02/03/2024

Port Adelaide donning the Prison Bar jumper after Showdown 49. Picture: Port Adelaide.

Showdowns are becoming hotter off the field than on while Port Adelaide and the Crows trade barbs, challenge claims on heritage and dismiss rights to jumpers. But there also are growing rough edges to the rivalry.

By Michelangelo Rucci

Showdowns are becoming all talk. And a lot of trash talk. 

On the field, Port Adelaide has put together a streak of three consecutive derby wins against Adelaide by margins of 57 points in 2019, 75 points last season and on Saturday night, at a slippery Adelaide Oval, by 49 points.

In each of these derbies, Port Adelaide has more than doubled Adelaide’s score.

Adding the two pre-season thrashings at Alberton and Noarlunga this year, the combined winning margin for Port Adelaide in the past five derbies is 304 points.

Hardly true to the image of a rivalry that defies form, the premiership table or the bookmakers.

Off the field, Port Adelaide and the Crows are trading blows in a much more keenly contested form of verbal showdowns.

But there is much thrown into the debate that does not stand up when put under pressure.

The most-recent Showdown – won by at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night – proved that off the field the rivalry is as intense as it was before the first derby at Football Park in April 1997…or anything that unfolded while Port Adelaide waited for its AFL licence after the failed bid to advance its club to a national platform in 1990.

In the lead-up to Showdown LXIX, Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks tried to suggest the South Australian derby rivalry was based on “mutual respect”…and quickly realised it was easier to sell the image of Crows forward Tom Lynch “not carrying an injury”.

“The clubs hate each other. And we love that,” Nicks said.

“That is what sport is about. There are rivalries across every sport across the world. We have one of the best with the Showdown.”

Port Adelaide football chief Chris Davies on Showdown eve on Friday made sure the derby had a new chapter in its “hate file” when he explained the deep-seated roots to the rivalry saying: “(Adelaide’s view of Port Adelaide is based on) a whole heap of professional jealousy around what our club has been able to achieve over time…whereas our meaning for disliking the Adelaide footy club is a little bit deeper.”

There are some at West Lakes and in the Crows supporter base who insist Port Adelaide has won just one AFL premiership (in 2004) and that this “Port Adelaide” has no claim to SANFL premierships (of which there are 36 on display in the trophy cabinet at Alberton).

It is fascinating how Adelaide Football Club servants, media-placed ambassadors and fans declare with conviction that they know more of Port Adelaide’s history than the Port Adelaide Football Club itself.

Unlike the other non-Victorian AFL teams called second into market, Port Adelaide has not fallen into a shadow in the derby rivalry as highlighted by its 25-24 lead on the Showdown ledger.

In Perth, Fremantle trails West Coast 20-32 on the Western Derby ledger; in Queensland, Gold Coast is 6-13 down on Brisbane; and in New South Wales, Greater Western Sydney is 8-12 behind Sydney in the Battle of the Bridge.

The Showdown rivalry is built on extraordinary heat on and off the field. And there is more and more myth being loaded into the Showdown legend.

So as the Showdown approaches its 50th edition, there are some big questions to be asked – and answered – before the South Australian derby becomes mired by debates that become tiresome and silly.

Davies’ remarks about how Port Adelaide is seen – and portrayed – by the intown rival begs these questions on historical relevance:

IS the Port Adelaide in the AFL today the same Port Adelaide Football Club that is accused of “treachery” to the SANFL for seeking a place in the expanding, nationally inclined VFL in 1990? 

IS the Port Adelaide in the AFL today the club that made its case from 1992-1994 for the second SA-based AFL licence on the basis of its premiership success in the State league from 1877 and well-established supporter base…or a new “franchise” concocted in a marketing workshop at AFL House?

Too often – and very often in the same breath – Crows supporters can remarkably claim Port Adelaide is a new club that has little history that dates to AFL entry in 1997 AND also is the black sheep of SA football that was “Judas” in 1990?

At the same time, as Davies highlighted, Crows fans want to dismiss Port Adelaide is the club that has played in many football leagues and is rich in history since 1870 – but also maintain the Port Adelaide in the AFL is the same club that created the most tumultuous events in SA football history in 1990. 

It cannot be both.

The Port Adelaide Football Club in the AFL earned its national league licence like no other club added to the VFL-AFL competition since national expansion began in 1987.

It came to the AFL as a long-established football club – founded in 1870. The AFL Commission sought an established club with history and a deeply entrenched supporter base – and it certainly gained this with Port Adelaide.

The ill-thought decision at the SANFL table to demand there be a “Port Adelaide Magpies” in the State league but total separation of AFL and SANFL teams at Alberton (forcing the SANFL squads to train at Ethelton) did create unnecessary and damaging confusion. 

Port Adelaide did carry more than a century of football history to the AFL. Those who deny it can only be jealous of that history, as Davies suggests.

Port Adelaide chief executive Matthew Richardson notes the “them and us” divide that put the Port Adelaide Football Club against every other SANFL club throughout the 20th century lives on with the Showdown rivalry.

It is a theme that deserves to be highlighted with a speciality jumper in derbies, just as Collingwood and Essendon have a speciality guernsey for their Anzac Day encounter.

“It’s a cultural divide about what we stand for and where both clubs have come from,” says Richardson.

“The Adelaide Football Club was established by the SANFL and our nine rival SANFL clubs as composite team to deny Port Adelaide entry into the AFL in 1990.

“Even in 1994, when the SANFL was deciding which club should hold the State’s second national league licence, despite the AFL imploring there was only one option, the SANFL clubs were again forming alliances to ensure it was not Port Adelaide – Norwood-Sturt; Glenelg-South Adelaide and everyone else in the so-called ‘cartel’.”

Richardson notes despite the dark images cast on his club, “we make decisions – that in time prove to be the right decisions – in the best interests of Port Adelaide and South Australian football; it has been that way for 100 years and it will not change!”

Next on the Showdown agenda is the jumper saga that is to have a sequel after Port Adelaide and Collingwood agree to have Port Adelaide adopt its traditional black-and-white bars jumper as its derby uniform.

New Adelaide Football Club chairman John Olsen says he will not endorse Port Adelaide wearing the bars in Showdowns hosted by the Crows.

Port Adelaide president David Koch was quick to fire back at Olsen during the Showdown lunch at the SA Press Club at the InterContinental Hotel on Friday afternoon.

KOCH: “You think a (club) president can veto what a visiting team wears?”

OLSEN: “Yes!”

Does Olsen now tell Collingwood it cannot wear its traditional black-and-white stripes at Adelaide Oval and must develop a distinctly different “away” jumper that will not upset Crows fans?

Does every team when listed as the “away” team just wear a white top and white shorts with colour only permitted for the AFL and sponsors’ logos?

Does Koch tell Olsen that Port Adelaide will not allow the Crows to wear their tricolor jumper because it offends Port Adelaide fans who feel the Adelaide Football Club has hijacked the State colours of red, gold and blue…just as they tried with the State jumper almost a decade ago?

It might be worth noting how the Crows players feel about Port Adelaide wearing the bars in Showdowns regardless of which derby rival is listed as the home team at Adelaide Oval.

Veteran Crows defender Daniel Talia says: “To be honest, it doesn’t worry us (as players). I don’t really understand all the history behind their jumper. I’m not into it…

“Just beating them is enough for me. Every time we win the Showdown, there is no better feeling.”

Crows midfielder Rory Laird adds: “They can wear what they like … it does not bother me.”

The clubs should decide what they want to wear.

The AFL should be the only body that has veto rights based on making sure designs offer enough variation to avoid a clash in the game’s presentation on the field and for the television audience.

As for the Showdown rivalry, it has more boiling off the field than on…

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