‘You feel superhuman’: Fiacchi on Prison Bar jumper

You’ll struggle to find someone who lives and breathes Port Adelaide more than George Fiacchi.

The tough defender accomplished plenty at Alberton before being inducted into its Hall of Fame.

Jack Hudson: You grew up in a family that had little idea on Aussie Rules football. So, how did you get to here?

George Fiacchi: I’ve had a bit of time to reflect recently.

My brother, who is six years older than me, he was playing football.

I just followed up, and I started kicking the footy around, and one of my uncles bought me a pair of black and white hooped socks in the early 1970s and that’s what made me a Port Adelaide supporter.

That’s how I got into it, I didn’t have a lot of family influence aside from my brother, but I just started playing at Rosewater and went through the system there.

I got to Port Adelaide at under 15s, and worked my way through 17s, 19s, reserves and into the league side.

I was very lucky to have a successful career playing in seven premierships, 236 games and a lot of fun.

JH: What was it like at Rosewater growing up?

GF: It was a great football club, it was great for me as a junior.

I had some great coaches there, now when I do reflect, I can see the ones that really helped me get through a lot of difficult times and made me realise that it set me on the path and said this is what you needed to do to develop.

Yes, you’ve got a lot of natural ability, but you need to work hard, you need to work on this part of the game, and they set me up for success.

That’s what you want when you’re playing junior footy, you want your coaches to be out there to develop players and instil the will to win, but it’s also about developing and watching players go through the system.

JH: When was the first time you walked through the doors at Port Adelaide?

GF: I reckon I was (as a player) about 13-years-old.

I was training with the under 15 squad back then, that was the only squad they had.

It was the first time I got to put on a Port Adelaide guernsey.

I played against Norwood in the Kookaburra Cup, and we had a win.

We ended up in Port Lincoln and played against a Port Lincoln combined side, which was our country zone.

A lot of those players that we played in that under 15 competition, we ended up playing with in league football.

It was unique, it was good to see.

JH: How early was it hammered into the players that “Port Adelaide exists to win”?

GF: As soon as you walk in the door, it’s crazy.

The expectations from the under 15 coaches, you are now at Port Adelaide, here’s a thing that you need to do to be Port Adelaide.

Silly things like if you see someone’s hand on the ground – step on it, that’s Port Adelaide.

I can do that, no problems at all.

But it really got hammered in when I was 17, I was training with the league squad, and they had a psychologist come through.

The psychologist said ‘look, I’ve gone through the history of the Port Adelaide Football Club’; there was probably about 120 years of history.

He worked out what Port Adelaide’s average position where they finish on the premiership table each year is.

I asked people the question, “what do you think Port Adelaide’s average year was?”, they always say maybe fourth or third.

An average year for Port Adelaide is to finish second, Port Adelaide plays in a grand final every year.

There’s the expectation.

It could’ve been a bit daunting, but we thought, ‘that’s fantastic, we play for this awesome club that has all its success and now it’s my opportunity to grow on that success’, which we were able to do.

Some people see that as pressure, and I say it’s not pressure, it’s expectation of a footy club; we should be proud of that.

It wasn’t always easy – my third league game, I look back now, we played Glenelg down at the Bay, and we got smashed.

I remember picking up the paper the next day and there was a statement that said, ‘this is the worst Port team since the war’.

I was thinking what have I done? I was thinking when the war was, about 40 years ago.

Then I thought, gee, I hope he’s not talking about World War I.

There were big expectations, but the biggest thing I found was the expectations of the supporters.

I grew up in the Port Adelaide area, I used to run around making out I was Russell Ebert, Brian Cunningham, Paul Belton, Andy Porplyzia, and they used to say on radio that these players were superheroes, and you’d hear these comments.

So, I believed as soon as you put on a Port Adelaide guernsey, you become superhuman.

I put my first Port guernsey on, I looked in the mirror, I said ‘oh no I’m in trouble here, I’m not superhuman’.

Until I ran out onto the field, the supporters and all the expectation, that’s what makes you superhuman.

They expect you to win, they even wrote the song “Magpies expect to win”.

It’s pressure you love; you know if you win, people are going to have a good week, they’re going to celebrate, and it makes your life a lot easier.

George Fiacchi the night of his Port Adelaide Hall of Fame induction. Picture: portadelaidefc.com.au.

JH: You won your first flag in 1988. What do you remember about that game?

GF: In 1988, it was funny.

I remember walking into the game and thinking, I don’t want to be overawed, I want to try and shut everything out, shut the noise out, don’t get caught up.

The preparation was unusual, back then we used to do motorcades through the city on the Friday, and it really threw your routine out.

I tried to shut it off, I remember at the end of the game and going to myself, why did you do that for?

I didn’t really remember a lot of it if I’m honest, I shut all the crowd out, the noise.

I remember the game itself and what was happening, it was the first time we beat Glenelg in a grand final…which happened quite regularly after that.

I don’t remember a lot about it, aside from we had one of the best defences you could have.

Our half-back line was Martin Leslie, who got drafted the following year as the first number one AFL draft pick and went to Brisbane.

We had Greg Phillips who I still say is the best player I’ve ever seen, and we had Bruce Abernathy, he was a multi-skilled player, he could run 60m, he could do everything.

Then Roger (Delaney) and I.

JH: Your partnership with Roger Delaney is fondly remembered by Port fans, how did you two connect so well?

GF: We’d been close for a long time, Rog and me.

I played for Rosewater and he played for Port Districts, he is a year younger than me, so we didn’t play a lot against each other.

But when we got to the club, we bonded and we just had some ground rules, it sounds really simple, but the ground rules were; Rog, the ball can’t go behind you, you see defenders push their player under the ball and the ball goes flying over the back, and the goal opens up for all the defenders.

The rule was Rog had to spoil it down, and I’d be running towards the boundary line, so hit it towards there.

We just had that understanding.

When Paul Rizonico came in, his role is at the back of the pack to make sure it doesn’t get through again, that’s how it all worked.

I still say Rog is the best kick I’ve ever seen, by foot he could hit anyone.

I just used to madly run, and he’d put the ball onto my chest.

I’d just keep running and running.

After a while, the opposition got a hold of it, and every time Rog got the ball, I reckon I had 20 opponents on me.

JH: In 1988, you played in the Anthony Williams tribute game, what was that day like?

GF: That was a very sad day.

I didn’t want to play in that game – I got a phone call on Friday from Ian McKenzie, who was the CEO at the time, and he rang me to say look, Anthony Williams has been in an accident at home, he was rebuilding a house with Steve (Williams), and Steve was there with him.

He said the walls collapsed on him, and he’s passed away.

I was just shattered, we were all close, we were all team-mates.

I wasn’t playing that day, I was in the Bs.

At the end of the conversation I said thanks for letting me know, and he said by the way, you’re playing, you’ve come up, Steve’s not playing.

I didn’t sleep at all that night, you’re upset, I remember waking up and I got out of bed at 7am, and I thought, what the hell am I going to do for the rest of the afternoon?

I ended up driving to my brother’s house and having a few kicks with my nephews, which became my routine for there on in.

For the next eight to 10 years, I’d wake up every morning, jump in the car and go have a kick with my nephews.

That game was hard, Norwood were on top of us at the start, and I remember Jack’s (Cahill) speeches before the game and at half-time, just so emotional.

It was amazing, I got this fantastic little war wound from that game, which I always call a trophy.

John Hall, their ruckman, decided to elbow me in the cheekbone, and I had about a dozen stitches across there.

So, every time I look at it, I go that was that game.

We ended up winning, we went down to the Williams’ house after the game, that was hard, that was bloody hard.

That was very emotional, Mark was there, Stephen, Fos and Von and Jenny, they were all so appreciative of us coming over.

We all shed tears and showed our support for the Williams family.

It’s a day I’d like to forget, but it’s also a day that people say was the making of my career, who’s to argue with them?

JH: 1990 was a full-on time in South Australian football, what was it like being at Port Adelaide while the AFL license issue was all going on?

GF: It was exciting for us as players, as we all thought this is a great opportunity, to be able to play in the number one competition in the country is great.

For Port Adelaide showing the initiative was great, but then legally all sorts of dramas happened.

It’s always been Port Adelaide against the rest of the world, and we thrive on that.

We just had to win that year, even though we didn’t get the license, we couldn’t allow Glenelg to beat us in that grand final, because we would’ve looked silly.

We tried and tried and tried and we knocked them over.

It’s one of those games personally I look back and that was a great game, that was one we had to win, there was so much pressure on us to perform as a club.

People don’t get it, they say “oh Port Adelaide ended up getting the next license.”

If Port Adelaide hadn’t made the 1990 bid, the second side from Adelaide would’ve been a composite side.

It wouldn’t have been Port Adelaide.

We were lucky that Ross Oakley realised that we forced the SANFL’s hand, and he guaranteed us a second license.

Otherwise, we would’ve been another SANFL club struggling to make ends meet surviving on meat raffles.

We’re not a $65 million football club playing in the AFL club.

George Fiacchi. Picture: portadelaidefc.com.au.

JH: You went onto win the Jack Oatey Medal in that game. How did it feel on a personal level?

GF: Defenders don’t normally win things like that, it’s usually midfielders win them.

It was a real privilege.

I tell people I think my best game was probably two weeks before, we played Glenelg and lost in the second semi-final.

I was in some pretty good form, and it was special, but again, it’s a team game, all you want to do is win.

To have one and to save some face for the footy club of what we went through trying to get into the AFL, we had to win.

It was very satisfying to have won and won the Jack Oatey Medal.

Another thing was, Rog didn’t play that game, and people say Rog carried me, and I say he couldn’t have carried me too much, I won a Jack Oatey Medal without him.

JH: After 1990 you won a further four flags; did you have a favourite?

GF: Not really, but if I look back.

1992 we played Glenelg again, it was one of those games, we had a freak playing with us at the time – Nathan Buckley.

He was just unbelievable to watch.

My memories of him were watching how arrogant he was.

It was raining and there was an inch of water on the ground, and he bounced the ball and it’s come back out to him.

He just could do no wrong, he won the best and fairest, the Magarey Medal, the Jack Oatey Medal, and the premiership, he did everything.

He said that was his goal, we said he can have personal goals, but you make sure you win that premiership, because team is first and individual stuff comes second.

1994 was that special game when we got smashed in that first quarter, we lost by 70 points two weeks prior to the Eagles, and just that will to win, that typical Port Adelaide.

We worked hard and harder, the grunt, there was nothing special, we broke them.

The last quarter we smashed them, Scott Hodges had a field day and kicked five goals, but being in defence, the ball hardly come back there.

We were just running, it was one of those awesome team games where we just looked like certain losers and turned it around and had probably one of the greatest wins in the club’s history.

Then 1995 and 1996, they were good as well, against Central District – they were up and coming.

We were able to knock them over, but if I picked one, 1990 would be my favourite, then after the 1994 one, because that was a very special game.

JH: You represented South Australia once in your career, when was that and what was it like?

GF: I did, now you’re testing me.

I think it was 1991, we played WA over there, we got done.

It was nice to represent the state, but it was something that I was like, it’s great, I’ve done it now.

My focus was always Port Adelaide, that’s all I dreamt of doing.

Whilst it’s nice to represent your state, it was never a major goal of mine.

JH: Further down the track you were on the board at Port, what was it like being on the other side of the club?

GF: It’s different, it’s good to get involved.

I mentioned this at the Hall of Fame, when I retired, I moved away from football, I got into media.

I thought I’ve got to become focused on the next stage of my career, there’s no point in hanging around a football club and telling people how good you were…even though I keep doing it.

I only got back on the board because the club was in trouble, we got the one club thing happening.

I was concerned that the one club thing wasn’t being taken seriously and people didn’t realise how important it is for Port Adelaide, it’s members and supporters that the club was brought together and treat it with respect.

To be honest, I had no fear, David Koch and the board they’re all over the one club stuff, they understand how important it is.

Being on the board is hard work. I’m not sure if you’ve sat in a board room listening to Kochie ramble on for five hours and you can’t change the channels; that’s real hard work.

It was good to get on the other side of the business end, I had a business background, it was good to be able to contribute to the club.

The past six years I was on the board, we had some amazing success, the move from Football Park to Adelaide Oval, we got the license back from the SANFL, we’re in control of our own destiny which is important.

The decisions we make aren’t scuttled by anyone else.

The only thing that really disappoints me is that we haven’t had the footy success that we probably deserve.

We’ve been underperforming, but I’m confident that’s not too far away.

JH: You were recently inducted into the Hall of Fame; how did that feel?

GF: It was a bit surreal, I was going how the hell did this happen? How did I get here?

This little Italian kid from Rosewater wasn’t supposed to be playing football, he wasn’t supposed to play league football for Port Adelaide, and certainly not in seven premierships, and now the Hall of Fame.

I’m still pinching myself now, I’m very flattered, I’m very honoured.

I don’t take it lightly, it’s something my kids are very proud of as well.

It’s one of the ultimate things you can achieve as a footballer.

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