Friday, 12 February 2010

The Mighty Magical Magpies

Warning: Below is a post talking about sport.


One of the most fantastic things about being born and growing up in Adelaide is developing a passion for Aussie Rules Football. In South Australia like Victoria, AFL is life, we live and breathe it, and it is as tribal as you can get. Generations of families follow the same clubs.The South Australian National Football League (SANFL) was my favourite sporting league growing up because of these things.

My Dad’s family followed Sturt, the double blues, based in the middle class suburb of Unley. My Dad’s great grandfather was President of the club, and thus the rest of his family followed suit and were Sturt through and through. Dad’s mum (Nanna) would make cupcakes with blue icing and call them ‘double blues cakes’, this was her trademark as my brother and I grew up. My mother’s family meanwhile followed Port Adelaide, her mum (Grandma) having grown up in this working class area of Adelaide. In Port Adelaide you breed them tough as nails. Outsiders to Port Adelaide use the term ‘Port Adelaide wharfies’ with scorn fearing that they would rip your head off literally if you didn’t follow the Magpies. This stereotype was not without some foundation.

In one of the greatest ironies of their relationship, my mother and father chose to get married on a day that Port played Sturt. As I try to picture the service in my mind I imagine the attendant asking not ‘Bride or Groom?’ but rather ‘Port or Sturt?’ Family legend has it that as soon as the service was over, the celebrant went out the back to check the halftime score. In a move that may have been intentional, Dad chose to wear a blue tux at the wedding, perhaps in a show of support (but hey it was 1978 after all so who knows?).

For me, the choice was easy. Even though for the majority of my childhood we lived in the heart of Sturt territory, my heart was always with Port Adelaide. The bus driver who used to take me on the hour long trip to special school was a Port Adelaide man. Just as I was learning to talk, he taught me how to say ‘Scotty Hodges’, Port’s champion player of the 80s and 90s. In last days of amateur footy, some of the champion players used to work as maintenance guys at the school. For the first time heroes were actually real.

To understand its impact, you have to appreciate the era of football in South Australia. In this period (1988-1998) Port won seven premierships. This was a time where despite their dominance Port always took on the role of the underdog. Their players weren’t always the most talented or skillful, but they were hard and tough, and would always fight to death to win a game of footy. 1990 was the year my interest in footy really took off. The aforementioned Scott Hodges kicked a league record 150 goals that year on the way to the Magpies winning the flag. The afternoon before the count of the Magarey Medal (awarded for the league's best player) I, at age 6 confidently predicted ‘that my mate Scotty will win the Magarey’ I bet the bus driver $1 because he thought this was highly unlikely. That night Scotty won the medal, and I squeeled with delight as the bus driver was forced to pay up.

However my favourite Magpie Memory was the 1996 Preliminary Final, which I attended at Football Park, sitting in the outer with a family I stayed with for respite, and they all HATED the Magpies. Port were trailing all day, and at the start of the last quarter were coming back. Then this happened:

Scotty Hodges does it again and kicks the winning goal to put Port Adelaide in the grand final, and we won the title that year.

Why is this so important you may ask? Well the 2010 Magpies are broke and its looking likely that the Magpies as I know them will fold. South Australia will lose a sacred piece of its history, because the bigger Australian Football League (AFL) has swallowed up the Magpies particularly since its younger sibling Port Power, (a team I also love) joined that league in 1997. If the Maggies do go, it will be a sad day. Not only will I lose one of the most enjoyable things from my childhood, but my grandmother who has been following the Magpies for over 70 years will lose her team. So will thousands of other fans. And I bet the Sturt supporters will be sad too.

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