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Round 19 – Sydney v Geelong: 20 years on.

Sydney v Geelong

3:20pm, Sunday July 28




I received an envelope in the mail last week, toughened with a sheet of cardboard, marked from the Sydney Swans. Inside was a certificate, cursively congratulating me on twenty consecutive years of club membership. ‘Twenty years?’ was my first shocked thought. ‘Twenty years!’ came the softer follow-up.


I was not born into my club membership. I didn’t receive it as a baton nor choose it in defiance. In my childhood, ‘sherrin’ was more likely to be a varietal red on my French father’s table than an oval ball to kick around a field. I fell into footy in my early 20s, invited to a game I was promised I would find poetic. And I did. Membership grew into caring about an era of players and their culture, investing in a narrative throughout games and seasons. But it also became about belonging to a stand and a row and the stories of lives we sit among. Week to week. Month to month.


When I had a child of my own, I did everything right. I knitted my spring baby seasonally inappropriate red and white Merino wool booties. I took him to open training before he could walk and manoeuvred him along the boundary padding where he was blessed by my beloved Micky O running rehab laps. We took him to a Swans grand final! But it was the 2006 edition. And the very morning after the game, our almost two-year-old stood on the breakfast table over the Sunday Age and slipped his allegiance seamlessly to the Eagles. ‘We’re flying by!’ he sang, week after week. Month after month.


It was three years until we won him back, when he pulled on his tiny shiny guernsey for the Newtown Swans Under 6s. He wore Rohan’s 16. He named his goldfish Jetta and Jed (Lamb) and Reid. We got a blue cat with white paws – a Geelong supporter, he assured me – and he raced her down the backyard with the footy tucked under his arm, holding off possession all the way to the jasmine. I called him my Cygnet. Within another three years, his interest in footy had waned. The goldfish died. But his love for the Cat and her species grew. He must have read the Dorling Kindersley Cat Encyclopaedia for a season’s worth of hours through those years.


My approach to Sunday’s game against the Cats was already skewed by the affection I have for a clowder of Geelong supporters I have come to know. One by-product of club membership is that your path is inevitably crossed with members of other teams. You come to care about them and thereby their teams’ fortunes in ways that easily blur the boundaries of single-minded loyalty. But the complication was vastly amplified by Saturday when the now almost 15-year-old Cygnet stumbled into the kitchen and asked, ‘Do we have a blue and white scarf?’ He could no longer resist the intense love he has for species Felis catus.


Sunday in Sydney was a perfect winter afternoon. With over 30,000 in the stands, the crowd was as loud as the western sun. Gwen from Row T was wearing short sleeves. She turned in shock at the Cygnet turned Kitten, though knows she doesn’t have a leg to stand on, her own navy and white adult son lodged quietly beside her. (The other one’s a Hawk!) Every single one of our O’Reilly gang was there for the very first time this year. It felt like something unnameable.


Ronke snatched the first goal within five minutes and the pom poms were high at the Randwick end. The Swans seemed to have control of the contested ball and were intent on efficient disposal, greedy movement through the middle and the kind of repeat entries reminiscent of a time when forward pressure was all the talk.


As the Cats took off towards goal in the second, I wondered, ‘Maybe this is the scoring end?’


Aliir Aliir intercepted.


‘Maybe not,’ added O’Reillys Patrick and James. ‘Maybe this is just a good day for the Swans!’


Zak Jones spilled it.


‘Maybe not,’ we all giggled in unison.


Before we had finished our banter, it was 3.3 apiece The Cats muscled in on the clearances and took the throat of the scoreline through Hawkins, Ratugolea, Dangerwood and Selwood the Younger. Blakey danced an exquisite double-act look-away ballet to land a score in Heeney’s reach and Ronke took a mark much higher than he was made for. But Hawkins continued to parade his 250 games of experience and the Cats steadied it to an even ledger at the break.


The Swans’ designated Member Recognition Round meant that not only did someone jiggle cardboard for money in the half time break, but someone won a car! And the rest of us sat in our congregation, warming like lizards in the last of the sun, relishing the ritual distribution of Gwen’s footy biscuits, watching the sky track through shades of coral and fire, talking of holidays spent and children growing, riffing on what a rebuild actually means, what it takes to teach young men to play and who might come and go. All the while my Kitten purred beside me.


Geelong arranged their structures and experience, held possession and worked to targets. Our fellas, without a mast in the middle, couldn’t cost the Cats their wobbles and rummaged for lost pace with rushed kicks that came straight back. Half way through the quarter, the sun sank below the Ladies’ flags taking any red-striped headiness with it. But there is spirit and will enough in this group. And Dawson is a shining light, always in the right spot, utility by request, sweeper when needed, goal kicker on demand. As Heeney’s double couldn’t quite total us to a Nick Davis ending and Geelong careered towards their victory, I looked for equivocation in the Kitten’s eyes but found none.


I’m a believer in coming to our memberships by choice, repeat investing if that’s what it takes to find the right fit. For twenty years, week after week, month after month, I have consciously and unconsciously re-selected this club, this row and seat, this band of O’Reillys and all our conversational threads, the players of eras past and those now on the threshold.


In the car on the way home, I helped the Kitten try on his new colours more fully. No baton, no defiance.


‘What other song has the ground name in it?’ I asked, prompted by O’Reilly Max’s giggle during the hooped victory tune. ‘It’s not like we say Cheer cheer at the SCG…’


‘What was Skilled anyway?’ he added.


‘Who knows? A credit union for workers? And who thought Alphabet Stadium (as one of the Clowder calls it) was a good idea?’ we laughed.


I am fortunate to find, twenty years on, that my red and white still fits me. The blue and white cat was howling at the front door when we got home, racing the Kitten to the kitchen to gorge on the spoils of his homecoming.




SYDNEY           3.3       6.5       7.6       12.8 (80)
GEELONG        1.1       6.5       10.10   16.11 (107)


Dawson 3, Heeney 3, Ronke 2, Papley, Kennedy, Blakey, Parker
Geelong: Hawkins 5, Clark 2, Dangerfield 2, Duncan 2, Ratugolea, S.Selwood, J.Selwood, Parsons, Atkins


Mills, Dawson, Lloyd, Parker, Heeney, Kennedy
Geelong: Hawkins, Duncan, Kelly, Dangerfield, O’Connor, J.Selwood


Crowd: 32,911


This piece originally appeared on the Sydney Swans website.




Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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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. Have always liked the cut of the Cygnet’s jib. Chooses which breeze will fill the sails rather than just being swept along with any gust. Remember an early photo of him chasing a footy on a green hillside framed by gums. Elysian Fields. Of course he has strayed in recent years as Cats tend to do. Sure he will be flying high again in coming years.

  2. DBalassone says

    Terrific piece of writing Mathilde. Congratulations on 20 years of membership – and what a great 20 years it’s been for the Swans too. Lots of highs in that time.

  3. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thank you fellas.
    Funnily enough, PB I thought of you when the Eaglet/Cygnet/Kitten lined up at the front gate in the blue and white he’d cobbled together. You were always a supporter of his independence. Biased, bien sûr, but lovely.
    DB you are right! So many highs. I hit the code at a very fine moment for the Swans. Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel so troubled by ‘re-build’ … whatever that is.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    Your attitude to parenting and allegiance is as commendable as your writing – which is exquisite. Well done also for your measured acceptance of a down time.
    As I was in a very distant life a Swans fan, due to my brother spending some time in a minor playing role at the Lake Oval, I can confirm that you have been very fortunate with the success and continuing level of competitiveness of the Swans during your twenty years of commitment. Often supporters with such an experience display a sense of entitlement and won’t tolerate even a brief period of lesser achievement. In consequence I admire both you and Jan Courtin, with your quite different experience of meeting Kipling’s two imposters triumph and disaster and treating them just the same.

  5. E.regnans says

    G’day MdH. Please accept my congratulations to you on 20 years of membership. Again you weave a thread around the pedestrian and we are all the better for your interpretation of loom.
    Well played, especially, to the independence-seeking artist-formelrly-known-as-cygnet.
    Cutting loose, flying a flag up the pole…
    I guess time will tell which way the wind blows.

    By chance today I also cast feelers of memory back to 1999. For me it was a gratitude to Tim Rogers and his music-making. Those years. All of those wonderful, awful, pedestrian years.
    Thank you.

  6. Fabulous Mathilde.

    We have such plans for our children don’t we? And they have the audacity to ignore them!!

    Our youngest is his own man. I’m very proud of him because he takes the opposite view to his father on everything! I admire that. He makes up his own mind. When I delightfully announce “The Cats won last night!” I get a “hhmmph” reply. It guts me.

    Was it Cat Stevens who wrote – “From the moment we can speak we are ordered to listen”? I’m really pleased our children march to their own drum. Even if I disagree with the beat from time to time.

    I have a soft spot for the Swans. My mother is a South supporter, as are her brothers.

    Hope to see you in Melbourne soon. And one of these days I’ll get up to Sydney.

    And congratulations on the 20 years membership. But surely you are too young!

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