Can a football team change a town? Can sport become a symbol of renewal, and give a community a sense of optimism and purpose?

Elitists who regard sport as a mindless pursuit would scoff at the suggestion. They would probably hold that the only change a football team can make to a town is to pollute people’s brains with useless trivia, distract them from pressing social realities, and eat into valuable self-improvement and family time.

The 20-year history of the Adelaide Crows – sorry, the mighty Adelaide Crows – provides a compelling counterpoint to those who would dismiss sport as frivolous or meaningless.

The growth of the club, and its ability to make so much history in such a short space of time, has coincided with a significant turn-around in the fortunes of its hometown. That’s not to say that the Adelaide Crows saved Adelaide. But the club came along at a time when the one thing the city needed most was a sense of self-belief.

With the Crows celebrating their 20th anniversary, it is worth reflecting on the Adelaide of 1991 and the Adelaide of 2011.

In 1991, Adelaide felt like a boarded-up backwater, and SA the rustiest of the rust-belt states. In the same year the Crows entered the competition, the State Bank had collapsed, exposing the taxpayers to a $3.15 billion debt. Given the high unemployment and low levels of growth and investment, this figure seemed insurmountable.

As Victoria clawed its way out of its own economic mire, we remained stuck in ours, and were dealt a further psychological blow with the news that we would be losing the Grand Prix, most gallingly to Melbourne, courtesy of the double-dealing Bernie Ecclestone.

It was a time when South Australia had little to feel good about. It was a time when, in Adelaide, it also felt as if there was nothing to do. The arrival of the Crows helped change that. This flash, cashed-up club gave South Australians something to rally around. Supporting the club was a mass public activity which the state had never experienced.

More than 30,000 people joined the club. General admission tickets were hard to come by. The success was instant, and it represented an important cultural break with old Adelaide, those eastern suburbs types who wanted Sturt and Norwood to enter the national competition on the grounds of misty-eyed tradition, people who would probably die happily of old age sitting in the drizzle on the Parade marking off the goals and behinds in the Footy Budget. 

As the Crows started to get their act together on the park and inspire respect and even fear from their competitors, the State started to regain a sense of confidence, which even manifested itself in a previously-unseen cocky swagger.

Coopers released a limited edition T-shirt the week of the 1997 Grand Final which read “This Saturday we’re making Victoria Bitter”. We did, as if it was never in doubt.

The following year the Grand Final came the day after a massive gas explosion in Victoria. At half time, with the Kangaroos having played all over us, Dennis Cometti declared “Well, Melbourne’s out of gas, and so are the Adelaide Crows.” About 90 minutes later we’d won by 35 points.

The man who would later sully our jumper, Wayne Carey, had kicked 1.4, including a couple of eminently replayable out-on-the-fulls, Andrew McLeod had won a consecutive Norm Smith medal, and Victoria was bitter all over again.

I was in Adelaide for the first of those GFs and Melbourne for the second and the feeling among South Australians was something I had never felt before.

For so long all we had had was State of Origin football, which in effect was a harnessing of our state’s chip on the shoulder into a bi-annual sporting event, where we could vent our spleens at those thieves from over the border who had pinched all our best players and undermined our once-mighty local competition.

With the arrival of the Crows, every week was state of origin. In the initial years of the club we cheered things which more mature clubs take for granted. It still seems hilarious that a meaningless minor round game – the Crows’ thumping victory on debut against Hawthorn in 1991 – was released on VHS with a combat typeface reading CROWS: FIRST BLOOD, and sold out within minutes.

This over-celebration of our early victories soon gave way to a much more dour and admirable insistence that we were actually in the comp to make and win grand finals. This was best evidenced by then coach Malcolm Blight’s claim in 1999 that he believed in miracles, that anything less than a three-peat was not enough, up to his exasperated declaration that he “couldn’t give a rat’s toss bag” whether we made the finals that year or not.

There is still a tendency towards forgiveness and excuse-making on the part of Crows fans, and the club itself, which other more established clubs would not tolerate. Hopefully the club will adopt a zero tolerance approach to the idea of almost winning, rather than hailing appearances in the first week or two of the finals as an acceptable result.

In the same way that Footscray has told Rodney Eade that anything less than a Grand Final appearance is a fail, you would hope Adelaide tells Neil Craig that 2011 is the year for him to prove that he’s not a fitness coach, but a premiership coach.

As Adelaide and the Adelaide Crows look towards the next 20 years, it feels as if the city is at a turning point which in its own way is just as dramatic as in those dark days after the State Bank collapse. The difference this time is that it involves a terrific opportunity, rather than a rearguard action aimed at getting ourselves out of strife.

And it’s football which again will be the number-one driver of change for this town, in terms of business activity, quality of life, energy and personality, architecture, the way we live and work. The proposed redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval has been described as a massive psychological test for the city, a final battle between old Adelaide and new Adelaide.

It would open up North Terrace to the riverfront, shift the city’s centre away from the drab Victoria Square, encourage more residential development within the square mile as our food and wine culture expands along the Torrens.

The opponents of change appear to believe that Adelaide reached a level of perfection in the late 19th century and that it would be nice if nothing ever happens here ever again. These people had their first loss 20 years ago when the Adelaide Crows came along and I for one am barracking for their defeat again.

Carn the Crows.

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    • Christopher says:

      07:53am | 25/03/11

      “Elitists who regard sport as a mindless pursuit would scoff at the suggestion”

      You seriously write some drivel mate.

      First of all why would so called “elitists” even give two hoots if an AFL team changed a city?? And secondly who in Australia is not a huge sports fan, go to a Reds game next time your in Brisbane and you’ll see some very powerful people who I am guessing you would class as elitist who are screaming their heads off to support their team be it the home team or away team.

      It is also pretty clear to everyone that sporting teams bring everyone together, perfect example is when State of Origin happens and for 6 or 7 weeks out of the year Queenslanders and New South Welshman and women are wanting the blood of the opposition. Its simply the Australian way, everyone young and old supports the home team like their a member of the family.

      Next time you write an article put in facts that are 100% correct because every Australian (including the elitists) would agree a sports team can change a city.

    • Dave says:

      09:02am | 25/03/11

      Seriously??????? the Reds?????

      You have got to be kidding the Reds are ants compared to the Crows…..the Crows are massive.

    • Tony of Poorakistan says:

      08:33am | 25/03/11

      If the Crows had the same type of draw as Collingwood (19 home games, travel out of the state once per year) they’d never stop winning flags. 
      If the father-son rule was not so geared towards VFL and against WAFL and SANFL, Adelaide would be even stronger. 

      And yes, State of Origin should be returned. As a native Queenslander, nothing tops the Maroons hammering those effete ponces from south of the border and your comment sums up the Vic-SA rivalry perfectly. They tried to destroy the SANFL by poaching all the best players. Those held in highest regard in SA are those that refused, including the greatest player ever to pull on a pair of boots in Barry Robran.

    • Faz says:

      09:31am | 25/03/11

      Yep ToP, Robran was one out of the box.

      The only player I can think of to compare him to is not a footballer, but Mark Waugh. Both seemed to have so much time, were superbly talented and, esp in the case of Robran, let their skills do all the talking. It’s ironic that it was Lee Matthews who ruined Robran’s career. Lee was also a great, but Robran had more integrity in his little finger than Matthews could muster in his whole playing career.

      @ Christopher. Not really sure what point you’re making. You seem to be vehemently agreeing with most of the article.

      @ Pembo. Not sure I’ve come across a more self indulgent article (except when the pollies get a gig) but, what can I say? All true!

    • Tony of Poorakistan says:

      10:59am | 25/03/11


      Even the ACT’s arguably best-ever player, Alex Jesaulenko, broke into spontaneous applause as Robran ran him ragged when North Adelaide flogged Carlton.

      (Apologies to any James Hird or Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale fans)

    • Kelvin says:

      05:45pm | 25/03/11

      As the team manager of the SA side that broke the interstate drought in 1983 when we soundly thrashed the Vics in one of the first State Of Origin matches played at Football Park, I can tell you that there was almost no better feeling in footy than on that night (other than perhaps the 1977 grand final.)

      50,000 SA supporters and arguably one of the greatest SA teams of all time - Motley, Kernahan, Ebert, Phillips, Bradley, Craig, Rendell to name just a few.

      Football is a religion in SA and so it should be. It unites and at the same time divides the town. Jump in a cab at Adelaide airport and one of the first questions you get is are you a Crows supporter or a Power supporter.

      The greatest of all time SA players. Well there are really only two who make the Grand Final here - Robran was a great player and champion person to boot. The other, the man revered at Alberton, the man they called GOD, the only 4 time Magarey Medalist Russel Ebert. His power and ability was beyond belief and in my opinion the best by a whisker.

    • Shane says:

      08:50am | 28/03/11

      Oh boo hoo, Tony. The reason Adelaide doesn’t have a draw like Collingwood’s is because ... now, run off and get a pen to write this down, dear ... they are a MELBOURNE team and the majority of teams are in MELBOURNE.

      I suspect you’re just (Adelaide?) bitter because the pies have managed to smack your blokes silly in the finals since. That Jack Anthony goal being a particular highlight. And before you start bleating about it coming from a free kick, Adelaide’s last two goals in that game were from frees too.

      PS - and in case you’re interested in facts - although I don’t know why you’d start now - in 2010 Essendon travelled only three times out of Victoria last year and St Kilda had their last 16 games at Etihad.

    • Ben says:

      09:07am | 25/03/11

      Nice article. Adelaide was a party town in ‘97 like nothing else ive seen in this city.

    • WTF says:

      09:09am | 25/03/11

      give your paycheck to charity…

      & no journalism like this does not deserve a spellcheque.

    • Paul says:

      09:57am | 25/03/11

      watching that footage brings back memories….mainly the memory that I can’t remember most of that afternoon.  I do, however, remember the streaker in Rundle Street and going to a Ben Folds Five concert that night.  So it wasn’t all good.

    • Daryl says:

      10:58am | 25/03/11

      I was born in Adelaide. It’s a sad place and I’m lucky I got out! It’s like NZ. They have nothing but football and everything is a conspiracy against them. The Victorians damaged our league. Leigh Mathews destroyed Barry Robran’s career. Our waters are ruined by the Victorians. Yo Yo biscuits and Balfours pies are the greatest. Not to mention those silly snot colored frog cake things. That Big Sars stuff you can use as liniment oil. Oakbank races are meaningful?? We’re the driest state on the driest continent - yay There were no convicts here. Bradman was here (WTF?)The Vics stole all our great football players. We beat em in 1963 on the MCG, if they had the same draw as Collingwood, the’d never loose. It’s never been the same since the Vics made us have white behind posts.  blah blah freakin blah!

      The only thing S.A. has going for it is wine and in particular Rockfords Basket Press.

    • Gee Jay says:

      11:59am | 25/03/11

      Gee Daryl—why don’t you have a whinge ??  S.A. must really miss you!!

    • Daryl says:

      03:01pm | 25/03/11

      Yep, sure it doesn’t miss me! Luckily, what SA thinks means sweet FA to the rest of the world.

    • Dasha says:

      11:02am | 25/03/11

      The Crows were nothing more than Glenelg in diguise! Glenelg coach, Glenelg captain, Glenelg supporters. Port Adelaide forced the SANFLs hand and got penalised for it. Crows supporters are a chardonnay set of obsessive clowns!

      Port Adeliade are in their 141st year. Enjoy your 20th birthday silvertails!

    • hot tub political machine says:

      12:30pm | 25/03/11

      Ah I seem to remember that Adelaide began with a policy that “as the team for all South Australians” they needed at least one player from evey SANFL club in the original squad. A policy which lead to “Who can we pick from Souths?” “Hmmm, I hear there’s this kid called Mark Bickley who might be one for the future”

    • animal enclosure escapee says:

      11:20am | 25/03/11

      For the love of Godra. The start of a new football season, another year bursting with hope that I might yet live to witness a St Kilda premiership, and you have got to bring up 1997. A city is on shakey ground indeed if it owes its revival to a block-headed coach thinking it a good idea to play Jamie Shanahan on Darren Jarman.

    • richo says:

      12:01pm | 25/03/11

      It didn’t really change the city. Adelaide was a city full of bogans and now it was a city full of bogans with an AFL team that did something.

      The example of sport teams lifting a city’s spirits is nothing new, it has been done in every gridiron film ever made. ‘They were the team that couldn’t, but then they did.’

      You also mentioned ‘culture’, when referring to Adelaide and AFL could you please refrain from using this word.

    • hot tub political machine says:

      12:25pm | 25/03/11

      My fondest memory of the crows was standing on the corner waiting for a lift from my mate about 10 minutes after the final siren in 97. Crows scarf around my neck. Seemed like every car in the city was on their horn, every bloody one. I loved my fellow Adelaideans very dearly at that moment.

      I don’t really watch the AFL since I wised up to the Collingwood only plays at home rule. But bloody hell those 97 and 98 crows gave us some good memories, I think people who live in Melbourne would have enjoyed the novelty of being in Adelaide those two days, seeing what its like to be in a town where almost everyone supports the team.

      Power have lots of supporters and good on them, but I remember hearing the Chairman of Newcastle United in England saying once “In London there are lots of clubs to support. Here, your’e Newcastle United or your’e nothing”. I get what he means.

    • Kate says:

      09:26pm | 25/03/11

      That’s funny, I don’t remember there being a Grand Final in 1998? I’ve spoken to other North fans, and we all go mysteriously blank on this issue.
      1999, we remember that one well though.

      Seeing Best Footballer in the History of the Game, Wayne Carey, in a Crows jumper was tear-inducing. I hope history forgets this little side note of his career so he can be forever remembered as number 18 for the mighty Kangaroos.

    • steve parker says:

      12:00pm | 26/03/11

      I still remember my young daughter running out onto Brighton Road and the madness scenes with car hornes going and scarves everywhere. People were dancing and screaming. A great team in the best city in the World!!! Go you CROWS!!

      Good article David!


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