The ambitious or desperate tipster might be tempted to take on the underperforming Crows on Thursday night against Collingwood in Adelaide. After all, Collingwood has lost its ''home-ground advantage'' for the round-nine clash.
Before last year’s 35-point loss to the resurgent Port Adelaide, the Pies had won eight straight matches at AAMI Stadium, the former South Australian AFL venue, against the Power and the Crows. Their previous loss to Adelaide at the venue was in 2006, by four points. Their previous loss there to Port Adelaide was in 2004.
The Magpies, road warriors under coach Mick Malthouse, loved playing at AAMI Stadium, winning 12 games there, including two finals. Their seven losses at the venue came mostly at the start of the Malthouse era, when the Pies were climbing from the bottom of the ladder.
But Thursday night’s game is at the spiffy, newly refurbished Adelaide Oval, a clean slate for the Crows, who had more success beating Collingwood in Melbourne than at Football Park/AAMI Stadium in the past decade.
Surely the Crows can fire up before a sellout home crowd, and create a hostile environment for the Magpies?
Alas, so far, it is Port Adelaide that has made the Adelaide Oval its home-ground fortress. Veteran South Australian football scribe Ashley Porter says 20,000 Port Adelaide fans make the sound of 50,000 Crows fans at the venue.
In round two, Port Adelaide fans turned the first Adelaide Oval Showdown into an ecstatic Power party. It is unbeaten there this season, having won with margins of 54 points and 113 points. It soundly dealt with top-four contenders Geelong and Fremantle in front of relentlessly noisy crowds.
Crows fans love the venue just as much. All three Adelaide crowds at the redeveloped Adelaide Oval have exceeded their biggest home-game crowds of last year, and they have already matched their 2013 record of three home attendances over 40,000. They drew an incredible 44,770 to their clash with the unloved Greater Western Sydney in round five.
But the results of their team at the venue are underwhelming. They were hammered by Port Adelaide, smashed by a winless Sydney, and embarrassed by lowly Melbourne. Adelaide’s sole win at the Adelaide Oval was over an ailing GWS.
Porter says visiting teams will notice the ''wall of sound'' coming from Port fans, especially at the southern grandstand end. The level of the playing surface was dropped by a metre in the redevelopment, and the expertly engineered three-tier stand creates an amphitheatre effect which intensifies the noise made by passionate, vocal Power fans. Porter says Port Adelaide’s crowd sounds ''10 times better'' at the Adelaide Oval than at AAMI Stadium. Crows crowds sound a little better.
In the face of Port Adelaide’s revitalisation, there is pressure on Adelaide to reinvent itself. Port is being embraced by more families, and raucous youngsters, as well as its infamously ''feral'' core constituency. It presents its games better, offering a more exciting game-day experience and more dynamic on-field entertainment. It is nearly level with Adelaide on memberships sold.
Adelaide has many older fans, who were originally reluctant to leave AAMI Stadium. Despite the drawbacks of the distant, windswept West Lakes arena, some were set in their ways, accustomed to having barbeques in its car park. And the club is still reeling following the Kurt Tippett salary cap saga, which cost draft picks and self-confidence.
There are no excuses for the Crows at ground level. The new Adelaide Oval is 167 x 124 metres, only a small change from AAMI Stadium’s 165 x 135 metres. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is 160 x 141 metres, and Eithad Stadium is 159.5 x 128.8 metres. Port makes it look like a fast track, perfect for flowing, play-on footy; Adelaide and Melbourne made it look like a quicksand pit.
The redevelopment of the iconic venue, which retained the heritage scoreboard, a lawned hill, Moreton Bay fig trees and views of surrounding parkland, has been acclaimed for mixing state-of-the-art design with the beloved scenic character of the former stadium.
Spectators’ vantage points are 14 metres closer to the ground in the first tier of the eastern stand than in the northern stand at the MCG. There are video screens everywhere, wide walkways for ease of crowd circulation, no patron is more than 40 metres from catering, and a new footbridge linking the venue to the nearby city centre. Port fans march across it en masse from the city centre, banging drums. Claims about the financial benefit to the city of Adelaide extend into silly numbers.
But is this superb stadium worth a few goals for the Crows? Will the umps give odd frees late in the final quarter? Will opposition players make silly mistakes in unfamiliar pockets?
The mystique of home-ground advantage is diminished in the modern era. Many teams share grounds, there are fewer stadiums, and they are more alike than ever before. The biggest fillip a team can get is the simple volume of support of its fans, wherever they are.
In football, everything flows from wins. Wins flow from stable, progressive leadership.
Port is well run, and is winning. Fans are gravitating to the team, and making the Adelaide Oval a tough place to win for visitors.
Until Adelaide starts winning, to give its legions of fans something to scream about, they won’t know if they are truly at home. And if the Magpies continue their travelling ways, they won’t want to feel at home, regardless of the venue.