BY PETER ARGENT
It’s been a decade since there was a fond farewell in SA footy. SANFL closed the gates of Football Park, its league football headquarters for 40 seasons.
A crowd of 36,685, including plenty of neutrals there for a nostalgic final look, rocked up for the 2013 grand final between Nathan Bassett’s Norwood and Josh Francou’s North Adelaide in the final game at the West Lakes venue.
The Redlegs, the reigning premiers, were strong favourites, having a 17-3 record in the minor round and gaining direct entry into the decider, defeating West Adelaide, while the Roosters were hoping to snatch the premiership from fifth spot.
On the Tuesday before the decider there was the usual grand final media conference with coaches Bassett and Francou, along with Norwood captain, a surprisingly nervous Kieran McGuinness, and North’s grand final skipper Todd Miles, as Greg Gallman was out injured.
SANFL Now commentator Chris Kendell was working for the ABC on a sun-drenched Sunday, October 6.
Don Brebner was SANFL president when the league made its bombshell move away from Adelaide Oval in 1974. He had died in 2010 and Kendall recalled Brebner’s wife Patsy tossed the coin for the grand final. “It was a fond farewell to Football Park with a motorcade of greats who had graced the ground,” Kendall said. “It was not the most exciting of games, played in the defensive style Norwood produced under Bassett. James Aish kicked the goal of the day, we gave him that honour on the ABC broadcast.
“The day was surreal, with a carnival atmosphere, reminding me of the halcyon Footy Park days of the 1980s. I hosted the post-match event on the ground and suggested the crowd should come onto the hallowed ground, which was unscripted. I understood the enormity of being the last voice heard over the loudspeakers.”
Norwood led from go to whoa and won by 40 points, setting the stage for Bassett and McGuinness to lift the Thomas Seymour Hill premiership cup on the ground at which the trophy was first lifted by Sturt’s Mr Magic Paul Bagshaw in 1974.
Brett Zorzi was awarded the Jack Oatey Medal for best-afield after collecting 20 disposals, a goal and six clearances, while many good judges saw Ben Warren or Mitch Grigg as equally deserving.
Warren, playing the last of his 205 SANFL league games, was a force in attack. “I knew it was my last SANFL game and it was for Darren Pfeiffer and Brett Zorzi as well,” Warren said. “It was a satisfying way for me to finish.
“Nathan and the coaching staff did a great job. I always felt if we played our best we would win. We were a pretty hardened outfit and we had really talented kids in Trent Dumont, Orazio Fantasia and James Aish. It was good Kieran McGuinness, a popular figure at the club, was involved after missing the 2012 title with a knee reco.”
Norwood's Ben Warren
''I always felt if we played our best we would win. We were a pretty hardened outfit and we had really talented kids in Trent Dumont, Orazio Fantasia and James Aish.''
North named Miles as its standout. “That year we lost our last four minor round games,” Miles said. “When the finals kicked in we lifted and all the minor finals were comfortable enough. Playing the three finals took its toll and we weren’t helped by losing midfielder Max Thring in the final quarter of the preliminary final. We had a couple of opportunities in the second half to really push Norwood but they didn’t fold.
“That finals series was awesome but it was super disappointing to lose it. For a kid who just loved his football, playing in the grand final was still a highlight and there was an understanding of the gravity of the day, being the last game at the venue. It was also Josh Francou’s last game in charge, after changing the culture of the club.”
On preliminary final day, Miles, who had three cracks before making it as a SANFL league footballer, celebrated his 100th league game in a crushing win against West that propelled the Roosters into the historic Football Park finale. North also had played in the first league game at the ground, a loss at the hands of Central District on 4 May 1974.
Behind the scenes, the final grand final ran like clockwork. The long-term management of Football Park included CEO Leigh Whicker, chief operating officer John Lyons and stadium manager Sharon Stephens. Lyons said there were equal amounts of nostalgia and sadness on that final day.
“Our decision was to embrace the day for what it was,” said Lyons, a passionate Roosters fan. “It was the 40th grand final at the venue and we wanted to celebrate football at the stadium. We commemorated the risk taken by Judge Brebner, Norm Grimm and Max Basheer four decades earlier and the clubs supported the move from its inception. Letting the supporters onto the ground post-game was a fitting way to finish this era.
“Many of the loyal staff, a number who had already transitioned to Adelaide Oval including attendants, car park and catering people, returned for that final day. We had a post-match celebration in the stadium room and for once I got pretty emotional speaking to the staff. They were all a part of our Football Park footy family.
“After everyone left, we switched the lights back on and the staff got out on the playing surface and kicked the footy. That had been a tradition at the end of each season, culminating on that unforgettable day.”
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