Dear Port Adelaide fans: I’m terribly sorry you feel so “disappointed” about the Crows wearing a replica of the old South Australian state guernsey in one game this year.
Would you like me to pour you a cup of tea? Or maybe massage your shoulders?
Settle in, because I’m going to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, in an Adelaide far, far away, the city was divided into football tribes. Some of them were very old, like your mob, which joined the competition that came to be known as the SANFL in 1877. My mob Norwood, relative latecomers, joined the competition in 1878.
Some of the teams had extraordinary periods of dominance – Norwood in the first years of the comp and again in the 1920s; Port in the 1950s and the 1980s; Sturt ruled the late 1960s with a sublime run of five flags. Even West Adelaide had their time in the sun, during the first decade of the 20th century.
Some clubs enjoyed very little success. South Adelaide, one of the early powerhouses of the competition, captured its last premiership in 1964. Yet, you could argue that its long-suffering fans are the most loyal in the whole competition. To front up week after week in the face of such a drought of success? That’s passion.
Every year, the best players from the competition would be selected to play against some of the other states, wearing the state colours. The game that really counted was against Victoria. On rare occasions, we won, sparking wild celebrations.
In the early 1990s, your club was clearly the most successful in terms of Premierships won. But in a competition of such long history and passion, did this mean your club was of greater intrinsic value than any other? No. All of the teams had history, pride and passion worth preserving and celebrating. Well – that’s what most of us believed.
Your club’s custodians disagreed. They believed that Port was indeed greater than the whole, and decided to make a run for the big league – the infant AFL, which was, at the time, nothing more than a slightly expanded version of the VFL.
The rest of the SANFL clubs and fans were blindsided, so a hasty compromise was put together. The Adelaide Crows, wearing the state colours, would join the AFL – it would be “the team for all South Australians”. It was, at the time, a team put together with a few outsiders, but mostly star SANFL players – including from Port.
See what I”m getting at?
The SANFL competition was immediately affected. After decades of our best players streaming across the border chasing money and glory in the VFL, the presence of a local team laid further waste to the talent in the local competition. More than 100 years of history mattered little in the face of this new world of glitz and glamour.
A few years later, you joined the AFL – in doing so, you became the only existing club from a competition outside the VFL to be allowed in. It was a gift that no other SANFL fan will experience, at least in the foreseeable future.
I cannot even begin to imagine the joy of seeing Norwood players run on to the MCG in an AFL final – or even a home and away game.
Back to the story.
The fabric of the SANFL competition was again stretched thin. After some early success, your SANFL club – the Magpies – started to fray and falter, which was bittersweet to those of us who remembered the fierce battles of the past.
The SANFL was altered forever. No matter how much we told ourselves that it was “real” footy, old-fashioned suburban footy, it became a shadow of its former great self.
The days of standing room only crowds at tiny suburban grounds were over.
We would never again see some of the country’s best players slip on our club’s jumper while in their prime.
Premierships, while moments of undoubted joy, had lost a few degrees of sweetness.
Can you comprehend any of the sense of loss that the rest of us might feel?
Can you understand that, while many of us support the Crows in the AFL, our SANFL history is still vitally important to us? That we feel it slipping away as the new generations of football supporters only have eyes for the AFL? That we can see a day coming when the proud history of a club like Norwood will only be remembered by sad old timers (that would be us), regaling young bucks with stories while they try to disguise a yawn?
Can you grasp – in any way – that the proud history of the SANFL is something we want to celebrate, that we have a right to celebrate, through the achievements of the Adelaide Football Club?
No-one watching the Crows step out on to Adelaide Oval wearing a replica state jumper will equate these modern day players with the representative champions of the past. No-one believes that they have “won” a position in a state side.
It’s a nod – and a slight one at that – to what little living heritage remains for the legions of fans who grew up supporting SANFL clubs other than Port Adelaide, and who have followed an AFL club that was started by the SANFL and, in its early years, attempted to represent us all.
The links are tenuous, yes, I agree – nothing like your ability to barrack for the same Port Adelaide that was formed back in 1870, a fact you celebrate on the back of your AFL jumper. That’s a feeling that the rest of us will likely never know.
So will you give us this one nod to our past? Will you put yourselves in our shoes for a moment?
No. I see you’re still disappointed.
You don’t know the meaning of the word.
READ MORE: Crows surprised by jumper reaction
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