The Swans, Jan and SWANZ take a breather. State of Origin and what to do when your team isn’t playing?

We still have 880k of our 3,590k trip to complete, before getting home. After our game against North last Saturday, we decided at the last minute to stay in Melbourne for the State of Origin on the Wednesday night – our first to League’s big event.


As a kid and teenager in Melbourne I hadn’t even heard of Rugby Union or Rugby League. Even as a young adult, before I went to London, it meant nothing to me. I knew about soccer but found that pretty boring. I knew about cricket, but my parents hadn’t taken me to games and I therefore had no real interest. Dad never spoke much about cricket but Mum and my baby brother used to hog the television whenever cricket was played – much to the annoyance of the rest of us kids. All I knew about was footy – real footy.


Returning to Australia from London in 1976 and living in Brisbane, it was impossible to ignore the back pages of the Courier Mail – page after page of the Rugby versions, but no real footy. I had no interest whatsoever. I still had no interest in or understanding of cricket either.


In Melbourne for Christmas and the Courtins in 1978, one of my sisters asked if we could do her a very big favour and take her son, Julian, to the MCG for the Boxing Day Test against the Poms. He was about nine at the time and had never been to a real game – and he simply loved cricket. We took him and he spent the entire day educating us. Driving back to Brisbane we found ourselves tuning in to the ABC commentary on the Sydney Test, and loving it too. We started following Queensland in the Shield games and have hardly missed an Ashes, or a Test Match (Perth excluded), in Australia since.


It was impossible to ignore State of Origin in Brisbane. The day of the game reminded me of the day of a VFA footy grand final, even though it was always a Wednesday. Maroon was everywhere – especially near Lang Park – and the atmosphere in Brissie was electric. I would read the headlines the next day but that was the extent of my knowledge and interest in the game.


Since moving to Sydney, I started to watch Brisbane Broncos matches on tele and always watched State of Origin, and became interested. I like having a team to barrack for. We’ve only ever been to a game once, at the Footy Stadium in Sydney, to see the Broncos. The crowd was just so different to an AFL one, and I have to say, I felt like an alien. We moved from sitting amongst the Roosters fans to the Broncos fans, and felt a little easier – safer even – but there was still an unease. It just wasn’t where I was supposed to be.


My understanding of rugby league is:
· The men who play it are big brutes, and some have huge necks
· Some, like Alfie Langer and Jonathon Thurston, are smaller brutes but can be very handy
· Goalposts are two uprights with a horizontal cross-bar
· A goal is a try and worth four points
· A kick after the try becomes a conversion and is two points if it goes over the cross-bar
· A point is two points but can also be a point, depending on whatever
· A poster is two points
· ”Baaaall” is I-don’t-know-what but you can hold the ball as long as you want until six sets are up before you get it over the try line or give it back to the other brutes
· A free kick is a penalty
· A free is also a scrum
· A scrum is when these brutes put their heads into other brutes’ bums, but it’s not even a whiff compared to the other form of the game
· A ball-up is perhaps a scrum
· An umpire is a referee
· A mark is a catch
· A tackle is a mother of a tackle after which normal people would be dead
· Around the neck is just fine, unless it’s a strangle
· Around the legs is fine too
· A trip is fine too – I think
· Dropping the ball is OK if it goes backwards
· Dropping the ball is not OK if going forward
· A 50 metre penalty is when they get to kick it as far as they can (usually about 30 metres) forward and out of bounds on the full – or is it a yellow card or a send-off? Or maybe that’s a report? Or maybe I’m getting confused with soccer?
· A handball is a throw which is fine (and this game is mostly throwing) as long as it goes backwards
· In the back never happens because they always run towards each other
· It helps if you can run fast, in the unlikely event that you can jump over or across or under a brute and then run like hell to the other end without getting caught and get the ball over the try line
· You don’t need to be very good at kicking the ball as it hardly ever happens
· You do need to be good at kicking the ball when it sits on top of a bit of plastic at the start of the game and when converting over the cross-bar for two points
· Out of bounds on the full is absolutely fine when you get a penalty
· Out of bounds on the full is not fine unless it is a penalty – I think
· The siren is a hooter
· And, you need to know how to say “YEAH MATE, YEAH MATE” at least six times in a very short sentence if you are being interviewed

So, with very little knowledge of the game, we’re off to see the Maroons tonight. To keep warm, I’ll be wearing my red and white coat, cap and scarf and hope no one thinks I’m barracking for the NSW lot.


Blue-headed people do smile at us thinking we are NSW and a few say Go Swannies. When asked, we say we are Queenslanders tonight, and the smile turns to a grunt.


I think this will be the last time I go to a State of Origin, or any League game. It wasn’t that interesting really (compared to our magnificent game with multiple skills required) and the crowd atmosphere was not exactly to my liking. There was loud music and fire flares after every try and a guy over the loud speaker constantly telling the crowd to cheer their team.


To make matters worse, I was surrounded by far too many men, with hardly a woman in sight. Very macho. Nothing wrong with men, but the type surrounding me was what mattered. They liked to get drunk – spilling beer on us – and they liked saying f…. constantly. I’m no prude, it’s part of my language too, but when it becomes part of every sentence, it’s just plain boring and mostly irrelevant. These same men were so crass: they actually wished for and called out wanting major damage to be inflicted on the Queensland players: “break their backs,” “smash their balls” and “rip their guts out”. Very pleasant people indeed! One man behind me had an extremely limited vocabulary. He just repeated over and over for almost the 80 minutes “F… look at Cherry Evans, f…..g off-side” or “F… look at Inglis, f…..g off-side.” There might have been a few more f….s directed at other Maroons and the ref but that was it. Very enlightening, and I certainly didn’t learn any more about the game!


At times it felt like being suffocated in the middle of either a Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond, Essendon, and these days a Hawthorn cheer squad. Give me the Eastern suburbs polite Swans crowd any day – even though some of them clap the opposition!


I would definitely have liked Queensland to win and will definitely watch Game III. I will also definitely still follow the Broncos, but meanwhile, I’ll say a little Catholic prayer (perhaps as I would have many years ago): “Dear God, thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating me in Victoria!”.


It is the morning after this inferior form of footy and I’m calculating when we should leave Melbourne in order to arrive in Sydney for the Adelaide v Hawthorn game tonight, Thursday. 9am will have us on the couch by 7.30pm, with one stop in Albury for a late breakfast.


Not that far out from Melbourne the rain starts. For the next 10 hours it gets heavier and heavier and it literally pelts down for about 500km. The farmers are surely rejoicing and the water-starved grasses and fields along the way are changing colour before our very eyes. The overall colour of everything is quite stunning and, in fact, a nice change – challenging actually. There are landscapes of some of our favourite Australian artists, quite muted in the rain and mist, and a spectacular Turner appears approaching Albury – albeit without the definitive pale greens or blues or yellows – just wonderful shades of abstracted greys. The wind turbines near Gunning greet us as dusk is falling, enclosed in dark cloud and swirling just enough to create a Cy Twombly masterpeice. So much for Tony Abbot and his philistine outlook.


Although concentration is paramount on this trip, with the wipers working overtime on the highest speed and with the pelting rain interfering with our preferred music, my mind is, nevertheless, racing. Words and sentences are forming, and images that have inspired those words are helping to reinforce what I need to say – have to say. These expressions have an immediacy to them – I just have to write them down, less they pass. Maybe this is what writers, painters and musicians feel when inspiration takes over? Marshall has a pad and pen in his lap and jots down my words and thoughts. Remember, I am the only driver.


We don’t talk much on this trip but when the rain allows us a conversation we wonder what we’ll do this weekend without the Swans. I do most of the wondering and postulating. I’ll celebrate, along with the Swans, our 10 year premiership anniversary. I’ll watch all of those 2005 finals games and cry again after each win: I’ll marvel at Nick’s four goal last quarter at the SCG to get us into the Prelim against those cocky Saints (no-one gave us a chance, as usual); I’ll rejoice at the last quarter seven goal onslaught (to their nil) in that game, to get us into the Grannie; and god knows what I’ll do when I see the Leo Barry mark and hear the final siren sound. I will definitely cry when Roosy calls out “….Here it is”. I’ve seen and heard them all many many times but it’s never enough!


I will probably also remember how ecstatic I was at the MCG on the night of that Prelim. Sitting on Level 2 with family – blood and Bloods – I suddenly jumped up on the cushioned seat after Bazza kicked our 5th goal for the quarter, and almost falling off the seat, screamed as loud as I could “Go the Mighty Bloods, I love you all my beautiful Swannies”, to the embarrassment of the family.


This weekend I will also watch all the other games and I will relax enough to be ready to fly to Brisbane (had enough driving lately) for our game there in a couple of weeks. And, soon enough I’ll be ready to drive back to the glorious State of Real Footy, heading to Geelong.


So, with our plans for the Bye in place, we try and listen to Bach going through the M5 tunnel where there is no rain, and we arrive in rainy Surry Hills at exactly 7.30pm, just in time for the Adelaide v Hawthorn game. Perfect timing. It has been an arduous drive and I really feel like a stiff drink. The only problem is that I don’t drink, so Marshall has one instead.


A final thought on the other game:

Can I please implore Victorians to call a Rugby League game “League” and not “Rugby.” Rugby is “Union” as in “Rugby Union”. I know you all think that it is just one game under the banner of “Rugby” but it isn’t – they are two separate, different games, albeit similar.


However, as one Melburnian replied to me when I said as much, “Rugby, Union, League, whatever – who cares!”. I no doubt would have said the same thing years ago. It just isn’t part of a Melburnian’s AFL all-encompassing obsession. So, who does care? Just two States in Australia’s six.


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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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