In a series new to 2019, we revisit moments in history involving the Sydney Swans’ round-by-round opposition.
History, nostalgia and memories form a special part of what makes Australian rules football great, and we hope the Footy Flashbacks series reignites some of your fondest Swans moments.
In the latest edition, we wind back time to the day the greatest goal-kicker in the competition’s history, Tony Lockett, farewelled the SCG in a clash with the Adelaide Crows in Round 20, 1999.
When former Sydney Swans coach Rodney ‘Rocket’ Eade called on a 19-year-old Heath James to make his AFL debut late in season 1999, the Port Adelaide Magpies product was on top of the world.
And James’ unforgettable dream would continue to unfold the following week, with the first-year defender going into battle with Tony ‘Plugger’ Lockett as the greatest goal-kicker in the competition’s history waved goodbye to the SCG.
On August 15, 1999 – as Sydney charged to a 118-point victory over the Adelaide Crows in Round 20 – Lockett closed the book on a five-year romance with the hallowed venue.
The Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend, Swans Team of the Century member and Swans Hall of Famer would emerge from retirement in 2002 to play another three games, including one at the SCG.
But the return of the 1360-goal champion did nothing to detract from that magical afternoon in 1999.
Lockett, who donned the red and white in 1995 after amassing 183 games for St Kilda, booted eight majors to a chorus of full-blooded chants from the crowd.
And although a fresh-faced James split the match between the bench and the opposite end of the ground to Lockett, playing in ‘Plugger’s’ SCG swansong will forever be vivid in his memory.
Tony Lockett (number four) and his Sydney Swans teammates burst through the banner.
“The crowd was hysterical. The 1996 Grand Final the Swans played in was a real tipping point. The crowds were getting more and more parochial and that was certainly evident on the day ‘Plugger’ played his last game at the SCG,” James told Swans Media.
“As a first-year player you don’t really expect to play senior footy. You just try to learn your craft, put your head down and earn the respect of your teammates. So it was a bonus to get a game at all, let alone in ‘Plugger’s’ last game at the SCG before his first retirement.
“There were only three guys on the team capable of chairing a big bloke like ‘Plugger’ off the ground, but of course it’s only a two-man job. So all week long there was competition about who would get the gig after the game. Those guys were having to do extra squats in the gym in the lead-up to the game, and the supplement shakes were going around in force. They were just making sure they had the strength to carry him off.
“But with a coach like ‘Rocket’ the first thing you wanted to do was get the win.”
The Crows loomed as a frightening proposition.
They had knocked Sydney out of the race for the 1998 flag in a 27-point semi-final win, and two weeks later would trump North Melbourne by 35 points to clinch back-to-back premierships.
The Swans had also lost their previous four games against the Crows by an average of 58 points, an unattractive record including an 81-point defeat when the clubs had last butted heads.
But Sydney stormed to its highest score of the 1999 season and its greatest win over Adelaide in history – a record which still stands today.
“We smashed them in the first half and ‘Rocket’ kept me on the bench until late in the second quarter, so by the time I got on the game was done and dusted,” James laughed.
“Back in those days, to beat Adelaide, who were one of the big strengths of the competition – everyone was pumped with the result. There was a good vibe around the club – that’s for sure.”
Lockett farewelled the SCG four days after announcing his retirement, and his eight goals in the percentage-boosting win played a crucial hand in Sydney’s desperate but successful fight to make the top eight.
Lockett’s fourth goal saw the 34,299-strong crowd roar to life, with the 281-match great launching off Adelaide’s Nathan Bassett to pull off a screamer.
Lockett has fond memories of playing at the SCG.
Tony Lockett nails a goal off his monstrous boot.
“The atmosphere at the SCG was always sensational,” Lockett told Swans Media.
“It was one of my favourite grounds to play footy at. It’s a great oval and the crowd is ‘right there’.
“When I first moved to Sydney ahead of season 1995, the crowds weren’t anywhere near as big as when we started enjoying a bit of success. We made the 1996 Grand Final and things took off from there. The crowds in my first year were often only around 10,000, but by the late 1990s we were winning some games and I reckon there were often crowds of well over 30,000.
“The atmosphere was always good, it still is and in the 1990s it just grew and grew and grew.”
Although 'Plugger' was farewelling the SCG, Cyggy was again the life of the party.
James offered a fascinating insight into life at the Swans with ‘Plugger’.
“Myself and guys like Jude Bolton, Nic Fosdike and Ryan Fitzgerald were all drafted at the end of the 1998 season, and we were coming into a team full of superstars. ‘Plugger’ was the biggest of the lot and we were just trying to stay out of his way. He was such a big presence and especially when you were playing with him,” James said.
“But coming into an environment with not only ‘Plugger’, but Wayne Schwass, Paul Kelly, Andrew Dunkley and Dale Lewis was an experience. It’s fair to say we didn’t say much over the first 12-24 months; we were all a bit nervous around those guys. But they made us feel welcome and it was such a good environment to be in the locker room with those guys and training with them on a weekly basis.”
Tony Lockett departs the SCG for the final time before his first retirement.
A 25-year-old James retired in 2005 after an injury-plagued career in which he managed just 18 games.
Fourteen years on, the 39-year-old lives in Coogee in Sydney’s east with his wife Alanna and two kids, six-year-old Roy and two-year-old Annie.
Alanna is the daughter of former Swans CEO Colin Seery (2002-2003), who was involved in drafting James to Sydney in his initial role as General Manager of Football.
Heath James kicks the only goal of his 18-game career, a six-pointer against St Kilda in Round 11, 2004.
James now works for a creative agency called Mushroom Creative House, which has linked the former Swan with the likes of the Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran and Drake.
It was a long time ago that a fresh-faced James and big-framed ‘Plugger’ took on the Crows at the SCG.
But that game on August 15, 1999 will always gleam in the red and white’s history.