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.
© 7 October 2013