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Bye-bye Magpies? Port boss issues SANFL ultimatum

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Port Adelaide chairman David Koch says the expanding VFL will be “the best second tier competition in the country” for player development as he intensified his club’s threat to secede from the SANFL – a move that could threaten the 151-year-old Magpies brand.

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The Power president – who has led the charge on the club’s recent failed bid to wear its traditional black and white ‘prison bars’ guernsey in AFL Showdowns – said the state league’s management made Port feel “a little unwanted”, suggesting the AFL team’s football department had lobbied to join the burgeoning national reserves.

The Victorian Football League returned from a cancelled 2020 season with a new configuration, incorporating the North East Australian Football League to include AFL reserves sides from New South Wales and Queensland.

Speaking before last week’s Showdown at an SA Press Club lunch, Koch gave a bullish response when asked about Port’s future in the SANFL, where it has won 36 premierships.

“Being a foundation member of the SANFL, and a big contributor to its development, we want to stay in the SANFL, but it makes it very hard for us – very hard,” he said.

“And you do feel more than a little unwanted when you don’t get invited to put a women’s team in the local comp [and] when the SANFL goes out on a limb – unlike any other second-tier comp – with coming up with its own rules that differ from the AFL’s.”

He said the club’s AFL-listed players moving between the leagues were “playing under one set of rules one week” and another the next “if they come up to the AFL”.

“That’s a massive disadvantage to the two AFL clubs for their extended squad, to actually play under a different set of rules when every other club that’s in a second tier [competition] has unified rules right throughout the country,” Koch said.

Port have sought to incorporate their magpies legacy in AFL branding. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

He also bemoaned “the limitations on who you can have playing”.

“It makes it difficult, and when you have a football department that goes, ‘Is it becoming too hard?’, you go, ‘Remember the history of the place’,” he said.

“We’d love to stay in the SANFL, but… if we’re disadvantaged too much further you say to yourself – ‘Well, why?’

“Should we go into a national reserves comp? Because that will become the best second tier comp in the country to develop your players.

“It’s a serious discussion.”

SA Football Commission chair Rob Kerin told InDaily he had been made aware of Koch’s comments.

“We’re very keen that we see a future for the Magpies in the SANFL – and we’d want to ensure the identity of the Magpies and prison-bar jumper survive for many years to come,” he said.

A Port fan brandishes the prison-bar guernsey design. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

There would be serious doubts as to whether the Magpies could retain their name or their traditional strip if they entered a national reserves competition that included Collingwood.

The traditional Magpies logo has been removed from the club’s SANFL jumpers after Port moved to its recent ‘one-club’ branding ahead of its 150th anniversary last year.

Port and the Crows were barred from the SANFL in 2020 as the AFL sought to deal with a season curtailed by COVID-19, but are both contracted with the league until the end of 2028.

Those contracts are eligible to be reviewed annually by the SANFL and contain a clause allowing a 12-month notice termination period.

SANFL CEO Darren Chandler told InDaily the current SANFL competition structure was “by far the best in Australia and is supported by both AFL clubs”.

“The Port Adelaide and Adelaide football clubs remain committed to competing in the SANFL State League until at least 2028, and we certainly hope beyond that,” he said in a statement.

“We have a good relationship with both Port Adelaide and Adelaide football clubs and we continue to discuss and review the competition rules on an annual basis.

“As a League, we will continue to balance what’s best for football in South Australia, ensuring we remain the best State League competition in the nation.”

However, Koch was scathing of the eight SANFL member clubs and the league in general, saying “the idea is to rig the competition to make the AFL clubs as least competitive as possible – but still close enough that their supporters come and financially help the SANFL”.

“It’s a balancing act for them – but a balancing act that if they tip too much one way, we’re going to have all sorts of repercussions,” he warned.

Koch’s rhetoric is an escalation of tensions that have simmered for years, and which were exacerbated by the SANFL’s recent decision not to adopt new AFL conventions regarding the use of medical substitutes.

In March, Port football manager Chris Davies called the decision “a microcosm of what we are facing with the SANFL on an increasingly regular basis”.

“We’re now at a point where we have written to the AFL to highlight that these issues, when grouped, see us competing under materially different conditions to those of our AFL competitors,” he said in a statement at the time.

“There can be no denying that the current environment compromises our ability to develop the talent available to our playing list when compared to our competitors in the AFL competition.”

However, the club distanced itself somewhat from Koch’s rhetoric today, with CEO Matthew Richardson telling InDaily in a statement: “As a foundation club, we remain committed to the SANFL.”

“If there comes a time when we feel the SANFL competition has been engineered in such a way that we can no longer develop our players in the same way as other AFL clubs, then we will need to consider our position,” he added.

“However, any speculation regarding Port Adelaide leaving the SANFL is premature.

“Therefore, any speculation regarding Port Adelaide’s participation in a national VFL reserves competition is equally premature.”

He did not address questions about what such a move would mean for the Magpies name and guernsey.

Port flagged its intentions yesterday to bid for an AFLW team to enter the women’s league by the season commencing in December 2022.

Koch’s comments came despite both he and Crows chair John Olsen agreeing at the same event that the AFL was too Victorian-centric.

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