November 24th, 2011. It was a sweaty evening and not because the humidity in Sydney is through the roof, but because I had no idea which club I was going to land at, all I knew was it wasn’t going to be in Melbourne.
This was a big deal for me because I had been labeled somewhat of a ‘Mummy’s boy’ as well as being as Melbourne oriented as they come. Despite this, I was still over the moon that I was going to be on the list of an AFL club. It was something I had dreamed about since I was five years old running around in a woolen Collingwood jumper with the number five stitched onto the back of it.
Five and a half years later with many ups and downs, multiple chances to return home, I couldn’t be happier with where I am.
It took time because I didn’t fall in love with Sydney straight away. It took some testing times to force me out the door to enjoy Sydney life but still I have only scratched the surface of what Sydney has to offer.
Sydney and Melbourne are very different and I needed to get used to it very quickly. A lot of one-way streets, with a big Harbour making everything confusing. If I make one wrong turn I could end up in the middle of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
That was a common occurrence for not just me but the whole playing list because not one of us was from Sydney but that is what made this whole experience so much better. That was the foundation of our club. We were making the culture and were all thrown in the deep end.
We grew up dreaming of playing on the MCG each week in front of massive crowds and training at historic venues, instead we started in portables next to a baseball pitch, and depending on traffic, an hour or two from where we lived in Sydney.
We got to play on the MCG a couple of times in our first year, on one occasion we lost by 162 points and the crowd loudly cheered for Buddy as he kicked his 500th goal. That’s something I’ll never forget.
Then there was running out in front of a packed crowd in the club’s first ever Preliminary Final at our home ground. Playing with boys who I sat next to as an 18-year-old in a portable room that was kept to 16 degrees because ‘Choco’ didn’t want us to fall asleep in a meeting. This forced us together and we bonded.
I’d be lying if the early times didn’t make me want to return back to Melbourne but as the years went on we became better and the Sydney lifestyle became more natural. Believe it or not, it proved to be winning me over.
Sydney doesn’t have the media telling us how good we are each week, replaying the goals we’ve kicked and the high-flying marks.
On the flip side, Sydney doesn’t have the media showing ‘The Bont’ kick two goals in 30 seconds on you. This played in our favour, although we were a young side and learning our way, early on there were a lot of moments we wanted to forget about on the field. By not being in Melbourne we didn’t and still don’t notice all the negative attention towards the club as it doesn’t reach us here.
I grew up swimming at Portsea’s back beach in the middle of summer where it was a battle to put your head under water it was that cold. Today on the eve of winter I’ll happily jump in water anywhere along the coast where the water is warm enough all year round.
Now in my place in Balmain, surrounded by a great community full of coffee shops, Sydney is a great place to live and play footy.
The more effort I put in to enjoying myself, the more fun I have. Not only has the football club given us the opportunity to play footy, it has also provided a great lifestyle that is vastly different from what Melbourne has to offer.
There will always be a temptation for players to return home and play footy in Melbourne, but if you’re willing to put the effort in, Sydney has an endless list of things to do.