2014 Finals Diary: when time steps out of its regular gait

The fans on the ad barrack confidently, bedecked in colours, arms raised, fists pumped, animated with all the slow motion intensity of digital editing. Browny calls the score with an overwrought performance: Don’t go quietly. He tells me they’ll take inspiration, passion and energy from me being there. He tells me to leave nothing in reserve. He tells me to go so there’s no mistaking my allegiance. He tells me that they can’t hear me from home.


Week 1

I wake on Saturday to rain in Sydney. The heritage bricks of my suburban footpath are oozing weeds and moss. We haven’t worn crisp clothes for weeks. The Cygnet has taken up cricket for the summer and the Under 12 players’ welcome is supposed to be on this morning with coaches and whites and sausages in the park. I lie in bed, throat sore, dry cough; too early to disembark. Would love a long morning in bed.

I flip the iPad to swans.com and the Cob and I watch a host of things on Swans TV just to hold the day at bay. Dew and Davis head to head, replicating three of Buddy’s best goals. When in doubt, the clowns. Then The Barrel: O’Loughlin and Lewie hosted by Bolton, all three around a barrel somewhere deep in the members’ bar – the elders of the club talking finals footy. Authority and calm, nerve Spackfilla from those who have been there, for those who simply watch on. Maybe I’m too sick to go this arvo.

Each year I try to feel the joy of finals, the renewal of September, the luck bestowed on us by supporters of teams not so lucky. But each year I feel unease, heading in. What if a season’s worth of strength and self possession was all a ruse and the reality of finals strips us bare. What if a catastrophic domino train of injuries is about to befall the boys on the eve of the biggest game? Valiantly they will make it but destiny will have signed the cheque for the other party. What if they just don’t show up? I want to slink under the doona for the day, check the scores later on, watch a replay only from the nest of knowing.

The rain does not abate. The Cob heads off to a morning’s work. The cricket is cancelled. There’s time to make a birthday cake for sister-in-law, do the washing and hang it on the door frames, seek out the scarves and the binoculars, fry an egg for lunch. Until it can’t be put off any longer and the Cygnet and I are in the car on the long road out to Homebush. I suggest parlour games. He opts for the Klutz Encyclopaedia of Immaturity.

Sister-in-law has bought the tickets for this first final –presents for all of our spring birthdays. Tickets in the pocket, a view we never have; we sit dead centre all season. The Cygnet and I arrive as the play siren sounds and the midfield gives its hands a final collective rub. It’s all new from this angle and it takes a while to reorient. Swans are kicking away from us and we hope for little action in the first.

It’s not only the view that’s unfamiliar. None of the Blood ‘family’ are there; no Gwen with her monotone calm and raised finger; no Connie with her frantic pessimism; no O’Reilly Max with his whiskey and his extra curricular commentary. There’s a lone woman in a scarf and headphones beside me, South African it turns out, introduced to AFL some five years ago by a Sri Lankan friend. She barracks beyond her years. There’s a family of four in front, parents book-ending two disinterested kids, the demolition of the Drumsticks as interesting to the smalls as the defensive pressure is to the olds. They’re all dressed in red and white.

O’Reilly Max calls in the first break. He’s in the opposite pocket, watching us through his binoculars. I wave to no-one in particular and he assures me that Swans are looking the much better team and the scoreboard will come.

I can’t report on the game. The game was a kind of breath-holding exercise. I never got past that feeling of wanting to hide until I knew which way it was going. ‘Bracing’ was the nose, the palate and the aftertaste. It occurred to me later on that sitting on the 50 arc in a final means it’s all or nothing, disaster or elation, you don’t get any of the down time of the link play through the middle. You’re on, or they are.

Browny’s right about allegiance. It brings indefinable things. It brings the butterflies that I didn’t have on Friday night when the Cats were chasing the Hawks. It brings instant, tender solidarity. The unison call of thank you as Rohan gets a free. A slice of birthday cake offered to my South African friend at half time, to have with her thermos of tea.

Of course, there is one moment that stands out. One slow motion moment, as charged as that ad, when time steps out of its regular gait and Lance arcs a kick from the impossible angle. O’Reilly Max watches it depart and we watch it approach. Perfectly off course. And then perfectly turning. I never shared a name with my South African friend, but we hold each other’s unfamiliar hands as Bay 116 collectively rises. A fella two rows down turns to the Cob and confesses: I don’t even go for you guys but that’s one of the best goals I’ve ever seen. There’s no mistaking – you can’t see that from home.


Week 2

The exhalation of a preliminary berth. I go to see the baristas D and J at the coffee shop on Friday. I want to congratulate J on North’s Elimination victory. I want to tell him that I’ve tipped the Roos. I want to assure him that I truly think they can do it.

D is behind the machine. With one of the girls.

How’s our North Melbourne supporter holding up? I ask.

Good, good, I saw him yesterday.

I think they can do it, I offer.

So does he.

J is in Melbourne. He’s gone down the week before and repeated the dose for the semi. I take my coffee and D and I share quips about a peaceful weekend.

The Cob, the Cygnet and I head south that night. The Frenchman and his Countess are off to France on Wednesday and we want to say goodbye over a cheese platter, a selection of Pinots and a few quiet moments picking citrus and violets, flying paper airplanes off the deck and looking out at night skies you can actually see.

We find the coverage on the highway, somewhere just short of the National Park. Gerard Whateley is brave. Professional that he is, I can hear the clipped unease in his call. Roos get off to a blinder. Thomas and run and goal after goal. We barrack only for our tips – the Cob and I on the royal blue, the Cygnet with the navy. We barrack for an allegiance which has been tested for a long time without significant reward (although I suspect they half love that, those Shinboners). We barrack for a brother’s right to stick the finger and for a (possible) changing of the guard and for the freedom to feel unaffected. We barrack until we lose the frequency, somewhere just out of Wollongong.

When we arrive at the top of the hill somewhere out of Berry, we find the Frenchman installed in front of the half time coverage. He’s still trying to love the game, to decipher it, understand it and care. We accompany him on the second half ; he is delighted by the see-saw but repelled by the spirit. A Frenchman shy of attitudinal biff?

But it’s a different story on the Saturday. I sit at his feet like the small daughter I was, taking him through the play. The out on-the-full, the holding the ball, the man-on-man and the zone. The captain of one team, the star of the other. The indigenous brilliance on show. I dissect free kicks and kick-ins, interchange and subs, vests and runners, hit-outs, clearances, disposals, bananas … You know, I sought zere were no rules, he giggles.

I could see him falling for something, his engineer’s mind putting the calculations together, something was being built inside of him. My only concern was that it is teal and black. You know, he told the Cygnet over croissants on Sunday morning. I really enjoyed ze game last night. Your mum as taught me er lot. Really, it was ze best game I ave ever seen. The Cygnet didn’t say much. He had tipped the Dockers.


Week 3

I went to see D and J today. I haven’t seen J since the finals began. D was behind the machine. With one of the girls.

So, it’s the battle of the baristas this week, I began.

That’s cute, replied D.

We pottered through a conversation about whether to go, ticket prices and barcodes, booking times, Homebush versus the SCG. He delivered me a coffee and I took it harbourside. Sydney was perfect today. Blue skies sponged with the lightest cloud. Spring sun.

It occurred to me, allegiance is not as much fun when it has no opposition. I missed J. I hadn’t seen him all finals. There was no tension in mutual back patting. I found out later that arvo from a colleague that he’s not working there anymore. D never said anything. It was almost as if he too needed to hold him there, a phantom banter mate to play with.

I’m ready for that hit of finals again, that edge to walk. I may well be in my living room this week; Homebush is far from my favourite place on a Friday night. It’s my birthday and I’m leaning towards a great red, a French cake and my two boys. A highway of messages between friends and the gift of a win. Those Bloods might just hear me from home.

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 thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. Gentle and elegant reflections as always, Mathilde.
    I often think we define ourselves by what we are not; not who we are. It is some sort of process of exclusion. All season I feel that there is some sort of crazy adversarial Roadrunner V Coyote game going on between me and Zampatti and Gorman (as the Eagles V Dockers main representatives on the site).
    Things get a bit cutting and aggressive at times. But its all bullshit and banter isn’t it? Creating a straw man, to tear down later. Is it the same for them, or are they really single minded zealots that they appear on the page?
    I think of ringing them to catch up for a chat, but that would somehow destroy the mystery and magic.
    I loved that in the end of season reflectiveness as we go off to lick our wounds and disappointments, all 3 of us lower our barriers for a minute and let a little of the doubt and insecurity become visible.
    Then put the warrior paint back on for next season (or in your fortunate case – next week).

  2. Blue skies sponged with the lightest cloud.

    Sponged: in the running for Almanac Verb of the Year.

    Intentionally passive, M de H? In your hands I’d say so. Makes the action gentler.

  3. Mark Duffett says

    I think I want the Swans to win the flag, if only so I can read this lady writing about it. And because it would mean Port haven’t.

  4. Beautiful Mathilde. Those of us out of the finals are jealous of those left, even though your agony during this weekend’s exchanges will be excruciating.

    Be sure to watch the game in English because “BALL!!!” has a much better ring than “BALLE!!!”

  5. G’day Mathilde, I have colourful, moving and perfectly formed images dancing in front of me as I read this.
    Superb post.
    “And then perfectly turning. I never shared a name with my South African friend, but we hold each other’s unfamiliar hands as Bay 116 collectively rises.”

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thanks fellas for kind words.
    Peter – just let the doubt age beautifully over summer, d’accord? And the mystery and magic must stay barrelled.
    JTH – Almanac Verb of the Year. Now there’s a trophy I’d fight for. I’d leave nothing out on the field. Passively …
    Mark – My fingers are poised over the keys …
    Dips – I remember watching France play a Euro Cup match in 2000 from a Damascus hotel room. Best commentary ever. Arabic.
    Je vous en prie Monsieur E.Regnans.

  7. Lovely reading Mathilde, in fact perfect reading as I sit in a beachside cafe (first day of school holidays) with only two day old local newspapers about to read….. Nothing worse than a stale newspaper..
    I’ve escaped the crisp melbourne air for a week of tropical air. Not the best week to be out of Melbourne as the footy atmosphere is always palpable. It is noticeably absent in my current location.

  8. Love your stuff!! Also pleasing to know that it comes from the feminine side of the agenda (or something like that). I’m for Hawthorn, so I wonder what your next post will be like – Swans sounded ‘awesome’ last night – especially if listening to Gerard and his cool mates on ABC Newsradio. I’m not sure that I can watch the twilight (whose idea was THAT?) match this afternoon – I’ll need more that a glass or two of something. So good luck!

  9. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Oh Glenda, they must have given you a nasty fright. We spent a similarly tense 5 minutes unable to decide who we’d rather be playing!
    Enjoy relief from such things Kate!

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