Not much happens in Adelaide, right?
Big, sleepy country town.
A few bizarre murders. Bad tap water. Chips on shoulders.
Well, this week it’s different. The South Australian capital is buzzing – and, for that, it can thank a Victorian.
Saturday’s first AFL match at a redeveloped Adelaide Oval is a moment AFL chief Andrew Demetriou rates among his finest achievements – and a moment most South Australians thought would never happen.
The game marks the end of an intra-state cold war which took four decades to thaw – even by Adelaide slow-moving standards, that’s a long time.
The game between arch-rivals Port Adelaide and Adelaide is the city’s sporting Armistice Day.
“I was told that the task to get the two bodies in SA together – cricket and footy – was basically impossible,” Demetriou tells AAP.
“When we began the discussions around the idea of getting football back into the city at Adelaide Oval, I didn’t realise the level of mistrust that existed between the two codes.
“There was an intense level of ill-feeling that had built up over many years.”
In fact, cricket and footy bodies in Adelaide had snubbed each other for nigh on four decades in a schism dating back to the 1960s.
Why? Like Demetriou, you need a quick history lesson to understand.
“It was very difficult. I had to understand the history of what had happened over the previous three, four decades,” Demetriou says.
So here it is: Adelaide Oval was established in 1871 by the SA Cricket Association.
Cricket was first played there in 1877 – as was football, in the guise of the SA state league, the SANFL.
For almost a century, the code-sharing of the oval went well. But in the 1960s, the mood darkened.
Footy became increasingly aggrieved: it drew massive crowds to the oval, yet cricket kept most of the money.
Cricket’s establishment, presided by Sir Donald Bradman, refused to budge when asked by SANFL and its long-serving administrator Max Basheer.
Negotiations between cricket and footy crashed in 1969. The cold war had begun.
So Basheer helped footy split from cricket and Adelaide Oval.
Basheer helped footy build its own ground. And, in 1974, the SANFL opened Football Park – or as Sir Donald called it, “the grandiose and unnecessary Football Park”.
If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – so cricket and footy ignored each other until about five years ago when Demetriou came calling.
“Once we began discussions, it was then a matter of listening to all the points of view and making sure that everyone was brought along,” Demetriou says.
Dreaming of AFL games at a redeveloped Adelaide Oval, the AFL chief found a willing ally in the Labor government of the time.
With the 2010 state election looming, it helped that the government needed a legacy.
It also helped that the deputy premier and treasurer was Kevin Foley, a straight-shooter who delivered his first budget papers in the colours of his beloved Port Adelaide footy club.
Demetriou says Foley was the only person in the state who believed it possible to reunite footy and cricket.
Then-premier Mike Rann promised to fund an oval redevelopment if the two sports could be reunited. But Rann held little hope: “Andrew, it will never happen”.
But it did happen. Demetriou and Foley worked wonders.
And in December 2009, some four months before a state election, Rann joined Demetriou in announcing the redevelopment, completed at a cost of $535 million.
“It was a lot of work but it has proved extremely rewarding in the end,” Demetriou says.
“I will be really proud for football and proud that the AFL has been able to play a small part in achieving a great outcome for both our game and for the state of SA.”
International and domestic cricket has been played at the incomplete oval since last November. But now, she’s finished.
Ageing rockers The Rolling Stones were to have played there last Saturday night to officially open the newly-complete oval, but cancelled after the suicide of Mick Jagger’s girlfriend.
Which leaves footy to take centre stage.
But, aptly, cricket’s Sir Donald Bradman and SANFL stalwart Basheer remain on opposite sides – Bradman has the western grandstand named after him, Basheer part of the eastern stand.