The ANZAC Friendship Match has grown into something that any Swans player or family member looks forward to and will always look back fondly on.
So many elements have combined to make this one of the most unique games of AFL on the planet. Playing on the same turf the diggers played on during down time from the horrors of war. Being in the midst of Vets who have done such wonderful things in the community around here since returning to discover a Vietnam at peace. Welcoming teams from all over Asia. The tradition of the McMillan Dinner and Middleton Address which have drawn names like Embley, Seymour and Jesaulenko (you beauty!!!).
It all comes together on the weekend that means more to the Swans than any other. With that in mind, Bill Crang reflects on his time playing every one of the ANZAC Friendship Matches.
A Unique Milestone for the Vietnam Swans
For the second year in a row, we’re celebrating a unique milestone. In 2018 we celebrated being part of 10 ANZAC Day games as a club (including our first in 2009 vs the Thailand Tigers in Kanchanaburi, the location of the Burma Death Railway).
Now in 2019 we come to perhaps the biggest milestone yet, our 10th ANZAC Friendship Match in Vietnam. Since 2010 we’ve played Asia’s best and funnily enough only ever lost to teams from Indonesia (Jakarta twice). This weekend enables us to remember the sacrifices that were made on both sides in the war that ravaged the lands the Swans now call home whilst celebrating the great friendships that our people now enjoy and continue to develop. Footy can play a great part in these friendships and it’s been a personal honour of mine to be part of all the Swan’s Anzac Games to date. They will forever be some of the greatest memories of my life.
Here’s my sometimes cloudy memory across all those years:
2009 – Thailand Tigers def. Vietnam Swans in Kanchanaburi
Wow! This was my first ever tour and what a baptism of literal fire. Mid-forty degrees and a red hot opponent opened my eyes… but by the end being well over 100 points down and I think having not scored a major all day, most of us were cowering with our eyes closed in the fetal position. The tour remains one of the best I’ve ever been on though with the amazing stories of some of the heroic diggers who endured so much on the Burma Death Railway, the morning ceremony (ANZAC was a Saturday that year) and a post game cruise down the River Kwai. Great touring squad that absolutely tore Kanchanaburi a new one capped off a great weekend and in hindsight I’m not surprised left me wholeheartedly addicted to playing footy throughout Asia.
2010 – Hanoi Hawks (63) def. Saigon Saints (62) Heritage Match in Vung Tau
Phil Johns, the visionary behind almost every piece of the Swans platform as a club, was inspired by the power of ANZAC Day in Kanchanaburi the year before. As expats loving life in Vietnam what was amazing was how little we knew beyond Forrest Gump of the war that shook the world here for over a decade.
Nonetheless, somewhat luckily we moved to play a friendship game in Vung Tau. Unbeknown to us, this was the hallowed turf the diggers played on during their down time some 40+ years earlier.
Not only were we playing on the same ground, but some of the Veterans were in the crowd – which shocked us in its size! We were very quickly able to learn some of the history of the Australian involvement, but also some of the Vietnamese side of a war that really had no winner. The two black arm-bands respect concept was born out of respect for soldier enduring the horror of war on either side of the battle.
As always the North cheated thoroughly and claimed the game by a point. One great hit by Greg Stanton on the wing was a highlight. A friendship match in name but it was obvious playing here on this epic ground games were never going to be soft! As we took stock of all we learnt the gravity of what the ANZAC Friendship Match at the Lord Mayor’s Oval in Vung Tau was going to become mega. We were still to see how mega.
2011 – Vietnam Swans (89) def. Hong Kong Dragons (47) in Vung Tau
Part of the reason I think the Friendship Match has become such a great event was attracting one of the premier AFL Asia teams to the first ever International Match. The Dragons go deep (if not win) every single Asian Championships and have one of the best touring cultures in Asia. This was my first glimpse into it and it helped us to grow as a footy club immensely.
The Dragons were not short of talent on this tour either, but as our first international game and a crowd that was spurred on from the success of the previous year, we played out of our skins. BOG was Angry Dave Hadley and the greatly missed Nick Shiells was up in the best. Richard Osbourne (still in very handy nick) played for both teams but definitely gave a bit more for the Swans). Despite a comfortable win on the scoreboard the game stayed in the balance all day! Coach Josh ‘Pudding’ Little’s now famous words to “go out and (awkward pause) pull off the greatest win this Vietnam Swans has ever done(sic)” definitely rang true! Check out “9 News 2011 Vung Tau Friendship Match“!
2012 – Vietnam Swans (79) def. China Reds (56)
The Reds were a mystery coming into this game, we hadn’t seen much of them but knew that with Shanghai and Beijing combining some serious talent would be headed our way. The game was memorable for me as it was the first time my parents watched me play a game of football in Vietnam. After embarrassing myself up forward I was shifted into defense for the second quarter onto a bloke who seemed very handy. After a tough tussle that quarter, Dad was quick to point out that that ‘handy’ player was 155 game North Melbourne veteran Shannon Watt, that I should be very careful on him and good luck – just what I needed to know. Despite entering the second half shaking like a leaf the boys were too good all over the field especially in the middle with a freshly arrived Dave Oshea and skipper Dukesy all over the Chinese.
2013 – Jakarta Bintangs (69) def. Vietnam Swans (59)
The bubble burst! The Bintangs bought a tight, experienced touring squad and shocked us for our first loss at the Dog Track. We had plenty of great players in Vietnam at that time, but the Bintangs were simply more focused and cohesive. It showed us that the way players come in and out of Asian Footy clubs, the most important is to have an ongoing simple structure that blokes of all level can walk into, comprehend and function within. Very much what Rod and Jakey have been focused on in 2018.
2014 – Vietnam Swans (100) def. Malaysian Warriors (11)
From the outset this was a belting, led by Tra-vy ‘the Butcher’ Fallon. The first 2 clearances came forward with Trav taking the ball from contested scuffles and snapping amazing goals. It was going to be one of those days! Trav didn’t let up going on to kick about 6 and neither did any Swannie, pounding the Warriors into the Lord Mayors Oval dust. After the heartbreak in 2013, no-one could have seen this coming but it was a welcome drubbing of one of the highest-flying teams in Asia.
The Middleton Address that night was given by none other than AFL legend Alex Jesaulenko. Jezza praising how much Asian footy was like he remembered from his days unlike the modern, polished, heartless game played on the biggest stage in Australia each winter.
2015 – Vietnam Swans (90) def. Singapore Wombats (49)
2015 saw the 25th of April coincide with the Saturday game. What an honour to place a wreath at the Long Tan Cross, discuss the Battle of Long Tan and the entire war with survivors and then play some footy with your best mates! Once again the Swans were on a roll, the playing group getting out of their favorite bars and into the gym in the run into the 2015 Friendship Match against another team that everyone loves to beat, the then Asian Champ Singapore Wombats. Again we came out firing, Hanoi bringing their kicking boots down with Tommy Doer, Joe Vile, Grant Keys and Northern co-captain David Skowronski all kicking multiple majors.
2016 – Jakarta Bintangs (?) def. Vietnam Swans (?)
Not again! The Bintangs were invited back given they’d been the only team amongst Asia’s biggest opponents to knock us off. Surely they wouldn’t upset us on our biggest day of the season for a second time?! This time Dave Oshea was on the other side. With a limited touring squad the Bintangs went to work drafting the best players out of the Legends game getting themselves some rotations to play with. The game continually see-sawed but eventually the Bintangs prevailed after the Swans were too slow to adjust our strategy as Keysey kept getting picked off by the Bintangs CHB. Heart break again!
2017 – Vietnam Swans (?) def. Cambodian Eagles (??)
The Eagles had an amazing end to 2016, taking out an Indochina Cup we believe we should have won (after upsetting us in the pool game and knocking us out of the finals). They were heading to Vung Tau planning on inflicting another embarrassing upset and were always a danger. They even had our 4x best and fairest player Dukesy on the tour!
The game was hot and hard as always but slowly and surely we gained the ascendancy and maintained our composure in the last quarter when the Eagles snagged a few goals to close the margin. Jimmy Bairstow claimed another ANZAC Best On Ground for his tireless work through the middle and around the ground.
2018 – Vietnam Swans (66 & 48) def. Thailand Tigers (47 & 21)
In 2018 we returned to our ANZAC roots, taking on the Thailand Tigers who gave us the concept 10 years earlier. With ANZAC Day falling midweek it was decided to play a 2 leg series, first in Kanchanaburi and the second in Vung Tau. Anyone who knows Asian footy knows how hard it is to go and win on the road, add the insane temperatures of Kanchanaburi to this equation and the touring Swans for game 1 were up against it.
No-one told all that to our midfield though, with the Swans generating ample drive through the middle and Darcy Wilkosz able to control the air up forward. After half time our defense shut down the Tigers ability to score and Thai-born but Viet-based Reed Cathcart was everywhere. Dinh Anh took control of his wing and the Swans were able to pull away to an invaluable win.
The first match took its toll, and the Tigers returned to Vung Tau decimated by injury and lacking numbers. Several high profile Swans and reinforcements rung in from the Khmer Cobras were added to the Tigers squad, causing a hard fought battle that was only clinched late in the 4th quarter. Eventually the Swans were able to gain ascendency across the field started by our Hanoian on field leader Jake Norris who was in everything while Oscar Silk provided a marking target all day eventually scoring 3 goals which could have been far higher.
To win home and away around the ANZAC weekend was a new and amazing experience on top of what has become a great tradition of our club. We were able to take the momentum from these great games into the rest of our season and achieve one of our best ever seasons. Hopefully this form flows into 2019!
2019 – Vietnam Swans vs Indonesian Volcanoes
As the 2018 Asian Champs Indonesia came together (the Swans have previously played Jakarta on ANZAC Day) to take on the Swans on our home deck. For us, this was a massive thrill and give we’d set ourselves to win Division 2 in the Asian Champs in 2019 before stepping up to Division 1 this exposure to top flight Asian footy was exactly what the Swans were after. The game didn’t disappoint, we got off to a good start before Indonesia settled, playing a skillful and tough brand of football. We stayed in the game but our bench turned into an ER ward as several injuries to key players were suffered. Regardless heading into the last quarter the game was anyone’s to win. We took the lead and had chances to close it out before a last gasp forward foray by the Volcanoes ended with an after the siren shot for goal. The accurate set shot tied the scores! Our first ever tie in the 10th year vs the standing Asian Champs, wow!!! Tal (aka Libba), Oscar Silk and Tom Niit were huge offensive weapons all day enabling us to stay in a cracking game. The back line were huge in limiting the quality Indonesian attack especially Nath Milner rebounding all day.
Checkout the video higlights below and more great content from the day here…
Unfortunately in 2020 we didn’t get the chance to build on the legend of the ANZAC Friendship Match due to the Covid Pandemic but this will only increase the energy focused on 2021!
As always, Lest we forget, We will remember them!