Sydenham Swans Determined To Fight On
Sydenham Swans haven’t had a team in the Massetti Cup for a decade, but the Canterbury Rugby League foundation club’s determination to survive and prosper remains as strong as ever.
And fittingly, a former Swans great is leading the open-ended fight for a return to the glory days.
Second-term president David Field is a Sydenham stalwart, kicking a goal in the club’s 15-2 loss to Hornby in the 1983 grand final. Field started out with Papanui, but describes his move to the Swans at the age of 24 as “the best thing I ever did”.
The five-eighth also holds an esteemed place in the club’s narrative as a Canterbury captain and a New Zealand representative, touring Australia with the 1982 Kiwis alongside luminaries such as Mark Graham, Graeme West, Olsen Filipaina, James Leuluai and Mark Broadhurst. He led his province in 15 of 33 appearances.
But the days of premier grand finals and Kiwi reps are a distant memory for the Swans, who are in the midst of one of the most challenging periods in their history.
“It’s a real struggle at the moment, we’ve basically had to go back to scratch,” said Field, the first two-time winner of the Canterbury ‘Sportsman of the Year’ award.
“Since (we’ve been out of) the premiers, the club has gone into decline and the numbers have fallen away.
“A lot of the past members want their kids at a club with premier status.”
Sydenham won the first six CRL Championships (1913-15 and 1917-19) and has 16 titles to its name – second only to Hornby – while the club featured in premier grand finals in 1978, 1980, 1983 and 1992. Names such as Jock Butterfield, Trevor Kilkelly, Shane Endacott and David Vaealiki have donned the blue, white and red jumper.
Currently, the Swans field teams in the Division One and Presidents grades, along with three junior teams. Like many clubs, they were hit hard during the earthquakes, ultimately losing their clubrooms.
But Field’s steely resolve to build the club back up is palpable.
“It is a struggle for us but I think it’s just a matter of going back to the basics,” he said.
“Losing our clubrooms was a huge loss, because at the moment we don’t have a permanent home.
“We stayed in the club for about a year but it was unsafe and it was the right call by the trustees and committee to vacate it. To repair all the damage it just wasn’t viable, so we were better off to sell up.”
While re-entering the Massetti Cup is the ultimate goal, Field says the Swans are pouring their energy primarily into bolstering their junior ranks as a means to achieving long-term stability.
“The realistic thing is we have to focus on the juniors. We have to rebuild right from scratch, and we may not make the premiers again for 10-odd years. But you’ve got to have that goal to go there, you’ve got to have somewhere to strive to get to.
“We’ve gone from four years ago having one (junior) team, to now three and almost four – we just can’t get the extra few numbers to make up a fourth team.”
Sydenham are relying on ex-rugby union players keen to give league a crack, along with people who have never played competitive football at all, to fill their senior line-ups.
“The last couple of years we’ve really struggled for (senior) numbers, and it’s a shame too because there’s a lot of players out there who just aren’t playing for one reason for another,” Field said.
The Division One side has shown steady improvement this season, opening with a 74-0 loss to Burnham before producing more respectable performances in defeats to Hornby (32-18) and Marist (44-6).
The president spoke in glowing terms of the players who are fronting up for the Swans, along with the club’s hardy band of volunteers.
“It’s hard work but we do have good people with good hearts. We’ve got a mixture of experience – it’s a bit more inexperience rather than top-heavy.
“Every club will say they’ve got great people, but we really do have people with good hearts. Some of them have got no experience whatsoever, but their enthusiasm is catchy.”
Field offered a call to arms for more people to get involved with the Swans’ recovery.
“We’ve got a legacy we have to try and build on,” he said.
“There’s so many people that have put so much into this club. We’re 104 years old, so it’s been through some tough times and we’re going through a tough time now, but we’re going to survive.
“Members who have put many years into the club, if you’re not doing anything, put your hand up and come back and help us rebuild.”
The Latin proverb on Sydenham’s emblem – Factis Non Verbis, meaning ‘by deeds not words’ – is an apt motto for the hardworking Swans to continue to live by.
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE