AustralianFootball.com Celebrating the history of the great Australian game
Club mergers have been a commonplace occurrence in football for almost as long as the game has been played. Sometimes it is a question of 'merge or die', either economically, or in terms of procuring access to sufficient players; at other times, clubs merge simply to enable them to compete more effectively on the field; then again, there are mergers which are really more akin to take-overs, where a stronger club effectively swallows up a weaker or poorer cousin, thereby simultaneously reducing competition and improving its own standing in one fell swoop. Whether a marriage of equals or a form of conquest, however, all mergers have one thing in common: once the process is completed, only one club exists where previously there were two.
The converse of this, the emergence of two distinct and independent clubs where previously there had only been one, is almost, but not quite, unheard of. It happened most famously in 1996, when the Port Adelaide Football Club, the oldest and most successful in the SANFL, effectively reproduced itself by a kind of fission: one club, henceforth to be known as the Port Adelaide Magpies, would continue to compete in the SANFL, with another achieving elevation to the AFL. Both clubs traced - and continue to trace - their origins to a meeting held on 13th May 1870, at which Captain John Hart (president), and messrs. R.W. Leicester (secretary), G.Ireland (treasurer), J.A. Rann, R.Carr and L.Bridgland were elected as the inaugural committee of the Port Adelaide Cricket and Football Club. Both the Magpies and the Power (Port Adelaide's AFL incarnation) could, as they embarked on their respective 1997 league campaigns, boast of 34 senior grade premierships, a record four Australian championships, fifteen Magarey Medallists winning a total of twenty Medals, a dozen All Australians, and a 'games played' record holder by the name of Russell Ebert.
Since then, the Magpies have added another couple of senior flags, plus another three Magarey Medallists, while in 2004 the Power broke through to claim their first premiership in the AFL, all of which reinforced the fact that the Power and the Magpies were indisputably two distinct organisations, with a shared history but disparate - sometimes even conflicting - aims, ambitions and needs.
During the first decade of the present century, in fact, Port Adelaide's AFL incarnation appeared to have begun a process that might be described as a gradual dilution of its SANFL roots and heritage - or, more correctly, of distancing itself from its origins as an individual club within the SANFL. For example, whereas the club's official website used openly and unabashedly to celebrate all aspects of its 130 year-plus history, it now focused almost exclusively on the AFL era, presumably with the intention of thereby appearing more attractive and accessible to potential supporters from outside its traditional support base. Whatever one thinks of the rectitude and appropriateness of this policy, it was clearly, at the time, something of a success, with an increasing number of proud Power supporters simultaneously boasting allegiance to SANFL clubs other than Port Magpies.
If the point has been somewhat laboured it is nevertheless important, for two key reasons. First of all, it emphasises the fact, which the club's supporters will insist on, and others scornfully deny, whilst inwardly anguishing over, that 'Port Adelaide' (in whatever manifestation) is unique. Secondly, and as a direct corollary of that uniqueness, it has suffered many attempts to undermine and dilute its impact and effectiveness, the latest and arguably most invidious of which was the imposed 'divorce' of 1996, which effectively declared, "OK, you have won your cake, but you are sure as heck not going to get to eat it all". (The word 'divorce' is actually somewhat misleading, as it implies a separation that, at least to a certain extent, is willfully entered into; what happened in 1996 was much more akin to the enforced splitting up of families associated with military conquest or warfare.)
In a sense, the club's uniqueness (for which read 'unique level of success'), and the jealousy and loathing this has tended to generate, have been mutually reinforcing for well over a hundred years, but in order to perceive everything in context we need to go back to that initial meeting of Friday 13th May 1870. Those of a superstitious bent might well have wondered what they were starting, but it is extremely doubtful if anyone present at the meeting would have had even the vaguest inkling that the acorn they were planting would grow one day into a multi-million dollar oak tree which tapped into the emotions, aspirations and energies of several hundred thousand adherents.
The meeting, and hence the Port Adelaide Football Club itself, had its genesis in an informal discussion between Rann, Leicester and Ireland on the North Parade early in 1870; the three men shared a concern about the lack of social facilities in their district, and saw the establishment of a cricket and football club as an ideal way to begin to rectify the situation. As winter was approaching when the club was formed, it was football which got underway first, with Port Adelaide engaging in its inaugural match against a team calling itself 'the Young Australians' on Tuesday 24 May 1870. The venue for the match was a stretch of ground known as 'Buck's Flat', which formed part of the Glanville Hall Estate, owned by the club's founding president, Captain John Hart. Port Adelaide's initial colours were blue and white, and the team's captain in this first ever fixture, which was played in gale force winds, and was ultimately drawn, was J.Wald. Others to represent Port Adelaide during the early years included future club captain Will Fletcher, Tom Prideaux, Tom Tulloch, Will Tait, George Gliddon, Sam Tyzack, 'Boss' Middleton, and Harry and Tom Smith.
Football in Adelaide at this time was played according to a variety of different sets of rules, with the Old Adelaide and Kensington sets being the most popular. There were variations between the different rule sets in terms of things like whether or not a player running with the ball had to bounce it, whether, and under what circumstances, a mark could be claimed, and even what a team needed to do in order to score a goal. For the Port Adelaide players, this entailed a continual process of adaptation - as well as, by all accounts, considerable confusion. After a game between Port Adelaide and Kensington at Buck's Flat on 5th July 1873 it was reported that "neither side understood the rules clearly", and there was even some uncertainty as to what the final result had been. This uncertainty derived from the fact that the only 'goal' of the game, kicked by Kensington, had struck the cross bar before traversing the goal line, an occurrence which, under many of the rule sets in vogue at the time, would have meant the goal being disallowed, as all parts of the physical structure of the goals were deemed to be 'dead'. Under the rules in force on this particular day, however, the two goal posts and cross bar were held to be part of the field of play, and so a ball striking either and proceeding over the goal line resulted in a goal. Kensington was thus adjudged to be the winner of the game.
As the 1870s wore on, football rapidly became better organised and more popular, and by 1877 Port Adelaide was one of several clubs anxious to see a measure of uniformity and structure introduced. The most critical requirement of all, it was felt, was a single, universally acknowledged set of rules, and with this in mind, a meeting was arranged, open to all football clubs in the colony, for Monday 30th April 1877. A total of twelve clubs, including Port Adelaide, sent two delegates each to the meeting, at which it was resolved to establish an Association to oversee football in the colony, the first organisation of its type in Australia.
The main concern of the delegates at this initial meeting was to agree on a uniform set of rules of play. Agreement on the shape of the ball (oval) was readily reached, as was acceptance that the goal posts should be deemed to be "of unlimited height", with no cross bar. Much more contentious, however, was the issue of whether the rules to be adopted should be orientated more towards rugby, which was favoured in Sydney, or the indigenous game developed in Melbourne. In the end, after much discussion, it was decided that, in order to facilitate the playing of intercolonial matches, the rules of the SAFA should closely mirror those which prevailed in Melbourne. In the event, the finally published rules were almost identical to the 'Victorian Rules of Football' agreed in 1874 between delegates of the Albert Park, Carlton, Geelong, Melbourne, North Melbourne and St Kilda clubs, with the major difference being a stipulation by the SAFA, missing from the Victorian rules, that teams should consist of twenty players, unless otherwise agreed beforehand.
Of the eight clubs which contested the inaugural SAFA premiership in 1877, only Port Adelaide and South Adelaide have maintained an unbroken involvement ever since. Port Adelaide won 9 and drew 2 of its 15 fixtures in 1877 to finish in fourth place on the ladder. It scored 23 goals, the same number as premier South Adelaide, but conceded 13 compared to South's one.
Port was certainly not an overnight success in the SAFA. By the time it broke through for its first flag in 1884, the club which was to develop into its arch rival, Norwood (admitted to the Association in 1878), already had half a dozen premierships to its name. By the time of the 1884 premiership the Port Adelaide players were taking to the field wearing magenta jerseys, navy knickerbockers, and magenta and blue cap and hose. This was actually the club's second change in uniform: from 1878 to 1882 the team had worn an eye-catching rose pink outfit with white knickerbockers. The famous black and white playing uniform did not arrive until 1902.
Another key development during Port Adelaide's early years came in 1881 with the leasing from the Queenstown and Alberton District Council of the Alberton Oval, which except for the 1975-6 seasons has been the club's home base ever since. Initially, the oval was leased for an annual rental of 10 shillings, with the sole condition being that it had to be maintained and used as a cricket and football ground.
After its 1884 premiership win, Port Adelaide slumped to third place the following year, and an unprecedented fourth, and last, in a somewhat atrophied 1886 competition. In each of the next three seasons, Port finished in second position on the ladder behind Norwood, losing the 1889 premiership in a play-off, before finally tasting success for the second time in 1890. The 1890 season also saw the Magentas, as they were known, earning the title of 'champions of Australia' after overcoming the challenge of VFA premier South Melbourne on the Adelaide Oval. Port came from behind to win 7.10 to 6.13 (with behinds being recorded, but not counting), thanks in large part to the performance of John McKenzie, whose fifth goal for the match during the dying moments also proved to be the winner.
After starting so promisingly, the 1890s developed into something of a horror decade for the Port Adelaide Football Club. It was a time of grim economic depression, with working class areas such as the port being hit harder than anywhere else. Many Port Adelaide players were forced to leave South Australia in search of work, while in 1894 a group of dissidents jumped ship to form a new club, Port Natives, the antecedent of the West Torrens Football Club. Most of these dissidents were players who had been unable to get a game with Port, and so their departure was not looked upon at the time as a disaster. Two years later, however, Port Natives finished higher on the SAFA ladder than a Port Adelaide team that had difficulty in fulfilling its fixtures each week, so dire had the player shortage become, and so impoverished was club spirit as a consequence.
At the end of the 1896 season the club committee undertook strenuous efforts to rectify the situation, and several new recruits were enticed to join. However, without doubt the biggest single reason for the club's meteoric improvement in 1897 was the conscious and deliberate cultivation by both the committee and the team's on field leaders of a revitalised club spirit, whereby playing for Port Adelaide became a genuine source of pride, something to be cherished, valued and never taken for granted. Players like club skipper Ken McKenzie, Arch Hosie, 'Nicky' Corston, Jimmy Tomkins and James 'Welshy' Davies, who had lived through some or all of the barren period of the mid-1890s, must have felt that they had crossed to a new club entirely as the Magentas became the first SAFA team since Adelaide in 1886 to win the premiership the year after finishing bottom. It was conclusive proof, if such were needed, that football at the top level is as much a game of the mind as the body; moreover, in retrospect it might be regarded as an important benchmark in the development of what might be termed 'the Port Adelaide spirit'. On numerous occasions to come, Port Adelaide would triumph, against the odds, against ostensibly more talented opposition, largely on the basis of its fanatical determination, self belief and ability to perform at maximum intensity for an entire game.
Another key factor in Port Adelaide's emergence as the most successful major football team of the twentieth century was the inception by the SAFA of electorate football. Initially introduced on a voluntary basis in 1897, the electorate system stipulated that players were required to play for the club from the electoral district in which they resided; this rule became compulsory two years later, and suddenly Port Adelaide had automatic access to many of the finest footballers in the colony. For a youngster growing up in the predominantly working class suburbs in and around the port football was at once a release and, potentially at any rate, a ticket to a better life, if not economically - Australian football in South Australia would not begin to reward its players with anything more than a pittance for many years yet - at least in terms of notoriety within the community.
Moreover, the football club itself became part of the essential fabric of that community, helping define and sustain it. As Bernard Whimpress pointed out in the early 1980s:
"... the Alberton Oval and the sprawling shopping centres around the Black Diamond Corner have always meant something sure, something close to the heart".
Although one might take exception to the word 'always', the point is clear; moreover, it would arguably be perfectly valid to add 'the Port Adelaide Football Club' itself, as distinct from its home venue, to the list, although it is doubtful if supporters from other clubs would be much inclined to share the sentiments.
The years around the turn of the century saw Port Adelaide display uncharacteristically inconsistent form as one generation of players was slowly superceded by another, and the impact of the electorate system was only gradually felt. In 1898, the club participated, along with Norwood and South Adelaide, in the first full-scale SAFA finals series, ultimately being placed second after losing the final by 4 goals against South. Over the next couple of seasons Port underwent a spectacular nosedive which was in the nature of a final, irksome irritation prior to its systematic, inexorable emergence in the years leading up to world war one as one of the greatest teams in Australian football history.
On 1st January 1901, Australia officially became a nation, and in response to that development the country underwent a brief kind of blossoming, as if awakening to the extraordinary scope of the possibilities that now confronted it. This blossoming impinged on virtually every aspect of life - art, business, politics, education - as people throughout Australia explored the implications of belonging to one nation, and began, by implication rather than design, to manufacture a shared identity and, in certain respects, a shared set of perceptions and attitudes.
Arguably the most significant impact of all, however, was in relation to the field of activity in which the infant nation would soon exhibit a degree of excellence beyond all others: sport. As far as Australian football was concerned, this meant the emergence of probably a greater general awareness and appreciation of the game in its national context than at any other time in history, for not only was the transfer of players between states at an all time high, so too was the practice of teams embarking on interstate tours; moreover, the main ostensible purpose of the inauguration by the ANFC of regular interstate championships series, or 'carnivals', beginning in Melbourne in 1908, was to establish football as a quintessentially Australian (indeed, given the participation of New Zealand in the inaugural carnival, Australasian) preoccupation.
In that aspiration, it failed, for reasons which lie outside the immediate scope of this entry, but which are covered elsewhere in the site; however, as anyone who has pursued a dream will tell you, there is a sense in which the journey itself can be more gratifying and interesting than actually arriving at one's destiny. Such was certainly the case for the Port Adelaide Football Club, whose journey in the opening decade and a half of the twentieth century mirrored, in microcosm, that of the nation as a whole: exhilarating, intermittently rewarding, but ultimately forced along an undesirable, if perversely ennobling, cul-de-sac.
The nineteenth century had seen Port Adelaide achieve sporadic success (three premierships) interspersed with sustained periods of mediocrity, and even downright ineptitude. The first few years of the twentieth century would see the club acquire a new consistency, and with it the seeds of a reputation for pushing the boundaries, for always seeking to transcend what common sense said was possible.
That 'boundary pushing' could also occasionally land the club in trouble. In 1902, for instance, the Port players and committee objected to the appointment of umpire Kneebone for the club's semi final match against South Adelaide. Consequently, a letter was sent to the Association informing it of the club's intention to forfeit the match, whereupon the Association ruled that the club did not have such a right, and disqualified Port for the remainder of the season. It would seem that Port Adelaide was a club where principle outweighed even ambition, although the fact that the club remained highly ambitious was clearly evidenced in 1903 with the opening of Alberton Oval's first grand stand.
That same season witnessed the tangible realisation of some of that ambition as the team now known as 'the Magpies' overcame the setback of an 8 point final loss to South Adelaide to turn the tables on the same opposition a week later in the challenge final. (Both matches were played under the jurisdiction of umpire Carris.) It was the start of a five season sequence during which the club never failed to contest the premiership deciding match, but only once, in 1906, was it successful in actually lifting the flag. Once again, as in 1903, it was indebted to the challenge system, for after securing the minor premiership it put on an abject display in the first semi final, amassing 12 scoring shots without a goal in going under to North Adelaide by 22 points. A fortnight later, in front of 20,000 spectators, it played off for the flag against the same opponents, and on this occasion it managed to replicate its minor round form with a comfortable 9.12 (66) to 5.9 (39) victory.
Clearly, Port Adelaide had a good side, but the lack of genuine champion players left it some way short of greatness. Between 1907 and 1912, however, this deficiency was rectified in the most emphatic and noteworthy way imaginable as players of the calibre of Sampson 'Shine' Hosking, 'Angie' Congear, Jack Woollard, Frank Hansen, Harold Oliver, Jack Londrigan and Jack 'Spud' Ashley fronted up for the black and whites. If Port had a problem, however, it was one that would be all too familiar to the club's supporters of a century hence, namely an unfortunate and inexplicable tendency to shoot itself in the foot come finals time. In 1907, for example, the Magpies won the minor premiership with a 10-2 record but then conspired to lose twice, and heavily, to Norwood in the major round. Two years later events followed a similar pattern as the most formidable team of the minor round suddenly found it within itself to perform like wooden spooners against Norwood and West Adelaide in the finals.
In 1910, however, it was a different story. Inspired by the famous 'three-Cs' first ruck combination of Callinan, Curnow and Congear, and with Magarey Medallist 'Shine' Hosking in consistently effervescent form, the Jack Woollard-led combination gained not only the SAFL premiership, but the championship of Australia, and the genuine admiration of football fans throughout the country. A mid-season tour of Western Australia produced a series of performances of such captivating brilliance that renowned East Fremantle identity Dolph Heinrichs had:
" ... no hesitation in naming this Port Adelaide team as the best club 18 that has visited WA, and I am not forgetting Collingwood's two visits, nor those of Essendon, Fitzroy and St Kilda".
Back home the Magpies experienced an untroubled year, losing only twice in 13 minor round games before enjoying a 3 match clean sweep in the finals that culminated in a 19 point defeat of Sturt in the premiership decider. In doing so they managed the rare feat of securing South Australian football's celebrated 'trifecta' of premiership, Magarey Medal (to 'Shine' Hosking) and top goal kicking award (won by Frank Hansen, with 46 goals).
If Port's supporters imagined their club had turned the corner, however, they were in for a rude awakening: in both 1911 (one loss) and 1912 (unbeaten, and a percentage of 67.23) the side secured the minor premiership, only to crumble, in familiar fashion, when the heat was applied in the finals. After the Magpies lost the 1912 challenge final to West Adelaide, club secretary James Hodge allegedly proffered the rueful - and very 'un-Port Adelaide' - observation that "this is the sixteenth time we have been second and we are getting used to it". Earlier in the year, the club had embarked on its seventh interstate tour in eight years, this time to Tasmania where, on 3rd July, it defeated a TFL representative side by 13 points, 7.13 (55) to 6.6 (42). The quality of the TFL side can perhaps be gauged from its achievement a few days later in scoring a comfortable 16 point win over a Melbourne team that, later in the season, would only narrowly fail to qualify for the VFL finals. Results such as these only serve to exemplify and emphasise the comparative evenness of standard of league football in the four major states (plus arguably Broken Hill) during this era.
At last, in 1913 the Magpies got things the right way around, recovering from their 'worst' minor round performance since 1909 (albeit that it was still good enough to secure the minor premiership) to hit their straps conclusively during the finals. The exhilarating style of football of which the team was capable was largely responsible for attracting a sizeable crowd of 22,000 to the Adelaide Oval where North Adelaide, after putting up a creditable tussle, were duly despatched to the tune of 14 points. For the fourth season in a row, Frank Hansen topped the SAFL's goal kicking list, but the elusive trifecta was missed after North Adelaide ruckman Tom Leahy was favoured by the umpires ahead of Port champion Harold Oliver in voting for the Magarey Medal.
The Magpies added the 1913 club championship of Australia title to their CV with an emphatic 63-point demolition of Fitzroy on the Adelaide Oval. Wily and slippery rover Ang Congear booted 5 of Port's 13 goals in a best afield display.
After their extraordinary season in 1914, when they again cruised to the premiership, the loss of key players to war service or, in the case of Harold Oliver, to the family orchards in South Australia's Riverland region, ultimately undermined Port Adelaide's bid for three successive flags in 1915. However, initially at least it was business as usual with an effortless 10.10 (70) to 4.8 (32) destruction of a strong South Adelaide side on the Adelaide Oval, and thereafter the side did not taste defeat until the round eleven game against West Adelaide on 31st July at the Jubilee Oval. Indeed, the team's previous loss had actually occurred 30 games and more than twenty-five months earlier, on 21st June 1913!
Unfortunately, the habit of losing proved infectious: the Magpies ended the minor round with an unexpected 2 point loss to a weak West Torrens side, before capitulating to both West Adelaide and ultimate premier Sturt in the finals. It was a dismal way to bring their halcyon era to an end, and it would be another four years before they would be granted the opportunity to rectify matters as, from 1916-18, the SAFL suspended operations because of the demands of the war.
When full-scale football resumed in 1919 Port Adelaide found itself in a fairly strong position, with pre-war stalwarts like Jack Ashley, Harold Oliver, Angie Congear, 'Bandy' McFarlane, 'Shine' Hosking, Jack Robertson, and Horrie Pope - all of whom had been members of the 1913-14 premiership teams - still available. Moreover, the district had continued to produce a large number of promising youngsters, notably Charlie Adams, Peter Bampton, Bert Olds, Eric Dewar and Charlie Maywald. All five of these youngsters would be in the next Port team to break through for a flag, in 1921, as would the equally talented Dayman brothers, Clem (ex-North Adelaide) and Leslie (always known as 'Bro'), both of whom made their Magpies debuts that same year. Of the pre-war brigade, however, only Oliver, who skippered the side, Congear and Hosking would remain.
Reflecting this 'change of the guard', football itself would alter considerably during the 1920s. Most significantly of all perhaps, by the end of the decade the Victorian Football League would have arrived at a position of unrivalled strength. Whereas prior to the war many of the game's best players had happily and frequently transferred between the three major state competitions (and, indeed, others) and, in so doing, had helped maintain a measure of uniformity of standard between them, the longer the 1920s wore on, the more the player traffic tended to flow in just one direction, towards Melbourne. That this trend had an inimical effect on the standard of football played in South Australia is indisputable, while as far as the Port Adelaide Football Club was concerned there was an inevitable erosion of self-image; after being beyond any reasonable doubt the strongest club in the land in 1914, by the early 1930s it was, in the eyes of some at any rate, merely a breeding ground for VFL players such as Quinn, Dayman, Hender and Waye. Not until the arrival on the scene of one Foster Neil Williams in the 1950s would the inferiority complex which this perceived state of affairs engendered begin to dissipate.
Back in the 1920s, however, Port's 1921 premiership combination lost little in comparison with its pre-war counterparts, although after totally dominating the minor round it did somehow contrive to lose a semi final to Norwood, thereby necessitating a challenge final against the same opposition.
In front of a then SAFL record crowd of 34,800, Port Adelaide duly made amends to secure a ninth title, but only after a dour, tense and strenuous encounter in which the result remained in doubt until late in the final term. Port Adelaide eventually squeezed home by 8 points, 4.8 (32) to 3.6 (24).
The remainder of the 1920s brought something of a roller-coaster ride for Magpies supporters as the team dropped out of the 'four' in 1922 before plunging to an undignified seventh spot on the ladder, ahead only of new boys Glenelg, the following year. For the 1924 Hobart carnival the club was only able to supply a single player - Leslie Dayman - to the South Australian team, the lowest total ever.
From the mid-1920s onwards there was gradual improvement as a number of talented players who had made their debuts in the early part of the decade began to find their feet. Chief among these were Arthur Hoffman, 'Punch' Mucklow, Laurie Hodge, Len Galliford, and future premiership captain Vic Johnson. When these players were joined by accomplished youngsters such as Tom Quinn, Bob and Ken Johnson, and Alan Hender the Magpies were poised for another concerted tilt at the flag. In 1928 the side topped the ladder after the minor round with a 14-3 record, and survived the by now almost traditional 'scare' of a semi final loss to Norwood, before clinching the premiership in style with a 15.14 (104) to 7.14 (56) 'revenge' demolition of the same opponents.
Port's tally of 104 points was the highest ever up to that point in a premiership-deciding match, but the record lasted only a year as in the 1929 challenge final Norwood booted 16.14 (110) to overcome the Magpies, who totalled 10.9 (69), by 41 points.
The 1930 season saw the side battle its way through to the grand final from fourth place on the strength of wins over Norwood by 3 points in the first semi final, and Sturt by 34 points in the final. However, in a closely fought challenge final minor premier North Adelaide just proved to have the Magpies' measure, edging home by 4 points, 9.13 (67) to 9.9 (63). The onset of the worst economic depression of the twentieth century had an inimical effect on attendances, with a crowd of just 23,609, easily the lowest since the war-affected 1915 season, turning up for the season's decisive match. In 1929, in fact, all four finals matches had attracted larger crowds than the 1930 challenge final.
The depression had other adverse effects as well. In 1931 and '32, Port Adelaide lost no fewer than four key players - Tom Quinn, Vic Johnson, 'Bro' Dayman and Tommy Waye - to interstate clubs capable of providing them with secure employment. Needless to say, the club's on field performances suffered as a consequence, although it still managed to reach the finals for third and fourth place finishes. Not so in 1933, however, as the Magpies plummeted to fifth place, their lowest finishing position since 1924.
The 1934 season brought a remarkable turn-around though as a new generation of prospective champions began to impose themselves, including one of the game's earliest genuine ruck-rovers, Allan 'Bull' Reval, lanky ruckman Tom Kelleway, brilliant on-baller and centreline player Jack Dermody, and the first in a long line of ruggedly indefatigable full backs to serve the club, Ken Obst. In addition, Vic Johnson had returned 'home' from a brief Tasmanian sojourn and captained the club for a record fifth season.
It proved to be an extraordinarily closely contested year as Port Adelaide, with just a single win more than in 1933, won the minor premiership on percentage from Glenelg. Back in sixth position, West Adelaide managed just 2 wins fewer than the leading pair, and even wooden spooners South Adelaide boasted a fairly formidable line-up as they proved with a 20.15 (135) to 13.15 (93) trouncing of Port in round two. Overall, however, most observers regarded the Magpies as the team to beat, an assessment that appeared vindicated when they scored a runaway 65 point second semi final victory over a hapless Glenelg side. Football has a strange habit of smacking you in the teeth when you least expect it, though: two weeks later in the grand final, the Glenelg players somehow found it within themselves to manufacture probably their finest all round performance since the club had joined the league ranksa, and Port ended up on the end of a shock 9 point reversal. It was yet another reminder, as if one were needed, that grand finals are a game apart, and the quality of a team's minor round and early final performances ultimately have very little bearing on the destiny of the premiership.
Sadly, it was a lesson that had to be rammed home yet again in 1935: the Magpies once more did all the hard work, winning the minor premiership with a 12-5 record, and scoring a comfortable 17.17 (119) to 10.13 (73) second semi final victory over South Adelaide, but in the grand final re-match a fortnight later it was the comparatively unfancied southerners who showed the greater desperation, cohesion and will-to-win to edge home by 8 points.
The 1936 season was one of special significance as it marked the centenary of South Australia's establishment as a British colony. By happy coincidence, there was also a marginal easing of the state's economic difficulties, with a concomitant increase in league attendances. Throughout the off season there had been enormous anticipation down Alberton way with the news that favourite son Sampson 'Shine' Hosking was returning to the club as coach after a successful stint in the same role with West Torrens. Meanwhile Jack Dermody would be replacing Bob Johnson as club skipper.
Prior to the opening round of the season, 'Corinthian', writing in the 'SA Football Budget', suggested that:
as far as it is possible to judge before the combatants have had the acid test applied, there will be none of the eight teams sufficiently powerful to dominate the situation. This ensures a keen fight for the premiership, and for possession of a magnificent cup presented by Mr. J.H. Gosse, a great supporter of our National game, who was one of its most able exponents when he played with Norwood just more than 30 years ago. 
In predicting 'a keen fight for the premiership', the Budget was right on the mark. With two rounds to play, only Port Adelaide was securely ensconced in the top four, with four teams battling almost neck and neck for the other three places. Moreover, had the Magpies, who had just endured an inconsistent month, gone under in their last two matches they could conceivably have dropped as low as fourth.
In the event, Port scored solid wins over Glenelg and Norwood in the final two rounds, with the latter result in particular no doubt eliciting more than a modicum of pleasure at Alberton, given that it effectively consigned the Redlegs to fifth place on the ladder, and a spectator's role for the finals.
The Magpies of 1936 were a strong team all 'round, but with a particularly potent forward line in which full forward Jim Prideaux (86 goals for the year) and centre half forward Albie Hollingsworth (78 goals) excelled. Hollingsworth also won Port's best and fairest trophy in 1936, his second such award in three years. Another key factor in the team's pre-eminence was the uncanny 'team within a team' understanding of the Wightman (or Kelleway)-Reval-Quinn combination. The Quinn in question was Bob, younger brother of Tommy, who had made his league debut for the Magpies as an eighteen year old in 1933, and would go on to become one of Port Adelaide's, and the game's, greatest ever rovers.
In the second semi final, Port's normally prolific forward line let the team down badly, managing just 13 goals from 39 scoring shots against a Sturt team that had rather less of the play, but kicked straighter, and won by 33 points. In the following week's preliminary final the Magpies returned to something approaching their best form as they overcame the challenge of North Adelaide by 6 goals 1, but there was division of opinion over whether their performance would have been good enough to trouble the Double Blues.
As befitted the seminal nature of the occasion, the 1936 grand final proved to be one of the greatest ever. For most of the first half, Sturt looked head and shoulders the better team, winning in virtually every position, and leading at the main break by 28 points, 11.6 (72) to 6.8 (44). However, just as in the second semi final, the Magpies lifted their game in the third quarter, with only bad kicking for goal - some of it, admittedly, attributable to the intense pressure brought to bear by the Blues' backmen - preventing them from edging in front by the final change. As it was, 4.8 to 1.2 was enough to bring Port to within 4 points, and the scene was set for a torrid, nail-biting final term, with the Magpies snatching the lead for the first time shortly after the resumption, only for Sturt to fight back and reclaim it shortly afterwards. Fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout the quarter, and with less than a minute remaining, and the scoreboard showing Port in front by just 3 points, Sturt goalsneak, 'Bo' Morton, one of the most accurate kicks for goal in the league, marked within easy scoring range. With the odds emphatically on a Double Blues triumph, Magpie back pocket Bobby Meers proved an unlikely hero as his yell of "Bo, there's something hanging out of your shorts!" put the Sturt champion off to such an extent that his kick slewed off the side of his boot and out of bounds. According to the rules in force at the time, this meant a free kick to Port, and the Magpies duly retained possession for the final few seconds to clinch arguably the most memorable premiership win in the club's history up to that point. Final scores were Port Adelaide 13.19 (97) to Sturt 14.10 (94).
Under the same Hosking-Dermody leadership pairing the Magpies made it two flags in a row in 1937 after trouncing Norwood by 63 points in the second semi final, and overcoming popular favourites South Adelaide by a comfortable 4 goal margin in the grand final.
The blue and whites had their revenge over Port in 1938, winning the grand final with somewhat unsettling ease by 46 points, but in 1939 the Magpies, despite the loss of coach 'Shine' Hosking, who had returned to West Torrens as coach, were bolstered by the arrival from Norwood of 'big Bob' McLean, as well as other newcomers in Dick Maynard, Reg Schumann, Claude Greening and 'Brick' Hoffman in their line-up, and were back to their best. This season saw the re-introduction of the boundary throw-in, as well as a revised 'holding the ball/holding the man' rule which placed the onus on the player tackled to relinquish the ball, legally, within a split second of being grabbed.
With reigning best and fairest Bob Quinn, who had earlier been refused a clearance to the VFL, installed as coach in place of Hosking, the Magpies journeyed to Thebarton Oval, the home ground of their former mentor's team, West Torrens, for the opening match of the 1939 season, little realising that it would provide a preview of the grand final. After an absorbing tussle, Port's 'machine-like' style, in which ruckman McLean, proto-ruck-rover Reval, and rover Quinn were especially conspicuous, held sway by 5 goals. Thereafter, the Magpies scarcely put a foot wrong, scoring some memorably emphatic wins, and rounding off the minor round with an 89-point annihilation of Torrens. The following day, war was declared.
For the next few weeks, football no longer dominated the news headlines, and, perhaps not surprisingly, attendances at the first three finals were significantly lower than for many years. Nevertheless, as far as possible, Bob Quinn and the Port hierarchy tried to maintain an atmosphere of 'business as usual' ahead of the second semi final clash with reigning premier South Adelaide, a match in which the Magpies did just enough to qualify for their sixth premiership play-off in succession.
For the grand final, in which Port faced a West Torrens team that had played impressively in overcoming South by 35 points a week earlier, the South Australian football-loving public made a determined effort to forget the war, turning up in record numbers in anticipation of a thrilling spectacle. Unfortunately for everyone except Port Adelaide supporters, it was scarcely that, as the Magpies racked up a grand final record 44 scoring shots in overcoming a decidedly ineffectual West Torrens side by 47 points. Only Port's characteristic waywardness in front of goal prevented a massacre.
Just as in 1914, the Magpies had arrived at a peak of excellence on the eve of war, and just as in the years after 1914 they would be prevented, by the impact of war, from building on that excellence. Indeed, taken as a whole, the 1940s would prove to be Port Adelaide's most unproductive and frustrating decade of the twentieth century, albeit that the team's under-achievement during this period would contribute directly to the recruitment of the man who would prove to be the architect of not only arguably the greatest era in the club's history, but of the 'modern Magpies' (and Power) ethos itself.
While the war was at its peak between 1942 and 1944 the eight SANFL teams formed temporary pairings in order to enable football of league standard to continue to be played despite the drastically reduced numbers of players available. Port Adelaide forged a short-term alliance with West Torrens, winning 72% of all games played, which was comfortably the best overall record of the four teams. However, despite reaching all three grand finals, the alliance managed only one premiership win.
When full-scale league football resumed in 1945, Port Adelaide and West Torrens players found themselves facing a fourth consecutive grand final, although on this occasion they would be adversaries. Having won the minor premiership with 5 wins more than Torrens, and having won both minor round encounters between the sides, the Magpies were warmly favoured to win, and during the early stages of the match they appeared to have everything well under control. At one stage during the first half Port led by 32 points, but Torrens refused to give in, and after half time they displayed superior pace, fitness and will-to-win, and but for poor kicking for goal might easily have won by considerably more than the eventual margin of 13 points. The match was watched by a new grand final record crowd of 47,500.
A noteworthy feature of Port's 1945 season was the addition to its ranks of one of the greatest players ever to grace the game, Haydn Bunton senior. Having won three Brownlow Medals with Fitzroy and three Sandovers with Subiaco, Bunton was, and remains, the most highly decorated individual in top level football history, and although clearly past his best he gave the Magpies solid service in what proved to be his final 16 games of league football.
The remainder of the 1940s saw Port Adelaide's fortunes decline dramatically, second place to Norwood in 1946 being followed by third in 1947, and then the unthinkable indignity of second from last with just 4 wins from 17 games in 1948. Marginal improvement under the coaching of Reg Schumann followed in 1949, but the team still finished 4 wins and a substantial amount of percentage out of the four. Drastic measures were required, but the Port Adelaide committee was confident that it had earmarked just the right man to get the club back on track. That man was champion South Adelaide and state centreman Jim Deane, popularly regarded, along with Bob Hank of West Torrens, as one of the two best footballers in South Australia.
Deane, it emerged, was very interested in the post, and so all that was required to wrap things up was a clearance from his club, but obtaining this this was much easier said than done. South, perfectly understandably, regarded Deane as indispensable, and would not release him. Consequently, Port was forced to re-advertise its vacancy, plumping in the end, to the astonishment of many observers, for a man with only 54 games of league football under his belt, Foster Williams of West Adelaide. Despite being widely acknowledged as the most damaging rover in the SANFL, Williams had no previous coaching experience, and was not even captain of his club. Nevertheless, to their immense and everlasting credit, the members of the club's management committee discerned something gem-like hidden away beneath Williams' raw, craggy exterior.
Space does not permit an in-depth analysis of Fos Williams' coaching style, nor a detailed account of his many successes. Those interested in such things will find them in John Wood's excellent account of the history of the Port Adelaide Football Club between 1939 and 1990, Bound For Glory, as well as in the more recent Dynasty by Michaelangelo Rucci. Some key facts are worth highlighting, however. In the first place, Williams, unlike his great rival Jack Oatey, was no purist. Football, for him, was essentially a simple game, in which the most desirable qualities were energy, strength, leg power, stamina and courage - courage, indeed, most of all. Without these qualities a player possessing the combined skill of 'Polly' Farmer, Barrie Robran, Robbie Flower, Gary Ablett and Darrel Baldock would, if let loose in league company, be left floundering like a fish out of water. Williams saw the truth of this matter graphically emphasised almost every time South Australia took the field against the VFL. The South Australians could kick, mark and handle the ball every bit as well as their opponents - until the pressure was applied, after which they tended to perform like fumbling schoolboys. As coach of both Port Adelaide and South Australia, Williams would make it a personal crusade to try to ensure that all of his players took to the field with a mindset which maximised rather than masked their capabilities; in this, he was only partially successful, especially in the interstate arena, but the successes which he did achieve had an enormous impact on raising expectations and standards, as well as on rendering the sport of Australian football in South Australia more overtly 'professional'.
Williams' impact on a somewhat demoralised and under-achieving Port Adelaide side was immediate and pronounced. In his first season in charge the Magpies reached the preliminary final, and the following year saw them impose themselves on the competition in redoubtable fashion. A 2 goal loss to West Torrens at Thebarton in round nine proved to be the side's only reversal for the year. In the finals, North Adelaide was comfortably accounted for twice, and Port Adelaide had secured one of the most comprehensive premiership triumphs in league history. Half back flanker Alan Greer, renowned for his exhilarating downfield dashes, was best afield in the grand final, with centre half back Ted Whelan not far behind. Future Magarey Medallist Davey Boyd, just twenty-one years of age, gave a veteran's performance in the centre, while second year Victorian import John Abley gave a hint of what was to come with a miserly performance on the last line of defence.
A week later, Port met VFL premier Geelong in a challenge match on the Adelaide Oval, but poor kicking for goal ruined an otherwise commendable display, and the visitors won by 8 points.
During the remainder of the decade, Port Adelaide contested every grand final bar that of 1952. It lost by 7 points against West Torrens in 1953, and then embarked on a remarkable, if not quite unprecedented, sequence of six consecutive wins. Equally remarkably, the side won minor premierships in 1953-4-5-6-7 and '59, emphatically and repeatedly demonstrating that it was head and shoulders above every other team in the state. This is not to suggest that it was never seriously challenged: indeed, all bar one of its winning grand finals - that of 1955, against Norwood - were closely contested, with only the Magpies' trademark desperation and desire, coupled on occasion with a morsel or two of luck, standing between them and defeat.
Fos Williams actually left Port at the end of the 1958 season, handing the coaching reins over to Geof Motley, but it would be extremely difficult to attribute the club's 1959 premiership success to anything other than the residual effects of the Williams influence. Once this had worn off, a Port team with essentially the same group of players dropped to third place in 1960 and '61, but on Williams' return in 1962 the Magpies immediately rediscovered their accustomed pre-eminence with flags in 1962-3, a runners-up berth in 1964, and another flag - Williams' ninth as coach - in 1965.
Among the surfeit of stars to don the famous black and white during the 1950s and '60s were triple All Australian full back John Abley, Magarey Medallists Geof Motley, Trevor Obst, Russell Ebert, Peter Woite, and the aforementioned Dave Boyd, wingman or centreman John Cahill, whom some regard as the finest SANFL player not to win a Magarey Medal, champion rovers Ray Whitaker and Jeff Potter - not to mention Williams himself, of course, full forwards Rex Johns, Wally Dittmar, Neil Hawke and Eric Freeman, ruckmen Lloyd Zucker and Ted Whelan, defenders Dick Russell, Roger Clift, Neville 'Chicken' Hayes, Ron Elleway and Dennis Errey - the list could go on and on.
Perhaps the individual best placed to come up with a definitive list of the finest Port players of the Fos Williams era would be the great man himself, and fortunately we have just such a list, for in the late 1990s he selected the following as his 'Best Port Adelaide Team 1950-73':
Forwards: Paul Marrett Rex Johns Jeff Potter Half Forwards: Geof Motley Ian Hannaford Dave Boyd Centres: John Cahill Russell Ebert Bruce Light Half Backs: Neville Hayes Roger Clift Peter Woite Backs: Doug Spiers John Abley Dick Russell 1st Ruck: Lloyd Zucker Ted Whelan Fos Williams Interchange: Brian Luke Harold McDonald Ray Whitaker Peter Marrett 
On the eve of Fos Williams' final match in a Port jumper, the 1958 grand final, the 'Football Budget' paid glowing tribute to a man it described as a 'football fanatic':
For any footballer whose initial attempt to get into football was rebuffed by Sturt 18 years ago, to retain still the enthusiasm of a raw recruit is amazing. But that's Fos Williams. At 36, and with 202 games behind him, he could now be expected to show a little less interest in the game than before. Not him. Watch him when he picks up the ball for a few handpasses or little kicks in the dressing room before a game. His fingers stretch in anticipation, he grins almost fiendishly, his eyes fairly blaze with excitement.
Williams, carefully chosen to be their playing coach nine seasons ago, when he was a star with West, must become a legend in Port's history. Tales about him are already in the history books of Port gossip. For instance, at the first players' night after he had been appointed coach, an official whispered to him, "We want you to address the team". Williams was aghast. "I've never addressed a crowd before," he replied. That left the official aghast. Between them, they cooked up an address of sorts, which Fos stumblingly got across.
There's no stumbling or halting now. Nor has there been for years. When he likes, he can blister the paint off the clubrooms. He gives himself away, though, when things are going well, and he doesn't want the team to think he is TOO pleased with them, by the tell-tale quiver at the corners of the mouth as he tries to stop smiling.
Perhaps he has had good players to work with. However, the nine years (1950-58) cannot fail to go down in Port's history as the 'Foster Williams Era'. There can be no finer tribute.
The 'Foster Williams Era' would last a good deal longer, of course. After his three year 'sabbatical' from 1959-61, which included a season as coach of South Adelaide, Williams would spend another twelve seasons at Alberton. However, the point about 'good players' is well made, and would be reinforced during the club's unprecedented 'barren spell' between 1966 and 1976, when clubs which emulated, to an extent, the Port Adelaide style, and which were blessed at the time with better players, put the Magpies temporarily on the back foot. Chief among these clubs were North Adelaide under Mike Patterson, and Neil Kerley's Glenelg. Kerley, a former West Adelaide player and coach, had suffered as much as anyone at the hands of Williams' supreme 1950s and early '60s combinations, and although his own teams were generally regarded as playing with rather more 'science' than the Magpies, they were every bit as aggressive, determined and wholeheartedly committed to the 'one per cent' aspects of the game.
Fortunately, Port Adelaide had a man who also recognised the importance, in the context of a modern game which allowed for greater meticulousness of preparation, of superimposing tactical astuteness and intelligence on the trademark attributes of 'pressure' football. His name was John Cahill, and he would go on to have an overall impact on the club every bit as extensive, pronounced and, one ventures to imagine, lasting as that of his mentor.
Right from the outset of his time as Port Adelaide coach, Foster Williams had exhibited a keen insight into what might be termed the 'harsh realities of football'. For example, the style of play in the South Australian competition might be pleasing to the eye, but it was nothing like as effective, nor as successful, as the style of play favoured by Victorian teams. Within a short space of time, Williams made Port Adelaide the most successful club in the SANFL by the simple expedient of emulating the Victorians. Even more perspicaciously, Williams could see the way that Australian society was developing, and was able to deduce a number of key ways in which that development might impinge upon and influence the sport of Australian football. Writing in 1967, Williams observed,
.... football in my view is about half way to what we will finish with. Twenty years from now with in-flow and the opportunities football can win for the talented youngster, we will see talent and discipline in a new light. This will bring a better spectacle, both from the skill of the game and the new teamwork possible through the new discipline of.....professional football. 
A direct corollary of this, so Williams believed, would be the emergence, in time, of a national competition. Consequently, throughout his tenure as Port coach he took care to ensure that his players had regular exposure to top level, interstate opposition. During the 1950s, the Magpies regularly played post-season matches against leading VFL clubs, while for seven successive seasons in the '60s and '70s pre-season fixtures, either home or away, were arranged with both Melbourne and South Melbourne. Williams' successor as Port coach, John Cahill - invariably known as 'Jack' - played in many of these games, whilst simultaneously absorbing many elements of his mentor's philosophy, both in terms of coaching, and in relation to the game as a whole. Nevertheless, it is extremely doubtful if, on taking up the coaching reins prior to the start of the 1974 season, he could have imagined that, twenty-three years later, he would be doing the same with a Port Adelaide combination venturing, for the first time, onto the national stage.
It is important to stress that Cahill was by no means slavish or uncritical in his emulation of Williams. Whilst he shared many aspects of his predecessor's outlook, most notably an ardent veneration for courage as the principal building block of effective football, his teams tended to play with considerably greater flair, and to have access to a much broader repertoire of styles. In particular, Cahill believed that a player's responsibilities went beyond merely 'winning his position', and that central to the team ethic was the requirement that he also assist his team mates to win theirs. Consequently, in addition to winning the ball and getting rid of it, à la Fos, Cahill's players were expected to use it intelligently, to the team's advantage. Moreover, implicit in this was a recognition that 'intelligent use of the ball' might often mean the utilisation of something that Williams tended to regard with undisguised disdain - other than when used as a last resort by a player under intense duress - the handpass. Indeed, under Cahill, Port Adelaide teams probably elevated the art of handball to heights never previously managed in the SANFL, not even by Jack Oatey's notoriously 'handball happy' Sturt sides.
In essence, then, Port Adelaide under Jack Cahill rapidly became a much more attacking proposition than the club's fans had perhaps been used to.
"I particularly want the players to have an attacking attitude," Cahill observed, shortly before the start of his first season in charge. "By that I mean if they see the ball, I want them to attack it without thinking twice. And if they make a mistake, there must be someone close by backing them up. I don't want them hesitant. I'm encouraging players to attack, even from the full back line...... I know the 'fors' and 'againsts' of this, but that's the way I want it." 
Paradoxically, a major reason for these divergences from the Williams 'coaching manual' was Cahill's emulation of his mentor's assimilation of interstate coaching ideas. Just as Williams had modelled Port's 1950s and '60s style of play on that which was then in vogue in the VFL, so Cahill, as soon as he was appointed, sought advice from leading VFL coaches and players like Tom Hafey, Ron Barassi, John Kennedy and Royce Hart. It is hard to imagine Barassi, the man who had masterminded Carlton's famous come from behind win over Collingwood in the 1970 VFL grand final, not singing the praises of the skill to which that victory owed so much, handball. Similarly, Tom Hafey was coach of Richmond which, at the time, was probably the most attack-minded club in the VFL, an orientation which in 1973 had helped procure both the VFL and Australian premierships.
Tactical considerations aside, Cahill undoubtedly had a better pool of players available to him than Williams had enjoyed during the last part of his tenure. Indeed, the fact that Williams was able to get frankly mediocre Port combinations into grand finals in, for example, 1967 and '68 - and go within an ace of winning the flag in the former year - probably affords as eloquent a testimony to his greatness as the nine premierships.
The Magpies' progress under Cahill was steady. Having finished fifth during Fos Williams' final season at the helm, they rose to third in 1974, a result that was repeated the following year when, owing to a dispute between the Port Adelaide City Council and the SANFL, the club was forced to play its home matches at the Adelaide Oval. Then came 1976, a season which, in hindsight, can be regarded as a vital benchmark in the history not only of Port Adelaide, but of the game in general. From the Port Adelaide perspective, it tends to be memorable for all the wrong reasons, but it nevertheless afforded a stimulus for the club's unparalleled achievements of the ensuing two decades.
Fortis in Procella ('Strength in Adversity') might well be the motto of the Magpies' most intense and bitter SANFL rival club, Norwood, but late on the afternoon of Saturday 25 September 1976 it could unashamedly have been borrowed by the black and white aficionados among the record crowd of 66,897 packed into Football Park for the season's finale between Port Adelaide and Sturt. Those Port fans had just witnessed their team, which had totally dominated the 1976 SANFL competition, losing only 4 of 21 minor round matches before comprehensively thrashing Glenelg in the second semi final, somehow contrive to lose when it mattered most against an in truth somewhat ordinary Sturt team which nevertheless was able to tap into a rich vein of finals experience, something which Cahill's Magpies sadly lacked.
That single two hour dose of grand final football probably brought the entire Port team completely up to speed in terms of finals experience, however. There is scarcely anything so salutary as losing a game you know you ought to have won, and with no immediate way to right the wrong, Port's 1976 grand final players had simply to re-group, and prepare for the slog, sweat and pain of another season long tilt at the flag.
The 1976 season represented a benchmark in another important way, however, as it witnessed the first legible attempt to move towards a genuinely national club competition. The Wills Cup, which was sponsored by a tobacco company, and conducted by the NFL, involved clubs from the three main football states, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Port Adelaide participated, beating Footscray by 34 points, and losing to North Melbourne by 50 points, but the match results were really of secondary importance.
What was of primary significance was that, although the Wills Cup matches were, by and large, poorly attended, they generated significant amounts of income through sponsorship and television. The VFL was quick to take note: in 1977 it withdrew from the pseudo-national affair to run its own sponsored night competition, and by 1978 it was offering more than twice the prize money of the NFL series (now sponsored by Ardath, and involving teams from the VFA in place of those from the VFL), and enjoying significantly higher TV ratings, with a concomitant explosion in revenue from peripheral sources such as advertising. In 1979 the VFL formed a company, Australian Football Championship Pty. Ltd., with the objective of developing its own 'national' competition, thereby effectively rendering the NFL irrelevant. In time, all of the other states came to the VFL table because that was where the money was. According to Sandercock and Turner, writing shortly after these events in 1981:
The VFL's move on night football was nothing short of a take-over bid for Australian football. Its formation of the AFC Pty. Ltd. once again isolated the VFA from the mainstream of national football. It also put a big question mark against the viability of the NFL as a national administration. Some commentators argue that the VFL, with its superior financial resources and business acumen, should run the whole of Australian football. The VFL is certainly convinced that it alone has the expertise to run football at the national level, and it has a compelling financial incentive to press its claim. Whether the VFL razzamatazz is what the game really needs is another question. 
These comments should be read as a backdrop to the events of 1990, which will be discussed in due course. As of the early 1980s, however, it would seem that Fos Williams' dream of a full-scale national club competition was well on course, although not perhaps in quite the way he might have expected, or indeed would have wished.
But back in 1977, South Australian football's centenary season, Port Adelaide's sole pre-occupation was with the SANFL premiership, an honour that had eluded it for much too long. The season got off to an excellent start when the council and the SANFL reached agreement on the use of Alberton Oval for football, and over the course of the year fans flocked in in near record numbers to watch the pride of the district in action. They had plenty to cheer as well, as the Magpies endeavoured to put the horrors of the 1976 season firmly behind them with a series of dazzling performances that earned both the minor premiership and numerous accolades. Acutely conscious, however, that there was ultimately only one game, and one performance, that really mattered, the longer the season wore on, the more the focus of John Cahill and his players was on a potential date with destiny at Football Park on Saturday 24th September.
That day duly arrived, with only John Nicholls' Glenelg side standing between the Magpies and the ultimate prize. On the eve of the big match, Mike Pilkington wrote:
Memories of the humiliation and disgrace which have plagued Port since this time last year can be wiped out tomorrow. Redemption, and the elation which goes with it, will come to the Magpies in the centenary grand final. 
Prophetic words indeed, for after a tough, bruising and occasionally spiteful game, the Magpies emerged victorious by 8 points, 17.11 (113) to 16.9 (105). In point of fact, they had the match well won much earlier, but a flurry of late goals by the Bays gave a deceptive closeness to the final scores. For Port captain Russell Ebert, it had been "a bloody long time, but jeez it was worth it!" - sentiments wholeheartedly shared by every supporter of the most loved and loathed footy club in the state.
The Magpies' best player list from the 1977 grand final gives some notion of the wealth of talent which Cahill had at his disposal. Best afield was Brian Cunningham, a plucky and tenacious rover who would later serve the club in a number of administrative capacities. Others to excel included utility Randall Gerlach, who was playing in defiance of medical advice, dynamic and hyper-aggressive wingman Bruce Light, spring-heeled ruck-rover Max James, and seven-goal spearhead Tim Evans.
After the almost inevitable 'premiership hangover' year of 1978, the Magpies bounced back to their best in 1979, initiating a sequence of three successive premiership wins with a 9.9 (63) to 3.14 (32) grand final victory over South Adelaide in blustery, slippery conditions. Norwood by 18 points in 1980, and Glenelg by 51 points in 1981, were Port's other grand final victims during this run.
After dropping to third in 1982 Port Adelaide entered one of the most discomfiting phases of its long history. The 1983 season saw coach John Cahill's departure for two years of in-fighting, acrimony and modest achievement with Collingwood, followed by a couple of seasons back in South Australia with West Adelaide. His replacement as Magpie coach was Russell Ebert, who managed a 60% success rate in terms of finals qualification in his five years in charge.
Much more significant, however, were a number of off-field developments, notably in relation to the VFL's ever tightening control over the game's character and destiny. Fully conscious of the way in which the wind had begun to blow, in 1982 the SANFL asked the VFL to consider admitting a composite South Australian team to its competition. Individual clubs such as East Perth and Norwood allegedly did likewise. In most instances, the VFL's response was simply to ignore the approach, which aside from demonstrating rank arrogance on its part, gave the clear impression that it had already concocted its own preferred blueprint for the future of football. As to what that blueprint actually entailed, there was, it must be said, some doubt - a point to which Port Adelaide's 1982 Annual Report made somewhat bitter reference:
The anticipated composite South Australian side entering the VFL competition did not eventuate and (the) national competition still appears a long way off. One must ask does the 'Big V' want the game to go national, or does it still believe that the bleeding of clubs of their good players in other states is the path to tread? Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia are now coming in for more than their fair share of plundering and yet through it all some clubs in the VFL are declaring huge financial losses and until sanity is restored throughout Australia in the world of Australian Rules football, many more clubs will face financial ruin. The current economic climate is not encouraging and it is encumbent (sic.) upon us all to have a really serious think about where we are going and what we can do for our club. 
This last sentence takes on somewhat enhanced significance in light of what was to transpire some eight years later, but back in 1983 there appeared to be genuine doubt as to whether the Port Adelaide Football Club would still be in existence at all by 1990, let alone endeavouring to embark on a national adventure. Of all the SANFL's clubs, Port Adelaide would appear to have been hit the hardest by the economic difficulties of the early 1980s.
Given that it embarked on the 1983 season having won four of the previous six league premierships this may seem strange, but as numerous clubs were to discover in the ensuing couple of decades, on field achievements were no longer the primary benchmark by which success in football tended to be measured.
That Port Adelaide ultimately survived was attributable both to hard work and good business sense, with the latter being unequivocally derived from a somewhat rueful recognition that, in the new order of things, the SANFL and its constituent clubs had undergone a significant decline in status. For star Port Adelaide players of this era like Mark Williams, Greg Phillips, Craig Bradley, Bruce Abernethy, Danny Hughes, and Greg Anderson playing for the club that had once, with some justification, regarded itself as the strongest in the land, was no longer an end in itself, but a means towards an end - that end, needless to say, being participation in Australian football's elite competition, the VFL.
After several months of speculation, Jack Cahill returned 'home' to Port Adelaide at the end of a 1987 season that had seen the club, for the second year in a row, bow meekly out of the finals race after two successive losses. As far as veteran Port supporters were concerned, there was a certain element of déja vu to this return, from which they were hard pressed not to glean a certain optimism. More than a quarter of a century earlier, in 1962, the great Fos Williams had also made a welcome return to Alberton after a brief time away, and had immediately steered the team to a premiership. Could Jack do the same?
There could be no doubting the talent of the players: Greg Phillips and Bruce Abernethy had both returned from Victoria the previous year while still at or close to their peak as players, and with 1988 All Australian Martin Leslie they comprised one of the finest half back lines seen in South Australian football for many years; former Collingwood ruckman Russell Johnston combined guile and great resolve with tremendous leadership qualities; full back Roger Delaney and centreman Stephen Williams were very different, but equally accomplished, players who also shared the enviable ability to kick the ball 'a country mile'; lanky ruck-rover Andrew Obst was beginning to show the form that would make him a star in the VFL with Melbourne; full forward Scott Hodges was developing into a formidable spearhead; centre half forward Darren Smith was elegant, aerodynamic and imposing; and players like George Fiacchi, Tim Ginever, David Brown and Wayne Mahney almost certainly had black and white blood flowing through their veins, so fervent and unadulterated was their commitment to the Magpie cause.
Another possible reason for optimism in 1988, the two hundredth year of Australia's colonisation by Europeans, was that Port Adelaide had, in the past, demonstrated an uncanny and unequalled ability to lift the premiership in years with a special meaning to them. They had done so in 1936, South Australia's centenary year; 1951, when Australia celebrated its fiftieth year since Federation; 1958, the centenary of the game; and 1977, the centenary of the SANFL. What price five out of five?
Right from the outset, it was evident that Jack Cahill's return had lit the touch paper to something special. In round ones, the Magpies were merciless in overwhelming Sturt to the tune of 52 points, and thereafter, although the occasional game was dropped, it was obvious to most observers that Port Adelaide was the team to beat for the 1988 flag. Any lingering doubts anyone may have had over this were emphatically obliterated on Saturday 17th September when, on an afternoon plagued by gale force winds, the Magpies fronted up to arch rivals Norwood in the second semi final. By half time, Port had 5.14 on the board, while the Redlegs had troubled the scorers just once, for a minor score. Norwood finally managed a goal in the third term, but added just one more for the game in succumbing to one of the most humiliating defeats in the club's history. Final scores were Port Adelaide 10.17 (77); Norwood 2.5 (17).
The Magpies were now playing with a swagger and a confidence that recalled the previous John Cahill era, and which had been notoriously absent for much of Russell Ebert's time in charge. In the grand final, even after Glenelg had dominated much of the opening quarter, one got the impression that the Port players were merely flexing their muscles. When Glenelg's champion ruckman Peter Carey missed a rudimentary set shot for goal right on the quarter time siren his team mates seemed visibly to wilt, an impression that was starkly reinforced over the course of the next couple of terms as the Magpies added 7.8 to 1.4, effectively winning the match in the process. At the final siren the scoreboard showed Port Adelaide comfortable 29 point winners, 12.12 (84) to 8.7 (55), and while it may not have been a particularly eye-catching performance it was hard not to be impressed by the ruthless efficiency with which the Glenelg challenge had been extinguished.
Bruce Abernethy won the Jack Oatey Medal after an energetic rather than spectacular display at both half back and in the centre, while David Hynes proved a more than adequate replacement in the ruck for suspended skipper Russell Johnston. Martin Leslie and Greg Phillips were well nigh impassable across the half back line, while full back Roger Delaney kept Max Kruse goalless. Most of all though, it was a performance in which the unglamorous but often decisive elements of team play - shepherding, backing up, talking, tackling, smothering - were consistently and admirably manifested. The 'returning Messiah', John Cahill, summed up the victory with a characteristic combination of passion and precision:
We worked very hard for this. It started a year ago..... I suppose. We really had to succeed to prove the committee's decision was right. I was just pleased to come back to Alberton because I love Port Adelaide, it's where I played all and coached most of my football. It's been a very disciplined year both on and off the ground. I thought that as the season wore on we became more and more disciplined and more unselfish as a team unit. The players were prepared to work very hard and expected to work hard and committed themselves both on and off the track.
In 1989, the Magpies lifted their team skills and discipline to new levels, culminating in a 15.18 (108) to 1.8 (14) grand final annihilation of a North Adelaide side that by no means lacked talent, but was simply not permitted to compete on the day. It is easy to imagine certain members of the Port Adelaide board watching this awesome and indeed scarcely credible display and wondering whether their team had somehow out-grown its roots.
This is just speculation, of course. Nine months later, however, the club made a move that effectively split South Australian football asunder when it formally applied to field a team in the Australian Football League (as the VFL had been re-christened the previous year) from 1991. Such a move was in direct defiance of the declared stance of the SANFL, which did not consider that the time was yet right for a South Australian team to enter the AFL. The key word here is 'yet', as there was a tacit admission by the SANFL that there would ultimately come a point when the interests of football in the state would indeed be best served by involvement in the quasi-national competition which was evolving out of the old, suburban VFL. Port Adelaide's actions, however, effectively forced the SANFL's hand; consequently, in a quick fire but nevertheless carefully calculated response, the league applied to field a team of its own in the AFL. Ultimately, after a modicum of apparent procrastination, it was the SANFL's bid which was accepted, and so the Adelaide Crows were born.
One is tempted to presume in hindsight that this is what the AFL actually wanted all along, and that the Port Adelaide bid, unlike previous approaches from individual clubs, was encouraged and ostensibly treated seriously in order that the AFL might enjoy the benefits (mainly financial) of having a composite South Australian team in the fold somewhat earlier than the SANFL wished.
If Port Adelaide was indeed the 'fall guy' in all of this it received no sympathy from the non-black and white sections of the South Australian public. According to popular perception, the club, by its actions, had wrought irreversible division and discord in South Australian football, and there were even some who felt it ought to be excluded from the SANFL. It was not, of course - like it or not, the SANFL still needed Port Adelaide - but what is quite undeniable is that, since the events of 1990, the predominantly 'healthy hatred' which fans of other SANFL clubs felt towards Port Adelaide has been transformed into something altogether more intense, acrimonious and unforgiving. To many South Australian football supporters, Port Adelaide, in both its incarnations, is a veritable pariah.
Seldom has this attitude been more volubly or visibly expressed than at the 1990 SANFL grand final, which pitted 'the pariahs' of Port Adelaide against the club which had reacted most vehemently when news of the Magpies' AFL bid broke, Glenelg.
Over the years, Port Adelaide and the people associated with it have positively thrived on the antagonism and detestation of other clubs and their supporters, and during the first half of the 1990s, with such feelings at an all time high, the Magpies were in their element. With Jack Cahill still providing astute and inspirational leadership, the club won a premiership in 1992, unearthing one of the bona fide champions of the modern game in Nathan Buckley in the process, and after missing out in 1993 it proved its supremacy again in each of the following three seasons. By the time of the 1994 grand final win over Woodville-West Torrens it was clear that the AFL was desirous of admitting a second South Australian-based club to its ranks, and that Port Adelaide was rapidly emerging as its favoured option. By the time of the following season's grand final defeat of Central District the matter was as good as resolved, although the initially preferred year for the club's admission, 1996, was no longer deemed feasible as Fitzroy had had the audacity to defy both the odds and intense external pressures and continue to exist, and the AFL was adamant that it did not wish to expand its competition beyond sixteen clubs.
In 1996 therefore, Port Adelaide supporters enjoyed one last season devoting their exclusive attention to an SANFL competition in which their heroes performed with the now familiar authority, conviction and, ultimately, courtesy of a 36 point grand final win over Central District, success. David Brown, who won the Jack Oatey Medal for best afield, was one of a dozen members of the Magpies' 1996 senior squad who would be plying their trade with the club's AFL incarnation, the Power, in 1997.
Also returning home were Gavin Wanganeen (Essendon), a member of the club's 1990 premiership side, who had since won a Brownlow Medal, plus Braden Lyle and Shane Bond from West Coast. Other than that, Port's fledgling AFL side received very little in the way of recruiting favours, with its initial squad of 46 players boasting only 768 games of V/AFL experience, or an average of just under 17 games per player. Only Wanganeen (138 games) and Stephen Paxman (102 games with Fitzroy) had made it past the 100-game mark. Many supposed experts openly predicted that the Power would struggle to win a single game during their debut season in the 'big time'.
Almost inevitably, Port Adelaide's inaugural AFL coach was the man who had arguably done more for the club than anyone except Fos Williams, 'Gentleman Jack' Cahill. Midway through the 1996 season, Cahill had handed over the reins of the club's SANFL side to Stephen Williams, and begun the exhaustive process of preparing for the club's initial assault on the AFL.
That assault got underway in somewhat inauspicious style at the MCG on 29th March, 1997 as Collingwood handed the club that had until recently shared both its colours and its logo a hefty 13-goal belting. A home loss to Essendon followed, but in round three the Power issued a warning to the rest of the competition by not only downing Geelong at Football Park, but doing so with a style and a conviction that belied the team's inexperience. Over the ensuing weeks the team played a brand of football that was as eye-catching as it was often inconsistent, scoring some noteworthy wins, and sustaining a number of sizeable losses. Nevertheless, its ultimate achievement in only failing to qualify for the finals on percentage arguably deserved much more in the way of commendation than it received.
Port's second season in the 'big time', perhaps predictably, proceeded less smoothly. The side was still no guaranteed pushover, and victories over eventual premiers Adelaide, Carlton by 89 points at Optus Oval, and the Western Bulldogs by 34 points in a low scoring game at Football Park were particularly noteworthy. However, nine and a half wins for the year left something to be desired, and John Cahill's two year tenure as coach was brought - not particularly acrimoniously, it has to be said, but nevertheless disappointingly - to an end.
The appointment of Mark Williams, a former Port Adelaide, West Adelaide, Collingwood, and Brisbane Bears player, as Cahill's successor was perhaps predictable but was no less popular for that. Williams had certainly served his apprenticeship, with spells as assistant coach at both Windy Hill and Alberton, as well as a two year stint as senior coach at Glenelg. During his period as Cahill's assistant with the Power he had been widely credited with bringing the best out of young players such as Bowen Lockwood, Stuart Dew and Nick Stevens, and given the fact that Port had probably the youngest senior squad in the AFL he looked well placed to exploit their potential.
Prior to the start of the 1999 season the clear and unambiguous aim was finals participation; nothing less would suffice. A solid pre-season brought the club's first AFL grand final appearance - albeit only in the Ansett-Australia Cup - and, at the time, the 47 point loss to Hawthorn was viewed as just a temporary hiccup. The first three rounds of the home and away season seemed to bear this out as Port scored commendable wins in Sydney, at home to Fremantle, and at the Gabba, but this was followed by a sustained slump which cast doubts on the team's ability to compete consistently at the top level. The response, between round thirteen and seventeen, was emphatic, a club record 5 consecutive wins reaffirming the claim to finals involvement, if failing for the most part to cast aside the doubts of the cynics.
Nevertheless, by any objective criteria, the Power's eventual qualification for the finals was a significant achievement, especially given the substantial recruitment restrictions within which the club was required to construct its AFL squad.
The major blip on the club's AFL report card to date came with a 2000 season that yielded just seven wins and a draw and fourteenth spot on the ladder. However, recovery came swiftly, and for the next five successive seasons the Power contested the finals, initially with limited success, eliciting a modicum of dissatisfaction with Mark Williams' coaching style. However, speculation that his future might be in doubt was rapidly knocked on the head at the close of the 2003 season, and in 2004 the man known with slightly mischievous affection as 'Choco' was entrusted with the task of overseeing operations at Alberton for a sixth successive year.
Right from the opening round of the season, in which Essendon was almost brutally cast aside by more than 100 points at AAMI Stadium, it was evident that that there was an enhanced resolve and purpose about the Port Adelaide players. As the season wore on, despite encountering setbacks which would have floored a lesser team - an injury list second to none in the competition, a dismal mid-year hiding at the hands of the Kangaroos, for example - that resolve and purpose steadily grew. After clinching a remarkable third successive minor premiership, the Power made short shrift of Geelong in the opening week of the finals, and then had to call on every ounce of determination and courage to outlast a brazen challenge from St Kilda in the club's first home preliminary final. In hindsight, Port's 6 point triumph in that game can almost be regarded as the moment the 2004 premiership was clinched.
Not that it seemed that way as the team lined up against triple premier Brisbane in front of 77,671 spectators at the MCG on grand final day, particularly after the Lions had overcome a stuttering start to lead by a single point at the main break. The early part of the third term was an arm wrestle, during which the teams traded goals, but late in the quarter the Power, with veteran champion Gavin Wanganeen to the fore, suddenly switched on the accelerator and moved out to a 17 point advantage. Two further goals to Wanganeen (for a total of 4) early in the last quarter effectively sealed the result, with the Power eventually winning by 40 points, 17.11 (113) to 10.13 (73), erasing three seasons of agony and unfulfilled potential, and emphatically silencing the doubters, in the process. Along with Wanganeen, some of the best among Port's many fine players included Norm Smith Medallist Byron Pickett (3 goals), silkily skilled midfielder Peter Burgoyne, dogged tagger Kane Cornes, who kept the dangerous Simon Black quiet, strong marking forward Toby Thurstans, and hard-as-nails midfielder Josh Carr.
After the euphoria of 2004, the 2005 season was a disappointment, with the team displaying horrendously inconsistent form in both the home and away season and the finals. Indeed, for much of the season finals qualification appeared unlikely, but solid wins in the last two rounds against Brisbane at the Gabba and Fremantle at AAMI Stadium ultimately secured eighth place on the ladder. A resounding 87-point elimination final defeat of the Kangaroos in Melbourne spawned genuine optimism that a back-to-back premiership triumph might be on the cards, but in the following week's semi final the Power were overwhelmed to the tune of 83 points by minor premier Adelaide.
On the face of it, the 2006 season brought yet further decline, with seasoned players like Gavin Wanganeen and Josh Francou retiring, and 8 wins from 22 matches consigning the Power to the comparative indignity of twelfth position on the premiership ladder. However, the enormous promise shown by youngsters such as Danyle Peace, Elijah Ware, Troy Chaplin and Jacob Surjan strongly suggested that the team's decline in fortune would only be temporary.
In 2007, Port Adelaide's supporters underwent an emotional roller-coaster ride the like of which few if any of them would ever have previously experienced. In one sense, the promise hinted at in 2006 was built on to an extent far in excess of even the most optimistic of expectations as the Power battled their way through to a second grand final appearance in four seasons. Ultimately, however, following the side's unprecedented annihilation in that grand final, it was a season of inordinate disappointment, engendering no small amount of perplexity and soul-searching.
While it would perhaps be going too far to suggest that the defeat undid all the good of the preceding five or six months, it undoubtedly constituted something of a reality check, as well as giving rise to some short term challenges of a sort with which the club had had little recent experience of dealing, and with which, to be brutally frank, it abjectly failed to cope, at any rate during a dismal 2008 season that produced just 7 wins from 22 matches and consigned the team to the ignominy of thirteenth place on the premiership ladder. The 2009 season brought only marginal improvement - a 9-13 record and tenth place in the standings - but most of the headlines associated with the club had to do more with its parlous financial position than its on field performances.
Mark Williams was replaced as coach by Matthew Primus midway through a 2010 season that saw the Power again finish tenth, this time with a 10-12 record. After the season ended it was announced that Port's AFL and SANFL manifestations would be undergoing a merger of sorts, although critically the playing sides of the two clubs would continue to be run independently of one another. Actually allowing the Magpies to function as a feeder or reserve team to the Power remained, at the time, a wholly unlikely and, to a majority of South Australians, unpalatable prospect.
Season 2011 was the most disappointing yet - a final round win against Melbourne at the Adelaide Oval (earmarked as the club's new home ground in 2014) saving the Power from the ignominy of a first AFL wooden spoon (which instead went to debutants Gold Coast). The following season saw the Power improve marginally but following a round nineteen loss away to Greater Western Sydney Matthew Primus was asked to step down as coach. For the remaining 4 matches of the season the senior coaching duties were assumed by Port Magpies coach Gary Hocking. Then, on 8th October 2012 Ken Hinkley was unveiled as the club’s new permanent coach, a move that was significant in that it was the first time in over sixty years that Port Adelaide had appointed a coach with no previous association with the club. Since retiring as a player with Geelong following the Cats’ grand final loss to Carlton in 1995 Hinkley had held numerous coaching positions including most recently the post of assistant coach at Gold Coast.
The Hinkley formula proved surprisingly effective with the Power contesting the 2013 finals and ultimately finishing fifth. A shock elimination final defeat of Collingwood on the MCG was particularly satisfying.
On 10th September Port Adelaide and the SANFL announced that they had agreed to a model which allowed any of Port’s AFL-listed players who were not picked to play for the club’s AFL team to represent the club in the SANFL. The fact that all the other SANFL clubs had acquiesced to this was as surprising as it was - from a Port Adelaide perspective - gratifying.
In 2014 Port Adelaide, along with the Adelaide Crows, adopted the redeveloped Adelaide Oval as their home ground. As if in celebration of the move the Power produced their best ever start to an AFL season, winning 10 of their first 11 matches to top the ladder at the halfway mark of the year. Thereafter, however, their form was patchy, and although they ultimately qualified for the finals they missed out on the double chance. The Power did well in the finals, convincingly defeating Richmond at the Adelaide Oval and scoring a rousing come from behind victory over Fremantle at Subiaco. Their preliminary final clash with Hawthorn at the MCG saw another late surge by the Power but on this occasion they fell narrowly short, with the Hawks winning 15.7 (97) to 13.16 (94).
Widely expected to kick on after their third place finish in 2014 the Power’s fortunes have actually declined appreciably. In 2015 they managed 12 wins to miss the finals narrowly, and the following year they dropped one place on the premiership ladder to tenth after winning just 10 games. The Power then flattered to deceive during a 2017 season which brought comfortable finals qualification followed by the hollow anti-climax of a soul destroying extra time loss to West Coast in an elimination final. A year later they ended their campaign like a damp squib, catapulting from fourth place with four games to go to tenth place at season's end. The imposing form showed by Port Adelaide during the first half of the 2014 season as well as during that year’s finals is beginning to seem like a distant memory. One thing Port’s history repeatedly shows, however, is that the club is usually quick to learn from its mistakes. It would therefore not be at all surprising to see the Power making a concerted tilt at premiership glory sooner rather than later.
(For a history of the Port Adelaide Magpies since 1997, see Port Adelaide Magpies)
Note: This article was written by John Devaney and subsequently updated with additonal material from australianfootball.com writers