A tradition so strong.

walsh and hinkley

In 2009 I had the opportunity to spend time in the Port Adelaide rooms just before the Showdown against Adelaide. It was a fantastic experience and one I’ll never forget. However this week’s Showdown will be something else altogether. Following the recent death of Crows’ coach and former Power assistant coach Phil Walsh it is likely to be an incredibly emotionally charged game as both clubs pay tribute to a man who was so loved by these two teams. Watching the Port and Adelaide players leave the field in tears last week was simply heartbreaking and no doubt this game will prove difficult to get through as well. I wrote the below after that Showdown in 2009 and it seems fitting to publish it here now. As Walshy would have said, I hope we “get it done.”

Someone dropped the ‘c’ word and the half a dozen or so women the room either went wide eyed and giggled behind their palms or pretended that nothing had happened. (And by ‘c’ word, I don’t mean ‘Crows’.) As someone who grew up around footy clubs and is used to what goes on behind closed doors, I fell into the latter category.

On the weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Port Adelaide rooms before their AFL showdown with hometown rivals the Adelaide Crows. It was a rare opportunity and one I was incredibly excited about – this was the chance to feel the buzz in the room as my team headed out for what is traditionally one of the biggest games of their season.

As I walked through the maze of corridors to a room that looks surprisingly exactly as it does on TV just smaller, the first thing that hit me was the sweet, overpowering scent of liniment. The second thing that hit me was the sight of bare backsides in a changing room with an open door as players from the warm up game finished showering off and got changed.

There was a distinct buzz in the air. I could hear the talk, the warm up, the sound of fit, hardened bodies battering against each other, testing out shoulders and torsos. The players ran through an obviously well known series of exercises whiles a trainer barked commands from the centre of the room.

And all the while the constant talk, talk, talk.

Spectators fixated on the players, as did the coach, pacing the room the whole while and chewing away methodically on gum. Spare players and club officials stood with arms folded on the sides of the room making sparse commentary and adding to the tension in the room. Footballs bounced everywhere.

It’s hard not to get excited when your heroes are so close you could reach out and touch them. Cornes. Ebert. Lade. Pettigrew. You see how big, how small, how different, how so very much the same they actually are after years of reputations and TV highlights warping the perception.

From the small group of onlookers a young boy cried out in support but former captain Warren Tredrea came over and put a finger on his lips. This was not a place for cheering or autographs or photos. This was a temple of football, a place to prepare and gain focus. A place to start to win.

As the players head into a small closed room for a final, private discussion with the coach and each other it is hard not to get excited. That hushed, tension riddled feeling descended upon the room.

This is Showdown!

Next minute the boys – and some of them are just that, mere boys – run past and out on to the ground. They urge each other on, demanding excellence and commitment. The pride of South Australia is on the line tonight.

I head back to my seat, nodding in solidarity to the two old timers guarding the door. People around me are buzzing and the cheering sounds throughout the stadium and people raise their voice to support their team.

And yet, while this is the big stage it is so very much the same in so very many ways as the hundreds of games being played at suburban football grounds each weekend. The sounds, the smells, the anticipation, the bloke who always yells out “he’s been doing it all day” the first time the umpire blows their whistle. The feeling in the rooms.

It’s the same as it has been for years. Sometimes it’s comforting to know that no matter how much some things change, the more others simply stay the same. The excitement of football will always be there.

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