Sunday, 21 September 2014

Living the Creed


"We, the Players and Management of the Port Adelaide Football Club, accept the heritage which players and administrators have passed down to us; in so doing we do not intend to rest in idleness but shall strive with all our power to further this Club's unexcelled achievements.

To do this we believe there is great merit and noble achievements in winning a premiership.

To be successful, each of us must be active, aggressive and devoted to this cause. We agree that success is well within our reach and have confidence that each member of both the team and management will suffer personal sacrifices for the common end.

Also we know that, should we after striving to our utmost and giving our everything, still not be successful, our efforts will become a further part of this Club's enviable tradition.

Finally, we concede that there can be honour in defeat, but to each of us, honourable defeat of our Club and guernsey can come only after human endeavour on the playing field is completely exhausted."

Fos Williams, 1962

It is no secret that the things I love most in life are two of the most divided past times: politics and sport.  I love Port Adelaide Football Club, and while most readers may not know or care about its fortunes: its wins and losses, its players, its coaches, its fans, or the fact that our season ended last night, this is not just a story about sport. Nor is this your typical sports story. We did not triumph in the big game, against a fierce rival, in the last minute.

No, this story is about me, and my community.

One day when I die, there will be a Port Adelaide Football Club scarf draped over my coffin.

I first thought about this morbid motif at the beginning of 2011. This was the height of my depressive illness. I would picture my death and plan my funeral to the last detail. That scarf would go with me I thought, because it was one of the only things I cared about anymore. Yes, it seems strange to care about a football team when you have nothing left, but sometimes you have to hold on to small things.

Not coincidentally it was at this time too that the media were quick to deem my club '...irrelevant...' after several heavy defeats, poor financial management, and the loss of its core supporter base. This was not without justification. Port Adelaide were rotten to the core in the final years of Mark Williams, and it only got worse under Matthew Primus. The club was selfish, aimless, inexperienced, battered, bruised and psychologically damaged after living through the worst kind of infamy. Much like this supporter.

In September 2012 after another horrible season where Primus was sacked, the worst kind of tragedy occurred. Respected player and much loved club man, John McCarthy fell to his death during the end of season trip. I wondered aloud if things could get much worse. I'll be honest and say that McCarthy wasn't my favourite player at the club, and he only played a year with us, but I really thought it would be the end of our club. From 2007 to that ugly point, the club had shown no resilence whatsoever. We were done. Our mental demons would scar us for life.

Just as my fortunes began to turn, so did Port Adelaide's. Just four weeks after the death of McCarthy, financial commentator and breakfast TV host, David Koch, became President of our club. I continue to loathe and show visible disdain for Koch the personality, but the change he and the then new Chief Executive Officer, Keith Thomas, helped foster has transformed our club. The best move those two men ever made was to appoint a new coach of the team.

Just two months before I moved out of home, Ken Hinkley arrived at our football club. He promised that there would be no more excuses for poor performance, that the club would fight to win back the respect of the club's supporters and the whole competition. I was dubious, I must admit. Throughout our five years in the wilderness, the club talked about living The Creed, but the ideals it encouraged blew away like it was caught in a windstorm.

Hinkley started to raise the bar without a ball being kicked.

We will never give up because we are Port Adelaide

This catch cry struck me because of its simplicity and boldness.

It is pretty easy to say a football team 'will never give up' but how do you measure tenacity on a football field? Everybody (supposedly) tries hard. Every man aims to get the best out of himself. This claim essentially aimed to follow The Creed, but if that did not resonate with the club for five years what else do you do? You appoint a captain who embodies leadership, perseverance and skill. A kid who lost his father at 16, did it tough in Victoria growing up, but who still loved the club enough to re-sign a contract in its darkest hour, despite the temptation to be closer to his family. You play a risky, fast paced, highly skillful game. Then you really mean it when you say 'We will never give up because we are Port Adelaide.'

That's exactly what happened last year, as we played a highly entertaining game of football and came back from impossible positions in games again and again. Then we surprised everyone by making the semi finals before we lost to an experienced Geelong, who had dominated the competition for longer than our 5 year mental sabbatical.

The questions that needed to be answered this year were whether Port Adelaide was more than a flash in the pan? Was there more than fast running and flashy play? Was there substance behind this polished exterior? Could we back it up? I was optimistic, but I was not certain.

I should not have worried. We were top of the ladder before a mid season slump, eventually finishing fifth. Ever the pragmatist, I worried still. You see if you finish in the first four at the end of year, your team gets a second chance if you lose the first game. We lost our last game of our season to finish fifth, meaning we did not get that chance. To win the competition the team had to win all four finals. No team has done that before.

Yet again I thought we were gone. As I wrote on my Facebook page at the time:
AFL is fair and cruel all at once. We might survive a few more weeks, but I think that's the year gone... I feel like I played the game today, and this kick in the guts will likely last another 12 months until I try to will my team towards a redemptive quest in 2015...I hope I am proven wrong and we do defeat four highly skilled opponents in four weeks. I will continue to wish that we do. Until then we will all continue to fight on, because we don't have any other option, for #weareportadelaide.
Then once again, we reached the semi final last week, playing away from home against a tough opponent. We were in an impossible position, 5 goals down just before half time, going on to win by 4 goals at the end. This was truly living Hinkley's ethos: We Never, Ever, Gave Up. We Were Port Adelaide.

Then last night we played the reigning premier, and the favourites to win this year's competition too. The whole game we were outclassed by an opponent who knew how to take its chances and had more experience. Then with 10 minutes to go in the game, I literally ignored Hinkley:

I. Gave. Up.

The players didn't. We kicked 4 goals in 8 minutes, but we failed to kick the last one we needed. We lost by 3 points. I cried for a good ten minutes and it made me think of that Facebook post I wrote before the finals:
People may wonder why I continue to post here so regularly about football, and not understand how I, a fairly rigid intellectual type, can take sport so seriously.

A lifetime of unfulfilled hopes and dreams are invested in a group of 40 men, all of whom I have absolutely no control over...

Port Adelaide Football Club is my team for so may reasons, but like them 'I will never ever give up', even if I see our appointed representative on that dais at the MCG in September/October because I will always desire more. AFL dominates my life because it is the only 'active' outlet I have where there are variables. When I cry with MY players, I really am crying. When I cheer, I am pleading for more, even though I, myself, cannot actually give more. I need the shared bond of the 'Port Adelaide Creed'. It is part of the fabric of my life in a way that no one else will be able to comprehend.

The players, coaches, management, and its other supporters have followed The Hinkley Mantra. Like my beloved team who has performed so bravely over the past two years I have learnt that I must Never, Ever, Give Up. This is what the Port Adelaide community is all about. They are my people. This is my tribe. The club will be better next year.

How do I know this?

We all live the Port Adelaide Creed. That I can now say with unwavering certainty. 

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