The memorable games at Adelaide Oval didn’t have to be finals or interstate clashes. A 1984 Sunday afternoon minor round clash between South Adelaide and Port Adelaide ended with the ball in the hands of strapping young Panther Darren Harris at half-forward, more-or-less level with the line to start the centre square. The famous heritage-listed Adelaide Oval scoreboard, designed by architect Kenneth Milne and first used in 1911, showed the Magpies were up by two points but, as Harris started to run in, the final siren went. Harris tracked back for his decisive kick, the crowd starting to run onto the ground as Channel Seven commentator and Tigers premiership captain Peter Marker declared: “That’s a huge kick, that’s a gigantic kick. He’ll have to kick that 60 metres.”
Harris’ powerful, straight kick just carried over a huge pack of Port Adelaide players, Marker’s co-commentator Ian Day yelling this was “the most electrifying finish I have seen in 20 years of calling football.”
Twenty years earlier Day had played a prominent role in a stunning Panthers win against Port at Adelaide Oval. The 1964 grand final is the SANFL’s classic rags-to-riches tale, engrained in the memories of South supporters as the club’s only grand final win since 1938. It came against all odds, Neil Kerley having taken over as captain-coach of a club that had just won the wooden spoon. The narrator of the Rothmans newsreel of the game gives Day an enthusiastic wrap, declaring: “Ian Day has a great opportunity of sealing the flag for South … his kick is through the centre in a great moment for Daisy who now goes into retirement as Souths win the premiership nine goals 15 to Port’s 5.12.”
Footy is a passionate and emotional game. And at Adelaide Oval in 1996 there was plenty of both when Sturt, SA’s power club of the 1960s and ’70s that, battling crippling financial debts and a mounting collection of wooden spoons, had come so close to closing its doors forever the previous year, ended a losing run of 26 matches over 602 days. Fans rushed onto the ground after the Blues had overcome West Adelaide by seven points to mob Phil Carman’s men in scenes you would have sworn would only come after a narrow grand final victory. There were a few tears shed – but not as many as at the last minor round game of 1990 at the ground.
This was a day of endings and beginnings. The clash between West Torrens and Woodville was the last game for the clubs as separate entities. It was the last game before they would be merged together as the Woodville-West Torrens Eagles. By a fateful quirk of the SANFL program, Torrens and Woodville had been scheduled to meet in the last minor round of 1990 at Adelaide Oval. This had been a year of upheaval for the local competition, which the following year would have the Adelaide Crows represent it in the Australian Football League.
The forecasts for the future of the SANFL competition weren’t exactly rosy, so the Woodville and West Torrens clubs started talks of a possible merger. By the time the final minor round came around, members of both clubs had voted in favour of it.
“It was fairly emotional,” recalled Torrens great Bruce Lindsay, “standing in the middle of Adelaide Oval knowing that was the last time you would wear that jumper.” The following year Lindsay would be one of the first to wear a Crows jumper. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as the Eagles fans had yelled a deep-throated “Bru-u-u-ce” every time this crowd favourite booted the ball out of defence, so did the new breed of Crows supporters.
Thirty-nine-year-old Ralph “Zip Zap” Sewer, in the final one of his 394 games uniquely spread over four different decades, set the crowd alight, while charismatic full forward Allen Jakovich booted 13 goals, topping the century for the season as the Warriors won by 45 points.
As has been the case at so many historic football moments at the ground, many of 7770 fans who had been on a rollercoaster ride that day ended out on the hallowed turf. In moving scenes, opposing supporters swapped scarfs and flags. The following year they would be supporting the same team.
The famous Adelaide Oval battles haven’t just been waged on the field of play. There was a protracted tussle with council and residents before lights were constructed for night sport in 1997. But the Oval’s first night football clash under lights remarkably had been played 112 years earlier.
Adelaide beat South Adelaide 1.8 to 0.8 in this historic 1885 clash. But steam-engine driven
You didn’t have to kick a bag of goals to get the crowd roaring. Or to be the matchwinner. West Torrens’ Ray Hank kicked just one goal in the 1953 grand final blockbuster against Port Adelaide. But what a goal. The Eagles were holding on like grim death just one point up as Port mounted a threatening last-gasp attack to the scoreboard end. But Torrens half-back Frank Graham brilliantly intercepted a Magpies handball and cleared down the members’ grandstand wing, where Errol Lodge marked. His kick was marked by Doug Cockshell, who thumped the ball into the scoring area. It ended up in the hands of Hank, whose tired drop kick just beat the opposition defenders for the matchwinning goal.
“I can go out to the Adelaide Oval and I’ll say look at that spot out there. It would be at least 180 yards out,” Ray joked. Older brother Bob said: “Ray reckons the kick was 50 yards but it wasn't that far! But it went through. We were gone if Frank hadn't intercepted that handball.”
There have been so many what-ifs, so many close calls, so many great memories. The great moments of Adelaide Oval make an unforgettable past. And there will be so many more to come in a glorious future.