After decades of success in the SANFL, Port transitioned into the AFL in 1997. Photo via portadelaide.com.au

After nearly a decade of battling, Port Adelaide made its entry to the AFL competition. We reflect on the move which was anything but smooth sailing.

This upcoming AFL season marks 25 years since Port Adelaide made its move into the AFL however, it was a far from a straightforward process for the club.

The transition for Port Adelaide from a SANFL powerhouse to an AFL club was not the smoothest period in the club’s history. From trying to put forth a sustainable model for the AFL side, to keeping the club afloat in the SANFL and dealing with the animosity from other clubs, there were a lot of moving pieces in the 1990s.

Port began the ambitious bid to have a team in the AFL

Because of Port Adelaide’s plans to enter the AFL in 1990, the relationships between the club and the other SANFL clubs were tenuous, to say the least. When the news did filter through Port Adelaide was trying to enter the AFL, battle lines were drawn.

Some of the local media labelled the club selfish, arrogant, traitors, callous, and had essentially sold out South Australian football in order to enter the AFL. The move divided fans, families, and friendships as the enormity of what the club was trying to do and what it would mean for the competition revealed itself. A real hatred for Port Adelaide had now developed around the league.

In August of 1990, a temporary injunction was won by Glenelg to stop the club from dealing with the AFL. Soon, other clubs in Sturt, West Torrens, and South Adelaide acted as well, but did so separately. The SANFL, along with its other clubs gave the AFL a different option, a merged state team that would enter the league instead of Port. That team would then become known as the Adelaide Crows.

One man who had a ringside seat to his club’s ambitions was seven-time premiership player and former Port Adelaide captain Tim Ginever.

He was an active player when the club made the move to embark on its AFL journey in 1990 and remains one of the team’s most decorated players.

The Port Adelaide legend spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum and gave an insight into what it was like around the club during one of the most important moments in its history.

“For starters, it was amazing the way it went down,” Ginever said.

“For players, we had absolutely no clue, didn’t know it was happening behind the scenes and everything else. When it did happen, it was quite amazing because, for us, we won back-to-back (premierships) at that stage. We were travelling pretty okay.

“But it just seemed like once that happened, we kicked into another gear.”

AFL bid gave the 1990 Magpies inspiration

Ginever remembers the club going through a year of dominance in 1990 that ended up in another Premiership. Gun full forward Scott Hodges kicked a still SANFL record 153 goals for the season. He added that his club’s ambition to have an AFL team inspired the playing group to achieve the ultimate success in 1990.

“The following games, I think if you look them up, they were just massive wins,” Ginever said.

“It was just an amazing time because you sort of, as a player at the time, we went, wow, this is huge, is it right, is it wrong, we didn’t really know.

“But what we did know was it was us versus the world and it was fantastic. Just the way we like it. It really did I think, inspire us players and it was such a bold move.

Port Adelaide celebrates winning the 1990 SANFL Grand Final. Photo via portadelaide.com.au

“We had to make sure that on the field we were showing that here is the reason why we are having a crack, because we think we are good enough.

“It was just an amazing run and some of the wins… Scotty Hodges, wow did he turn it on, it was a miracle year for him, 153 goals, still a record. I think it was just an amazing time in my time at the club.”

Ginever did reveal that the following year, in 1991, the club suffered from its efforts in trying to get into the AFL. Several players departed and the club suffered as a result.

It was bundled out of the finals series early on. However in 1992, the team returned to its lofty heights with another premiership.

“At the time there was a lot of work done, of course, to make sure we submitted our submission for the second license,” he said.

“The work that was done was amazing. But from a player’s point of view, it just came back onto us. We lost something like 14 players off our list at the end of 1990 that went either into the AFL or retired and moved on. So, it was quite a hit on the playing list.

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“We didn’t go that well in ’91 and we got bundled out pretty quickly in an elimination final. Then the following year, we just really started redeveloping with the kids. Blokes like Brett Chalmers, Nathan Buckley played in ’92 and we just had a really good year again.

Financially, the AFL bid was tough on Port Adelaide. The club did not have the means to continue the push. Ginever says that after a talk with then-President Greg Boulton, the reasons why the club stopped its AFL bid were evident.

“You knew the work going on in the background,” he said.

“I remember asking Greg Boulton who was the president, I just said ‘why did we lose in 1990?’ He just said, ‘look when you go to war, you got to have a good war chest.’ He said we just didn’t have a big war chest and we couldn’t keep fighting. So, he said, right let’s lose the battle, but win the war.

“So, what they did from 1990 onwards was to basically build the war chest again. To make sure we were ready money-wise for when we went in.

“Again, it was an interesting time as a player because the message was, well, you’ve got to win the flag, or we don’t do our chances any good getting into the AFL. So, I loved that. I loved the expectation, the pressure and because for us, that’s what we wanted to do anyway,” he finished.

1994 Grand Final pivotal in AFL push

Ginever recalls the 1994 Grand Final as the crowning moment for the club in its AFL push. A tough year that culminated in an incredible premiership win.

Down by 35 points to Woodville-West Torrens in the first quarter, Port stormed home to win by 37 points. Scott Hodges was the game-winner, kicking six goals.

“If you had to script, feel-good sporting movie, you would put ’94 together,” he said.

“The way it panned out and the way we went about it. The way we won, and I know that Brian Cunningham was telling me that they were sitting in the stands, Ross Oakley and Alan Schwab. They were the heads of the AFL at the time.

“Of course, that Grand Final was an incredible comeback, and the noise in the last quarter, they said, ‘wow this is as loud as the MCG’. It was that impressive.

Tim Ginever holds the premiership cup aloft in 1994. Photo via portadelaide.com.au

“After the game, I could see board members jumping on each other and hugging and kissing. I’m thinking this means a lot and it did. I think it just solidified why it has to be Port Adelaide (into the AFL). I think it was only a few months later it was decided we would be the second license in 94.

“We eventually got in (the AFL), in ’97 so it was really, I call it probably the crusade years. When we were fighting every week to make sure that we were the second license.”

The Magpies could not be associated with the Port Adelaide AFL side

With Port Adelaide now having had an AFL team for 25 years, Ginever says it has worked out as well as it possibly could.

He revealed that the way the move was presented to the players, they were heading to the AFL. But would later find out, there would have to be two teams, the Magpies AND the AFL team.

The former club captain says that having two separate teams changed the entire dynamic of the club’s push into the AFL.

“I think it’s done as well as it possibly could,” Ginever said.

“I think the spanner in the works that really made it difficult was the unexpected task of keeping a side in both comps.

“Because we, as players thought and we were planning, a lot of us were obviously on the wrong end of 30. A lot of us were sort of planning our life after when in the AFL. A few blokes said do we go to one club and play there or whatever.

“We were talking as if, because the way it was presented to us was, we were going into the AFL and that we were leaving the SANFL competition.

“When it didn’t happen that way, Brian Cunningham, I remember interviewing him about it and he said it was basically you got the second license. Oh but by the way, you got to have a team in the SANFL as well.

With the financial aspect of trying to keep both the Magpies and the AFL side afloat, Ginever recalls the financial model the club used was not ideal.

There was because there was no other avenue streams for the club at the time. Only money from player transfers was the initial income for the club.

“It was like ‘well, how is this going to work?’ and in the end, it couldn’t work,” he said. “Unfortunately you sort of knew that the model just didn’t have enough financial strength to it.

“The initial income came from the transfer of all the players that were on our list like Michael Wilson, Darren Mead, these sorts of blokes.

“So that was the initial injection of money. But then there was no, besides your sponsorship and raffles and things like that, the income model wasn’t great.”

The tug of war between two Port Adelaide “sides”

Because the club was fighting to have two separate teams, Ginever recalls the money tug of war between the Magpies and the AFL team. He said there is only one Port Adelaide. He believes that only now, has it all started to settle.

The Port Adelaide merger allows both the previous history and the current history of the club to co-exist.

“What probably everyone underestimated during that time was just all the emotional equity is in that guernsey,” he said.

“You couldn’t allow it to disintegrate, and the model was just getting harder and harder to sustain. Even pursing the lease on the Prince of Wales in an attempt to keep alive. But it was just a model that was bleeding every year.

“I think it also restricted our AFL ambitions. Because you had a bit of a tug of war with the emotional equity of the Magpies and your aspirations for AFL.

“For me, it just caused this horrible confusion about who was Port Adelaide. As I have always stated, there is only one Port Adelaide. There’s only one postcode, you cannot have the two. It was a difficult time for Port Adelaide supporters, a really difficult time.

“So it went on until the one club merger, I think came in 2011. The model now from 2014 in the last eight years, I think it has just settled everything down as to who Port Adelaide is. You can really tap into that rich vein of history while trying to be setting the pace at the top level,” Ginever finished.

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