Where are the Swans of yesteryear?

Gonzo Meets the Press # 17 July 28, 2011

Being part of a guard of honour at the Sydney Swans match against the Western
Bulldogs last Saturday has sent Tom Krause into a nostalgic spin as he remembers
the side from its gory days to its glory days.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;

The great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, wrote The Wild
Swans of Coole
in 1916 when he was growing weary of life and his passion
was waning. But his spirit was lifted by the swans at Coole Park, the country
estate of Lady Gregory, the writer and patron of Irish literature, as he saw
them “suddenly mount/And scatter wheeling in great broken rings/Upon their
clamorous wings.”
The Swans keep me young, too, but my inspiration comes from
the football species – the Swans of the Sydney Cricket Ground where I have seen
them soar since 1982. In the early days, their wings were often clipped and
gory, and bird watchers were thin on the ground and in the stands.
And I must admit my first love back then was the Carlton Football Club, my passion fuelled
by tales of the 1970 Grand Final when coach Ron Barassi brought the Blues back
from a 44-point deficit to win the premiership on the wings of another
high-flier, Alex Jesaulenko, and Barassi’s half-time instruction to “handball,
handball, handball.” And I sang the club song: “We are the Navy Blues, We are
the old dark Navy Blues,” so often after one Grand Final I lost my voice for at
least a day.
But as time went by, I found myself barracking for the Swans,
even when they played the Blues, and an encounter with a row of bleating Blues
supporters in the home team’s cheering section pushed me over the line and I
never looked back. The sealer came in a game at the SCG on June 27, 1993, after
the Swans had lost 26 straight games. They beat favoured Melbourne by 40 points,
with Ron Barassi in his seventh match as coach of the Swans.
As they came off the field to their dressing rooms under the Brewongle stands, I cheered and
the tears flowed. The next day, I flew off to Perth to continue a series I was
producing for the Sunday Program with reporter John Button, former
Senator and Labor minister, who was interviewing top CEOs around the country to
get their views on the future of Australian business and the economy.
At the end of a long day on the way back to the hotel, John Button said: “Tom, we’ve
been going around the boardrooms and factories with some of the top CEOs in
Perth, and they all wanted to talk about their Eagles, the Premiers. And all
you’ve been talking about is the Sydney Swans. You’d think they won the Grand
I told the long-time Geelong supporter it felt like a Grand Final to
me, after so many losses in a row, and he understood. Twelve years later, I
really knew what it felt like to win a Grand Final as I watched the Swans beat
the Eagles in a thriller. It was the Swans first premiership victory since 1933
when they were the South Melbourne Football Club, and I thought of John Button.
I thought of him again in 2007 when Geelong won their first flag in 44 years. He
was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer soon after that and died in April, 2008. He
was a terrific bloke.
John Button once said in 2004: “If I had any major influence here at all I think it was challenging Australians and Australian
industry to think more about their place in the world and how they perform and
that I’m very keen on sport but I wanted to see a country that was renowned for
some other things besides sport.”
Last weekend was a perfect mix of politics and sport. I had a great day last Saturday, getting in the guard of honour for
the Swans, as one of the 30-year members allowed to line up for the players as
they ran on the ground for the start of the game. But that next morning, reality
hit as I watched the images from Oslo and Utoya Island where Anders Behring
Breivik, dressed as a policeman, methodically mowed down young people after
detonating a bomb in the city as a distraction to lure police away from the real
target of his madness.  And, of course, there was the continuing famine in the
Horn of Africa, where children are also dying – many children.
The major story on Sunday night on all the commercial television bulletins was the biggest
sporting yarn since 1983, and some say the biggest ever, Cadel Evans about to
become the first Australian to win the Tour de France. If I were the lineup
producer that night, I guess I would have done the same because it was a
feel-good story, and the images from Norway would have disturbed many people.
Yet I wondered if former John Howard must have felt a certain amount of
satisfaction to see sport on the front pages the next morning. Although in my
view, the greatest achievement of his government was national gun law reform
following the Port Arthur Massacre. And, at least on this Sunday, both stories
were on the front page. Perhaps we have grown up as a nation after all.
The Swans, meanwhile, lived up to supporters’ expectations and beat the Western
Bulldogs by 39 points, despite Barry Hall’s five goals. Sydney fans have also
learned a lot about Australian Rules: they now know the rules and when the
umpires are hopeless they let them have it, as occurred the previous Sunday when
Fremantle beat the Swans with the help of penalties and free kicks that resulted
in ten goals.
Last Saturday, I attached my 30-year pin to my Swans windbreaker, and took home a myriad of memories from those three decades: from
the wet afternoon in the first year when only 3000 fans watched Sydney lose a
game to Melbourne, to Warwick Capper kicking a hundred goals in a season and
Tony Lockett breaking the AFL record with the most goals as well as kicking a
behind to put us into the 1996 Grand Final, to Nick Davis nailing a goal aimed
right at me to get us into the 2005 Grand Final, to that wonderful mark by Leo
Barry to ensure the premiership after a 72-year drought … and to send me
hoarse singing the club song to the tune of the Notre Dame Victory March,
another one of my favourite football teams, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame
University in South Bend, Indiana.
And perhaps most poignant of all, the memory of South Melbourne supporters carrying photos of the 1933 Grand Final to
the Lakeside Oval from their homes nearby to congratulate the Sydney Swans the
morning after their famous victory and to hear Captain Brett Kirk shout the
immortal words: “Go the Bloods.”
As J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, once said: “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in
December.” And, it must be said, AFL grand finals in July and January.

Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have been.

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