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Round 20 – Sydney v Collingwood: I’m just wild about Harry

The road trip to Sydney. A dinosaur from before the days of domestic airline de-regulation, when Deluxe Coachlines from the Franklin St coach terminal, or (for the well-heeled “bussie”) Greyhound coaches were the prime default for most footy fans. For those prepared to hit the sometimes two-laned Hume Highway in the family vehicle, an expedition of great proportion.

Inherently, road trips represent a chance for family bonding, or an extended laugh with mates. Conversely, they can also be the perfect stage for family spats, arguments over radio stations and unwelcome insight into the uncouth habits of otherwise outwardly civilized blokes!

The road trip started to fade as the mode of choice when first East-West airways (stopping at Albury) and then Brian Gray’s Compass mark 1 & 2 changed our skies forever. Tiger and Jetstar are the modern day equivalents.

Prompted in part through economy and part through romantic notions of that bygone era when South went North for good, we set course for Sydney town via the Hume, that has now discarded its “highway” tag. The highway – in name only – still wanders through towns struggling to adjust from the time that passing inter-city trade came their way. The modern, four-lane variant of the Sydney road is now known over its entire 930 km as “freeway”, save for the 50km suburban ring that announces one’s arrival in greater Sydney. “Motorway” in Sydney is defined as: wide tolled road that get you to the traffic bottleneck quickly!

Tarcutta is the numeric half-way town that was previously the targeted overnight stop for travelers from both sides of the Murray. With the improvement in roads and consequent reduction in driving time it seems that Gundagai has assumed the Tarcutta mantle, for northbound travelers at least. A late start after a day’s work had us setting more modest mileage ambition and bedding down for the night at the Paddlesteamer motel, just over the bridge on the old highway in Albury.

A brisk Albury winter start followed by morning cuppa at the aforementioned Gundagai, just a couple of hours down the track. White parental knuckles during a 2 ½ hour driving stint to the Picton exit for the youngest member of the clan (desperate to clock up her 120 Learner hours before a looming driver’s licence test) and by mid –afternoon we were confirming that Victorian e-tags do in fact work on Sydney’s M5.

The Maggies at the SCG on a Friday night. The first time in 15 years that the black and white army has not been forced to trudge out to Homebush.

There’s a different atmosphere at the SCG, both inside and out. Pre-game activities in Driver Ave that we would scuttle past in Melbourne hold a peculiar fascination. With a Sydney-based Indonesian first-timer with us and with a sense of “he will need entertaining” we decided to indulge in all of the “hashtag” stuff. It was time to ditch Melbourne family match-day protocols and embrace Sydney party mode.

As early arrivals at the ground we were the first with the hashtag thing and our Indonesian first-timer’s face lit up in delight when his image made it to the scoreboard! To his disappointment I missed the moment because I was engrossed in the “once-was-normal-now-is-novel” study of a Reserves (NEAFL) match versus the Gold Coast Suns. Derickx, Nankervis, and Towers are recognizable names. The tiny No.49 who looks a boy on a man’s mission kicks a brilliant banana goal from the pocket at the Randwick end and row B, Level 2, Bay 22 in the Brewongle stand erupts in applause…the Kelly family and friends from Wagga Wagga are here to see young Jackson play a game for the Swans as a top-up. Only when I make the connection do I see the similarities of gait and shoulders with a similarly skinny kid from Wagga called Paul who went on the make the SCG his own. There is something delightfully poetic about seeing Kelly junior exit the arena via the race named in his dad’s honour. A pic and a chat with Kel Snr seems totally in order for this middle-aged fan.

Another different thing about the SCG is that if you get there early enough, the prime seats by the players race can be freely occupied until the start of the main match is nigh. No early arrival for most Sydney-based fans, despite the conduct of a seconds match. Reserves footy is wasted on the Sydney mob. Pleasingly, SCG officialdom takes a relaxed approach to fan pedestrian traffic until the place starts to fill. It was my observation of this from a previous SCG match that really was at the heart of our reason for the road trip. Just like at local footy games I observed that many of the Swans players and coaches spend time in the seats adjacent to the Paul Kelly race and happily mingle with fans that have arrived early. A terrific affirmation of a club community and a practice that has long ago disappeared in the big league in Melbourne.

Now our aforementioned Learner Driver might reasonably be described as a “fan girl”. Fan girl-ing it seems, is an almost obsessive pre-occupation with celebrity figures. The object of desire for the fan girl is frequently a musician or sports star. The kind of hysteria that is witnessed in the front rows of a One Direction concert would be deemed classic fan girl-ing, I expect. Fan girl-ing can prove irritating but for parents overseeing a child’s transition from girl to woman it represents the last hoorah of innocent adulation, before exposure to more sinister young-adult pursuits takes precedence. The “1-D” posters that previously lined our fan-girls bedroom wall are fewer now, so we know the next phase is almost upon us. Innocent fan-girling will be encouraged until this dreadful day arrives.

Fan girl had been looking forward to this opportunity to mingle for weeks. She’s just wild about Number 7, Harry Cunningham….the boy from Wagga that talks with the requisite bush drawl. We have no idea what the particular attraction is relative to her other Swans heroes but she’s decided that he’s her pinup boy; ever since previous target for affection Alex Johnson exited the team with his long-term woes a couple of years ago. We make our way over and right on cue, Harry C and others appear. The other thing about the teenage fan-girl is that when actually confronted with the object of their adulation face to face, the usual reaction is a shy standoff…..and she didn’t disappoint! Eventually, and under threat of chastisement along the lines of “oh for goodness sake, we have come all this way!….” photos are taken, undying love affirmed and we can resume our seats in the area that was once “Yabba’s Hill”.

As one would expect, the black and white army are well represented. I’ve booked Dry Area seats in deference to the fact that our Indonesian is a non-drinker and avoiding boozed-up, obnoxious Collingwood fans out for a big weekend interstate, is generally wise.

We are finally on. 38 000 there to witness a make or break contest. First quarter skills are sublime, with no sign of the defence-first style that frustrates. Even in the absence of Franklin I get a sense that the Swans are “on”. The pace of Ranga Rohan makes such a difference to our scoring capacity. It’s nice to have the Canadian ruckman back (it would be even nicer to have the bloke we traded to GWS !) A brisk start has us up by a goal at quarter time. Luke Parker has been brutally flattened by Nathan Brown and bounced straight back up. He’s as tough as old boots. The boo-less Goodes has delighted by chiming in with a classy goal.

By half time the game has tightened. A sense that Collingwood is just starting to get the better of general play prevails. Long-break speculation about the result is rendered secondary in the minds of most, who are intent on giving their best in a crowd rendition of “Sweet Caroline”. Whilst I will never understand the need to fill every available moment with noise, I go with the moment and join in. Different rules apply at the SCG. The AFL “match –day experience” is up and about at the SCG, albeit unrelated to the state of the game. Our Indonesian is having a ball.

The Premiership quarter has been the Bloods Achilles heel this year. Last time I saw them at the SCG, the capitulation to Richmond had its genesis in quarter three. We are a defender down due to Laidler’s injury. Dane Swan is racking up touches and sending the Pies forward relentlessly. Pendlebury’s class is obvious. Young Darcy Moore is showing athleticism and skill reminiscent of his dual brownlow medalist father and proving a headache for us up forward. However, bad kicking is bad football and whilst now with their noses in front, the Pies 3rd quarter contribution of just four goals from eleven shots has left them vulnerable.

The red and white cause is dealt a stinging blow early in the last when playmaker Luke Parker’s leg contorts into a shape of physiological impossibility, if nothing is broken. His was. A depleted bench, Heaney’s leg heavily strapped and Gary Rohan on one leg makes the cause seem lost. A loss here and a season-end top four position is unattainable. Time to dig deep.

Unlike the meek capitulation to the Tigers, Eagles and Cats of recent weeks, this time things are different. Resolute work from our old guard in defence has held the back end firm as the midfield has finally found the freedom that has been so lacking in recent weeks. A massive statistical contribution from Mitchell has covered somewhat for Parker. Hannebery and Kennedy’s trademark bullocking is winning us hard ball and after weeks of lower than normal returns, Kieren Jack has recaptured his 2014 form to provide last quarter opportunity that is capitalized upon five times. Pykey ices his comeback game with a fine mark and goal and “Jack the Younger” (Brandon) advances his cause for regular selection with a magnificent game sealer to the Paddington end. Season effectively over for the Pies, who could rightly feel that the final score did not reflect the relative share that each side had of the ball.

The return road trip – albeit 2 days removed after a Sydney weekend – is never an enticing concept. The charm of the journey is much diminished by the return leg. The footy reward is done and dusted and all that remains is a long, boring day retracing steps taken. Fan girl has a pressing engagement back in Melbourne so she is on the first plane out. She’ll be in Melbourne before we reach the Gunning wind farm, which incidentally is an enchanting new addition since our last big road trip north.

For a place of so few residents, Jugiong seems the most heavily advertised stopping point on the Hume but we resist the lure of their Wine Centre and set return sights for Gundagai. We have memories of a bloke with a ute filled with delicious Batlow apples, at the Dog on The Tuckerbox. Alas, it is out of season or perhaps-we speculate- has he fallen foul of some roadside trading restrictions, designed (ironically) to protect the commercial interests of the multi-nationals that dispense fuel and fast food from this iconic spot? With this thought in mind we tootle into Gundagai again in search of traditional country fare. We like visiting towns that have long since been by-passed. Such visits contextualize a long journey. We had promised ourselves a return visit to the iconic Niagara café, which trades upon a random visit one dark and wintry night from Prime Minister Curtin and his war cabinet, during a fundraising drive through the region in 1942. Many Labor party luminaries have visited since. A charming art deco building but after a less than inspiring experience, we departed with a sense that the current owners have given up trying to match the service benchmarks of the multi’s on the freeway. Sad.

We employ the two-stop strategy on the way home, and pull up briefly for fuel at Violet Town – an old favourite just off the freeway that is famous for the Southern Aurora train disaster and more recently, the band Killing Heidi. Seven hours driving to this point, which seems to be the threshold for the onset of leg ache from sitting prone for so long. An uncomfortable 2 ½ hours ahead to complete the journey.

Door to door, 11 hours including stops. 9 ½ hours actually driving. That’s too far in one day. Anyone that says they can do it legally in less than nine hours is lying. The notion of pain endured in the support of the Bloods is some consolation, as is fan girl’s gratitude. Another parenting test passed.





About chris bracher

Known to stare longingly down Clarendon St still wondering how his red and white heroes ever left him, Chris Bracher's pining for his relocated team has been somewhat appeased by recent Bloods glory....but the pain never truly goes away!


  1. jan courtin says

    Good one Chris. I usually take eight and a half hours driving and a stop for about an hour, depending on circumstances. Easy trip these days, sitting on 110, but not as interesting as going through the old towns.
    Good and needed win too.
    As you say, reserves games are wasted on Sydney people. I love them and try to get to most. The razzmatazz before games and between quarters is horrible, but presumably it’s what the AFL thinks the game needs, despite what the over 40’s think!
    And, I too am still saddened by our beloved team being forced up north, but maybe we wouldn’t have a team now had we stayed. Perhaps these past ten years or so have compensated ?

    Cheer cheer

  2. Chris Bracher says

    Hi Jan and thanks for your comment. Another true believer!
    They are still “South” in my heart but I will be eternally grateful for the 2 flags of recent years. We were in a sense, the lucky ones. …imagine being a Roys supporter…particularly now that the AFL is propping up all teams with a 2.5 million $ TV deal. If only they had managed to last another 20 years in Melbourne.

    Jan you must live somewhere North of the city if you can knock the door to door journey off is 8 1/2 hours! Granted, I live in Emerald and turn off the freeway at Seymour but on the way up it was still 9 hours plus. Given the number of cameras and patrol cars along the freeway, I must admit I stay just a little shy of the 110 limit…just in case.

    Go Bloods

  3. jan courtin says

    No Chris, I don’t live further north. I moved to Sydney in 1999 to be closer to the Bloods Went to first game when I was 5 at Lake Oval (see: my article this week:
    I drive to all Melbourne games and always visit the old ground – sort of pilgrimage really!
    In case you’re interested there’s another post on this site of a poem I wrote in 2012 about our 30 years in Sydney (exhibited at the Swans 30 year exhibition at the SCG Trust). Here’s the link:
    Cheer cheer

  4. I enjoyed you article, Chris. It’s sad that the old towns and stopping places between Sydney and Melbourne are by-passed by the freeway. And it’s sad that the old South stands are now occupied by some other game’s supporters. Still, life goes on, and the Swans are still a chance for the GF – albeit a slight chance. Hope they can keep up the wins.

  5. Chris Bracher says

    Thanks for your kind comments Marcel. Chris

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