From public outbursts to legal threats and an alternate teal jumper, the prison-bar feud between Port and Collingwood has had it all. Go behind the scenes of the latest twist.
It was on the phone to his counterpart at Collingwood Jeff Browne on an entirely different matter that Port Adelaide chairman David Koch started to believe he might just get a prison-bar breakthrough.
For years, the Power had tried to convince Collingwood that it should be able wear the historic prison-bar guernseys in home Showdowns.
As part of Port Adelaide’s 150th year anniversary in 2020, the Magpies did allow them to wear the black and white jumper against Adelaide – but Covid-19 meant that only little more than 2000 people were at Adelaide Oval to see it in the flesh.
But apart from that, the Power’s requests largely fell on deaf ears.
However, towards the end of a phone call with Browne, who was elected as president of the Pies in December 2021, Koch started to believe he and the Power’s luck was about to change.
“I was talking to Jeff on a different AFL matter and at the end of the conversation Jeff said “you do know I have enormous respect for the history and heritage of Port Adelaide. And our joint heritage, I really want to get this done”,” Koch told News Corp.
“He brought it up independently at the end of a conversation about something different and I thought hell, this could come off.
“It was so much driven by Jeff and I think that is for me a great reflection of the person he is.”
After Port Adelaide and Collingwood came to an agreement, the Power will be able to wear the historic jumper in their home Round 3 Showdown against the Crows.
Koch said there were plenty of moments where he thought he and the Power were just hitting their heads on a brick wall.
“Plenty of times (thought it wouldn’t happen) and it was our responsibility, there was a process to apply to wear it every year at the same time and we would apply to wear it,” he said.
“To the chagrin of a number of people, not only at other clubs but at the AFL, we would annoy the AFL with this every year.
“But I didn’t care, I’m happy to annoy people as long as we get an outcome.”
The applications and arguments by the Power certainly seemed to annoy former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire.
Steadfast in his belief that Port Adelaide had surrendered the right to wear black and white, as well as the Magpies nickname, when it entered the AFL as the Power, McGuire said they would be breaking contracts and copyright and even at one point threatened legal action.
This didn’t stop when McGuire left his role as Collingwood president, with using his media roles to further push his argument.
In response, past and present Port Adelaide officials denied ever signing contracts when the Power could wear the prison-bar guernsey.
It became a he-said, she-said argument that was anything but black and white.
On top of the war of words, there was a public show of defiance from the Power after they beat the Crows in their home Showdown in 2021.
Still fuming after the AFL rejected their bid, the Power players changed into prison-bar guernseys upon their entry into the change rooms post match and sung their team song in them.
Some reckoned they should have gone harder and played in the tops, which would have resulted in a fine and loss of premiership points.
Koch said he would be lying if the thought of just playing in the prison-bar tops didn’t cross his mind.
“Yep plenty of times, over more recent times when we have been more financially stable I could sort of accept the financial penalty depending on the size,” he said.
“But the four points just knocks that on the head, the threat of losing four points that is something you can’t accept.”
In 2022, the Power’s bid was again rejected, and Collingwood even proposed that they wear prison bars, but with teal replacing the white.
However, things were changing.
Koch and Browne have an extremely good relationship and it is a new set-up at Collingwood.
More pragmatic with some big hitters in roles such as chief executive (Craig Kelly) and in communications (Nadine Rabah) there was a sense of “let’s get this done”.
When asked if it was as simple as there being new people at Collingwood that resulted in the change towards the Power wearing the prison-bars Koch said;
“Obviously it is all about people and people being comfortable with the concept and also a respect for the heritage of another club.”
Where that had been division over who could wear the jumper, Koch focused on the similarities between the two clubs.
“Jeff is very conscious of the heritage of clubs and I think during Covid it reminded us of that our fans are members and are the lifeblood of clubs and we as custodians of the history of the clubs we need to really respect each other,” Koch said.
“I would talk to Jeff about how when I was growing up in Adelaide and this was pre-AFL, Collingwood was a sister club, Collingwood was always the VFL club that a Port Adelaide supporter would be supporting.
“John Cahill went and coached there, Mark Williams went and played there and won a best and fairest, Greg Phillips played for them, ‘Aber’ (Bruce Abernethy) in more recent times played for them as well.
“There has always been that connection between the two clubs and this issue over recent history strained that relationship and it is just wonderful to rebuild it and acknowledge the sort of linked heritage between the two clubs.
“Jeff is very much aware of that and is on the same page and completely understands it and he has been terrific to work with
“Also Jeff said to me that agreement that we had which allowed us to wear it one game a year in heritage round this upholds that agreement.”
Coincidentally, the week before the Power get to don the prison-bar guernsey for the sixth time at AFL level, they take on Collingwood at the MCG.
Both clubs will put on transport to get fans to Melbourne from Adelaide, with the hope that not only the MCG is packed out in 2023 for the clash but is elevated for future years.
“Because of that historic link between the two clubs,” Koch said.
“The two Magpies in the VFL and the SANFL, we share similar hostilities with other clubs in our local competitions, that we can maybe elevate the importance of the annual clash between
Collingwood and Port Adelaide in the future and that can start with round 2.
“If Port Adelaide supporters earmark an interstate game to watch each year it would be great if they could do it with the Collingwood game.”
The prison-bars will be back in the AFL in 2023, but what about in future years?
This latest agreement only applies to 2023 but Koch is confident it can be something going forward.
“We hope that wearing it this year proves that it is such a success that it can be an ongoing agreement and we don’t have to go through the process of applying,” he said.
“We will work through that for next year and I’m pretty confident that there is great goodwill.”
Originally published as AFL 2023: Inside story of Port Adelaide’s long battle to wear the prison-bar guernsey again