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Opinion - SANFL yields to Port Adelaide once more

  • Tuesday, November 16 2010 @ 02:53 pm ACDT
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The Port Adelaide Football Club was one of the strongest SANFL clubs for a century, but by the 1950s they came to dominate in premierships, supporter base and influence. Through the 1980s and 1990s the club seemed to have their way even more, playing their tough style of football that some followers would argue escaped sanction too often as their brutal style won flag after flag. Supporters bragged that they would do the same in the AFL if given the chance.

The one critical decision that went against the Magpies was when they tried to go against an agreement with the SANFL and join the AFL, whereas the SANFL had long pushed for a more equitable national competition with the support of its clubs. The move forced the South Australian hand and saw court action and the formation of the Adelaide Crows.

With AFL competition in the city from 1991, the local league took a back seat, then from the 1997 season the AFL granted a second licence to the state. After various submissions and a strong public push to not reward Port Adelaide the proud club once again won out, becoming SA's second side. But what occurred was a Jekyll and Hyde split between the new Port Adelaide Power and the old Port Adelaide Magpies - or was that the new Port Adelaide Magpies and the old Port Adelaide Power, with both haemorrhaging money.

The SANFL has now controversially voted to end the split and allow the two parts of the club to unite under one banner - a move almost certainly good for Port Adelaide but arguably the death knell for other SANFL clubs.

When Port joined the AFL the SANFL forced them to keep an SANFL side as well. Since Collingwood already had the Magpies logo and black and white colours in the AFL, Port were forced to pick a new theme, choosing the Power which added teal blue to their traditional black and white. In the local league they continued as the Magpies. But debate has raged over which Port Adelaide is the real one, be it both, one, the other, or neither (the PAMFC Wikipedia page has even been locked down). Meanwhile both have seen their supporter bases plummet, big financial losses and poor on field results, despite the Power winning the 2004 flag.

The SANFL vote on Monday night to allow the two entities to merge is seen by both sides of Port Adelaide as vital to their futures. There was serious consideration of allowing the Magpies to fold (which would eliminate the SANFL bye due to 9 teams). Some felt this would kill one of Australia's oldest sporting clubs (founded in 1870), while others felt it would finally make clear that Port Adelaide Power retains the true lineage of that club.

The fear for SANFL clubs has been mostly financial. As holder of Port's AFL licence the SANFL has had to cope with the Power's multi-million dollar losses in recent years. The local Port club has no such safety net, hence going to the brink of extinction. But if the two clubs unite then the question has been asked, as the Port Magpies lose money will that effectively be covered by Port Power who are then bailed out by the SANFL? If so, then effectively the other SANFL clubs are forced to prop up a rival club.

Proponents of the merge have assured this will not be the case and the finances will be clearly separate. It's just difficult to see how that could in reality be enforced. If extra training facilities are needed or staff overloaded, how can the SANFL decide those shared facilities are only being expanded for the Power's use, or audit whether staff allocated to the Power are assisting Magpies players?

A merger also puts to rest the farcical beliefs of some that the two clubs do not share their heritage. One reason stated for the Power struggling to expand its supporter base in SA is that supporters from the other SANFL clubs rarely follow the Power as they see Port as their local SANFL rivals. Yet players such as Chad Cornes, from a fiercely loyal Glenelg FC family, have been passionate Power players and convinced themselves they are not playing for the old Port Adelaide which they grew up hating. This was always a trick of the mind perpetrated by only a few players and supporters but the merger now puts that to bed once and for all. So how then can the Power appeal to the supporters of other SANFL clubs or their children, the next generation that Port needs to join to boost their falling support?

And no convincing argument has been put forward to show why Port Magpies are not now going to be advantaged by being in the lap of an AFL club, with the extra facilities, support, and general appeal when in a recruiting competition with their rivals.

This author's personal opinion: once again the SANFL clubs have been afraid to live without Port Adelaide. The agreement to allow the clubs to merge guarantees the future of Port Magpies, does little to enhance the future of Port Adelaide Power and possibly even damages it, and will almost certainly result in the collapse of 1 or 2 SANFL clubs in future, who will have signed their own death warrant. Ideally the broken concept of the Port Magpies would have been allowed to die and Port Adelaide Power finally break the shackles, embrace its history but also forge forward appealing to a new generation as above and removed from old SANFL rivalries. That path will now not be taken. Turbulent times will continue for football in South Australia, with all hopes pinned to the move from AAMI Stadium (Football Park) to Adelaide Oval, which is being controversially redeveloped at a cost of around half a billion dollars.