Australia’s own code of football was played by clubs in South Melbourne and Albert Park as early as 1862, but it was June 1874 when the Red and White received its birthright. That Friday evening in the Temperance Hall, Napier Street, Emerald Hill, a group met to form a football club and four weeks later, on July 15th it was named the South Melbourne Football Club.
South Melbourne was soon prominent in Association football. Home games were played at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground from 1878, and the Club was runner-up to Geelong in 1880, attaining its first Premiership in 1881. Another followed in 1885, and three more between 1888 and 1890. Of the 57 matches played in 1888-1890, South lost on only six occasions.
The next chance for a Premiership came in 1896, when South Melbourne and Collingwood finished equal on games and goals scored for and against. This resulted in the first Grand Final, in which South Melbourne was defeated by one goal. On Friday 2nd October, the eve of Grand Final Day, six leading VFA clubs, including South Melbourne, met to form a breakaway competition called the Victorian Football League.
South Melbourne’s early period in the VFL was highlighted by a Grand Final appearance in 1899. The red and white next made the finals in 1907, losing narrowly to Carlton in the Grand Final. After an inconsistent 1908 season, South appointed Charlie Ricketts as the first recognised coach at the Lake Oval for 1909. On Saturday 9th October 1909, a crowd of 36 700 at the MCG saw South Melbourne 4-14-38 defeat Carlton 4-12-36 to win its first VFL Premiership. South were again runners-up in 1912 and 1914, before winning a second Premiership in 1918, defeating Collingwood 9-8-62 to 7-15-57 after trailing in the final minute of the Grand Final.
South Melbourne – now known as the Swans due to an unprecedented influx of West Australian players – again made the finals between 1932 and 1936, playing in four successive Grand Finals from 1933 to 1936, but capturing only one flag – the Premiership of 1933—defeating Richmond in the season decider.
The Grand Final of 1945, together with the first Semi-Final in 1970 and Elimination final of 1977 were the only finals the Swans played during their remaining 45 years based at Albert Park – but they failed in all three of these crucial engagements. Of the 12 competing VFL clubs, the Swans finished in 8th place or better on only eight occasions over that 45 year period. These statistics, however, mask the magnificent achievements of the players of that period. The leanest years of the Swans also produced nine Brownlow Medals. The record of 13 medals (by 11 players) is the greatest number achieved by any club in the history of VFL/AFL football.
Many administrations through the 1960s and 1970s worked feverishly to keep the Swans afloat. However, diminishing attendances and membership nearly led to financial extinction. Change was a necessity, and club stalwarts Graeme John, Jack Marks and VFL President Alan Aylett cast their eyes further than the confines of Victoria.
In 1981 the Swans received the permission of the VFL to play 11 home matches in Sydney the following season. The first match was played at the SCG on Sunday 28th March 1982, when a crowd of 15 764 saw the Swans defeat Melbourne by 29 points. The Swans’ initially successful foray into Sydney continued in July, as they beat North Melbourne to win the Night Series Premiership, and prize money of $105 000.
That initial success, however, was shortlived, and the Club’s tenuous hold on its new home was further complicated in 1985, when the VFL agreed to one of the messiest deals ever associated with football – one which was to have significant and far-reaching ramifications for the Club. On 31st July 1985, for what was thought to be $6.3 million, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten bought the Swans. In reality it was $2.9 million in cash, with funding and other payments spread over five years. A period of relative on-field success followed, with an array of stars including Greg Williams, Merv Neagle, Bernard Toohey and Gerard Healy lured to Sydney to join the likes of Warwick Capper, the first player to kick a hundred goals in a season for the Club since Bob Pratt in 1935. However, success on the field was not translated to financial security, membership or a sustainable structure. Edelsten resigned as chairman after less than twelve months. By the end of 1988, ownership passed to a group of investors led by John Gerahty, Mike Willesee and Basil Sellers.
Lack of footballing success and financial instability continued to dog the Club, however, and on 1st September 1992 the owners of the Swans told the AFL that unless the Club was restructured it could not continue. A crucial AFL meeting on October 14th granted the Swans seven days to produce a plan for survival - a merger with North Melbourne being one of the options proposed by the AFL.
It was a momentous meeting on October 21st 1992. At 7.33pm, the Club’s survival was ensured when the other clubs voted that the AFL should waive the Swans’ outstanding license fee (almost $2 million), provide working capital to the club for three years, and award priority draft choices. AFL intervention was launched emphatically early in the following season when the team’s losing streak extended to eighteen successive defeats and coach Gary Buckenara was replaced by Brett Scott as caretaker coach. On May 4th, the AFL Commission led by Ross Oakley resolved that the Swans would revert to a traditional member-based system rather than continuing with private ownership, that AFL Executive Commissioner Alan Schwab would be appointed Executive Chairman of the Club, and that Ron Barassi would be appointed coach until the end of 1995.
On June 27th 1993, in Barassi’s seventh match as coach, Sydney broke its 26 game losing streak with a 40 point victory over the more favoured Melbourne. It seemed that the team and the Club had survived its lowest point.
The Club began to achive off-field stability, as the transition period moved to the administration under Richard Colless, the foundation chairman of the West Coast Eagles, who from 1993 to 1995 recruited the nucleus of the current Board of Directors, and remains Chairman today.
On the field, Ron Barassi made a gradual transformation to the team. From three successive wooden spoons in 1992-1994, 1995 saw the team finish in 12th position on the ladder, with on-field performances bolstered by the recruitment of Paul Roos and Tony Lockett, as well as the development of the Swans’ young players.
Following the retirement from coaching of Ron Barassi, four-time Hawthorn Premiership player Rodney Eade was appointed coach, taking the Club to its first Grand Final since 1945 in his first season as a senior coach. From 1996 to 2002 under the coaching of Eade, the Club would fail to contest the finals only in 2000 and 2002.
Paul Roos, former Fitzroy captain and Sydney player, replaced Rodney Eade as caretaker coach after the first half of the 2002 season, and was formally appointed senior coach prior to the 2003 season. His first season as senior coach was a successful one—he took the team to a Preliminary Final, and was also voted Coach Of The Year by the AFL Coaches’ Association.
The 2005 season was to be the crowning glory when, after 72 years, the Sydney Swans overcame a slow start to the season to storm home over the later part of the year winning 16 of their last 19 games.
After losing the Qualifying Final to West Coast in controversial circumstances at Subiaco the Swans then escaped narrowly in the Semi Final beating Geelong with only seconds remaining on the clock at the SCG.
Local Sydney boy Nick Davis kicked four last quarter goals to give the Swans victory and a meeting with premiership favourites St Kilda at the SCG in the Preliminary Final.
Again a stirring final quarter by the Swans, when they kicked seven-goals, overwhelmed the Saints and the Swans ran out easy winners by 31-points.
A week later in what many regard as one of the greatest grand finals of recent times the Swans prevailed in nail-biting circumstances to exact revenge over West Coast by four-points, the final score was 8.10.(58) to 7.12.(54).
The Club trophy cabinet was bolstered further after the Sydney Swans won the ‘National Team of the Year’ and Paul Roos voted ‘Coach of the Year’ at the Confederation of Australian Sport 2005 Awards. The Sydney Swans were also joint winners of the state ‘Team of the Year’ at the NSW Sports Awards.
The Swans backed up their premiership by making the 2006 AFL Grand Final, once again facing West Coast. Despite trailing 25-points at halftime, the Bloods displayed all their fighting spirit to get within one point before the siren sounded – losing 12.13 (85) to 12.12 (84).
After coming so close to clinching back to back premierships, the 2007 season began with heartbreak again for the Club. The Swans lost to West Coast by a solitary behind in round one, the third consecutive match between these two sides decided by one point. A 38-point defeat to Collingwood in the elimination final ended their finals campaign. The Club went on to finish the home-and-away season seventh on the ladder. This was the Club’s earliest exit from the finals since 2002.
The following year the Swans farewelled two premiership players - Adam Schneider and Sean Dempster to St Kilda, but welcomed Martin Mattner and Henry Playfair to the Club. The Swans were vying to defy the critics again by making their sixth consecutive finals series. They battled their way through injuries throughout the year but were able to give six first-year players a chance to debut. The Swans finished the season in sixth place and went on to defeat North Melbourne in an elimination final by 35-points. The Western Bulldogs ended the Club’s finals campaign the following week.
The 2009 season marked a transitional period for the Swans with a number of their senior leaders coming to the end of their careers. The unexpected departure of Tadhg Kennelly back to Ireland at the start of the year was a loss for the Swans, but the recruitment of ex-Magpie Rhyce Shaw added a new dimension to the team. However for the first time since 2002, the Swans did not make the finals.
It was the end of an era as club greats and 2005 premiership players Michael O'Loughlin, Leo Barry and Jared Crouch retired at the end of the season.
Barry played 237 games and Crouch 223, while O'Loughlin was the first South Melbourne/ Sydney player to notch 300 games. His final tally of 303 games still stands as the Club record for games played, but will most likely be surpassed by his close friend, Adam Goodes, in 2012.
At the end of the 2009 season, the club embarked on a bold plan to rebuild the playing list. During trade week the Swans were aggressive, and snared five players from other teams - Ben McGlynn and Josh Kennedy from Hawthorn; premiership ruckman Mark Seaby from the West Coast Eagles; prolific forward Daniel Bradshaw from Brisbane, and emerging ruckman Shane Mumford from Geelong.
The changes didn't end there, with another five players coming to the club in the National Draft in November. For the first time since 2002, the Swans had a top 10 draft pick, and snared speedy young Victorian Gary Rohan. With pick 14 the Swans added more pace with the selection of WA boy, Lewis Jetta, and Sam Reid and Trent Dennis-Lane were chosen with later picks.
Premiership coach Paul Roos had announced that 2010 would be his last season at the helm, with the club already anointing his long-time assistant, former North Melbourne player John Longmire, as his successor.
The team got off to a flying start with wins from five of the first six matches, but then injuries took a toll. Mark Seaby broke his ankle, and co-captain Craig Bolton snapped his Achilles. Bolton's injury was a huge blow, and he was unable to ever take the field again for the Swans, eventually being forced to retire after 199 AFL games.
After an up and down patch in the middle of the season, the side rallied as September approached. Along with Roos, co-captain Brett Kirk had also announced that 2010 would be his last season. In round 21, the Swans played the Western Bulldogs and had a stirring win in front of a large and vocal home crowd, in what was the last match ever for Roos and Kirk at their beloved SCG.
The Swans earned a home Elimination Final, and played Carlton at ANZ Stadium. After a strong start, Carlton fought back to hit the lead at three quarter time. But a brilliant last term from new recruits Josh Kennedy and Trent Dennis-Lane - who laid a match-saving tackle and converted the goal - saw the Swans get home by five points.
The side travelled to Melbourne the following week to take on the Western Bulldogs, with Bradshaw back in the side after a long injury layoff. In a tense, tight affair, the Bulldogs prevailed by five points. Kirk was chaired from the MCG, having played 241 games since arriving as a rookie from Albury, NSW, while Roos holds the Club record for the most games coached (202).
Despite the disappointing finish, there were positive signs for the future. Dan Hannebery, drafted at the end of 2008, won the AFL's coveted Rising Star Award, and Kieren Jack, a rugby league convert and local Sydney product, won the Bob Skilton Medal for the club's best and fairest player.
A few days after the loss to the Dogs, Longmire assumed the position of Senior Coach, with a message that he was seeking improvement across the playing list.
It was a new era but the transition was extraordinarily smooth. The Swans selected Alex Johnson, Luke Parker and ex West Coast player Matt Spangher in the draft, and added Andrejs Everitt at the trade table.
The 2011 season began in dramatic fashion with a draw against Melbourne but was on the up when the Swans travelled to Subiaco in round 3 and defeated the Eagles. Co-captain Adam Goodes - who shared the duties with Jarrad McVeigh - was brilliant in the back half of the season.
The most memorable victory of the year came in round 23, when the Swans travelled to Geelong to take on the Cats. The Swans had not won in Geelong since 1999, and Geelong was on the verge of its 30th successive win at its home stadium.
But the Swans took to the field with a steely resolve, and led by Goodes, staged a remarkable 13 point victory over the eventual 2011 premiers, breaking the Cats four year home ground winning streak.
The win propelled the Swans into the finals, and they travelled to Melbourne to take on St Kilda in an Elimination Final at Etihad Stadium. With strong performances across the board, the Swans prevailed by 25 points - their first away finals win since 2005.
The following week their campaign came to an end when they went down to Hawthorn by 36 points in the semi-final at the MCG, and Irishman Tadhg Kennelly - who had returned to the Club in 2010 - retired after playing 197 games.
Goodes - who became just the second Swan to reach 300 games in the semi final - won the Bob Skilton Medal, with Rhyce Shaw and Josh Kennedy tied for second, while youngsters Nick Smith, Sam Reid, Luke Parker and Alex Johnson showed enormous promise for the future.
At the end of the 2011 season, the Swans recruited another Irishman, Tommy Walsh, who had been at St Kilda for two seasons, as well as Mitch Morton (ex-Richmond) and Tony Armstrong (ex-Adelaide). Tom Mitchell, the son of former Swans champion, Barry, was recruited at the draft as a father-son selection, and Jordan Lockyer and Alex Brown were also drafted.
The 2012 season began with the first ever Sydney Derby between the Swans and new AFL club, GWS at ANZ Stadium. The match was a stand-alone round one fixture, and was played a week before the rest of the league commenced the AFL season the followed weekend.
The Swans took out the inaugural Derby by 63 points, and the win was the beginning of a five-match winning streak, which saw the Swans also defeat Fremantle, Port Adelaide, North Melbourne and Hawthorn in the opening five rounds of the 2012 season.
The Swans’ 37-point come-from-behind win over Hawthorn in Launceston was of particular significance, with co-captain Adam Goodes playing his 304th game, to take over former Swan Michael O’Loughlin as the Swans games record holder.
After a rough patch, which saw the Swans fall to Adelaide, Richmond and St Kilda within a four-week period, Sydney bounced back to produce a nine-game winning streak – the longest winning streak the club had produced since moving to the Harbour City – between rounds 10 and 20. Thrilling wins over Essendon and Geelong, and a dominant away win over rivals West Coast in Perth were the highlights of the nine game winning run.
The final four rounds of the season tested the Swans, who came up against top sides Collingwood, Hawthorn and Geelong in the final month of football. Losses to those three sides saw the Swans slip to third on the ladder at the conclusion of the regular season, and set up a Qualifying Final clash with Adelaide at AAMI Stadium.
Led by co-captain Adam Goodes and midfielders Ryan O’Keefe and Josh Kennedy, the Swans burst out of the blocks at AAMI Stadium, and lead from start to finish to claim a historic 29-point win over the Crows, and secure a home Preliminary Final in Sydney a fortnight later. A season-ending hamstring injury to small forward Ben McGlynn was the only dampener of the match for the Swans.
Following the results in the Semi Finals, the Swans took on Collingwood, following the Magpies impressive win over West Coast the week before. Despite losing the last ten contests against Collingwood, Sydney stepped up their game to claim a monumental 26-point win over the Pies, and book their place in the 2012 decider against Hawthorn.
The win over Collingwood was even more memorable as it also marked Swans veteran Jude Bolton’s 300th game, which he celebrated by kicking the final goal of the match to advance the Swans to a place in the Grand Final.
The Swans entered the Grand Final as the underdogs against minor premiers Hawthorn, but the game would prove anything but one-sided. Despite Nick Malceski kicking a stunning goal to open the team’s account at the Punt Road end of the MCG, the Swans trailed in the first quarter but fought back in the second to pile on six unanswered goals to hold a 16-point lead at the long break.
The Swans kicked the opening two goals of the second half to lead by 28 points before the Hawks fought back to trail by just one point at three-quarter time. Hawthorn broke away early in the final term to hold a 12-point lead midway through the final term. But the Swans dug deep again, and final term efforts from Ryan O’Keefe, as well as goals to Dan Hannebery, Kieren Jack, Adam Goodes and the stunning sealer from Malceski resulted in the Swans winning their second premiership in seven years and the fifth ever for the club. The final score was Sydney 14.7 (91) to Hawthorn 11.15 (81) with John Longmire and co-captain Jarrad McVeigh lifting the cup on the MCG after the match.
Coming off a premiership season was always going to be tough for the Swans but they were as impressive as ever during the home and away season to finish in fourth position with 15 wins and a draw. It was a tough final series for the side however as they went down to Hawthorn in the Qualifying Final before going on to defeat Carlton but be knocked out in a Preliminary Final against Fremantle.
During the off-season the club would acquire the biggest name in the game with Lance Franklin joining the Club on a nine year deal. Franklin would go on to propel the Swans into another finals series in 2014.
The Swans would finish the 2014 season on top of the ladder with 17 wins and a healthy percentage of 168 with Franklin leading the charge in his first season in the red and white. A win over Fremantle in the Qualifying Final set up a clash against North Melbourne in the Preliminary Final – a match the Swans went on to win by 71 points.
A Grand Final rematch of the 2012 contest against Hawthorn was on the cards in what turned out to be a disappointing day for Sydney as they lost by 64 points.
It was a consistent home and away season for the Swans in 2015 as they finished inside the top four once again. Lance Franklin took indefinite leave from the club on the eve of the finals series to deal with an ongoing mental illness. Injuries struck at the wrong end of the season with Kieren Jack and Luke Parker both on the sidelines during the finals campaign which finished with a Semi Final loss to North Melbourne.
Champion Adam Goodes announced his retirement following the loss to North Melbourne closing the curtains on one of the most illustrious careers in the history of the game.