Round 11 – North Melbourne v Sydney: The 3,590 kilometre footy trip was worth it. We won both games and the Newell Highway reignited North Melbourne memories

SWANZ is unhappy – very displeased it seems.


Today is Monday, two days after our game against the Suns, and we’re leaving Surfers today, heading to Melbourne for the North game. Our all bar the kitchen sink has been packed and we’re looking forward to yet another trip down the Newell. The last time we travelled this route was 16 years ago, when we left Queensland to be closer to the SCG.


We wander down to the beach for a final look at the ocean and stroll along the water’s edge. Returning along the promenade we find ourselves reminiscing about our early years in Brisbane and the weekend trips to Surfers and the hinterland, almost 40 years ago. We laugh when we think of the Meter Maids and the attempts to put Surfers Paradise at the forefront of all things beautiful. At intervals along the beachfront walk, photographs of those heady days reinforce the memories.


Out of nowhere – as we’re crossing the main road to return to the apartment – two gorgeous looking individuals, clad in shining gold lame sexy shorts and low-cut bosom-clinging skimpy tops, with the Meter Maid sash proudly displayed across their alluring shoulders, appear in front of us. The 70’s are back! They give us a big smile and I think Marshall is slightly taken aback for a moment or two.


Back at the car park we hop into the wagon, turn the key in the ignition and there is a dull grunt and groan, followed by a sad feeble death rattle. SWANZ seemed perfectly happy after our win against the Suns on Saturday, and was very relieved when told he could rest for at least 36 hours before heading off south on Monday. We are very dependent on him and want him back in good health, right now.


Desperate for our morning coffee, Marshall goes to the nearest cafe whilst I stay with SWANZ until RACQ arrives. The coffee arrives just as the leads are attached, and the shudder brings SWANZ back to life. We are all relieved that the trouble was minor and drive off having a little discussion about who left the reading lights on in the car, and why that person didn’t check before he or she left the car – that sort of conversation.


We’re happy to leave the razzamatazz of Surfers behind, and especially the street after street of junk food chains and those high-rise blocks of concrete and steel that, mostly, are so ugly they can’t possibly have ever seen an architect’s face. The ocean and the beaches, however, will be missed.


Approaching Beaudesert the Queensland Road Authorities know what they’re talking about: IGNORE GPS FOLLOW 90 TO BEAUDESERT. I wish I’d followed the ignore bit when driving from Sydney to the Coast!


We do just as instructed, and approaching Cunningham’s Gap, we know what to expect. Miles Davis is turned off, the windows are opened and the magical sound of these beautiful bell birds overwhelms us. SWANZ climbs the mountain, and the sound, described as “like small bells most exquisitely tuned” is multiplied, as hundreds of birds join in, creating a wondrous symphony.


Then, several hours later, leaving The State that Shines, a couple of interesting signs appear: “Don’t Sleep and Drive”, and, at a Church: “Please God, Make Me the Person My Dog Thinks I Am”.


This trip would have to be our 70th, at least, between Queensland and Victoria -140 return trips – racking up approximately 200,000 kilometres in the past 38 years. Living in Brisbane for the first 22 of those, many of those kilometres involved us getting to Swans games in Sydney and occasionally in Melbourne. Of course there were trips at Easter, and the annual trip during the summer break from our Queensland Uni jobs – the drive to Melbourne for the three C’s. The family in Melbourne has a long-standing joke “Does she come for the Courtins, Christmas or the Cricket?”. I’ve never replied, leaving it to their non-sporty imaginations!


Since moving to Sydney our SWANZ trips to Queensland have also included Sheffield Shield finals to see our great Queensland team play. I love cricket played in creams and lasting five days. The only thing I miss since leaving Brisbane is being able to go to the regular Shield games along with about 100 others, and to choose on a stinking hot humid day whether to sit in the air conditioned comfort of the Cricketers’ Club or along the boundary fence behind the dog track – as it was then.


We’ve now arrived in Melbourne, and the trip has resurrected strong memories, not just of the many times we’ve travelled the Newell, but of one never-to-be-forgotten memory in particular – the long arduous drive back to Brisbane from Melbourne after the 1996 Grand Final loss against North. It took 24 hours of actual driving time and it was no doubt the most emotional road trip I’ve ever had to make.


1996 was indeed a year to remember for the Swans – all Swans: not just the Sydney people who had perhaps been following them for a mere 15 years, but particularly for those diehard red and white Melburnians who had suffered pretty much forever. I was one of them.


In July that year, when still living in Brisbane and only being country Swans members, I wrote a letter to Richard Colless, the CEO at the time, telling him of my 47 year passion for the Club and how desperate I was to get tickets for any finals we might play in. I also sent him an original of the page 3 Melbourne Herald article from 1970 telling of my flight from London to see South play in our first final since 1945. He phoned me and suggested we wait and see – this was only July!


Since South had been sent to Sydney 15 years earlier, Swans fans had little to be joyous about. Sure, in ’86 and ’87 we had great years finishing in the top five, watching Capper kick 195 goals – and in ’86 when we still wore the red V – but sadly the finals didn’t progress that far. However, we did have two Brownlow winners in Gerard Healy and Greg Williams in those years.


The early 90s were dismal. The financial situation was dire, attendances were below 10,000, and the Club almost folded. During the first five years we were last for three of them and a couple off the bottom for the rest. In 1995, when Freo joined the competition, 16 teams competed, and we ended up 12th. Plugger had arrived and kicked 110 goals, Paul Roos joined the team, Paul Kelly won the Brownlow, and we dared to hope.


Who could possibly have imagined the Swans finishing on top of the ladder! 1996 was certainly a year to remember. Despite being thrashed by 90 points in the first round and losing the second by 29 points, our red and white heroes won all but three more of the remaining home and away games and our new coach Rodney Eade was hailed a hero.


Richard Colless contacted me after the last game and said that if a Swans person had flown from London to see her team in a final in 1970, then she deserved special treatment in this great year. Oh, the joy! We flew down to Sydney and joined the throng to see Cressa mark in the goal square in the dying moments against Hawthorn – with the scores level – and kick truly to give us the first win. Back to Brisbane.


With a week off for the team, and with Plugger to come back into the side after missing the first final, we – the husband and I – announced to our employers that we were taking some time off. We decided to drive down to Sydney for the preliminary final, in anticipation that we might just need to go further south the following week.


That prelim against Essendon has gone down in history as one of the best and most exciting of all finals games. Who will ever forget the last passage of play, to get it to Plugger and see that point! We continued on down to Melbourne for the big game.


Jan Courtin 1996 Brisbane-Melbourne for Grand Final
Arriving in Melbourne from Brisbane (via Sydney) for the 1996 Grand Final



North now comes into play. We lost, and the rest is history. My reaction to that loss was, in retrospect, out of the ordinary and not as a normal human being would react – surely! It took us all of those hours to drive back to Brisbane because I just couldn’t stop crying, and we had to keep stopping. Not just ordinary crying but unexpected bouts of hyperventilated, gut-wrenching sobbing and uncontrollable moaning, sweating and shaking that would last for up to ten minutes at a time. It just kept happening time after time. I was a total wreck – and I was the only driver!


I’ve often wondered why my reaction was so over-the-top. Surely it can’t just have been because we lost a game of footy, albeit a Grand Final. Surely it was the build-up over the year: the amazing efforts of the players; the unexpected wins – week after week; not knowing whether we would get tickets to the finals; the one goal win over Hawthorn; that point against Essendon; leading at half time against North in the big one; the first Swans grand final in my lifetime (apart from the Bloodbath in ’45) after waiting 47 years since my first game; the frustrations during all of those years – then actually making it to that mother of all mothers of a day.


Suddenly the year had finished, no more footy, no more anticipation, no more euphoria! The feeling was of complete emptiness, and one I haven’t experienced since, after a football game. Or maybe, just maybe, in addition to all of the above, footy allowed me to express non-football emotions hidden away there and suppressed all those years – as one of those professional what-makes-us-do-things-that-are-not-normal people might say. Maybe I should have seen one of those shrinks!


I survived, we eventually got back to Brisbane, and I felt I just had to communicate with my beloved Swans in some way – in the days when typed correspondence was still the norm.


Jan Courtin 1996 Letter to Swans


I will always be indebted to Richard Colless for allowing us tickets to all the finals in 1996. Looking back on this letter (only 19 years ago) I find it a little embarrassing that a fully grown adult could have been as gushing and love-struck of those handsome men in red and as she was when a teenager!


After that Grand Final loss in 1996, I declared “I’m sick to death of not being able to go to the games each week and not being closer to the Swans. That’s it, we just have to sell-up, leave Brisbane and move to Sydney.” We left our jobs of 22 years, sold-up and took a punt.


So, North was instrumental in our move to Sydney in 1998, and the Swans of the past 16 years have repaid all of those diehard red and white Melburnians who had suffered pretty much forever – twofold! I was definitely one of them.


So, here we are, playing North again – different kangaroos, different stadium, different rules – but glorious footy just the same. And, indeed, different handsome men in red and white.


We’re sitting on the wing on Level 3, a few rows from the front, with mostly Swans people. My brother and his son have joined us. It doesn’t take long for the morons of the world – blue and white this time – to start their booing. Boring. The first quarter is tight. Jetts is instrumental. His precise long kicking influences most of the play and goals to Buddy, Gazza, Tippo, and Jetts himself sees us 4.3 to 3.4 at the end of the first quarter.


Buddy goals from a free four minutes into the second quarter before Lindsay Thomas fluffs a handpass, resulting in Jetts intercepting, kicking to Gazza who then kicks to Tippo, for a goal on the run. Good to see Tippo actually moving this week! The next passage is a delight: Tippo, in the ruck against the dominant Goldstein, taps down to Joey, onto Hanners, then to Macca and onto Tommy who gets the ball to Jetts again. His accurate kick finds Gazza 55 metres out. A great goal. Not long later Joey, in the horizontal position on the 50 metre line on the boundary, handballs forward, North attempts to grab the ball but Sammy picks it up, handballs to Parkes who does a half pirouette, then a full pirouette before kicking over his shoulder 15 metres to Goodesy who marks brilliantly 20 metres out, and goals. The morons behind the goals give their lungs another practice. Buddy goals soon afterwards from 55 metres and we’re 36 points up. With the clock on 29 minutes, Dane Rampe, despite his good game so far, does it again – kicks across North’s goal and into their hands, for their only goal for the quarter.


We’ve had a good half of footy but I can’t forget that three of their four goals for the half were because of our mistakes and turnovers, and all within 20 metres of their goal. (After the game I read on North’s website that they gave us six goals in turnovers!) That’s footy.


The third quarter starts well for them – two goals within a few minutes, as Hanners gets taken off injured after Ziebell crashes into his back. Harry goals for us and when Wright’s kick across their backline is intercepted by Goodesy, the morons are indeed displeased when he goals. A North woman sitting behind me doesn’t seem to know what to call him, so after a few stutters she calls out “You Show Pony Goodes.” Better than an ape! A chorus of Goodesy Goodesy Goodesy gets going and it almost drowns out the morons. Shawry makes a couple of errors, resulting in a goal to them, and then Goodesy gets his third just before the siren. They’ve kicked four goals to our three and their pressure has increased.


We’re 20 points up at the start of the fourth and Hanners, now back on the ground, scoops up the ball 15 metres out, and goals. Harry causes another turnover and North goals. Buddy receives a punch to the back of his head from Firrito, which is not rewarded, and North then kicks a couple of points. When their substitute goals I’m getting a little nervous. A handpass from Buddy to Jetts misses but there’s no stopping the big man as he backs-up with a remarkable goal-saving tackle on Nahas, only for the ball to get back to Higgins 45 metres out. Great, a point! Our backline is standing up, with Smithy and Laidler smothering and tackling until the ball is kicked to the man himself, and the great Bud goals from 55 metres to seal it by 16 points.


We’re not playing our very best footy at the moment, but that’s fine at this time of the season. We’re second with a 9-2 ratio, so all appears well. Hopefully there will be plenty of positives to come from the second half of the season.


My highlights for the game:
McVeigh – his steadying influence and clearances
Jetta – especially first half
Goodes – influential throughout
Buddy – goals and tackling
Parker – 33 possessions
Kennedy – as usual
Rampe, Laidler and Smith – backline supremacy


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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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