Never Tear Us Apart? Inside The Port Adelaide Board Election

Never Tear Us Apart?: The bitter board battle and the need for a consistent election model

Writer’s disclosure: Jeremy Wohlfart is a Port Adelaide member who voted in this board election, his decision will be outlined at the closing of this article.

Every football fan knows that before every Port Adelaide home game, the song Never Tear Us Apart plays on the sound system as the Port faithful sing the tune in enthusiastic unison.

Whether you like it or think it’s cheesy, what cannot be denied is what it means to the fans. It’s an anthem to remind them to stand united and never divided, a reminder that the team very nearly became insolvent less than 15 years ago off the back of horrendous results both financial and on the field.

It’s a unity that was threatened, in a way that outsiders and even just the casual Port fans may not be aware of.
A bitter board battle was underway for one of the fan-voted spots. A battle involving a candidate that has been publicly scathing of the way the club has been run in recent years and tried to grab a spot on the board last year before being rebuffed.

This is the story.


The challengers:

The election was initially a three horse race for one of the seats on the board, the position being contested by former Port Adelaide legends with differing areas of media and playing expertise. Additionally, one was a former board member while the other was a complete outsider in that regard.

The incumbent was Kathy Nagle, the chief executive of Western Hospital who was elected by the members in the previous election. Her business credentials and connections meant she had a pretty successful spell on the board, as the team has consistently recorded profits every year during her tenure, while cutting into long standing debt.

The first challenger was Bruce Abernethy, a Port Adelaide SANFL legend with seven SANFL flags under his belt, who had spells with North Melbourne and Collingwood in the VFL in the early to mid 1980s. He also playing in the AFL as an inaugural member of the Adelaide Crows list for 1991 before being delisted at the end of 1992. Abernethy had experience in the Port boardroom as one of the members who was there during Port’s lone flag success in 2004 before being part of the AFL-led cleanout during the dark days of Port. His application was a bit of a surprise after so long, but he was considered a safe, moderate candidate with experience.

Then there was Warren Tredrea, the complete antithesis to Abernethy. Tredrea is somewhat of a firebrand when it comes to Port Adelaide and has been the face of the anti-Ken Hinkley section of fans for 12 months. He openly called for Hinkley’s sacking after losing the Showdown in Round Three and has been critical of how the club was run, which culminated in him attempting to join the board in 2023 after tennis coach Darren Cahill left the board. Port Adelaide president David Koch rejected him (the two never seemed to see eye to eye due to Tredrea running the club down so much publicly) and the board position wasn’t filled for 2023.

Mere weeks before the election was held, a twist occurred. Nagle withdrew from the race citing business commitments, which guaranteed a new board member. It also ended up painting the picture as down to one issue: Were you Pro-Hinkley or Anti-Hinkley? It was an issue that unfairly defined the campaign, along with the very convoluted process of how the election was run.


The Process: Why it went wrong:

Clubs differ in how the board is elected, so this is applicable to Port Adelaide only. Essentially, three very big issues concerning the election were at hand that made this particular election very bitter:

  • Only two of Port’s board members come down to a vote from the members. There are nine board members overall, so seven aren’t subject to the approval of the fans.
  • Applicants are only allowed to outline their case with a 250 word written appeal to the fans, which wasn’t nearly enough to present a proper vision for the club.
  • Port Adelaide internally reviews every applicant, this meant both Abernethy and Tredrea had to present somewhat sanitised versions of their stances, which was already sanitised by the second issue just above.

Simply put, it was an extremely ineffective process that did not in any way, shape or form properly elocute what either Abernethy or Tredrea was about and what they hoped to do while on the board. It shoehorned both into almost insultingly condensed versions of themselves and their candidacy:

Tredrea was seen as running firmly on an anti-Hinkley platform. While he’s never shied from this, he’s also been very passionate in wanting to see Port Adelaide win a second flag.

Abernethy was presented as the club-preferred candidate who was pro-Hinkley and only wanted to rejoin the board when Tredrea was announced as a candidate. In truth, Abernethy has never been pro or anti-Hinkley, and he decided to run well before Tredrea was announced and not as a reactionary decision.

The lack of transparency or information painted this as an election based on the Hinlkey question (most elections seem to turn on one or two issues). Hinkley is a very divisive coach with Port fans, and a very vocal anti-Hinkley campaigner in Tredrea meant that he naturally appealed to those looking to instigate change within a club that has maintained mostly the same powerful figures for over a decade.

Those looking for experience and a less confrontational candidate, were more likely to look to Abernethy.

Social media is of course a cesspool of a place when it comes to disagreements, so infighting in Port social media groups was widespread between the extreme factions on either side. On the anti-Hinkley side, you had those who think it’s clever to brand everyone not ferociously against the coach as ‘Hinkleysexuals’. On the other side, you had those that looked upon fans campaigning for change as ‘needing to find another club’.

Both sides, of course, thought the other side were ruining the club. As they often do.

This is where the failings of the board process come into scrutiny. Instead of allowing the candidates to explain what they were about, the rules made it inevitable that the factions within were going to just assume what they were about.

And you know the old saying about what assuming does…

It should be said at this point that neither Tredrea or Abernethy at any point said or did anything confrontational during the campaign in a private setting. It was a very typical election even, considering the higher than usual publicity behind it.


What has to be done?:

So, firstly, I don’t want to be seen as telling all 18 clubs how to elect their boards. They have their models and that’s fine. Whatever works for them.

Jot down a mere 250 outline for your candidacy? It’s an insult to the fans who want to vote for the best man possible, an insult to the candidates who have no way to properly outline why they’re running, and an insult to the club for not doing their best to get the right man for the job.

The process is not merely insulting, it’s pathetic. I can’t speak for how other clubs run elections, but it should be mandatory that all 18 clubs allow those running for the board to have a proper outline for what they’re about and to allow fans to make an informed decision.

So…who won?:

It was very, very close. Out of 10,405 ballots cast, Tredrea beat Abernethy by a margin of only 199 votes in a 50.9% to 49.1% share. 10,405 ballots is a very high number for a voluntary election.

So for the next three years, Warren Tredrea will be looking across the board table at the man who stopped him from joining the board less than a year ago. Those who hoped it meant Hinkley could be closer to be out the door will be disappointed to know Tredrea has publicly backed the coach. Of course this could just be lip service, but one board member out of nine cannot sack the coach, anyway.

Yet another reason why the process should have been more transparent and not nearly as condensed.

I hope he’s more than just what the anti-Hinkley faction think he is. I personally wouldn’t have extended Hinkley last year, but I wasn’t going to vote for someone to run the club based just on whether or not they like the coach. Hopefully he has some good ideas and helped put the club in the right direction.

The simple truth is, I simply don’t know if Tredrea will make a good board member or not. I never had a chance to make that judgement for myself, he never had a chance to convince me of it either.

So who did I vote for?

As a Port member, I voted for Abernethy. I blame the Port Adelaide process entirely for this, as neither side had a chance to really pitch something to me and I went for the experienced hand. I would have voted for Nagle if she had stayed in the race, for what it’s worth.

Thus ended the battle for the Port Adelaide board election. A bitter battle most people don’t even know existed.