You’ve got to love them. And even if you don’t love them or the code they play , you simply have to respect them.

The Sydney Swans are everything that Sydney isn’t. They are the complete opposite of the Sydney characterised as shallow, vacuous and dysfunctional by the snipers up north and the haters down south.

In a city famed for its beauty, the Swans have shown that winners can play ugly. In a town where nothing works, the Swans are as ruthlessly functional as the Swiss train system. In a place with more airheads than the Boeing factory, they are men of character and substance.

Sydney play Collingwood tonight for a chance at a grand final berth, and the fact that they have sold more tickets than the two storied Sydney clubs playing an NRL preliminary final on Saturday night says much.

It says that the town has truly embraced them. And this time, the fans are in it for the long haul.

Sydney first flirted with the Swans when the South Melbourne Swans moved north in 1982. Like so many Sydney romances, it appeared as though the flame would quickly flicker out.

With the eccentric Geoffrey Edelsten and the super short-shorted Warwick Capper centre stage, the team had all the ingredients of a new Sydney restaurant or a warbling blonde starlet. Talk-of-the-town one minute, anonymous the next.

And so it more or less proved, until the steadying hand of AFL legend Ron Barassi stepped in. Under his guidance, the team went from cellar dwellers to contenders. In 1996, the year after Barassi’s departure, the Swans made the grand final as the careers of Tony Lockett and Paul Kelly peaked.

They couldn’t quite overcome North Melbourne and Wayne Carey, but the mould was set. Never again would the Swans be easybeats. More crucially, never again would the fans desert them and the club’s very existence be called into question.

The second glory era commenced with the hiring of Paul Roos as coach in 2002 and culminated, unforgettably, in the 2005 premiership. Their brand of footy wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was so dour that AFL boss Andrew Demetriou gave it a gobful. Didn’t the Swans show him a thing or two.

The defining moment of that 2005 grand final was the Leo Barry mark which defused a last gasp West Coast attacking raid on the siren.

Barry ran headlong towards a huge cluster of players, showing little regard for his own welfare. He didn’t leap skywards Cazaly-style. He simply put himself in the right place and stood tall and firm, arms aloft when it really counted.

The mark was more West Gate Bridge than Sydney Harbour Bridge, more Port Phillip Bay than Port Jackson, yet it remains the classic emblem of everything the Swans had become and continue to be.

This year’s crop of Swans under Roos’s former deputy John Longmire play a gritty game similar to the 2005 vintage. Crucially, they have found a way to win without a big forward like Lockett or Barry Hall, although Sam Reid shows ample signs of rising to that level.

There are countless players among today’s group who embody the old “Bloods” spirit. Among them is Mike Pyke, the unfashionable Canadian who once scored a length-of-the-field intercept try off a Dan Carter pass in a Canada vs All Blacks rugby union international.

All arms and legs, the 2m giant was something of a Paul Roos experiment but has developed into an able ruckman who has kicked eight goals this year.

There is Kieren Jack, the son of former rugby league great Garry Jack, who is a terrier of an on-ball player. There is defender Ted Richards, who after 10 mostly unremarkable seasons has blossomed this year to be selected in the All-Australian team. And there is Adam Goodes, the slick, graceful heart and soul of the team.

But if one player is pure Sydney Swans, it is Jude Bolton, who tonight notches game number 300. Lake Essendon champ James Hird, Bolton has a pretty face which he’s not afraid to place in harm’s away to get the merest fingertip on the ball. What more could any coach or fan ask for?

By no small coincidence, the perennially hapless NSW Waratahs this week named a new coach, Michael Cheika, who intimated that winning ugly isn’t good enough for the demanding Sydney public.

The Sydney Swans have proved that wrong, and how.

New boys the GWS Giants boast that they’re “the biggest and the best” in their club song, but the sports fans of Sydney will “cheer, cheer the red and the white” loud and proud tonight, regardless of whether the Swans overcome their nemesis Collingwood, who have beaten them the last 11 times they’ve played.

Be nice to me on Twitter. It’s my birthday! @antsharwood

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST

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    • S.L says:

      06:50am | 21/09/12

      As a New South Welshman born and bred in Sydney I was pleased to see the Swans success but when they won the 2005 Grand Final and Paul Roos started calling them South Melbourne (after being based in Sydney for 23 years) in his victory speech they lost any support I had for them as a team.
      If they win the gong this year I couldn’t give a flying toss…......................

    • Queen Victoria says:

      07:58am | 21/09/12

      He didn’t start referring to them as South Melbourne. He said for all the Sydney and South Melbourne supporters that have waited since 1933 for a premiership here it is. Sheesh New South Welshmen are dumb.

    • Dash says:

      08:17am | 21/09/12

      S.L you are wrong! Roos refered to the 70+ years of waiting endured by all Swans supporters.

      You are shallow and easily hurt if that comment made you lose respect. And clearly not an AFL fan!

    • Ben C says:

      09:30am | 21/09/12

      @ S.L

      I remember that speech clearly:

      “For those of you who have waited for 72 years to see South Melbourne slash Sydney Swans win the Premiership, HERE IT IS!”

      He referred to both their heritage and their present. Can’t see how he could have lost any support over that. In fact, if anything, those old South supporters who may have been disgruntled with the move to Sydney would have appreciated that.

    • TT says:

      10:02am | 21/09/12

      There were many old and loyal Swans supporters who had waited a lifetime for a Premiership.  The Swans don’t need supporters like you, so go and have your toss!

    • Rickster says:

      11:29am | 21/09/12

      Anyone but Collingwood, I’d love to see an Adelaide v Sydney Grandfinal and realy stick it up those Mexicans.

    • S.L says:

      02:23pm | 21/09/12

      I’ve never been a Swans supporter but as they were based up here I was pleased to see them achieve success. If they want to relate their grand final win to a district they haven’t been apart of for 23 years I can’t see why any Sydneysider should get caught up in the hype? Now 2012 is a different story but I won’t be cheering like in 2005. As has been mentioned most of the players are Victorian because the game has never travelled outside it’s traditional borders and never will!

    • Gaz says:

      06:56am | 21/09/12

      Haters down south? I don’t think Victorians hate the Swans. Most Victorians have a soft spot for the Swans as was shown when they won the 2005 premiership. After all three quarters of the team are Victorians (or Riverina boys which might as well be Victoria as NSW forget and don’t care about the Riverina) which is probably why the team displays those good hard Victorian traits and none of those typically superficial Sydney ones.

    • Macca says:

      08:02am | 21/09/12

      Gaz, I don’t think Melbourians hate The Swans, they just hate Sydney-sides. Its mostly because we lack character. It’s difficult to develop a depth of personality whilst sipping an Organic Pale Ale in the sun next to the Opera House whilst watch the classic ferries saunter along the glistening picturesque harbour.

      We’ve got it tough.

      Meanwhile, 1 in 5 of us will go home to our lounge-rooms and 50’’ LED TVs to watch 13 oversized men run into 13 other oversized men 5 times and the kick the ball to the other team.

    • iansand says:

      08:08am | 21/09/12

      Would you settle for hyper-sensitive little flowers down south?

    • Gregg says:

      08:23am | 21/09/12

      @Gaz and Macca
      Well, just do not believe all the Sydney Vs Melbourne love/hate hype you hear either for I think you’ll find heaps from either city who do not give much of a toss for it nor being in different states.
      But then I’ve moved from being a Mexican to not really so much a Queenslander, Queenslander, Queenslander but it is so so good for the SOS successes.

      Go the Swannies!

    • Little Joe says:

      07:54am | 21/09/12

      AARRRGGHHH!!! As if a Queenslander need one more thing to dislike about NSW!!!

      Swans ..... stole Plugger in 1995 and the Saints’ Premiership in 2005!!

    • Dash says:

      08:28am | 21/09/12

      Hmm, this is a very strange post!

      Firstly, the Saints are from Melbourne, not Queensland. And secondly, the Saints did not even make it to the 2005 Grand Final!

      I’m confused.

    • Ben C says:

      09:34am | 21/09/12

      @ Dash

      “And secondly, the Saints did not even make it to the 2005 Grand Final!’

      Wasn’t that because the might Swans beat them in the Preliminary Final? smile

      But you’re right, what’s either of those got to do with Queensland?

    • TChong says:

      09:40am | 21/09/12

      Little Joe
      since Newman removed a waste levy, it is indeed heart warming to see so much NSW rubbish head to QLD.
      ( brisbane Times 21/ sept.)
      Its wins all round-  New Southers are rid of what is superfluos, and QLD gains immesurably from our caste offs
      Once again, QLD should be greatful for NewSouth,
      dont you agree?

    • Little Joe says:

      03:47pm | 21/09/12

      @ Dash ..... I am a Queenslander who supports St Kilda.

    • Suzanne says:

      07:55am | 21/09/12

      Yes AFL has been a huge hit in Sydney.  In some areas there are more playing AFL that either Rugby code.  Girls are also playing.

      AFL is a MUCH better game for kikd, they ALL get a go, ALL get the ball and ALL get a kick. 

      I have has sons and daughters play soccer, football and AFL and I know which one they like best - AFL.

      Further its more athletic and safer.

    • Jeremy Smith says:

      08:54am | 21/09/12

      Your kids don’t play AFL - they play Australian football.

      The AFL would like to think that it owns the game but in fact we do.

    • Levi of Bris says:

      09:23am | 21/09/12

      Yes and I bet you still drop your kids at the front gate to school and pack plenty of cotton wool for them. And still cut the crusts off their sandwhiches. Embarrasing.

    • Caedrel says:

      11:28am | 21/09/12

      The Auskick stuff seems well organised - we’d be open to our son playing because he’s fast and he’s a good kick, but we started him in soccer because we think it’s the best way for littlies to start off. He’s turned out to be pretty good at it, so we’re sticking with it for now (despite the political / ethnic hassles involved), but we’ll probably try to get him to give Aussie rules a go. We’ve definitely discouraged rugby league - I respect and enjoy the game as a spectator, but it’s not something I want my son to participate in. Rugby union isn’t even on the radar - we’re not going to any private schools in the foreseeable future.

    • Stuss says:

      08:08am | 21/09/12

      I’m not a swans fan. I don’t like the brand of ugly footy they play. I also don’t like the sydneysiders (sports writers of the telegraph included) who basically ignore the swans’ existence for the first 25 weeks of the season and then become their biggest fans ever at this time of year. I know not all swans supporters are like this, but I saw a few like it when I was living there in 2005.

      In saying that I will be supporting them tonight simply because they’re playing collingwood, who I despise.

    • No more Eddies! says:

      12:48pm | 21/09/12

      Should almost be legislation that every non Collingwood fan has to go for whoever is playing them. Although if it’s Carlton it’s not much of a choice.

    • Michael S says:

      08:17am | 21/09/12

      I’m on the charcoal and orange side of the Sydney AFL scene - but good luck to the Swans tonight.

      It’s exciting times for AFL up here. There’s a game in Sydney nearly every week, while our junior and local grassroots numbers are growing. That there’ll be close to 60,000 at ANZ tonight to watch an AFL game in Sydney is great news for the game.

    • centurion48 says:

      08:34am | 21/09/12

      Happy Birthday Ant. I hope the Swans deliver a win as your birthday present.

    • Jenni says:

      08:42am | 21/09/12

      As a die-hard Swans fan living in Perth, I can’t wait to see my Beloved Bloods kick some Magpie ass tonight.

      Watching the Weagles get beaten in the 2005 GF was the standout highlight of my LIFE. Living in Perth for the next few months and rubbing their faces in it was the sweetest feeling in the world :D

      PS - my sister is a Hawthorn supporter, so THAT could get interesting LOL

    • Question says:

      10:31am | 21/09/12

      Jenni - so you must have really liked it then when the Eagles beat your lot by a point in the GF the following year, eh? Could you take the abuse as well as you dished it?

    • Jenni says:

      01:15pm | 21/09/12

      @Question - of course I got it all dished back the next year LOL I take it as good as I get it, don’t you worry smile It’s all part of the game, innit?

    • Cleo B. says:

      08:57am | 21/09/12

      Best of luck tonight Swans~ you are the greatest whatever the result!!
      AFL is streets ahead of League!! Any thick-neck boofhead can tuck a ball under his armpit and run like hell to the other end of the field and hurl himself onto the grass/mud. That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

    • Kika says:

      04:13pm | 21/09/12

      Run. Fall over. Run. Fall over. OMG A mistake! Someone has made a mistake. Ball hands to the other team. Run. Fall over. Someone kicks a bomb - they catch it, try!

      Wow. Super Complicated Stuff League is.

    • Punters Pal says:

      08:59am | 21/09/12

      Ant, I take an exception to claim: “Nothing in Sydney works”. This is such a bulls..t comment. Most things in Sydney work really well - transport, schools, hospitals, child care centres etc. People who come up with nonsense like you probably do not live in Sydney or if they do, have never lived in any other large city in the world.

      Otherwise, I agree everything you say about the Swans. I love them, they are great.

    • Bill says:

      09:14am | 21/09/12

      Excellent news that Sydney has embraced the national code with such passion. The battle for hearts and minds has been won. From the fans who go to the game to the legions of kids choosing Australian footy over that silly thuggish pommy game, Sydney people have joined the rest of Australia in acknowledging that footy is the greatest game in the country.

      Go Swans! Bury the pies!

    • Levi of Bris says:

      10:03am | 21/09/12

      You are an idiot Bill.

      TV ratings for NRL = Higher than AFL. National my arse.

      Remind us again Ant which game is yours and Sydneys preference?

    • Tim says:

      10:15am | 21/09/12

      Probably because Sydney and Sydneysiders don’t have a massive inferiority complex that gives them an intense urge to try and convince everyone else how fantastic their provincial game really is and a need to crap on using words such as “dominating” and “national code” when there is no such thing.

      The sad reality of small man’s syndrome.

    • Mark says:

      10:24am | 21/09/12

      Sydney’s preference…exactly! The NRL leads the ratings in NSW and Queensland, no one disputes that. But outside those states, Channel 9 wouldn’t dare show a game anywhere near prime time because next to no-one cares.

      Australian football has a much better claim to being the national game than rugby league.

    • Dash says:

      10:37am | 21/09/12

      Levi - remind me the value of TV rights for NRL vs AFL?

      This game tonight will get a bigger crowd than the one played at the same venue on Sat!

    • Ando says:

      10:52am | 21/09/12

      Mark and Bill,
      There is no such thing as a national winter code in Australia. Is that so hard to deal with?

    • Tim says:

      11:15am | 21/09/12

      Ah Dash,
      no it won’t.
      Ticket sales were equal yesterday afternoon and the League still has another day to go.

      The League got $1.025B the AFL got $1.25B for tv rights.
      The only thing is the League is yet to sell the NZ rights and the digital rights yet. By the time they do, the difference in value for either code will be minimal.

    • Dash says:

      01:18pm | 21/09/12

      @Tim - the rugby league would kill for the club membership and crowd numbers of the AFL!

      The NRL have an inferior product.

    • Tim says:

      01:43pm | 21/09/12

      why do AFL fans have to go off on tangents when discussing thistopic?

      You made a comment, I’ve countered on specific points and now you’re talking about club memberships? Who cares.

      I’ve said it plenty of times, the AFL is the biggest sport in the country, but not by much. They have big crowds and memberships but TV ratings are nearly equal with the NRL slightly ahead. AFL is definitely the minor sport for half of the country.
      And I’m a Swans supporter who’s from Melbourne.

    • Dash says:

      02:08pm | 21/09/12

      Just wanted a reaction! Thanks for your response. Hope we win tonight!

    • Tim says:

      02:47pm | 21/09/12

      shouldn’t you be heading out to the ground soon?
      Gotta make full use of those box tickets.

    • Kika says:

      04:05pm | 21/09/12

      Levi - Who’s the idiot? AFL is played in ALL States and Territories in Australia. League = 2. 3 if you count Victoria, but they only have the Storm and they are made up of players from NSW and QLD.

    • Tim says:

      04:52pm | 21/09/12

      What are the names of the NT, ACT and Tas teams in the AFL again?

      and you do realise that nearly all the Swans players aren’t from Sydney don’t you?

    • Simon says:

      09:35am | 21/09/12

      What’s great about living in Sydney is that we don’t even register what Melbourne thinks about us. Couldn’t give a toss . Though we do like what Melbourne is about , it’s a great city with lots of culture. My wife is from Melbourne and loves Sydney to bits . One thing we both have in common is that afl is just like watching 2hours of dribble.
      Souths v manly GF

    • Ben C says:

      09:37am | 21/09/12

      Thanks for not predicting a result for tonight, Ant. We don’t want you to give the mighty Swans your Kiss of Death.

    • Tim says:

      10:09am | 21/09/12

      No Ben,
      you want him to label Collingwood as certainties, then the Swans will be set.

    • Ben C says:

      11:36am | 21/09/12

      Haha! Too true, Tim.

    • Ray says:

      10:17am | 21/09/12

      Ant, well said.

    • MarkS says:

      10:27am | 21/09/12

      Don’t mind the Swans, but still hope Collingwood wins the flag this year. Just becouse it would annoy the Essendon & Carlton fans.

    • Kika says:

      04:06pm | 21/09/12

      Thanks. Yes it would annoy us.

    • Arnold Layne says:

      10:44am | 21/09/12

      Nice piece Ant.  I’m heading out to the game tonight and am very nervous about it at the moment.

      Punchers - Any chance this can be a comments section on the merits of the Swans and tonight’s game rather than the usual juvenile AFL v NRL v Football/soccer garbage? this doesn’t have to be a competition between codes.

    • Little Joe says:

      03:50pm | 21/09/12

      Should leave comments open overnight!!

    • gigifischer says:

      10:55am | 21/09/12

      Love your peice Ant
      I was at 2005 and 2006 grandfinals and despite being a die hard Crows suppoter abslutely love the Swans ( almost converted two weeks ago).  You have captured who they are and what Sydney is in this peice.
      Good Luck Sydney tonight

    • NS Welshmen says:

      11:00am | 21/09/12

      They are a great football side. On and off the field, truly awesome. Good luck tonight.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      11:01am | 21/09/12

      My late father ,born and bred Victorian was a die-hard Swans fan his whole life, Mum a diehard Collingwood fan…..Even though Dad is not with us anymore,I can imagine a few cups and plates rattling in the cupboards tonight….. smile

    • Pete says:

      11:01am | 21/09/12

      AFL is just a better game than Rugby League that is why the Swans are getting more popular.

      While people in Melbourne like the Storm I would imagiine it is very hard for them to go from AFL (Fast & Exciting) to start watching League (Slow, Repetitive & Boring)

      Just Saying

      Go Swans

    • Fed Up says:

      11:47am | 21/09/12

      Only one game in Sydney…..Rugby League….Go da Bunnies!!!!

    • Graeme says:

      11:55am | 21/09/12

      I didn’t see any airheads at the Boeing factory when I visited there in June. Must have been their day off. In the meantime, go the Swannies, the time has come to reverse the trend against those nemesis Pies!

    • IC-1101 says:

      12:22pm | 21/09/12

      Most Melburnians would prefer to see the Swans win than the Hawks, Pies or Crows.

    • millane says:

      12:25pm | 21/09/12

      seriously sharwood - you ok… again no pot shots at AFl or Victoria

    • Dave-o says:

      01:08pm | 21/09/12

      Wonder if Nathan Buckley remembers his “I’m leaving Brisbane to play in a finals side” comment. Because I remember a certain Swans side picking themselves out of the gutter in 1995 to knock Collingwood out of the top 8.

      So good luck Swans, smash those dirty Pies boys.

    • Ben C says:

      01:50pm | 21/09/12

      We should also remind him of the flags that Brisbane won since he left, since he featured in two of them… as losing captain.

    • DAVID RIECK says:

      02:43pm | 21/09/12

      Must be written by an ignorant Victorian, Sth Aust or WA….

    • Kika says:

      04:02pm | 21/09/12

      HEY - I will believe Sydney appreciates the Swans if you can get people to go when they are losing. You are bandwagon fans like Lions fans are.

      But, I’m a Carlton fan so I will be supporting the Swans. GO THE SWANNIES!


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