Vale Russell Ebert

By Michelangelo Rucci
SANFL History Centre

NO-ONE will argue as to who was the Port Adelaide Football Club’s greatest player – Russell Ebert.

Record games, 392 in the SANFL. Record triumphs with the club best-and-fairest awards, six. And the record for most Magarey Medals as fairest and most brilliant player in the SANFL, four.

Ebert died on Friday, aged 72, 11 months after telling his former team-mates at a club reunion on Boxing Day last year that he was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia.

The Port Adelaide Football Club on Friday evening issued a statement saying:

“The Port Adelaide Football Club on behalf of the Ebert family sadly advises that club legend Russell Ebert passed away peacefully this afternoon after a battle with leukemia.

The four-time Magarey Medallist and member of the Port Adelaide Football Club and Australian Football Hall of Fame passed away at home surrounded by his family, aged 72.

Ebert, who played a club record 392 games and won three premierships and six best and fairest awards, was recently elevated to legend status in the South Australian Sport Hall of Fame.

The club asks that the Ebert family’s privacy is respected at this time and thanks everyone on the family’s behalf for the love and support it has received in recent months.”

Ebert will draw tributes from far and wide – and not just in Australian football. These tributes not only acknowledge Ebert’s extraordinary football career – that began at full forward with Port Adelaide in 1968 and ended in 1999 as South Australia’s State-of-Origin coach – but also his tireless work for charities, his passion in junior development and his care for people, as noted in his last role at the Port Adelaide Football Club with the award-winning community programs.

"As a boy, Russell was a hero to worship. As a man (playing in the SANFL), a hero to fear. But at Port Adelaide, he showed me what mattered most to him ... humility and a giving spirit."

Former Port Adelaide CEO Keith Thomas

Port Adelaide Football Club president David Koch paid tribute to Ebert saying: “During its 151-year history, there have been so many champions of our club and a handful of legends. Russell Ebert stands tall among the legends of the Port Adelaide Football Club. While all the champions and legends played for Port Adelaide, Russell lived Port Adelaide.”

Recently retired Port Adelaide chief executive Keith Thomas knew Ebert when he was a fan admiring his command of a football field, as an opponent at the traditional rival of Norwood and as a colleague at Alberton.

“As a boy, Russell was a hero to worship. As a man (playing in the SANFL), a hero to fear,” Thomas said. “But at Port Adelaide, he showed me what mattered most to him … humility and a giving spirit.”

Ebert stepped away from the SANFL in 1979 when aged 29 to answer the persistent call from VFL club North Melbourne. He played all 25 games as a fly in, fly out player while managing a sports store in Adelaide.

SANFL recruit to North Melbourne in 1979, fellow Australian Football Hall of Famer Graham Cornes, learned as a neighbour just how Ebert worked on his football rather than rely on natural talent.

“We had an open-door policy with our adjoining apartments and I walked in one Friday night at 8 to find Russell already was in bed to make sure he had the right sleep before a game,” Cornes said. “And early Saturday morning, he was up early taking a football to the park across the street to hone is skills.”

Fellow Magarey Medallist Malcolm Blight was well established at North Melbourne when Ebert arrived in 1979 to earn the admiration of all at Arden Street.

“It was a bloody difficult year for Russell as a fly-in, fly-out player arriving from Adelaide for one training session a week on Thursday,” Blight recalled. “We also had so many bad injuries so Ron Barassi had to play Russell in so many spots. But when he was put in the centre, he really showed his wares.”

Port Adelaide fans dubbed Ebert as “God” and marvelled at his strength, his pristine skills and his trademark raised handball.

“He was so strong – as I learned when I would go to tackle him hard on the hips and find the ball moving on because Russell had lifted his arms to complete his overhead handball,” said former Collingwood and Norwood champion Michael Taylor. “He was the whole package as a footballer.”

Ebert’s son Brett also won a Magarey Medal (2003) and played 166 AFL games with Port Adelaide. His nephew Brad played 184 AFL matches with Port Adelaide after 76 with West Coast.


Born at Berri, June 22, 1949

Played 392 SANFL league games with Port Adelaide (1968-1978 and 1979-1985), 25 VFL league games with North Melbourne (1979) and 29 State games for South Australia (1970-1983).

Coached Port Adelaide, 1983-1987; Woodville, 1988-1990; South Australia at both senior (1996-1998) and junior level (1991-1999).

Achievements: Magarey Medallist, 1971, 1974, 1976 and 1980; Port Adelaide premiership player, 1977, 1980 and 1981; Port Adelaide best-and-fairest, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1981); Port Adelaide leading goalkicker, 1968; Port Adelaide captain, 1974-1978 and 1983-1985); South Australian State team captain, 1975, 1977 and 1983.

Honours: Australian Football Hall of Fame, South Australian Football Hall of Fame; Port Adelaide’s greatest team of 1870-2000 as the centreman.

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