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Round 16 – Geelong v Sydney: Wild enough

Round 16: Swans v Geelong

Friday 8th July, Simmonds Stadium

Mathilde de Hauteclocque

 

 

Qantas check-in offered me seat 38J for the Friday morning flight to Melbourne. I was heading south to be with the ‘Footy Almanac’ Cats at Kardinia Park, an experience that, last year, was a one-off but this year is now tradition. Memories of last year’s match jittered—a big win to the Cats for Captain Joel Selwood’s 200th. But, airborne the skies are always blue, the sun always shines.

 

I spent the flight engrossed in a doco about Iceland and the unique ways humans and animals survive in such an extreme, unstable environment. Icelandic farmers must keep their animals wild enough that they have the resilience to survive. Speaking about his herd of horses, bucking at being forced down from the mountains for winter, one farmer noted, ‘This wilful streak is good. It means they haven’t been tamed.’

 

Coming down from the sky into the city, I waited for a Bourke Street tram, confirming with the gentleman beside me that you don’t have to tap in the free zone.

‘Come for a bit of shopping, have you love?’

‘A game of footy actually. I’m a Swan.’

‘Oh well good luck then, love. I live in Geelong. If you live in Geelong, you hate Geelong. So arrogant, alone down there. Why should they be the only Melbourne team with a genuine home advantage?’

‘Who do you support?’ I asked.

‘I’m a North man. I only moved to Geelong for my wife.’

We talked footy ‘til the mall.

 

Ritual pre-game drinks in Geelong extended my footy family. Members I know by turn-of-phrase alone became members to embrace. Spouses who don’t participate in the football writing world became fleshed-out beings for whom I felt instant warmth. It’s a funny thing, a family. It can be made in stages, sketched and then coloured in, from far away and up close. For the families we don’t choose, we have the ones we do, our teams, our fellow supporters, people who believe in the game in ways we do or in ways we haven’t thought of yet.

 

We found a spot on the Terrace under a pink-tinged crescent of cradling moon. Jitters again. As the fireworks faded to smoke, play began. And it began well for the red and the white. Jack faded the week that had been with a fairytale goal in under a minute. Early inside 50s were being converted to multiples of six. Callum Junior, or Millsy as I educated the Cat family, even managed his first career goal.

 

Geelong came harder in the second, marking inside 50. But the young Swans were up for the reply. The wilful streak in them looks good. They don’t have the cellular memory of years of defeat in Geelong. Speed and stature respectively give Rohan and Papley the smarts and licence to risk. Aliir reads the game far better than we thought. Towers is growing. Naismith is welcome. George looks disciplined and clean. And while the Estonian was furiously keeping and rebounding for the Sydney defence, Teddy was still trying to score. It was unexpected success. Unexpected authority. And I wanted to share the joy of it. A guy two steps away was bedecked in red and white and cheering with some passion. I turned to him at the appropriate moments, but he gave nothing in return.

 

The Swans dictated the play in the third, hogging the ball until it counted for points and squeezing the Cats on their turn. The Cats went hesitant and wide. The locals were restless in the bleachers. ‘Run towards the ball,’ yelled one of them. The Sydney players did. They willed themselves to the ball and then on with it, into the geometric arrangements that meant they could move it all the way. They made it look like they played this ground every week, that home is anywhere with a family on the same page. K Jack bookended the night with the final goal and we won by 38J, 38 points for Jack. A healthy victory for our captain’s 200th. There were capital B Bloods to embrace him.

 

As the Cats stepped me graciously down the terrace, I was bemused by the solitary, internal nature of the away-game win. Victory can be known in the dominant score line but it is felt in the energy of collective joy, especially the long held narratives between people who go to footy together. I was grateful for the booming rendition of Cheer Cheer initiated in the tunnel as we left. I think I recognised the guy at the front. He used to be an O’Reilly cousin.

 

‘Hope you’re enjoying the morning after the night before,’ messaged one of the Cats on Saturday morning. On instinct, I had headed to South Melbourne. We spent a fair bit of our Cygnet’s first two years there as the Cob worked stints in Melbourne. I wasn’t sure whether the pilgrimage I was making the morning after was to the homeland of my victorious team or to the beginnings of my own family life.

 

I bought a Côtes du Rhone for Saturday night’s home cooked dinner with the Cats.

‘You a member?’ asked the gentleman from behind the counter.

‘I am. But in Sydney.’

He informed me there was no problem tying my purchase to my home account in Sydney.

‘Welcome to Melbourne then,’ he said.

‘Thank you. Here for the footy.’ Everywhere I go in Melbourne, I seem to probe subconsciously.

‘You’re a Swan then?’ he asked with a spark. I nodded.

‘You legend!’ he said as he reeled back on a huge smile.

 

Paul was one of the originals. His grandfather and father were South Melbourne supporters. He was one of eight children, the only one genetically predisposed to carry on the red and white. Paul handed out Keep South at South pamphlets in the early 1980s. I asked him what it felt like when the team actually moved away. He didn’t watch football for three years. And he didn’t resume his relationship with the Swans until the Edelsten years were over and the members could belong to their club again. Paul bought the closest pub to Lakeside Oval and made a day of it when the Swans made it to the ‘96 Preliminary Final. He thought he’d blown his budget for nought until Plugger kicked that point. We talked through the dying minutes of the 2005 Grand Final, shared new goosebumps across the counter. He told me his stories of working to belong, of contributing and following.

 

If I only ever watched football in Sydney, if I never took up the annual experience of a footy weekend in Melbourne, I may well be lulled by the familiar into thinking that footy is mostly a winter routine, a flash of activity to dissect and digest and dispel. Personal and privileged. But footy lays in the land in Melbourne. It has formed a system of stories and experiences which overlay, underlie, are recorded in the city. As a visitor, you hit points of intensity as you go, become aware of a much more layered picture. It is a reminder of the continuum in which we supporters take up the game, contribute our stories, add them to the archive, the Almanac, so that the family can be bigger and richer. It makes me realise what a beginner I am.

 

The wind was at 40 knots on Sunday evening. There was nothing tame about the departure from Melbourne. The seat belt sign may have been switched off for all of 15 minutes. To distract ourselves from the absurdity of flying, 5D and I got talking. He was from Melbourne.

‘You?’ he asked.

‘Sydney. Went down for the footy.’

‘Which game?’ he piqued.

‘Swans.’ He only had to smile for me to know.

5D had grown up in Wagga in the same age group as Paul Kelly. We chatted all the way up the east coast, across Botany Bay until we shook hands at the end of the North South runway.

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. Peter_B says:

    An elegant, gentle, generous piece Mathilde. Winning will do that.

  2. Keiran Croker says:

    Thanks Mathilde. Footy provides a great sense of community that continurs to grow and entwine as you experience it. I had the pleasure of attending the game as a guest in the Geelong Members Stand, or more accurately I was in the guise of my nephew’s mother-in-law. My nephew married a girl from our Western Districts, whose inhabitants mostly follow the Cats. With my brother and two of his boys, we were certainly way outnumbered by a rather fanatical Cats crowd, who seemed to think the umpires had given them a poor go! Though I engaged to some degree I was quite restrained in enemy territory and victory was revealed by a warm inner glow rather than outward emotion!

  3. Luke Reynolds says:

    Well played Mathilde. With age and from being involved with the Almanac, I’ve realised the best footy experiences are with other like minded people, whether they be fellow fans of your team or fellow writers. Or both. The peoples game.
    Hope you don’t limit your yearly trips to Kardinia Park, the MCG is also a great venue for footy!

  4. craig dodson says:

    Coming from wagga originally i have a theory that if you put 100 people in a room, anywhere in the world, someone will be from wagga!

  5. E.regnans says:

    Grand awareness, MdeH.
    And grand descriptions, observations. (38J!)
    What a wonderful story.

  6. Peter Flynn says:

    Wild enough is right! Clever title Old Mate.

    Old Clowder sores were scratched on the Terrace.

    Thanks for making me laugh while I scratched.

    Ripping performance from your boys. Superb recruiting and development.

    The captain of the Estonian Team of the Century played a blinder.

    And your piece is what sports writing should be about. Cheer Cheer as your mob says.

    I found this by chance. Contains geometry

    https://theholybootsfootballemporium.com/2012/06/12/home-away-5-lakeside-oval/

  7. Flynny (and Holy Boot) – thanks for the link. Went to the Lakeside Oval sometime in the mid 60’s on our first trip over the border from SA to EvilVicLand. Dad had a mad Bloods supporter mate he met on his honeymoon in Healesville in the early 50’s.
    The ancient stands at the Parade and Lakeside seem to contain the ghosts of my youth, when Australia was another country. Sitting alone at the bottom of the world linked by ships and telegraphs and records and books that took months to arrive.
    On my work days I occasionally sit in the old grandstand at Fremantle Oval where the Dockers currently train and South Fremantle play. Wonderful spot for contemplating existence. Terrible spot for watching football. A long way back from the boundary and at an angle to the ground. I imagine there once were crowded spectator mounds and other stands to fill in the gaps, but at least it is still there to remind me of what things could have been.

  8. This is wonderful Mathilde. Great to finally meet and greet. And yes, the Almanac family is really something.

    Swans were far too good. I just can’t make sense of the Cats.

    Glad you enjoyed your sojourn south.

  9. Trucker Slim says:

    Terrific read Mathilde, and what a game to be at. Beating the Cats at their fortress and watching the game with some of the nicest footy folk you’re likely to meet (apart from their obsession with the hoops).

    “A pink-tinged crescent of cradling moon”: just one of many sublime lines and images.

    Let wine and footy flow. Cheer, cheer, cheers

  10. Rulebook says:

    Quality writing as always,Mathilde there is something extra special being at a away game win and a touch of irony that you met,Jan at cat land as usual love your ability to tell your story thank you

  11. What a wonderful piece Mathilde. The Almanac family is really quite something. It was wonderful to finally meet and greet.

    The Swans were way too good for the sloppy Cats who looked miles off the pace.

    Glad you enjoyed your sojourn south.

  12. DBalassone says:

    Lovely, refreshing read Mathilde – there’s nothing like travel to get the creative juices flowing. The incredible thing about this Swans team is that 8 players have played 28 games or less (and 11 under 60 games).

  13. Anne Myers says:

    You pulled the strands together perfectly.
    I even felt like I was there for some of it.
    Looks like a weekend in Melbs filled your cup and it floweth’d.

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