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20 September 2014
by Adam Todd

Port Adelaide: the basket case that roared

There is an almost revivalist feeling among Port Adelaide fans.
Port fans have gone from a motley few to an army on the march.

Irrelevant. Pathetic. A basket case.
These were just a few assessments of the Port Adelaide Football Club circa 2012.
Even as a loyal Port man, it was increasingly hard to counter.
“At least we’re not Melbourne,” isn’t much of a comeback.
Indeed, Melbourne supporters were probably saying: “At least we’re not Port Adelaide”!

The author at Manuka Oval earlier this season.

Languishing near the bottom of the ladder, debt-ridden, bleeding cash, living on handouts and playing in front of record low crowds.
How I hated those tarps covering empty seats at AAMI Stadium. (Should we be lucky enough to unfurl a premiership flag at some point, we should burn those tarps in the same ceremony.)
Port Adelaide seemed to be in a vicious downward spiral from which there was no escape.

The more matches we lost, the more crowds and sponsors would drop off, leaving the cash-strapped football department with even less money, which meant we were losing even more matches.

This was more than just the standard “rebuilding period”. Port’s very future in the AFL was in question.
The club that “exists to win premierships” was struggling to exist at all.
On-field, the low point came in round 19, 2012 – a 35-point loss to lowly GWS in their debut season, fresh from the ignominy of being the Gold Coast Suns’ first scalp the year before.

Within a week, the coach and president were gone.
Just when I thought we were at rock bottom, things got worse: Crows fans started to pity rather than hate us.
Port was on its knees, a shadow of the club I’d grown up supporting. I won the lottery of life and was born into a Port Adelaide household. Raised in Alberton, on Saturdays I’d take my footy down to Alberton Oval to watch the Magpies play in the SANFL.

Meanwhile, back at Alberton Oval, Port fans are as fanatical as ever.

During the 1990s, I’d go years without watching them lose.
My first job was selling raffle tickets for Port Adelaide at matches and in shopping centres.
But, as good as I was convincing elderly ladies to part with $5 for the cause, come 2012, it was going to take more than a few raffle tickets to turn the Power around.
The first glimmer of hope came in September of that year: Travis Boak re-signed. Shocking many, including a few Port fans, by picking the Power over three-time premier Geelong.
A month later, David Koch was elected chairman. A week after that, Ken Hinkley was appointed coach. Famously dubbed “the coach nobody wanted coaching the club nobody wanted to coach”. Humorous now.
Add in chief executive Keith Thomas, and this quartet was the nucleus of Port Adelaide’s 2013-14 revival.

At this point, even the most optimistic Port fan would have been happy with a 10-year plan to get back to the finals. A premiership? Perhaps sometime in the second half of the century.
At the start of 2013, Port Adelaide launched the year with a new Hinkley-inspired catch-cry: “We Will Never Give Up.”
At the time, it probably sounded more like the last-ditch plea of a club on its last legs, than a pledge to win at all costs.
But as the season wore on, it was a creed the club would come to live. Port Adelaide pulled off comeback after comeback.
A fairytale season was capped off with a finals win against Collingwood. Port Adelaide suddenly had more than just a pulse.
Then, the move to Adelaide Oval.
I remember looking at the projections for crowd numbers – Port would average 30,000, up from 19,000 in 2012. Optimistic at best.
This year, Port averaged 45,000. Club membership topped 55,000.

One of these men is the messiah, the others are Port skipper Travis Boak and former PM Kevin Rudd.

A match at the Portress is widely agreed to be one of the great experiences in sport, the envy of many clubs.
And now, a preliminary final. Perhaps more. If not this year, in coming years.
Sure, I’m biased, but I’ve long thought Port Adelaide was a sleeping giant, awaiting to be woken. A club with heart, a passionate supporter base and a long, proud history.
It’s something you can’t manufacture.
It’s why the Never Tear Us Apart pre-match ritual has resonance.
It’s why Port Adelaide has been able to achieve this most remarkable turnaround.
In a case of poor timing, I moved from Adelaide to Canberra at the end of 2012. Living a drop punt away from Alberton Oval during the tough times. Living 1000km away during the good!
But, this weekend, I’ll join thousands of other Port supporters making the pilgrimage to Melbourne (perhaps a one-man convoy compared to the traffic jam coming from Adelaide).
And. as Port Adelaide runs onto the MCG to play for a spot in the Grand Final, I’m sure I won’t be the only Power fan taking a moment to marvel at just how far we’ve come.