Round 4 – Fremantle v Sydney: A Swan walked into a South Melbourne bar…

The spirit of the South Melbourne Swans is alive and well at the Rising Sun Hotel in Raglan Street. Located less than a kilometre from the old Lake Oval, the Swans Melbourne home ground until 1981, the Rising Sun is the spiritual home for Melbourne based Swans fans watching games from interstate.

Nestled among the tree-lined streets of South Melbourne, and tucked just a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the Sandwich Board out-front entices you in with its red chalk ‘GO SWANS’ call to action.

Walking through the Rising Sun Hotel is like taking a trip back through time. The sports bar and function room bar are both named after Jack ‘Basher’ Williams – a key figure in the infamous 1945 ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final.

Beautiful old black and white photos line the walls and capture character that a colour photo cannot. Every picture tells a story. A picture of a suburban club that produced many an individual champion, however, struggled for on-field success. Pride of place downstairs is taken by a jumper signed by Barry Round, Bob Skilton, Peter Bedford and Fred Goldsmith. Upstairs the 1918 premiership photo is pristine. Every true Swans fan needs to experience this to see where we have come from.

How did I find myself at the Rising Sun tonight? I am from Wagga originally and way back in 1987, as a nine year old, the Dodson family fired up the Holden Commodore, with Dire Straits on the tape-deck and new radar detector buzzing away, to travel to the SCG. We were there to see my brother play in the mini-league. Steve Wright kicked eight goals as the Swans put 201 points on the Eagles. I was hooked.  As an aspiring full-forward, my brother had pencilled in 10 goals. Unfortunately he was named in the back pocket and gathered only a few handballs. His disdain for the coach lingers to this day.

A few years later Gerard Healy came to good old Tolland Primary School to show off his Brownlow. The Swans were flying and I had started playing footy and had just kept Cameron Mooney goalless in a game. Cameron and my careers then took different paths! Not long after this came a skinny kid with a mullet from Wagga named Paul Kelly. The Swans were my team.

For the last 15 years I have lived in Melbourne with my wife Sophie and I am a proud father to young scallywags Jack (three) and Harry (seven months). The boys asleep at home, I jump on the train from  Seddon and head for the Rising Sun Hotel.

At the tram stop opposite Flinders Street Station I run into two young blokes in Swans colours. All roads head to the Rising Sun it appears as the boys are headed in my direction. Both originally from Canberra, were I spent my university years, we chat about adventures at Mooseheads Nightclub, massive roundabouts and other Canberra quirks.  Turns out we all still miss LRT. Good company to pass the 10 minute trip.

We walk in the door and it’s a sea of red and white. I would say a little over 100 in attendance, 60 odd in the main bar and 40 in the upstairs function room. All ages here tonight, from battle weary grey-haired old South types, to kids in their early twenties who have seen nothing but success.

I settle in upstairs and take a seat. Three youngsters sit opposite, a girl from Sydney, a bloke from Perth and, would you believe it, a girl from Wagga. Wherever you are in the world you always run into someone from Wagga. We debate if her Wagga High trumps my beloved Mount Austin.

It’s an arm-wrestle for the first 10 minutes and then Freo start to take control. The Freo pressure is first class and it is starting to look like a long night at the office for the Swannies. Buddy marks and goals to get us on the board, however, we are being dominated throughout the first half. The manic intensity of Freo is taking a toll and we can’t seem to find any clear air. Fyfe is outstanding. I grab a beer in the bar downstairs and see a lady in her mid-70s, dressed immaculately as the older generation mostly are, clutching to her Swans scarf and Carlton pot, passionately debating an umpires holding the ball call. Priceless. 48 points down as the boys head to the sheds.

I am guessing Horse stripped some paint from the walls at half-time as we come out firing in the third. Sam Reid is dominating and starting to find a home down back. Our midfield gets on top and it is the usual suspects of Joey, Hanners and Parker leading the charge. Buddy is Buddy, arms flailing, wheeling onto the left foot, and making the difficult look easy. We have taken control back. These Swans will not lie down tonight: 20 points down at the final change. The Rising Sun Hotel has come alive and we are trying to carry the boys home.

Rohan is subbed on, runs onto a loose ball and goals to clip the lead to 14 points early in the final quarter. Tippett marks strongly and converts, followed by a gut-running mark and goal to Lloyd. The lead is down to three points. I am starting to believe. Momentum is such a part of today’s football and we have it in spades. The contest is thrilling and no easy kicks are to be found.

A few costly turnovers halt our charge just when it seems like we are about to take the game away. Freo are holding on for dear life and the game is up for grabs with 10 minutes to go. It is taking energy just to watch this. Fyfe takes a fantastic high mark down back and Pavlich kicks a clutch goal to wrest back the momentum. Mayne breaks Swans hearts and kicks the sealer following another Swans turnover.

The effort in the second half from the boys is supreme. Unfortunately close but no cigar. A real show of character to get back into the contest, however, we gave away too much ground early to a quality team. You get the feeling we will meet again when the whips are cracking in September.

I bid farewell to the grand old lady that is the Rising Sun Hotel and the loyal band of Swans fans from all over Australia who have gathered here to watch the game.

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.


  1. jan courtin says

    Love reading and writing about South and the memories Craig. If only the people of Sydney knew a bit more of our past. We must keep it going. Great article.

    Only thing I bristled at was “…see a lady in her mid-70s, dressed immaculately as the older generation mostly are….”. Well I’m not quite the mid bit, but if you saw me at the Rising Sun, dressed in my Swans gear – or even in normal gear – I would hope that your wording might be something like “…see a lady who could be around 60-70, but you wouldn’t know it from the way she’s dressed and her behaviour – she’s more like one of us!” Maybe it was just artistic licence?
    Cheer Cheer
    Jan Courtin

  2. Keiran Croker says

    Great description of the atmosphere at The Rising Sun Craig! They must have been stripping paint off the walls there. Firstly with the poor 1st half followed by a great comeback. They do get a bit rabid there!!
    I’ve not been for a year or so, so will pencil one in soon.

  3. craig dodson says

    Glad you enjoyed it Jan. I’ll take your advice for my future descriptions. Looks like you will see a good game versus the Bulldogs on Saturday.

    Keiran, will have to tee it up to go and watch a game together with a few beers later in the season.

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