First Kevin Rudd, now Mark Williams: a month of tearful goodbyes. The two organisations I love the most have lost their leaders, both to bloody coups. One changes the country forever, the other changes a community forever. The Port Adelaide Football Club is a community that thrives on its culture of tradition. Williams, 51, has been a part of the Port Adelaide Football Club since birth. His father Fos, was arguably the club’s most successful coach having led the Magpies to nine premierships in the 1950s and 60s. Mark played in four premierships for the Port Adelaide Magpies, (1979, 1980, 1990, 1992) having played for both Collingwood and Brisbane in between. As Port Adelaide moved into the AFL he joined the Power as assistant coach in 1997, taking over as senior coach the year after, having coached the team to a Premiership (2004) and leading them to another Grand Final (2007).
Few who read this blog are remotely interested in AFL, most don’t even know what it is, so it is hard to describe my current emotions accurately. It is unlike the Rudd experience where I can share it with others across the nation and the world. People who don’t follow AFL. or sport in general, might think that losing the coach of your team is nothing to be upset about. Although I do agree it was time for ‘Chocco’ to move on, it still hurts. If losing Kevin was divorce, losing the coach of your beloved football team (Especially one as iconic as Mark Williams was), is like having a relative die. Watching footy for me is a ritualistic past time, its one of the things that bonds me to my father, to my brother, to my grandmother and to my best friend, all for different reasons. Watching Port Adelaide Power for the past 11 seasons, every single week, seven months of the year was to watch the communal embodiment of Mark Williams.
The most that defines Mark Williams as a coach, and as a human being is that last minute of the 2004 Grand Final. In my Moments of the 00s blog I describe it this way:
Even now I tear up watching the final moments as coach Mark Williams walks down the stairs of the MCG in tears as the ‘choker tag’ is finally defeated. It’s the most emotional sporting moment of my life thus far.
Walking down those steps descending the Northern Stand, tears in his eyes as he finally realises the dream of his life, to follow in his father’s footsteps and coach a Port Adelaide team to premiership victory, you could not help but be emotional. As a Port Adelaide supporter I knew how carthardic that moment was. Others who fail to understand the Port Adelaide culture thought he carried on a bit too much, that there was no need to make a choking signal to the MCG members (who taunted the club by calling us ‘chokers’ after finishing top of the ladder, but failing to make the Grand Final in the two previous seasons) or deliberately calling out the club’s major sponsor during the presentation for his lack of loyalty. But that was ‘Chocco’ and we loved him for it.
Mark Williams coached Port Adelaide Power the same way he played: tough, uncompromising but fiercely loyal to his team. This will be the first time a Williams family member has not played or coached either the Magpies or the Power in nearly six decades. This is not only the end of an era, but the end of a tradition.
There are only two players left at the Power who were there when Mark Williams took over as coach. Personally, one of a only a few of my non familial links to my home town is now gone. The day that Mark Williams would no longer coach Port Adelaide, was always going to come soon, but in conjunction with Kevin Rudd’s resignation, it really is further proof that time marches on to its own beat, and there is no room for sentimentality in either football or politics.