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Round 20 – Sydney v Port Adelaide: ‘Cuddles’ Heeney finds his place

The rain was coming straight down as the Swans faithful began to emerge from the eateries and pubs of Oxford Street. A guy in a blue shirt covered in retro Swans patches. A guy in an old woollen jersey on the phone, insisting he had to go. A couple with only their matching club beanies to protect them. We all poured down Oatley Street like it did from overhead.

 

I was without our usual O’Reilly contingent. Sydney can grind you to thinking you just can’t make it sometimes. So I walked alone out of the rain and into the tunnel by Gate F. An old man was edging his way on a bonafide crook towards the stairs and the stands. A little girl with a Swan on each cheek and a plastic poncho cloak was cross legged on the concrete, delving into hot chips while the adults talked above her. A man pushed his mate in a chair.

 

Last Thursday night, Marngrook Footy Show co-host Grant Hansen indulged his passion for a weekly coaching review and inevitable sacking, igniting the conversation that was already swirling around Richmond jobs, asking why Hardwick himself was not feeling the edge of the sword. Others disagreed. (Marngrook is one of the genuine pleasures of the week!) The beating heart of the program (and my footy idol), Gilbert McAdam insisted that clubs need to stick together, people need to back people and support them to get the job done better. Leppa. Hardwick. The media need to lay off and let them get on with their work.

 

But it’s a business now, Gilly, said Hansen. That’s the difference from when you were playing. These guys are on huge money and if the business is not a success, it’s their responsibility. You don’t see CEOs getting a two year extension if the company is not performing.

 

When I got to the top of the O’Reilly, Gwen from Row T’s fingernails were painted red. Gwen is our lighthouse up there. Gwen and Connie had been to the Swans Ladies Lunch on Friday. They gave their report. 500 females in the Noble, a solid speech from Grundy, a plethora of players on hand, mothers and wives and partners at the forefront, a beautiful lunch, impeccable service, substantial chit chat with Gary Rohan, the question of whether he’s staying. But, without a doubt, the highlight for Gwen was a photo and a cuddle from Isaac Heeney. A cuddle! I wondered if we should add him to the coterie of badges she keeps in her inside coat pocket. Few make it! Parker, Cunningham and this year’s addition, Tommy Papley. Talismans for good.

 

The footy was emphatic from the start. The rain stopped and the goals flowed. Heeney was in everything and often on our wing. O’Reillys Lisa and James arrived with the kids in tow, sandwiched me in their warmth. Heeney marked overhead and in front. I filled them in and we all patted Gwen on the shoulder. Lance had a goal. Xavier had a goal. Gary had a splendid kick from 50. I confessed to James that I have finally allowed myself to re-claim Gary as my favourite player. I’ve allowed myself to forget the high risk and fall once more for his willingness to chance and the skills he has to back it up. I’ve committed to trust his speed and sturdiness again. ‘Don’t say it, Mathilde,’ bemoaned James. Gary fell hard on his hip. But he stayed. And Heeney kicked truly. Papley kicked truly. With every play we wondered if it was Lady Gwen’s magic touch that had us up 41-0.

 

It was festive in O’Reilly Rows T, U and V. Lance helped himself to seconds, so did Xavier. We hardly had time to chat between goals. Until Estonia stormed into the gold medal position in front of Robbie Gray and silenced us all with a beautiful running goal from 48 metres out. Gwen turned in her seat: ‘You know what Rampe said yesterday – he hadn’t kicked a goal yet!’ How we applauded the great Dane! ‘You can’t beat that,’ said O’Reilly James with the voice of a man who has coached a defensive group. The Swans continued movement and pressure. I’m in awe of Hannebery’s hands. There’s nothing Parker can’t create. Heeney sat under a long ball, marked and kicked dead straight.

 

 

At the place where Grant and Gilly’s opinions diverged on Thursday night, ex Richmond hard-man Jake King stood in the fork with an observation that went something like this. The game is not a business for supporters and players or coaches. It’s all sorts of things tied up with continuity and belonging, humanity and effort and histories. The game conveniently becomes a business only when the ruling body or indeed clubs themselves (and sometimes players) want to make hard-nosed changes to the rules or personnel that they know won’t sit right with supporters.

 

Both Grant and Gilly speak truths and King harnesses the complication of their co-existence. There is no doubt, especially in light of Olympics week, that sport is now a multi-million dollar industry with complicated arteries of stakeholders. But exactly because it is so, it is our role and prerogative (and perhaps responsibility) – as members and supporters who take pleasure in the game – not to respond like investors.

 

Round 20 was Member Appreciation Round. I didn’t even know. I had glimpsed a thank you gram from the Swans for membership numbers reaching 56 523. And even though the Membership Department now call themselves ‘Consumer Business’, sandwiched in between O’Reillys Lisa and James, backed on to Gwen and Nigel, listening to the calls from behind in Row V to ‘run it out, run it out,’ watching the boys do just that – I didn’t recognise us as consumers nor know our game as business. We show up in bad weather, looking for something. We sit and cheer and talk and back the things we love. We hope our favourite players don’t go. We hope the good coaches stay. We hope the club adheres to something. We hope the play is good to watch. We feel blessed for the jostle towards impending finals. We imagine a season’s full fruition.

 

When Buddy had ice on a knee on the bench, the news passed like a Chinese whisper that never distorted. When Gary looked too ginger to continue, we were glad to see him benched. When the score didn’t climb beyond the even hundred in almost a quarter of football, we were grateful for the percentage that had already been built. If someone had asked me on Saturday why I am a member, I would have answered – to find and weave the magic in the hours we all spend together.

 

Someone had dropped red rose petals down the internal stairs of the O’Reilly. A fella descended them one by one; each one probably hurt but he looked happy. As I watched from the bus down Oxford Street, there we all were, dissipating across the city, coats going on across our red and white markings, spreading back into our lives, digesting what had been. The media quickly branded him ‘the X-factor’ but what Isaac Heeney might need most for a successful finals series is a few more cuddles and that spot in Gwen’s left pocket.

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. Wonderful Mathilde. Your reason for being a Member would be filed under “Other” in the AFL census. The main reasons for becoming a Member according to the AFL are:

    1 – because I get a return on my investment.
    2 – Because it allows me to get a seat.
    3 – because it gets me closer to the half time entertainment.
    4 – because it gets me better access to the food courts.
    5 – because I get a free scarf each year.
    6 – Other.

  2. Peter Fuller says:

    To find and weave the magic in the hours we spend together. Dear Mathilde your genius for painting gorgeous word pictures has me awestruck. How beautifully you have captured the meaning the game has for us. Consumers, bullshit!

  3. just started following you on instagram (we are notquitenewtown). your picture pictures as good as your word pictures!

  4. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    I’m happy with ‘other’ Dips.
    Thank you Peter F. Those are kind, meaningful words.
    Hi Peter W. I’m at MCA Sydney so know your books too. Small world. Wide webs.

  5. we’re cracking on with another one. can you arrange to move Christmas back a few months?

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