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Round 23- Sydney v Gold Coast: Unshackled Melancholy & Frivolity


This time of the footy calendar is like the last day of the school year. It’s the list of farewells you know you have to make, uncertainty over whether others will come and which may well be permanent. It’s the excitement of the impending fun stuff, summer and abandon. Except nobody knows what the warmer weather holds—aspirations fulfilled or weeks of could-have-been yearnings. For those of us with teams in the finals, round 23 is that turnaround of something ending and something beginning. It’s a mix of melancholy and frivolity and I like it.


I go unshackled on Saturday night, toddling the just-dark backstreets of Paddo to the ground, hands in pockets, scarf tails swinging. The Cygnet, despite agreeing to accompany me to the last game of the year while Dad is still in Denmark, capitulated in the early afternoon and excused himself guiltily to the comfort of his grandparents and specially made final round meringues capped in strawberry red.


O’Reilly Max is in the stands early. I find him legs crossed, arms crossed, phone in hand, glasses arm in his teeth. He’s leading the tipping comp by a single point with 5 hot on his heels. Anxious times.


I’m anxious about Goodesy. I figure these may be last days. I have the hankie washed and ironed for the end-of-season pocket. I settle in next to Max and we’re like birds, binoculars tuned on a sea of grass, and a school of red and white fish. Jetta’s in the vest, Max exclaims. He’s told them he’s going to Fremantle. Macca’s out, Lance doesn’t look too liquid. I’m watching Goodsey for signs of hyper savouring as he heads to the forward line. Look who’s starting on him—Malceski of Macedonia! We’re jumpy and defensive from the outset in Row U.


But the start gives us settling stuff. Lance’s on the square with no opponent! Nobody picks him up. Up and back he shuffles, pleading for it, those long wings outstretched. But it’s Goodes to Heeney for the first. Oh no, I moan. Was that the baton he just passed? Max assures me there is no sign of extra tenderness in the eye of the champ. Reid is marking beautifully. But missing. If only his feet were as sweet as his hands. The other way, Grundy is back in form, Teddy is cuddling Lynch and Rhys is running to stand on marks his old man calves just shouldn’t make. Laidler! calls Max. That’s a Carlton kick! We’re trying to get them organised from up here, with the longer view in mind. Jones to take over from Shaw? Max asks.


Kennedy has a goal. And Lance is bowled over in the arc. He’s down clutching at something. The binoculars are focussed fast: It’s ok, says Max. Just a head injury. No soft tissue involved. Kennedy has another from a penalty. Hanners goes the twisty snap off Jack. Towers has just made the subeditors’ night with a great mark overhead and a straight kick to follow. Reid misses to the right this time, but gee he’s had plenty of the ball. And then the Captain goes down. Connie turns from Row S and questions the binoculars. Foot! we call. No, knee.


Any regular knows that there’s an incredible collegiality about footy. About same time, same place. Punctuation marks for the ongoingness of daily living. Sometimes commas or brackets, question or exclamation marks. Full stops. There are stories there to be woven that say something about our underlying real life preoccupations, things that may or may not be going right, people we may be longing for, disappointments we are afraid of, and the thrill of plays that just happen to come off.


O’Reilly James arrives in the stands direct from Thredbo in a fair isle jumper, with a cold beer and his eleven year old son in hand. Son is playing a GF tomorrow, carb loading on hot chips and a Frosty Fruit. James is complaining about Reid as he sits, proposing a Jesse White style segue to join brother Ben at Collingwood. What? I yelp. What about last week? I plead. He was important. But O’Reilly Jim didn’t watch last week. Who would we like from Collingwood? asks Max. And there’s silence. On cue, Reid misses his third. Here’s the theme of the night, presenting itself to us.


And so it doesn’t matter when things fall away in the second and third quarters. When the fact of having another Jack doesn’t seem to allay the shivers of the first one on crutches and a finals midfield whittling away as fast as tonight’s lead. When the flow streams the other way, and the added pressure makes targets more elusive and we start to imagine the horror of what this could look like against Hawthorn or … Fremantle? When Buddy can’t find it anywhere and Goodesy’s re-living his youth on the wing and then inboard, but we don’t want to see the highlights reel, cause it’s too soon! There’s movement! I say. Against speed humps, chimes Max. There’s spread, I add. Round witches hats, finishes Max. Heeney to Mitchell to Cunningham. Jones to Mitchell to Tippett. No score.


But it doesn’t matter, because there are the three of us to hold it. There are the three of us to rabble and chatter and giggle our way through. And all the seismic vibrations coming up from the rows in front. And just as the third quarter is about to wrap after 22 minutes sans goal, the number 22 won’t take the shot on goal and stabs to Reid who grabs, spins and snaps truly. Reid! we cry. Oh no! smiles James as Max and I fold with laughter. At least we’ll get a higher price for him.


Some nights, it’s there in the O’Reilly that I find my bliss.


Goodes by hand to Franklin and back over the shoulder to Goodes and the game gives up the moment of the match. I think he’ll play on, says O’Reilly Max. I’m still on watch. He would have announced it, so he could say goodbye, calls Connie. But I wouldn’t put it past the understatement and yet theatrical instincts of the man to pull it out when the team might need it most. And now he’s clearing out the forward 50 and charging through Reid’s ruck work. It’s Brownlow Goodes, chin up, chest forward. It’s Ball and Davis. Lade and Burgoyne in their very best duet. James offers another beer.


And the goals unfold. To Tippett, who’s growing on me. I’m even starting to look forward to seeing him again next week. To Reid and to Towers. To Rampe! How we loved our Macedonian rake but the Estonian is doing ok. Look at Jetta, says O’Reilly Max. Look how he’s getting around the scorers. He’s staying, he proclaims. Kennedy runs beautiful loops from out of the middle, like two sides of a centre circle love heart. And the match is complete with a goal to Lance. There’s ice on the Jack knee. On the Rohan knee. On the Tippett knee. We stand and wait for the banjo and scat in the stands when it comes.


I understand the intermittent whispers of disenchantment with the game that have circulated this year, the over-reaching ways of executives and administrators, the corporatisation of the league and the trickle down effect on clubs and players and style. But I also continue to insist on the joy. I think we spectators need to be the ones who sing it sometimes; footy can still be play if we receive it that way—the fascination of exchange, on and off the field, the love of the guys on and off the field, the delight of the narratives that accompany the way the ball moves, who ends up with it and how many times it pings to one end or the other. I look at Lance Franklin and his struggles and it can all get so tight and pressurised. Even the way he’s been walking this year has suggested it. And I want someone to tell him: It’s ok to play.


I pick up the Cygnet and take-away meringues. Driving home is like Christmas eve. The pyjamaed child almost asleep in the passenger seat as we shush on wet roads. There is no-one around, just the bounce of street lights in the puddles and a productive silence that suggests something’s coming. The seagulls drop optimistically over McDonalds. It feels like we’re the last car on the roads. Better get home so that Santa comes for finals. We’re waiting for bells and magic, for the patter of hooves on freshly prepared grass and sirens that signal the coming of something wondrous. Expectations are temperate but spirits are high.



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. O’Reilly Mathilde,

    A keen eye and ear and wonderful writing here Old Mate.

    Enjoyed reading the banter and ritual of Footy Old Mates riding every play.

    Hope your Jetts, Goodsey and the Heen etc etc fire at Subi.

  2. Ripper work. Your Swans are troubling me “vieux pote”. (Is that French for “old mate”?). I had deep discussions yesterday with my uncle from Sydney. His hope is high but I felt they lacked conviction. The Swans are playing like Autumn leaves in Spring. Good travels to them, but the winds are blowing in from the West.

  3. Hmm, the Cygnet passing on a Swans home game?

    Good luck to the Swans this week, Mathilde.
    Those missing players are looming as really important links in the chain.

  4. Chris Bracher says

    I love your work Mathilde. My family has a “banjo moment ” too as I embarrass the heck out of them with an overly-demonstrative Smacka Fitzgibbon (the Melbourne-town Dixie land jazz icon who supposedly was the original banjo player on the song) impression!

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