AFL Round 3: Port Adelaide vs. Adelaide (Showdown 42)
Saturday Night, 8th April 2017 at Adelaide Oval
Port Adelaide are like Collingwood – you love ‘em or you hate ‘em. Either way, you respect them. They’ve got the premiership success. You can’t deny what they’ve achieved. So you want to beat them. The rivalry, it’s totally genuine.
Mark Ricciuto 
For a fixture that is only 20 years old, the rivalry between the Adelaide and Port Adelaide football clubs is indeed totally genuine. There’s no need to manufacture a local rivalry in this proud footballing state, as it is ingrained in the history of South Australian football and not only because of the phenomenal success of Port Adelaide in the SANFL (34 premierships pre-AFL entry). Such success often leads to the “you either love them or you hate them” dialogue. Rather it is the intriguing football politics preceding the entry of both clubs into the AFL that have drawn the battle lines of this bitter rivalry.
After several false dawns in the early to mid 1980’s, by 1990 the VFL/AFL were determined to have a team based out of South Australia. The SANFL initially rejected the option to enter a team into the AFL due to disagreement on terms, which led to the AFL’s (secret) negotiations with the Port Adelaide Football Club. But of course once the SANFL caught wind of all this, the proverbial hit the fan. After a prolonged period of public arguments, threats, court injunctions and the like, the end result was the formation of the SANFL backed Adelaide Crows Football Club that entered the re-branded Australian Football League (AFL) in 1991. Battle wounds went deep though, with the SANFL bitter towards the AFL and Port Adelaide for their treacherous negotiations and the more favourable terms offered towards Port Adelaide, and Port Adelaide were angry with the SANFL for scuppering their well laid plans to enter the AFL. The upshot was that the newly formed Adelaide Crows, the pride of South Australia, were an amalgamation of supporters from all the SANFL clubs, except Port Adelaide.
Port Adelaide needed to bide their time until another opening would emerge in the AFL. As they waited, they continued to dominate the SANFL, winning premierships in 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996 prior to entering the AFL in 1997 after the Brisbane Bears and Fitzroy Lions merger. The Port Adelaide bid video from 1994 (see below) is interesting viewing as it illustrates how Port Adelaide wanted to differentiate themselves from the Crows and embrace the rivalry, including quotations such as:
Port is still a fiercely working class club and its fans shun Adelaide as a Yuppie Playground.
Port Adelaide however chose a tough time to enter the league and win local support. 1997-1998 coincided with the two biggest years in the history of the Adelaide Crows as they won back-to-back premierships. Yet remarkably in Round 4 of 1997, in only their 4th game in the AFL, the Port Adelaide Power won the very first Showdown by 11 points, despite the 7 goals from Tony Modra. An early example that the Showdown rarely goes completely to script. There have been some famous upsets over the years. Round 7 2004, Port Adelaide (in their premiership year) starting the season with 5 out of 6 wins and on a 7-match Showdown winning streak lost to an Adelaide side who had won only 1 of their first 6 games. Or more recently, Round 15 2014, when the high flying Power were knocked off top spot on the ladder thanks to a Showdown loss to an Adelaide side that failed to make the top 8 that season. However, is there any truth in this perception of the Showdown providing an upset on a regular basis or is this a deceptive myth based on a few anomalous results that stay at the forefront of the mind?
Well let’s look at the data. There have been 41 Showdowns (40 Home and Away matches and 1 Final in 2005) for 21 wins to Port Adelaide and 20 wins to Adelaide. A conveniently very even record as it enables us to test any biases in the historical results. Figure-1 presents the historical record for the Showdowns. What is most evident from the graph is that despite the overall evenness in the win-loss count, there have been periods of dominance by either team (Port Adelaide in the early 2000’s and then Adelaide in the mid 2000’s notable examples). And because of these periods of dominance it is actually possible to spot some of the upsets purely from analysing the graph and noting the outliers.
So how prevalent are upsets? Well the higher ranked team based on ladder position entering the Showdown has won the match on 26 out of 41 occasions (63%-37% win-loss). But separating the first showdown of the season (11 of 20, 55%-45%) and the remainder (15 of 21, 71%-29%) highlights more significant trends. The win-loss ratio for the later Showdowns is more the breakdown you would expect for matches deep into the season whilst allowing for the occasional upset (a little less than 1 in 3 matches are an upset). Whilst although the early season Showdown at first glance appears to be a little more unpredictable, this statistic could be misleading. With the first Showdown always played in the first seven rounds (but never Round 1 notably), defining the higher ranked team based on ladder position is potentially not completely reflective of the more favoured team due to a friendly draw. This week is a case in point, with both Adelaide and Port Adelaide sitting undefeated at the top of the ladder, but with Port Adelaide on top due to their smashing of Fremantle by 89 points on Sunday. However, Adelaide is going into the Round 3 Showdown the comfortable bookies favourite thanks in part to their strong wins against GWS and Hawthorn and their established credentials from their 2016 form. Port Adelaide on the other hand are coming off 2 disappointing seasons and have started the season with a point to prove. Not many tipped them to beat Sydney in Sydney and although they were expected to beat Fremantle they certainly went in for the kill. Are we underrating Port Adelaide this week purely because of their 2015-16 form?
What about home team advantage? At first glance this may sound irrelevant as they both share the same home ground. But due to both teams having strong membership numbers (in excess of 50,000 for both teams in recent years) and limited seating available (just over 50,000 seating capacity at Adelaide Oval and the previously used Football Park), the crowd can be discernibly one-sided. More so than an equivalent match played between traditional Melbourne based rivals at the MCG. So although neither team will suffer from ground familiarity issues, can a loud parochial crowd have any influence on the result? In the 41 Showdowns played there is a 24-17 (59%-41%) win-loss record for the home team. Perhaps not too significant an advantage, but it does indicate that a home ground effect in Showdowns has existed.
So where does that leave us? There is a marginal advantage to the higher ranked team (Port Adelaide) in the first Showdown of the year, but Adelaide is the more widely favoured team despite what the ladder tells us. You could possibly lean to the home side advantage (Port Adelaide). But on the other hand this is the first Showdown ever that both teams are coming into it undefeated, so we have no precedent to work with. The hype machine will be going into overdrive in South Australia this week, as it is probably the biggest Showdown since the 2005 Semi Final. A Finals like atmosphere. Hard contested footy. Who wants it more? Add your own cliché, or just let the ever-quotable Mark Ricciuto sum it up best :
The Showdown is no different to country towns, it happens everywhere. Just two bulls in the one yard sort of thing, isn’t it? It’s no different to the way of life. Someone wants to be tougher and stronger and own the joint.
South Australia waits with bated breath to find out who will be the dominant bull in Showdown 42.
TIP: I rated the Crows to finish in the top 2 prior to the season starting due to the depth of their starting 22. With a few injuries that depth is currently being tested, but so far they have been convincing in their excellent wins against GWS and Hawthorn. As for the Power, they have been the most impressive team over the first 2 rounds and deservedly sit top of the ladder. Their midfield in particular dominating the contested possession in both wins. All of which sets us up for a cracking Showdown but I'm still marginally leaning towards the Crows.
Adelaide to win by 4 points.
Post Match Comments:
Final Score: Port Adelaide 21.11.83, Adelaide 15.10.100
In front of a record crowd of 53,698, Adelaide won the arm wrestle over Port Adelaide that was Showdown 42. And the crowd certainly played their part, providing an electric atmosphere that was notably pro Port Adelaide – the home team. Showdown Medallist, Rory Sloane even made comment of this post match referring to Chad Wingard’s snap goal late in the third quarter that put the crowd into raptures. But alas, this was not a Showdown that bolstered the home team win-loss record, with Adelaide on balance deserving of their win. The stats reflect their superiority, winning the contested possession count 176 to 145. Having said that, Port Adelaide did have their chances, entering inside-50 on more occasions 58 to 53. However, Adelaide with less inside-50s were able to take more marks inside-50 (17 to 9) and creating more scoring shots (25 to 23). Perhaps this is a reflection of the Adelaide’s team balance, a characteristic that makes them a genuine premiership contender. A deep if not start-studded midfield, an exceptional forward line and an effective defence. Regardless, it looks like a promising year ahead for both Adelaide teams and we can look forward to Showdown 43 in Round 20.
 Zurbo, M. (2016). “Champions All: A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words”, Echo Publishing, Victoria, Australia