The Showdown has long been one of the most acrimonious rivalries in football. From the inception of both South Australian teams, there’s a deep antagonism that has bubbled between Adelaide and Port Adelaide. The matches are always physical competitions, as players and fans alike are driven into fever pitch by the media cauldron of sport in Adelaide.
The famous Ramsgate incident of 2002 lives on in historical recollections — the myth is of a heated punch-up, but no charges were laid and participants to this day insist it was more of a drunken wrestle that started between Mark Ricciuto and Josh Carr and spread to other similarly intoxicated team mates than a battle for the ages.
In the 13 years since that battle, a lot has changed in football — an entire team spending five hours at the pub directly after a game in the middle of the season would never happen now — and with the retirement of Kane Cornes, none of the participants of the brutal earliest days of Showdown history remain.
Phil Walsh was not the first person involved in South Australian football to cross the great divide between the Crows and the Power, though he’ll leave the greatest legacy. Matthew Bode started his career with Port Adelaide and went on to spend six years playing with the Crows, now acting as a runner and member of the fitness staff. Crows premiership players Shaun Rehn and Tyson Edwards both served as assistant coaches at the Power. Retired Crows defender Ben Rutten is currently in business with Power captain Travis Boak and midfielder Robbie Gray as part owners of the multi-million dollar establishment The Moseley Bar & Kitchen in Glenelg.
Even now in the AFL’s greatest era of expansion, there are only 18 clubs. Clubs who employ several hundred players and even less coaching and administrative positions. The industry has moved on from visceral tribal rivalries even though many of the fans have not and this have never been more apparent than during Showdown 39.
AFL football is more demanding on the players and the coaching staff than it has ever been before — from the moment players are drafted the weight of expectation and the pressure of the public and the 24/7 media scrutiny is ever present. This high pressure environment results in a bond between all players and coaching staff that cannot really be understood by outsiders, even the most passionate of fans.
Football fans live in a world where many of them loathe supporters of the opposing team, and the players — especially in Adelaide, but the truth is, the players don’t feel that for each other off the field. Siren to siren the contests are still intense, but they are far more professional when the white line is crossed — and they are actually friendly outside of the boundaries.
When questioned pre-game Rory Sloane was asked by Bruce McAvaney if Port Adelaide was his most disliked team, and he stated that he has a “huge amount of respect for Port, especially the way that they’ve gone about it the last few years. And it does get pumped up, the rivalry but we do see these guys a lot. And we do spend a lot of time with guys like Boaky and those sort of guys as well.”
The bond players share has been strengthened even further between the traditional rivals with the tragic death of Phil Walsh — an engaging and passionate man, Walsh clearly had a tremendous impact on all of the current players and staff of Port Adelaide and the Crows.
While the players and the industry have become more professional, there are many fans who have gone in the opposite direction and unfortunately have tarnished the atmosphere of games. There are many supporters of both the Crows and Power who no longer like to attend Showdowns because of the charged toxicity of an environment that is only made worse by excessive consumption of alcohol. It is not uncommon to have brutal verbal abuse thrown back and forth, and to even have it escalate to physical violence.
The Crows and Power administration were remarkable in the lead up to the Showdown. The supporter groups came together to make a single gigantic black banner that was a message for Phil Walsh and the players. Crows supporters were invited to and participated in the march to Adelaide Oval and amidst the traditional Power chant, Walshy’s name echoed out. The pre-game events were significantly scaled back with a number of video tributes to the former coach played in the lead-up to the first bounce.
A large segment of the Port Adelaide crowd unfortunately seemed to forget both football clubs had agreed to be united before and after the bounce – with raucous boos echoing out as the Crows entered the field to warm up before the game. However excellent planning by both clubs shut this down as Port Adelaide entered the field seconds later — this was mirrored when the teams ran out together towards the joint banner.
Many Crows fans unfortunately mocked the Power’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart” tradition again during Showdown 39, but it was a truly moving and beautiful moment as the usual footage of the players was instead replaced by images of Phil Walsh during his career and playing time with both clubs, finishing with pictures of the thousands of tributes laid out by many fans after Walsh’s death.
Showdown 39 was a scintillating game of football. In a year of congested, low scoring footy, the Power and the Crows put on a beautiful display that honoured the memory of the man both clubs loved. From the first bounce the atmosphere was finals-like, and throughout the match players tackled fiercely and played with incredible intensity.
It was pure football and clean kicking from the Crows in the first quarter as they discovered an accuracy in front of goal that has eluded them for years — each team had seven scores on the board, but the Crows led 6.1 to 3.4 at the end of the first quarter.
Jacob’s domination in the ruck gave Adelaide first use of the ball and the Crows used it to full advantage in the first half, with a remarkable 11.3 to Port’s 8.4. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Power, with Patrick Ryder playing his best game for his new team, with a mark of the year contender and three excellent goals for the match.
The Crows’ better ball use in the forward 50 continued throughout the game, a resurgent Power attempted to steal the match in the last quarter taking advantage of a missing Daniel Talia and Sam Jacobs who was on the bench getting treatment on an injured eye, but the Power were wasteful in front of goal, kicking 4.5 to the Crows’ two points in the final term, the surge not enough to overcome the excellent first half by Adelaide.
As the final minutes of the nail-biting contest ticked down, the unity between the two great rivals was shown again off-field with club chairmen Rob Chapman and David Koch standing with their arms around each other and tears in their eyes as the game wound to a conclusion. Walsh would have been proud of the excellent contest that the last two clubs he coached for had engaged in. In a year in which the scoring capacity of many teams has been stifled, to have both clubs score over 100 points was brilliant to watch.
Scott Thompson was the deserving winner of the renamed Showdown medal – The Phillip Walsh Medal for best on ground – with a remarkable 36 disposals, 13 clearances, five inside 50s, eight tackles and a goal, he was an essential part of Adelaide’s midfield dominance and eventual victory. It was presented by Walsh’s daughter Quinn.
Captain Taylor Walker, initially greeted by boos from the opposing team supporters accepted the Showdown trophy, embraced Quinn and then thanked fans and Port Adelaide for their support during this difficult time. When the ceremonies were completed, he and Travis Boak shook hands, and then exchanged guernseys.
There are only two Showdowns a year and the Power held up its end of the bargain and generously shared the day with the Crows from beginning to end in order to commemorate and celebrate the life of a coach that the two teams had shared. At the conclusion of the match there was another tribute to Walsh, which brought his daughter Quinn, and many others, to tears — a minute’s applause to celebrate the life of a passionate and remarkable man.
We can only hope as supporters of our remarkable game that we can take a page from the way the majority of players and clubs conduct themselves in the modern era of football – hard but fair in the contest.
While many fans will clearly and disappointingly cling to the excessive vitriol of the rivalry, there is no doubt that the players and the administration groups of the two clubs had been forever changed by the force of their shared grief, and the celebration of the life of the man they both loved.