The AFL recently announced Chris Swinburne as the Victorian winner of the AFL Volunteer of the Year Award for the tireless work she devotes as secretary for St John’s Old Collegians.
As the sole recipient from our volunteer-packed part of the country, Swinburne was awarded two AFL grand final tickets, three nights’ accommodation at the Mecure Hotel in Treasury Gardens and the opportunity to walk the grand final parade on the Friday prior to the blockbuster clash at the MCG.
Walking the renowned parade with her fellow state award winners and in front of 150,000 vocal fans was unlike anything Swinburne had ever encountered.
“I have never had such an awesome experience, the crowd was fantastic,” she said.
“So many people on the sidelines were clapping the volunteers and saying well done you’re fantastic you volunteers. So it was great to hear from them.”
A selfless, devoted and unassuming stalwart of the club, Swinburne’s victory is deserved recognition for the multitude of roles, jobs and activities she has undertaken in the seven years she has spent with St John’s.
Canteen coordinator, social club manager, cleaner, volunteer coordinator, reserves team manager and registrar are just a few of the titles attributed Swinburne in her tenure at the club.
Despite her arm’s length list of voluntary positions, and facetiously encouraging a few of the players to nominate her, Swinburne was still surprised she garnered the initial nomination.
“When I got the email from the league, from the VAFA, I jokingly said to a couple of the boys on a Thursday night ‘you know you should enter me in that,” she said.
“But they did. Three of them got together and wrote up what they did and sent it in.”
If the nomination was enough to shock the modest and kind-hearted club secretary, the news of victory blew her away.
“I was driving and I had to pull over,” Swinburne said.
“I just couldn’t believe it. It’s the usual, ‘are you serious?’ You know that sort of thing. I don’t know how many times I said ‘are you serious? Are you having me on?’
“I’m thinking it could’ve been one of the boys at the footy club having a joke – that sort of thing – but then they followed it up with another call from the AFL.”
St John’s could not hide their elation following the news of Swinburne’s win, thanking her publicly with a perfectly written appreciation post on the club’s Facebook page.
— Olivia Crowe (@Liv_Crowe) October 2, 2015
“It’s a credit to herself that she has now been recognised from AFL Victoria and people outside the club as we all know and appreciate how much she does for us,” the post read.
“Congratulations again Chris and we thank you for everything you do for the club!”
Unsurprisingly, the club holds a special place in Swinburne’s heart, with the boys who often refer to her as ‘mum’ or ‘mumsy’ making the time she spends with them worth every second.
“They’re my second family, that’s for sure,” she said.
“They’re a fantastic bunch of people and the players are a great bunch of guys. They’re my life now really.”
After seven years and countless hours, Swinburne would be forgiven for entertaining the idea of hanging up the boots after an illustrious career at Thomas Carroll Reserve.
“The family tell me every year I’ve got to give it away because there’s not much time for anything else,” she said.
“But I love doing it and it’s my choice to do it.”
Despite the victory, accompanying prizes and recognition attained as State Volunteer of the Year, it ranks as just the third greatest personal highlight during Swinburne’s time with St John’s.
“The 2011 premiership,” she said, referring to the club’s Division 2 grand final win against Glen Eira.
“And in 2013 when my son, Glenn, played over in Ireland. Going to watch him play was definitely my highlight.”
Trust Chris Swinburne to nominate the accomplishments of others above her own; a true selfless queen of the VAFA.