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Round 5 – Sydney v Western Bulldogs: The road less passable

I’ve missed the 2015 footy season to date; left Sydney on Good Friday for a writing stint in Iceland and family on the continent. I posted a photo in transit and the comment from a fellow Swans lover was: You’re missing the footy? The thought had crossed my mind.


Four rounds in, safely back and returned to eastern standard time, Saturday against the Bulldogs was my season opener, my Round 1, my homecoming. Marngrook on Thursday, finding the thermos, scarf and member pass on Friday—they’re like immigration and the baggage claim carousel. But climbing into the O’Reilly stand after summer is like coming out Gate A with nothing to declare, looking for familiar faces and a helium balloon.


My ten year old Cygnet and I took the steps in twos. There was the sadness of a husband now missing from Row S. And the joy of a new granddaughter in Row T. There were new faces at the end of Row U. But the familiar Ten Year Memberships were pinned all round, on red berets and Premiership caps and the O’Reilly boys—my clan— were high in the stand with their growing kids and their hot chips. Most of the talk of the week had been tackles and weather, but the sky was holding for the bounce.


Iceland is a land of dominating, fast-changing weather. And as such, has an enviable traffic website where the country’s road network can be analysed via a ten tiered, rainbow coloured system to indicate condition and availability. The levels range from easily passable to closed, with an in-between that includes categories like spots of ice, wet snow and difficult driving. Roads can be diagnosed section by section with the additional help of intermittent web-cams showing visibility, surface and the views of the adjoining mountains—part tourism advocacy, part road safety apparatus.


After five working days in the capital, Reykjavik, I intended to sneak off for a quick three day trip on the Ring Road before returning to Europe. Blizzards had closed a swagger of roads. The ones I needed were coloured impassable, no passage and closed, three levels of what I brutishly perceived to be the same thing. I checked with a local:

So I guess I can’t go? I asked.

Oh, wait til the morning, she replied. Things change very quickly here. They plough overnight.


On re-entry last week, the word was that the Dogs are everyone’s second team this year. Word of Stringer, Dahlhaus and Bontempelli and a litter of pups with energy and skill. Word of new leaders—Beveridge and captain-my-captain Bob Murphy, the poet finally given the reins, the pin-up boy for writing and the half back line, two of my favourite things. But despite this, most Swans fans probably anticipated that Saturday’s match would be categorised as slippery and difficult conditions, but ultimately passable. Blood is thicker than water. The Swans had started the season strongly. Hannebery was flying, Lance was firing, Goodesy was finally prepped.


And so it started with Goodes and a goal, followed by good attacking minutes with spread and run, some great hand work in tight, daring angles and pinpoint execution to one-on-one contests. Pyke was winning everything. Goodes and Lance had space to lead into and we had six inside 50s to none. But just like that, an errant kick-out at the other end gave Bontempelli a goal; something ended and something began in that moment.


As the weather set in, the Dogs had a run of turnover goals. The Swans had unpacked the wet weather long bomb, but left precision and possession at home. Murphy, alternately, calculated and planned on the run with what looked all the time in the world. And the counter attack was good. The Dogs were picking up balls that the Swans were sailing past. And while it was hard not to admire the speed and opportunism of the Dogs, they’re not my beloved folk. I sat holding O’Reilly Max’s knee. I had forgotten the tension of spectatorship, the concern for the players in the wet, the tough, tight, exhausting conditions, the high price of caring deeply for a team.


There were better signs as we headed towards the main break. Lloyd found Mitchell with accuracy. Jetta pinpointed where Lance would be and both he and the ball arrived. Rohan grew in stature. But the score didn’t. O’Reilly Max noted the Top 5 goal kickers on the board at half time: Laidler and Kennedy in 4th and 5th respectively with 0.


The morning of my road trip out of Reykjavik was indeed crisp and sunny; the website showed mostly passable. As I headed up the mountains that divide the capital from the coast, the receding snow seemed to be winking at me. What is the point at which passable turns to impassable and then on to no passage and closed? All I could do was drive each stage as it came and make the necessary adjustments. The Icelanders are very right to draw the distinction; like terms do not mean the same thing. Seriousness accretes.


One of the new neighbours in the O’Reilly turned to us on the resumption of play: Will they be ok? He said it with a smile. We were still confident. It’s a game of continual investment and curiosity for the players and there’s no reason we shouldn’t play the same part. Yep, they’ll be right, I said. We would all go passage by passage, play by play together.


An early third quarter goal to Boyd, T. was answered by Lance and Kurt. The endeavour was up, the natural light was returning, the space opened up on the field. Rohan goaled from the Roughhead bump and there was a second there for Goodes. With momentum swinging, we begged them to keep responding rather than react. Captain Jack scored early in the fourth to set the tone and cut the margin to below a goal. But simple errors meant we could never build speed and territory on the scoreboard. The boys worked and worked until Harry Cunningham took a goal and the lead. You told me, said our new friend, leaning forward over his beverage.


In all the chaos of the finish it was Murphy who refused to be rushed, who calculated the difference between impassable and no passage and got it through to Easton Wood. Wood made the same fine judgement on the line. And despite Rampe’s two long left-footed attempts at redemption, a touched kick stopped the score at Pyke. The Dogs had travelled the road bit by bit. They managed both waiting and flow with a heightened awareness of the moment and what may or may not be possible. They came out thrilled and safe at the other end.


When you arrive at the various landmarks you are seeking in Iceland, you find things so unendingly beautiful and brutal, so beyond human proportion that you understand why Iceland has such a deep culture of sagas. The way to relate to those landscapes is to make stories of their existence. It’s a lot like what supporters do with footy. As we watch 44 players engaged in their work, and especially the 22 ones we love, we cannot help narrativise their efforts; we call the game in the stands. It’s the way we, as supporters, connect with the brutality and beauty of what they are doing. And just like the roads, we go section by section through the long season beside them, taking each game as it presents, trying to respond rather than react. As an elated Murphy said to Barry Hall post match: How can you not get emotional about footy?




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. Neil Anderson says

    You wrote beautifully before you went to Iceland. Now you are back to observe your beloved Swans and treat us with a mixture of travelogue and footy writing.
    Maybe Iceland has the same effect that Russia had on its writers, producing all that intensity and saga as part of a harsh landscape.
    Thanks for giving us such an evocative picture.
    No wonder you admire our poet captain and leader of young men.

  2. E.regnans says

    Welcome home, Mathilde.
    Grand interspersions of Iceland.

  3. John Butler says

    Lovely piece Mathilde.

  4. Mathilde

    Thanks for your piece. I was lucky enough to spend about three days in Iceland in 2005, and it is the most unique, astonishing place I’ve been. I vividly remember making the journey from the airport to Reykjavik at night, and thinking of how lunar it appeared. It was an amazing, elemental place.

    And I can see how Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song was inspired by the country!

    I also love how you moved between the footy and your Swans and Iceland.

  5. jan courtin says

    Hi Mathilde
    After I’d submitted my first article to Footy Almanac (at the start of the season) I had a chat with John about all sorts of interesting things. When enquiring as to whether there were many women writers, he suggested I take a look at your stories, and said “You’ll love Mathilde’s work”.
    Reading well written and evocative stories is indeed a pleasure. Thanks
    Of course it is also a pleasure to read about and share a passion for the same team.
    Maybe we’ll cross paths in the O’Reilly Stand one day!
    Cheer cheer
    Jan Courtin
    ps my surname is of French origin

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thanks all, for words.
    Amazing sometimes where you find the metaphor.

    Iceland is all that n’est-ce pas Mickey? It’s a real challenge for writers, somehow seems to exist beyond the relative smallness of words.

  7. This was a fabulous game. I have a very good mate who is a long suffering Doggies man. His bark is coming back.

    Chris Scott asked the question at his press conference, “Which teams are the really good teams this year?” Sounds easy to answer but results like this one throw logic out the window.

    You describe Iceland beautifully.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic read Mathilde you married up the Iceland trip with the game perfectly
    ( loved the info re Icelands roads and travel )

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