South Australian football this week farewells one of its longest-serving servants, Central District chief executive Kris Grant. After 44 continuous years as the lead Bulldog, Grant will retire without a fanfare – but with many tributes.
By Michelangelo Rucci
VERY few can exit their chosen sport leaving their record to speak volumes for them.
In South Australian football no-one needs to introduce the game’s superstar player Barrie Robran, the North Adelaide legend. It was the same with his club mate Ken Farmer or Port Adelaide great Russell Ebert.
Off the field there are former SANFL president Max Basheer, fellow national Hall of Fame administrator “Big Bob” McLean at Port Adelaide … and Kris Grant.
After 44 years as secretary/general manager/chief executive of the Central District Football Club, Grant this week will clear his desk at the Ponderosa at Elizabeth to enter retirement.
The man who in August 1973 stepped up to the challenge left by inaugural SANFL reserves coach and long-time president Charlie Pyatt – to give the people of the north pride in the football club they built after defying those who in 1964 sought to transplant South Adelaide to the new northern satellite city. He can leave with the job knowing it is truly done. And done well.
Those “Dogs”, as Grant notes, have given “something for the northern are to hang on to – something positive.”
Those nine league premierships from 12 consecutive SANFL grand finals from 2000-2011 will do that.
“We earned respect,” says Grant of the flags won in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The great cultural note in this community-driven chase for credibility as an expansion club is the breakthrough success was achieved in 2000 with one of their own, Peter Jonas.
In his first two decades behind the big desk, Grant enacted the wishes of a board seeking honour by appointing so many “outsiders” as coaches – with the passion of Sturt premiership player Daryl Hicks (1978-1983, with that white jumper); the new gun-slinging image posed by St Kilda and ACT football great Kevin “Cowboy” Neale (1984-1987); and the bravado of South Australian legend Neil Kerley (1988-1990) – until his old mate Alan Stewart gave Central District its own home-built identity.
Stewart, the club’s first league grand final coach (1995 and 1996 against Port Adelaide), understands Grant this week will leave his office – but not the clubhouse – resisting all fanfare and the media. But there must be acknowledgment of a job done well.
“It had been a long journey, 48 years at the club – with humble service from the under-17s, the reserves and chief executive,” says Stewart, who has known Grant since they were both teenagers.
“Kris is one of those blokes who has his work do the talking. And he has worked for the club’s success. You would still find him at the club at 10pm every night. He was there at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
“He has celebrated the wins. But I can tell you he was hurt – and hurt hard – every time we lost. He took on that hurt to make us great as a football club – and a proud community in the north.”
From the changerooms, Grant – while studying accountancy – entered the clubhouse office in the early 1970s to take his passionate interest in the Central District Football Club through another (non-playing) direction.
“His service should be acknowledged because the club would not have reached the top of the ladder without his passion. Kris is ‘iconic’ to the Central District Football Club,” adds Stewart. “To survive so long … well, that is the mark of resilience.”
Ken Russell first knew Grant when they kicked around a football at Elizabeth High School as 11-year-old dreamers in the under-12s. They then became the president-CEO pairing at Central District from 1991-1998 with Stewart as their league coach.
“Kris always had the players’ backs,” Russell recalls. “He started as their mate. He became a father figure to them. He leaves as the grandfather image of the players – and the club itself.”
"Kris is one of those blokes who has his work do the talking. And he has worked for the club's success. You would still find him at the club at 10pm every night. He was there at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week.''
This theme resonates with the greatest Bulldogs player, John Platten who sandwiched 258 VFL-AFL games at Hawthorn between his 113 SANFL league matches with Central District from 1981-1998.
“I had lost my father just as I had broken into the league team from the juniors and Kris became my second dad,” Platten said. “I was just 18 and about to get caught up in a big battle between Carlton and Hawthorn on the way to the VFL. I have Kris Grant and (then club president, the late) Robert Zerella to thank for how that ended. And I will always remember how they both opened their arms to me on my return from Hawthorn (with four VFL-AFL premierships and the 1987 Brownlow Medal to add to the honour of the 1984 Magarey Medal).
“Kris has been the backbone of our football club. As a player, as a chief executive, from the 1970s to today, Kris has been the frontline soldier fighting to make Central great. He loves the club. This is where his friends are. And he has been a tremendous worker for us. I can’t tell you all that he has done – some of it stays between us at Central, but Kris took this club to the top by doing the work rather than talking about it.”
''Kris has been the frontline soldier fighting to make Central great. He loves the club. This is where his friends are. And he has been a tremendous worker for us.''
Grant will leave his well-arched seat to former player, Greg Edwards who returns to Elizabeth – where a serious eye injury ended his playing career at 43 league matches – after an 11-year stint as North Adelaide Football Club chief executive.
“The time is right,” said Russell. “I know Kris would not relinquish the job unless he was comfortable with his successor. Greg has a great track record at North Adelaide. This would make Kris confident he can step away knowing the club is in good hands.”
Grant’s fighting care for the Bulldogs is well noted, particularly when he has put his club’s interests first – even to take on AFL leaders such as Andrew Demetriou when he was in the national league’s chief executive chair a decade ago.
“At times,” says Stewart, “Kris has been out of step with the SANFL and others. But that is from his love of Central District and the community in the northern area. He has fought for them with great resilience.”
Adds Russell: “He loaded a few guns for me to fight for Central. He defends the club to the fullest. That is why you won’t find a person at Elizabeth who has a bad word for Kris. He built a culture about the club and its people, in particular the players – and he treated them all the same, from the superstars to the new kid in the under-17s.
“His recruiting,” adds Russell, “has been terrific. Look at the people he has brought to this club. And look at the love they all have for the club even after they stop playing.”
The most notable are the Gowans twins, Chris and James, who were destined to join South Adelaide before Grant set up the detour to Elizabeth. The twins are the enduring image of the nine premierships and the respect Central District commanded at the start of the 21st century.
Russell accepts “Kris does not want any fanfare” with his exit.
“I know Kris always will be at the club and I hope he finds that role as a mentor to everyone, particularly the young players,” Russell said. “We all appreciate him and all he has done for us.”
Sign up to see all the news from around the SANFL each week – directly in your inbox!