Swans 2016: What Comes Before Pre

It’s been a typical February in Sydney —thick, hot days with evening rain that ceases to still, hot nights. It’s a constant game of hang and seek with the washing. The cat is prone 24 hours. But February also brings the first sniff of footy. The cricket’s gone offshore and Hannebery is at the Cygnet’s inner west school doing the build-up-to-the-build-up community camp and press conference. The Swans are due for their intra-club down the road on Friday night. There’s been a hiatus but it’s closing. I’ve begun to notice the various porcelain and plastic Swans spread out around our house and the thought has started to occur that it’s time to bring them together.

I kept largely away from sport over the summer. Yes, the musac of Big Bash played often in the living room. But it’s a tweet, that game, not conducive to thoughts of any substance. The test matches played out under one eye. India interested me. And I did procure a gem for the Marrickville Cricket Club Under 12s—advice from David Warner on what has lifted his batting to the next level. Watch the ball hard. On the back of those four words, the Cygnet moved from 7th in the batting line-up to opener over summer.

It’s been good not to write about sport over summer, to lay the metaphors to rest, like composting. Put them underground and see what richness accumulates to bring new things to crop. Year after year it recurs to me that seasons have a natural and often familiar narrative arc. There will always be new characters, new peppered digressions, occasionally a major sub plot, but the more seasons a writer has in her folder, the harder she works to find a temperature that we have not felt before. Even now, in anticipation of Season 2016, all the familiar things come to mind: new slate, fresh hope, new targets, primed bodies, adjusted KPIs, a field of teams that is unlikely equal on paper, but equal in spirit before the starter’s gun. The delight and energy of beginning.

There is homework to be done for Swans supporters. Know the faces of the new recruits: which Callum is Sinclair and which one is Mills; which Talia is ours. Vote 3,2,1 on the break outs: Towers, B.Jack and …? Secure tickets to Drummoyne Oval. Evening on the picket fence under the palm trees. Best game of the season. Remind self (again) that Goodes will not be there anymore; it can take many many many readings for a child to find the rhyme in the ending of a story.


Friday afternoon. The rhythmic day of the week. To some extent we still function on the fulcrum of Friday, though weekends have little remaining sanctity and no special rates. It’s the end of school, at least. Beginning of sport, senior and junior. The Cygnet accompanies me down the road. O’Reilly Max and one of his PhD students (a West Coast supporter) are up in the King George V Memorial Grandstand; it’s not hard to find them—a couple of jumps up and over the weathered pews. And nephew appears from Year 12, footy and phone in hand.

It’s the Whites versus the Reds. The team lists have been laminated and pasted on the brick wall of the canteen building. As we settle for the bounce, there’s a collective scan of field and bench—no McVeigh, T.Richards, McGlynn. Old men. Calves. There’s no Laidler and no Hannebery! The Whites look defensively heavy with Rampe, Smith, Aliir and Reg. The Reds look more starry on paper with Parks and Jack and Kennedy and Franklin. The Irishman’s in red. The hair is all in white—Alice bands aplenty. Heeney looks a year older. The rookies look too young. The 4.45pm Qantas A380 lifts over Henson Park for Dubai and magic hour is on its way.

This is community at parody intensity. The smell of sausages in the not-so-grandstand draws us to the canteen by quarter time. A couple of mums from the Cygnet’s Under 6s team mind the cash box, their sons still playing together, a few of them in the Academy. I stop and chat to Monica and buy three raffle tickets for the Newtown Swans, write my name on them while she distributes napkins and white bread slices. I threaten to win the signed Swans jersey for the second year in a row. Don’t you dare. My boy wants that one, they all cry after me.

Families cling to the hill like limpets in the lines of shade striped up the hill by the northern light stacks. There are picnic rugs and baskets and eskies, kids in uniforms half shed for the weekend. Dogs—Dalmatians, Scotties, mutts. There are babies stripped to nappies in the still 27 degree evening, dripping over their parents’ forearms and then lifted high as Lance comes storming into the forward 50 and shoots towards the Stanmore end. The crowd are looking for the first chance to cheer.

Play is watchable. The Reds are ahead although the Whites are the entertainers. Aliir does handsomely on Lance. Leonardis is lively. The 14 jumper’s on a new rotation and Callum looks like he might just grow into it. There’s already plenty of goodwill for Talia and Sinclair. (PhD student reckons Sydney got the good end of that deal!) Reid benches himself late in the second term and we listen for a retrospective twang. Is he holding anything? Did he grab anything? If anyone can harness the unpredictability nexus it’s a Reid. You suspect tissue will tear. You’re just not sure when. In the final break, the three musketeer defenders strip their white jumpers for red and it’s starting to look like the A team. Imagine that in the season proper! The lead that seems to be swelling, tempered by an exchange of men. The mix of red and white looks good.

It’s easy at the start of the season to take up the obvious, reassuring footy narrative. Positive thinking, the best of sports science mindfulness, confidence and pre-emptive strength. But the fact is, that the intra-club is the very beginning of something, the plan before it’s even hatched and we don’t know what will come. It can’t ever be truly mapped or pre-prepared. And it cannot be hurried. This is true light heartedness. Cause up in the stand at least, it’s not so much about the quality of play, it’s about unbottling things, letting things flow again, refreshing a deep held sense of why footy is important to me, the role it plays in my year and psyche, keeping things moving, playing and creating.

The clock dips past 7pm with the sun still hot in the sky and the players’ marionette strings drop them onto all fours. Most seem in tact. I get a text from an unfamiliar number. A phone call and then a message. It’s the Newtown Swans Club President congratulating me on winning the raffle and a fully signed Swans jersey. Two in two years!? What’s the probability? I want to scream to Adam Spencer as he calls for Mathilda with an H. Monica is gracious. Before I can check myself, all my superstitious ‘it’s a sign’ leanings are ready to whisk me to fait accompli, season in the bag, injuries nil, glory and joy all the way.

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. I have long since given up trying to show even a modicum of interest in the practice matches.

    Two in a row? No-one could be that lucky! Great work, Mathilde.

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