Cheer, cheer the team which is everything Sydney isn’t
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.
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