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Our collective mind flies as one
The City of Adelaide has always craved respectability but has always struggled to attain it. It was founded in 1836 to be Australia's only Convict free colony and soon trumpeted that it was a “City of Churches.” Despite being founded on noble ideas, most migrants chose to be around ex-Cons and their colourful personalities rather than take up the generous land offers available around Adelaide. Perhaps this was because a city that trumpets that it is free of Convict heritage as its claim to fame is basically saying it has nothing going on.
150 years later, Adelaide’s isolation and persuasive religious dogma found expression in the Adelaide Crows, which operated like a kind of spaced out cult in a middle of nowhere location. For many years, its slogan has been "we fly as one", which pressured those at the club to suspend criticism and just go along with whatever silly idea was flavour of the month. For those who bought in, the cult of the Crows bred a remarkable fanaticism. In addition, it bred weird thinking characterised by firewalking, magical energy saving pills and “mind training” camps where players got naked to discuss their penis and so learn how to be a man.
While those who bought in were no doubt rewarded, for those more orientated to normality, the cultish thinking had them wanting them to be anywhere but Adelaide. Over the years, this has resulted in Adelaide losing more of its star players than any other club in the AFL despite having great on field success. For these players, they didn't want to fly as one; they just wanted to fly away.
Origins of the Crows
The SANFL began in 1877 and subsequently grew into a strong and fanatically supported league. In interstate matches against Victorians, South Australians frequently emerged as victors, which perhaps gave the South Australians some of the status they so desperately wanted. With predominantly dry grounds, the South Australian's brand of football had more emphasis on skills. On the other hand, the Victorian brand was built on wet grounds, which led to more dirty play.
In the 1970s, football representatives from around Australia met to discuss the possibility of a national competition. Victorians insisted that their league, the VFL, was the strongest and rather than create a new competition, new clubs would have to join the VFL and pay a licence fee. Quite understandably, football fans outside Victoria were not enthused by the Victorian arrogance and declined.
In 1991, Port Adelaide, the most loathed but also most popular team in the SANFL, defected by making an application to join the VFL/AFL. Although the VFL/AFL was pleased that a South Australian team wanted to join, they were concerned that Port's entry would alienate the majority of South Australian football supporters who hated Port. Consequently, they gave the SANFL the option of fielding a composite team and if they declined, Port would be free to join. Knowing that Port Adelaide was hoping they would reject the offer, the SANFL accepted.
South Australia's new team seemed to make a concerted effort to piss-off Port Adelaide supporters. Firstly, their jumper featured the state's colours, as well as the colours of every SANFL team - with the exception of Port. Secondly, the name Crows was chosen because Port Adelaide had wanted to use it when it entered the VFL/AFL. Naturally, the Crows appealed to everyone who liked football, hated Victorians and most importantly, hated Port Adelaide. Obviously such people were numerous as the club had no difficulty in selling out its home ground with membership tickets.
New-age thinking and the power stance
While the beginnings of the Crows seemed normal enough on the surface, it concealed a weird way of thinking that showed a remarkable ability to suspend logic. In 1992, the newly formed club thought fire walking would be a great way to bond the players and show the power of the mind. After three hours of a motivator persuading the players that the fire would be cold as ice, the first player, Nigel "Smart", stepped out to walk through the searing coals. Smart was soon screaming as he suffered first degree burns to his feet causing the whole exercise to be cancelled before any other player could follow his lead.
Not to be discouraged, something about fire kept the Crows hypnotized. So much so, in 2006, Adelaide players and coaches led a $60 million investment in “Firepower”, a company that claimed to have invented a pill that could be added to the petrol tank to make a car travel further, faster and with less "dirty" global warming emissions.
The fantastic claims should have immediately raised some alarm bells. More alarm bells should have been raised by the history of the company's founder. Specifically, Firepower was started by an ex-Jehovah’s witness who moved onto magic pills that would cure cancer, paint that would get rid of barnacles on ships before finally inventing the pill that would make make petrol burn more efficiently.
The logical response to the Firepower claims would be to doubt that a Jehovah witness-turned-salesmen would achieve what chemical engineers in multinational fuel companies could not. Short of that, a simple test would have been to get a pill, put it in a fuel tank and soon verify that it didn't work. Unfortunately, the Crows were not fond of logic. Instead, they hyped each other up and went all in on the magic beans. Coach Neil Craig led the way but was well supported by Brownlow Medallist and future Adelaide director Mark Ricciuto who had himself announced on radio as 'Mark Rupert Firepower Ricciuto'. Future head of football, Bret Burton, was also a keen investor. Three years later, the Ponzi scheme had collapsed as well as the Crows' dream of a magic pill to stop global warming.
For a brief period of time following the Firepower debacle, the Crows had some normality but in 2015, the son of the club's coach, Phil Walsh, started having dreams that his father was possessed by the devil. The son responded to his dreams by stabbing his father to death.
The murder of the club coach should have been a warning sign that mental health is not something to be trifled with. Instead, in 2017 came the most bizarre plan yet. Football head Bret Burton and director Mark Ricciuto, who obviously had learnt nothing from the Firepower debacle, were seduced by an organisation termed “Collective Minds” as it embarked on a plan to unlock the secrets of high performance. Although Collective Minds billed itself as being able to unlock the potential of the mind, its creators had no background in psychology. To the contrary, its creator, Amon Woulfe, had Master of Business and developed a Scientology-like theory of 5 different types of brainwaves that he had titled the Delta, the Theta, the Alpha, the Beta and the Gamma. Hearing about brainwaves that not even neuroscientists had heard of was sufficient to make the Crows believe he was the man to take the players to the next level.
In addition to his theorising about brain waves, Woulfe also made a side income selling "PowerStrips." These "patented" strips were a "fusion of modern energy and ancient herbs." The key ingredient was the element germanium that "bent heat" from the body and broke it into a "long wave" spectrum so it could return to the body to stimulate a combination of "complementary biochemical and neurological processes that contribute to pain relief ."(1) ( It should be pointed out research by the US Food and Drug Administration has concluded that germanium has no benefit and presents a potential human health hazard if indigested.)
The rational response to the claims of Collective Mind should have been the same as what it should have been towards the Firepower Energy Pill. Specifically, there should have been a couple of chuckles that there are so many loopies in the world before getting down to the serious of how to win games of football. Instead, Bret Burton once more saw an opportunity and Collective Minds was signed up! The decision was akin to introducing the playing group to Scientology and then letting Scientology take them out bush for a high performance camp. Only someone stupid enough to invest into magical fuel saving pills couldn't see the dangers of what they were doing.
Collective Minds’ first strategy for success was to have Crows adopt a “power stance” when the National Anthem was played before the Grand Final against the Richmond Tigers. In theory, by resembling a Hollywood cliché of a cult , the Crows’ opponents would be intimidated and fall apart. Unfortunately, like firewalking, magical fuel pills and heat bending PowerStrips, science proved an inconvenient hindrance as the Tigers showed it takes more than power stances to win a game of football.
Not to be discouraged, the following season Collective Minds took mind experimentation to the next level with a secretive “Mankind” training camp. Like the movie Deliverance in which hillbillies rape a man causing the others to take a vow of silence, Crows players made a pact not to talk about what happened on the camp…but secrets still flowed. To maintain the pact, Captain Tex Walker sent out an angry text vowing retaliation against the leakers.
Even though most of the players kept their silence, it soon emerged that the camp was a modified version of Mankind Projects common around the world. In 2010, English journalist Tom Michelson signed up for the project and wrote about being blind-folded, stripped naked, and seeing men given animal names like “mighty condor”. He concluded the experience felt like,
More information about the camp came from MankindProject.org. Among other things, it talked of getting men naked so they could have conversations about their penis as a way to confront their homophobia. In their own words,
Testimonies of men included invitations to grab each other’s penises, open discussion about their sexual histories, gay porn in Nazi drag and humiliation to the sound of naked men playing the drums. (5)
Along with Tex Walker, star mid fielder Rory Sloane seemed to be one of the participants who converted whole heartedly to the brotherhood of the naked penis. Many other players, however, were unsettled by the New-Age-meets-Neanderthal thinking. To be precise, Aboriginal players were allegedly offended by an Aboriginal message stick being used as a phallic symbol to confront their homophobia. Other players were said to be traumatised and wanted to leave the club over their experiences.
Late in the year, a group of players confronted the coach to voice their feelings that their mental well being had not been protected. Allegedly, the coach responded with words to the effect the players were being a pack of girlies and needed to toughen up by getting naked and discussing their penises once more.
The rumours of the camp created a disturbing picture of a psychologically experimental environment that was never adequately controlled or challenged. In many ways, it seemed like entrusting a shaman to fix a player in need of a knee reconstruction or asking Scientologist Tom Cruise to run a counselling session. In response, Jeff Bond, the head of sports psychology at the Australian Institute of Sport, went as far as to say,
As for the board, it initially denied that anything unspeakable had happened on camp. Instead, it merely stated that the club would make no apologies for seeking an edge in mental performance. In a particularly amusing justification, Crows Chairman Rob Chapman even referenced the silly urban myth of only 5% of the brain being used. In his own words,
Although Chapman didn’t specify whether it had been Collective Minds that had told him that people only use 5 per cent of their brains, it is usually a myth proliferated by people seeking to learn how to levitate, read minds or master telekinesis. In the real world, psychologists used MRI scans long ago to demonstrate that most people use 100 per cent of their brain, which is why small amounts of brain damage result in very obvious impairments and football concussions are serious issues. It is only rare individuals, such as individuals in the Crows football club, that ever limit themselves to five percent of capacity and could suffer damage to 95% of their brain without any noticeable difference.
Over time, more of the secrets filtered out and the Crows' were forced to keep fronting the media to defend the club. Although it scoffed at the rumours about the Richmond song being played on loop, it refused to explain what had actually happened, which was a concession that what happened was outside the realms of public morality. The club had also conceded that an Aboriginal "artefact" had indeed been used in an offensive way and it had to intervene to reduce Indigenous offence.
On the field, looking at each other's penises proved about as useful as power stares for winning games. From pre-season flag favourites, the Crows didn’t even make the finals. Furthermore, in the face of accusations that the Crows had been "negligent" in their attempts to unlock the unused 95 % of their brains, the club conceded its error and severed its contract with Collective Minds. It was too late for some players and staff, however, as the likes of star player Mitch McGovern and forward coach Josh Francou walked out in disgust one year into their respective three year contracts.
Flying as one and flying away from the flock
Although Firewalking, magic energy pills, and naked blindfolded adventures can inspire new awakenings in people, they can also result in alienation. This has been a particular problem for the Crows as it has struggled to convince Adelaide-raised players drafted to interstate clubs to return to Adelaide. Of even more concern, it has struggled to keep interstate players drafted to the club once their contracts were completed. In a particularly damaging example, it paid one player, Kurt Tippet, outside of the salary cap because it was so desperate for him to stay. Ironically, the club had room in the salary cap but it was paying Tippet so much above his value that the club wanted to keep it a secret. As punishment, the Crows were fined and excluded from early rounds of the draft. It seemed that even being free of a Convict heritage was no guarantee of people acting with integrity or honesty. More damage was to come in its power stance season of 2017 when it lost rising star Jake Lever and in 2018. Acting a lot like Scientology when one of their own leaves the fold, Captain Tex Walker launched a public attack on Lever and the club uninvited him to their Best and Fairest. Other lost players at a time Adelaide was pushing for a premirship included Patrick Dangerfield, Phil Davis and Charli Cameron.
On field success
Unlike many of the teams that joined in the AFL since the 80s, the Crows have always been reasonably successful – despite the constant loss of star players. Much of the early success could be attributed to fanatical home town support, which helped the club became almost unbeatable at home. Unfortunately, on the road they proved to be flops!
Ironically the Crow's fortunes soared when Port gained admittance to the AFL in 1997. When Port entered, they had a score to settle with the team that took "their place." Prior to the first "showdown", Malcolm Blight, the Crow's coach, declared that life in Adelaide would be intolerable if Port emerged triumphant. The Crows were heavily favoured but the unthinkable happened and Port won by 11 points.
Severely embarrassed, the defeat was a kick in the arse that spurred to the club onto greater heights. The club subsequently won their first premiership that very year. In 1998 they had continued success, sneaking into their second grand final against North Melbourne, then winning from fifth position, a feat never before accomplished. It was almost as if the desire not to let Port gain the ascendency had driven the Crows to lofty heights.
Although the showdowns have been evenly split, the two premierships gives Adelaide the best record where it matters most. This little historical fact perhaps best encapsulates the club's appeal. After almost 127 years of listening to Port fans boast about their superiority, Adelaide's record allows fans to turn the table and put Port into second place. With two flags to Port's one, those who hate Port at last have something to crow about.
2013 slogan - You're a required player
Although the club tells players they are required, players have a history of telling the Crows they are not a required club. Flying as one was consistent with its collective one mind dream but sadly many individuals just didn't buy into the one-mind thinking.
Don't go home...please
The song was written by former president Bill Sanders and set to the tune from the US Marine’s Hymm. The inaugural version substituted Camry, the then club sponsor, for Adelaide to sing “We are the Camry Crows.”
Roy Morgan research
Adelaide Crows supporters were:
2001 when compared to other Australians
2004 when compared to other AFL supporters
2006 when compared to other AFL supporters
Hatred for Port Adelaide was one of the initial motivations driving support the Crows. In the SANFL, Port are the most successful, most hated and most popular club. In the AFL, Port are the small fish and the Crows have more members, supporters and most importantly, two premierships to the Power's one.
Adelaide Crows jokes
Darren Jarman - Johnny come latey who won a Grand Final for the Crows. Odd looking fella who bore an uncanny resemblance to Magilla Gorrilla.
Wayne Weidemann - Depending upon who is being asked, the man from Fish Creek looked like a Viking or a dope smoker. Evoked the catch-cry "Weeeeeeed" whenever he went near the ball.
Mark Riccuito - Tough centreman who evoked "Rooooooooooo!" when he touches the ball. To the uninitiated, it sounded like he was being booed and being lumped in the same category as the likes of Buckley, Carey and Libratore.
Andrew McLeod - Smooth centreman who ran the field like a hot knife slicing through butter.
Tony Modra - High flying pretty boy that football fans Australia wide feared may become another Warwick Capper in retirement.
Why kind of country has four codes of "football"?