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Backwards to go Forwards: an Ode to Defence (or ‘Tash and Dash’)

French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson came up with his famous phrase ‘the decisive moment’ to account for the moment at which the elements in motion within a composition inevitably come into balance. The photographer’s job, as he saw it, is to seize upon this moment and, with the release of the shutter, hold its equilibrium immobile. It happens at the speed of a reflex action.


There are countless moments in any game of football. And each of us makes our own call as to which one is decisive. Some would say Buddy’s goal was the hinge to last Friday night’s win for the Swans in Adelaide. Others would say the 50 metres handed to Heeney decided it against the Crows. As long time spectators, we know that each one of these moments is just a part of the game’s sum, but we guard them and tell them as a kind of shorthand for the whole of what we experience.


On Friday night, with four and a half minutes to go and a three point deficit to the Swans, a long ball came deep into Adelaide’s attack. Gary Rohan chased. So did Betts. But Gary cut him off on the inside, scooped and burst, stuck to the arc of the boundary to make his escape and released the ball down the line. Towers fumbled. And despite his second effort, it came straight back towards Adelaide’s goal. Likely headed for Tex. But Dane Rampe had stepped perfectly to the left of Walker. He stood essentially alone, reading and receiving the flight of the ball into his hands overhead. He took a few tiny steps – balancing steps, not travelling steps – and straightened his left leg onto as clean a kick as he’s used to.


It was a pinball paddle reaction from Rampe, a firm slap on the side of the machine. He had hardly possessed it before he released it. A reflex action. But somehow, in the moment of that reflex action, he had already managed to assess the composition ahead, pick out the arrival of Franklin from his right and place the ball where it must drop for him to reach it. Lance floated across and missed. But Tom Papley was where he should be – at the foot of Mt Franklin. And he snatched and ran and bounced and ran and slid it perfectly through for a lead. While the fists were pumping for the score, all I could think of was Rampe’s kick.


I have always loved the backline best. When I discovered the landscape of footy, my favourite peak was Wanganeen. (Much of my early appreciation of football was aesthetic!) Through Gavin Wanganeen, I learnt the term ‘attacking defender’ and relished its internal paradox. I loved the ways he took possession without breaking stride. He seemed to make three or four movements into one. Balanced like something scientific, something gyroscopic, a spinning top that just kept moving, always circling into the path of something.


Tadgh Kennelly arrived at the Swans soon after, the irreverent dasher from Kerry, a serial rebounder. He ran and created with unorthodoxy, wheels that spun and a preference for zig zag. He seemed to switch everything with a smile.


But in 2003, my relationship to defence changed. It became more than an appreciation of daring and geometry. In April of that year, our first child did not survive a long but routine full-term labour. It was completely unexpected. She died at birth and the internal paradox was confounding. Being a first child, her death was particularly complex for me – for not only was it the loss of her future but also the sudden closure of a new internal pathway to a different self – mother – that she had already firmly shaped in me. It was suddenly a dead end.


I guess that’s where attacking defenders often find themselves. That’s the space they work in. The dead ends and cul-de-sacs where options run out. That’s their specialty. The intercept. The rebound. The breaking of drawn lines.


I began to study Malceski of the French synthetic knee and sweetest left foot, an architectural, thinking defender with the skills and precision to complete his plans. He embodied the type of front-foot defence that is not about keeping things at bay, shutting things out or down, but the type of defence that’s about drawing things in and turning them around. I began to think of the half back line as the team’s digestive system, absorbing things and converting them into energy. And then came Marty Mattner, honest and consistent, the backline general without any of the trappings. I bet he was never the kind of kid who jumped hard on one end of the see-saw, but eased his way on and past the fulcrum. Mattner personified the calm possibility of recovery. Even Rhyce Shaw, with his bow-legged bounce and his 50/50 disposal had a role to play. Who doesn’t know life to be like that sometimes?


Profound grief is never finished. But over fourteen years I have studied this half-back manual and its characters, and internalised what it means to go repeatedly forwards against a tide, to be decisive within all the motion, to see a moment as a kind of beacon of larger possibilities and, despite the risks, to keep spinning into the path of them.


Around 10pm last Friday night, my favourite in-game texter sent a message:

‘Rampe’s tash is so prominent it helps with the spoil.’

I told him I was now referring to our defence as Mo & Co.

‘Tash and dash,’ he replied.

The Tash with his Sydney upbringing and rookie fairytale, with his piloted left foot kick and his post-skill rake of the hair.

‘That game was turned on a tash!’ I concluded on the siren.


There is no doubt that a fair chunk of Sydney’s 0-6 start was the absence of Dane Rampe. But he’s back. Moving us forward. And we may just make a dash at the top 4, despite the fact it looked over before it had begun. Funnily enough, the French title of Cartier Bresson’s 1952 book The Decisive Moment was Images à la Sauvette or Images on the Run.


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. Brilliant Mathilde. I read somewhere that grief only ends when we do. But I’m not even sure that this is entirely true. My family has written the tale of, and retold the story of, a long lost little boy who disappeared out of the family shack in a wilderness near Dandenong Creek, in Melbourne circa 1890 (now a sprawling metropolis called Wheeler’s Hill). He woke up early, walked out the door and got lost in the bush, never to be seen again. He was 2 or 3 years old. In a way, the grief of that little boy lost still ripples through our family history today. And so do other past tragedies. I think grief is like an invisible shadow.

    Defenders live in a perpetual state of impending doom; sporting grief if you like. That’s why I admire them. Like a batsman who makes one mistake and is out, a defender lives on the same edge. I suppose that’s why good ones are priceless.

  2. Great read, Mathilde. All so true.
    Cheer cheer

  3. Mathilde first off and far far more important than footy all the best is a massive understatement
    Brilliant read as always

  4. This is one of the better 10 minutes I’ve had in the month of August, or even the year 2017.

    I can feel your grief M de H.

    Your meditation is knotted with pain – it has made my temples screech, my chest feel like the confluence of two glaciers.

    Yet, it is also about action in response.

    I hate grief, but I am encouraged by the determination of those who have suffered deeply to find ways to live with it. My grief is insignificant by comparison to most.

    An old friend, who died of MND too young used to say, however, that suffering does not have to be calibrated. Suffering is suffering – a concept, and a very real concept. It is awful but it alerts us to ways of understanding. He said the same of service. The important things is that we serve. The notion of the suffering servant is very powerful.

    I think this piece comes from a half back flanker who knows that way of being only too well. You have certainly served us brilliantly in putting pen to paper.

    Thank you MdeH.

  5. Yes, Mathilde.

    “Profound grief is never finished.”

    Grief is something that stays, I think.
    Time heals, they say, but I think it’s the building of a story that does the healing.
    A story in which the subject of the grief can somehow make sense.
    But it’s personal.

    Grief for an imagined self that can never be is an especially tricky daily grapple.
    (Who am I? Who am I?)
    But we make our stories, we build our paths. Which break open, veer off, hit walls from time to time. And that’s alright.
    We build again.
    We make again.

    I love defenders, too.
    Thanks to Gavin Wanganeen, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tadgh Kennelly,
    Thanks to you.

  6. Dave Brown says

    Brilliant, Mathilde! Rampe is a gem. The vision of the best half back flanker is the thing. I regularly think back to Andrew McLeod’s later years playing off half back. He would get the ball and kick it and the crowd would groan, unable to see where or why he kicked it there. Then a teammate would run to that precise spot to be rewarded with a chest mark. 36 players pinging around a football ground in all directions and to have the vision and skill to put the ball in a spot where nobody is but somebody will be is remarkable. Love the tash and dash – Sydney launched something like eight goals from their defensive 50 last Friday, so entirely fitting.

  7. How many selves co-exist within all of us? Waking this morning and for some reason unexpectedly being in 2001 and shivering with remorse. Yesterday was 1968 and carefree play. I am mostly in the present, but the shifting tides of memory often swamp me in tsunamis of wonder or regret. Not remembering those moments as much as in them.
    Fading but never dying.
    Your piece was a brilliant kaleidoscope that suddenly shattered and went black then returned to the dazzling colours of metaphor as you let us peer through the other lens. Cartier-Bresson would approve.
    My heart and mind have been in Spain and La Liga for the past few months even though we are grounded in Perth for another week. (Entirely unconnected to the West Coast Eagles modest season). The attacking full backs who flood out of defence to create overlap and piercing runs seem to be the cornerstone of a Real Madrid and Barcelona FC.
    The world turns and boundaries shrink. Football becomes soccer becomes footy. Brilliant kaleidoscopes and dark angels mingling on the playing fields of our planet; our minds and our entertainments.

  8. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Mathilde. Mo & Co, Dash & Tash .. we are well served by the Estonian, Macca, Lloydy, Millsy & Smithy. It was the daring and skill of our defence that set up those three pivotal moments in the game.

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Rhyce Shaw’s career speaks volumes about about the peculiarities (and possibilities) in life and footy. Thank you for this fellow Virgo-an.

  10. This was a great read, thanks a bunch Mathilde. Such effortless prose but brimming with emotional heft. Thank you again.

  11. I loved this piece Mathilde on several levels.
    At the most prosaic it made me realise how much I’ve thrilled to the efforts of Richmonds fine defence this year. Funnily enough my Cartier-Bresson decisive moment is probably at the end of our game against Sydney and the despair of Alex Rance among triumphant Swans as his single-handed dam wall was finally breached. I agree with you Dips – welove them all the more because they live so close to impending doom.
    I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor at your courage and eloquence in describing your personal tragedy. This is sort of great writing that keeps me coming back to the Almanac – personal without self-absorption, emotional without being gushy, about sport but about so much more than sport. Bravo!

  12. Magnificent work Mathilde

  13. John Butler says

    Decisive moments, indeed, Mathilde.

    I’m with you. There’s never been a champion team without great defenders.

    I’ve always thought most of life’s essential lessons probably resided within Bruce Doull’s headband.

    But I must concede, Buddy was fun to watch last night. From a purist’s perspective, not a Blue one.

    September, and it’s decisive moments, awaits.

  14. I enjoyed this very much, Mathilde. On many levels.

  15. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Really appreciate your close reading, all, and your caring and open responses. My wish is that we can talk about our deepest things with the same simplicity and part-of-lifeness that we talk about a game of footy. Even if it’s risky to say or hear. So that there are pathways for such things. I’m very grateful for your participation. It’s a pretty special culture here.

  16. Anne Myers says

    Hey gorgeous Mathilde,

    Nice piece. You’ve jumped that puddle moment with such perfect precision.
    Life and loss are great friends. Beautiful and sad all thrown together kicking into the wind.

  17. Everything that is great about the Almanac is here. Extremely perceptive and touching, personal and universal. Thanks Mathilde for writing it and thanks to Emeritus Editor Swish for pointing it out.

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