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Round 12 – Sydney v Western Bulldogs: Welcome surprise

 

As Lance Franklin’s after-the-siren kick bowed through on half time to take us ahead by his own 23, all I could say underneath the roars around the ground was, ‘That’s beautiful. That’s so beautiful. He is just so beautiful.’ And as the PA took over proceedings and much of the O’Reilly stood for leg stretching or beer or WC, and the players from both sides gathered into departing folds, I remained seated and still, stuck in that single moment for which I had no footy talk. Nothing clever to say. No precision comment on a half time advantage. No jargon or know-how, no cool, measured accounting or prognostics – just this pure feeling of having witnessed unmediated beauty. And the need to express it. If only to myself.

 

It seems to me that from day one of any footy season, with the ingredients barely at room temperature, those who mix footy prefer to debate what plate to serve the cake on. But I feel that this year has been worse than many. At first I supposed this might be particular to the Swans and their supporters—the team’s alarming start fixating the talkers on the can’t or could or wouldn’t of making finals with such an historic deficit. But it has gone on, accompanying both losses and wins. A fully motorised finals see-saw has us high in the sky one week, blissfully dangling our legs, then folded in the dirt next week bum sore from the bang. And to leave the metaphorical kitchen and hit the road instead, the ‘evenness’ of the 2017 competition in general has become an invitation for most commentators to scrutinise feverishly the destination of all eighteen teams, rather than any scenery we might be taking in on the way. To final or not to final. I’m ready to get out of the car and walk!

 

But it was a school night and there was footy! I shimmied into Row U with hope low but thumb up.

 

You see, on the Tuesday before Round 12, I injured my left thumb—a subungual haematoma, bloomed by the unwitting squeeze of said thumb into the non-existent hinge-side space between an interior door and its architrave. The nail blackened immediately and the pain went so supremely deep into morning that I drove myself to casualty at 1am in Sydney’s cyclonic rain and submitted to waiting. Nurses and doctors refused to relieve the pressure of the bleeding until they knew if it was broken. I imagined these were the conversations that awaited Horse and his men at match committee that day.

 

How can something as small as a thumb tip hurt so much? Nerves I suppose. It throbbed and seared for 36 hours without relenting, not ice nor letting nor literature, not even the codeine companion to paracetamol touched it. By Thursday the pain was bearable but the joint could not be bent. Elevation was critical. My thumb was stuck in a permanent endorsement.

 

The rain had made a vulgar green of our SCG. The teams appeared. I always feel the warmth of the Tricolor when the Swans play the Dogs from the west.

‘Ah, it reminds me of the ancestral lands,’ I revelled. ‘Famous for showers and fields.’

‘How do you say Bulldog in French?’ asked O’Reilly Max. ‘Boeuf chien?’ he giggled.

‘Bouledogue,’ I replied.

The word has everything to do with ball, not bull.

 

But the ball was surprisingly ours. The game was simply a pleasure. Consistent possession, superlative pressure, effort and energy and will. The bounce was our turf. Our Inside 50s were breeding. Heeney was finally up off the sick bed and standing. Papley was playing the role we dream for him. Kennedy was deckhand and steward and captain and mate. And the Bont and Johanissen quiet. It was indeed a thumbs up kind of night.

 

But what stayed with me longer than all the combat and grudges, the jostle and fudging, the making and finding and scoring, what stayed with me longer than the winning feeling, longer than the revenge narrative, hopeless in its tardiness, was that single moment of Lance’s kick. How could something as insignificant as contacting boot to ball be so beautiful. Perhaps, after three unlikely misses, it was the simple nerve of it.

 

The interesting thing about an acute injury is experiencing its righting as a series of moments rather than a swift switch to better. The day after I hurt my thumb was almost unbearable, the next released me from constant pain, the next meant I could touch things, the next meant I could bend it, the next meant I could use it and then I used it too much and was back to hurting. None of the moments discount those that go before and none of them indicate what will be ahead. And each of them teaches me something about the see-saw of pushing and waiting.

 

I’m not saying I don’t crave and enjoy victory. I do, absolutely. But I love it for the accumulation of the moments it is made from, for the full stop it brings to the sentence of the effort. And I’m not saying I don’t wish for victories to add up to finals and flags. I’ve been fortunate to fall for and live with the game in a golden age for the Swans. But I want them for the natural (or surprising) evolution they are, not as faraway endpoints but as the culmination of all we have seen along the way—what mental grit can make, what pain pressure can cause, what the alchemy of effort and luck can halt, how fragile things can be.

 

Home from the SCG on Thursday night, we caught the tail end of Luke Beveridge’s press conference. He finished with something about the buck stopping with him, that ultimately it was his job to inspire the players to play with the spirit that had won them the flag. It was beautiful, so beautiful. For at the end of the night, they are men not machines, complex feeling souls rather than the aggregate of stats, places to stop and dwell, not pawns on a finals highway. And so are we, as supporters.

 

Please, please can the game against the Tigers this weekend be a game within itself? Please, can we re-confine the f-word to its mysterious unspoken status? I want to submit to waiting. If only our mainstream footy communicators would promote this kind of being rather than being the pests in the back asking whether we’re there yet.

 

Check out Mathilde’s previous piece here: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/round-10-sydney-v-hawthorn-refuge-time-space-kinship-dialogue/

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. Keiran Croker says:

    To submit to the jargon Mathilde it’s about enjoying the journey! Putting aside my expectations for the Swans I am loving this season. Indeed with the Lions, Suns and Blues winning last week it confirmed that anything is possible this year. Submitting to the ebb and flow of the game and the season is essential for ones mental equilibrium. Sure there are still lop-sided and awful games, however the beauty of a Buddy goal, a Howe mark or a Magpie loss by less than a goal awaits.

  2. Daniel Saunders says:

    Great piece!!! Although it may not suit the Swans, I am also enjoying the evenness of the competition, and the fact that there is a massive battle over who will be playing in September. It makes it all the more intriguing that every single team has had it’s ups and downs, and I cannot seem to pick a winner!

  3. Les Currie says:

    Another great piece Mathilde. I love how you weave such a great story out of a single moment. I felt the same when I saw Buddy kick that goal. That was the end for the Dogs. After missing a few gettable shots that was a real statement. When you analyse games you can often see a pivotal moment when the game changes – a bad handball or pass, a missed shot, a key mark (Leo Barry springs to mind, Paul Kelly in the final against Essendon I think it was, another time when Davis came to save us and Easton Wood’s miraculous goal against the Swans two years ago) an intercept, a tackle. I think we all love these moments. It is why I keep going to the SCG. And this season is a cracker.

  4. E.regnans says:

    Moments.
    Lovely, MdeH.
    They’re all we have.

    I hope your thumb heals well.

  5. Looking forward to your report on last night’s thriller, Mathilde.

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