Round 15 – Port Adelaide v Richmond: Port Adelaide and me

Port Adelaide and Me

 

by Patrick Emery

 

Port Adelaide and I go a long way back.  The first game I can remember is the 1977 SANFL Grand Final, a tough, bruising encounter in which Port Adelaide defeated my local team, Glenelg, by 8 points.  Over the years Port Adelaide’s blend of skill, ne’er say die attitude and brutal on-field tactics would render many a game a painful experience.  Like Collingwood, Port Adelaide was a protagonist in a subliminal class war.  My parents – diehard Norwood supporters, whose recollection of Port’s ruthless tactics in the 1950s loomed large in their own football memories – attributed Port’s perennial success to its thuggish attitude and laissez-faire adherence to the spirit of the game.  But Port always won, and that’s what mattered.

 

Glenelg’s success in the 1970s and 1980s was perforated by Port Adelaide’s regular triumphs.  There was, however, the occasional conquest: Glenelg’s heart-stopping defeat of Port in the 1982 Preliminary Final is widely regarded as the club’s greatest victory.  With the Tigers six goals up in the second quarter, Port’s talented hard man David Granger (aka Grave Danger) came on the field and wreaked havoc.  YouTube has footage of Grainger’s infamous left-handed blow to Glenelg star Graham Cornes behind play.  Incongruously, Granger pleaded self-defence. The tribunal disagreed, and suspended him for 9 weeks, effectively ending Granger’s career.  Glenelg lost the Grand Final the next week, but in some ways that didn’t matter: we’d beaten those Port bastards.

 

The last SANFL game I attended was in 1988 at Football Park in the swampland-turned-suburban housing development of West Lakes.  On that day, true to form, Glenelg held Port close for three quarters before Port, led by the enigmatic Darren Smith – who, like many of his Port Adelaide team mates, was unable to reproduce his SANFL form for the Adelaide Crows – kicked away in the last quarter.  A roughly-hewn Port supporter bid my high school friends farewell as we left the ground mid-way through the last quarter.  “Where yagoin’ boys, fishin’?”  Yeah, we muttered in our halting adolescent voices.  But realising a clever rhetorical retort only likely to provoke a more violent response, we kept our heads down and slunk away quietly, our once-proud Tiger tails between our legs.

 

 

Port Adelaide had provoked the ire of the SANFL establishment by purporting to join the AFL in late 1990, before being usurped by the Adelaide Crows – a hastily cobbled together team with a liberal Glenelg contingent (including coach Graham Cornes).  Even while still living in Adelaide, I had never aligned myself with the Crows.  There was something embarrassingly provincial about the local media’s obsessive coverage of the Crows.  The club’s uniform – not to mention the players’ mullet haircuts – reminded me of the suburban nightclub dance floors I hoped desperately to banish from my memory. I had adopted Essendon as my VFL/AFL team, partly because of Essendon’s recruitment of Glenelg players in the 1980s (Paul Weston, David Grenvold and Steven Copping, the elastic armed forward whom Kevin Sheedy reportedly described as the best South Australian player to join the VFL).

 

By the time Port entered the competition in 1997, the Crows were perpetual underachievers and Port, AFL licence in hand, was rearing to stick it up the Adelaide football establishment.  Perhaps remembering Melbourne coach Norm Smith’s grudging compliment to Collingwood after the 1958 Grand Final (“I hate you bastards, but geez I respect you”) I told my parents that, when push came to shove – in Port’s case, it’d probably be an open handed swipe behind the play – I’d rather support a real team like Port rather than a contrived team like the Crows.  My mother was shocked and appalled, possibly more disappointed than if I’d announced I was dropping my tertiary studies to become an itinerant circus performer.

 

But it was idle threat, more a superficial statement of youthful defiance than an oath of allegiance. Port as an AFL team lacked the bite of its SANFL ancestor.  The teal uniform diluted the club’s abrasive edge, like The Warriors trading their leather jackets and denim jeans for pastel-coloured blazers and baggy cotton trousers.  Mark Williams took Port to a flag in 2004, but when the club imploded under the weight of warring egos (ironically, the same strong personalities who’d carried Port to repeated local success in decades previous), karma seemed to have hit Port with the force of a Dave Granger elbow.

 

Scroll forward 15 years, and my daughter – who once greeted the Friday night football with a raspberry and a derogatory comment about ‘stupid football’ – has morphed into a fanatical Richmond supporter.  As Essendon’s indulgence in high performance training saw it become a tragic under-performer in both the courts and on the field, I found myself drawn to the Tigers.  After all, they shared the same colours and logo as my once-beloved Glenelg; Richmond legend Royce Hart even snuck in a few games for the Bays during his national service tenure in 1969.   In 2014 our family attended its first game together; in 2015 we went to nine games, including the fateful Elimination Final when Richmond played to clichéd form and stumbled out of the finals.  Disappointment, I mused philosophically to my daughter after the family mood had evolved from sadness to reflection and hope for the future, is part of the contemporary Richmond experience.

 

And so it was that 2016 became a lesson in resilience in football faith.  Richmond’s season began with a stumble, progressing to a fall and cascading into a face-first fall into the puddle of premiership despair.  On social media the recriminations were delivered with the zeal of a Stalinist purge.  A roll call of players, officials and coaching staff was arraigned for public trial, only for the ever-hopeful Richmond fans forget it all when the Tigers snatched a last second victory over premiership contender Sydney.

 

Tonight my teenage daughter and I were in Adelaide to see Richmond play Port Adelaide at the recently restored Adelaide Oval.  The ground has changed a lot since the last time I’d been there: a minor round game in June 1984 when the exploits of Stephen Copping and Ross Gibbs (Bryce Gibbs’ moustachioed father) got the Bays over the line against home team South Adelaide.  The train is packed with Port supporters, and a health number of Richmond supporters.  We make a few friends, all of us casting a wish a positive Tiger display.

 

We’re on the eastern wing, adjacent to where the famed Victor Richardson Gates once stood.  We’re surrounded by teal, and when the crowd stands to sing along to INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart, I wince.  Maybe, I mutter under my breath, I can sing that same band’s Just Keep Walking at the end of the night.

 

The game is sloppy early, partly the result of the light rain falling, partly because of both teams’ poor skill level.  Justin Westhoff, the languid bearded utility who looks like he should be making cafe lattes in Northcote, incredibly drops a mark onto his foot and scores a freak goal to open proceedings.  Richmond steadies and Sam Lloyd kicks two consecutive goals.  “He’s the fourth most accurate goal kicker in 2016,” my daughter remarks, citing the feature in the Footy Record.

 

It’s Richmond by a few points at quarter time, and things aren’t going too bad.  By the beginning of the second quarter the rain is tumbling down, a little bit of Melbourne in the usually dry City of Churches.  Port is out of the blocks in a flash, with goals to Young and Dixon.  Taylor Hunt fluffs a handball and Chad Wingard, ever the brilliant opportunist, is on it in a flash and Port is out by three goals.  The bloke behind us is rising in voice, his commentary peppered with expletives and hearsay commentary on Richmond players’ psychological make-up.  Travis Boak has taken the game by the throat. It’s only a matter of time before he scores a goal himself, and when he does it’s a five goal buffer.

 

20 minutes into the quarter, and Richmond hasn’t looked like getting inside 50.  Brad Ebert is niggling Dustin Martin like an antagonistic kid brother. You sense Dusty wants to snot him, but knows that’d cost him four weeks in the stands. Trent Cotchin is lost at sea and only the ever reliable Alex Rance can hold his head high.  Jayden Short kicks across his body to reduce the margin.  Ty Vickery, arguably the most maligned player on the Tiger team at the present moment, runs onto a Shane Edwards long bomb and kicks his first.  Could this be the beginning of the comeback?

 

The players return from the main break, and the guy behind us is starting to cross the line from passionate fan to dickhead supporter, at one stage pulling out a politically incorrect phrase that would make libertarian Senate candidate David Leyonhelm blush with embarrassment.  Only in Adelaide would you hear that phrase, I think to myself.

 

Brad Ebert pulls down Connor Menadue in the Richmond goal square, a text-book tackle to warm the cockles of any coach’s heart.  Jack Riewoldt kicks a left-foot goal from 40 metres, and the margin is back to 17 points.  But within 60 seconds Travis Boak has snagged one off the ground and you can feel Port pick up the pace.  Richmond is handling the ball like a block of wet soap, and its forward line has been drenched in Clag glue.  Dylan Grimes spills a mark, and there’s Wingard again, another goal on the board.  Vickery gesticulates to a team mate after being ignored on a lead.  Minutes later he drops an easy mark, and karma has dealt him a cruel blow. An old Port bloke next to my mother turns in the direction of my daughter and deliberately claps a dropped Maric mark.  Still classy after all these years, these Port supporters.

 

The last quarter starts, and Port is up by 23 points.  Richmond has the intensity of a flu patient in a boxing ring, and Port knows it’s got this one in the bag.  Kane Mitchell snaps an incredible goal from the pocket and the proverbial big-boned opera singer is warming up her tonsils.  Riewoldt defies the boos from the crowd to kick his fourth, and Richmond’s only last quarter goal.  The siren can’t come soon enough and when it does, Port is victorious by 38 points, and Richmond’s finals hopes are more distant than Tony Abbott’s aspirations to return to the Lodge.

 

We trudge out, surrounded by a sea of teal and the occasional prison-bar Port jumper.  My mind is awash with painful sporting memories of my childhood.  Football trauma, thy name is Port Adelaide.

 

Best players:

 

Port Adelaide: Boak, Ebert, Westhoff

Richmond: Rance, Martin, Riewoldt

About Patrick Emery

Patrick Emery was a perennial half-back flanker in his distant football playing days, with pretensions to ruck-rover. He sincerely hopes the drop kick will one day return to its rightful role as the most celebrated of footballing skills.

Comments

  1. Well Patrick, some good old Bay articles of faith given another airing here I see. I ran through some of these arguments a couple of weeks ago in response to a similarly toned article. I do not condone or defend some of Grainger’s more violent episodes, but some have been inflated beyond reality and given a life longer than necessary by one G. Cornes for his nefarious purposes; almost as if only one club or player was ever responsible for any on-field violence.

    Can I refer you to some Glenelg sins in this area? Rod Burton, a State level player for Port, put out of League Football for ever by a punch to the front of his head by S. Hywood. One Tim Evans, a burly youth not given to fainting, “fainted” about 150 yards behind the play due to standing too close to Phillis’s fist. Your parents would no doubt remember the infamous Kerley/Nygaard matter whose victim apparently still struggles with eating. So it is not a one sided matter this. Norwood had C. Balme and Sturt even one Wally May.

    What I really like is regarding a Preliminary Final victory as the club’s ultimate win! Classic woolly headed Glenelg thinking; same as the line that they always “got revenge” for Grand Final defeats in the following year’s Anzac Day game! But then we raise Darren Smith; add in Scott Hodges and David Brown, all contracted, selected and paid by the Crows, but booed relentlessly by Crow “supporters” and you wonder why they never reached top gear with them? The same “supporters” who caused a cover to be installed over the player’s race at Football Park to stop them spitting on their own players. You are wise not to have aligned with such a Balance Sheet. And never mind, your team now has Troy Chaplin. Please do not take all this personally, just an attempt to balance the reporting of history which often seems a little monocular! And I hope you liked our new Oval, I have been going since 1961 and I reckon the new version is terrific, although I miss my old Moreton Bay Fig on the southern mound.

  2. PatrickE says:

    Hi Bucko,

    Glenelg’s history is indeed replete with sins of equivalent, if not worse calibre. The most egregious example that comes to mind is Scott Salisbury’s tackle on Greg Anderson in the 1986 preliminary final. While notionally within the rules of the game, Salisbury’s tackle caused Anderson to hit his head on the turf, forcing Anderson off the ground and out of the game. Salisbury got off at the tribunal because Anderson’s injury was not the direct result of the tackle. These days he’d have been given 6 minimum. David Holst took down a player or three in his time, including Tony Giles at the Bay in 1981. There are many more.

    The treatment of Port players by Crows supporters in the early days was embarrassing. I was at the Crows game just after Scott Hodges walked out on the club, only to return under sufferance. We were barracking for Essendon, and the commentary of some Crows fans toward Hodges was unimpressive, to say the least. And has Robert Shaw ever returned to South Australia after his atrocious treatment in the mid 1990s?

    The new stadium is excellent, in terms of access (straight across the river!), amenities, atmosphere and view – though Ted Whitten must surely be chuckling at the sight of a Four ‘n’ Twenty pies sign on the members’ stand!

  3. Yes, forgot about Holst/Giles, although I suspect it was a shirt front which was within the rules then. Also forgot the Basher Bickley/Wakelin matter…I must keep a written list! Now I think of it, Ralphy Sewer probably should be on the list too.

    Salisbury reached greater heights in the 1990 GF when he coughed up the pill in the 3rd. quarter when tackled by Wanganeen who goaled and we never looked back. Although G. Cornes said Glenelg had a better team on paper!!

    Suspect Bradman would roll in his grave if he could see the signs on the members’ these days!! Nugget Rees is about the only thing that hasn’t changed.

  4. chrism76 says:

    Great piece – one of the best I’ve read here all year.

    And just to clarify the above comment by PatrickE – Salisbury’s tackle on Anderson was very much outside of the rules, giving Anderson a coat hanger (Anderson’s eyes were on the ball, Salisbury’s far from it).
    Was a shocking tackle. Was at that game sitting in the PAFC Cheer Squad, and I’ve never seen such anger and hostility towards an opposition player – which led to the old chant by the Cheer Squad…

    “What do you do with a bay supporter
    What do you do with a Bay Supporter
    What do you do with a Bay supporter on a Saturday arvo
    Stab, stab, stab the bastard
    Stab, stab, stab the bastard
    Stab, stab, stab the bastard on a Saturday arvo.”

  5. PatrickE says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CnDQr4t4aI

    6:30 minute mark – ugly, ugly tackle, and worse than I remember it.

Leave a Comment

*