Pre-Season 2015: Swans in the Suburbs

The Cygnet and I have a packet of salt and vinegar chips apiece and are tracking the light towers down familiar suburban streets. We’re late arrivals after trapeze class. Neighbourhood cats have staked out the front porches to watch the passing parade. Creepers smell like sweet evening. Street parking is at a strange premium. This is our suburb.

 

A welcoming sight. (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

A welcoming sight. (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

 

The playground above Henson Park is full. Of kids in bare feet and adults in red and white. We slip through the high gates on Amy Street. The perfectly mown grass of the hill is yellowed by approaching sundown; it’s bespotted in rugs and kids and grown ups reclining on a Friday night and we follow the incline, down and onto the concourse to the wooden pews in schoolyard blue. One of the mums from our year is leaving for a girl’s night out with her first grader. She channels us to her husband and son on the boundary line.

 

Fans settling in for the Swannies intra-club (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

Fans settling in for the Swannies intra-club (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

 

And on the field, as remarkable or unremarkable as you like, boys in red and white striped jerseys, boys in blue and white striped jerseys, stars and kids and a yellow oval ball. The Swans have brought their final intra-club to the suburbs. There are Goodes and Reid. Jack, Parker, Kennedy, the Canadian. And a bunch of kids with numbers and hairdos we don’t know. Who’s who?

The Cygnet’s Under 6s coach, Bryce, is spruiking junior club raffle tickets behind us. He is one of the world’s great assemblages of atoms. We embrace with genuine warmth. He stays a while and we chat, about the club, players departed, academy pick ups, players returning. People still ask me what you’re up to he says. The Cygnet pretends he has not heard. This is the ground onto which we emptied the Under 6s when it was raining enough to close the official training oval. They got to know mud between these posts. Bryce recalls an overhead mark the Cygnet took at Concord in the rain.

Some of the blue and red men are chasing the ball and kicking it and … well I can’t see much link footy, or many solid marks, but there are familiar structures and faces and it feels good. The siren sounds and the men divide into their blue and red huddles, sit down on the field among the eskis and masseurs and Marrickville hops the fence for half-time kick to kick. There’s a veteran’s match at one end to boot! One stage and three shows. But only a couple of gentle clouds bear witness. Everyone else just wants a kick on home soil. Coach Bryce has to keep going. He’s promised himself a beer when he’s all sold out.

Can you long for something you have never known? As I climb into the George V Memorial Grandstand to unite with one of the O’Reilly boys, I’m feeling a deep phantom nostalgia for suburban footy—walking distance, the reveal of the ground at sundown, children frayed by exhaustion, rolling in twos down grassy hills, children with buns stuffed in their hands, tomato sauce pooling in the webbing between thumb and fingers. Wooden benches and plenty of spots. Magic hour among familiar faces with footy as rhythm section. I want a whole back catalogue of all that!

The planes rise like they always do over Marrickville on Friday evening.

Sydney Swans intra-club action taking place under the twilight skies of Marrackville (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

Sydney Swans intra-club action taking place under the twilight skies of Marrickville and passengers on QF123 getting an elevated view. (pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

 

Up in the King George V Memorial Stand, O’Reilly Max has a print out of the team lists. Monty Krochmal. Doug Hadden, George Hewett. Sounds like the country club! O’Reilly Max assures me that they’re the Sydney Uni fill-ins. But rookie Sean McLaren has the Samurai bun! Parker is busy. I keep seeing Jetta. And the new number 29. The captain wipes out Lloyd. I think we have five or six ruckmen. And Tippett’s in a black t-shirt on the concourse near a Dalmatian in a bow.

 

Kurt Tippett and the aforementioned Dalmation (Pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

Kurt Tippett and the aforementioned Dalmation (Pic: Mathilde de Hauteclocque)

 

I see Bryce. An elderly woman calls him over and I realise I never bought tickets. I jump three rows and give him $10 for three of his finals stubs. Buy yourself a beer, Bryce. And as Rampe shanks a kick at the Sydenham Road end and a proportion of the team is bent in half, and as the shadows begin to claim the hill, the Cygnet says he’s hungry and we leave.

Sally, the junior club registrar is standing by the heritage gate, tongs in hand. We embrace with genuine warmth. Her son, the Cygnet’s former teammate, is in the Swans Academy this year. Can’t wait to say I drove him to games on winter mornings. I offer her a bag of second hand shorts and boots for the club, for Under 6s setting off down the road. The towers are lighting up, the footy is still going and I’m so happy I feel like crying.

We’re in the local pizza place waiting on our half/half when Sally calls. You’d better get back here. I think there’s an announcement you’re going to want to hear. She holds her phone to an indistinguishable noise. I think you’ve won the raffle. She saw them draw the winning ticket and there’s only one Mathilde in Marrickville.

Back through the Charlie Meader Memorial gates and I can see Sally. And Bryce. With a beer in hand. But there’s a race to cross. Got to get past Jack and Rampe and Grundy. Out of my way boys, I’ve won a jumper. Marty Mattner’s eating a salad roll on the side. Bryce and I embrace with genuine surprise and warmth. I claim my signed Swans guernsey and pose for a photo with the Newtown Swans Club President and the winning ticket seller. Heading back to the car, I’m waiting to get past Jetta, so close I could hold his beautiful arm awhile. But you don’t. ‘Cause he’s a guest at your place and it’s dinner time.

 

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. I’m reading this and can’t help but think of the classic “Under the Flightpath’ from What Rhymes with Cars and Girls? by Tim Rodgers and the Twin Set.

  2. Love the gentle rhythms and expressiveness of your writing Mathiide, and your enthusiasm for footy and life. You even perv with style “one of the world’s great assemblage of atoms.”
    The picture of Kurt Tippett was illustrative. His blonde girlfriend in the white boots and tight shorts is gorgeous, but jeez she’s got him on a tight leash.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks again Mathilde, amazing assemblage of words.

    What are you going to do with the guernsey?

    And they didn’t allow man-buns at Haileybury, McLaren !!!

  4. Keiran Croker says

    Love your writing Mathilde.
    I certainly hope that Sean McLaren gets rid of the man bun. I have this theory that the Swans have less bad haircuts and tattoes per player than other teams. They are there to win games of footy not a fashion contest. Two players out with tatts – Mal and Membrey. Hopefully not too many new ones in!

    Btw George Hewett is no.29 and this is his 2nd year on the senior list. Sounds promising, hopefully he will get a game this season.

  5. Joe Moore says

    Great read as always Mathilde. I’m amazed at the growth of the club, we now get a crowd to intra-clubs! Congrats on the new guernsey.

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    When I moved to Marrickville Steve, I used to talk about the planes. People would assume I meant the noise. But it was just the watching and wondering where they were off to.
    Thanks for the heads up on Hewett, Keiran. He did manage to put himself repeatedly into view. Exciting.
    I’ve never owned a guernsey. Any suggestions?

Leave a Comment

*