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Round 10 – Sydney v Hawthorn: Refuge, time, space, kinship, dialogue.




Round 10 – Sydney v Hawthorn

Mathilde de Hauteclocque



From the moment Isaac Heeney kicked us into the lead some seven minutes through the last quarter on Friday night, I just wanted to close my eyes, wrap my head in my Record and block my ears. I wanted to get up and walk away, leave and let the others absorb it all and just wait to hear from the wings how it went. I couldn’t bear the not knowing, the fray of hope, the deluge of wishing, the utter discomfort of powerlessness.


I had been at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on Thursday and Friday. Had spent days listening to others telling their stories, their own ways, the ways they knew, in the voices they worked so hard to find. I’d been thinking a lot about the overarching theme of the festival—‘refuge’. I’d been wandering between sessions bewildered by why the societies we have created struggle so relentlessly to extend and protect us all equally. I had been thinking about the date—National Sorry Day, Saturday’s 50th anniversary of the citizenship referendum and 20th anniversary of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report into the forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, the 25th anniversary of the Mabo Native Title decision next week. I’d been thinking of how any one of these moments in time could have been catalysts towards a different kind of refuge for our First Peoples. I’d been thinking about Marngrook and the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round—what it means, what it could mean, whether it, like these days of writerly bliss, could be more than an annual and temporary refuge.


At the end of a full day on Friday, I found the 333 bus on Elizabeth Street. ‘AFL!’ called the driver. ‘Footy!’ A guy in a Swans jersey ran past me to jump aboard. I followed. We were joined by four or five Hawks. ‘Isn’t there a separate bus for them?’ we joked.


Football supporters are trained in the use of binaries. We are enculturated into ‘us and them’. Oppositions. Some even call them enemies. We are encouraged towards rivalries. It’s good for business. Hawthorn and Sydney have one of the most statistically sound and humanly felt rivalries of the newest century. We’ve shared two grand finals, and sorted them one a piece. And we’ve been swept up by the current between our clubs: Kennedy defied his ancestry and captains us today; McGlynn was theirs then ours; Buddy was theirs now ours; Mitchell was ours, now he’s theirs.


So there was willingness and energy on Friday night, from players and supporters, to write the next chapter. Hawthorn broke a banner of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, Sydney one in Dharawal language and the game tried its way into something special.


There was intent, especially from Hawthorn early. And there were contests, match ups that delighted, old friends flipped into foes. There was the comedy of Tom and the boos, players down in form and downed by injury, the drama of a two man bench. There was some ongoing improvement from youngsters like Newman and Melican (We can’t decide on his nickname: Pelican, Meli-CAN or our initial idea ‘The Swarthe’.) There were opportunities taken and missed, frustration with turnovers and errors and plenty of niggle to go with it. But ultimately, from the stands, until that moment when Heeney put us in front, it felt like a syncopated dance between a not-quite-the-right-fit handball game requiring manically accurate judgement and a structurally brave and now rare set-up of kicks and marks requiring a same-same-but-different precision.


But there was also this character called Lance. And his five pointed star of goals: a perfect arc of ball, bent from the 50 without deviation; a free kick that flew unflaggingly through; a third so clean and sure and surprising in its straightness; four small steps, an obedient line from 55 and a spot inside the top ten kickers of history; a ball dropped free and fetched, kicked without a step, flying higher than both posts, hanging us all in suspense before dropping perfectly between them.


A lot of football is beyond language; it is sensory and instinctive and cannot always be described. His teammates flocked to him. We responded with the uproar that communicates how we feel about him. He makes us feel anything is possible. And Hawthorn has known him too. He is the pinnacle of this craft.


It occurred to me that many of the things I seek in good writing—careful choice of tools, brave decisions, unusual combinations, an individual style, the right structures to make spaces and characters that allow us to feel the familiar world anew—are not so far removed from what I look for in the game, my team, our players. And the more I think about creative work—art or sport—the more I understand that its success is rarely achieved alone. The only way the joy and power and metaphor of a creative act can be extended is if we, as readers or spectators, are willing to carry the thoughts, feelings and questions that arise beyond the original frame, out into the world.


Indigenous players tell us that their round is a refuge for them, to be recognised for the significant contributions they make to the game at its highest level, to express themselves fully in the sharing of their complex and living cultures in ways that are meaningful to them. And non-Indigenous Australians perhaps have to take care that Indigenous Round does not operate as a refuge for us, insofar as it becomes the conveniently framed box provided for our tick of solidarity. What happens once the final bulbs of the SCG light towers go from dim to dark?


Up in O’Reilly Row U we talked of our role. We talked of the clamour of voices, especially those not asked to speak. We talked of our shared desire to turn ‘us and them’ into ‘us and us’ and even take second place. We talked of the discomfort of not knowing how to join the discussion without interrupting the very self determination that Australia’s First Peoples are entitled to and desire. This is something Marngrook is for, I thought to myself.


I stayed watching in those final minutes; we can’t afford to turn away if we care. Fatigue and a press inside 50 that just couldn’t convert to more score. Clangers and reprieves. A superb goal from the quintessentially classy and durable Burgoyne who never fails to leave Sydney without a souvenir. Even when the clock was almost past ticking, the players kept working into the unknown, bearing the knowledge that neither hope nor wishes would be enough, owning the power to affect the outcome. Skills and decisions buckled or held under pressure and a captain turned a draw into a win. Or a loss, depending which side you’re on. There is always more than one story.


While we in the O’Reilly barked the mantra of ‘Not to them, not to Hawthorn!’ the players approached each other. Roughy went to Lance. Kennedy went to Burgoyne. A few of them went to Mitchell. They know that any one of a game’s moments can switch the places of triumph and heartbreak. Our beloved Goodes and O’Loughlin placed a medal on Franklin and gave a trophy to Burgoyne. Burgoyne and Franklin embraced.


On Sunday, The Sydney Writers’ Festival attributed their ‘Quote of the Day’ to American writer George Saunders: ‘You can abandon the idea that dialogue needs to look like real speech. It should look like poetry.’ Extending that idea, dialogue might even start by looking like footy.

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. Superb metaphor, Mathilde. The skills of writing and footy.

    The first paragraph reads like a magnificent Dickens hook at the start of one of his novels. Got me in immediately.

    I watched this game right through. Intriguing contest. I was watching it with Clare, our oldest, who is playing footy these days.

    “Watch how Mitchell gets to the contest and gets the footy” I was saying to her. He was yours and now he’s theirs.

    Buddy was brilliant. He looks like Leunig’s character, Mr Curly, but with a torso like Tarzan.

  2. John Butler says

    Buddy was sublime on Saturday night.

  3. E.regnans says

    Thanks MdeH.
    It seems that the rise of binary and presentation of binary is a noteworthy happening of our social media age.
    Click here, share there, agree, like, vehemently disagree, rage, rage, rage.
    I find it interesting that ideas of navigating a life of doubt, accepting that a thinking life must have doubt, are being cast aside.

    And yes, “there is always more than one story.”
    Love it.

  4. Mathilde, i’m wondering if you can use some literary eloquence to describe Calum Mills costly ‘choke’ in the dying stages, the ‘choke ‘ that cost Sydney the match.

    In my parlance i’d draw a parallel to Greg Norman at Atlanta in 1996, one of the worst cases of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but Mils performance in short passing straight to a Hawthorn player close to the Sydney goal, was not pretty to watch.


  5. Rick Kane says

    Wonderful Mathilde, just wonderful. So many things to note in your essay (a number of which have been noted by others here) but your paragraph on Buddy’s game/goals is exceptional. He is poetry. Sometime a language beyond our limited utterances. There is a truth in his daring and deeds that seems unreachable. As you state: hanging us all in suspense!

    On a personal note, the game, whatever the outcome, felt good. Hawthorn’s jumper was a ripper, the number 67 was as poetical a political statement as sport could imagine, even before both players wearing the number lifted the game and night higher and higher. But for Roughy to seal the deal, that was sweet, soul music, at least to this jaded footy fan.


  6. Daniel Flesch says

    Great piece , Mathilde ! I’m intrigued , though , by what you call ” the comedy of Tom and the boos.”
    I don’t consider booing players “comedy.” Certainly wasn’t comedy when Adam Goodes copped it .
    And booing players who change clubs is just stupid. Every club now has players at their second or third home. Swans supporters booing Mitchell is exceptionally stupid given their best player on the night and their inspiring captain are both ex-Hawks. No more stupid than Hawthorn supporters booing Buddy who gave them nine years great service and helped them to two Flags. It would be good , i.m.o. , if the clubs themselves took the lead and urged all supporters not to boo players who leave their clubs. I guess it’s not an issue to most people but i find it childish , irritating and so unnecessary.

  7. Inspiring. “The dialogue should look like footy.” Or poetry. Just not like politics.

  8. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I couldn’t agree more Daniel, with the absurdity of it and hence my mind chose the word comedy. As in laugh’s on those that do it, comedy in the sense of the fool. You are right, I should perhaps have chosen a much more direct way of saying it. Or at least put ‘comedy’ in inverted commas.
    I am against booing full stop.
    Thanks for the close read.

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Enlightening read Mathilde,
    I love the way Indigenous Round is evolving beyond the token. It’s a good thing as my generation was taught far too little at school.
    Poetry used to be dialogue – the possibility of language as a refuge, a connection, a binary, a play and the history of characters in a place in time.
    As F.R. David once said: “Words don’t come easy”. Boos on the other hand…

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Love the discussion in the O’Reilly Stand row U.
    Not many games not involving my team have drawn me in this season. Indigenous round changed that. Geelong v Port Adelaide. Sydney v Hawthorn. Essendon v Richmond. West Coast v GWS. Wonderful games. Thought the Swans had it when they hit the front. Me and my black & white tribe were barracking for the bloods.
    Buddy is a must watch player.
    Fantastic piece Hauteclocque

  11. Earl O'Neill says

    Wonderful piece Mathilde, thank you. Much cause for ruminations in the backyard on this sunny afternoon.
    The creative act, once witnessed by an audience, is no longer the sole property of the creator because the audience interpret it in their own way. I’d go on but I fear that my response would be both longer than and vastly inferior to your piece.

  12. Peter Fuller says

    Even by your stellar standards, Mathilde, this is exceptional writing, poetic and thought-provoking. Many thanks for it.
    Glen, I sympathise with your attitude to the booing of “turncoats”, but I also think of it as comic or pantomine, particularly when many of the turncoats were in fact ditched. I do of course distinguish it from the much more sinister dimension of the booing of Adam Goodes
    Personally I’m pleased for players who find success at another club, even when as in the case of Eddie Betts, it seems like my club made a serious blunder. I actually feel that Eddie wouldn’t have had anything like the late-career impact at Carlton as he has had in Adelaide.

  13. So much in this. Thanks MdeH. Hard to put some of footy into words. In fact I think the relationship, as you point out, is better the other way round and we use football as a way to identify and convey meaning. Like a Syd Jackson drop kick. What a simile.

    My daughter’s smile is like a Syd Jackson drop kick.

    Like Buddy Franklin on the burst.

    She walked in like the pub was the Swans half forward line and she was Buddy Franklin on the burst.

    As human as Percy Jones arguing with an umpire.

  14. Rulebook says

    Superb as always,Mathilde ditto many of the comments above agree with,Peter Fuller and I am a bit the same Luke ( Mathilde are you available for hire re Troy Chaplin sledges your incredible use of the english language would be v funny to suddenly appear in one of my articles )

  15. Mathilde- if you’d only given us the paragraph on Lance or good writing or football and language then this would’ve been superb, but we got all three (and much more!) for which I thank you.

    “The only way the joy and power and metaphor of a creative act can be extended is if we, as readers or spectators, are willing to carry the thoughts, feelings and questions that arise beyond the original frame, out into the world.” Yep.

  16. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Cheers to all for reading. So thoroughly and thoughtfully.

    Glen, O’Reilly James asked me what the literary equivalent of Millsy’s ‘choke’ would be. I suggested ‘the truncated sentence.’

    JTH, there’s a column in these football similies. Or at least a Writer’s Festival Session. Or $14.95 stocking filler. Think of the talent to work with …

    Always available for cameos Rulebook.

  17. John Butler says

    Oops, please amend to Friday night. Football’s four day weekends are beginning to disorient me. And there wasn’t much that was sublime about Saturday night’s football.

    Mathilde, you’re finding rich material in the Swans’ declining fortunes. Carlton people can relate to that.


  18. Les Currie says

    Beautiful writing again Mathilde. It is a pleasure reading your reading of a game and the comments from Footy Almanacs. i’m so pleased I have found this site. Seeing others successfully combining the passions of footy and writing is rewarding and inspiring. With each article I read I determine to improve both my observation and writing skills. Thank you all.

  19. Keiran Croker says

    Lovely piece Mathilde. I concur with the many positive comments above. Like you my emotion at the final siren was .. not Hawthorn … again!
    Oh well. Reset and on to another challenge this week against the Dogs. Hopefully we can take our chances and keep the season alive.

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