Miss You, Dane Swan

“Hey, what’s the matter man?
We’re gonna come around at twelve
With some Puerto Rican girls that are just dyin’ to meet you.
We’re gonna bring a case of wine
Hey, let’s go mess and fool around
You know, like we used to”

-Miss you, The Rolling Stones


I have missed you.
Truth is, I didn’t see any of that Round 1 game in Sydney.
And I’ve missed you ever since.
I’ve missed your sense of possibility.
Your sense of the absurd.
Your sense of the moment.
I’ve missed that feeling of: “anything could happen here.”
That sense of being inside a Rolling Stones song.




Watch the rucks crash together as only two massive people of both frailty and strength can possibly crash; tangling, angling for the ball, for control of the ball, as all around the midfielder jackals move, jostle, screen, block, shuffle, shepherd, crash. Watch the centre square. Watch this unique pressurised chaos of oval ball and mismatched bodies and wind and sun and luck and skill. And wit. Forget not the value of wit.



Watch that waddling, quick-eyed unlikely-looking character there of painted body and hipster (nee bushranger) beard outwit, outlast and outplay all. Survive. Watch closely now. The run-to-position that cannot be taught. The block and screen that can. Watch for awareness of self and of space and of others in a swirling brutal cauldron of regulated intimidation. Watch the understanding of physics. Watch for the hatching of a plan that no one else sees. Watch for the understanding of imagination. Watch it again. And again.



Watch the forward line. Watch the throw-in and the defensive arm across his chest and the defensive tugging of his jumper and the arc of the returning ball and the relentless run and run and run of the man and of the artistic timing of the man to again be at the fall of the ball (here it is! here he is!) and to be at that very moment running into space space space.



Watch him draw the man and watch him feign and watch him dummy and watch him outrun the many out there supposedly faster than him between two points. Watch the footballer. The footballer playing football.



Watch him one-out in the forward line as the ball comes in. Watch how the ball is kicked slightly out of position and watch as Dane Swan works his man under around behind the ball through hypnosis or through brute strength or through puppeteer strings or through the application of a natural ability to read the flight and read the play and knowhow to turn lesser players and so does it again. And again. And again.



And watch his kicking to a target. To teammate, to goal, from standing, from running. Connection between moving oval shaped ball and moving rounded foot sweet and true and understood.



And watch the Grand Final as the panting, hands-clutching-at-legs-of-shorts character of waddling gait steps forward again. And again. Watch it. Watch for the sleight of hand; the shimmy; the screen; the yap.



Watch him when the ball has moved downfield with the laugh and with the pat on the bum to the young fella and the hands through his hair and the hand on his hip and the taking quick steps and the waddle starting up and the arms waving and the calling out and the run and the run and the head down run and the diving tackle. Baalllllllllllllllll!!!  And watch him retrieve the ball from the recalcitrant opponent and stand, hunched, breaths heaving, ball resting in hands, eyes up, ever up, eyes ever up, scanning options and weighing them and hitting a target. Or just kicking the damn goal himself.



Watch him dance and move and play the game. Staid professionalism of everything eating the game and swallowing the game kept at bay by this maverick of pure football. And watch sadly as Collingwood pre-season 2016 buoyant hopes crash and burn within the very first quarter of the very first game of 2016 with the horrible (horrible!) injury to Dane Swan. And understand then as of many times before and of many times to come, that all things indeed must pass.



So Swanny,
It’s been a year since I saw you.
This whole 2016 season has been, in some ways, an extended mourning.

And while I knew this day was coming, its arrival still saddens me.
Goodbye Swanny.
That was fun.


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About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. I didn’t get him at first. One of those players opposition fans don’t necessarily notice.

    And then I got him.

    I find him interesting for all the reasons you describe.

    I hope he writes an uncontrolled, free-spirited book.

  2. A couple seasons ago I wrote this of him-

    “Dane Swan is an ugly duckling. Despite years of resistance, he is now among my favourite footballers. It is his unlikeliness, that is, well, likable. He presents as a dilettante. His expression often suggests slogging joylessly on a factory line; at any point, he could simply walk away. He is the anti-Bryce Gibbs.”

    He’s been fantastic. I hope we’ve not seen the last of him, but it wouldn’t surprise if he simply disappeared.

    Great job, E.r. You’ve captured him.

  3. Nice work David. You articulated how hollow the ending came to be.

    In cricketing parlance; Swan b. Hollies 0

    Like so much about Swanny that runs against the grain, what I find interesting is how his off field mug lair persona was the antithesis of how he went about it on-field. 100% committed, never argued with umpires, never did anything untoward to an opposition player. Maybe one of very few Collingwood players opposition supporters found difficult to hate.

    I hope he doesn’t have to carry the legacy of a bunged up foot for the rest of his life. Not that Swanny would complain.

  4. Dave
    As a Carlton man, the only good Pie is a retiring one. Swan was a very good player and demonstrated brilliance at times. Never nice to see any player not go out on their own terms but at least he played in a flag which is more than many great player ever achieved

  5. Paddy Grindlay says

    Thanks e.r. True character of the game. Very free spirited kind of guy.

  6. Great player. THe best from Carringbush this century.

    His father was also a great. i saw him play at Port Melbourne for many moons. Four premierships, a Liston medalist. He played a few games for Carlton magoos but returned to the Burra. Sadly he finished up at Williamstown, where he tasted further glory

    A wharfie, one of the few remaining in this day and age.

    Carn the Burras, MUA, here to stay !!!


  7. Nicely put ER. Been scratching my head trying to remember a more unlikely physical specimen for a champion footballer. Short stumpy legs, big bum, and 44 gallon keg for a chest. The balance was the key. To his ability to stay in the contest and execute the perfect disposal despite the apparently scruffy technique. What you see is not always what you get.
    Saw him a few years ago disinterestedly chasing cheap kicks across the backline and I thought “you’re gone”. But the last couple of years were among his best. Testament to deep rivers of character despite the choppy surface.
    Remember him leading a Magpie comeback in the Anzac Day game 2 years ago. Beating a couple of opponents on the boundary line and kicking an outrageous checkside goal. “Jeez he’s good”.

  8. Thanks gents.
    Hollow is right, JD.

    Here’s Swanny’s letter to Collingwood people today: “…we were good together.”

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific tribute ER. Capturing the quirks and the ability which developed with every season. Remember seeing him struggle off half back in 2004-5 and begin to blossom into a unique and supremely talented footballer from 2006 and beyond.
    Harms and co, surely Swanny deserves a cover on this year’s Footy Almanac? What else does it take to get a Magpie on the front?

  10. He was such a typical Collingwood player. Looked crap but, as Jack Dyer would say, he got where the ball was. Strength, balance, hidden (almost subtle) speed, endurance. Hard bloke to match up on. Not the sort of bloke I would pay to go and watch, but the sort of player I’m glad I saw.

  11. Steve Fahey says

    Great tribute ER.

    Haiku Bob recounted a story years ago of being at training in about 2003 and watching Mick Malthouse shake his head as a young bloke he was kicking with kept missing Mick with his return kicks.. The young bloke ended up a premiership player and Brownlow Medallist.

    Well played Swanny, as ER notes you are already missed. One of the last of the larrikins and I reckon the fastest waddler ever to play the game.

  12. Well played, e.r. Fine words indeed.

    What do they know of Dane Swan that only Dane Swan knows?
    (with apologies to C L R James)

  13. Yes Swannie on the cover of the almanac..a no brainer really..
    Well played Swannie, Paul

  14. Yes. There are too few genuine characters who march to the beat of their own drum these days and he may well be the last. All others seem sanitised and sterilised to within an inch of their lives. Never had an original thought, whereas Swanee only has that type. Had the footy smarts which made up for any lack of speed, many apparently quick players are nowhere near as much good to their team as a bloke who knows where the ball is going to be and gets there first.

  15. I like it, Phil.
    Start painting.

    Tony Robb – that’s a good line re: the only good pie.
    Dips – I reckon appreciation for him grows with exposure. Swanny was generally the highlight of my footy day.
    Steve – a character in a straightened time.
    Smokie – that’s a fine use of CLR James.
    JTH – that would be something. Maybe a fiction; set in The Club.
    Mickey – I wonder what he may do next, too. Can’t see him in Ricky Gervais’ Office.
    JD – I wonder about the old age of lots of these players. Hope D Swan goes well.
    Thanks Paddy
    Thanks Glen.
    PB – I remember that quiet patch – I think it was around the time of the list clean-out. Shaw, Lumumba, Didak, Johnson gone – and D Swan looked a bit flat. Disinterested, as you say. Who knows what was going on? But he came again, and came again, and again and again. As ever. Well done, him.

  16. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Swan gun footballer and like,Greg Williams far from being a elite athlete fantastic tribute ,OBP

  17. jan courtin says

    Maybe I’d better add a bit of female perspective!

    Swanny didn’t appeal to me at all, but many women I know, just love him – so sexy, so charismatic and so much more!

    Great player though.

  18. Love the Rolling Stones metaphor. I reckon Swan is more Keef than Mick though.

  19. Good perspective Jan.
    You’re point about an absence of female voices here is a good one.
    I wonder if that’s different on a Swanny thread.
    But sexy & charismatic? Hell yeah.

    Good one Mickey.
    But like the effect of Swanny, I reckon the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

  20. DBalassone says

    Well said ER. Classic case of footy smarts outweighing all those other shortcomings. He’d be the first to admit he was an ordinary kick at times, but he more than made up for this by the sheer weight of possessions and the ability to propel the ball forward 100 metres with his run and follow up. Was also bl00dy hard to stop in a one-on-one marking contest – underestimated strength and balance.
    His run from 2006-2013 and then again in 2015 (after a slight dip in 2014), is just about the most consistent run of top flight form I can remember. Maybe Pendles 2007-16, Bucks 1996-2003, Carey 92-00 (shoulder injury in 97) and Gary Ablett Junior from 2007 to 2014 (when he was laid low by a Macaffer tackle) are the only comparisons in the modern era. In fact in 2012 Swan averaged a staggering 34.52 touches a game.

  21. Thanks Damo-
    It’s not my bag at all, so I may be wrong, but I saw somewhere yesterday Swan being touted as the “highest scoring fantasy football player off all.”
    A dubious distinction; but it probably highlights how much of the footy he saw.

    It would have been exciting to see him play this 2016 in attack as a Leigh Matthews -style follower/ impossible forward. Strength and balance, as you say. Ahh, fate.

  22. Keiran Croker says

    Damian, all great observations. Re extended periods of sustained brilliance I reckon you could add Adam Goodes circa 2003 to 2011. His final years were interrupted by injury and perhaps a drop in his all round capabilities, though still more than serviceable.

  23. Dave Nadel says

    Lovely piece, ER.

    Swanny was both an ultramodern player and a classic footballer of the type that we will no longer see this century.

    On the field Dane was what the modern game is all about. Massively high number of possessions, high concentration, speed and commitment facilitated by use of the interchange bench. An ability to attack and defend virtually simultaneously.

    But he was also the last of the twentieth century footballers. He played to be with his mates and he enjoyed being part of a team. No matter how much he was paid he never gave the impression of playing for the money. He was a working class boy who never forgot where he came from and it wasn’t just the tatts that showed his background. As Glen wrote above, Dane’s Dad Bill was a VFA champion and also a lifelong waterside worker. In some interview Dane has assumed that he would have followed his Dad onto the wharves had he not been a good footballer.

    In some ways Chris Judd and Dane Swan will always be linked in footy fans minds. There are even some who believe that Swanny should have won the 2010 Brownlow and Judd the 2011 rather than the other way round. In my mind Swan and Judd represent opposite approaches to the game. While both gave their absolute all on the field, I always felt that Judd was committed to his performance rather than his team. From the moment Dane came to Collingwood he was playing for Collingwood. He possibly perceived Collingwood as his team mates rather than a tradition going back to Victoria Park in 1892 but he was Collingwood through and through. I doubt that we will see his like again.

  24. DBalassone says

    ER, Swan in the forward line this year would have been a hoot, particularly with Fasolo and Elliot out. Who knows what would have happened – a lot of action, that’s for sure.

    Keiran, that’s a fair point re Goodes 2003-11. His form might have slightly dipped in 2008, not that Brownlow votes reflected this. Was still incredibly handy in his last few years, not to mention on one leg in the 2012 GF.

  25. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    The black and white Swan retires.
    All confusion is over at Sydney v Collingwood games.

    I feel for you Pies.

  26. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful tribute Dave.

    D.Swan was some player. His retirement has hit hard. Will be missed.

  27. Love your perspective, Dave
    The ultramodern and the classic, indeed. By action and by belief, perhaps.
    Interesting point on the role of individual within a team game (Judd v Swan).
    Maybe it is a fundamental philosophy: Seeing oneself as outside or as part of the collective.
    Maybe it depends on the environment.
    Nature/ nuture.

    Thanks Mathilde, Luke.
    “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – the great gatsby

  28. Frank Cheeseman says

    Wonderful stuff Tall Man, Dave and all the rest.
    Life goes on.
    And on….

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