Round 3 – Sydney v Collingwood: Swan Lake
Waking on Saturday morning, there are only a few tiny clouds circling the immense camphor laurel outside our window. It’s sunny in Sydney, just past 7 o’clock, first day of school holidays, no urgency … but that hypnopompic gentleness is broken by the nag of something not right. And the mind scrambles backwards for the root of the cause, and Saturday morning comes into focus as the thing that follows Friday night and Friday night … we lost. By the threadbare margin of 1.
It’s a disproportionate disappointment we feel, isn’t it?
I bought us a new phone last Wednesday. Ours had been struck by Sydney’s volatile summer weather, a crack of thunder so loud I woke to a right angle in bed. The Cob saw the full blue light in the lane beside our living room.
I plugged the phone in and handed it to the Cygnet. He tried each of the 40 ringtone options and settled on a rather pompous digital classic.
‘Swan Lake!’ yelled the Cob from the back of the house.
‘Perfect!’ I said, ‘for Lance!’
I threw out the packaging and began preparations for dinner. Until I poked my head gingerly around the Cob’s study door: ‘Doesn’t the beautiful Swan die in Swan Lake?’
On Thursday, the Cygnet and I watched Marngrook in anticipation of an interview with the 250 gamer, and just as Lance’s smiling face hit the screen, the phone rang Tchaikovsky’s famous motif. Lance’s face. Swan Lake. The two things clanged like cymbals.
‘Perhaps we should change the ringtone,’ I suggested. ‘The Swan dies in the end, darling!’
‘Oh Mum, you don’t really believe in that stuff …’
The coffee machine is my first companion on Saturday morning. In the motions of brewing solace, I can see the dropped mark that began the 4th quarter, the drop but then the free and the goal to Reid. I can see the tightrope ‘play on!’ against Jones, the ensuing swerve of Varcoe. I can see the 20/20 vision of brother Sam on Ben, the beautiful 1,2 from Florent, through Buddy to Hayward for 6. I can see the miss from Fasolo. The miss from Jesse. I can feel the kinetics of Buddy’s knee high pass to Florent for a 1 point deficit. And as the heat builds in the milk jug, I can feel newbie Dawon’s point to level, Captain K’s point to edge us ahead. I can hear Gwen in Row T yelling: ‘C’mon Swans, use it!’ (Gwen rarely yells.) Will Hoskin-Bloody-Elliot slots. But I can see Lance’s pressing assist to Newman for points. And a mark from Ollie on 50 and just ahead, Lance again, screaming for it inside, wings at full span open to a fairytale. But Ollie doesn’t see him. There it is, fading from view, the kick to Lloyd and the flick to Dan and …
Home from the SCG on Friday night, the Cygnet tucked in bed, still in my scarf, I had parked myself on the floor against the couch with Thins chips and verbena tea. I wanted to check that last quarter, as if by checking it, I could change it. But they couldn’t use it. None of their efforts could tip the score. They couldn’t make the moment what it might have been for Lance.
Lance Buddy Franklin appeared during Sydney’s 2005 premiership season. He debuted in Round 1 on the SCG, against Sydney. I remember noting the beautiful West Australian kid playing for Hawthorn, the kid all arms and legs like a mantis you would pray for. Hawthorn were bottom dwellers and lovable then.
There was something in the way he moved, like he worked on glide and sweep. He defied the brute physicality of players around him. And yet he was all physics. But I didn’t know what he could do back then. I didn’t understand. I was newish to the game myself. I watched Buddy for sheer incomprehensible pleasure. And I watched him grow into strut and champ, into the history books. And I grew to understand the unlikeliness of what he does.
The shock of his move to Sydney came with wonder. He would be on our side! I decided to call him Lance from the beginning, a clean break from Hawthorn’s Buddy. It took Sydney a time, I think, to find the right tension for Lance, to loosen the Bloods reins enough to let him fully claim the track. But now the arc of our little netball oval is truly his workplace, our pocket his pocket. We see him week to week, know him in a possessive embrace, ensured for the years ahead.
It’s a disproportionate custody we feel.
As I finish that first Saturday morning coffee in the northern sun that drenches our dining table, I see Lance’s face as he leaves the field, twitching with disappointment. I see all the first quarter free kicks to Collingwood that had nothing to do with umpires. I see Reid’s diabolical handball when he should have had the shot. Over and over again it loops to nothing. I can hear myself asking O’Reilly Max: ‘Do you think they all have glandular fever?’
‘Of the spirit,’ he replies.
We want to believe that it’s possible for our team to get up and going every week forever, even though we know it isn’t. We want them to exceed the human median. When they match it, it’s uncomfortable. ‘Cause we seek elevation and magic in football, the same magic that promotes our ringtone into some kind of Godly apparatus and elevates the disparate elements of our everyday lives into an oracle of balletic proportion. We want to believe in that stuff! The disappointment comes when our team looks unremarkable. We love that our players are human but we crave for them not to be. Perhaps that’s what Lance needed time to reconcile in the finals series of 2015.
Saturday segues into Sunday and the should-haves and could-haves are dimming but not out. I realise the condemned Swan is me. I have a choice as we face 0-4 or 1-3. Accept this fate of being a Swan forever or throw myself in the lake.