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Round 7 – Sydney v Essendon: Gratitude, Mindfulness and Empathy on a Saturday arvo at the Footy

Sydneysiders woke this morning to a City shrouded in smoke.

Fortunately I had closed our bedroom window at 3am to shut out the late night party-goers’ noise a few streets away, and at 6am I was woken again by fire alarms ringing in the distance. False alarms are commonplace in the City and Surry Hills, so I wasn’t that concerned. I managed to doze off for an hour or so, and then the smell of smoke awoke me. Worried that it was coming from an apartment in our building, I threw on a jacket and trousers over my night attire and went downstairs.

Several people had gathered, but no-one was any the wiser. The visibility was terrible, reminding me of my London days in the early ’70s, when you literally couldn’t see beyond your extended arm. This wasn’t as bad, but it had an eeriness about it, unlike anything I’d seen here in Sydney.

Marshall was now wide awake and Googling Sydney Haze.

Apparently more than 40 controlled hazard reduction fires from as far away as the Blue Mountains in the west and Nowra in the north had taken place in the early hours, and with lower temperatures overnight, the smoke had settled.

Fortunately, no real dramas – unlike my grandparents, whose house and General Store in Piangil, years ago, was destroyed by a raging inferno. And unlike close neighbours in a different part of Surry Hills, whose terrace home was once gutted by fire in the early hours of the morning, causing panic and havoc in our then close-knit enclave. I was woken by someone screaming and the smell of smoke; looked out the window to see flames raging into the sky, and large trees on the footpath being demolished by the engulfing blaze. The fire brigade had already been phoned and their sirens screeched to a halt just as the top floor of the house gave way.

By this time, hundreds of people had gathered in the street, all desperate to help in some way. It was impossible. No-one could get near the house, and no-one knew whether people were still inside. The police arrived, and as we were being dispersed back into our homes, the news filtered through that a family of four had managed to escape by throwing themselves from a window at the back of the house, seconds before the top floor collapsed. Those images and those screams stayed with me for days, and children’s faces – no doubt scared and terrified – haunted me in my dreams.

I can only be extremely grateful that I’ve never been personally involved in such a nightmare, whilst reminding myself of the importance of the age-old principles of Gratitude, Mindfulness and Empathy, as discussed in Dave Wilson’s Almanac story 5 May 2016:


It is now 3.45pm on Saturday – 50 minutes before our game begins – and from my study window the sky has cleared and I can actually see the city buildings, through filtered warm sunshine. I’m relieved that we’ll be able to see the game clearly from the O’Reilly Stand, and I’m relieved that the players won’t have to breath in any toxic remains from the smoke. I’ll be back at my desk in four or so hours, hopefully a happy Jan!

One problem with being a top team for so long is that supporters – or should I keep it subjective – expect a near-perfect performance every quarter, every week. Of course I know this is not possible, but I still want that perfection. Our first quarter is sloppy, despite Isaac Heeney showing his class, and even though we lead by six points at quarter time, Goddard, Zaharakis and Co. are doing their best to frustrate me and show that this game isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

The second quarter doesn’t show much improvement from our boys: we’re missing marks, over-shooting handballs, and lacking cohesion. And we look slow. When Jake Lloyd kicks out from the backline straight into the arms of our former Swan Craig Bird, the scores are level. Zaharakis then kicks their 4th consecutive goal to give them a lead of six points. With their backline firing, led by Dempsey and McDonald-Tipungwuti, anything that does get down to our forwards is repelled time and again, or results in a behind – seven for the quarter. Twenty minutes in, Isaac and Buddy add a couple of goals, and we’re starting to look a little more Swans-like. We’re 15 points up at half time.

However, this is NOT what is supposed to be happening, and where are the five goals a quarter I had expected before the start? I wanted 20 goals, to their almost zip!

There is gentle gnashing of the teeth during the main break, and plenty of postulating as to whether, or when, we’re going to wake from our slumber, and I am very clear in what I expect in the second half: 13 more goals from us, to reach the 20, and none from the Bombers.

A miraculous goal from Buddy – dropping the ball onto his left foot whilst falling in a tackle – is the 1st of my 13. Zaharakis and McDonald-Tipungwuti quell our forward entries time and again, and still the Bombers threaten. Our cygnet Tommy toe-pokes the ball over the goal line to give us a 20 point break – 12 down and a further 11 goals are required. The crowd then rises as one as Buddy grabs the ball, glides to the 50 metre line, kicks, and hits the post. An almighty OHHHH rings around the ground. We’re playing better. Keiran Jack snaps over his shoulder and adds another – 10 to go. Our play still isn’t perfect, but when our other cygnet Georgie extends the lead, optimism tells me that we’re sure to get another 9. Our blond bombshell kicks his 4th goal and the countdown continues. Another 8 needed in the last quarter.

Good teams are supposed to show their class and streak ahead in the last quarter if they’ve been threatened beforehand. If Hawthorn can do it, so can we!

Our midfield brigade of champions is now starting to dominate and Jarrad McVeigh is leading our young backline in their improved clearance of the ball. The Bombers are wilting and their inexperience is showing. Tommy Papley kicks our first for the quarter and with 7 to go, some of the best play of the day results in another: a brilliant tackle by Zac Jones in the back half frees the ball, and a quick, concise series of handballs through Laidler, Keiran, Lloydy, Georgie, and Harry, ends up in Tippo’s reliable hands, and I call out “6 needed” to the quizzical looks from the surrounding supporters.

Buddy, in all his glory, kicks the ball 75 metres, off two steps, and it lands over the goal line, Do You Mind!! 5 more. Benny then reduces it to 4, and with twenty minutes already on the clock, I’m left wondering. Our third cygnet Millsy puts a little stain in our copy book by kicking it straight to the opposition, and they goal. Keiran adds another for us, leaving 3, and surely we can get them in about the seven minutes remaining? Callum Sinclair misses a relatively easy shot – his 4th miss – and Buddy makes up for it by kicking his 5th from 50 metres. 2 more! “I should’ve put money on my 20 goal wish” I say to Marshall, but he knows I’m only kidding. I never bet.

One of the man of the match contenders, Isaac, leaps and takes another screamer over two team mates, and kicks his 5th. Isaac Henney is elite, already. He’s Fyfe-esque, and an absolute champion in the making. “Please guys, just 1 more needed” I yell, and Marshall cowers down in his seat. Thank you Buddy, you star! He’s kicked his 6th and our 20th. We win by 81 points and finally, I am a happy Jan – and a good predictor!

Walking home, I wonder how I’ve done in the Gratitude, Mindfulness and Empathy stakes on a Saturday arvo at the footy.

Gratitude: It has been in abundance – I am indeed grateful that I was born into the red and white family, not to mention all the other “important” things in life.

Mindfulness: I have failed. Not totally, but it could certainly have been better. I certainly did not have a still mind, but it remained in the moment. I also include “being mindful of what one says” under the heading of Mindfulness. I zipped my lips when my natural instinct would have been to criticize or demean an Essendon player or the umpire, but it was the Swans’ first half that was responsible for my failings!

Empathy: I’m afraid I have failed miserably. How can I have a warm-hearted compassion for Essendon – or any other Swans’ opponent on game day?

I have a long way to go!

My highlights from the game:
Buddy (and Michael Hartley’s effort against him)
Isaac Heeney
Jarrad McVeigh
All of the mids
Benny McGlynn
McDonald-Tipungwuti in the first half, for them

And, I have to mention the little kid sitting in front of us, maybe five or six. He was with his Mum, Dad and two young sisters. They were barracking for the Swans, and the children occasionally had a little nap. After the final siren and Cheer Cheer I asked him if he played Aussie rules as well as soccer (he was wearing a red and white soccer jumper), and whether he wanted to be the next Isaac Heeney. He looked me straight in the eye and said “I play soccer cos I don’t want my willie to get hurt” – all the while clutching it, protectively! “That’s a pretty good answer” I replied, as his mother blushed a beautiful red.

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. Chris Bracher says

    A good read Jan.
    Enough of the “absence of empathy” guilt……wear it as a badge of honour; a marker of a true believer!

  2. Another good one Jan.
    We certainly came good after half time and I was never really worried.

    Our bogey team next week! If we play well we should beat them.

    Loved the little boy and his willie story!

    cheer cheer

  3. Don Meadows says

    Well done Jan.

    And absolutely thrilling to watch Bud Franklin and the Sundance Kid.

  4. jan courtin says

    A badge of honour it is Chris! Thanks

    We HAVE to beat our bogey team. Thanks Marcel

    I’ve not heard that one before Don: “Bud Franklin and the Sundance Kid”. Like it! Is it yours?

    Cheer Cheer and thanks

  5. Ross Treverton says

    No Swans victory is complete without Jan or Mathilde’s take on the game-l know the stats, l know who has kicked the goals so the daily papers have been sent down the pecking order of ‘must reads’. I want the true supporters version of how the game (and day) has unfolded. Monday mornings and the Alamanac is on high alert awaiting J and M’s latest epistle! And l’m never disappointed! Another great read Jan. Cheer, cheer.

  6. Don Meadows says

    Yes Jan – my thought. Feel free!

  7. jan courtin says

    Very kind words Ross. Glad you enjoy the articles. Some weeks I wonder what on earth I can talk about, especially in terms of linking the game to something relevant. Although not past memories or events, this year’s articles have mostly just evolved from happenings that very day, en route to, or just before games. Strange how it happens.

    I could simply not write every week, which might give me more to work with for the odd game here and there, but because I go to them all, I want to express what I’ve seen and experienced. Many thanks.

    Don: clever wording! Thanks

    Cheer Cheer


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