Cat burglars – were the Crows the great thieves of 1997?

1997 was a pretty top year for me. The Crows won their first AFL premiership in only their seventh season in the competition, Norwood won their first SANFL premiership since the history making side of 1984 (the only SANFL side to have won the premiership from 5th spot). On a personal note I started going out with the love of my life and the mother of my children (the same woman thankfully).

Something that has stood out to me since that wonderful year (particularly after reading Kerrie Soraghan’s laments of prelims past for the Bulldogs) is that I’m not sure there is a premiership in living memory that more clubs’ supporters think was stolen from them (perhaps enhancing the irony that has always accompanied the ‘respected by our foes’ part of the Crows’ club song).

After finishing 4th at the end of the minor round the Crows won four finals to take the cup – against West Coast and Geelong at home and the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda at the MCG. Now I’m not aware of any West Coast supporters harbouring grudges about 1997, but supporters of our other three opponents still won’t return our calls. In fact the only long-held football injustice I hear more about here in SA is Sturt supporters complaining about the umpiring in the 1978 grand final. Given I was all of 23 months old at the time and living in Canberra I can understand why I still get grief about that at games.

So by my count that means the Crows stole the premiership from three ‘rightful’ groups of fans – a most accomplished feat. This, perhaps, further enhances Malcolm Blight’s claims to messiahdom – making three premierships out of one is very much a loaves and fishes trick. So let’s examine the claims of the three aggrieved parties.


Geelong travelled to Football Park on a Saturday evening in the second week of the finals. There was some consternation over the choice of venue, Geelong believing that they should have the right to host the game given their higher ladder finish at the end of the minor round (note: West Coast was in exactly the same position as Geelong, having to play away to the more lowly ranked team in North Melbourne in the second week of the finals, so I’m not sure where that grievance comes from and don’t get me started about the venue for the 1993 prelim). What followed was an enthralling game of AFL football.

The key point of controversy came late into the third quarter when, with the Cats leading by eight points and kicking with the breeze, Glenn Kilpatrick bombed the ball into Geelong’s forward line and Leigh Colbert appeared to mark the ball about 35 metres out only to have the umpire call play on. Even Aleem Dar would have paid that catch (and Stuart Broad probably would have walked too). However, to hear a Geelong fan tell it you would think this pivotal moment occurred with seconds to go in the last quarter, such is the significance they suggest/imply it had on the outcome of the match. It also ignores the fact that this chain of play started from a tripping free kick paid to Geelong when the TV footage shows the standing Geelong player appearing to kick (or at least vigorously remonstrate with his foot) the prone Crows player. Not to mention Geelong’s last goal of the match that quite clearly came off Mark Bickley.

(Highly biased) Verdict: Geelong’s claims to have been robbed of a premiership are highly dubious. A dodgy umpiring decision in the third quarter of the game (that would have given the player a shot at goal, by no means a guaranteed score) was just one of many questionable calls against both sides that evening. Even had that decision had the influence many believe, the Cats still would have needed to beat both the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda – more highly credentialed teams that season. Seventeen years later and after so much success in the intervening period, it’s probably time to move on.

Western Bulldogs

My heart really bleeds for Western Bulldogs supporters (no, seriously). Play this game 10 times and the Bulldogs would win eight of them. With the Coleman Medallist (Modra) off the ground injured and leading by 25 points early in the last quarter, the Bulldogs should have had every expectation of cruising to victory. Even the commentators had starting talking about how the Bulldogs should be preparing for next week’s grand final. Buying a comfortable couch wasn’t mentioned as an option. As it turned out Malcolm Blight and Darren Jarman had other ideas and Neil Craig’s (then fitness coach) superfit Crows ran over the top of them and then gamely held on once they hit the front. Added to that the Bulldogs missing three rolled gold opportunities to kick the winning goal and they were proper unlucky to lose that match.

(Highly biased) Verdict: the Western Bulldogs have reasonable claims that the Crows nicked a premiership from them. They should have won that game and would have had reasonable claims to beat St Kilda in the grand final.

St Kilda

A lot of St Kilda fans felt they had reasonable claims on the 1997 premiership. Finishing top of the ladder after the minor round and seeing off the best team of the period, North Melbourne, in the prelim, St Kilda justifiably entered the grand final as favourites. Being the better team in the first half likely reinforced that belief.

However, the Crows comprehensively outplayed the Saints in the second half, led by the emergence of a young Andrew McLeod (thanks Fremantle) in the midfield and the makeshift but highly effective forward line of Jarman and Ellen. Craig’s fitness regime clearly paid dividends again as the Crows ran out much the stronger team and the comfortable premiers. Based upon what happened on the ground that day, St Kilda fans should not consider themselves hard done by (well, not for this reason, anyway).

(Highly biased) Verdict: St Kilda’s claims about being robbed of a premiership are all about history and nothing at all to do with what happened on the day. The basic idea that they were more deserving of winning the premiership, given the length of time since they last won one, is interesting given had they played Geelong or the Bulldogs in the grand final they would have been playing a team with a greater historical claim on a premiership. Again, it is probably time to move on given Stephen Milne has cost them two flags since then.

After all that, the most the Crows should reasonably be accused of in the theft department is depriving the Bulldogs of a grand final spot. Even then it was only because the opportunity was presented to them by a team unable to land the killer blow. But then again, that’s one of the great things about footy – fans having things to get unreasonably angry about. Having a crack at umpires would be less fun if you had to have a balanced opinion. Also, I used to really believe that Port Power would strategically drop players to the Magpies and call players up from the Redlegs whenever there was a Port Adelaide / Norwood match in the offing (especially the times Wanganeen and Tredrea kicked massive bags against us in the mid 2000s). But I’m over that now. Mostly.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. David, one of the problems Geelong encountered in 1997 was losing key players to injuries at finals time.

    The worst being the loss of Paul Lynch. A smart player who suffered from chronic hamstring injuries during his career, 1997 was the best season of his career, only to do his hammy in the first week of the finals.

    As they say, that’s history.


  2. Mark 'swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m still baffled by the way we were able to win in ’98, given that we were flogged in the first week of the finals by Melbourne …

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    David top article spot on re the Geelong part yes cats supporters seen to think the
    Colbert mark was with seconds to go and totally correct the crows should have received a free kick leading up to the mark
    Western Bulldogs it is never mentioned that the crows squandered opportunities early in the game and at 1 stage had kicked 1 7 13 ( yes lucky that the goal umpire gave
    Libbas a point not a goal ) but we did run over them
    St Kilda crows creamed them after half time ( minor point Ellen was actually playing half back flank again by then and incredibly kicked 3 of his 5 gls from HBF )
    A lot of Premierships have a huge element of luck in them which 97 certainly did but the crows played the best footy overall in September which is what counts
    Des Foster paying the mark to Phil Gallagher in 78 is still one of the greatest decisions ever Go the Legs ! Thanks Dave

  4. Neil Anderson says

    Yes, I should have looked away and left the comments for someone like Kerrie to reply. A true words-smith and founder of the Tragician web-site, largely because of the 1997 prelim.
    But like Pavlov’s Bulldog, I was sucked in as all those horrible memories came back in what was a fair summation on your part. Thank you for being gentle.
    The key to Bulldog anguish can be found when you mentioned the Crows won the flag in only their seventh season. At that stage the Bulldogs were up to season forty-three waiting for their second flag and the under-fifty year olds thought they might actually see the Dogs play in a GF and possibly win one.
    This hope and expectation was off the scale after finishing second last the year before.
    I see you mentioned Shane Ellen’s name. He was a fringe-player with the Dogs and from memory ended up being quite the goal-kicker for the Crows in those finals.
    Just another little back-hander from that time to add to our disappointment when an ex-Bulldog reserves player ends up with a premiership medal and champions such as Grant, West, Smith and Liberatore are denied the opportunity.

  5. Dave,
    I was at the Prelim finals in 1997 and 1998 – as well as one other semi-final in 1997 and then ultimately was lucky enough to see the Crows win both their Premierships at the G. That meant a lot of travelling from the S/East of SA – but worth every hour behind the wheel. I vividly remember the WB fans in the (I think) Olympic stand nosebleed section in the 1997 Prelim who almost as a single unit stood up and left at 3/4 time. We (Crows supporters) questioned why they were leaving and, again in chorus, they responded “We’re going to line up to get our grand final tickets – the game’s over”.Possibly only topped by Libba dry-humping a team member after kicking the best-celebrated point since Barry Breen’s 1966 match-winner!
    Ahhh… to be a Doggies supporter hey!



  6. Dennis Gedling says

    Through all our ineptitude in the 90s this finals series was the one that hurt even more than the GF losses. That was a great team we had with many veterans firing their last shot. To lose Lynch as said above didn’t help. Scheduling a game against 7th placed North Melbourne on a Sunday night at the MCG didn’t help either. When people got critical about Geelong getting a home final at KP had a go at me I pointed to the way were treated in that finals series. Not that it helped us against the Dockers either….

    After we went down to the Crows I knew that team was done.

  7. Peter Schumacher says

    These GF wins weren’t as good as GWS on Satdy but I was screaming the whole time during both games from my vantage point Mooloolaba in Qld.

  8. matt watson says

    To put it mildly, I don’t like the Adelaide Crows at all…

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