I see that the Sydney Swans are calling their AFL game this weekend the “Sydney Derby IX”. What has happened to the more colourful, evocative description, “Battle of the Bridge”? Or perhaps “Battle of the Bridge IX” if we must number them? I think the GWS Giants coined the term for this game and it has been known as this for the past couple of years or at least when it is the Giants home game. The two Sydney-based teams usually meet twice every AFL season.
Now let me say at the outset that I have been a member of the Sydney Swans since 1986 and continue to be. I have seen them go through all the trials and tribulations over the past 30 years. The dark years in the early 90’s where they had a 26 game losing streak. I was at the match in 1993 when Ron Barassi in his seventh game as coach got the team a win against his old club Melbourne to bring an end to that losing streak. I have also seen them grow from those dark days to become the professional club they are today. I have seen them win two premierships in seven years. I have seen the rebirth of the Bloods spirit under Rodney Eade and Paul Roos leadership. But I also know that the Swans have had difficulty making any significant impact in the community. Outside of their Eastern suburbs base that is. I think this is something that the AFL recognised when they named their new incursion into Sydney. Why the Greater Western Sydney Giants, abbreviated to GWS Giants? Because the Swans were making no inroads into the western suburbs of Sydney and with the size of the Sydney regional population there had to be room for more than one AFL club.
I am also a member of the GWS Giants because I live in the western suburbs of Sydney. Their original training base was only about 15 minutes drive from my home. I run a weekly segment on AFL on our local community radio program, Sunday Sports Roundup. Through this, I have heard of the influence of the Giants in increasing the number of kids playing footy. Each junior club has a Giants player assigned as their representative. Giants players attend many junior footy training sessions. The Giants have engaged with the community in ways unheard of before and in just a few short years, the Giants have become a known and respected identity within Western Sydney and beyond. They are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of literally thousands of kids in Sydney who will grow up to be AFL supporters.
I think the success of the Giants is a little embarrassing for the Swans. I think the Swans resent any hint that they do not represent Sydney in its entirety. They were after all the only AFL representation in Sydney for thirty years. The Swans have never embraced the Battle of the Bridge concept as I think they see it as a declaration of war, which from the Giants point of view it probably is. The term is possibly a little full on for the Swans to accept and may have a nervousness about its impact on corporate sponsors. I also suspect that they do not want to concede that there is any part of Sydney that they can not rightfully call their own, they are THE Sydney Swans after all with that Eastern Suburbs arrogance which most of Sydney dislikes.
Maybe the culprit here though is the AFL itself. Do they want to dumb down the game to a Derby like other states? Do the AFL corporate marketers find the term confrontational? Too aggressive? Well, get over it, apparatchiks! It is a friendly rivalry between two local teams. Nobody is expecting blood spilt but we do love a good hard contest between neighbour which these games are starting to develop into as the Giants improve each year. I think we risk losing something unique to Sydney with this dumb down move. Some hope lies in the use of Battle of the Bridge term by the Fox Footy commentators and personalities at least.
Let Adelaide and Perth have their Derbies, in Sydney, it should be, and remain so, the Battle of the Bridge.