Winless in Sydney: Fears of a winter of discontent for the Swans

Shades of 1993. My favourite Australian Football League (AFL) team, the Sydney Swans, have lost their first four matches of the year, the most since that dire season of 1993 when the team set a record of 26 straight defeats. Last night, the Swans lost by 26 points to the West Coast Eagles in Perth, leaving the Grand Final runner-up in 2016 with a record of 0-4, and only 18 games left in the regular season. (Some of the unhappy Swans leaving the Domain Stadium ground last night above. Getty Images).
There is no joy in Sydney on Good Friday, except perhaps among fans of the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants, who are premiership favourites and play the Swans at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) next Saturday.
But for those Swans supporters, like myself, who are not fair-weather fans, let me return to that awful season 24 years ago when the Sydney side not only lost the first four matches, but also only won one game all year. I remember the victory well as it was a Sunday afternoon in late June, winter Down Under, and we were playing Melbourne at the SCG. Ron Barassi, a football legend with Melbourne and Carlton, had just taken over as coach in May and the AFL Commission launched a rescue mission for the Swans (Ron Barassi getting stuck into the Swans in 1993 below). Only 109,590 spectators attended the 11 matches in Sydney that year and I was one of them.
We had good seats in the Brewongle Stand upstairs in the first row near the middle of the ground. The Swans players came out directly below us from the locker room. We weren’t expecting much, but we cheered for the Swans, called the umpires “Victorian Cheats,” and then it happened. The Sydney Swans beat the Melbourne Demons by 40 points, 149 to 109. It was Barassi’s seventh match as coach and the Swans’ losing streak of 26 games was ended. As the players came off the field, all the fans stood (there were only 8000 plus of us!), applauding wildly and I had tears in my eyes as Paul Kelly and his band of warriors filed into the rooms below us. It was a victory for the ages.
Now if you don’t mind, a slight detour in helping Swans supporters see light at the end of the tunnel in 2017. The next day I flew out of Sydney to Perth with a Channel Nine Sunday Program crew as I was producing a cover story about the future of Australian business with our guest reporter, John Button, who had retired in March after ten years as Federal Industry Minister in the Hawke and Keating governments. A long-time legendary Labor politician, John was also a passionate supporter of the Geelong Football Club. He knew the code of Australian Rules well. We had been traveling around the country, and John was interviewing the CEOs of major businesses to give Sunday viewers an insight into the industry he also knew well. As you can imagine, I was still over the moon about the Swans’ victory and had mentioned it a fair bit before he talked to the captains of industry in their offices and factories in the city.
After a long day of interviews and shooting, I was sitting in the back of the crew car with John on the return to our hotel. He looked at me, smiling, and said: “Tom, do you mind if I tell you something about the day?” “Of course not,” I replied, thinking he was going to praise me for setting up the interviews and my sage advice about how to do pieces to camera, etc. “Tom, we have been around the city talking to some of the most influential business people in Australia. Did you know that the West Coast Eagles won the premiership last year, and they are proud of their club. They wanted to talk about the Eagles, and you haven’t shut up about the Swans, not once all day.” We both laughed and I said: “John, when the team walked into the rooms at the SCG yesterday, I had tears in my eyes. It was like winning the Grand Final.” We didn’t see each other much after the story went to air on Nine’s Business Sunday, but when we did meet again he referred to me as “the Swans’ number one supporter.” John Button died in 2008 months after his beloved Geelong Cats won the premiership in 2007 — their first in 44 years. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke said the premiership meant a lot to John Button as he found out he had cancer soon afterwards: “It was a moment of great joy for him and it was very shortly after that that he got the bad news about the disease that very quickly killed him.”

So Swans fans do not despair that your team has lost its first 4 games of the season. After that disastrous 1993 season (and 1994, also a wooden spoon year), the Swans added Tony Lockett, Paul Roos, Leo Barry and Michael O’Loughlin in 1995, the same year Paul Kelly won the Brownlow Medal. And, of course, the Swans made it to the Grand Final in 1996, although they lost to North Melbourne. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Swans finally won the Grand Final under coach Paul Roos with “Leaping” Leo Barry taking that famous mark — and their first premiership in 72 years. The supporters of the South Melbourne Club whose team was moved to Sydney in 1982 welcomed the Swans to their Lake Oval home on that victorious weekend in 2005, bringing memorabilia of their 1923 premiership. Since then the Swans have played in four Grand Finals, and while only winning one have earned the reputation of being one of the toughest teams in the AFL as the South Melbourne Bloods were known in the VFL.
And in even better news given the bumpy road ahead for the Swans, five of their injured and ill stars are set to return next Saturday: Kurt Tippet, Sam Naismith, Isaac Heeney, Gary Rohan and Jarrad McVeigh.
While no AFL team has ever made it into the finals with an 0-4 record (North Melbourne did it in 1975 when it was the Victorian Football League), there is no reason why the Swans can’t create history. All they have to do is win 12 of the next 18 games. Easy peasy right? And all they also have to do is remember 1993 — and the winter of discontent.

4 thoughts on “Winless in Sydney: Fears of a winter of discontent for the Swans

    • Thanks, Tim. You’re right, of course. Barassi played 204 games for Melbourne, but I was thinking of his coaching days at Carlton from 1965 to 1971 (and he was captain from 1965 to 1968) when the Blues won two premierships in 1968 and 1970. Ron Barassi was known as the architect of the “new Carlton” when they won the premiership in 1968. I have updated the sentence to describe Barassi as a “football legend with Melbourne and Carlton!” Hope you’re happy with that. Barassi was a football legend wherever he went, including the Swans!

  1. As I tweeted during the Collingwood game two weeks ago, when my two boys were about five they were taught to stick to their man. It’s a simple rule. Our ball, spread out; their ball man up. I reckon Horse (the coach) might need to remind a few Swans about this little tip for success.

    • Thanks, Laurie. There’s a Swans supporter who sits behind us at the SGC who yells “Man Up” at least 20 times a match, even the ones where we’re winning. He’s right, and so are you. Go Swannies!

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