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Round 3 – Sydney v GWS: When a skyline of cranes is no match for tenderness, beauty and (another) Buddy moment

We’re running out of summer clothes up here in Sydney. The herbs are bolting. The quilt remains vacuum sealed under the bed. The cat sleeps all day on the wooden cool of the dining table. It’s hard to find the feel of footy while the temperature’s above 25 after dark and the gums are blossoming for a third time.


After the biblical sunset that back-dropped the game against Port on Easter Sunday, I was happy there’d be no chance of metaphorical settings or darkenings on Saturday night. O’Reilly James wasn’t sure he’d make it. He had an engagement party for sixty year olds.


‘Huh?!’ I said to myself when I read his message.


I was resigned to missing the first quarter. The Cob was in Cologne and I would have to peel my Cygnet off the trapeze bar at 7pm and coerce him east with the promise of a chicken burger and choc ripple Drumstick.


In Paddington, the light towers governed an inky sky. The palm trees were motionless in the heat. It’s rare to walk towards the little G with my Cygnet these days. At 13 he’s into acrobatics and flying. He’s into team games that exist in virtual worlds where he meets his mates and they live out things they will never walk in their skins. He’s into films and music. And card games that turn him bilingual. We walked in step. We noticed a guy propped on a wall holding a mobile stream of the game a hand’s length from his face. We passed an old fella 100 metres from the gates pacing up and down the footpath, his membership lanyard around his neck, a radio pressed against his ear.


‘Huh?’ my Cygnet and I said to each other with our eyes.


It kind of sums Sydney right now. All her arteries are broken and bleeding out. She’s full of cranes and copycat apartment blocks that stand empty and tracks that don’t go anywhere. Everyone seems to be one or two steps away from where they’re at, unaware that they are actually right there. It’s no secret I’m out of love with Sydney right now and we were about to get a double dose.


Snuggled into the collective humidity of the O’Reilly, Max filled us in. He was loving it already. By O’Reilly Max’s barometer, the pressure was all ours. It was super to see Reid back in the forward half; Lance needed a mate up there. Florent looked like he’d arrived. I’ve been unsure about him, apart from his speed. He’s looked all puppy and pounce but disorganised when he got to the ball. But here he looked like arrival and balance and possess and assess and dispose. He’s mustered some authority. The fiery forwards were doing their work – Rohan and Papley – men who embody capriciousness. And Reid stormed forward for two before the break.


Gwen had cake at the half, left overs from her granddaughter’s third birthday. I remember the week that little girl was born. The Cygnet graciously demolished a piece and we set off to find that ice cream. (He’d done two hours of break-your-abs conditioning and blissfully had space for both!) Offers thundered through the concourse. $1000 from the bank in the Citi for waving their banner like mad. Member prize with tickets for something, or entry to some other thing. Game day prize for so and so for making it into the venue and listening hard enough to hear their name. Free Big Mac. Kick a goal for $500. It felt very Sydney. Push and show, be sold to and feel like you’ve won.


James was smartly dressed in Row U when we returned from the ice cream hunt.


‘Huh?’ I said delightedly as I kissed him on both cheeks.


‘I’m covering both worlds,’ he said smiling.


The rivalry is established now whatever these two Sydneys are. But there was a level of joy in the stands. It was still fiesta hot. And it was all in our forward half. Papley and Sinca goaled. And in stormed little Will. He too looks more imposing now. He’s put on upper body and he’s leading through packs with purpose. Gwen turned to me on his second goal in almost as many minutes and under the din of the thrill she mouthed, ‘We might have to get the number 9 badge.’ That’s it. He’s set. Gwen is putting him in her pocket! (It didn’t bypass me that he inked a new deal in the week!)


But as quickly as she praised Will, she was stripping poor Sam Reid. He missed one late in the third. Max and I defended him. First game back. Structure issues. Sweet hands. James wanted him sent to Collingwood, where we send them to die. Darren Jolly. Tony Armstrong. Jesse White. When Reid missed another just as we needed an increasingly urgent settler, he was suddenly responsible for the downward cascade of pluck and certainty and advantage. Max noticed him being sent down back to the naughty corner. Each time he inched out from the square like a hound trying to say sorry, he was ushered back into the stopper role by Grundy or Mills or Smith. Brittle under pressure. Join his brother. Patton boomed one past him. You could feel the defences go up all around as the territory tightened to ten small points. You could feel the O’Reilly put down their glasses, cut the sentence of the one they were talking to and begin a retreat from the party. It felt very Sydney.


Until …


… what looked like just the next set of hands in the Parker, Hayward, Heeney chain – the ball would pass through Lance’s hands into Kieren’s. The stream of runners would continue alongside each other and hopefully carry it forwards. But after a quick glance, Lance stopped looking and connected his left toe to the ball instead. A flick of the lower leg, the slight adjustment of stride and angle, that’s all. We watched the ball turn goalwards. The flags stood still on the Ladies’ Stand, the Cygnet righted himself from slump to sit, the planes kept out of the skies for a moment as the ball teased a bounce between both closing defenders before curtsying calmly through. ‘Huh?!’ None of us had anything more to say.


On Monday morning I happened upon a radio interview about a Soviet educator from the Ukraine called Vasily Sukhomlinsky. Having endured unimaginable suffering and loss during WW2, he was evacuated to the Ural Mountains, where he became an educator of young children and dedicated his teaching practice to tenderness. His philosophy was built on finding the golden vein in each child as the key to their self respect and thriving. He believed in aesthetics as one of the key activators. He wanted children to live in a world of beauty and to create beauty as part of a moral education. ‘Even in physical sport,’ said the interviewee, ‘he tried to take the emphasis away from competition – from just being the fastest – to having an aesthetic appreciation of the beauty in movement. When you run you try to run beautifully.’


As we wade through the morality of fake news and stolen data and standardised testing, of tweeted politics and threat guided missiles and detained refugees and rising everything … as we try to maintain space for ourselves and our kids in this city of relentless growth pursued by the claws of cranes so that we can be the biggest, I wonder often about the place of beauty, why we as a species seem to be giving up on it so freely, how we might stay in touch with it. I realised as I listened to these stories about Mr Sukhomlinsky that one of the places I stop and sit with beauty is indeed at the footy, in moments sketched by the great players’ bodies. In that moment 24 minutes into the final quarter, Lance and his kick were aesthetically perfect. He was balance and fluidity, a decisions made without jolt. He was a guarder and maker of space. He funnelled and guided and stretched his skills on perfect lines drawn without noise.


James was returning from downstairs when Lance kicked that goal. As the banjo thwanged, he described the view of the O’Reilly as the kick went through. It was a sea of faces, he said, collectively opening with joy. A whole expanse shocked into the sheer wonder of a man tapping his vein of gold. The Cygnet’s face had seemed to me to hold even more. He had just seen Lance do something that appeared to come from a virtual world governed by vectors and perfect algorithmic pathways. But he’d done it fully present in his own skin. ‘There’s a good reason to come to the footy,’ I suggested.


Driving home, the city looked beautiful. An orange segment moon sat on top of our neighbour’s roof. I fell onto my bed just before midnight. It was too hot for covers. A message came in from the Cob in Cologne: ‘Looks like Reid played well.’ The window was wide open. The cat was purring. The relief of silence was intersected only by the tender midnight singing of Greek Easter down the road.


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. Where do I start?

    Puppy and pounce is as good a place as any. Great line.

    So much in this.

    Your mood early shone through.

    Oh Sydney!

    Radar: Brisbane?

    You can always come here.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Loved the sweet- nothings sent by the Cob all the way from Germany. ” Looks like Reid played well.”
    Such a true Aussie endearment as you lay there in the humidity.
    You would have both been disappointed to learn later that Reid had done a quad. Should help the Doggies who have lost Cordy suspended. We never did see footage of the incident. Maybe Ian Collins has snuck onto the tribunal. He famously intervened to have Chris Grant suspended, over-ruling the umpires who didn’t report him, costing Chris the Brownlow Medal.

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Aren’t we lucky at the Almanac to have fabulous stories such as Mathilde’s published on our site! Great read, thoroughly enjoyed your story Mathilde.

  4. A Friday highlight, thanks Mathilde. I love how you, and others on here, locate and share the poetry you experience in your footy and family weeks. Beautiful.

  5. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    First thing I read this morning and so glad I did (despite the dig at Collingwood). At least Jolly died as a premiership hero !
    Love the symbolism of Easter. Suffering, re-birth, new hope and one last choc ripple drumstick before it turns cold.
    Thanks for the reference to Vasily. Will certainly look into his work.
    Super piece of writing MdH.

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thanks for the generous feedback folks.

    I did mean to put in a link to the Vasily chat. The interview was on my favourite ‘Conversations’ on ABC Radio with Richard Fidler.

    I agree Mickey that I love how this site encourages the poetic as much as the evident.
    Sorry about the Collingwood dig, Phil. It was James’ sentiment rather than my own. Although we did all have a good complicit giggle …
    I messaged James on Monday morning, Neil, to tell him of Reid’s potentially serious injury. ‘Oh,’ he replied. ‘I feel bad now.’

  7. Verity Sanders says

    The pressure is all ours indeed. When I first came across this strange and wondrous bloggy site, I bumped early into one of your pieces Mathilde – or rather was carried off clapping and thinking why do I bother with this writing thing when there are people doing it so brilliantly . I’m hoping in the future, and if you have the inkling, that you’ll have a look to the womens version of the game when the Swans have a team ( the Pens ? ) – I’d be fascinated to see the even weirder beauty ( and brutality) of their game through your eyes. Thankyou.

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