Chaos and control

I catch the bus to work on Sunday mornings, always take a book and rarely look at it. Mostly I just watch out the window. The stuffed vitrines of Chinese grocery stores; a stash of surfboards on an inner city verandah; the recent proliferation of fitness places in the industrial streets of Marrickville; the mouldings of a particular rooftop; the way a couple sits square on to the street, sunglassed and side by side over coffee; the geometry of a poster advertisement; a Comming Soon sign in a King Street shop window. It occurs to me that these trips are lessons, in which I am consistently tuning observation. Not to the premeditation of composed personal narratives, but to the incidental, the small poetic details of life, things saved for peripheral vision, things remarkably natural and unaware of themselves.

The stadium experience can be like this – a deliberate experience of unknowing. Not the pre-plotted arrangement of a multi-camera broadcast, a multi-voice interpretation. Just whatever you manage to take from the meandering of chaos that is posing as a stream of intended movements and plays. Isn’t that why we relate to it? It’s like the view from the window, moments of high order and flourish, moments of glorious luck and beauty and lots of trying to get there in between.

But that view was interrupted v Collingwood. For the immediate Swans coterie, the solutions to the problem of Saturday night were on the table before the problem had even fully emerged. Each spectator was trying to single out the particular ingredient that accounted for the taste in their mouth. From Row 19, Connie was concerned about the game plan. Periodically she turned to face us: The game plan! she repeated, the game plan! A variation came in the fourth as the lead turned on its axis: Plan B Longmire? O’Reilly boy was enjoying the refrain of the gangster man and his money, kachinging each possession for Lance, a goal for 70 grand. (He’s a wit and we enjoyed it too.) Jungle Jim, with his Under 11s coach’s hat firmly on, was focussed on forward pressure, his main concern the speed with which the ball was coming out of the forward 50 and rebounding the field for a goal.

While the urgency for answers was tossed around the crowd, what I saw all night on the field at ANZ was something intangible and unfinished. I saw a game plan that was a plan until the opposition put their pieces on the board. And beyond any sense of a competent assessment or solution, the throw of my thinking was on incidentals:

Jetta has his legs back. A spoil and goal from a contest he had no right to get to. And it looks very very fine.

The Reids were born to swing.

Rampe has slipped into more than the 24 jumper. He’s in Jude’s skin, walking on short groins like Jude, flicking the blonde like Jude. I think we called in unison On you, Jude!

Nick Smith knows how to mark a man, a torero, body on body with his opponent, his non-punching arm artfully bent behind his back.

Pinball style handballs are dangerous.

The lingering ghosts of a unison Mattner, Kenelly, Malceski and Shaw are resolving into absence.

Someone should have introduced themselves to Lumumba.

But Lance arcing into the left pocket and drawing that kicking foot back was exquisite despite the miss, all balance and geometry and unpredictable change of speed. And when those kicks go through and Sydney learns to behave far better than Melbourne and just be cool about Buddy, there’s a real opportunity in Abbott’s Australia to have not only the Australian of the Year on the team, but Sir Lancelot as well.

These are the paths of the mind. Even at the final siren with the points and the trophy lost, the whole match felt to me just like a frayed hem, running away from being stitched up too soon, but still able to be fixed. And I wanted to hold it that way, to see what the garment might become. As I buttered the smallest slices of ciabatta and spread them with vegemite before my bus on Sunday, the Cygnet sat at the bench, tracing the lines of the kitchen notepad. What do you think the game was about last night?  I asked. I have NO idea, he said.

We have no idea. And yet Monday morning was decked in 0-2. The equations were on the abacus. A precedent though … for comfort. North Melbourne in 1999, the Swans in 2006. Stats and markers, reports and reposts, belching out this truncated life.

There is no doubt that a good piece of observation can be that fine digestif. And well-pitched it facilitates a finished-off feeling which can be hard to come by after three hours of consumption. But I wondered on Monday morning, whether we have reached a point in our communicative society where the sheer volume and imperative of words and ideas is actually impeding deeper, more patient observation.

Sometimes a game is a big statement, broad brushstrokes, held together by a well-defined composition, full of intention. Something you can hang your hat on and write about with authority. And sometimes it’s an abstract canvas, which reveals flashes of something but an overall not-knowing. The more I write about footy, the less I actually seem to write about football. And the more I read and consume of other things, the more I find myself sitting at the footy, watching them all coalesce.


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. That’s a wonderful piece, Mathilde. Football as life, and football as art.

  2. The football as art metaphor is very apt, Mathilde. My Eagles spent last year throwing paint and all we have are wall splatters to show for it. I think we are hitting the canvas this year (in an artistic rather than pugilistic sense).
    Thanks for your elegant reflection.

  3. Yep.

  4. E.regnans says

    Well played, Mathilde. Gee that’s well played.

  5. Rick Kane says

    Hi Mathilde

    As Hawks supporters, we would sit three rows from the boundary fence, just inside the 50m line, in the Olympic Stand and watch Buddy run in, as you have described. Whether the Hawks won or lost, that moment when Buddy had the ball and headed towards goal, in the manner you have captured so poetically, would be a highlight of our day out at the G. I trust he gives the Swans many delightful moments (except when playing us).

  6. Sometimes, watching a high stakes game of footy, having to hold the anxiety of not knowing what the end result will be can seem almost too much to bear. But bear it we do. And the reward is always in the moments, regardless of the result. The leap of one’s heart commensurate with a leap to take a mark, the speeding up of my heartbeat as the clock counts down the quarter with just one point the difference and Jetta is running with the ball inside 50…
    Who knows what the season will hold for us? Frankly I don’t care as much as I care to be there for the moments and in watching the process unfold.

  7. Another great football piece Mathilde because it is about much more than football. That’s the way I like ’em.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    The Reid’s were indeed born to swing. Great line.

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