It started last year as a very loose sort of plan; my Hawthorn supporting friend and colleague and I saw the 2015 AFL draw and thought it would be great fun to road trip to Adelaide when our sides played. The atmosphere at Adelaide Oval had been so hyped that we were keen to experience it for ourselves and being two people with a very similar outlook on football, I knew the trip would work because we’d get along win, lose or draw. However something slightly unexpected happened – she fell pregnant. Which meant that our planned night of fun and frivolity in the City of Churches was going to stay just that, a plan. It would have to be next year when we could both enjoy it to the fullest.
(Yes, I know pregnant people can travel and watch football. More to the point though they can’t drink 30 schooners of Coopers on match day, which is probably the most important facet of any footy trip.)
To be honest I’d all but forgotten about travelling to Adelaide because it seemed so unlikely. A couple of times I reflected on how good it would have been to be there on ANZAC Day playing last year’s premiers but I never took it any further. Then I went on leave for a couple of weeks and a few days before I returned to work I called up to get my shifts. Nothing out of the ordinary until the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Oh and you’ve got a three day weekend over ANZAC Day as requested.” Huh? And then it dawned on me – I’d actually requested the time off months ago because I’d been worried someone else would ask for it off and I’d miss out. Then our trip had been shelved but I’d never bothered to change my request.
How do you like them apples?
I think I only took an hour or two of consideration before coming down firmly of the opinion that I should go, solo if needs be. This was too delicious a piece of fate for me to sit at home. I checked the Ticketek website and sadly the membership ticket allocation was exhausted, however I could still get a general admin ticket for around $40. I had a Jetstar voucher from a previously cancelled flight and there were plenty of options still available for under $200 return. Accomodation looked easy and again, under $200 for two nights. Bang, bang, bang, done. Adelaide here I come.
I went to the Port Adelaide v North Melbourne game at Etihad in round 3 and after I posted a photo on social media from the game, another Hawks supporting mate left a comment on it saying something along the lines of “See you next week and I’ll be in Adelaide to watch.” Seriously, fate again. This mate and I had a highly memorable night out on the drink in Athens last year while we were travelling so there were definite priors. I let him know I was heading along too and given he was a bit of a fourth wheel with a close-knit trio, he was more than happy to have extra company. We made plans to catch up on Friday night and set about depleting some of the city’s stocks of Coopers.
Both of us were incredibly excited to experience Adelaide Oval because it’s been hugely talked up as the venue with the most sensational atmosphere in the AFL over the past few years. Though I’ve been to Adelaide a few times to watch Port play, I hadn’t been for a few years and I’d never been to the ground to watch the cricket. I wanted to hear that roar and sing Never Tear Us Apart with all my people. I wanted to march over the footbridge and be in the majority for once. I just wanted to see what it was like. The fact it was ANZAC Day and that Port were playing the 2014 premiers just added to that sweet sense of expectation and I was beyond excited.
As someone who comes from the country I have a real appreciation for our smaller cities. I think often those who are born and bred in Sydney or Melbourne tend to poo poo them as being provincial and dull, often without reason. I’ve had a cracking time every time I’ve visited Adelaide and I think it’s an immensely underrated city. On the Friday night as I walked along Wakefield Street, the remnants of the rain glistening on the streets and the light quickly fading from the sky, all I could think was , “I love this city.” There was such anticipation, both for the night ahead with new friends and old and for everything the weekend was going to bring. It was a beautiful feeling.
On game day I woke up early, had a good breakfast to wipe away the memories of the previous night’s drinks and went for a walk through town. I was meeting an old colleague and her husband for lunch (and let’s be honest, more drinks) at a pub in North Adelaide and I had some time to kill. I’m a big believer in signs and as I waited on North Terrace for the tram, the Port Adelaide branded one rolled up. Now there’s a piece of serendipity. I headed down towards Parliament and got off to walk up King William Street watching the majestic Oval rise up out of the damp green lawn on my left. Everyone was in good spirits; young men in suits wearing their grandparents’ war medals, service men and woman fresh from the morning’s march, footy fans getting ready for the game of their lives. The city just felt good. I stopped to snap photos of the Bradman Statue and the Cross of Sacrifice Memorial Garden, then kept walking past St Peter’s Cathedral up to where I was having lunch. My friends walked in and the next few hours were spent in happy reminiscence and discussion of the match ahead. It was a great day already and the game hadn’t even started.
We all headed to the ground together early and they gave me the full match day experience and a tour around Adelaide Oval. We watched the supporters stream over the footbridge from the CBD, had our photo taken by the club photographer for their Facebook page, I bought a footy record from their son, then went inside so I could buy one of the special ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ club scarves that are only available here. It was nearly two hours before game time so I thought it would be easy for me to find a good seat and settle in. I was very nearly wrong – almost all the general admin seats had been taken so luckily I was alone and could slip into the solitary seat left high in the rafters of the very last bay in the Eastern Stand.
What a view though. Adelaide Oval is just gorgeous, a picture postcard of a ground that has been renovated to perfection. The facilities are incredibly modern and easy to access, yet the exterior retains the charm it’s long been known for. I loved it and I reckon it’s the best ground in Australia to watch AFL at (and I’ve been to them all, bar Darwin and Gold Coast). Watching the defence team take on the emergency services team in the warm up I was struck by just how good a surface it looked to play footy on. I couldn’t wait.
Everything about the pre match lived up to my expectations. They had a club great come on to kick a ceremonial first goal and got the crowd going with songs and clips on the big screen. ANZAC Day laid another layer of ceremony on it and it was wonderful to see the teams run through the joint banner together then line up on the field for the Last Post. I was talking through the week to a couple of friends about ANZAC Day and how with five games of football being played on the day this year there had been talk of it becoming commercialised. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case at all and I think both the AFL and NRL have had a big hand in continuing the broader awareness of ANZAC Day, it’s stories and what the sacrifices made 100 years ago mean for us today. That dawn ceremonies and marches continue to be well attended decades on shows the reverence people have for the ANZAC spirit and I don’t think you could understate football’s part in that. During the pre match they showed the names of those who had played for Port Adelaide and Hawthorn as well as serving in our armed forces, while Port’s jumpers had the names of over 100 ex players who served printed on them. I love ANZAC Day, I always feel like it’s the real Australia Day, and to be preparing to watch my football team play in such a huge game was an incredible feeling.
I think the best way to describe the first quarter was shocking. I can’t remember seeing such an amazing quarter of football from Port Adelaide in a long time and to do it against Hawthorn was almost incomprehensible. Goal after goal after goal – we just looked so slick and Hawthorn looked like they’d brought the Box Hill Hawks over. Schultz, Wingard and Monfries couldn’t do a thing wrong and Boak was so tough in the centre clearances. Ryder held his marks and Lobbe’s return lifted the side to new levels. Every repeated mistake we’d made over the past few rounds was wiped away as we continued to kick well and hit targets. Port went into the first quarter break with 50 points already on the board and when I stood to clap the break I was still in shock that this had actually happened. We were down Gray and Wines but somehow we’d manage to lift ourselves, to rise to the enormity of this occasion.
This is what we can do. This is how we win. This is the way we play our game.
This could win us a premiership.
The second quarter brought more of the same and we out-scored Hawthorn yet again. So far there were no marks on my hand of nervousness but I’ve been around long enough to know we hadn’t heard the fat lady sing just yet. My phone was buzzing with messages from mates who couldn’t believe the score and there were posts all over my social media. I mean, Port Adelaide are good – we only the missed the grand final by three points last year – but are we really this good? Are we a 50 point better side than the back to back premiers? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
The third quarter wasn’t high scoring and Hawthorn started to get the better of us. Then in the fourth quarter all that free running and dominant attacking by the Power was forgotten as we mentally switched to holding the lead rather than winning the game. The Hawks kept fighting back though and added five goals to their tally while we scored only a solitary point. All the Hawthorn fans around me lifted and I sat, quietly rocking in my seat and muttering “Come on boys, kick me a goal” like a prayer to be heard by the football gods. Nothing feels so long as a fourth quarter when you’re trying to hold the win and it was impossible to tell how long there was left at any given time. So I rocked and muttered and prayed and hope and somehow, just somehow, we did it. Few things have ever sounded sweeter than that final siren, eight points up. I stood and punched the air.
Boak was awarded the Badcoe Medal for the best on ground and while it was a deserved win, I think the biggest difference to the Port team was Lobbe. His work rate in the ruck and his ability to consistently tap to players is one of the cornerstones of our game. The first three weeks where he’s sat out injured highlighted just how much we need him. It was pleasing to play like we did without the star power of Gray and Wines and I think that will hold us in good stead. But if the win showed Port anything, it was that we can match it with any team on any given day. All we need to do is believe in ourselves and back ourselves in.
I stayed for a few rounds of the team song, took a few more photos then filtered out of the Oval with the 50,000 others who’s attended. I’d arranged to meet the Hawks quartet at the Exeter Hotel on Rundle Street and I took my time getting up there, instead soaking up the excitement a home town victory on a day as special as this one brings. These are my people; you just don’t get this feeling in Melbourne. After one beer three of them cried off and it was left to me and my mate to figure out the intricacies of the South Australian glass system (apparently a pint is a schooner and a schooner is a pot/middy) as we ordered “just one more drink”. We talked about footy and work and travel and life. It was 2am before we thought it might be a good idea to head back to our respective hotels and beds and as we parted and I started my walk back through the Rundle Mall I realised what this feeling was: happiness. Here I was in this great city, after watching one of the best home and away wins I’ve ever seen, at the best ground in Australia no less, with friends and many beers drunk. Life, and footy, doesn’t really get any sweeter than that.