The Norwood-Port rivalry is one of the great traditions of South Australian football. It began in 1884 when, after a tremendous struggle, Port Adelaide became the first club to defeat Norwood for the premiership.

Norwood’s original rival during the late 1870’s and early 1880’s had been South Adelaide, and there was a long-running feud between the two clubs. The red and blues dominated the South Australian competition throughout this era, winning a record six premierships in succession from 1878 to 1883. Conversely, Port Adelaide, although classed as one of the leading clubs, was not yet strong enough to threaten Norwood’s supremacy.

Port Adelaide’s rise began in 1882, boosted by Victorian recruits like Dick Turpenny and Charlie Kellett. That year also, Norwood and Port were involved in several petty disputes which soured relations between them, and may have sown the seeds of future resentment. Port became Norwood’s main challenger in 1883, but the magentas (as Port was then known for its colours of magenta and blue), could not prevent Norwood from annexing its sixth-successive championship.

By 1884, Port was ready to match Norwood, and the two fought a neck and neck struggle for the premiership. They were far superior to the three other clubs in the competition, South Adelaide, North Adelaide and South Park. Norwood and Port met four times during the season. Each match was crucial, as no finals games were scheduled, and the team heading the ladder at the completion of the home and away fixtures automatically became premier. Norwood won the first encounter at Alberton, the second match at Adelaide was drawn, while Port won the third, again at Alberton.

The climax came with the final Norwood–Port home and away match at Adelaide Oval on Saturday, 30 August. The winner was all but assured of taking the 1884 pennant. Port Adelaide had the good fortune to win the toss, and kicking with almost a gale, had a comfortable lead at half time of two goals to nil. Significantly, matches were then divided into two halves only (quarters were introduced from 1886), and Norwood had to defend against the wind for the entire first half.

The red and blues were expected to take charge in the second half, but could make no impression. Towards the end, against an exhausted Norwood defence, Port scored another goal and went on to win, 3-13 to 0-11 (behinds were recorded but not counted in the score). For the first time in its history, Norwood was not the premier club of South Australia.

It had been an extremely rough contest, with players  on both sides determined to attack the man rather than the ball. Moreover, this antagonism was continued long after the game was over. As a result of several  post-match incidents, two Norwood men – captain Alfred “Topsy” Waldron and Patrick “Paddy” Roachock- were convicted of assault and fined in the City Police Court. In addition, Roachock was suspended by the SA Football Association for “rough play”.

The season closed with Norwood and Port each holding special general meetings, at which some bitter and sensational allegations were made. Norwood accused certain Port officials of conducting a vendetta against “Paddy” Roachock, while at the Port Adelaide meeting Tom Smith declared, “The Norwoods were beaten, but they could not acknowledge it like men”.

Certainly, defeat was a painful experience for the Norwood Football Club after so many years of success, and the enmity which had been aroused could not easily be suppressed or forgotten. Indeed, it was reinforced over the following decade, as Norwood and Port continued to be the most powerful clubs, winning five of the seven premierships between 1885 and 1891.

The rivalry so firmly established from 1884 is perpetuated by each generation. There are lesser rivalries from time to time, such as Port v West or Norwood v Glenelg. But the Norwood-Port saga has persisted for more than a century because the Redlegs and Magpies have been the most consistently successful clubs over that period. The tangible reminder of this is now the Williams-Gallagher Cup, symbol of the continuing battle between the two giants of South Australian football.  

Chris Lane
NFC History Group 

    (Article originally published in the Redlegs Review August 1994)

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