Adelaide Oval is set to start the next – and biggest chapter – in its 141-year history.
The first AFL match at the ground since the completion of its redevelopment is expected to attract the biggest crowd at the ground since football left in 1973.
While the future looks golden, it’s worth reflecting on why Adelaide Oval’s traditions made it such an attractive proposition.
“The first actual contest at Adelaide Oval was in December, 1873, in a cricket match between the British colonial-born and the SA-born SACA members,” sports historian Bernard Whimpress explained.
“The next sport at the venue was meeting of the Adelaide Amateur Athletics Club during September 1875.
“Football had its first games at Adelaide Oval in August 1877 between Adelaide and a team called St Kilda,” he said.
“Other sports including cycling (a track was put down in 1883), tennis, baseball, lacrosse, shinty (a form of hockey), field hockey, soccer, all codes of rugby and equestrian events have been held on the oval.
“It became the regular venue for football in 1878.”
And the winter game provided plenty of “big moments”.
Few evoked as much passion as the infamous Brian Faehse–Dave Boyd incident 60 years ago – a stoush so violent it led to the permanent the installation of a tunnel from the change-rooms for the players.
In the Port v West Adelaide Oval season decider of 1954, Faehse flattened one of Port’s favourite sons, the 1956 Magarey Medallist Dave Boyd.
Magpie fans in the Sir Edwin Smith Stand didn’t like what happened to their champion and set upon the West Adelaide players as they made their way through the crowd to the dressing room.
Punches were thrown and players kicked, with some West players and officials unable to make it to the change-rooms until it was time to return to the ground for the second half.
Port Adelaide came from behind to win and started a record six-year premiership run.
“Yes there was a bit of an altercation just before half time,” Magpies premiership player Basil Jaggard recalled.
“Walking back to the charge rooms was a bit hazardous in those days and it did take some time to get there.
“It was the start of a great era and we won all close games as well.”
Jaggard was shown the ground for the first time since its completion on Tuesday and said the new venue “took his breath away”.
One of the greatest premiership monments came in 1964, when Neil Kerley led South Adelaide from bottom the previous season to an elusive flag.
One of the Panthers’ stars of that era, Alf Skuse now lives in Gawler. He epitomised the era; not only did he play SANFL, he was a Bay Sheffield winner, an apprentice jockey and is still a “premier two” lawn bowler today. He played on Magpies hard man Neville ‘Chicken” Hayes in the ’64 Grand Final.
“Port were still coming at us half way through the last quarter,” recalled Skuse, who was notoriously inaccurate in front of goal.
“I actually kicked one (a goal) and then Daisy (Ian Day) capped his career with a goal.
“We certainly didn’t want a repeat of the second semi final went we went down by a point – and we weren’t got to let that happen. When the siren sounded South had collected its first win in 26 years and last one for half a century.”
Team-mate Graham Durbridge remembers being mobbed by supporters.
He didn’t even see the Thomas Seymour Hill trophy being presented to Neil Kerley.
“It was bedlam,” Durbridge continued.
On that day, a record crowd of 56,353 patrons crammed into Adelaide Oval.
The biggest crowd at Adelaide Oval would come the following year.
In 1965, Sturt, who had finished third the season prior, reached the grand final and 62,543 fans crammed in.
It’s the highest Adelaide Oval crowd to this day.
They got their money’s worth with Sturt falling short by just 3 points against Port Adelaide.
Sturt, however, would win the next five premierships.
The last, and perhaps one of the most famous SANFL Grand Finals on Adelaide Oval, was the 1973 clash between North Adelaide and Glenelg.
The Bays won an enthralling contest by seven points, with a goal on the siren by John Sandilands.
A member of North Adelaide Grand Final side that day was Yorke Peninsula farmer Bronte Mumford.
“It was a great game of football, which really could have gone either way,” Mumford explained.
“We had our chances.
“I stood the resting ruck rovers (Graham) Cornes and (Peter) Marker that day, and while Cornes kicked that (winning) goal in the last quarter I was happy neither had much influence on the contest.
“While guys like ‘KG’ Cunningham said it was one of the greatest Grand Finals they have seen, it was harder to comprehend it from our (North’s) perspective as we lost.”
Mumford is coming to the “Showdown” with great mate and 2013 AFL Hall of Fame inductee Rick Davies and he is looking forward to having a “cleansing ale” in the bar named after the Double Blues champion.
In the Glenelg side that year was a Broken Hill export and former VFL player Steve Hywood.
“That Grand Final against North Adelaide was a very hot day with a northerly wind blowing,” Hywood told InDaily.
“It was a great game of footy, full of physical contests and great skills. It must have been a crowd of 55,000 plus and the noise was tremendous.
“I stood Charlie Payne, John Plumber and later in the game Adrian Rebbeck.
“It was a high scoring game and one of the high watermarks of my career.”
Footy had its golden times at West lakes from 1974, but in time the stadium would age and the fans’ expectations outstripped what the windy and open ground could deliver.
Moving footy back to the city was put on the sporting agenda by SACA president Ian McLachlan in late 2007 and backed by state Liberal Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith in February 2008.
Labor’s Treasurer Kevin Foley responded to the pressure by throwing a $100 million redevelopment promise the way of the SANFL and its two AFL clubs.
But the public pressure for change built and in time, Foley, a political realist, backed the move back to the city.
Cricket had already started a redevelopment, rebuilding the western stand.
Before the redevelopment of the southern and eastern ends started, AFL made a “guest appearance” at the Oval when Port Adelaide defeated the Melbourne Demons by eight points and patrons got a first glimpse of what the future held.
The fans are ready, the Oval is ready and the players are rearing to go.
Crows midfielder Rory Sloane said this week the build-up has “been insane”.
His team mate, ruckman Sam Jacobs, said: “I can’t wait to get there – a packed brand new oval in a ‘Showdown’.”
Saturday’s Showdown will be followed by another blockbuster – Adelaide v Sydney a week later.
Adelaide Oval’s new era is just beginning.
– with Kevin Naughton
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