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Almanac Book Review: My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans by Jan Courtin

My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans by Jan Courtin.

 

Review by Keiran Croker.

Book Cover

Book Cover

“Whether the odds be great or be small”.  The line from the Sydney Swans theme song perhaps best describes Jan Courtin’s approach to fandom.  Whether it be travelling half way around the world or driving from one end of the country to the other, no odds have prevented Jan from following her beloved Swans.

 

In her joyous book My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans Jan describes, in part memoir and in part roller coaster ride through nearly seven decades of South Melbourne and Sydney Swans history, how her passion, dedication and perseverance finally paid the ultimate reward.

 

At not yet 5 years of age in May 1948, Jan attended her first game of footy at the Lake Oval in South Melbourne with her father and Aunt Nin. Her great uncle Jim Caldwell had been the captain of South’s 1918 Premiership team, so there was a connection.  Her love affair with the red and white had begun and has never wavered since.

 

Following South, the Bloods through the Fifties was a hard road with no success and no finals. However this did not stop Jan from attending every game through the period, both home and away, except for a period of exile at Boarding School. Her early passion was directed to the likes of our Brownlow Medal stars Ron Clegg and Fred Goldsmith. Her beautifully presented book includes some of her memorabilia of the era including membership cards, autographs and photos.

 

School days were spent day-dreaming about her Swans heroes.  In 1956 along came perhaps our greatest hero a 17 year old Bob Skilton. Jan’s memories of attending footy at the Lake Oval, our spiritual home, and following Bobby and his mates are vivid, her despair after so many losses palpable. By her own admission Jan was not academically inclined, though she enjoyed writing and her writing on footy started early with poems about South and letters to the papers of the day, which are reproduced.

 

The oldest of seven children, Jan moved from school in to the family printing business and continued to passionately follow her Swans through the Sixties, another period of limited success.  Like many others of the time Jan left for London in 1969 to experience a different kind of life, albeit one without her Swans. Although immersed in a new world, Jan still religiously attended Australia House on Monday’s to check the papers and footy scores.

 

Jan courageously shares her and her family’s story throughout the book, including immense tragedy.

 

As fate would have it, in 1970 South under the tutelage of legendary coach Norm Smith were winning. When it was finally confirmed we would play in our first final for 25 years, it was obvious that Jan would fly home for the game. Her story was featured on page three of The Herald and is proudly reproduced in the book.

 

After spending much of the Seventies abroad, Jan would return with her new husband, though to Brisbane for work at the University. Early days back in Australia were spent following one of the local Brisbane AFL teams and occasionally travelling south by road for a Swans fix. The move of the Swans to Sydney in 1982 meant that the road trips were shorter.

 

Jan notes that her recollection of life events is largely aligned to her memory of Swans games and successes of any given period. With some guilt she explains how she came south to Melbourne in 1978 to attend the wedding of one of her sisters and instead found herself at the MCG for the Richmond and South game. Passion or fanaticism?

 

Fast forward and after more than 20 years in Brisbane Jan and husband Marshall decided to retire from University life in Brisbane.  Where would they go, Sydney of course to be closer to her Swans and attend home games regularly. Fortunately moving in 1999 has coincided with the Swans greatest period of sustained success and Jan takes us inside the passion, the tension, and the joy of finally being there for the drought breaking 2005 Premiership.

 

Finally fully retired after running an Art Gallery for over 10 years in Paddington, close to the SCG, life has gone full circle and Jan and Marshall attend every Swans game, often travelling interstate in the beloved SWANZ car.  Now there are a few stories there. And Jan has discovered writing for the Footy Almanac website. A number of her match reports and forthright views on current topics, for example the booing of Adam Goodes are included in this book.

 

In his Foreword for the book, former Swans Chairman Richard Colless AM comments that Jan is a true believer and that true believers are essentially romantics. This is certainly a book laced with passion and love.  I highly recommend it to all Swans supporters, and to anyone who has ever passionately followed their team.

 

About Keiran Croker

Keiran is a lifelong Swans supporter, despite a brief dalliance with the Cats and Tigers in primary school years. Family connections to Port Melbourne and South Melbourne demanded loyalty to the Swans. The long wait for success was worth it.

Comments

  1. jan courtin says:

    Many thanks Keiran! I am extremely grateful to you for the time you have spent, and for the very kind words.
    A loud cheer cheer!
    Jan

  2. Thanks Keiran for the review.
    I have also read Jan’s book and loved the personal journey, the passion for all things Swans. Ass a fellow Swans fan I love her personal interaction with the players.

    This book is not just all footy stories, there are some great tales of her time in London. I feel as though I know the Courtin family through Jan’s book and I must say they are very interesting, all of them.

    Well done again Jan.

  3. That’s a wonderful review Keiran. Can’t wait to get a hold of the book

  4. jan courtin says:

    I realise this isn’t my post, but I want to thank you Dave for the kind words.
    Many thanks

  5. Another great review for your book, Jan. It’s the perfect gift for any Swans fan, whether new to the game or a diehard.

  6. Fantastic Review Keiran! It makes me want to have a read!
    Well done Jan Courtin.

  7. rosstreverton@me.com says:

    Just finished the book Jan-more than a little bit of it on taxpayers time….don’t tell anyone. A terrific read and l love the way you weave the family and social issues of the day into your passion for the club. I just watched your speech at the book launch on the Swans website. I wish l could have been there;it was obviously a success. A point of interest; l saw Elkin Reilly’s autograph in your memorabilia. I may be corrected, but l think he may have been the first Aboriginal to represent the Swans. I know Dad said he received some terrible comments from the crowd-unfortunately nothing much seems to have changed over the years given Adam’s treatment. I wonder if Elkin is still with us. It would make a great story for him and Adam to meet.
    Congrats again Jan and cheer, cheer…

  8. Keiran Croker says:

    Hi there Ross, from an article in indigenous round 2015 I understand our first indigenous player was a fellow called Don Keyter.
    Jan, do you recall Don?
    I believe that the Swans media spoke to Elkin Reilly last year during indigenous round.

  9. Melinda Beimers(nee Keyter) says:

    To answer Keiran above. My uncle was Don Keyter who played 86 games for South Melbourne in the 1950’s. He definitely was not indigenous -never was mentioned in the family and they wouldn’t have hidden their heritage. Don’s dad was from South Africa and his mum was an English girl from Mildura. Not sure where the club got that info but it is totally incorrect (unless it was something back a few generations before that no one in our family knows). I note that the Swans website has Don Keyter listed as their first indigenous player which is totally incorrect. The title must belong to someone else who is not getting the recognition that has erroneously gone to my Uncle !!

  10. Keiran Croker says:

    Thanks Melinda. It’s good to get that correction. I’ll pass it on to the Club. I was interested in doing an article on Don on the basis of being the first indigenous player at the Swans. All the same it sounds like Don had a great footy career in the country leagues before and after his time at South. A friend of mine knew him briefly from a brief stint at Rochester.
    It sounds like Elkin Reilly was therefore the first Indigenous player at the Swans.

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