Sport matters. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
Watching the soccer tonight made me realise, I’ve never told the story of me, the Sydney Swans, and 2005. Regardless of what has happened in the interim, that year was more important to me than I could imagine.
My parents- nay, my whole family- moved overseas when I was 19. I was alone, and yearning for community. All the communities I’d known- my friends, my local area, my church- failed to meet me where I was. I needed a sense of belonging, and none of them provided that.
And then, not long after they left, I found the Swans.
I’ve actually written about it in a book, of all things, about Collingwood. About the day I found footy. I was lonely and sad. I’d been to games before, but that day, at Telstra Stadium, I was sadder than I could imagine. The Swans losing meant a lot to me. I cried in the car, waiting for the rain to be light enough for me to drive home. I wasn’t sure if I was crying for the Swans, or for me.
Dad came back for the preliminary final. Well, not for the preliminary final, but he came with me, to Telstra Stadium, and gave me a nice new gortex jacket to wear to games. We lost. I was sad. Later, I was kind of glad we didn’t win that year, because I wouldn’t have understood it.
We lost, but I decided it would be the Swans. I invested. I became a member- and bought a spare membership- in 2004. It was a fairly successful season. We did ok. But I didn’t quite find the community I needed. Our success was fun- as was my first trip to Melbourne for our unsuccessful elimination final- and I learnt.
But 2005 was the year. I made friends with the delightful Bec, through uni. We’ve since largely grown apart, but her friendship and companionship that year was invaluable. I moved seats, closer to my friends, and Bec came to sit near me. It was an amazing year.
Early, it was disappointing. We didn’t have many early wins. But that was when I met Bec, who’d recently lost her Grandfather. I introduced her to my not-so-famous footy cookies, biscuits designed to herald the Swans’ success. I decided the two were linked. Bec joined me. Rapidly, we developed a tradition that was real and meaningful.
We did enough to make the finals. Despite the power of the biscuits, we lost at Subiaco to West Coast. The next week, we faced Geelong at the SCG. With three quarters down, we looked sure to lose. I’d planned my off season in the 3/4 time break.
But then magic, and Nick Davis, came to save us. We won. We made it to the preliminary final.
The next week was the preliminary final. If we won that, we’d make the Grand Final.
Now Grand Final tickets are rarer than Hen’s Teeth. Despite a membership, I had preferred, not guaranteed, grand final admission. I knew such tickets would be like gold. So, at 4pm, before the Preliminary Final even started, I lined up for Grand Final tickets.
It was the perfect time. I was third in line. The first had arrived at 9am, the second at 10am. I got there at 4. Fifteen minutes after I arrived, the fourth rocked up. Perfect timing. By the time the game began, at 7:30, there were about 40 in line. By the time it ended and the Swans had won, it had swelled to well over 100. We spent the night celebrating and singing. It was community.
We sat all night, waiting to claim our tickets. It was easy to do. We were happy. It was a happy time. Since 1933, we hadn’t won a premiership and had played in few finals. Two days later, we secured our tickets. It was bliss.
I flew down on Thursday. I cried when I met Bec in Melbourne. We went to the Parade and did all the thing fans of a Grand Final team should do.
And then the game. I remember little. I remember the nerves. I didn’t see Leo Barry’s mark. I didn’t hear the siren. But I cried when I knew it was over. I sobbed. It was more than I could bare. After 73 years, we had done it.
And then the party started. What a party it was.
I woke, from the reverie, some weeks later, an honours thesis due frightfully soon. But it was magical. Every second was magical. My pitiful Hons mark was more than compensated by the greatness of the weeks that followed the premiership.
Things have changed, that’s for sure. But that premiership will live forever in my memory, and the memory of thousands of others. It was special. What an extraordinary privilege it was to witness the 2005 premiership.
So sitting here tonight, I have to echo the fact that sport matters. It matter because people chose to invest in it. And even though Aussie Rules is clearly a superior game, people around the world have chosen to invest in soccer. And that means that it matters.