Aristotle once said that ‘happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and the end of human existence.’ We find happiness with our friends if we expect it there. We know exactly where to look as Sydney Swans supporters – just watch Lance Franklin.
On Friday night, we witnessed a luminous outpouring of love for Lance. His sister Bianca flew in from Los Angeles, joining their parents, friends, and family to share in the most meaningful of moments. After the match, Jesinta Franklin expressed pride in her husband's achievements and dedication, but most importantly, in the value of their family.
As a proud Noongar-Wajuk man, family is always at the forefront.
In July 2020, the Sydney Swans left earlier than expected for the AFL's Queensland Covid-quarantine hub, destined to be away from home for eight weeks. Lance & Jesinta Franklin's daughter Tallulah was just five months old, and her Dad reluctantly left, packing a selection of her favourite picture books to read nightly, over facetime.
Franklin had been working towards a long-awaited comeback and expected an imminent return to the playing field. However, that return would not eventuate; he elected to remain with the squad, providing immeasurable guidance and advice to our fledgling group of Swans. A fatherly hand, if you like.
His commitment to the cause has always been strong. When Andrew Ireland and John Longmire announced that the Swans had signed Franklin from rivals Hawthorn on a nine-year, $10 million contract in 2013, they shocked the football world. The sceptics lined up, scoffing at the duration of the deal, but all parties remained confident, and well, here we are - Swans fans have enjoyed nine years of untold joy.
Award-winning sports photographer Phil Hillyard had covered the Swans since 1998 and admits feeling somewhat conflicted when ex-Swan and Daily Telegraph journalist Neil Cordy broke the story of Franklin's impending arrival. 'My initial reaction was wow, how good is this going to be, and then I felt completely daunted by it, having this superstar in town, and I'd need to follow his every move.'
'I got the exclusive for that first photo, holding the Swans jumper, and I was nervous that day,' Hillyard continues. 'You always have to be on top of things with superstar athletes. I also realised that I will need to get to know Lance somehow to capture his career, whether that be at training or documenting through portraits.'
'I knew Lance was a WA boy and had come from the fishbowl in Melbourne for a freer life in Sydney, I would imagine. I knew he wasn't so keen on being in the limelight off the field, so that was something I worked at, and over time, I got to know Lance and built some trust. I think the centre of the field is his happy place and where he's so comfortable.'
And build trust, he certainly did. The pair have formed a special bond, and Hillyard spent the special moments after Friday's milestone in the Swans' rooms, capturing a collection of personal photographs for the Franklin family.
2016 number-one ticket holder and long-time Swans ambassador Adam Spencer recalls the initial announcement clearly. 'I was in Melbourne and received a phone call from ABC Melbourne asking if I'd like to comment on the announcement,' he says.
'I was stunned - flabbergasted. In a couple of minutes, I was doing the interview, and it started with 'Adam Spencer thanks for joining us' and me speaking slightly off-mic, 'Yeah Buddy - just there … in the fridge … take as many as you want, mate. I'll order a pizza.' Hi ABC Melbourne. What would you like to know?'
'Then I just winged it, only learning the details of the deal as the announcer takes me through them. My eyes were popping! A testimony to the professional management of the club keeping it completely secret for well over a year!' Spencer says.
True to form, Franklin commenced his pre-season program early, training alongside the club's first-to-third-year players, before the senior core of the squad returned.
Buddy-mania has captivated Sydney ever since.
2020 & 2021 number-one ticket holder Michael Joyce has watched Swans footballers play since his Mum first took him to the Lake Oval in 1954. In all that time, he's never seen anyone quite like Lance. 'Although we had many years with little success, we did have many enormously talented players as the team of the century clearly demonstrates.'
'You love them equally and admire their unique talents, but Buddy has it all clearly. A 199-centimetre, super quick athlete with skills to match or better any champion of any size, does not come along every day, so Buddy has to be in the 'best of all-time' AFL discussions,' Joyce says.
Franklin's arrival had an immediate impact on the club and the entire sport in New South Wales. Hillyard recalls the spike in interest, 'It's the best game, with the best fans, and it was on a pretty good path. But Lance helped take it all to another level. A pumping SCG is better than anything I've ever covered in this city.'
When he's quizzed on Franklin's impact, Adam Spencer is succinct. '#WEFC - Worth every *** cent!'
Since his arrival, average home attendances, club memberships, merchandise sales, media coverage, prime-time scheduling, and sponsorship have all risen. The team has featured in the finals in six of his eight seasons thus far, including two Grand Final appearances. A phenomenal result for the growth of the club and the game.
But there's something intangible when attempting to define Lance Franklin's worth to a Sydney Swans supporter. We all feel it; his sheer presence makes us smile. Twentieth-century Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once said, 'It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.' Clearly, Frankl never saw Franklin play.
The only other man to have kicked his one-thousandth goal on the SCG was none other than Tony Lockett. After witnessing Franklin's feat, he told the Sunday Age, 'Lance is an all-time great in the AFL. To kick 1000 goals on top of everything he has already achieved is absolutely incredible. It's been a real pleasure to watch him play for the past eighteen years.'
In 2017, Franklin won his fourth Coleman Medal. He also met Lockett for the first time. 'Lance is humble, almost shy,' Adam Spencer says. 'I hosted the Bob Skilton Medal a few years back when Lance won the Coleman. It was presented by Tony Lockett. I saw the moment when Buddy chatted with Plugger backstage, and it was beautiful.'
The build-up to #Buddy1000 has been immense. Only five players in the sport's history have ever reached the magical figure, and as preparations ramped up, those intimately involved wrestled with mixed feelings of anxiety and anticipation.
Phil Hillyard certainly did. 'Lance is obviously photogenic, but the build-up of pressure was incredible. Trying to capture the moment of that goal, knowing it's probably going to be late in the game with deadlines to make, the crowd factor, what that means for my equipment, and then deciding where to record the goal from was challenging. And as a sports photographer, those things either run your way or don't. Good pictures don't grow on trees; you've got to work pretty hard at them.'
Michael Joyce felt a strong sense of affiliation with his Bloods brothers and sisters as we united for our champion. 'I really can't recall any greater connection to the red and white public than last weekend. From Melbourne Airport, the flight to Sydney Airport, the train and light rail, all before even getting to the ground.'
'Vast numbers of supporters in their red and white filled me with great excitement heading to the game. It brought back fond memories of the South Melbourne streets, pubs & Lake Oval, which still brings a smile to my heart. It's all brought about by so much hard work by players both past & present, the board, staff, and of course people coming to see Buddy!'
Franklin debuted on the SCG against the Swans in 2005. Seventeen years later, he was about to dominate it in a way that the storied venue had never seen before.
After kicking three goals to three-quarter time, anticipation completely engulfed the adoring crowd. Then, with roughly six minutes remaining, the moment arrived.
'Chad Warner's pass. Laces out. Found the big guy in acres of space. If it wasn't for Chad Warner, Buddy would be forever stranded on 999 goals. Played Chad!' Adam Spencer jokes.
Lance Franklin always dazzles in the big moments, and once again, he delivered. With that lethal left boot sending the Sherrin through for his one-thousandth goal, pandemonium struck.
Phil Hillyard witnessed some of the most iconic moments in world sport, but this was something else. 'I've captured all of Usain Bolt's eight Olympic gold medals. I've travelled with the all-conquering Australian cricket team, but this was the greatest sporting moment of my life, and it was an absolute privilege to be there.'
'For Lance to kick four goals straight, under that pressure, is a testament to his ability and mind. It's just extraordinary. I can't think of anything like it; seeing the fans running on, as he was running in, was like poetry in motion. Two days later, I'm still spinning.'
'Once I got to know Lance, and once I got to watch him more closely through the lens, I could see that he just had this fire inside him to succeed, and he was always going to be playing in his ninth year at the Swans. To get his thousandth in the first game back from Covid, with the occasion bearing down on top of him, the crowd reaction, I think it's a Cathy Freeman moment,' Hillyard concludes.
When Michael Joyce was a boy, his father placed a framed version of the famous Rudyard Kipling poem, If, on his bedside table. It remained there until he moved from his family home, with all of life's possibilities before him. The words came back to him on Friday night.
'Strangely enough, this poem came to mind when observing Buddy's gracious, embracing, and tolerant demeanour amongst 30,000 fans on the ground. He looked so happy to share the moment with so many supporters and, of course, his teammates.'
'One significant line from the poem came to mind, 'if you can walk with Kings nor lose the common touch, you'll be a man, my son.' This sums up Lance's humble manner and his way of conducting himself around the club and in life,' Joyce says.
Those closest to Lance gathered in the players' rooms, creating more unforgettable scenes to celebrate a true champion. We may never see anyone reach this milestone again. We most certainly will never see a sporting event of this kind again. Lance Franklin, thank you, we salute you, and we look forward to more.
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