There was plenty to love about Aussie rules State of Origin, but nothing topped one night at Football Park three decades ago

Ask former Geelong and Victorian star Garry Hocking what State of Origin footy means to him, and his mind goes straight to the day Ted Whitten put the fear of God in him and his teammates.

“In [19]89 South Australia-Victoria played at the MCG in front of a packed house. I was in the B team so the likes of [me], Gary Ayres, Darren Millane … we travelled down to play in the B team against Tassie. Now we were four goals down at half-time and against Tasmania, [this was] unheard of,” he says.

“David Parkin was the coach but he said little. Ted Whitten sat us all down at North Hobart in this very small room. He said ‘I’ll tell you what boys … you lose this game of football and this will be your last game for Victoria. I’ll give you that. I know each and every one of you, I know who you are. You will never play for Victoria again’. 

“So they put Gary Ayres in the middle and he dominated and we ended up winning the game and a lot of us continued our journey with State of Origin. 

“[Ron] Barassi, [Ted] Whitten, [Bobby] Skilton, they just loved the Victorian guernsey and what it all meant to them and that was the baton was passed on no doubt from that day.

“We just never wanted to lose again or [be] behind in a game. Having Ted Whitten look and stare at you in the eye and say you will never ever get to represent Victoria again or get the opportunity, it was very frightening.”

A group of Victorian coaches sit on a bench in the change rooms before a State of Origin, while players stretch.

Garry Hocking (front left) played State of Origin football for Victoria mentored by famous footy greats like Ted Whitten (not in pic), Ron Barassi and Bob Skilton.(Getty Images: ALLSPORT/Mark Dadswell)

Five years later, Hocking and his Victorian teammates found themselves in another fierce interstate footy encounter away from home. This time the venue was Football Park in Adelaide, the opponent was South Australia.

What transpired 30 years ago next month was, depending who you ask, possibly the best game of football ever played — and the last, great hurrah of State of Origin football.

Football Park

Footy Park was South Australia’s version of Waverley Park — the concrete jungle, away from the city, the poor cousin to Adelaide Oval in the same way that Waverley was the poor cousin to the MCG.

It no longer exists, but it’s good to remember it in its heyday and what it meant to South Australians and to the teams and fans that visited, such as that night on May 3, 1994, which also happened to be the 20th anniversary of its opening. On that Tuesday night, 44,598 fans came to Footy Park.

A picture looking down on an oval stadium, with a football pitch in the middle.

It may not have had the cachet of Adelaide Oval, but Football Park when filled with fans had an atmosphere like few others.(Getty Images)

Author and football historian Francis Doherty doesn’t doubt the power and importance of the ground.

“That parochial South Australian Football Park crowd, if you’ve ever been there and experienced it firsthand, it’s probably one of the most parochial crowds if not the most scary place an opposition supporter to be, in the whole of Australia,” Doherty says.

Garry Hocking agrees.

“When we were doing the run, like you go for a run, I was like, I’m gonna run inside the boundary line. I don’t want to run next to the boundary line, next to the fence because they were throwing all sorts of different items, and all different types of abuse. 

“I am thinking there was a game where it might have been Danny Frawley, myself and a couple of others, we were running inside with a boundary umpire trying to get as far away as we could [from the fans] while we were doing our stretching — and while you’re doing your stretching up and around the pocket, we were getting pelted by items. Missiles.”

Change of format to State of Origin

Interstate footy changed to a State of Origin format in 1977. Before then, it was league versus league, with the VFL having an in-built advantage. Wins for South Australia over Victoria were rarities.

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