There were absolute scenes on Friday night at the SCG when Sydney defeated Geelong in front of more than 35,000 fans. But, the big story of the night was Lance Franklin kicking four goals; his last of which was his 1000th career goal – an achievement that’ll probably never happen again in the AFL.
Thousands of fans streamed onto the ground so prematurely that many of them were pretty much hugging Buddy while the ball was still in the air. While Franklin made his way through the throngs of fans hugging him, patting him on the head and almost certainly kick-starting a new variant, one lucky fan was in the stands enjoying the spoils of his own athleticism.
As the ball sailed through for the historic goal, Alex Wheeler, a Swans fan sitting in the stands, flung himself forward over a couple of rows and took one of the marks of the year.
“When Buddy marked the ball he was about 10 [metres] inside the 50. I did a bit of quick maths and realised I’m probably 10 or 15 from the fence, so I thought [I was a] really, really big chance,” he told media today. “I almost felt like I was the only guy throwing the paw out to get it. Just unbelievable that I had the chance to have a crack at it, it just landed in the paw and the rest is history.
Today, Wheeler met with Buddy to return the ball in front of a throng of cameras, at the very same spot on the SCG oval from where Buddy kicked the goal (before he became ground zero of the world’s largest super spreader event).
“It was always my intention to get it back to the Swans and to Buddy. It’s going to be no good to me, I don’t have a pool room to put it up in, unfortunately. It was good to get in contact with the Swans and get it back to them,” Wheeler told reporters.
Wheeler was thanked by the club for returning the ball with a pair of boots and Swans jumper signed by Franklin, as well as a couple of five-year club memberships. Of course, if he wins the Mark of the Year competition at the end of the season, he could also walk away with a Toyota (though it would be the first time a fan has won the competition, probably because the rules make that impossible).
And the great man was appreciative too. “It’s nice of Alex to give the ball back. It was a really special night and to receive the ball back means the world to me,” Franklin said. “I haven’t had too much time to reflect on it just yet but obviously it was a significant moment. I absolutely loved it.
It’s a beautiful story with a nice, happy ending for all. But, I’ll tell you this, if this writer catches the ball that goes through the posts for Buddy’s 1001st goal this Thursday at Marvel Stadium, you better believe I’ll be keeping it.