Port Adelaide takes on Fremantle in Perth on Sunday, but while 2015 marks the nineteenth season of the club travelling west in the AFL, it was actually the first interstate team from any of the states to visit WA.
Let’s jump in the time machine and head back to 1910, when football in Australia was very, very different to the game we know today…
A great year
Port Adelaide had a strong 1910 season, having topped the local SA Football League with a premiership win over Sturt by 19 points, and then vanquishing the other Magpies – Collingwood – to win its third Championship of Australia.
However, little is known about the club’s tour of Western Australia during the SAFL’s month-long sabbatical in July of that year.
Following its win over North Adelaide at Alberton Oval, the Magpies would jump in cabs and head to the Port to depart by the steamboat Karoola to Western Australia for their first tour of SA’s western neighbour.
A travelling party of 41 Port men, resplendent in black-and-white blazers and boater hats bearing the club’s official monogram, made the voyage to Albany and then Fremantle where they were met by representatives of the Western Australian Football League and the East Fremantle Football Club.
While Port would eventually take on East Fremantle, the Magpies’ first appointment was with the combined Goldfields team in Kalgoorlie.
Club kits: Gentlemen - both players and officials - wore club blazers and hats on official business, as shown left by club secretary James Hodge, while captain Jack Woolard models the club's playing uniform.
Supported with gracious concession from the WA government in fare prices is something scarcely imaginable today, but the hospitality of the locals was warmly appreciated by Port Adelaide at the time and made the club’s financial custodians sweat a little less at a time when the game was played by locals, for their local club, and for little more than pocket money.
Arriving at Kalgoorlie, the Magpies were greeted by members of the Goldfields Football League and its associated teams before going to train at the local ground.
Port took on the combined Goldfields side at Boulder Oval, just a few kilometres south of the main Kalgoorlie township.
In front of a large crowd of around 7,000, the Ports would fall just short of their rivals, with the locals claiming a comfortable 17-point win for the home crowd (perhaps all the toasts and celebrations of the visiting Magpies was a conspiracy to distract them from the task at hand).
Port Adelaide playing the combined goldfields team in Boulder, 1910.
Whatever the reason of Port Adelaide’s defeat, the club would make amends when it returned to Perth.
Once the fog had cleared for its second game day, Port Adelaide’s men prepared for their first encounter with East Fremantle.
A far smaller attendance at this game (owing to a tram strike) saw the Magpies run out narrow 12-point winners over the home team at what is now the WACA Ground.
Days later, Port would take on the combined WAFL side and chalk up another narrow win at the Fremantle Oval – this time by five points.
The Port Factor
Not unlike games across the country that would follow in later years, nor the relative popularity of Port games back home, these exhibition matches in WA would draw a crowd as noted in the local Westralian paper.
It seems Port’s reputation as a must-watch team was popular, even a century ago.
“The takings … are a long way ahead of anything hitherto registered for a similar engagement in the metropolitan area and they must have been extremely gratifying to all concerned,” wrote the Westralian’s reporters.
“The game, too, was worthy of the crowd and the glorious sunshine, for it was full of incident, and it fairly sparkled from end to end with flashes of brilliant play.
“From the time the ball was bounced until the conclusion of hostilities the players never spared themselves for a fraction of a second, and they kept the excitement of the spectators up to the highest pitch.”
Port Adelaide's team that played East Fremantle and the WAFL in Perth [pic: The Westralian]
Of Port Adelaide’s side, compliments were also forthcoming.
“They [Port Adelaide] are a remarkable fine set of sturdy, well-trained athletes, who apparently keep themselves in perfect condition and who play the game as it should be played. The outstanding features of the Port’s play were high marking, long kicking, judicious hand ball, terrific pace, and straight up the centre of the field whenever opportunity offered.”
Port Adelaide would return home to round out the 1910 season, including three finals wins over Torrens and eventually Sturt for the pennant, before later beating Collingwood for the national championship.
Trips west would follow for Port Adelaide in 1913 and 1939, while the club would otherwise host or play WAFL sides in organised interstate competitions in the decades leading up to its AFL entry.