AFL Round 10 – Adelaide v Fremantle: Last drinks in the mangroves

Score a footy and Crows gear

Score a footy and Crows gear

Adelaide v Fremantle

1:40pm, Saturday, 1 June

Football Park

Michael Sexton


There is a bar in the belly of Football Park that says everything about why the stadium exists and why it is time to call last drinks on it.

A barman squirts draught into two plastic cups as I meet Freddy Venn. We’ve been coming to this ground since it was carved out of a mangrove swamp in the early 1970s and this daggy bar hasn’t changed in all those years.

Its feature is a series of black and white portraits of SANFL full forwards, block mounted above the bar, all eternally thumping footies between the big sticks. To fill in time before the game we play word association by pointing at the photos.

Ken Farmer –machine. Rick Davies – vaudevillian. Fred Phillis – Idol.

These men and our adoration of them is why Football Park had to be built. The SANFL was bursting at its suburban seams and the SACA guarded Adelaide Oval with a snobby air. So the league created this concrete colosseum.

Freddy reminded me of the first big crowd we were part of, which was for a state game against Western Australia. Barrie Robran kicked three in the first quarter and we won by 20 points but someone called Max George (who had big hair and a boot to match) dobbed six for the Sandgropers.  

Those state games opened our eyes to the West. We had never heard of Brian Peake, Graham Melrose or Stephen Michael but loved seeing them up against our blokes. Now what were mysterious teams like East and South Fremantle are represented by the Dockers.

Today’s match is a slog. Overnight rain has turned the surface into a pond and the match is a rolling scrum. The deep thump of every kick sends a cloud of spray off the leather. Collisions are violent. Players sit on their haunches after contests gathering themselves to go again.

This season Brenton Sanderson and the Crows seem to be struggling with what musicians call the difficult second album.

Sando had his entire football life to pour into the first season. Based around his twin muses Walker and Tippett, every track was a hit and fans sang along all the way to within a kick of the grand final. This year with Tippett in Sydney and Walker on crutches the season sounds like a cobbled collection of songs about airports and hotel rooms.

Today the reinvented forward line is Patrick Dangerfield isolating Ryan Crowley one out inside the 50.

A high ball lobs in, Dangerfield nudges Crowley under it, gathers the loose ball and goals. Then he does it again. Crowley catches an earful from most of the Crows forwards and the Fremantle runner.

As the rain slashes into our faces and ponchos are untangled, a woman uncaps her thermos and slowly pours a lamb curry into a bowl. The aroma is so exotic and unexpected it distracts me as Fremantle goals. I miss another as the woman reveals half a dozen pappadams in a Tupperware container. It’s killing me.

At half time I meet Nick Harmsen for a drink. Nick is the doyen of the South Australian Parliamentary Press Gallery and can always be relied on for clear perspective on politics and football.

He says in the old days a Dockers match could be 100 point win or loss. These days it is likely to be only a few points.

He’s right. The second half shows the men of Lyon to be as organised as is possible with 36 athletes chasing an oval shaped cake of soap in a swimming pool.  

There is a hint of old Docker mad-cappery when Michael Johnson runs into the goal post trying to stop a score. More Dangerfield magic puts the home side ahead.

Fremantle responds with two quick goals and it’s over. As we leave the ground the wind whips around the wet concrete. The Goalkicker’s bar is empty and uninviting.

When this ground was built brothers Mark and Steve Pavlich played for West Torrens and dreamed of getting a state game. A quick run through The Football Record (which resembles a box of used tissues) shows Fremantle has seven SANFL players on its list including Steve’s son Matthew.

The game has grown up. Football Park has served its purpose but it feels like time to move back to the city.





Fremantle 2.1 6.4 8.4 10.6 (66)

Adelaide    3.5 4.5 6.8 8.11 (59)



Fremantle: Suban 2, Sutcliffe, Mzungu, Crozier, Ballantyne, Mayne, Clarke, Fyfe, Barlow

Adelaide: Dangerfield 3, Jenkins, Porplyzia, Petrenko, Laird, Douglas


Fremantle: Barlow, Mundy, Johnson, Hill, Duffield

Adelaide: Dangerfield, Sloane, Laird, Jacobs


27, 684


3 Barlow (F) 2 Dangerfield (A)  1 Mundy (F)


About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.


  1. mickey randall says

    Really enjoyed this Michael. Footy must return to the city for Adelaide to grow. It should be exciting. My first visit to the Docklands confirmed this as it gave me insight into what a night at the footy could be like.
    Footy park has served its purpose; straight after the final siren, bring in the bulldozers.

  2. Ben Footner says

    Dead right. Has served it’s purpose, but when it comes to the crunch it’s a cold concrete bowl deep in North Western suburbia that is neither convenient or inviting for supporters. I’ve always felt it lacked atmosphere as well.

  3. Lovely piece Michael. Ken Farmer always says Brylcreem, World of Sports and Gordon Schwartz to me. Though I know he was much greater than that as a full forward – I only remember him as a sports show panellist.
    Being brought up on West Torrens of the 60’s and 70’s I have clear memories of Steve and Mark Pavlich. Steve a mercurial barrel chested half forward. Mark a ball magnet on-baller and awkward kick if memory holds true.
    Matthew is at least 6 inches taller and the silk department for skills compared to the previous generation.
    Good match report – how is Scott Thompson travelling? Seemed to get plenty of touches going on the stats, but he seems on the decline this season. The Dockers mid field is the equal of any in the comp.

  4. Neil Belford says

    Nice story Michael – My friend Les Everett and I shared the same sentiment about West Lakes as we sat in a Taxi for an eternity trying to get back into the city.

    In fact I remarked – Victoria made the first move to the public-transport-free suburban white elephant at Waverley, and then set about fixing the problem a couple of decades later; for their own reasons Adelaide followed with West Lakes – a slightly more accessible, slightly less desolate version of Waverley, and has now set about fixing the problem while Perth seems determined to repeat the mistakes of history with the oh-so Casino friendly lunacy planned the football public. Nothing about the WA solution is resolved, other than that it is going to be built on a rubbish tip on top of a swamp that is inaccessible by car or public transport, unless your starting point is Burswood Casino. I’m not sure what fruit cake could think getting 40,000 cars in and out of a dead end street is a good idea. Probably the same one who thinks public transport users like to change their transport vehicle mid trip and get dropped off and picked up a kilometre from their destination.

    The power of vested interest is amazing.

  5. Darren Venn says

    Nicely said Mike. From ’74 until ’82 I must have gone to 100’s of games at Footy Park – or Pleurisy Park – as Mum would call it: “Rug up,” she’d say, “you’ll catch a death-of-cold down there”. I remember having to leave Cumberland Park hours before the start, to connect with another bus to the ground, and as we crossed the muddy car park, it was only then that we noticed that no matter what mum made us wear, along with our own beanies and scarves, we were still cold. Yeah, as kids you get on with it as we did, but why did it always seem colder down there than the suburb we left?

    I never really liked the place as the black & gold team I followed seemed better suited to a dry ground and the player I loved also…so Footy Park, with its cold south-westerlies and swampy surface…never grabbed my heart…well you said it best Mike: when wet, the ball is like an oval shaped cake of soap…
    The highlight I recall, was lining up for a hot pasty, but sitting down on those aluminium seats was a killer. Your sand-shoes were muddy from the car park and your bum – numb from the ice-cold seats. And then if you lost, going home was a never-ending cold and miserable journey.

    Sure things have improved since those days, but the thought of all of us heading into town (the direction of all forms of transport), watching a match on an iconic oval whose shape resembles the MCG (or visa-versa!) and that win or loose, after the match, we can go to numerous restaurants or bars…we might even have a South Bank to walk to after the match!
    Yes Footy Park has served its purpose … And as for the special Goalkicker’s bar… surely there will be a spot for it in our new home of footy…after all Mike, all we have to do, is move the b/w pics…

  6. Mark Duffett says

    One of my earliest footy memories is of Max George kicking 10 goals in successive games for Central District at Elizabeth Oval circa 1978. Think he only spent a couple of seasons there before returning to WA.

  7. Footy trips to Adelaide will be wonderful when they start playing at the Oval. This one was pretty good too.

    My votes

    3. The game
    2. Chatting to Steve & Jan Pavlich
    1. Seeing Frank Yamma busking off Rundle Mall

    I refuse to provide the names of the two brilliant restaurants I visited.

  8. Mark Schwerdt says

    Did anyone else go to the 1976 SANFL GF which was so crowded that they had to let latecomers sit inside the fence (ie on the oval just outside the boundary).

    The dozen or so Year 11 schoolmates that had made the trek from Elizabeth saw the lineup for the buses in Currie St snake around into King William St, so we decided instead to catch two taxis and ended up just a few rows back behind the northernmost coaches box. A good move, even though the latecomers were even closer to the action.

    And didn’t Rick Davies have a big day

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