Nell Cooper isn’t one to get ahead of herself. At 93, she admits it’s best not to.
But no sooner had her beloved South Melbourne Bloods — the Sydney Swans — clinched the preliminary from Collingwood to secure a grand final berth at the weekend than she was on the phone.
Not to family or friends — they could wait. Her priority was to secure an appointment at the local tattooist.
With the two Sydney Swans premierships — 2005 and 2012 — proudly inked on her right forearm, this AFL super fan is ready to roll up her sleeve one more time.
“I went with the right arm because that’s what I use to greet people and I’ve got it down to a fine art,” Nell said.
“I’ll do anything to publicise my Swannies.”
A foundation member of the Swans cheer squad Nell, who lives in a residential care facility in Melbourne’s north, attends every Swans game played in Victoria.
Through the years, her love for the game has seen her jet to almost every state in Australia.
“I know I’m probably not the oldest who barracks for them,” Nell said.
“But I think I’d be the oldest who still goes each week.”
A Bloods fan from the beginning
Her pathway to the Bloods was set early in life on account of her family’s connections with high-flying “Hall of Famer” Bob Pratt.
“My mum had five brothers and Bobby was a very good friend with all of them and was at our house a lot,” she said.
“So naturally I had to barrack for South Melbourne.”
Her own sons and daughters backed her obsession, parochial advocates for legends of the game like triple Brownlow medallist Bobby Skilton, Ron “Smokey” Clegg and Freddy Goldsmith.
These days, Nell has a soft spot for the likes of gun midfielder Chad Warner and has been known to hustle up to Buddy Franklin after a game.
“I’ve never known them to knock back anybody after a photo or a chat — that’s the kind of players they are.”
Before she shifted into care, her lounge room had been covered from floor to ceiling in Swans memorabilia
Now her room decor is a little more modest. But she hasn’t ruled out removing a family photo to make room for some additional club colour should the Swans claim the silverware this weekend.
“I certainly haven’t ruled it out,” Nell said.
The mother of five, grandmother of 13 and great grandmother of 14 says the love of the game was deeply embedded in their family and while not every member was a Swans devotee — this weekend they wouldn’t have a choice.
But if you think she’ll be watching from the comfort of an arm chair, politely cradling a cup of tea, think again.
Nell plans to be securely positioned in the back row of the cheer squad, bookended by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“You better believe I will be at the MCG,” she said. “Not a chance I would be anywhere else.”
AFL Fans’ Association president Cheryl Critchley said Nell represented what the game was all about.
“Fans like Nell are the lifeblood of footy and it’s heartening to see their excitement during grand final week,” she said.
“This is why we push so hard for more competing club members to access tickets. These supporters are passionate, incredibly loyal and add so much colour to the game.”
Benetas chief executive Sandra Hills said Nell was a much-loved member of the residential care community.
“We hope for Nell that the Swans will win this weekend,” she said.