Round 10 – Gold Coast v Sydney: In a week when Eddie McGuire cops a whack, Plugger and Mickey O are elevated and the Swans strut their stuff in the State that Shines, SWANZ is taking a long trip. And, after the match, racism rears its ugly head.

Part 1: Two days before the game

There are definitely advantages in getting older and being what is commonly known as retired (although, surely retirement is when 6 feet under,) and these include having the freedom to get out and about and to travel to see my beloved Swans play wherever the fixture deems they should.


Another advantage is having more in the memory bank, and, if able to recall, new stories can be put to paper. Our most vivid memories often stem from happy times, moments elicited from things we are most passionate about.


I am lucky. I am retired and free to do as I please, after some 50+ years of hard slog. My brain appears to be functioning, my physical body is holding up, I’m more or less happy with my memory, and I have a lot of passionate moments to write about – especially those red and white moments.


So, with two interstate games upon us, our voluntary work hours flexible, and nothing else in particular to keep us in Sydney, SWANZ (see footnote) is looking forward to another road trip: to Queensland for the Suns game, back down south to Melbourne for the game against North and then back home to Sydney. SWANZ likes travelling alongside water, but doesn’t like stopping and starting at road works, so we’ll give the Coast road a miss this time.


He (SWANZ is definitely male) has been to Queensland many times for footy and cricket since we moved to Sydney 16 years ago. All of those trips have been along the Coast, so inland will be a change.


It is Thursday and we’re on the road, aiming for Armidale. The inanimate object with a human voice is staring at me from the windscreen. North of Newcastle he blurts “When possible do a U turn.” I slow down, stop, and wonder why he’s turning me off the road. He keeps repeating “When possible do a U turn.” I’ve only driven to Armidale a couple of times, always from Brisbane to Melbourne, so assume our friend must know what he’s talking about, even though I expect the New England Highway sign to appear soon. We do a U turn and go back to where we’re supposed to turn off – onto a road called Bucketts Way with Scenic Route printed underneath.


“But I don’t want a scenic route today,” I protest. “I want the direct boring old highway route.” I ask Marshall to change the setting – whichever isn’t the one he’s chosen – so it’s changed to quickest route instead of shortest. Same thing comes up. Can’t believe it. “Stupid, idiotic machine. Can you change it to the English accented woman” I say, “instead of the Aussie male.” “What difference will that make?” “I’m sure he wants revenge. Yesterday I was screaming and swearing at him again, calling him all sorts of nasty names. Maybe the woman will direct us correctly”. We don’t get to hear any female voice. Instead, Marshall reads out the route – 70 kilometres to Gloucester, so many metres to here and there, a few kilometres to New England Highway, then Armidale.


“This just can’t be right, I’ve never been on this road before, surely we should stick to the A1” I repeat, and threaten to turn back and join the throng on the main non-scenic route. “70 k’s isn’t too bad, we’ll be onto the New England pretty soon” I think to myself, and we continue on. I’m getting uptight. This is not what I expected, the road really winds, the speed limit changes constantly from 30 to 80 and I had been hoping to arrive before dark. Fat chance at this rate.


Marshall says “Just enjoy the scenery, you love the landscape, calm down”, with an ever so slight tone of a raised voice. I listen but don’t take much notice and repeat “But why is he taking us this way?” Marshall cups his hands, gets up really close to the object and screams ‘WHY ARE YOU BLOODYWELL TAKING US THIS WAY!!” I shake in fright. Marshall never screams.


An hour later and still sensing my mood, he tries to help. “Look, some of your favourites – brown cows.” Bugger cows. I want a direct uncomplicated route. I don’t want “scenic” today. I don’t want “A Historical Town” nor do I want “A Heritage Town” and I certainly don’t want “A Tidy Town”. What on earth do they mean “A Tidy Town” – do they mean today, or yesterday, or five years ago? What happens if it becomes “An Untidy Town” or at some stage “A Dirty Town?” Will the current sign still read “A Tidy Town”? What a load of rubbish! Everything is annoying me.


SWANZ isn’t too happy either. At a stop sign for road works he notices men in trucks rolling recently laid tar. Neither of us wants to drive over tar. SWANZ gets his underbelly covered in the stuff and doesn’t seem too keen on going further. We stop for a five minute break, and with only a few 100 metres to go before the turn off to the main highway, the inanimate object’s voice says “In 150 metres take the third exit to Thunderbolts Way”. “Even the names are ridiculous: Bucketts Way and Thunderbolts Way!” I blurt out. “What is going on Marshall, where is the bloody New England?” He scrolls down on the glass of the object and reads out the route: so many metres to somewhere; 170 kilometres to another place; 22 kilometres on the New England Highway to Armidale. “You just have to be joking, it can’t be, it can’t be. Not another 170 k’s of this!”


With no alternative, we chug along – literally at times. The engine seems to be struggling even though overdrive is working overtime; the hills keep going up and up, twisting, turning, never ending – more like mountains really; the sun is low and setting, causing moments of panic as it blinds my vision, and there isn’t a sign of anyone else on this wretched road apart from a grey nomad caravan crawling along delaying us even further. It is getting darker and darker and, for whatever reason, I’m hanging onto my unpleasant mood.


We stop for more road works and two kelpies in a ute in front of us give us a snarling look as if to say “What the hell are you doing here, on this road, in the middle of nowhere, get away from our ute.”


I’ve hardly said a word for the past three hours and Marshall, calm, as always, reads his book and occasionally looks up to shield the sun from his eyes. The hills recede and the long straight road ahead indicates the New England Highway just might be in sight.


Sitting on a beautifully satisfying 100 kph I hear the music. It is so familiar and one of my favorite pieces – a Brahms quintet – but why is it the third movement? How could I possibly not have known that Brahms was playing for over an hour and I’d not heard a note?


Then I notice two beautiful brown cows by the side of the road. They seem very calm, chewing away, doing what cows do. I really do like cows. My mood is changing. The cows appear to be having a conversation as they look up. I feel sure they could well be saying, in cow speak “You know those two-legged creatures?” “Do you mean those ones that feed us sometimes?” “Yeah. Well, they’re very strange creatures aren’t they?” “Yeah, sure are”.


We do the 22 kilometres on the lost New England Highway and SWANZ appears to be exhausted. He purrs to a stop at the motel and watches his owners creak their way up the stairs into the welcoming warm room, to await another day on the road.


Part 2: One day before the game


The cold Armidale morning awaits. We stay in bed longer than normal, to keep warm. We’re retired and we can do as we please. We have a conversation. Nothing too deep and meaningful mind you – just the sort of conversation that retired getting-older people might well have.

J: “Morning darling”
M: “Morning”
“How’s the hip?”
“Always worse at night”
“Oh dear”
“Who’s turn to have the shower first?” (the last person cleans it)
“We’re not at home, we don’t have to clean it”
“Oh Yeah”
“We’d better get up I suppose”
“Maybe you could just massage my hip a little bit?”
“That feels really good”
“Don’t suppose you could rub my shoulder a bit before we get up”
“Which one?”
“The frozen shoulder one – the left”
“Turn over then”
“Oh, that’s good, thanks”
“We’d better get up”
“OK, one two three UP” throwing off the blankets.


I turn on Google Maps and ask for directions:
From Newcastle NSW
To Armidale NSW


Directions: Via Pacific Highway and Thunderbolts Way
484 kilometres
5 hrs 50 min (it had taken nearly 8)


I scroll down for the main non-scenic route.


There isn’t one!


My mistake was in thinking it was New England Highway pretty much all the way – as when driving Melbourne to Brisbane – and not checking Google Maps before leaving Sydney. My mistake was in trusting an inanimate object, albeit with a human voice. And my mistake was in allowing myself to be affected by something that wasn’t as I had planned or imagined, and which was out of my control. I am learning, slowly, mind you!


I apologise to the inanimate object as we leave the motel, and promise I will treat it with more respect in future.


We drive to a café for breakfast and I scan through the previous day’s Sydney Morning Heraldwhich I hadn’t managed to read. The best news of the day. The best news of the week actually. Eddie McGuire is branded “A Boofhead”! Not just branded, but announced by the NSW Legislative Assembly in a motion that was passed by its members, in response to his comments about Goodesy’s celebratory dance last week and his earlier reference to Adam in the “King Kong” episode.


About time too. I would love to have branded him myself, years ago, but I didn’t fancy going to jail, especially because of someone from Collingwood!


I doubt anything will change when it comes to McGuire, but it’s a start, perhaps?


Then I read the café’s Telegraph sports pages of today’s paper and discover that Michael O’Loughlin has been inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame and Tony Lockett elevated to Legend status. Both legends of our mighty club, and I feel proud to be a part of it, albeit it in a minor way.


We head off and when we reach the border with Queensland, we discover more interesting news of note. The Queensland authorities have declared that their State has a lot more going for it than just sunshine. Their status is now known as The State That Shines. It is proudly printed underneath the WELCOME TO QUEENSLAND sign.


SWANZ and the object with a human voice have delivered us safely over the border and into the expected sunshine and warmth of 22 degrees.


Part 3: The game


What a change to that rough and ready place, Carrara Stadium. When living in Brisbane for 22 years and being starved of real footy, we naturally went to all of the 11 games the Brisbane Bears (or the “The Carrara Koalas” as they were disparagingly called in those days) played at Carrara, between 1987 and 1993. It was a dump. There were no stands or protection from the glaring sun or rain, no parking – except on the local footpaths – and, from memory, the grass always needed cutting.


Metricon, the current name, is a modern and well-designed footy stadium, with a distinctly golden-orangey-reddish Queensland sunshine hue to it. A section of the ground – without the steel and concrete – reveals trees and landscape either side of the large screen, giving it a country feel, which I like. I like the women’s toilets too – they are all a stunning red and white!


We arrive early to watch the younger boys play in the reserves. It concerns me that Craig Bird is still playing in the NEAFL. I’m not sure why he was dropped but I hope he’s back with the big boys soon, and I tell him just that as he leaves the ground at the end of the game. He smiles. He had 39 touches today, so there’s hope.


The pre-game activities are certainly different from those in the southern states. A free concert is going on in the forecourt whilst 10 kids (5 on each side) run the length of the ground in a relay race trying to get the oversized footy through the goals first. 40 or so people, with flags waving, line up, forming a guard of honour for the Suns team. About 10 people in Suns and Swans colours line up for the Swans. Then eight adults holding extremely large Suns flags, run out, leading their team onto the ground, to the cheers of the locals. Pykey runs out in his 100th milestone, one child in each arm, to the cheers of almost half the crowd, the red and white supporters.


The game starts in that awkward time of day when the light and dark intertwine. It is difficult to see the players, especially those in the distance, and the lights haven’t yet taken full effect. The wretched adverts adorning the fence half way around the ground, with their ever-changing colours and rolling movements, don’t help.


This is a game of two halves. The first defines our intent: we apply pressure, we kick goals, and with 17 shots for goal to eight by the Suns, we are dominant in all areas. This half sees goals from Tippo, Goodesy, Parkes, Harry Cunningham, Tommy Mitchell, Lloydy and that magnificent specimen Buddy – one of his, on an extreme angle, twirling across the turf and over the line – on his wrong foot! Macca and Hanners are prominent in the half and we thoroughly deserve to be 44 points up at half time. I want more of the same.


There are however negative aspects to the first half. After the Suns’ first goal, the large screen, with an accompanying voice, decides to celebrate with an ad! That’s surely a first, and only Queensland could do that! There is also an ad at quarter time telling us that if the Suns win, everyone would be shouted a free Big Mac. Although I’ve never eaten one in my life, I sure wasn’t expecting to be winning a free one after this game! Then, at half time Crust gets into the act. The large screen tells us that we can take our entrance ticket to Crust on Sunday to pick up a pizza.


Not only were these Queenslanders trying to fill us up on junk food, they must have known in advance that Crust would be winning the battle of the bulge ads this time round. We also see more advertising at half time: Metricon plastic is waved around until the camera stops on a lucky person. She wins $100. That’s a bit mean. In Sydney the winner gets $1,000! Maybe Citibank is far richer than Metricon?


The first half also sees the mindless idiots of the world – this time in Queensland – play Follow the Other Mindless Idiots game: Boo Adam Goodes. Enough said.


The wanting more of the same does not happen in the second half. Nothing much at all happens in the third quarter. Well, one terrible thing happens actually. Dane Rampe marks in the backline, 20 metres from their goal, fiddles around not knowing what to do, and then kicks across goal, straight into the arms of the opposition! Almost on a par with Luke Ablett’s disaster in 2005! What on earth is Rampe thinking? They goal and Longmire’s reaction on the large screen mirrors mine. The Suns have improved their intensity in the third and have kicked two goals to our one for the quarter. Terrible 30 minutes by the Swans.


The Metricon plastic-waving continues at three quarter time, this time increasing to $200, and we’re only 39 points up.


Any hope of a real thrashing has well and truly disappeared not long into the last quarter. The Suns are playing better and we are making mistakes. When we do get the ball forward, not much happens. Why aren’t we been able to put away the lower, depleted sides, especially when up 40+ points at half time? Like Carlton last week and the Suns today. Why do we appear complacent tonight, after half time? Only the coaches and players will know, and I hope we can change it around next time we’re in a similar position.


Maybe I’m being too harsh on my Bloods. It was drizzling after all in the second half and although we didn’t quite strut, we did win by 52 points!


We sing the song, wave the flag, and see Pykey raised onto the shoulders of Teddy and Reg. We are second on the ladder and now a little closer to Freo. So all is fine as we walk back to greet SWANZ.


All becomes very un-fine, standing at lights to cross the main road to the carpark. A young drunken moron (Footscray supporter he tells us) standing right next to us, asks me if I think Goodesy is a monkey. I just stare at him, not believing what I’m hearing, and I’m speechless. He then asks the crowd of people the same question. Actually he doesn’t ask this time, just states “Adam Goodes is a monkey” and follows it with a laugh with his drunken mates. Someone says “You’d better be careful mate” and the reply from the moron is “I don’t have to worry about being evicted, I’m already out of the ground” to the chuckles of the mates. He continues to taunt me with the same statement and I’m so stunned I just don’t know what to do or say. We quickly go ahead and almost run to the car, horrified and a little scared that he might follow us and continue his vile remarks and taunting.


I wish now I’d said something, done something, anything. But I didn’t, to my shame. I also wish I’d had the physical strength to knee him right there and then and to enjoy seeing him writhing in agony, crying out for help. I might have even stomped on him! Oh! I’m getting a bit carried away there!


It is completely impossible for me to imagine Goodesy’s pain when he was told the same thing (monkey/ape whatever) by that young girl, and almost impossible to imagine his courage in standing up to that foul racist remark on that historic occasion. It is also impossible for me to imagine how other people feel when abused in the same, or similar racist ways.


All power to you brave people and all power and love to Adam Goodes.


My highlights for the game:
And: The little blond kid playing Auskick at half time. He kicked a goal and instead of celebrating, ran back to the goal square to pick-up the movable goal post that had fallen down. He picked it up and straightened it. Running back to the middle he looked around and noticed something wasn’t quite right. He ran back, moved it about 30 centimetres into position, rubbed his hands together, and continued playing! Priceless!


Footnote: to know more about SWANZ click:

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About Jan Courtin

A Bloods tragic since first game at Lake Oval in 1948. Moved interstate to Sydney to be closer to beloved Swans in 1998. My book "My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans" was launched by the Swans at their headquarters at the SCG in August 2016.

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