know that AC/DC played at Footy Park with Bon.
    Given the events leading to the construction of Footy Park, and the events held there over the past 40 years, I was wondering whether you had thought of (or had any intention of writing a book about it)? I think it would be an interesting read, and with your access to loads of historical photos from the 1970s, is something I’d love to read:
    – In depth reasons behind the disagreements between the SANFL and SACA
    – Decision by SANFL to build their own “Headquarters”
    – Search for land and funding
    – Decision to build at West Lakes
    – Construction of the stadium
    – Transport (lack of rail line)
    – Early days of SANFL footy
    – Big SANFL Grand Final crowds of th1 1970s and 1980s
    – Lights (5 years delay; Royal Commission)
    – State of Origin v Victoria
    – World Series Cricket 1977/78
    – McDonald’s Cup One Day Cricket 1985/86
    – Other sports held at the ground
    – Rock Concerts
    – Formation of the Adelaide Crows
    – Formation of Port Power
    – Impact on crowds of 1, then 2 Adelaide based AFL sides
    – Declining AFL crowds in past 10 years
    – Comparison with Docklands Stadium in Melbourne; and
    – Decision to upgrade (ruin?) Adelaide Oval, and cease using Footy Park

    Have I missed anything? That was just off the top pf my head.
    Bon Jovi will be playing there in December – apparently in front of 50,000. Wonder if that will be the last significant event – or indeed the last event at all – held at a ground that has seen so much?

  5. Barry Nicholls says:

    Good work Bernard

    Apart from the shattering experience of 1978 I remember the bomb blast in 1975. It was very loud. On the way home I heard Elton John and Kiki Dee’s ‘ Dont go breaking my heart’ and since have always associated the two.

  6. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks Malcolm

    Your teacher was Rex Brereton and he and I had a photo studio in Rundle Street at that time. Rex lived there for two years and I did for one. He was a good mate for several years but then moved to Clare to set up a photography business and we lost touch. Given your outline maybe you should write the FP book. I have been writing a big book on Adelaide Oval over the last few months so hope to find a publisher. I’d take on the FP project if it was offered.

    Thanks Barry

    I can fully understand that you’d continue to make that connection. I would’ve assumed there might’ve been a mass exodus from the SANFL match after the blast. What do you remember of that? Apparently the score on the day was Sturt 13.27 d West Adelaide 15.10 so although the Blues were off target they still got the points

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Interesting Article and I am glad Ray Kutcher has been mentioned 1 minor point
    Des Foster paid Gags the Mark not a Free kick The major point re Football leaving Adelaide oval was Don Bradman Footy was virtually forced to leave and every time it looked like Footy was going to locate centrally Don Bradman used his influence to make sure it didn’t happen
    World series cricket also happened because of Don Bradman yes obviously a brilliant cricketer but his ability to listen to others and actually make the best decision for the good of all sport is questionable at best as we all no not all great players make great coaches as not all great cricketers make good administrators
    Football Park extra level to make the stadium capacity 80 Thousand was going to be funded by a 100 year sponsorship deal with WH Wills re Cigarette company which didn’t occur I would love The Doyen of administrators Max Basheer to explain what happened

  8. Barry Nicholls says:

    Bernard

    I remember the explosion as being in the second half sometime. There was a lot of talk at the ground when it happened and I remember a plume of smoke and asking Dad what he thought it was. The path to our car was near the bombed out vehicle which I remembered as being a VW although I could be wrong.

  9. bernard whimpress says:

    A 100-year sponsorship by Wills leaves one gasping!

    Barry Nicholls’ book ‘The Story of 78: How Norwood gave Sturt the Blues’ is a terrific account of the 78 GF and its effect on Sturt for a generation.

  10. I very much enjoyed your piece, Bernard.

    You wrote: “West Lakes (then a swamp) was one of several sites which had been considered by the SANFL for a new ground. Others were the sewage farm at Islington, Wayville Showgrounds, the West Parklands behind Adelaide High School, and at Hope Valley.”

    This reminded me of the very good argument for Wayville Showgrounds to have become SA footy headquarters – a lovely existing grandstand to build around; plenty of space for onsite parking for media, caterers, ambulances, et al; a train line on the western flank; carparking and barbecue space for 30,000 people ten minutes away in the southern parklands.

    Footy Park at West Lakes worked in the sense that it created memories for a generation, but it was always a soulless place. No. Soulless is the wrong word. It was a suburban place which, like Waverly, failed to realise its tourist potential.

    Adelaide people go to Melbourne for a weekend and throw in an urban game at the MCG or the Docklands as part of the weekend. Few Melbourne people wanted to come to Adelaide back then, and then have to worry about catching buses out to West Lakes. The magnificent Adelaide Stadium will change all of that for footy, at some cost to the village-green nature of cricket at Adelaide Oval.

    The Wayville option would have kept footy in the urban spotlight; it would have reinvigorated Goodwood, a lovely classic inner city suburb in need of a contemporary identity, and created a cafe and shopping culture. And it would have introduced more function into the parklands – footy training grounds, barbecue areas, more seats and gardens, lights and toilets.

    Never mind. Opportunities missed are not opportunities forgone.

  11. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks John

    I remember you discussing the Wayville option two or three years ago. It also led me more recently to express the view that Wayville would be a much better site for Sheffield Shield cricket than any of the other suburban grounds. The old stands have a lovely atmosphere and as you say it has numerous other facilities, car parking especially for the small crowds that the Shield attracts.

    Interestingly the SANFL did threaten to move to its headquarters to Wayville in the mid-1930s but one of the arguments against it then was public transport and the need for many people to catch two trains, trams or buses.

  12. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    I have felt for a long time Wayville should be the SA sporting hub imagine having the equivalent of the Vic Carribean Markets it would be a total family day shopping rides and far more importantly Sport it is incompetent that a potentially incredible venue is not utilised to it’s full possible extent

  13. Lachlan Waterman says:

    Thanks Bernard. Can remember running around Footy Park and kicking the footy with Matthew Roach (Dons son) and some other mates from school after the 79 GF Port v South and then joining the festivities up stairs. Fond memories.

  14. Always love your writing Bernard – you and Mike Coward.

    I must confess every economist and historian is really a would be sports writer in disguise. I am no different. When I released one of my books The Airport Economist I got an email from one B.Robran of the North Adelaide FC asking if he could highlight my book on the Roosters website. That is the Barrie Robran asked me for permission!!

    As my father said – “that’s like getting an email from God!”

    Well done Bernard – keep up your fantastic story telling!

  15. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks Tim

    Your father’s remark of ‘an email from God’ puts me in mind of when I was asked to read the lesson at a cousin’s wedding a bit over thirty years ago. This involved a preliminary meeting with a Dominican priest from St Laurence’s Church, North Adelaide. When he asked me what I did for a living and I replied that I edited the Football Budget he said ‘meeting the editor of the Football Budget is even more exciting than meeting the Pope’.

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