Round 23 – Hawthorn v Collingwood: This is water


Sun sets on Collingwood’s 2016


“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.


The Buds (10 and 9-years-old) and I are off to the footy. Round 23; our first game all together for 2016. In our Collingwood scarves, we are heavily outnumbered by the brown and gold. Gaudy advertising flashes from the level 1 and 2 fences. And from the scoreboard. And from the TV monitors.


“Oh look Bud, it’s that ad again.”


And for the first three quarters we are amid a theatre-going crowd; a crowd from which bursts of polite applause occasionally issue out of the silence; or from the sometime void left by gaps in the ground-announcer’s schedule (“I’m sitting here now with our competition winners Lachlan and Bianca…”)


“Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. “

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.



When Dane Swan had his foot smashed in Round 1, much of the 2016 footy wind was taken from my sails. But that was just me. There were others watching other games, interestedly. Weren’t there? With Dane Swan’s retirement during the week, I’ve felt a strange obligation to head along today.


Injuries, ineptitude, inglorious defeats all visited upon Collingwood in 2016. And now the gerrymandered rostering of games befalls us this one Round 23 shining light; this one chance to hinder, if not halt, Hawthorn’s pursuit of a history-equalling fourth successive premiership. For when Melbourne won in 1955, 56, and 57, meeting them in the 1958 Grand Final, and beating them, was a lesser skilled but ferociously motivated Collingwood. Today was the 2016 team’s one chance to help preserve club history.


“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.



But of course, it’s just a footy game. This “preserving history” line is my attempt to create meaning from something the money-men (for they are men) have consistently undermined and effectively destroyed in high level footy. Look at Fitzroy. Look at the 2016 fixture. At the scheduling for the 2016 finals (released tonight). Absurd.


“Bullshit! He ducked his head!” –crowd at the MCG today.


“He took his bloody head off! Open your eyes!” –crowd at the MCG today.


And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means.

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.



And while last week I was appalled to witness the continuing Old Scotch entitlement syndrome in full embarrassing glory at Brunswick Street Oval, today I paid to get a view of the Hawthorn FC version. It’s similar. Probably less grating; but more voluminous.


“Don’t start with the charity free kicks – the Collingwood filth don’t deserve it.” –crowd at the MCG today.


Who knows what the life of Jeremy Howe is really like? Or that of Luke Breust? Or Travis Cloke? Not many of us. But many of us happily yell and scream unflattering thoughts after T Cloke takes a colossal mark 30m out, dead in front, and then misses the set shot. (I wonder whether today we’ve seen this classic play for the last time).


“The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”
David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.


“Hey Bud, look; he’s got three goals. Let’s give him a big crown on his Footy Record photo.”


“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.


Today I bought a Swanny badge; the first player badge I’ve bought since probably one of Graham Wright in about 1989. For his footy. It is a badge of mourning.


“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.


Some observations:
Many decisions decide the result of a game.
N Brown switching play but his kick being picked off.
M Williams choosing a bad option and getting picked off.
L Hodge being gifted a soft 50m penalty and kicking a goal.
J Lewis ducking his head and receiving a free kick.
These lead to goals.
L Breust missing his own boot from the goal square.
T Cloke missing a very gettable set shot.
These don’t. They are easy to attribute cause and effect.


And yet the boundary umpire throws a skewiff return and the ball follows a path it otherwise would not have. Or the high ball into the open forward line bounces high on its end rather than skidding on, creating a contested tap scenario rather than an open goal. The push in the back is called as holding the ball. And on.


“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self.”
David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.


“We’re the family club – what the hell are you?” – crowd at the MCG today.

“Where are all your supporters?” – crowd at the MCG today.

“Bud, they’re a bit grumpy, aren’t they?”

“Yeah bud, they’ve got their brown and yellow grumpy pants on.”



“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”
David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.


Bud – “I like that Brodie Grundy. I really do.”


I like that Brodie Grundy, too. And his efforts, along with those of Adam Treloar and the mercurial and weaving and bobbing and ever-Neo-like Scott Pendlebury, have Collingwood, this patch-work Collingwood, this ragtag Collingwood bunch missing Swan, Elliott, Moore, Reid, Adams and Fasolo, leading with only minutes remaining.


“Bud have you tried to eat four tic tacs at once?”


“Oooh, no. Is it spicey?”


“It’s like eating a Fisherman’s Friend.”



“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.


It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:


“This is water.”


“This is water.”


David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College commencement speech, 21 May 2005.



And the Hawks force the ball forward and take the late lead.

That will be it.


As a 2016 Collingwood script, it works.

It works.



And so (this is water), this 2016 Collingwood season that never started finally stops.
The sun of the 2016 home and away season (this is water) finally sets.
And now, through a prolonged dusk (this is water), the night of finals approaches.
Thanks all, for the year.
May the best team (this is water) win.


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About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Life imitates Footy Swampy. It turns on a moment. But I’m sick of those soft 50m penalties. That one was absolute rubbish. (As most of them are – Ed) Even the Leafblowers amongst whom I was embedded thought so. . It’s like having Andrew Bolt for PM and Steve Price his Treasurer.

  2. Interesting read as always,OBP whether any one agrees with the 10 metre restricted area is a different point the fact is it is a rule and the fact is clubs have not bothered to find out,drill and practice re the rule so much for full time footballers and professionalism.In general tho surprise surprise the Hawks got the rub of the green umpiring wise.Aish getting inj hurt the pies and I can not understand the back tap stupidity when the pies hit the front granted,Pendlebury unusually fumbled but it is not a percentage play dumb dumb dumb and I certainly don’t blame,Grundy blame the idiotic ruck coach.
    Moore and Scharenberg keys to a pies revival thanks OBP

  3. Yes, Wrap, it turns on a moment.
    And there are a lot of moments in a season. Futile to argue with where they have cumulatively delivered Collingwood in 2016.
    It’s the deserving/ undeserving, entitlement claptrap that disappoints mostly. Did Hawthorn deserve to win more than Collingwood? No. Do they deserve a double chance? No. But these things happened, and whole stories are written, identities are written, around the idea of the deserving hero.
    Luck plays such a big part in life. Underestimated.

    OBP- yes, the rule is there. And you’ve written about it before. Baffling that players are unaware of it. But aside from the technical, yesterday it seemed that the penalty greatly outweighed the crime.

  4. OBP yes it does but it is the rule and sides should practise it inexcusable that they don’t it off by heart

  5. jan courtin says

    That David Foster Wallace is one clever bloke.

  6. Love the Bud’s “brown and gold grumpy pants” line. Wisdom of the innocents.
    Sounds like it was a cracking game to be savoured together, bar for the final result. Magpie fans can look to 2017 with more justified optimism than all the other “aggressive rebooters”.
    DFW’s Kenyon Commencement Address is a cracker. A brilliant but deeply flawed man.
    Along similar lines from DFW’s ex – the brilliant poet and memoirst Mary Karr.
    “My goal in high school was to stay out of the penitentiary, so if I can go from there to here, you guys can all be gainfully employed.”

  7. Good piece Dave
    It was a thrilling game and the Pies were a bit stiff although they got a freebie in the square that put them level that should have gone the other way for the early leap. The season is done for the Pies and the Blues and I think you blokes had more to cheer about in the end. It was probably the first time I’ve watched Trealor play a full game and the kid can play. Lets hope that was the Hawks last win of the year as they have become insuffurable.

  8. G’day Jan – a very interesting bloke. His Kenyon speech to which I refer there has been made into a several different types of book. Check out the link. It is stunning insight; made all the more poignant as he later took his own life.
    His other writing is wonderful (at times).

    PB – it was a cracking game, indeed. We all tipped the pies, and were hopeful all the way through. And then, the siren goes and we shrug our shoulders. Good perspective.
    Thanks for the Mary Karr link. I didn’t know of her.

    Tony – I didn’t follow the Blues much. Interested in your take of Bolton’s year. What’s his point of difference? A Treloar can kick and mark and run and tackle – so that’s a good start. He’s had to carry a bit more in the absence of D Swan, and he’s done well. Probably helps to learn at the feet of S Pendlebury.
    The finals seem pretty wide open, especially given this week’s break.
    Thanks all.

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    “Brown and Yellow” Grumpies alright. I refuse to use ‘Gold’ when it comes to Hawthorn. Thoughtful as always, ER. Some learn to swim in contaminated water better than others. Despite the result, I reckon we are on the right track.
    History shows this Hawthorn team is one of the greats. C’mon Catters next week!!

  10. Great game. Great result. But you knew I’d say that.

    Hawthorn entitlement? What is that anyway?

    We scratched a path through the opening rounds, made the most of the middle part of the season and as expected started to look tired towards the end of the season proper. And we’re in with a once in a lifetime shot at the biggest brass ring (knowing the odds are against that). Who’d begrudge a team and its fans dreaming that dream? There’s no entitlement there just every kid’s longing.

    Cheers & another deep and resonating essay DW.

  11. If you want to know about entitlement syndromes, just try being a Port Adelaide supporter in Adelaide! Used to be that entitlement and privilege in Adelaide were defined by the 3 words “Princes or Saints?” Now it’s just a different 3 words, “Adelaide Football Club”.

  12. E.reg – “Today I bought a Swanny badge; the first player badge I’ve bought since probably one of Graham Wright in about 1989.” I am happy to buy a Graham Wright badge today. The man knows how to put our list together.

    Rick – we can but dream. I have recently heard the 2016 Hawks described as Federer-esque…when it clicks, you can see the brilliance of old. But it clicks less and less often. I have cause to reflect upon a prophetic Almanac article following Round 1 – modesty prevents me from naming the author. “We’ll all be rooned”….it is just taking a little longer than expected. And of course it had to be against the Cats…

  13. Thanks Phil – yes, sink or swim. Or help someone else swim.

    Good on you Rick – your lads have down very well.
    The entitlement of which I write is that which can be seen on horrified faces, heard from aggressive voices – at the mere prospect of a loss – as if such a thing was a foreign concept.
    Perhaps it could be seen as a “winning culture”. Though there was not a lot of good will around with Collingwood up in the dying minutes.

    Bucko – Humility is around. But not always.

    Thanks all.

  14. Ahh, the infinite jest of David Foster Wallace.

    Very very enjoyable piece, e.r., with many themes whirling around.

    “…the continuing Old Scotch entitlement syndrome in full embarrassing glory at Brunswick Street Oval…”
    Having played over 200 games of VAFA footy, I reckon it’s a great comp – and I am a big supporter of the VAFA in an area where the WRFL is king. But I vividly remember a match at Old Carey – in which we were flogging them – when a supporter yelled out “At least we will always be richer than you people from Williamstown” to much guffawing from the home supporters. He obviously had not been following the real estate prices.

    I don’t dislike Hawthorn as much as so many others, but in my experience as an MCC member watching many neutral games (as NMFC do not often play there) Hawthorn supporters are by far the worst behaved. Why is that?

    And what a great line from DFW: “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

    Enjoy this time with the Buds. My sons (21, 19 & 18) only go to the footy now with their mates. I am reliably informed by others that I must now wait about 10 years until I get to go the footy with them again.

  15. G’day Smokie-

    I love the VAFA too, though never played.
    It has an authenticity of purpose and contributors of all kinds.

    that’s a stand out line in a stand out speech. I agree.
    Strident atheists sometimes have trouble seeing their worship for what it is. (And I’m on the atheist side of neutral- but hey- what do I know?)
    There is no such thing as not worshipping.
    We all see these people every day. At work, at play. WE ALL are these people, too, of course.

    And I certainly am enjoying this time with the buds.
    Working 3 days/week so I’m around as much as we can manage.
    Funny waiting period you’re in, while everybody works out who they are, I guess. Thanks.

  16. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Dave. For all of the corporatism involved around an AFL game, it’s still a great day out with your children. I’ve never enjoyed going to the footy more than I do now with my boys. May you and the buds get to more games in a more succesful 2017 for Collingwood.

    And go whoever plays Hawthorn in the finals. The 4 flags in a row by ‘The Machine’ is something I never want to see equalled. Unless it’s by the Pies!!

  17. John Butler says

    Splendid piece E Reg.

    I don’t think it’s an invented narrative – I think the Pies would have been aware they were defending their patch of history. And they fought to the last man. Carlton did the same in 1999 against the Bombers. I was there that Prelim day and it was high in all out thoughts. Tradition can mean nothing sometimes. But it can also nourish in the right circumstance

    The best of DFW is the best anyone’s been for a long time.

  18. G’day Luke-
    It’s a good day, no doubt.
    I think it could be better. And a lot of that is to do with the role of big business. Ads, ads, ads, etc. I realise that they pay the bills. To that I wonder do the bills need no be so high?

    Thanks JB.
    In wondering about that 4-in-a-row tradition, I was thinking that the AFL is not the (former) VFL. Adelaide and Perth records are not part of AFL history, so why should VFL records be?
    Might it not be best to start AFL comparisons afresh starting from the time of GWS arrival?
    I’m new to this line of thinking, but I’m exploring it.

    DFW such a great painter of ideas.

  19. John Butler says

    But there’s money in all that history. End of debate there, E Reg.

    It’s all about priorities.

  20. Yes, JB.
    So much has changed since 1958 – apart from the fundamental composition of the league – that comparisons of any kind are problematic.
    But I guess we use comparisons, and it makes sense that we use them, because we all grew from our shared history.
    And there are stories/ memories to be traded upon, indeed.

  21. A really good read ER. I’ve held off commenting after my outburst in responding to an earlier piece of yours, when the Hawks pipped my Swans in a similar way to this game; sometimes it is hard to contain, as you well understand. Like many others I was barracking enthusiastically for the Magpies that day and I admire your wry acceptance of the hard and painful reality.
    That rule: I can see the point but I still have trouble with the way it is applied sometimes.
    I look forward to reading your takes on the games to come – they are always instructive.

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