Brian Lake has beautiful hands. They are attached to his angry eyes.
Just follow my stories on the Almanac over the years and you’ll know what a huge fan I am. He gets more mentions than Ablett or the Pope.
He never leaps too high, or runs under the ball, or feels the need to wrestle. He backs himself. As good as anyone in the League, he reads the play. He marks.
I have never seen him a mile above the pack, like Gibson, all off balance, going the punch. Never seen him, knees in an opponent’s back, going the spec. He leaps as far as he has to, to put his hands up, arms stretched, with just enough give for the brace. He meets the ball in perfect stance.
That’s why so many players fail to knock him off his marks.
He reads it off the boot. Imagine how much energy and worry that would save. No obsessing over your opponent. No conceding in confidence, body language, or being led to the ball. No catching up.
I’m with my man. Tick.
The ball’s leaving the boot. Tick.
Mark it or punch.
Brian is super with his body. Knows when to nudge, when to bash into, when to stand off. Often waiting until him and his man have left the ground before giving a hip, or pushing with his chest. That way his lighter frame is no factor. The ground, strong thighs and gravity are not involved. His is an aerialist. By reading it so early, and well, often his opponent has to go the spoil on him. Which, at worst, is another mark Brian’s rivals don’t have.
And, like Scarlett before him, he hits the ground running. Whenever he can. It is a rare day he goes back on the mark and lets a pack form down the ground. He is not fast, just runs with a key position player’s steady push, just goes. He chips to pace on the wing, handballs to line-breakers, carries it himself. Launches attack after attack.
He does spoil, but unlike so many of today’s well-drilled athletes, he is a footballer. He has a true mark, and knows when to an not to do which. Watching him play is a tear in the eye of us ancient lovers of the mark.
That is the footballer. How he does it, but the reason I’ve always liked him so much is twofold.
He goes for it like a bloody Old School BOSS! AFL players are so disciplined these days, they climb into the Heavens, have the chance to shake God’s hand, and, instead, act like good little schoolboys. I, like Roosy, and McKay before him, back through the history of the game, loathe the double-fisted punch! The uncontested punch! The head-and-shoulders-above-everybody punch! That’s not football. It’s maths.
It’s uptight. Not carefree. Not brave. Not fun.
Yet the crowd has been trained. A good, crisp fist and they all clap like proud, frumpy parents. It drives me mad.
I asked Peter Knights about why he went for so many speccies?
“The object of the game is to get the ball. It was how I could best do that.”
Why make all that effort to time and rise for a neutral result?
I dunno. Maybe the other players don’t have hands as good as Lake’s? Maybe they’re playing safe, because they know 70% of the time the ball will bounce out of their mitts anyways, into their opponents?
Not Brian. He goes for it! He gives hack bush backmen like me real fucking joy! Lets us know we don’t have to be shadows of forwards. We can be The Man! We can be as important, as brave.
Yes, every now and then he will be out-marked because of this, or the other mob will rove to his feet. Maybe one in ten times. But the other nine he is off and running, launching attacks from which goals result. Nothing’s for nothing, which is all a double-fisted punch is.
He has a dip.
The other thing I always loved about the man, when he was playing for Footscray, was how stroppy he looked. There was no blank face. Losing shat him! He was going to go down swinging. All guns blazing. Damn, I dug that!
It was, and still is, so easy to picture him outside footy, having a can, at the barbie, being a Dad.
I knew he was best on, but tainted by the Brownlow and its like, was sure a forward or on-baller would get Norman. When his name was called, as a backman of 30 years, I raised the small country pub’s roof! Justice at last!
Brian Lake is a Footballer. There is nothing simple about that. One that has personality. In spades. You can see it in how he plays the game.
I will always barrack for that!