Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alas Poor Port, I Knew Them Horatio...

Port Adelaide FC supporters are an odd bunch of creatures. For decades they’ve been beating their chests about how proud they are to support such a successful club and, in a similar mode to virtually any one-eyed supporter base, they refuse to listen to any opposing viewpoint, especially if it’s to the detriment of their own club. Nothing new there, tell a Collingwood supporter that their side is crap and, if they don’t hit you first, they’ll sit there and bore you senseless with stories not only about how great they are, but how stupid you are for not supporting them. Same with Manchester United supporters, or Liverpool, or the New York Yankees, or the Green Bay Packers. And forget about having a reasonable debate with any Port supporter if you dare suggest that you support the hated foe, the Adelaide (Crows) FC.

Port have always gone it alone, to use a time honoured cliché. From their beginnings, through to the Golden Years of Fos Williams and the many premierships in the SANFL, through to the sheer dominance of the league in the 1970s and 1980s, Port have led the way and remained fiercely independent from anyone and anything, to the point of utter arrogance. When the Sturt FC and North Adelaide FC experienced financial difficulties and went to the SANFL for bail outs and concessions, Port not only blocked the move, but was the most vocal with their reasons. That the remaining clubs also blocked the move seemed irrelevant, Sturt and North needed a bogey man, and Port was it. Port would have done well to have studied that entire time period, not only for the repercussions of their actions, but also to observe the actions of the remaining SANFL clubs who also blocked the moves for assistance.

In the 1980s the VFL began to make serious noises about wanting a side from Adelaide into their expanded competition, to be called the AFL. To this end they relocated South Melbourne to Sydney to be called the Sydney Swans, introduced a side into Queensland, called the Brisbane Bears and approached the WAFL and SANFL to field sides. The WAFL took them up on their offer, thus was born the West Coast Eagles. The SANFL resisted the lure and all the sides met and agreed that the SANFL teams would refuse to negotiate with the VFL/AFL until the concessions and conditions were improved.

The AFL then sent ambassadors into South Australia and met with a few clubs, including Sturt, Norwood and Port Adelaide. All three clubs remained silent on the approaches, but the AFL did the smart thing and began to play arch rivals Norwood and Port off against each other, with the result being the announcement that Port Adelaide would be leaving the SANFL and fielding a side into the expanded competition as early as 1991. Legal action was the instant result.

The idea was that the Port Adelaide FC would leave the SANFL behind and move into the AFL. It never happened. The remaining sides, and the SANFL commission blocked the move and the result was the formation of the Adelaide FC, aka the Adelaide Crows. Port, both the team and supporters, have always resented this move and have moaned about it ever since, feeling that they were robbed of their true destiny. By attempting to break away from the SANFL and going it alone, Port had sealed their fate forever. History will show, that rightly or wrongly, the Adelaide FC have gone on to great success, winning two premierships within their first ten years, spawning several All Australian players and one Brownlow Medallist. Port, meanwhile, had to wait for their opportunity.

That opportunity came in 1996 when the AFL announced that a second team would be launched in South Australia. All the SANFL sides were invited to submit proposals, the strongest being the Port Adelaide FC and a combined ‘super team’ to be formed by a merger involving Norwood and Sturt. In a move that some within the SANFL and its supporters still see as a pre-arranged deal, Port Adelaide won the second licence. They submitted a proposal to the SANFL which would see Port Adelaide move totally from the SANFL to the AFL. The SANFL refused this, the Port Adelaide (Power) FC moved into the AFL and a new side was formed for the SANFL, the Port Adelaide Magpies, who were then evicted from the traditional home of Port Adelaide, Alberton, to neighbouring Ethelton. The current AFL side, we were told, is the one, true, Port Adelaide FC, with all the tradition and history. The SANFL Magpies are a new side, formed, reluctantly, and as such is considered to be the newest side in the SANFL.

The biggest problem with this split is that it divided the fan base. People seemed unsure of whom to follow, the Magpies or the Power. The Power claimed the tradition; the Magpies had the same outfits as the traditional Port Adelaide. In time Port supporters would chop and change, the Magpies have now been in the SANFL for over 140 years, the Port Adelaide (Power) have also existed for 140 years. They were separate entities but their Port faithful will talk your ears off and justify how it works.

Since the early 2000s the supporter base of the Port Adelaide Magpies has been seriously eroded. When the Power won their first AFL premiership in 2004 it appeared that the Magpies, who’d begun to reach depths that nobody in living memory could remember, were doomed. The warning signs were there, but both the SANFL and the Port Adelaide faithful simply ignored it. The rise of other clubs, especially Central Districts, who have simply dominated the SANFL in the past ten years, has seen Port’s stocks fall even more dramatically. To their credit Port have attempted to entice supporters, and money, to the club, but these attempts (including an advertising campaign that saw past Port Adelaide (Magpies) players such as Adelaide Crow champion Andrew McLeod wearing the black and white and pleading for people to assist the club, in a move all but forgotten by the Port faithful when they attack the Crows) have simply failed. People come to the games, but Port seems incapable of generating any real income. Their current financial woes have been hampered by a revolving door of coaches, but even the short-lived return of John Cahill failed to generate any lasting effects. In an alarming contrast the Port Adelaide Power have also suffered, with small crowds and an inability to attract big money major sponsors. In this case a lot of the problems again appear to stem from Port’s independence, and ability to upset all and sundry, as evidenced by coach Mark Williams verbal attack upon the clubs major sponsor immediately after their inaugural premiership win.

In 2009 Port were in serious trouble. Money had dried up, supporter numbers were down and the club was in dire straits. In late 2009 a plan was then mooted, whereby the Port Adelaide Power and Port Adelaide Magpies would merge into one entity with both playing sides being kept separate and the current status quo, that being that the Magpies would not be a reserves side for the Power, would remain. That last clause was important, as a reserves side for the Power would have to be offset by a similar side for the Adelaide FC, if only to keep things fair and on an even keel. Naturally Port supporters couldn’t care less for the Adelaide FC and dismiss this out of hand. The only fair advantage is an advantage for Port. The proposal, one that would see the Port Adelaide Magpies both become and remain solvent, was presented to the SANFL commission and the directors for the eight remaining SANFL clubs, where it was promptly rejected. Thus the crying begins, as the Port Adelaide Magpies appear doomed, on field failure has translated into the ultimate of off field failures. Arrogance, history and the fierce independence of the proud Port Adelaide FC has come back to haunt them, rightly or wrongly. That Port has blocked similar calls for assistance in the past from other SANFL clubs all but meant that this move was always doomed. That all the other sides voted against the merger is a resounding call to Port – sort out your own messes, like you’ve told others to do in the past, and like you’ve also done yourself.

What happens now? Port need an influx of cash and quickly. Instead of abusing people, the Port faithful need to dip into their pockets and throw cash at their side and keep injecting cash. They need to actually support their side, and not be fickle. I can’t stand Port but I’d happily donate money to them if it meant their continued survival. Port also needs a sustainable business plan, which we’re told they’ve been working on for the past few years. Perhaps receivership and an administrator needs to be appointed, such moves have worked in the past, on larger scales (with Brisbane and Sydney in the AFL) and could work here. The moves have to come from both within and without for Port to succeed and regain their place in the SANFL.

My own suggestion would be a serious revamp of the entire SANFL. Merge Norwood and Sturt into one side, align the Port Adelaide Magpies with their Power as a reserves side and allow a side such as West Adelaide, or South Adelaide, become the reserves side for the Adelaide Crows. That’d make things very interesting indeed, but it’s simply not going to happen.

But the survival of the Port Adelaide Magpies can happen, and should. Dig deep and keep digging deep. It’s probably the only way to keep your side going. And if the Port Adelaide Magpies decide to do a serious fund raiser, I’ll chip in a few bucks. And that’s from a Centrals supporter, but I’ll do for Port what their supporters seem incapable of doing at times, and that’s to look at the big picture.

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