All The Books I Can Read

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The Rise Of The Swans: A Decade Of Success 2003-2012 – Martin Blake

on July 23, 2013

Rise swansThe Rise Of The Swans: A Decade Of Success 2003-2012
Martin Blake
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 246p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

They were once the ugly duckling of the AFL. At the beginning of 2005, the Swans hadn’t won a premiership for 72 years. They’d started off in South Melbourne, but after a move to the Harbour City in 1982, became the Sydney Swans. Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, they were a laughingstock. Recruits like Tony “Plugger” Lockett helped elevate them to finals and even a grand final in 1996. But in the early 200o’s, the team lost valuable, experienced players and halfway through the season in 2002, the coach walked.

Paul Roos was appointed as caretaker coach with 10 rounds to go of the 2002 season and everyone knew that it would either be a success or a disaster – it is the way of caretaker coaches. He secured the job permanently by presenting to the board a three year plan, culminating in a flag in 2005. The board sold, Paul Roos began to implement his changes in playing style and more importantly – culture.

The rest is history. A flag in 2005. A heartbreaking one point grand final loss in 2006 to the team they’d beat by 4 points the year before. Top 8 and finals every year but 2009 thereafter. Roos departed at the end of 2010, paving the way for his successor, John Longmire. And two years after he began, they had another flag in 2012, beating Hawthorn in a back-and-forth game by 10 points.

They’d gone from a team that people laughed at to one that people admired and deeply respected. From having their game mocked as “ugly” by the head of the AFL to having it as one that teams often try and imitate to shut other teams down. Despite this, the Swans still have a knack of flying under the radar and many were still stunned in 2012 when they defeated the hot favourites. The Rise Of The Swans seeks to get to the bottom of how the team turned itself around, how the players and coaches implemented a tightly-knit brotherhood, a culture that is the envy of others. “The Bloods”: Hard. Disciplined. Relentless.

Anyone who follows me on twitter knows that I’m a passionate Sydney Swans fan. I came late to the game – I was 24 when I began to follow them in 2006. I’d moved to Victoria and told that I simply had to pick a team. It was the way it went. I was from NSW, I was born in Sydney. For me, they were the only choice. And it’s been that way ever since. I had missed them win a grand final in 2005, but experienced the anticlimactic one point loss in 2006. In 2012, I found myself bawling again, but this time because they’d done it. I knew there could be long gaps between drinks in this game – after all, South Melbourne/Sydney had gone 72 years. It was possible that I would never again experience that moment.

And so I am the perfect audience for this book – a devoted fan, but a relatively new one who doesn’t know a lot about the changes. I would’ve offered my firstborn for a review copy (a budding Swans fan himself, who likes to pretend to “kick it to Goodesy”). It goes through each year, from the time Roos was handed the reins and examines the creation of the culture, its implementation and how it saw results on the field. There are player profiles of the 2005 and 2012 premiership winning players and in depth looks at them and their coaches Paul Roos and his methods are explored as is the way in which he went about bringing the group together, making it something that became like breathing. When Roos left, the job went to his assistant coach, John Longmire, someone who knew and understood the way that Sydney worked. He’s not Roos and no one could deny his successes as a coach in his own right but he came from the inside. It examines the leadership group and the trend of older players “mentoring” the younger recruits, helping them adjust and settle in to their new and often demanding life. They help them embrace the culture and let them know without any reservations when they’re not playing or acting up to scratch. Sydney is a team and there’s no room for any egos or anyone who puts the individual above the greater need of the collective.

I cannot say how many times I have watched the 2012 grand final – my husband would estimate it to be around fifteen but he’s at work a lot and I find myself putting it on at night sometimes when he’s not home. So that’s a conservative guess really. I’d say it’s more like 20, with the final quarter probably about 25. I have relived Nick Malceski’s final snap a million times in my head, probably the way that people after 2005 relived Leo Barry’s amazing mark. There are so many amazing highlights from that game – Daniel Hannebery’s sensational body crunching mark, Mitch Morton’s incredible two goals, Lewis Jetta streaking away from Cyril Rioli like it was nothing, Goodesy’s goal and of course, Malceski’s that sealed the deal. I can watch that game and never get bored, even when we’re losing. I know that had we not lost the toss, which meant we kicked with the howling wind in the 2nd and final quarter, it could’ve gone very differently. But it wouldn’t have changed how I feel about my team. They gave their everything that day, through crippling injuries and all. Watching them this year, I am beginning to appreciate their effort to make consecutive grand finals in 2005 and 2006 and also other teams, like Brisbane, who not only made three grand finals in a row in 2001, 2002 and 2003, but won them all.

This book lets me relive more than that moment. I only have the semi final against Collingwood and the grand final recorded on my hard drive but with this book I can jump into various points in the last 10 years and learn, or remember. It isn’t just about the game and the results, it’s about the people too. No Swans fan would ever forget beating Geelong at their home ground in 2011 mere days after co-captain Jarrad McVeigh and his wife Clementine said goodbye to their one-month old baby girl. Geelong had won 29 consecutive games at Kardinia Park – going there was a guaranteed loss until that day when the Swans drew together and gave the best gift they could. Few people would forget seeing McVeigh and his wife embracing after the grand final, their new daughter Lolita in their arms. It’s just as much about family as it is about anything else and they are all a family. It’s about courage, strength and determination. Bad stories from football get plenty of press but the good stories are there as well if you look for them and there are plenty contained within this book.

If you’re a Swans fan, or you know one – buy this book. It’s a must have for anyone who barracks for the Bloods.


Book #180 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

I’m counting The Rise of the Swans towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge as a non-fiction title.


3 responses to “The Rise Of The Swans: A Decade Of Success 2003-2012 – Martin Blake

  1. Lily Malone says:

    I laughed when I saw you reviewing this title Bree. Way to go Swannies, I don’t begrudge them any of this success after such a long drought.

  2. Sounds like the perfect book for a die-hard Swannies fan Bree!
    I’m more a soccer gal myself πŸ™‚

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