Getting to Know You

A few weeks ago, I streamed the Sydney Swans Guernsey presentation. In twelve years of membership, I have never attended or watched a Guernsey presentation. I have been content with skimming the captain’s speech the morning after and stealing away a quote or two for the parenthood file. But this year, I watched it live, from start to finish. I was working on something that needed accompaniment. I was knitting the final few stripes of a red and white scarf for my godson. It felt like Christmas eve, the boys being wrapped up in their red and white, me finishing a gift ‘til the wee hours.

My 8 year old godson moved from Sydney to Melbourne last year. J was born and raised in Balmain under the regime of his father, a Wests Tigers Cyclops.
‘You’re going to have to pick a team,’ I told him before their departure. His full lips smiled in innocence.
‘Well he won’t be going for the Storm.’ That’s all the help his father gave him.
‘He’ll have to have a team,’ I urged his mother, whose interest in football cannot even be sparked by deltoids. ‘It’s got to be Sydney,’ I urged, trying to load my suggestion with a ‘this is the way you do things in my code’ authority.

There’s a great responsibility in passing on the code. I never had it taught to me. I was a Sydney kid, the youngest of two daughters, born to a Frenchman, a proxy son raised on European soccer and West Indian cricket. I assume that footy is like a foreign language; learning it unaware in childhood is a far more fluid process than tackling it as an adult. Children learn intuitively, adults learn with effort.

I almost failed in my own backyard. The Cygnet celebrated his first birthday on the day of the Swans’ winning grand final. The two year old Cygnet was rewarded with attendance at the losing grand final. The Sunday after the big game, he stood on his stool at the breakfast table and pointed at the sports pages.
‘Who are the blue and yellow ones?’
‘The Eagles. They’re the Eagles,’ I replied. ‘They won. But we don’t go for them.’
‘I do.’ He was born emphatic. He climbed from his stool and called himself an Eaglet for almost three years. Dad encouraged his freedom to choose with navy and yellow socks from a work trip to the west and the club song on YouTube. I feigned acceptance, hoping it would pass. He flirted with the Bombers for a moment too, his grandfather’s team. I called him the Bomblet – a cluster bomb component designed to cause serious, widespread destruction.

‘Merchandise,’ said a wise friend. ‘Get him merchandise.’ I bought him a Barry Hall badge.

But it wasn’t until he joined the Newtown Swans Under 6s that the conversion was finally achieved. Each Saturday morning, he pulled the number 16 jersey over his head and called himself Gary Rohan.

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Children are naturally equipped for team barracking. The seven year old Cygnet uses all sorts of tribes – real and imaginary – to make sense of his world. This year, grade 2 is obsessed with Star Wars. Without any previous exposure, in one short term the Cygnet has gotten to know all the characters. And I mean all of them. He knows if they are good or bad, what planet they come from, what they wear, what skills they have, what weapons they carry, what apparatus they drive, which episodes they play in, whether they survive and if they have ever been elevated to LEGO minifigure status.

But it’s not enough to have one tribe. You need a second, a kind of metaphoric net for your first. Recently it’s been Canimals – a collection of can-bound animal creatures who get up to mischief while the humans of their house are out and about. I’ve watched the Cygnet simply jump on board: learn the names and strengths of the members, pick a favourite, get your friends on board, watch them on TV and beg for a bit of merchandise. Does it remind you of anything?

Motherhood often involves living with a most unlikely confluence of things, things which stretch my own understanding of what is going on around me. The cross fertilisation between our children’s lives, they ways they live their passions, and our own, is possibly the greatest unspoken joy of parenthood. Perhaps it was the Cygnet’s recent dual tribalism which prepared me best for Round 1.

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The build up for the Sydney Derby was genuinely big. Has the Sydney Town Hall threshold ever before been guarded by a giant, inflatable Sherrin?

On the Saturday night, we snaked west in three lanes of traffic. It was after 6pm and 23 degrees. We played at spotting supporters in the adjacent vehicles. Everything was territory that night, even the helium balloons of the car yards on Parramatta Road. ‘Nissan goes for the Swans!’ remarked the Cygnet.

As we wound our way around the stadium by foot, we saw the first groups of those orange caps. I got a shiver down my spine. It was just like Christmas morning, unwrapping the gift you knew you had coming, but didn’t quite believe you’d get. ‘A rival, I got a rival!’ The teams stood face to face for the anthem. I pulled my scarf tighter around my neck at the first bounce. ‘Guess we can’t call out “C’mon Sydney” now.’

The night itself felt a little surreal. It may have had something to do with the stand alone status; our Round 1 did feel a bit like being in the remedial group, forced to start early. But throughout the night, we pieced this new tribe together. The grown ups passed the Record up and down, while the kids got started on nicknames: Number 2, Curtly Hampton shall be henceforth known as Curly. Hoskin-Elliot is just another hyphenator. You can imagine what they did with Bugg.

And on the other side of the stadium, the newly faithful orange were going through the same thing, passing the Record up and down, looking for the big dollar recruits, calling for Folau, picking a favourite, watching them on the screen and splashing out on a bit of merchandise. All the while they clutched their ‘other team’ jerseys – royal blue and white striped, golden sashed or navy hooped – against their plastic beer cups, sookies for the night, a safety net from which they were going exploring elsewhere.

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Last weekend, the Cygnet played his first game for the Newtown Swans Under 8s. They’ve got a new coach and new team jerseys. On the grass at Moore Park last Saturday morning, he was presented with a new number – the number 29. I love Mattner. The quiet achiever with the long left foot kick off half back (not to mention the deltoids). At training tonight, the coach, a self proclaimed Swans supporter, showed up in a Giants cap.

And J’s scarf is almost finished. Like all knitting projects, it’s behind schedule. But his mother assures me he’s holding firm on the Swans.

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. Rick Kane says:

    Thank you Mathilde for a finely spun story (almost an allegory) of allegiance, both new and old and the tumbling, chaotic, joyous inner world of parenting. More than whatever team the young ‘uns barrack for in the end, I hope they continue to see the beauty of God’s own game.

  2. Beautiful and enlightening

  3. Richard Naco says:

    Lovely story. As one who has adopted the “newly faithfull orange” “on the other side of the stadium” as my local team (the Cats will always be the home team of my heart), I loved the atmosphere of that game, and the promise it gives for a wonderful sense of occasion that will mark future clashes between the two Sydney clubs.

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