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Grand Final 2016 – Sydney v Western Bulldogs: The Winds From the West

Down in the Shoalhaven, the wind blows all night. It comes in gusts like great inhalations gathered behind the escarpment and exhaled in sighs down the rainforest behind my parents’ house and up against the windows of my room. And then it abates just long enough for breath to be drawn again. The cat sits at the window looking for wildlife. I lie awake in the dark considering the rhythm. It’s been three days since the grand final. Here the trees have fallen, eased from their places, sick of holding on, the pollens shower as boldly as rain, we cannot go walking on the hills looking for the space and freedom of spring. All because of the winds of change. The winds from the west.

 

When I arrived for the Frenchman’s 77th celebrations the day before, he handed me a glass of Champagne and offered me a memento of the game.

‘Eet waz er fabulous game!’ he exclaimed. ‘Ay ave recorded ze whole sing and cut ze ads for you. Ay will make you er copy.’

Graciously I muttered something about not really wanting to see the game again. But Dad’s conversion to AFL is complete on the back of this grand final; he has declared himself lost to rugby union. He is in the throws of new love.

‘Non, but Mathildie, it waz an eestoric match!’

Dad saw only the purity of the contest, the thrill of slim margins, the hard-foughtness of a genuine sporting contest. Dad’s experience was not halved by loyalty. He still talks to me of the Swans as ‘your team’. And the other guys were wearing the ‘tricolor’.

 

That Saturday the first of October, O’Reilly Max rang before 9am. He’d done a ten hour drive down the Hume and slept the night with friends 4 stops from the G.

‘I can’t bear it,’ he said before a hello.

I was in the middle of sorting LEGO in the Cygnet’s room, sitting in a square of morning sun, separating the window shutters from their frames and colour coding the tiny coffee cups. O’Reilly James messaged not long after: ‘Bought a lovely new gardening book … just in case.’

 

By early afternoon, the Cob, Cygnet and I migrated to the in-laws three streets over in Marrickville where stage drapes had been rigged over the glass louvres and the pre-match unfolded projector-size on the living room wall. Everyone wore red and white. Lunch was dished to the countdown. The mood was high, spirits quiet but sure … enough. Mother-in-law dressed her perfect meringues in freshly whipped cream and strawberries.

 

I can’t account for the game. Who can remember the details of a lost grand final? And what are they worth in the end? Everything and nothing. I remember how hard Jake Lloyd ran and how well he finds space. I remember Rampe well and truly atoning for 2014. I remember knowing that Reg is the man I’d want at my last point of defence, as aesthetic in his art as he is solid. I remember wondering for the umpteenth time this year how on earth Kennedy wills himself. I wondered again about Tippett. And whether Towers might have been more opportunistic than Xavier. And if Gary Rohan can play a serious major game. I missed Aliir, his composure and sense of distance. I gave up on the umpires. On frees and fifties dished like marketing samples. And the doubts about the way we go forward scratched themselves in stinted chances across the screen. I remember relentless Dogs, clasping everything like cranky crabs. I remember their 50 metre arc being lodged permanently in the middle of the picture. I remember Tom Boyd’s long arms overhead and Picken’s hair flying from the speed of his celebrations, his arms outstretched. Those last seven minutes unfolded like an approach to an orange traffic signal. The Doggies put the foot down and chanced it. And we somehow knew we wouldn’t make it and submitted to the red.

 

As the Bulldogs coterie began to embrace on the bench, I took it on myself to be the philosophical member of the family. The brave loser, able to accept defeat, bestow praise and share the joy of the long awaited win. It was familiar after all. I played the part of the long haul supporter, the lover of the game. Behind me on the couch, my just 18-year-old nephew—an ex Swans academy player—was furious in sadness. He bemoaned the free kick count and the end of the run in the legs. Father-in-law had gone for a walk­—­a tight contest works his pacemaker too hard. Sister-in-law began watering denial in the garden. The Cygnet was reading his latest fantasy tome about children being left to their own devices in some apocalyptic landscape. I just focussed on Bob. And contrary tears.

 

Three nights later, still awake in the pitch of country dark, I am aware that evenness was useful on the day but that a full palate of emotions now presents itself. The disappointment. The full stop to hope. The crooked relationships between victory and achievement, loss and failure. The empathy for the players who worked so hard to get to the final day and who must have awoken a thousand times on Sunday morning to the what ifs right beside them. The ugly sister role we will always play in the ongoing telling of the fairytale. Melancholy settles. The blues have come over us red and whites.

 

I take the DVD from my father on departure. It is labelled ‘for Mathilde with love, Dad’. He hands it to me with a bag of lemons. I suppose there will come a time when the details of the match will matter more than the result.

 

Back in Sydney, the winds have abated. The sun is long in the day. The potatoes are sprouting. The cat spends more and more hours parked under the jasmine observing the bees. The Swans site resumes its parade of dispatches. Medals awarded. Surgeries avoided or completed. Trades on the table or done. The leaders wear their ‘we’ll be back’ masks. The chins are up. The hunger narrative is already spinning. It always works in the Cygnet’s novels.

 

Despite the quick onward march offered by horse racing or the A-League, I don’t have a spring sport. And my summer sport is largely confined to a $15 camping chair and the migraine inducing job of scoring for the Under 14s Division 2 Marrickville Bats cricket team. So for now I’ll hold on to über-coach Beveridge’s words: ‘We won a lot of close games this year, and we were able to stay calm under enormous pressure, but still find a way to play with some freedom’. Agreed, that’s pretty special. And they did. I’ll be practising that calm now the storm is over. And see what freedoms the new season brings.

 

 

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.

Comments

  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Wonderful piece of writing Mathilde. Your metaphors and analogies are so perceptive – the orange traffic light – should I stay or should I go?
    Fate, choice, chance, adjudication, ‘eestory’, purgatory. The lot of the losing GF fan. Kudos to you.

  2. Excellent as always,Mathilde loved the approaching the orange traffic sign line and giggled re the scoring part ( you deserve a medal for that )

  3. Its a tough road Mathilde. Did you take the defeat personally? Do you believe that somewhere in the story of this loss there is a message for you? And only you? That’s what grand finals do to us.

    Your father handing you that DVD will stay with you. One day, in years to come, when your dear old Dad is eating baguettes in the sky and you are recalling fond memories of your time with him, you’ll recall that moment. He gave you the DVD to enjoy the game for what it was; a monumental and gut wrenching battle. The Dogs could not have had their mighty win without a brave foe.

  4. E.regnans says:

    Beautiful images, clever, telling placements, Mathilde.
    Pure writing.
    As Phil highlights.
    And Rulebook and Dips.

    That the restoring DVD was handed to you along with lemons… Perfect.
    While I’ll never see the match more than once, I’ll read this again. And again.

  5. Neil Anderson says:

    When I read this I felt like I was in a lecture- theatre listening to a professor of literature giving an example of advanced writing. I felt certain the professor had majored in poetry at some stage in her career, because that’s what it was. Poetic. You set the bar very high Mathilde.
    I’m obviously glad the tri-colours won but I can still appreciate the other side of the coin with stories from you and Jan.

  6. Magnifique.

    I laughed heartily at the 77 year old Frenchman in the opening of the piece. And then got a second laugh with the lemons. Not often you get such a yield from one observation. Superb.

    Your parents must be in striking distance of Arthur Boyd’s retreat at Bundanon? I love that place.

    You make us all smile MdeH.

    JTH

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Wish my response could do justice to this. We move on. Go Bats.

  8. Truly beautiful writing. Has to be a leading contender for the opening story in this year’s almanac. We start with the result and then build the session that was.

    So glad others were just as captured by the traffic light analogy. You have a gift.

  9. And, by the way, MdeH, commiserations.

  10. Liberte’; Fraternite’; Bulldogite’ as Monsieur DH Snr might have put it. Superb.
    Memories. What are they worth? Everything and nothing? One of your many telling lines that I treasured. Thanks for exploring so much so elegantly and concisely and sharing it with us scribbelers.

  11. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Thank you kind Almanac folk, for your attention, your close reading and your warmth.
    Much appreciated.

  12. Mark Duffett says:

    That DVD must truly have been a labour of or at least for love, however imperfectly directed. Zapping all the ads from the Grand Final telecast would have been a Herculean task (insert something about Augean stables here).

    Just flawless writing. I have a bit of an eagle eye for typos and the like, and thought I’d picked you up with “throws of new love”, but no, a second reading revealed yet more de Hauteclocque cleverness.

    Going completely off topic, you in passing encapsulated with a single phrase something I’ve been trying to articulate to myself for a while now: “latest fantasy tome about children being left to their own devices in some apocalyptic landscape”. So much this! What is it with ‘Young Adult’ novels? I thought the whole genre of contrivance had finally jumped the shark with the nonsensical premise of ‘The Maze Runner’, but the craze still shows no signs of abating.

  13. Luke Reynolds says:

    The full stop to hope. For 2016. Hope will return in late March 2017. For all of us.
    Superb piece Mathilde.

  14. Keiran Croker says:

    Lovely piece Mathilde and captured some of my emotions. My initial attempts at balance and respect for the victor have subsided to criticism of umps, critique of lack of performance from some of ours and the realisation that we were within a point with just over 5 mins to go, whilst actually not playing that well.
    Moving through the stages of grief I guess …. Denial. Fortunately I tend to move on quickly. T.Mitchell is now part of the enemy, and I look forward to the new talent that will arrive to support Heeney, Mills, Papley, Aliir, etc, etc.. Onwards to 2017!

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