Port Adelaide celebrates its 150th season this year by being proud of its past - and knowing the club's heritage is a strong cornerstone for its bold future. Michelangelo Rucci looks at what drives the Port Adelaide Football Club: Premierships.
"We exist to win premierships ..."
And there is quite a collection of trophies at the Port Adelaide Football Club to test those who have to fend off the tarnish with a good cloth and a tin of Brasso metal polish:
(1) from the national AFL in 2004
(36) from the various forms of the SANFL since 1877 ... and the list is too long to repeat
(4) from the Champions of Australia battles with VFA-VFL premiers before World War I
(2) from the SA Patriotic Football League that defied the concept of league football stopping in South Australia during World War I (1916, defeating West Torrens at Hindmarsh; and 1917 at Alberton)
(1) with West Torrens in 1942 when the SANFL had its eight clubs merge for a four-team competition during World War II rather than go into recess in a repeat of the previous world conflict
(2) national pre-season crowns in the AFL in 2001 and 2002
(1) "night premiership" in the SANFL in 1989
A grand total of 47 trophies won either in long-form seasons, play-offs or knock-out competitions since being a foundation member of the SA Football Association (later SANFL) in 1877, seven years after the club's inauguration.
No other Australian league football club can claim such a honour board - and line-up of premiership teams. The "walk of fame" must make an impression on every Port Adelaide player as he enters the Allan Scott Headquarters at Alberton to pass the photo gallery of premiership groups presented on the wall to the changerooms.
Outside the Port Adelaide Football Club, there has been an appreciation - even an admiration - for the "Port Adelaide way" to repetitive success. But it is very rare for the "outsider" to understand that there is a way that separates Port Adelaide from the rest - as the club's patriarch, Fos Williams, intended.
In 1980, as Port Adelaide sought to complete a record-breaking season with the triple crown of premiership, leading goalkicker (Tim Evans) and Magarey Medallist (Russell Ebert, for a record fourth time), The Advertiser chief football writer Geoff Kingston was commissioned to write the lead story of Saturday's sports section - for grand final day - to explain the "Port Adelaide way".
There were in the 1961 All-Australian's essay all the concepts of strength from stability (Bob McLean was in his 32nd year as club secretary/general manager); drive from successful on-field achievers as coaches (John Cahill was guiding the club to its fourth grand final in five years seeking a third premiership) and that power from those Port Adelaide fans who thrived on being "us" rather than "them".
And there was that issue of getting past the Cheltenham cemetery ...
A year later, as Port Adelaide was again in the grand final, this time against Glenelg, Kingston was compelled to go down the same path to explain why "Port Adelaide is so successful". Remarkably, he submitted - and had published - the same essay with the grand final count attributed to the Port Adelaide Football Club increased by one ... and the forecast on the premiership tally to rise by one.
Kingston was making a far-from-subtle point. A year on, Port Adelaide was again in the premiership frame. The opponent had changed, but the way to the same result - bringing the SANFL's Thomas Seymour Hill premiership trophy to rest at Alberton for another 51 weeks - had not.
Same story, same quotes, same result.
Inside the walls at Alberton, the understanding of the "Port Adelaide way" is best captured in the word of the "creed" written by Williams when he returned to Alberton as a non-playing coach in 1962.
Williams, who as a playing and non-playing coach established an unbroken run of 13 grand finals (1953-1958 as captain-coach and 1962-1968) with nine premierships, including five-in-a-row from 1954), started the creed with:
"We the players and management of the Port Adelaide Football Club accept the heritage which players and administrators have passed down to us; in so doing, we do not intend to rest in idleness, but shall strive with all our power to further this club’s unexcelled achievements.
"To do this we believe there is great merit and noble achievements in winning a premiership ..."
Port Adelaide exists to win premierships ...
There are probably three critical moments in the club's 150-year story when the aspiration for premiership success brings a new edge to the Port Adelaide Football Club - and, by extension, Australian football.
In chronological order, the first is with the leadership of Robert Cruickshank in the late 1800s. Born at Birkenhead in 1865 (five years before the club's start), the legal eagle Cruickshank became a powerbroker in many sports in the Port Adelaide district - rowing (his first love), yachting, horse racing, cycling and football.
As was noted in his obituaries in 1922, the making of Port Adelaide as the team to surpass Norwood and South Adelaide from the foundation years of SA league football was Cruickshank: "The Port Adelaide Football Club was never in better hands than when Mr. Cruickshank was secretary from 1889 to 1891."
Cruickshank was club president in 1901, 1911 and 1912 with his service at Alberton interrupted with duty as SA Football League chairman.
Cruickshank's legacy at Port Adelaide is the first era of "professionalism" in atttitude and work ethic - rather than earnings - as he built successful a football team on selective recruiting and demanding every player train as he was to play - or not be allowed to play at all.
The record of success from 1889 to the outbreak of World War I - four Champions of Australia titles and seven premierships, including the "Invincibles" of 1914 - are the living tribute to Cruickshank's vision and the first foundation block in Port Adelaide's successful heritage.
Moment No. 2 is marked by Williams' arrival at Alberton from West Adelaide in 1950 after Port Adelaide's first choice for coach, South Adelaide hero Jim Deane, was unavailable. It leads to the Golden Era that with the 1965 SANFL premiership (the club's 23rd) marks Port Adelaide as SA's most-successful league football club.
The Williams-McLean partnership, the six-in-a-row premiership run with the sixth flag sealed under Geof Motley's rule as captain-coach and the domination of SANFL football in the 1950s and 1960s gave substance to all Williams intended with his legacy that is written in his creed.
And the third defining moment in Port Adelaide heritage is spread across the 15 seasons from first seeking an AFL licence in 1990 and achieving the first national league flag in 2004. Success is repeatedly achieved after being knocked to the canvas - the Supreme Court action in 1990 that has the AFL tear up its deal with Port Adelaide; the "choking" sessions in the 2001, 2002 and 2003 final series that has coach Mark Williams make an unforgettable entry to the MCG, pulling at his club tie as the clock drains time on the 2004 grand final against Brisbane.
This is Port Adelaide, the club that exists to win premierships.
THE BEST FIVE
IT is an era of lists - and which are the top-five flags from those 37 SANFL-AFL premierships won by Port Adelaide?
- 2004, AFL: Port Adelaide d Brisbane, 17.11 (113) to 10.13 (73)
They choked no more ... although there was one mighty scare at the start of the preliminary final against St Kilda at Football Park that dramatically changed as the Port Adelaide players gained from an unscheduled "time out" 11 minutes into the first quarter as the field was cleared after fans invaded to congratulate St Kilda key forward Fraser Gehrig for his 100th goal.
Port Adelaide claimed its first national league title by ending the three-flag run of Brisbane - and after dominating the AFL home-and-away series with 16 wins in 2001, 18 and the minor premiership in 2002, again 18 and the McClelland Trophy in 2003 and 17 and the third consecutive McClelland in 2004 - a record of 69 wins from 88 games in four minor rounds.
The blue AFL flag that sits between the red SANFL flags on the wall in the training centre at Alberton is one of the hardest-earned treasures of the Port Adelaide Football Club's 150-year story - and a tribute to a club's determination to not be beaten, on or off the field.
- 1977, SANFL: Port Adelaide d Glenelg, 17.11 (113) to 16.9 (105)
Captain Russell Ebert's acceptance speech said it all: "It took a bloody long time, but by geez it's worth it.''
After rising to the top of the SANFL's premiership tally with the 1965 title, Port Adelaide endured losing the 1966, 1967 and 1968 grand finals to Sturt, 1971 and 1972 to North Adelaide and lost the supposedly unlosable grand final to Sturt in a lock-out Football Park in 1976. The premiership drought was the club's longest: 12 years.
But from the ashes of defeat in 1976, coach John Cahill (who did not lose another grand final as he achieved a record 10 SANFL premierships) there was a determination to not fail again - and the challenging ride to the 1977 SANFL centenary flag does stand as one of Port Adelaide's finest achievements.
- 1965, SANFL: Port Adelaide d Sturt, 12.8 (80) to 12.5 (77)
Port Adelaide's last grand final triumph on Adelaide Oval marked Fos Williams' ninth premiership (then an SANFL record); the flag that made the club the most successful in SANFL league football (23 premierships) and remains the match with the largest crowd at the Oval: 62,543.
And it is still one of the greatest clashes in SA league football history with a dramatic finish as Port Adelaide - after commanding a 29-point lead at three quarter-time - thwarts a fast-finishing but inaccurate Sturt side.
Geof Motley collected the Thomas Seymour Hill premiership trophy (inaugurated in 1963) for the second time and his record ninth premiership as a player. The Golden Era that began with Williams' move to Alberton in 1950 was measured by 10 premierships in 16 seasons - and no ranking of lower than third.
- 1914, SANFL: Port Adelaide d North Adelaide, 13.15 (93) to 1.8 (14)
Let the record speak for itself - Port Adelaide was unbeaten in 12 home-and-away games in which the team more than doubled the combined score of its six rivals; unbeaten in two finals against Sturt and North Adelaide with the grand final ending with a 79-point whitewash; Champions of Australia with a 34-point win against VFL premier Carlton; and a season finale against the "Best of SA" that ends with Port Adelaide winning by 58 points.
They were the "Invincibles".
And no team has come close to sharing this title with Port Adelaide that further dominated the SA football record with the 1914 Magarey Medallist, Jack Ashley, and the 1914 SAFL leading goalkicker, Jack Dunn (33 goals).
- 1954, SANFL: Port Adelaide d West Adelaide, 11.13 (79) to 10.16 (76)
Port Adelaide's record-breaking six-in-a-row premiership run began with a most-dramatic grand final victory that changed Adelaide Oval - and gave SA football a lasting tradition.
West Adelaide jumped Port Adelaide to lead 7.7 to 2.4 at quarter-time, but did not score in the second term that featured just one goal. West Adelaide captain Brian Faehse flattened Port Adelaide centreman Dave Boyd just before half-time - and was not penalised by umpire Ken Aplin. But the incident did spark the biggest on-field melee seen at the Oval in 25 years - and the need for races to the changerooms as the West Adelaide players were hounded while trying to get to their rooms at half-time.
Port Adelaide's overwhelming second half - with eight goals to three leading to a three-point winning margin - gave Williams his second flag from three grand finals in four years as coach. And reason to have SA Brewing bosses put Port Adelaide colours - rather than those of West Adelaide - at the top of the West End chimney in the first painting of an SA football tradition.