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Round 5 – Sydney v West Coast: Things we do in the arbitrary, shifting name of home

The West Coast Eagles sit at the nexus between wonder and trouble in our house. They personify the great on-field rivalry of the mid-2000s and the first experience of premierships for us millennial Swans. They have given us some of the clearest memories of our footy supporting careers. Bliss and disappointment in equal measure. But most disturbingly, they almost lured our only son from home.

 

Our Cygnet celebrated his first birthday on the day the Swans won their premiership in 2005. In 2006, we took him to the MCG for his first Grand Final. The morning after our one point defeat, he looked down on the Age’s post mortem and asked:

‘Who are the yellow and blue ones?’

‘They’re the Eagles,’ we replied. They were pictured in all their glory, holding the cup aloft, curtained in blue and yellow streamers. ‘But we go for the red and white ones. We don’t go for them.’ And just like that, without even glancing at us, he announced, at all of two years old, ‘I do.’

 

We endured three years of calling him our Eaglet. It wasn’t until he started playing back, centre and forward for the Newtown Swans Under 6s, and felt the red and white polyester on the skin of his back, that he came home.

 

There was much talk of home in the lead-up to Round 5 against the Eagles. Early in the week, I noticed one headline in my Swans ‘Google Alert’ anticipating Jetta’s homecoming! Didn’t he leave to go home? Of course, home has always been a complex, subjective and changeable concept more than a definitive location. But it’s an important strategy in a national code. And it’s a concept that the 2016 Swans are certainly wringing, now that we’re permanently back at the SCG. ‘Welcome to our home,’ beats the scoreboard in countdown.

 

For long-term members, reserved seats are a kind of home. Body knows how many steps to climb into the O’Reilly, how many seats to shuffle along. The radar picks up familiar faces. There was a time when our mob was just five souls, up in the O’Reilly. But we’ve built the extension since. On Saturday afternoon, we sit two generations deep, our kids spaced out between us, tucked in against the southerly. It’s the Cygnet’s first game for the year and it’s noticed. ‘Did you come for the Anzacs?’ asks Gwen. His silence suggests it might be the Eagles. And I notice a glint when they run through the banner. ‘We’re flying by,’ he sang as a babe. The ground announcer is listing the Bloods. ‘Number 24, the dashing Dane Rampe. And at fullback, the number 25, the Rock Teddy Richards.’ The Rock we giggle. ‘That might be all he is now,’ remarks O’Reilly Max. ‘Pace is glacial.’

 

The mic doesn’t work on the lone bugler in the Members Stand. The sound is faraway and lonesome. Just right for thoughts of people fighting in the defence of a place called home.

 

As we sit for the bounce, O’Reilly Max suggests we’re under siege. We’ve only just noticed the rows of Eagles behind us. Hang on! This is our home! The Eagles haven’t been to our home since 2010. We’re not used to it. Not used to the way they wear their coats beyond the front door or put their feet on the furniture. I bristle, feel myself tightening into the skin of the territorial neighbour who imagines noise and incursion from strangers. But the siren has sounded.

 

Straight away we sight the lope of Jetta in the back pocket. He looks dashing in the navy and yellow. Nobody’s picked him up. And then they’re tearing up the turf. Both sides. First quarters seem intense this year, like energy is willingly spent from the start. Not until the seven minute mark does Hannebery’s perfect kick to Lance land us our first goal. Already the banter has started with behind: ‘He dropped it ump!’ yells O’Reilly Max. ‘Clear disposal,’ comes the retort. We alternate calls of ‘deliberate’. ‘Deliberate’ has become the new ‘ball!’ ‘Chewy on your Shuey,’ we call to Luke as he kicks and goals. ‘Run, Darling,’ they beg. Intercept possessions in spades, on and off the pitch.

 

The view in the second is low contrast, shaded with the grey of rain. But none of the intensity is lost. Heeney takes what is becoming a regulation mark. Teddy kicks an entirely un-regulation goal! ‘The Rock!’ we yell. ‘Oh, the Rock!’ The pressure is certainly tectonic. It’s hard to put words to this kind of footy, cause it happens in sequences that are furious and detailed—they accumulate more quickly than storytelling allows. The action just feels biological, like blood pumping, nerves twitching, messages descending. It’s only one and a half goals the difference at the half. Tussle of old.

 

I feel for the visitors at half time. I feel the unfamiliarity and insecurity of someone else’s home creeping over them in the rows behind. It has hushed them as they watch Gwen’s Anzac biscuits make it over her head but not ours.

 

The sun comes out on Hewett’s third quarter kick to Lance and the lead looks like it might stretch. But three quick goals from the Eagles puts them 2 points ahead. ‘Yes, JK!’ they yell from behind. ‘Yes JR.’ And we watch time freeze around Macca’s first goal. And then his second. Their view is obliterated by our arms raised high. Teddy the Rock is airborne too in the fourth—very far from home. O’Reilly Max allocates him a Brownlow vote. Nothing to say behind. Until the ten minute mark when Jetta has the ball in front. Then the visitors are gloating. And Sydney fans are … booing?

 

Are we serious? Are we serious, Sydney? Are we now swapping spots with Eagles supporters?

 

Lewis Jetta was the one man in the AFL in 2015 who had the courage to put body in line with belief, who danced an ingenious defence of his mate. Isn’t that what the Anzac spirit commemorates? Reveres? Enthrones? Isn’t that what we stood in silence to observe before the siren that blew for the play we love. No defence of ANY home turf condones the booing of a man we admired so much for standing up to the thoughtlessness, cowardice and parochialism of booing. I hang my head and pray that Jetta kicks straight. Hasn’t every single member of this thirty-four thousand crowd wanted at some stage in life to go home? He misses. Even our lighthouse Gwen didn’t ‘chewy’ him out of respect.

 

Our guests talk of beating the queues. It’s a long way back to the west. The Rock is rucking on the O’Reilly wing. There is nothing the man can’t do.

 

I turn to the Cygnet as we sing the song. I ask him if he is happy. As I watch the pom pom on his red and white beanie nod to the banjo, I think to myself, if he had never come home, if he had decided always to remain with the blue and yellow, I would still have tucked him in beside me, and relished his opposite hopes. And he would have asked for his darling to run and I would have yelled for my uprooted rock and together we would have taken pleasure in the game that we call home. The Swans players flock to Jetta. Maybe the board should simply say, ‘Welcome.’

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 writing, MdH.
    Thought-provoking.

    Why do we do what we do?
    What is a home anyway?
    Home.
    To soldiers in war time, to fans at the footy, to citizens in a republic…
    Notions of us and them, always. The behaviour we slip into in our place.

    When is right to treat another as different?
    Or as less deserving (of a seat, of an opinion, of expressing that opinion)?

    Beautifully done.

  2. Peter Flynn says

    Old Mate,

    It’s apt that I read this as a beautiful Sydney day turns to night.

    Transiting unfortunately.

    It would’ve been an eyrie (and eerie) if the Cygnet journeyed as an Eaglet.

    Swans and Eagles of a decade ago were like Isner and Mahut at Wimbledon.

    I too did not like the booing of Jetta. Wonder what the former 37 made of it?

    Superbe (if I can say that) and I agree that frenetic passages of play often contain too much detail for words.

  3. I really wanted to dislike this. Sadly your generousity of prose and spirit prevented me. Well played MDH – and extended family.

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