Books & Literature

Book Review: Port Adelaide to Shanghai: Taking Australia’s Game to the World, by Andrew Hunter

NON-FICTION: They said it couldn’t be done. Port Adelaide’s rivals called it a ‘sideshow’. Yet within five years, Port Adelaide had attracted major sponsors from China, played three in-season AFL matches in Shanghai, and featured in a series of significant moments in the Australia-China relationship. This is the inside story.

A gripping and intelligent look at a significant project in AFL history from an insider’s perspective.

Books about the AFL are rare, and rarer still are those which seek to lift the veil, part the curtains and take us behind the scenes to give us a glimpse of the internal mechanisms of an AFL club. Andrew Hunter was the executive at Port Power FC responsible for spearheading the club’s push into China in the 2010s, and now he has produced a record of these events.

A good historical non-fiction book has to do two things. It must tell us what happened, but then it must also tell us why this was important. Hunter does this admirably by beginning the story not at the club’s approach to Chinese businesses and the Chinese government but rather several years earlier. The early 2010s were a nadir in the club’s history and Hunter deftly shows us how the impetus to find new sponsors was born in these conditions—a club at its lowest ebb needing something to spark its fires again. 

Hunter then takes us on a journey into the world of high finance through the lens of football. A lot is said in the book about sports diplomacy, but make no mistake: Port Power’s campaign in China was a means to seek additional sponsorship, first and foremost. The book is quite up front about this however it also seeks to show us, through the compliance and assistance given to the club by the South Australian Government and the Federal Government, how important the project was in bridging the gap between Chinese and Australian culture.

What has the potential to be a somewhat dry topic is brought to life by Hunter’s no-nonsense prose in which he tells us exactly what happened, and when. His story is interspersed in an excellent way with short pieces by Power Captain Tom Jonas, football journalist Michelangelo Rucci, and Captain of the Power cheer squad Ian Wilson. These (particularly Wilson’s) give a sense that the project was larger than just the club and show us the lighter side of the push into China and its effects on the Power’s traditional fan base.

Hunter is not afraid to tackle controversial subjects. The lack of interest and support shown by the AFL is manifest throughout the book, and the at-times political nature of the project comes under scrutiny. The book is just as long as it needs to be, as it follows each step of the process from inception to the final game played before the intervention of the current global pandemic.

Full disclosure: this reviewer is a lifelong South Adelaide fan and would rather dig his own eyes out with a blunt spoon than ever barrack for the Power. However, at its heart, this is a book about a successful international project, and one that was started in South Australia, by South Australians. This reviewer was left hoping the success will continue post-COVID19.

Reviewed by DC White

Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Released: December 2020
RRP: $29.95

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