To visit the Sydney Swans website click the logo below.

Round 19 – Geelong v Sydney: New country

Round 19: Swans v Geelong

8 August 2015



I’d booked my ticket south before Round 19 accumulated so much weight. A chance to see old friends, a chance to meet some new. By the time I am packed, it seems appropriate to be facing this match on the run, to be witnessing Adam Goodes’ return to football in the relative discomfort of an opposition ground, a fortress not at all fallen, but with a draw bridge that has slackened in recent encounters.


I take to the sky on Friday morning. There’s discomfort in leaving home, a child’s grip, the place I fit, sitting in an oversized tin can watching the ground I know become aerial-view, the cliffs we walk at weekends nothing more than a white, sandy ribbon below. There’s strangeness in plunging through a valley of clouds towards a city that I can’t see ‘til the last minute, and expectations around footy and folk and what the weekend might hold. But it doesn’t mean we don’t do these things. Because there are delights to be had.


Part of this footy themed getaway is meeting J.Harms. I’ve been writing on his Footy Almanac site since 2011; we’re far from strangers but we’ve never met. His plan is twofold: a quarter or two of soul footy at Brunswick Street Oval, an educational, pre-fixture squiz at the Roys v Rovers, then the 4 o’clock train to Geelong.


On my way to Fitzroy, I duck through the First Peoples gallery at the museum. It’s my business to know I’m in Kulin nation, on Boonwurrung country where I’m staying down the bay, Woiwurrung and Wathaurong. It’s my business to listen to Koori elders tell the story of their Creator Ancestor Bundjil, the Eagle. I am charmed by the idea that when he finished his work on earth, Bundjil asked Waa the Crow to make the winds that took him to rest in the sky and stars and he took his two wives—a pair of black swans!


I can hear the whistle before Freeman Street and the overlapping yaps of young men. I skirt the boundary slowly, taking it all in, past a few spotters who’ve pitched for a glance, a fella organising his Saturday night against the fence, round to the grandstand and the Fitzroy faithful, where the sausages are blackening and the banter is up. J.Harms finds me.


Fifteen years with a membership card in your back pocket makes you a relative stranger to footy. And what passes for knowledge in Sydney wouldn’t even make the précis in Melbourne. Standing back with the cold of the sod coming up through my boots, watching a clash whose history has no meaningful depth for me, partaking in rituals I don’t understand, a part I’m not sure how to play—it’s an Eliza Doolittle moment. But there are also budding friends and their genealogical understanding, people who are willing to share, and a whole world opening up if I’m willing to stand a while.


We go out for the quarter time huddle. We go out for the quarter time huddle? There are dreads and buns, stocky legs dabbed in mud, bodies that don’t look right to take the slapping they just have. The Roys are up, and the coach is asking for patience in one breath and risk in the next. I like that. Hands are fast in the second quarter, full-strength contests, some special marks and a few bright goals. It’s good to watch and I’m witching up the Swans to play with this kind of pure intent.


But we’re off, cross-town on the #11, not before we’re almost run down by the Roys returning to the field from the sheds. There’s an hour on the 4.10pm to spin and unravel with J. Harms and old friend Plum. It’s an hour of orientations, pale earth and blue hills through a half window as we stand and chat our way to Geelong. And then there’s the Lord of the Isles, a pub on the corner with a Vikingesque logo, a place of pints and pots not middies or schooners and a further assortment of Almanackers to greet: P.Flynn, J.Dunne. I’ll never be Hauteclocque. It’s loud and happy in there, building with the clock and the flow. After one boutique Asahi, Flynn recommends the Minimum Chips. There’s a leaping neon Ablett on the wall below a sky of fairy lights. Here I am—a lone Sydney woman being hosted by a clowder of tomcats.


And then we’re in and making our way to the terrace. Tonight’s the one and only game under lights at Kardinia Park this season. A push for eighth and a cling to fourth. Parker’s tonne and Selwood’s double. The joint banner of unity. There’s the question of whether last week’s surge was a true return to form for the Swans or the energy of shock and adrenaline. And above everything, it’s time to check the response of the mob. There’s a chill but it’s not so bad, some Swans but not so many. There’s a dumpling cart called Wung Hung Lo. As we climb to a spot, there’s blue and white font for Goodesy and a nod from the boys who hold it. The fellas tell me it’s the quietest crowd in footy. That it’s more strategic to stand.


The young ‘uns are up and about early with a nice mark from Heeney and a sneaky goal from B.Jack and some good signs for J.Kolodjashnij. First points to the Cats and the collective heads of the terrace turn to the replay screen behind us and wait … for the sponsorship, the replay and the victory rasp of digital kitty. Heeney takes a major from Cockatoo. There’s a wind-back-the-clock intercept from the man in the spotlight and a beautiful goal on the end of it. How odd to watch your team among someone else’s furniture.


A free to Hawkins to start the second and the Cats go out in front. Jetta’s loose and Rampe’s got the raking kick tuned perfectly. The question emerges on the terrace – has any right footer raked? The Cats look in control but the scores stay tight through Jetta and Tippett, through press from the birds and a quick one from Parks. But it’s a big chest, the Hawkins chest.


The clowder have the language of inheritance: That’s awful, and that’s awful and that’s Mackie. As the team finds its way, they stretch their chat back to the past and fling things up to the present, pulling at old navy and white threads and re-stitching them, reaffirming their own belonging each time. That mark was the number five in 89. It sounds, to a stranger, like talking country.


If this is the quietest ground in football, it’s not so hush hush now. The Cats are chipping at our insufficient lead but keeping us in it with peppering, until the kiddie Gregson takes them out in front and that scoreboard cat is starting to hiss feral territory. It’s pressure in spades for the Swans defence, flat feet, an ineffective engine and a forward structure with no bones. We all love you Tommy, yells the boy in the blue beanie. Not all of us. The ump hands the Cats a 20 point lead with a ridiculous free to Selwood. But Geelong are the superior team and you’re supposed to bring a gift to a party. The rake hits Jetta again, but they can’t get further and Motlop finds Caddy on the line. I’m told the siren I just heard is in fact the Express departing. The real thing only comes later.


It wriggled in me all last week that one of the central things underneath the comments, opinions and feelings bandied around in the unpacking of the dancing and the booing and the ‘right’ to do all sorts of things, is the failure to deal with discomfort—recognising our own, what we do with it, how much of it we are willing to carry ourselves or how fast we need to move it. Especially the brand born of unfamiliarity. It wasn’t free of sound on the terrace. I heard the lazy passing of discomfort, however minor it was. There are players who know how to carry for others. Joel Selwood is one of them. Adam Goodes is one of them. It may have something to do with patience and risk.


The points are Geelong’s, the relief may be Goodes’. There’s a four for us on the 10.30pm to Southern Cross. These new friends feel old already. I am fortunate; the ruptures to my comfortable are sought and the experience is fruitful and safe.

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. Glad you enjoyed your time in Mexico Mathilde. Only saw highlights of this game. The Cats looked on, the Swans looked ragged. Probably the Cats best win of the year.
    Delightful rhythm to the piece.

  2. A “clowder of tomcats” has become my favourite collective noun.

    The experience of suburban footy in Melbourne – especially at a ground held in the esteem that the BSO is – is perhaps an underrated one to the interstate fan. Especially visitors from the non-tradtional footy states.

    Nice also to know your safety at the Cattery was guaranteed by J Harms, P Flynn and J Dunne. Comfortable, indeed.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Yep, the “clowder” was worth the price of admission alone.

    My brief research has thrown up a “gargle of swans” , probably sighted at the Lord of the Isles before the game.

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Terrific observations about things I take for granted Mathilde.

    P Flynn

  5. Your pieces all have a certain je ne sais quoi, Mathilde. WIll that pass muster on the Champs Elysee next month?
    Wiktionary reports more “clowder” hits than in the past 6 months. Loved the Eliza Doolittle also, and your observations on the diverse tribal banter of footy. Sioux, Cherokee and Comanche don’t always converse.
    Has there ever been a raking right foot kick? Much anthropological work to do here. Your background makes you uniquely qualified.
    As for your Swans did the absence of Buddy make such a difference? I remain suspicious that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.

  6. Dave Brown says

    Thanks, a great read. Brodie Smith rakes as could Darren Jarman (but, then, he could do anything he liked). An experiment, interesting or otherwise, is to watch a game in a mirror – something I discovered in a gym. I found it amazing how many of the traits I attributed to the cack-footed, including raking, were replicated by right footers in the mirror. Perception is reality etc

  7. Andrew Fithall says

    Enjoyable read Mathilde. Now you have experienced Kardinia Park, I invite you to join a better class of Almanacker (ie P Flynn and J Harms in suits) at Flemington on Oaks Day.

  8. Grand to read you M de Hauteclocque
    Grand to meet you.
    Grand to hear your stories.
    And to walk to the Fitzroy huddle.

  9. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thanks all. It was a very memorable Saturday.
    Non, Mark, not too many Swans In the ‘Isles’
    Oui PB. That’ll pass. ‘Xcept I’d have to hear you say it …
    Love the mirror idea Dave. I’ll be doing that!
    Flemington sounds interesting, Andrew. I’d be way way out of my depth there. And I’d need a wardrobe budget!
    Grand grand to meet you E.Regnans. Thanks for standing on sod so graciously and generously and for chaperoning me to the huddle. I’ll dine off that for a while.
    And I look forward to Round 2 on Friday P.Flynn.

  10. Excellent day. Thanks for the telling.

    Next trip could include a Roys lunch and the NFA.

    [Feels like a cultural exchange project – where do you take us when we come to Sydney?]

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Footy with J.Harms and P.Flynn. Chaperoned by E.regnans. The almanac could make big money out of such grand experiences.
    Great read Mathilde. Hope your Swans kick into gear soon. They need to very soon. But hopefully not this Friday night.

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Mathilde, reading your words makes a jaded Magpie smile. Were Dave, Harmsy and Flynny the 3 modern day princes of Serendip in this tale?
    Fitzroy. My childhood is filled with memories of stirring victories followed by rousing renditions of ‘We are the boys from Old Fitzroy’ to the tune of La Marseillaise.

  13. I also loved the Eliza Doolittle line.
    Did you by chance happen to yell out “Move your bloomin’ a….” ?

  14. Trucker Slim says

    Another beautiful story Mathilde. What a great and historic day, with great company. Winning would have been the cherry but it sounds like the pie was pretty delicious. I trust that Mr Flynn behaved.


  15. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Phil – the fellas did offer a few bars of La Marseillaise for ‘la française’ ovalside. Very kind.
    Luke – definitely worth paying for.
    Rick – he did ok.

    On the Sydney exchange, I’ve been racking my brain for what the core Sydney ‘sport’ experience might be.
    The McGrath Saturday auction circuit? Boutique beer in Paddington followed by platinum seats in the O’Reilly? Poached eggs with truffle butter toast at the Icebergs on Sunday morning, watching others do laps?
    I’ll keep working on it …

  16. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Mathilde glad you enjoyed the day and the night apart from the result ,it is always great to meet a fellow member of the Knackery and put a face to a name,beautifully written as always

Leave a Comment