Footy Un/certainty

A couple of weeks ago, Friday night football hosted Collingwood and Richmond. As the first half drew to a close, the Pies up by some 8 goals, the ABC’s David Parkin lamented the unevenness of the match. He wasn’t having fun anymore: ‘The joy of any contest surely comes from the uncertainty.’

*

On the last day of the school holidays, the Cygnet and I headed to the park for a game. It’s a miss-match: the loose kick of Mum vs the contested style of the Cygnet. It was close to midday by the time we arrived.

We kicked out in the expanses. A nearby student wore the red sash of a Bomber’s guernsey – remarkable up here, north of the border. The first quarter was played in sweltering conditions. We retreated to the shade of an enormous fig tree. The Cygnet worked the tree into our match, running quick step between the buttress roots, dodging and evading the aerial roots, slotting his drop punts over some of the low hanging branches. The Bomber looked up at intervals. With an almighty roost for goal, the Cygnet sent the ball flying high, high … too high. Our Sherrin was stuck up a tree.

The tree mulch didn’t cut it. We couldn’t find a stick. And I couldn’t shake this tree. Nothing would dislodge that ball. I took off my shoe. Repeatedly I hurled the shoe. I noticed the opposition giggling. We squealed as it wobbled, anticipating its fall. And when it did fall, it landed right in the Cygnet’s hands. Great mark!

On we went. My skills were improving, the Cygnet was working up quite a sweat. He kicked, I chased. He dished off the look-away handpass. I chased. It was just our regular game. Until the Cygnet kicked another one high into the branches. Much higher this time. I wasn’t sure if I could get my shoe that high. With a couple of full-bodied pitches, the shoe ended up in the tree too. I had a vision of myself hobbling home, sans Sherrin, sans sandshoe.

The Cygnet’s face was blank. He didn’t know whether it was funny or a problem.

We found a stick. Shoe came first (we have at least 5 more footies). Each wobble brought a sniff. The anticipation built. A shift in the wrong direction and the laces could snag that sneaker even further. Over and over I re-launched the stick; Mum versus the tree. The Cygnet provided commentary. I was gaining momentum. The Bomber sat up to attention. And then … the footy fell. I hadn’t aimed a single throw at the footy. The Cygnet ran laps of glee while I continued on the shoe. And when the shoe finally came down, the Cygnet pounced on it. ‘Loose ball,’ he yelled and I screamed at him not to kick it. We rolled in the grass with relief. I half expected the Bomber to applaud. All three of us were smiling.

‘Well the moral of that story is, don’t play footy under a tree.’ That’s what I told the Cygnet anyway. But the fact was, that we hadn’t played such a joyous game all holidays. And we both knew it.

*

By last Friday, I didn’t know what day it was.

With the previous weekend stretching from Friday to Tuesday, a school week that started on Thursday and ended a day later, we were now heading out to the SCG for … Friday night footy?

We settled into our seats, our jean cuffs wet from the treacherous rain, our Records tucked under our coats. I felt disoriented. Where were Parkin, Whateley and Schwab? He may not have been on the airwaves, but Parko was on my mind: ‘Surely the joy of any contest is in the uncertainty.’ I wriggled in my seat.

Pyke was in the side. Who was out? Mumford? No, he was there. White? No, he’d been kicking behinds in the warm-up. Kennelly? Was Kennelly actually back? Yep. That was him, bald and taped, readjusting his knee. At least four sets of binoculars were trained on the field until the call came from Row T 54 seconds into the first term. ‘Grundy. It’s Grundy.’

Uncertainty in footy works both ways. Swans supporters of the past half-decade have been spoiled by the team’s capacity to re-write an apparently disastrous foregone conclusion with only minutes on the clock. But the uncertainty that is the essence of that joy can be the same uncertainty that frays nerves and ends badly.

It was a night for that edge.

Conditions were bad; the pill was slippery. But the Bloods handled it well. Running was hard. Tackling was fierce. The shortest man on the field took a hanger. Moore to McGlynn. It was a night for the small men, that was certain. Jetta, Goodes, McVeigh and Jack all had their soccer skills on show, off the ground, into goal, on the full – the Maradonas of footy. The dual Brownlow medallist – the one in the red and white – was everywhere in the second quarter. We were calling him ‘Wormhole’ for a while there.

By half time, White had dropped a sitter in the square and missed the second effort. Goodes missed from directly in front. Jack limped off with an ankle and the margin was only 15. The fortress didn’t feel so certain. The flags were still flying over the Members stand, but they were starting to look drenched and weary.

Any seasoned footy lover knows it well: uncertainty is a given in footy. A game is a cardiograph. That Friday night two weeks ago, Richmond answered David Parkin’s disappointment with six straight goals and cut a whopping margin to just 26 points. We sat through half time on the edge of our seats.

Siren. O’Keefe ran to Judd and the dual Brownlow medallist – the one in the navy blue – ran rampant. Nothing was more certain than his feet on the ground and his hands on the ball. I wanted to throw my shoe at him. Betts scored. The marks stuck in the baskets of the Blues. Betts scored. The Sydney tackles slipped. Betts scored. And then, a free kick and 50 metre penalty for (we can now put it in quotations) ‘an interchange infringement’ put the Blues in front of goal. Were they sure? Surely not? O’hAilpin scored. He wasn’t even supposed to be playing. And what was wrong with Grundy anyway? Certainty unravelled to a one point deficit by the end of the third quarter.

The rain came again. The whiskey came out. And we rationalised. The footy Gods would look after things. Jetta hit the post. We had the hoodoo on side – 18 years! Garlett scored. The Swans weren’t natural front runners. Now comfortably 7 points behind, a win looked far more likely. White  – the navy blue one – scored. A non-regular beside me urged, ‘They can still do it. Chins up, Swannies.’ Garlett scored. But the Bloods are the champions of delivering the unexpected victory, the one much longed for but by no means certain. Walker scored. Parko probably wasn’t enjoying it anymore either.

By the time McGlynn kicked his fourth, it became clear to me that they couldn’t do it, those Bloods. The margin went too high and a win wouldn’t drop from this tree. The lead at the half was the deficit at the end.

*

Parkin’s right. Nothing is more joyous than watching a close contest. And it’s a season for it. But it’s an awful lot easier when it’s someone else’s team. And if it’s your own team, it’s easier (at least retrospectively) when it ends in a win. If I’d been limping home from Mum vs The Cygnet without a ball or a shoe, I doubt the joy of that sunny day would have lasted for the rest of the week.

As it is, we pick ourselves up and head off to Canberra. I wouldn’t mind riding the coat-tails of a team which thrashed an opposition by 50. Just for a week or two. I wouldn’t mind a win of 100+ points. When do we play the Suns at home? And even then …

The only thing I’m certain of this weekend is that a Coach Scott will get a win and a Coach Scott will suffer a loss. But I’m not sure which will be which.

About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O’Reilly stand with ‘the boys’, flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a twelve year old Cygnet.

Comments

  1. Neil Belford says:

    Ah the joys of having a Cygnet. Beautiful.

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