Unprecedented times, we're told of Australian football's lot today. For some perhaps, but not the Port Adelaide Football Club.
Across 150 years, Port Adelaide has seen the best of times - as noted with the unrivalled premiership collection at Alberton and the rise to the national stage with the AFL. But there also have been the worst of times, brought on by economic depressions, world wars and now - with the worst time possible considering the club's 150th anniversary celebrations - a worldwide pandemic.
Port Adelaide not only survives crises, it thrives to be a stronger football club when the game seeks to rise from its knees. It has been this way for the past 130 of Port Adelaide's 150 years.
After South Australia was wrecked by a national depression (from a land boom bust) in 1896 - forcing many Port Adelaide players to leave the state to find work - the club rose from a wooden spoon to the premiership in 1897 on the back of impressive off-field direction led by secretary Robert Cruickshank.
During World War I, there was for the first time - as will be repeated this season - no Port Adelaide involvement in contesting an SANFL-sanctioned and endorsed premiership. From January 17, 1916 - when the game was called to halt in Adelaide by the South Australian Football Association - to the end of 1918, Port Adelaide was expected to pack away its boots. In recognition of the public's wish for the game to continue, Port Adelaide set up its own league: The Patriotic Association (with the first two flags won by Port Adelaide in 1916 and 1917).
Today, the SANFL is off limits to Port Adelaide, but the club's grand ambitions live on in the national AFL competition with a non-asterisk premiership to be won.
This time, all that is being asked of the Port Adelaide players is to wash their hands, maintain social distancing .... and to take up battle from a luxury golf course on the Gold Coast. Different but not overly difficult by comparison to moments from 1915-1918 and 1939-1945 when Australia was at war.
From the end of the 1915 season, the club's players were being called by king and country to pick up a gun to defend the empire on the battlefields of Europe, from Flanders in northern France to Gallipoli in today's Turkey.
By 1919, Port Adelaide was regathering its playing troops at Alberton and mourning those who had made the ultimate sacrifice or returned home wounded.
Season 2020 does not look so bad when compared with 1916-1918.
With the "glorious return of peace," Port Adelaide's leadership declared in 1919, "sport may now be resumed with added zest." The senior squad reassembled at Alberton for football, after spending Christmas Day 1918 playing cricket at the club's first home at Glanville against Ethelton (Port Adelaide 176, with Shine Hosking top scoring with unbeaten 32, lost to Ethelton 255).
Amid the delight in reforming for football, there was the saddening acknowledgment that these Port Adelaide players were without their premiership comrades, William Irving Boon, Albert Chaplin and Joseph Charles Watson.
The club acknowledged they "made the supreme sacrifice and it is fitting and in keeping with the noble courage displayed by them that their club mates signify their deep respect and reverence".
These were truly unprecedented times.
Imagine having to wait more than three years to formally announce the award winners from the 1915 season in which Port Adelaide was a grand finalist (losing to Sturt). Finally, in January 1919, Port Adelaide was able to publicly acknowledge Henry Eaton as its best-and-fairest champion from 1915. One of the "Invincibles" of 1914, Eaton played the last of his 58 league games before war stopped the game in Adelaide. He returned to Port Adelaide after the war as a selector.
Contemplate three years without the best players available to the club and the league. On the eve of the 1919, one leading commentator wrote: " ... football appears to have sunk back so near to the stone ages that it will take some time to pick up the threads. In fact, we have just arrived at that stage that 'we don't know where we are'."
Sounds very similar to these "unprecedented times" when Australian football has been put on hold for almost three months and is unsure what will be left standing by the end of the season. Only then, on October 31 with the close of football's financial reporting year, will there will be an accurate count on the cost to the AFL game and all Australian football from the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the major consequences of today's crisis is the red ink saturating the financial accounts at AFL headquarters in Melbourne, the 18 national league clubs and the associated partners from ground managers to subsidiary leagues, such as the SANFL. There also is the "lost money" from once-in-a-generation opportunities, such as a 150th anniversary.
Many might ask where has the money from the "rivers of gold" that flowed into the AFL's treasury with Australian record television rights - of $2.5 billion for six seasons from 2017-2022 - gone?
It was no different on January 13, 1919 when the Port Adelaide Football Club was rebooted at the Port Adelaide Town Hall. The club's books remarkably had a credit balance after three years of no activity, a modest L18. The club leaders made the point "the Port Adelaide Football Club is a sports club and should not stow its money away." However, there was the growing want to keep some money aside for a "club room where discussions could take place which would be an inspiration for young players."
Investing back in football - and the football club - was a critical theme in Port Adelaide's battles for an independent AFL licence, a new stadium deal both at Football Park and the redeveloped Adelaide Oval and viable, sustainable business model from 2008-2012. It will be a paramount objective at Alberton post-COVID-19.
"Unprededented times" do seem to lead to similar results and changes.
All the angst felt last week with the announcement that Port Adelaide cannot take its place in the SANFL competition needs to be followed up an aspirational plan for 2021 and beyond.
And simply resuming from where 2019 ended might not be the best concept for this century.
This was the pro-active thinking in 1919 when there was a revolution to what existed beyond the Port Adelaide league team at Alberton. From the Daily Herald on Thursday, March 13, 1919 under the headline of "Port Adelaide B team": "A meeting of the Semaphore Central and Port Adelaide Junior Football Clubs was held on February 26 ... it was decided that both teams should form themselves into the Port Adelaide 'B' grade team. The prospects for the season are bright."
Keeping all Port Adelaide players together in one system is far from a new idea. If only it was so simple today ....
Clearly, the lessons from AFL entry in 1977 with the SA Football Commission ordering separation along national-State league lines to the "One Club" reunification in 2010-11 followed by consolidation in 2013-14, remind all that no good comes from having two Port Adelaide football clubs. The underlying message of the "Never Tear Us Apart" anthem should not be lost.
Australian football today has a grand opportunity to re-evaluate the "pyramid" that has the AFL system at the top of a game that became an "industry". The thought of AFL clubs being directly tied to the grassroots and the community - to be club's rather than franchises - should not be undersold nor dismissed with the argument of compromising the AFL national draft.
Electorate zones tying players to clubs - established by the SA Football Association in 1897 to create order in recruiting - have run their course. New zones tied to academy teams are a vision for the future.
Unprecedented times? Not completely. More so when you've been around for 150 years and have seen everything before - even pandemics (Spanish influenza a century ago).
FOOTNOTE: One of the finest features of the Port Adelaide Archives Collection is the chapter dedicated to those who have served to maintain the peace. The club's history committee has gone to great length to research every Port Adelaide player and official who has enlisted for service in war and in peace missions.
Many Port Adelaide devotees have successfully urged the AFL to recognise these servicemen in the annual roll call printed in the league's AFL Record during the Anzac Round.
This is not a new theme.
Well worth noting - and further investigating - are the minutes from the SA Football League meeting in the lead-up to league football resuming in 1919 after a three-year break. The league delegates moved the motion that: " ... a war roll of honour showing the senior footballers who had enlisted should be erected, and a suitable site for it would be the Cresswell Garden at the entrance of Adelaide Oval if permission could be secured in that respect ..."
This plan was met with applause, but remains unfulfilled. This is despite Adelaide newspapers noting "when the history of the Great War comes to be written, our footballers and all other representatives, and of those sports that make men better men will occupy a place of honour."
And: " ... prominent footballers, who before for the war, delighted the crowds with their skill ... Went away to play a manly part on the field of battle as they did on the sports field and gave their lives that others at home might enjoy peace and security. These men will be forever honoured and mourned ..."
Perhaps the moment has come this sentiment - and for that well-meant minute in the SANFL's books - to become a reality at Adelaide Oval.
Lest we forget.