The Great Grand Final Heist


Craig Balme has lifted the lid on one of the most famous and iconic SANFL grand finals of all time, admitting the pre-match incident with Port full forward Tim Evans in 1984 was planned.

“Oh, absolutely. I make no apologies for that,” Balme said from Brisbane. “It was a very serious effort to diminish his influence. I wouldn’t have gone to the length I went to without the involvement of the match committee, let’s say.”

Evans reacted after being provoked by Balme as the national anthem rang out, with the Port man ultimately reported for striking. “I had the yapper out. He responded to a shoulder thrust of mine,” Balme recalled. And he revealed 1978 premiership full back Ian Stasinowsky was the architect of the scheme, presenting him with detailed instructions on how to destabilise and nullify Evans. Stasinowsky had a strong record on the Magpies spearhead.

“Tim Evans was a huge threat to our success on the day,” Balme said. “Stazz was a source of a great amount of information for me and clearly Tim didn’t respond that well to it. It was my 21st game in South Australia because I’d moved earlier in the year from Victoria so I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the SANFL history or who was good and who wasn’t. I was sort of finding my way. So I really appreciated having the meeting with him in the lead-up to the game. We met at the footy club and I’ve still got the bit of paper that outlines Tim’s strengths and players who are ahead of him and where he leads to, so it was a very carefully thought through strategy.”

Port Adelaide’s Tim Evans and Norwood’s Craig Balme tangle during the national anthem moments before the first bounce of  the 1984 grand final, leading to umpire Laurie Argent plonking himself between the pair.

Confirmation of the paper’s existence makes it a compelling exhibit for any SANFL history exhibition – but that is not likely to happen. “I said to my wife I might even send it to Norwood so they can have it in their memorabilia collection but my two sons and my wife said, ‘No, that’s Balme family history, we want to keep that’. And it’s got some colourful language on it as well, so that’s why I wouldn’t like it to go public.”

Balme wouldn’t reveal the specifics of his verbal needle but insists it did not sink into the gutter as has been speculated. “I think that’s probably best left between him and me. It was all about putting him off his game.”

Evans still finished with 4.5 but significantly missed several chances he’d have usually scored. Balme’s revelations are significant because coach and brother Neil denied any plot after the match, although he noted: “Pure football by the rules of the game are for people who don’t win.”

The ’84 grand final was a contest laden with unforgettable moments that remain burned in the memories of all who saw it. The spot fires reignited just 30 seconds into the match when more than half the players on the ground converged on Norwood’s half-forward line. “Players running from everywhere,” screamed commentator Ian Day. “It’s on, it’s a stoush!” The resultant free kick to Michael Aish became the first score of the game. Moments later, Evans outmarked Balme 10 metres from goal but the kick was reversed after Stephen Knight jumped into him and Dwayne Russell barrelled over Lester Ross. Clearly shaken by the wild opening, Port missed two gilt-edged chances in the opening term and was 25 points adrift early in the second.

“I think that’s probably best left between him and me. It was all about putting him off his game.”

Norwood's Craig Balme

But if there was one man who took the game away from the Magpies, it was Keith Thomas. He’d conceded three first-half goals to Stephen Clifford as Port regained its foothold in the decider. His response was to hurl himself through the air, securing a suicidal mark without a bobble, running at Brenton Owens with the ball going over his head. “When you’ve played for a long time, it’s amazing how your career gets condensed into moments and Norwood people remember that moment,” Thomas said. “I recall it being at a critical point in the game as Port was gaining the ascendancy. There was a contest on the wing and in the previous two or three one-on-one contests I’d had, I was beaten to the ball and I was feeling a bit (annoyed) with that.

“I laid a shepherd for Duncan Fosdike on the wing and I knew he would swing a kick high and I just took off to the next contest. I remember running down the wing and looking up as I was sprinting down and I could see David Payne was behind his man and he wasn’t going to be able to contest. It was a really conscious decision that ‘I’ve got to go here’. As a player you know that’s a really dangerous thing to be doing running the wrong way but I think it was one of those grand final thoughts. I thought there was no choice so I locked in on it and thought whatever happens happens. As it turned out, it stuck. I remember thinking, ‘s…, I’ve actually got it’. I remember being really surprised there hadn’t been a massive collision – I was expecting to be cleaned up.”

In one motion, Thomas kept running, spotting up Aish, who only just managed to score a behind from 30 metres. “We’re really good friends. I’m always taking the piss out of Aishy for that. But I sensed the equilibrium of the game had evened out in that moment. It might have just galvanised the group a bit.”

Indeed, it was Thomas’s heroics in the last quarter that finally broke Port’s resistance. Down by nine points after five minutes, Thomas bounced four times down the outer wing before finding Neville Roberts who converted for his fifth goal. Then four minutes later, he goaled on a tight angle under enormous pressure in the forward pocket, after an extraordinary five-bounce run from Aish along the same wing. “All those moments are enshrined in the history of both clubs, as were Justin Scanlon’s mark on Paul Belton late in the game and the tackle of Tommy Warhurst on Craig Bradley.”

But Thomas, who grew up a Port supporter and led the club as CEO from 2011-20, remains in a club of one, the oddest contradiction of the league’s grandest rivalry. “I still feel like fans from both camps are not quite sure where it all sits. I feel like I can walk into both clubs having left them well as a contributor and I feel very privileged to be able to do that. I’m a life member in both clubs and, without being categorical, I don’t think there’s another one. For me that’s quite special.”

1984 SANFL Grand Final

NORWOOD      4.3       9.5       11.8         15.10      (100)

PORT                 1.2       8.7       11.11       13.13       (91)

Best – Norwood: K. Thomas (Jack Oatey Medallist), Ross, Roberts, Laughlin, G. Thomas, McIntosh, Balme, Scanlon. Port: Russell, Clifford, Bradley, Anderson, Curtis, R. Ebert.

Goals – Norwood: Roberts 6, K. Thomas, Aish, Vardanega, Fosdike 2, McIntosh. Port: Evans 4, Clifford 3, Bradley, Knight 2, R. Ebert, Russell.

Umpires – Laurie Argent, John Hylton. Crowd – 50,271.

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