In case you haven’t heard, the Sydney Swans are 0-2 after the first two rounds of the season.
Normally, this would not be cause for too much concern, with most teams spending the first few rounds getting rid of the cobwebs that have sprung up over the past few months. Often the teams that go deep into the
playoffs finals are the ones most affected, given the shorter turnaround time to the start of the AFL season.
However, the Swans found themselves firmly in the media spotlight this past off-season, having signed Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin to a staggering $10 million nine-year deal.
This was a publicity stunt in the way that the theft of Bowen’s Big Mango was a publicity stunt: an obvious one.
The Swans did not need Franklin – and in fact were forced to offload a mix of promising and established players, including Jed Lamb, Andreas Everitt, Jesse White, and Brett Mumford – in order to afford Buddy’s services.
Some have described the Swans’ decision to nab Franklin as going against the club’s no dickheads policy, but this ignores the fact that Sydney has been recruiting dickheads for years, not least Barry Hall and Tony Lockett.
But Franklin is different to Barry Hall, whose only real problem lay with himself. Bazza had an endearing rage problem and was famously prone to brain snaps.
Lockett, similarly, was seen by many as a thug-like player. In fact, not long before signing with Sydney, he smashed Swans player Peter Craven’s cheekbone in an ugly confrontation that earned him an 11-week suspension for ‘charging’.
But both Hall and Lockett were able to win over the Sydney crowd by become the cult-like figures that we, Sydney-siders, crave. Because Sydney fans need a frontman.
This is not confined to AFL. Sydney football teams are characterised by their larger-than-life personalities. If you look at some of the more
popular profitable Sydney-based teams in the NRL – say, South Sydney and the Roosters – they each have one, or sometimes two, uber-famous players who attract significant media attention.
The Swans make for an interesting case study, however. The core fan-base is probably still of the opinion that Lance Franklin is a bad fit for the team. They’d probably say something about how he doesn’t fit the Bloods culture; isn’t a team player; is too flashy, etc.
But the average Sydney supporter doesn’t really know what Sydney ‘is’, or what the Swans truly represent. They have been brainwashed to believe that the team has a cerebral advantage over the rest of the competition. That we’re different. That we’re better blokes.
Every supporter wants to believe that their team is different to the others. Take me for example. I ‘support’ (a loose term) the Canberra Raiders, and have done since a young age. I hopped onto the mid-90s bandwagon just as it hit its peak. I unwisely assumed that the good times would keep on rolling for the Green Machine; that Premierships grew on trees – and that Canberra was probably the sporting capital of the world.
Today, no-one wants to live – let alone play – in Canberra.
As such, I have changed my own persona as a Raiders fan. I am now a self-deprecating observer of a team I used to support with passion and without irony. Hope is now not an emotion I hold when discussing the future of this team.
I watch with mild amusement as our most talented youngsters leave Canberra for myriad reasons, often for disciplinary reasons, and go on to become incredibly successful at their new Sydney-based clubs. I laugh openly as we squander seemingly unassailable first-half leads in mere minutes.
The point is, I have realised that the Raiders have changed. Shit. the entire NRL ecosystem has changed. And, accordingly, so have I.
The Swans/AFL ecosystem has changed, too. Brett Kirk, perhaps the father of this Bloods/No Dickheads/Buddhism-lite movement that the Swans became famous for, hasn’t played for a couple of years now. Gone is his fellow mid-field stalwart, Jude Bolton.
In their place are a bunch of young professional AFL players who truly represent the modern game. Kieran Jack. Daniel Hannebury. Kurt Tippett.
And now Buddy Franklin.
Sure, last vestiges of yesteryear remain. Adam Goodes (now an Australian of the Year) and Ryan O’Keefe, both tireless veterans now into their 30s, represent the vanguard of the Bloods movement. And they are probably confused, maybe even appalled, by this modern breed of AFL player, with their penchant for off-field car accidents, nightclub fracas and contract-hopping.
Put simply, if you’re still upset by the Buddy Franklin acquisition, you’re probably still pining for the days when this was the opening theme song to Seven’s AFL coverage.
Don’t worry, I pine for those days too. But it’s time for us to admit that AFL players don’t look like this anymore (see below).
Instead, they look a bit more like this.
Sport is business. Shit, everything is business these days. So get used to it.
By Dave Edwards