As Lady Macbeth discovered, it is sometimes impossible to wash out that “damned spot”.
The entry of the Port Adelaide Football Club into the AFL could easily be a Shakespearean plotline. The Port Adelaide Magpies were one of ten clubs unified like blood brothers around the table of SANFL headquarters, bonded together in over 100 years of history. A competition of herculean battles and heroes, heralding players like Barrie Robran, Russell Ebert, Malcolm Blight, Garry McIntosh and Stephen Kernahan. A competition producing skill on par, and sometimes superior, to interstate leagues.
But despite the years of glory, there was no way of ignoring the oncoming army from the east. Larger in size, it was marching forth to take over and change everything.
But the SANFL was steadfast in its unity, and in May 1990 voted against joining the Australian Football League until at least 1993. All sides, including Port Adelaide, voted to refuse entry and demand terms that would ensure the pride of South Australian football was respected and upheld and that the competition wouldn’t be tilted heavily in favour of Victorian teams. All ten clubs, including Port Adelaide, were united as one. At least that’s the way it appeared.
On July 4, 1990, the Port Adelaide administrators snuck over to AFL House and signed a deal. In an act of treachery – or perhaps smart self-preservation – they signed a heads of agreement to enter the AFL as a separate entity to the rest of the SANFL, an arrangement that was kept secret for almost a month.
This moment in history sparked a chain of events. With the AFL holding all the aces, they allowed the SANFL to throw together a ramshackle team as a counter-offer to the Port Adelaide bid. The bid to form the Adelaide Crows was accepted and they joined in 1991, with less-than-ideal terms. Terms that continue today.
Port eventually made their way to the AFL in 1997 through a separate licence offer. Nine other proud SANFL clubs missed out, and the South Australian competition was left depleted. The terms of the entry were similar to the Crows’ and the events of July 1990 were hardly spoken of again.
When talking about the guernsey issue and Port Adelaide’s request to wear the ‘prison bar’ jumper, Eddie McGuire reminded us of the 1990 events on Channel Nine’s Footy Classified this week. He said, “Let’s not forget, Port Adelaide tried to break away – I won’t say rat, I won’t say they were Judases to the South Australian National Football League – others would”.
Eddie was no doubt referencing the 1990 events to imply Port had lost the right to hold onto its SANFL past. While this argument is a stretch, those events are certainly relevant to the jersey controversy in terms of power imbalance.
Port Adelaide betrayed the SANFLs ambition to demand a fair and equal national competition. In doing so, they allowed the power dynamic to be titled strongly in favour of Victoria. An imbalance that is evident today and, among other things, now sees Port Adelaide unable to wear its prison bar guernsey.
Of course, Port Adelaide Football Club, with their 150 years of proud history, should be able to wear the prison bar guernsey, at least for the showdown. Of course, the supposed clash with Collingwood’s colours is ridiculous.
But this is what South Australians signed up to. A position of inferiority at the bargaining table that Port Adelaide sanctioned.
The footy gods don’t forget.