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Round 4 – Adelaide v Sydney: A Game of Claustrophobic Proportions

The plane was chockers. So was the ground. The apartment was spacious and quiet, and Adelaide people friendly. The footy was a claustrophobic affair: gruelling, restricting, tight and suffocating.


After queuing for 50 minutes at the check-in at Sydney Airport on Friday, we were assured we had at least one seat in the aisle. Without checking the alphabetical configuration of the seats, we settled in and buckled up, only to be confronted by a large man – twice my size – exclaiming “You’re in my seat”. “I was told that I’d been given the aisle seat, so I think it’s mine”, I replied. I looked at the seat plan above my head, and sure enough it was his. With only a few minutes before departure, I started to panic. Well, not real panic, as in an attack, but that immediate panic response that accompanies claustrophobia. The plane was full, not a spare seat anywhere, and I’d have to sit in the middle or the by the window, for two hours. Aaargh!!


I have spent years and years controlling my tendency towards claustrophobia. It’s all in the mind, Jan, I’d tell myself. Of course you can breathe, the air control thingy above your head is on full blast and you can feel it blowing, howling, onto your face, I’d remind myself over and over. Don’t be ridiculous, of course you won’t suffocate and die, I’d try and reassure my anxious mind.


This debilitating learned response – definitely a habit – would be triggered when getting into a lift, especially a crowded lift, and seeing the doors close; boarding a crowded bus or train, especially these days when there are no windows to open; sleeping in a bedroom – even your own bedroom – without a window open; in a shopping centre and not being able to see the sky; in underground car parks, in hospitals, and especially when having to face those rooms where the MRI machine is waiting to wrap itself tightly around you in its tunnel. The list can be endless.


I’ve tried all sorts of techniques to overcome it, including meditation, visualisation, self-hypnosis, shallow-breathing (“take a deep breath” is the worst advice), and physical and mental relaxation. Visualisation, for me, has worked the best.


And Nick Malceski has played a central role.


A few years ago I needed several MRI’s. I was in hospital for the first one and just couldn’t go through with it. They tried again a few days later, and this time I made sure I covered my eyes when walking into the room, as just the sight of that tunnel would trigger a strong response. They had also given me an injection and assured me I’d be away with the fairies for an hour or so. It worked.


A year later, I needed another MRI, and I didn’t want another nasty chemical injection. It was in 2013, not long after the 2012 Grand Final. I was determined to put into practice all my hard work in trying to overcome my response habits. This one was a cinch! I avoided looking at the tunnel when I walked in, immediately put on the eye mask, and in I rolled, into what is often described as one of the worst case scenarios for someone with claustrophobic tendencies.


I had no plans, but my visualisation worked immediately. I was sitting in the very same seat at the MCG on that special day a few months earlier. I was re-living the game: the goals, the tension, the anxiety, the euphoria, and I was singing. I was singing our song in my head, and the loud bashing and crashing sounds coming from the MRI machine became an orchestra, belting out Cheer Cheer as loudly as they could. Then I saw Mal, kicking that goal. That amazing goal that sealed the game. My celebrations were echoing his on that historic day, albeit lying prone and very still in an MRI tunnel. Then, after no time at all, I was being rolled out. One hour had gone by. I’d experienced our win all over again, and I was exhilarated. The technician asked why I was smiling. “I wanted it to continue”, I replied. “I’m a bit of a Sydney Swans fan, and I’ve just re-lived the Grand Final again”, I told him. He mumbled a few words about rugby league, and seemed a little surprised at my explanation for a smile. “Well, I’ve never heard that one before”, he said, as I thanked him and left the room.


On Friday, on the full plane, with the thought of a two-hour ordeal not in an aisle seat, there wasn’t much time for a quiet, relaxing visualisation. So, I jumped up from the seat and found one of the staff, explained the situation (nothing about claustrophobia) about having been assured my seat was in the aisle, and within thirty seconds a very kind young woman who overheard the conversation offered her aisle seat to the man whose seat I was occupying. She then moved into our row, by the window, and many heartfelt thanks followed.


We spent Saturday afternoon watching footy in the hotel: alternating between the Saints against that other mob and the Essendon/Geelong clash, wanting the underdogs to win. That last quarter in Launceston was horrible, especially if you were a Saints supporter. I was almost barracking for them, as if they were my team! Well, almost! I was exclaiming, swearing, proclaiming, yelling and swearing some more, and when their player missed that last opportunity to goal, I was pretty upset. All the commentators could say was “Oh, how great they are, they do it time and again, what a team they are”, or words to that effect. They were obviously talking about Hawthorn. Well, how about a bit of praise for the young St Kilda side? And, maybe the three-years-in-a-row team should have been way further ahead, if they were that bloody good?


It’s not only indoors that I prefer a seat on the end of a row, it applies outdoors as well, at the footy and the cricket. I therefore book our interstate tickets for away games well in advance. This year’s bookings for those matches were taken care of in March, but the only available seats for this game were individual ones, amongst Crows’ fans. No thanks!


Thinking that our tickets allowed us to sit behind the goals with the Swans’ cheer squad, as we’d done last year against Port, we arrived early for the first-come first-seat scenario. No, we couldn’t sit there, they were all booked seats, either Crows members or Swans tickets through the Club. So, we stood in the front row of the hill, up against a metal railing. A woman clad in red, blue and yellow came up and asked us if we’d like her seats in a section just around from the goals. She prefers to stand on the hill with her mates, and have a beer. I soon realised that her seats were all for Adelaide members, so I thanked her kindly and said I would be just fine, standing. Marshall wanted to sit, but only lasted about half an hour before he came back to stand with me. I did say Adelaide people were friendly.


That wasn’t necessarily the case once the game started. And I had to remind myself that I was in a real footy State, where people are perhaps more passionate about the game than the majority of Sydneysiders. Alcohol-fuelled supporters near us were loud and boisterous, and extremely hostile towards anyone in red and white. We continued to cheer when we played well and scored goals, and pretty much just ignored their taunts, but overall, I spent most of the match telling myself that it’s just a game of football, whenever it got too close and I felt I could hardly breathe. My mother used to say the same thing, when I was small. “You shouldn’t get so upset Jan darling, it’s just a game of football”, but it never worked. I remembered the words though, and this game, this week, those words were definitely needed.


As most people expected, it was certainly close. Close throughout. I had an uncomfortable feeling all week that we would lose this one, and when I get those gut-feelings, I’m usually right. The game was relentless, a non-stop battle: a gruelling, restricting, tight and suffocating affair. The ascendancy fluctuated and momentum swung. The lead changed frequently, and unlike our previous three games, we were being challenged. In the end, the home team came away with the points. Pity about the push in the back late in the last quarter; we had the best view in the house, and it was so blatant. With the Swans a few points ahead, and the ball in the Crows forward line, Eddie clearly landed his hand fair and square into Nick Smith’s back, then goaled and celebrated. Where was the ump? Eddie goaled again, minutes later, from the goal square and that was it. Where was his opponent? We had our chances, and they took theirs in the final, pulsating moments.


Tippo withstood abuse and booing throughout, but played extremely well; Isaac was just stunning and gave everything he possibly could – you couldn’t really miss him, with that shock of blond hair – flying high and kicking truly; Buddy eventually got into the game after a slow start and kicked his weekly ration of four goals; Parkes and Joey were in amongst it for most of the match, and Hanners was outstanding, probably best on ground. And it was hard not to miss Rory Sloane’s impact for them, along with Scott Thompson in this 250th.


We left the ground as their song was belting out, and headed back to the City the way we’d come – over the walkway bridge, only to be confronted with a sea of humanity crammed up against each other, belly to bum, swaying from side to side as it pulsated forward. I hesitated before joining, and wondered if I dared. We took a few steps, then quickly escaped out of there; took the long way round, under the next bridge, and got lost. The taxi driver we hailed down was also friendly and considerate. Not one word from him after he asked who’d won.


With no Cheer Cheer ringing in my ears as we arrived at the hotel, I was left only with my mother’s words as a reminder that I must not get too upset over a game of football that had just been lost. Maybe I’ll take heed one day!


And, yes, there’s always next week. And I won’t have to make sure I have an aisle seat, I’ll be home in Sydney!


My highlights from the game:


Watching the brilliance of our young star, Isaac Heeney


Seeing Kurt stand up and play one of his best games, in a hostile environment


And, although being in the minority of the 51,330 fans, and having to stand all night, just being there, watching what most would call a match for the ages. For me, after a loss, it could never be so. And it’s worse when you’re in a strange hotel in a strange city and far away from the familiarity and diversions available to you when at home.


Before and after the game: The friendliness and helpfulness of Adelaide people, especially the two Metro bus drivers to and from the airport. On Sunday, I simply asked a driver at a bus stop, at what intervals did the bus leave for the airport. I expected a Sydney-type response – often curt or nothing at all. He looked at his chart, with no results. He then searched through his bag for his bundle of timetables, found the appropriate one and gave me the information – all while the passengers sat patiently in their seats! We weren’t even boarding that bus, but leaving later. There would have been a riot in Sydney if a bus driver, with a full bus load, spent nearly four minutes helping a prospective passenger! Interesting place Adelaide.

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.


  1. Well that was a narrow experience all round! Seems like a cramped and close-knit mob on the congested flight with the swans being in a really tight spot with not much room to move. Hope you weren’t wearing your confining figure hugging clothes like the players, cramped in their skin tight guernseys. And when the ball was in those tight, tiny, narrow, limited, restricted spaces in the forward line – well, I can understand you feeling as though you had a tight band around your chest! Get a grip indeed – just not a tight one!!

  2. Ben Footner says

    I was there as well in support of the home side and it was an absolute classic game of football in every sense of the word. It had absolutely everything.

    Regarding Eddie’s ‘push’, it was probably one of several questionable calls or non calls. While it’s easy to cherry pick that one due to it being in the dying minutes, Sydney’s first 2 scoring shots were from a questionable holding the ball, and a questionable deliberate out of bounds. Generally these calls even out in the long run.

    Glad to hear your experience of Adelaide was a positive one overall, hope you flight home was a more enjoyable experience!

  3. Peter Schumacher says

    One of the pleasurable things about being an Almanacker are the weekly footy reports. This was really good, I loved the way that you captured the spirit of the game, the build up and sadly for you, the let down. The game was a perfect illustration as to why ours is the best code of all,,and your report amplified that, (but I did enjoy last year’s NRL Grand Final, could any sports loving person have not done so? -And the netball Grand Final too). Went off message, there, sorry!!

  4. Citrus Bob says

    I thoroughly endorse your comments Shoe. The older I get the more I enjoy the musings of our intrepid Knackers!
    They are the people who put the game into the real perspective and don’t pontificate about Cotchin’s lack of leadership, Buckley’s impending demise or Vickery’s past.
    Like Sir Francis Drake said “the game is the thing, the most important thing”.
    Jan, you summed up the people from Adelaide perfectly they are all gentlemen and that includes the women.

  5. jan courtin says

    Thanks everyone.
    Jude, your comments were very apt! And no, I was wearing very loose, almost baggy, clothing!
    Ben, I understand only too well about frees usually evening out, but this particular one, right in front of me, at that stage of the game was devastating – but obviously wonderful for you guys!
    Peter, of course I agree that our game is the best of all, and I also agree that last year’s NRL was a beauty, although I was barracking for the Broncos!!
    And yes, Citrus Bob, I found the people from Adelaide extremely nice and obliging. I wouldn’t mind living there, but of course I couldn’t – no Swans!

  6. Gareth Meyer says

    Jan, one of the most frightening visits to the MCG was Hawthorn v Adelaide in a close prelim final in 2012. Landed a seat right in the middle of the Adelaide fans. Felt verbally intimidated the whole afternoon/evening, but had the last laugh as the Hawks just got over the line. Your story bought back memories..

  7. jan courtin says

    Don’t think it could have been worse than in the middle of a Collingwood or Richmond bunch of fans, Gareth.
    Nothing worse, though, being at a game with the opposition smothering you all day/night long!

    I remember that game. The Crows almost beat you, with Tippett playing really well, from memory. Great match it was. Who knows who would now hold the 2012 Flag, had we played Adelaide?

  8. Cathryn McDonald says

    Great report and I’m glad your Adelaide experience was nice. I was barracking for your Swans during that match from the middle of the Hilltop Hoods moshpit just down the road, as they performed the Adelaide anthem “1955” with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Singers. It was chockers on-stage and off!

    It’s ironic that we’re so known for being the city where nothing ever happens, but we’re very used to the big crowds. The squeeze on the Hill, the Port March and the post-match “penguin shuffle” across the bridge have become traditions… although Port at least has a bar where people can stay for a drink before attempting the bridge! We seem to like nothing more than all going to the same place at the same time, whether it be packing all of our festivals into a month, or our biggest pubcrawl in the southern hemisphere where thousands of students squeeze into every pub in town.

    Maybe it’s because life is so relaxed normally that being in a crowd is a thrill. As the Hilltop Hoods say we “show up just to show off”.

  9. Loved this story Jan, especially the visualisation and re-living of the 2012 Grand Final, whilst in the MRI tunnel. What a supporter you are!!

  10. jan courtin says

    That’s interesting Cathryn, I didn’t know it was the “penguin shuffle”, and I hadn’t heard of the expression the Hilltop Hoods, but I like the “show up just to show off”. Unfortunately they weren’t just showing off on Saturday night, they were celebrating!

    I’ve been to Adelaide about a dozen times perhaps, mostly for footy and cricket, although as a teenager I went with a sister to Victor Harbour for a holiday. I love the hills surrounding the city, the beaches, Adelaide Oval, the Market in the City, the parklands around North Adelaide, the spaciousness and the overall pace of the place. And, can’t forget the friendliness!
    Many thanks.

    And, Marcel, thanks. That MRI experience was surreal, but it worked!

  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I kept an eye out for you in the Swans cheer squad behind the goals Jan. I probably walked straight past you on the hill.

  12. jan courtin says

    You would no doubt have walked right past me Mark, but decked out in Swans gear, I would have looked like anyone else! And I wouldn’t have known you!

    I’m pleased you were a happy chappy at the siren!

  13. Great report Jan.

    Your mum reminds me of a personal mantra I use: When you win, it’s the meaning of life, when you lose, it’s a game of football. After some games, as last Saturday, I have to use it more often!

  14. jan courtin says

    Good one Don!

    Let’s hope life has lots of meaning to us this year!
    Cheer Cheer

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Love your passion,Jan especially the re living the flag medication and I’m with you it is only a game for the ages when your team wins

  16. jan courtin says

    Thanks Malcolm. If it hadn’t been my team on Saturday night, I would have just loved that game! It had everything, and I love close games when watching all other teams playing.

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