By Michelangelo Rucci
No-one did more to divide and unite South Australian football than Port Adelaide patriarch Fos Williams.
In club football, Williams built up the long-standing divide of “them” and “us” to enhance the rivalries in SANFL league football beyond the “traditional” Port Adelaide-Norwood line to include West Adelaide and then Sturt.
This theme lived on, after Williams, with Glenelg in the SANFL during the late 1970s to 1990 and lives on in the AFL with the remarkable Showdown rivalry with Adelaide. This is part of his legacy in Australian football.
In interstate football, Williams created – more than any other SANFL coach until Graham Cornes in the Origin era – a sense of pride and achievement with the South Australian State team.
He never suffered the curse of envy towards the Big V of Victoria; he simply accepted the challenge to live up to the standard bearer of Australian football during his era.
For this, the SANFL acknowledges the best South Australian player in State games with the Fos Williams Medal.
To win this award, in keeping with Williams’ pride in State teams, a player needs to live up to the spirit left by Williams in the red South Australian jumper.
The Fos Williams Medal fits perfectly with former Port Adelaide player Matthew Broadbent – a man with long-standing family traditions at Alberton – for his outstanding performance against Western Australia at Adelaide Oval on Saturday.
South Australia has worn that red jumper since everyone in South Australian sport decided in 1930 to unite behind red, gold and blue (while rejecting the magpie as the State teams’ mascot).
Many Port Adelaide champions have given that State football jumper as much – even more at times – than they did in club football. Williams and Bob Quinn stand out in this regard.
That guernsey is about unity not division. It represents what can be achieved when all of South Australian football works to a common cause, as noted at the weekend in victory against Western Australia.
It is not a jumper for a club to wear, more so when that club does not – slogans aside – represent all of South Australian football and is no longer a subsidiary of the SANFL.
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Again, at the weekend, there is the folly in print to suggest an AFL club wear the State jumper as its heritage uniform.
And in this misguided thesis is the notion that it would be the Port Adelaide Football Club that would lead the backlash or be most offended.
Check again who protested loudest when the State jumper almost became a marketing tool for an AFL club in 2014 when elite football was returning to Adelaide Oval.
These came from men without Port Adelaide heritage – and still Central District and Hawthorn hero John Platten, one of greatest State warriors, has his blood boil when there is the suggestion of the South Australian State jumper being (as the greats put it) hijacked by a club.
While some (or one) would seek to present Port Adelaide as a pariah in this folly, look at the origin of the loudest protests in 2014:
GARRY McINTOSH (Norwood): “If you’re trying to get one up on Port Adelaide, beat them when you play them. Beating them in the boardroom doesn’t count. That’s what happens when people in bullshit castles make bullshit decisions.”
MARK NALEY, a Fos Williams Medallist (South Adelaide): “How dare they. It’d be like Carlton wearing the Big V because it has a big membership and the right colours. It’s just ridiculous. I’m a Carlton person and I’d be against that.”
STEPHEN KERNAHAN (Glenelg): “The South Australian State jumper is pretty sacred. State team jumpers are for State team players. The South Australian jumper is for South Australians. It is meant for SA, not the Crows.
“I understand the Crows were the first SA team in the national competition and they are a big part of SA football. And, by the way, Port Adelaide has also added to that.
“But my father wore that state jumper to represent SA. So did I. So did many others. That jumper is sacred in my books.
“I spoke to (Collingwood president) Eddie McGuire today and suggested Carlton might wear the Big V in a heritage game. You can imagine the reaction. Clubs don’t get to wear state jumpers.”
Those who spoke out were South Australian without Port Adelaide heritage and included 1961 Magarey Medallist and Sturt premiership captain John Halbert who found the concept of a State team jumper used as a marketing tool by an AFL club as an act “that demeans the guernsey”.
Of greater merit for a public debate is where this cherished and protected State jumper should be seen.
The weekend proved – again – no senior State team should play a curtain raiser to an AFL game, as the South Australians and their West Australian guests did on Saturday. It is fine to accept these players deserve a run on Adelaide Oval.
But their SANFL-devoted fans also deserve to be there and not be charged AFL prices for tickets.
If there is no easy access to the State game, there should be free-to-air television coverage.
These are matters that should be taken up on a united front by South Australian football legends – not divisions by misappropriation of the State jumper.
Fos Williams would demand such. As a State hero more so than a Port Adelaide legend.