Adam Goodes’ emotional farewell to Sydney supporters on Saturday night will be the final chapter of one of the ugliest sagas in Australian football.
Goodes – a former Australian of the Year, dual Brownlow medallist and 372-game veteran – announced his retirement after the Swans’ semi-final loss to North Melbourne last September.
He did it quietly, in the rooms after the game, allowing fellow retiree Rhyce Shaw to be chaired off in what was also his final game.
Goodes turned down the AFL’s offer of a grand final lap of honour with the rest of the competition’s retiring champs.
This decision was probably, although it was never confirmed, prompted by the fact he was likely to be booed by supporters there – as he had been in most of his final games since he took exception to racial abuse he’d received from a teenage Collingwood supporter.
There was the chance to farewell Goodes at the Round 1 blockbuster against Collingwood, but that fixture – against the side that proudly boasts the most vociferous supporters in the league – was deemed not suitable.
The official reason given for avoiding the Collingwood game was because it was set for ANZ Stadium, rather than the Swans’ spiritual home of the SCG.
But when it was announced in February that the Collingwood game would be switched to the SCG, there was more than enough time to give Goodes a send-off against the biggest club in the league.
However, no change was made.
So now Goodes’ farewell will be relegated to a ‘Battle of the Bridge’, a clash with the Swans’ ‘bitter rivals’ Greater Western Sydney – a new club with few supporters and even less history.
Sure, the AFL will spin it as a big game – and GWS have started the season well, to be fair.
But footy supporters know the match, for now at least, is chicken feed, and Goodes deserves better.
This is a two-time Brownlow Medallist, dual premiership winner – one of the top handful of players of the past 20 years.
In an interview this week, the AFL’s greatest goalkicker, Tony Lockett, said he couldn’t understand why Goodes got booed.
The reason, Tony, is that you don’t have to pass an intelligence or sensitivity test before you’re allowed admittance to a football ground.
Part of going to the footy is that you could find yourself sitting next to someone who, for reasons unknown, doesn’t like Indigenous people.
In singling out the Collingwood supporter who called him an “ape” in 2013, Goodes put a target on his back – and did more than anyone else to highlight just how far Australia has to go to address its horrific past and its turbulent present.
He did so because it was time.
Seemingly exhausted by his poor treatment by opposition fans last season, Goodes unleashed an indigenous war dance in their direction while celebrating a goal during the Swans’ victory over Carlton.
And the crowds became even more vicious.
In 2014, he was named Australian of the Year – a decision not of his own making but one that, incredibly, drew even more criticism his way.
In his acceptance speech, Goodes made an impassioned call for equality.
“The ultimate reward is when all Australians see each other as equals and treat each other as equals,” he said.
“To me, everything is about people and the choices we make. I believe it’s the people and the interactions between us that makes this country so special.”
So when you watch Adam Goodes embark on his final lap of the SCG, don’t just remember the high marks, the brilliant goals or the two flags.
Remember Goodes’ actions off the park as well, the work he has done to improve the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
And remember the boos from the small minds, for a man who simply wanted to make Australia a better, more tolerant society.