How sweet it would have been. A Showdown to open Port Adelaide's home stand at Adelaide Oval in the 150th anniversary season. The derby ledger squared at 24-24 with a performance to honour the first wearing of the black-and-white bars in a Showdown.

Port Adelaide unbeaten after two rounds. In the spirit of the Showdown rivalry, leaving the Adelaide Football Club at 0-2 would be the icing on the cake. 

Such one-upmanship is all part of the dream weekend of every Port Adelaide fan.

This was yesterday ... and today we are in a battle of survival for our clubs, our traditions, our blockbuster rivalries, our bragging rights in a Showdown.

And the COVID-19 crisis in Australian football was not needed to remind the Port Adelaide supporters of the nightmare that grips every AFL fan today: Wondering if your club will be standing next season.

Port Adelaide's faithful has known of this torment in the SANFL, most notably before the "One Club" reunification of the Port Adelaide Football Club in 2011 after a two-year battle. It has known of the threat of the AFL team being rebadged, relocated, redefined amid the financial crises that peaked in 2012.

It was during this so-called "dark chapter" in the Port Adelaide story that the club's inaugural AFL president Greg Boulton offered sage advice to the AFL with this chilling reminder: "People barrack for a club ... not the game."

The message was to become very clear to all at AFL House. As much as the AFL Commission wanted the big league played in Adelaide, in those days at Football Park, every weekend, the fans wanted a club in their hearts every week.

"You don't socialise with the AFL ... you do with your club and the people who make up that club," Boulton said at the weekend as hundreds of thousands of Australians were forced to be without their clubs.

"Our enjoyment is not just the game (of Australian football); it is with our friends enjoying the moments at our clubs that bring us together as families.

"Look at the emotions that were shown at our 150th anniversary gala night last month (February). That was all without a game of football played that night. But there was a football club - and we know what that club means to the Port Adelaide people."

Boulton explains his theme was built on advancing John Kennedy's famous speech that declared: "Good players make good teams. Good teams win games. Great clubs win premierships."

Great clubs, notes Boulton, are built on more than great players or a legendary coach.

The game of Australian football is built on club culture - fans, members, volunteers and not private owners (as the AFL learned often in the 1980s and 1990s with West Coast, Sydney and Brisbane).

Boulton's point of people being emotionally invested in clubs - rather than the game of Australian football - was proven in the 1996 AFL season when VFL foundation club Fitzroy collapsed under financial pressure. Fitzroy's merger with the equally troubled Brisbane Bears in 1997 - opening up an AFL licence for Port Adelaide - gave the AFL Commission the chilling human count that underlines Boulton's theme.

The commission expected Fitzroy fans to be spread across three lines - those who would stick with the new Lions in Brisbane, those who would adopt North Melbourne as their new club and those who would defect to Carlton. Instead, many devoted Fitzroy supporters simply turned away from Australian football. They were lost to the game of Australian football. 

The game went on for everyone else, but their club at Fitzroy did not. In the SANFL context, many know the torment of West Torrens fans who also walked away from the game when their financially crippled club merged (successfully) with Woodville.

No surprise that the AFL Commission put mergers off the agenda after being proved wrong on Fitzroy.

No one can be sure when the AFL 2020 will resume. There is no doubt AFL clubs will change vastly under the economic refit forced by the financial drain created by COVID-19.

But Port Adelaide president David Koch is convinced all 18 AFL clubs will start Season 2021 - and, in contrast to the dog-eat-dog theme that is played out on the field, there will be unprecedented camaraderie off the field to ensure COVID-19 claims no team as its victim.

Club presidents giving a rival the "bird" on national television - as remembered with Sydney president Richard Colless' theatrical battles with Collingwood counterpart Eddie McGuire - would be out of order today. It is all too serious to be distracted by bragging rights or exclusive rights on black-and-white stripes.

"There is collaboration between the clubs. It always has been good, that is why the AFL has been the best-run sporting code in Australia," Koch said. "But what we are seeing now is everyone wanting to get through this crisis together - and a determination to not lose one club along the way.

"The co-operation between club presidents, club chief executives is true to that aim - in unity we will find our way to 2021 with all 18 clubs."

How does Australian football look in 2021. Clearly there will be smaller units and smaller budgets within each AFL club. But there is a mission to keep all 18 AFL teams.

"And," says Koch, "we can see already how the members of the clubs, despite their own economic difficulties that are growing in their homes, remain incredibly supportive. We owe it to them to find a way to keep their clubs going - and thriving, not just surviving.

"It will take time, but we will do it."

Only once has the VFL-AFL lost a club after a world crisis - University amid World War I a century ago. No-one within the game wants history to repeat with COVID-19.


Port Adelaide v Adelaide

Adelaide Oval


There will be a Showdown XLVIII ... one day, one day. Perhaps even a Friday night. One night, one night.


Five notes from the weekend


Injury reports are over-rated today. Fitness reports take on a new meaning in the next eight weeks.


Port Adelaide fans certainly enjoyed being dressed up with their black-and-white bars jumpers, even if they had nowhere to go with the Showdown attire. This phenomenon makes a stronger case for the bars to be assigned exclusively in AFL terms for the Showdowns, home AND away. It fits perfectly.


Port Adelaide now is almost certain to hold the Showdown Trophy/Shield for the longest period between derbies. It will be 330 days on May 31. Prepare a counter please.


Billy Frampton must wait to join Matthew Bode and Brad Symes in wearing the Crows colours against his former Port Adelaide team-mates in a Showdown. For the record, the first Port Adelaide player to cross the great divide to the intown rival - West Australian Ian Downsborough - played in two Showdowns in his three years in South Australia; both were with Port Adelaide in 1997.


Thank heavens "Never Tear Us Apart" was not played in an empty Adelaide Oval ... that would have been another reminder, as Bruce McAvaney said last week, of Australian football is built on the fervour of the fans on the terraces rather than in their lounge rooms. 


We keep waiting for May 31  - and live in hope (and not just for Australian football).