Almanac (Footy) Poetry: Fred Swift

Fred Swift 

-by Bill Wootton


Fred Swift got murdered.

Two wronguns Fred had once taken fishing 

up Bendigo way

tied up Fred’s family

and when he returned to his farm

he was shot with a sawn-off 22

in the heart and thigh.

But this is later, this is 1983.



Back in 1967 an eleven-year-old boy

and his younger brother

are at the VFL Grand Final at the MCG

watching Fred captain The Tigers

to their first post-war premiership.

It is Fred’s first and only year as captain and only 

since the second half of the season has he played full-back.

Deep into the final quarter

Richmond are clinging to a narrow lead.

Spindly Cats rover Goggin shoots for goal

to narrow the lead to four points.

Alone at the back of the square

exhausted Fred, number 15,

with the 5 lopsided,

staring into the sun,

flies as high as his 29-year-old body can fly

and takes an overhead mark,

waits not on the whistle

and clears the ball with a looping drop-kick down the non-members flank.

The crowd, including two sub-teenage brothers,

goes wild.



But did the ball Fred clearly marked

carry over the goal-line?

Cat’s captain Polly Farmer was still saying it did in 2004.

There were no instant video replays 

in the year of Sergeant Pepper. 

Field umpire Peter Sheales said later that he deferred,

as always, to the goal ump in such situations.

Play was allowed to proceed.

Bartlett’s earlier goal ended up being the sealer for Richmond.

A Polinelli point for the Cats drifted through as the siren sounded.

A nine-point Tiger victory. 



That eleven-year-old was me. I saw this happen.

Didn’t I?

My younger brother Dan,

says no.

Further that he was well positioned,

high in the Ladies’ Stand of the Members,

and with his keen nine-year-old eyesight, 

(as opposed to my then developing myopia)

able to see that that the mark was taken 

at that end of the ground and that Fred 

did not mark the ball over the line.



Even more bizarrely, Dan claims to have caught 

the wrong train home, climbed out at Bell 

and caught the Bell Street (white and red) bus 

back to Heidelberg. Can’t remember 

how he got home from there. 

May have walked, but thinks he caught the green. 

Never occurred to him to catch the train.



I have no memory of getting to or from the ground that day.

I presumed we both caught the train home from Jolimont to Ivanhoe.

Curiously, neither of us can recall if our parents were there.

But I do remember Fred Swift saving the day.

youtube has just confirmed the Swift mark

and play-on dropkick.

The jury is still out on other swaying lines.



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Bill lives in Hepburn Springs, barracks for Collingwood and organises a weekly poem to be published in The Local, either by himself or by any of the local poets, some of whom meet regularly.


  1. Sandra Nicolaides says

    Great poem – but where’s the credit for the poet?

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Hi, Sandra, poem has been updated to include the poet’s name. [Ed]

  3. Bill Wootton says

    Thanks, Sandra, Colin. My nom de plume is ‘across the face’ as in ‘across the face of goal’, a region in the goal square full backs back then were never to cross mid-match except to immediately clear the ball by foot. But I am indeed Bill and the ‘67 GF was my retirement from association with Richmond like it was for Fred Swift officially. Mum queued up for tickets for the ‘69 GF for us but I lost mine before the game. My head was already transitioning to black and white. By 1970, I was a Pies fan, ready for years of almosts, draws and just two premiership wins. I still have a soft spot for Fred, Bills Barrot and Brown, John Northey, Neville Crowe, who was rubbed out for the GF, but who, admittedly, would never have kicked those two Ronaldson monsters from the member’s flank. KB I never had much time for and the current lot will be barracked against tomorrow by this little black duck.

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