Port Adelaide proved South Australians wanted national football by drawing 27,743 (or 35,000) fans to Football Park on Sunday, February 25, 1990 to watch a pre-season trial game against Malcolm Blight's VFL powerhouse Geelong.

It was the pre-emptive moment to the stormy winter that changed South Australian football and put a critical link in the chain for the expanding AFL.

But the genesis for a national championship was sparked in an earlier Port Adelaide-Geelong clash at the end of the 1951 VFL and SANFL seasons when both clubs ruled as State league premiers. At Adelaide Oval, they met to revive the first attempts between the 1880s and World War I to establish a national crown for Australian football.

Port Adelaide won four of those Champions of Australia titles (1890, 1910, 1913 and 1914) while repeatedly putting itself in competition with teams outside of South Australia, north and south of the Murray and across the Nullabor during the 19th and 20th centuries.

World War II did put a brake on the national development of Australian football with the last play-off for bragging rights between SANFL and VFL premiers played in October 1938 with Carlton beating South Adelaide by six points at the Wayville Showgrounds.

Port Adelaide and Geelong picked up the national agenda in 1951.

Adelaide Oval, Saturday October 6.

Port Adelaide had ended a club-record 12-year premiership drought (although three of these 12 SANFL seasons were "lost" with mergers from 1942-1944 during World War II). Fos Williams' second season as captain-coach ended with an 11-point win against North Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on September 29 for the Jubilee premiership (celebrating 50 years of Australian federation).

Geelong also had cleared away a long wait for premiership success - 14 years - also by 11 points, dethroning Essendon at the MCG to complete a trifecta: Brownlow Medal with Bernie Smith, one of Williams' team-mates in the 1947 West Adelaide SANFL premiership team; the VFL's leading goalkicker George Goninon and the flag after collecting the minor premiership.

"We could rightly claim," said Port Adelaide secretary Bob McLean of the battle between SA and Victorian league premiers, "this as the championship of Australia, and I'm taking into account any West Australian feelings."

For a decade, through the 1950s while McLean and Williams built their unrivalled "Golden Era" empire at Alberton, Port Adelaide was carrying an agenda for national pride.

Now 69 years later, Port Adelaide and Geelong meet again at Adelaide Oval on Thursday night to start the 2020 AFL top-eight final series to determine the champion of Australian football.

Peter Pianto and John Hyde in action during the 1950 season. Credit: Bob Gartland Collection.

THE BUILD UP

"WE regard Saturday's game as the championship of Australia. If some supporters think both sides will be suffering from grand final hangovers, they'll be wrong. Geelong has a lot at stake, and Port Adelaide, as South Australia's representative will be all out to add to this State's football prestige."

Port Adelaide Football Club secretary Bob McLean.

FOS Williams was indeed ahead of his time. The second-year Port Adelaide captain-coach sent two scouts - "track watchers" as they were called then - to the MCG to watch Geelong beat and dethrone Essendon by 11 points in the VFL grand final.

Advertiser chief football writer Keith Butler learned at Port Adelaide's training session at Alberton Oval on the Tuesday night before the championship clash with Geelong that the scouts were briefing Williams, McLean and chairman of selectors Charlie Adams.

"It is believed," wrote Butler, "the chief topics of discussion were - methods to be employed to stop the Geelong half-forwards, and a counter to the high-flying Geelong defenders."

McLean later declared: "Reports from (our scouts) and from other clubs who saw the Victorian grand final are there seems to be very little between Port Adelaide and Geelong.

"Our State side beat Victoria this year, so why can't our leading side do the same to the Victorian premier?"

Port Adelaide lived this theme during the 1950s when Williams and his Melbourne counterpart Norm Smith put their dynasty teams in repeat clashes at Norwood Oval in battles of the SANFL and VFL premiers.

Gary Ablett Jnr in action against Port Adelaide in 2005.

UMPIRING SAGA

NO football match between South Australian and Victorian rivals can begin without a touch of controversy. First, the SANFL told Geelong it needed to get out of its customary "black knickers" to wear white shorts. 

And then there was the debate on who would umpire this "championship match". The SANFL opted for its leading umpire, future national Hall of Famer Ken Aplin. Port Adelaide wanted Victorian official Jack McMurray, also a future national Hall of Famer.

The hint of the tension brewing came in a newspaper article written by former Port Adelaide player, Brownlow-Sandover Medallist Haydn Bunton senior who had quit as an SANFL umpire after he was overlooked for Aplin in the 1946 grand final between Norwood and Port Adelaide.

In advocating McMurray to control the Port Adelaide-Geelong championship match, Bunton wrote: "... it would give local football fans an opportunity to see the acknowledged best umpire in Victoria in action and compare his interpretations with those of our umpire.

"To end all arguments, the league could do no better than ask McMurray to umpire the game."

Bunton noted Port Adelaide officials and players are "agreeable". His point was validated by Port Adelaide boss Bob McLean's push at the SANFL table. Five days before the match, McLean petitioned for a special league meeting to overrule the SANFL umpires' board on Aplin's appointment. He even offered to pay Aplin his match fee to stand down. 

McLean - with the support of North Adelaide and Glenelg - argued McMurray would give an "additional attraction for the public ... and let South Australians compare for themselves the differences in VFL and SANFL umpiring, particularly after repeated Victorian complaints about SA umpiring."

The vote was lost 9-7 with South Adelaide leading the support for Aplin insisting a South Australian umpire should not be "deprived something he was entitled to ... and (McMurray's appointment) would be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in SA umpires."

SELECTION

PORT Adelaide made one change to its SANFL grand final line-up with ruckman-forward Lloyd Zucker having recovered from a leg injury. He replaced Kevin Growden (thigh) to give Williams the same 20 who beat North Adelaide in the second semi-final.

Geelong declared at selection it would present 19 of its VFL grand final 20 after half-forward Bob Davis passed a fitness test to clear away doubts from a leg injury. Rookie Ron Hovey, the 19th man in the grand final, was not in the 22 named for this match.

At match time, Norm Davis was called up after half-back flanker Ray Luke withdrew from the line-up with a strained thigh. Geelong was as named at selection.

"Having seen Geelong win the VFL grand final on Saturday, I think it should beat Port Adelaide. Geelong, however, is by no means a football colossus and could be hard-presses if Port Adelaide can play shoulder to shoulder and close up the game."

Keith Butler, The Advertiser

Fred Flanagan. Credit Bob Gartland Collection.

THE MATCH

Geelong 8.14 (62) d Port Adelaide 6.18 (54)

HAYDN Bunton thought Geelong dodged a bullet.

"I wouldn't like to say the Victorians could repeat the effort if another game were played next Saturday," Bunton wrote.

But there was no second chance in this play-off, although Port Adelaide blew many chances - 0.5 in the decisive third term after leading by seven points at half-time; 2.7 in the last quarter while holding Geelong to 2.1.

Harry Kneebone was most direct in his match report for The Advertiser: "Incompetence in the forward lines which, throughout the season, prevented Port Adelaide from appearing a really great team, robbed it of the chance to finish the year by defeating Geelong ..."

In the Sunday Mail, Bunton noted: "Port Adelaide always looked as if they could win, but too often kicked points when they could reasonably have been expected to get goals. Thrice Port Adelaide sent shots out of bounds which should have been goals. In the last quarter, they blazed recklessly and got 2.7 ... that tells the story."

Bunton insisted: "Port Adelaide could easily have won the game. For 95 per cent of the game the teams were near equal as could be. Geelong got their winning break in a brief spell in the third quarter when Pianto and Flanagan goalscorer."

Geelong had its own yips in that third term - 2.8.

In the lead-up, Butler had dismissed the thought Geelong had superstars who would command this match saying: "Port Adelaide is not scared ... it knows a champion team will always beat a team of champions".

Kneebone's match review noted "if Port Adelaide lacked the individual brilliance of some of the Geelong side, it impressed by having the more complete understanding of co-operative work ... this was its strength."

Bad conversion, "foolishly" overdoing handpassing and a second-quarter leg injury to Port Adelaide wingman Harold McDonald, the best player on the ground at that stage, cost Williams and McLean the win that could have changed Australian football even earlier than the 1980s when the VFL expanded nationally.

"Apart from its self-imposed handicap," Kneebone concluded, "Port Adelaide suffered little in comparison with the Victorian premier."

Bunton added: "Had McDonald been on in the second half, Port Adelaide might have developed the additional drive to give them victory. (He) was going like a bomb until (injured). He was having one of those days which usually come to all footballers, when he could do nothing wrong.

"On the form shown, there are at least half a dozen Port Adelaide players - Dick Russell, Fos Williams, Colin Parham, Ray Whitaker, Dave Boyd, John Abley, Allen Greer - who would walk into a game in any team in Victoria."

Abley, who was inducted to the Australian Football Hall of Fame this year, held Geelong goalkicking champion George Goninon (86 goals as the VFL leading goalkicker in 1951) to 2.3.

"Up against a rugged, tough, fast, close-checking goalkeeper like Abley," wrote Bunton, "Goninon comes right back to the field."

Alongside Abley, Dick Russell was - as Kneebone wrote - without peer "for consistent effectiveness; his superlative judgment enabled him to make innumerable saves any one of which would be memorable for another player, but are commonplace for him."

Port Adelaide had made an impression, an admirable one - and it was just the start of a golden era that became the foundation of the club's determination to be the best in South Australian football and nationally.

THE SPOILS

ALMOST £3000 was collected at the gate while 24,964 football fans moved through the turnstiles at Adelaide Oval (comparable to the limited crowd allowed for this week's AFL qualifying final).

The £2926 equates to $76,000 today.

Geelong took 60 per cent of the gate, Port Adelaide collected 30 per cent and the SANFL was handed 10 percent.

A LONG DUEL

Port Adelaide Football Club, formed 1870 and foundation member of SA Football Association (now SANFL) since 1877

Geelong Football Club, formed 1859 and foundation member of Victorian Football Association in 1877 and Victorian Football League (now AFL) since 1897

Intercolonial and exhibition matches

1879: Geelong 8.24 d Port Adelaide 0.1 at the MCG 

1883: Geelong 7.11 d Port Adelaide 1.6 at Corio Cricket Ground

1884: Geelong 7.18 d Port Adelaide 1.4 at Adelaide Oval

1885: Geelong 5.10 d Port Adelaide 2.8 at the MCG 

1886: Geelong 7.5 d Port Adelaide 4.10 at Adelaide Oval

1890: Port Adelaide-Norwood 2.4 d Geelong 1.6 at Adelaide Oval

1897: Geelong 6.14 (50) d Port Adelaide 4.1 (25) at Adelaide Oval

1931: Port Adelaide 17.23 d Geelong 11.5 at Alberton Oval

1990: Geelong 22.18 d Port Adelaide 14.14 at Football Park

In AFL 

First met on April 12, 1997 at Football Park. The match marked Port Adelaide's first win for AFL premiership points - 18.21 (129) d Geelong 14.6 (90).

"CHAMPIONS OF AUSTRALIA"

Adelaide Oval, October 6, 1951

Port Adelaide, SANFL premiers
Geelong, VFL premiers 

Geelong              3.4    3.5    6.13   8.14 (62)
Port Adelaide      1.2     4.6.  4.11    6.18 (54)

BEST - Geelong: Fulton, Pianto, Flanagan, Middlemiss, Morrow, Smith, Morrison, Turner. Port Adelaide: Russell, Williams, Parham, Marrett, Abley, Fletcher, Boyd, Whitaker, Clarke.

SCORERS - Geelong: Goninon 2.3, Flanagan 1.3, Morrow, Pianto, L. Reed 1.1, Tuckwell, Turner 1.0, Fulton 0.2, Davis, Irvine, Trezise 0.1. Port Adelaide: Clarke 2.3, Zucker 2.1, Trowse 12, Davis 1.1, Williams 0.3, Fletcher 0.2, Boyd, Carr, Salvermini, Whitaker 0.1, rushed 0.2.

CROWD: 24,964.

LINE-UPS

As selected on Thursday before match

Port Adelaide

B: Kretschmer, Abley, Russell
HB: Parham, Whelan, Greer
C: McDonald, Boyd, Hewitson
HF: Luke, Clarke, Salvermini
F: Whitaker, Zucker, Trowse
1R: Marrett, Fletcher, Williams (c)
Reserves: Leaver, Davis
Coach: Fos Williams

Geelong

B: Smith, Morrison, Stewart
HB: Worner, Hyde, Middlemiss
C: Tate, Turner, Fulton
HF: Renfrey, Flanagan (c), Davis
F: McMaster, Goninon, Pianto
1R: Morrow, Norman, Trezise
Reserves: Tuckwell, O'Halloran, Scott, Reed
Coach: Reg Hickey