AFL Round 10 – Geelong v Gold Coast: Schick Hydro 5 and other inspiration

It’s Friday evening and the front bar of the All Nations Hotel in Richmond is alive with start-of-the-weekend conversation. Some of the regulars are bemused by the crush. People have come from everywhere to be at the launch of Footy Town.

There’s West Coast Dave, escaping Canberra for the day. He wrote a comeback piece which ended inevitably. There’s Les Everett, across from Freo. Les’s piece gives a terrific insight into footy in the goldfields of Boulder-Kalgoorlie. There’s Rob Allen, down from Queensland. His piece on Roy Cazaly at Minyip sounds a little dry but is alive with colourful tales and the description of footy and life in a wheat town in 1925. Rob also took the photo which is the basis of the cover of the book, a big winter sky at Minyip.

Daff and I are expecting about 70 people and have organised a quiet launch in the function room upstairs. By the time we get up there it is shoulder-to-shoulder; the revellers are rosy-cheeked and looking for air. And they’re still pushing their way up the stairs.

While the collapse of the floor onto the dining room below would be great publicity for the book, it wouldn’t do a lot for the veal schnitzel and its eater on Table 6. I have visions of Pam Sherpa and her three sisters jumping out the window onto firemen’s trampolines like in the cartoons.

Pam has travelled from Kalkite, near Jindabyne, to celebrate her story of footy at Gunbower. It’s a typical country-town, country family, footy yarn which resonates so strongly. And it’s a story of childhood.

I decide to move the throng outside to the beer garden. It is all so unapologetically Almanac and Tim Boyle recognises it as such, just as he recognises the best intentions of Footy Town. Footy is about places and people and their stories and that’s what our writers have captured so well. As the speeches are being given the rain gets heavier and heavier. One wall lights up from the lightning in that I-am-The-Count kind of way. And then it really comes down. But everyone is catching up and meeting and telling yarns and having a few beers and ordering the parma and the addicts are watching Collingwood, unable to leave the telly for an instant (except to re-fill). It’s a party. More lightning. Then Queensland-rain.

Merri Creek rises.

The forecast the next morning is for more. The radar shows heavy rain over Adelaide and Mt Gambier and heading towards Geelong where there is to be a major celebration: the lights are being turned on for the first time. Geelong is to play the Gold Coast.

Geelong is a footy town. It has been since not long after the club was formed in 1859. People were footy-mad in The Pivot, as Geelong called itself, believing it was the rightful capital of Victoria. Geelong became known throughout the colonies as ‘the town with the footy team’ on the back of its huge success in the VFA, the forerunner to the VFL. Geelong won seven of the nine flags between 1878 and 1886 which, once the AFL comes to a better understanding of historical continuity than it has currently, may well be added to the current tally. Not that I’m interested in the one-upmanship of tallies. My interest in recognising those premierships is to convey the origins of the deep affection the community of Geelong holds for its footy club and what footy means to the people of Geelong. Footy is a cornerstone of the culture.

I am driving down the highway with C. Down (at the wheel) who’s from Port Fairy and has the Cats in his blood. I am checking the radar as the squally showers hit the windscreen wondering whether it’s going to be advisable to brave the elements on the terrace. There’s a chance we won’t get out of the Lord of the Isles.

We pass Ford’s, as they call it down there, which is not forever, and head through town, past the grand old railway station where thousands of locals have greeted premiership sides as they got off the train, hoisted the players high, and carried them up the hill to City Hall, in the days when Melbourne was a civilisation away.

The rain stops and there, in the distance, are the huge lights, shining brightly.

“They look like something,” I say (sagely).

“Yeah, they do,” says C. Down. It’s rare to have two geniuses in one car.

“Yeah, what is it?”

There’s a pause.

“I know,” says C. Down, “they look like Schick Hydro 5s.”

“Yes, they do?” I say, sort of knowing what he means in a vague unkempt way.

My first thought is to wonder how they’ll age; what will happen when Schick brings out Hydro 6. But then I am happy to cut Gareth et al a bit of slack because Classical Antiquity wasn’t concerned with light-towers so there’s no Manual for the Use of the Golden Ratio in Lighting Construction translated form the Greek (with notes added by da Vinci and Burley-Griffin centuries later).

I decide I like them. Because they’re ours.

We park. C. Down goes off to a function at the ground with Geelong types. I find P. Flynn at the bar. He looks Peter Falk-ish (with a hint of Laurie Ferguson thrown in); like he’s been at the bar since ‘Mickey Mouse’ Carney led the Cats to the `31 flag against Richmond. He’s been to lunch at Bacchus Marsh with the Old Cheese (his term) for Mother’s Day, working on the Geelong calendar I assume.

“What’s goin’ on?” he asks.

This, I have learnt, is a rhetorical question which has in brackets after it, “Don’t answer that: I’ll tell you what’s goin’ on.”

And in this case the Swans are all over the Bombers, Dempsey’s just been carted off and there’s golf on.

“Is that Jack’s course?” I ask.

“Yes,” says P Flynn who is likely to have been to it, possibly played on it, or (more likely) has jumped the fence there, befriended a local, got a lift back to his hotel only to `fess up he’s not staying in a hotel, jagged an offer to spend the night at the driver’s joint and been cooked pancakes by the nineteen year old daughter before church the next morning.

I tend to listen to what’s going on.

“I don’t mind the lights,” he says.

“They’re good,” I say.

“Are you going over if it’s hosing down?” I ask.

This is not the right question to be asking a boy who has grown up in Geelong, been educated at Belmont High, and has only missed games when lured away by the Master’s, The Open, Test cricket, Wimbledon, and other events all of which coincide with Mathematics conferences.

“I think ‘yes’ is the correct answer to that question,” he says.

So after a couple of beers we go.

Light drizzle. Completely bearable, if not palatably atmospheric.

The queues are long but we get in at which point there is an explosion that literally rattles my rib cage.

“F**k!” says someone nearby. Which is what we are all thinking. Even the church-goers (of which there are many in Geelong).

“Fireworks”, says a mother.

“Well done Sherlock,” says Dad.

Fireworks alright. Unusual for Geelong. So unusual, I think to myself, that someone needs to tell them about the angle of elevation of the firing device.

There is a surprising amount of room right up the back of the terrace. We have missed the prime minister and the official opening but the ground looks brilliant.

The players ready themselves and the crowd settles. In fact, it really settles. It is, without question, the quietest footy crowd I have ever been in. That includes late-80s Carara. There is absolutely no crescendo for the bounce of the ball, no screech-yelled individual comments. Just total silence.

Flynny notices it.

I notice.

The woman in front of us, whom we later learn is Shannon, turns around and says through her Geelong scarf, “This is my first game at Kardinia Park: is it always like this?”

It is so quiet you can hear the players calling for the footy way off in the centre of the ground. You can hear the footy being kicked! From 100 metres away.

The only sound is Brian Taylor’s voice coming out (crystal clear) of the little viewing box right at the back of the terrace. You feel like you’re in a movie where the TV’s on in the background.

The only time I’ve been in a quieter crowd of these proportions was the final day of the 1998-99 Sydney Test when the cricket was so superbly tense you could hear S.C.G. MacGill’s leggies as they spun through the air.

The crowd remains quiet. And still. No-one seems to be moving a muscle in the Brownlow Stand.

Blokes on the terrace start turning around and look quizzically with their hands outstretched as if to say, “What’s going on?”

P. Flynn breaks the silence with laughter.

We are reduced to looking for the Highest Prime which is likely to be George Burbury, given Alan Jarrott isn’t playing.

It’s still quiet, even when big Nathan Vardy explodes away from a pack, like he’s the nippiest rover, and kicks a goal. (“How’s that first step!”)

It’s a beautiful scene: the colours are different, the new stand looks different. But the footy is not flash: Enright drops a chest mark, Johnno is busy chasing G. Ablett around in a spat of egos, a contest which is a source of amusement for most of the night, especially when G. Ablett acknowledges Johnno’s bump that sits him on his lemonade. We debate whether it’s a yeah-good-on-ya acknowledgement or a you-got-me acknowledgement.

The Suns look really good. Nice skills. Good pace. Can pick blokes up. They start to take control. And, when they get a couple goals up late in the third quarter, the crowd stirs.

“You better win this Cats,” someone yells.

I am getting drinks (Red wine. Really?) when the final quarter starts, and I somehow miss the first couple of goals. Bartel, who has put on a clinic all night, as he can do when he feels the sleeve on his forearm, darts a handball to Mackie which may be Handball of the Year. Blicavs runs coltishly, as he has all night, and influences the quarter. So does Tomahawk finally escaping the tight grip of young Thompson who can play now, let alone down the track. The Cats pour on the pressure and the goals, and they draw the crowd in with a celebratory quarter.

Shannon heads off with her beau, Daz, and P. Flynn and I stroll back to the Lord of the Isles. We pass the old past players’ stand which has been re-located to the St Mary’s Oval out the back, and will provide a great venue for teenage lovers, and sundry sherry-swiggers. The little wooden structure marks the passage of time.

In the pub Geelong folk gather. Former ABC commentator Roger Wills has a couple of mates with him. Rog went to school in Geelong in the days of the slates. He has, however, grasped the concept of floodlights.

C. Down returns. We start the trip home.

It’s a memorable night; a memorable few days. We have begun a new chapter in the history of Geelong and its footy club; a club whose story can still rightly claim entry into a book like Footy Town.

 

 

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. JTH – this and Gareth’s piece are the best things I’ve read about Geelong since the 2009 Preliminary Final victory. Fair dinkum unbelievable.

    Last Friday night at the All Nations was the best book launch I’ve been to since another really amazing book launch that I went to.

    I’m loving it.

  2. Nobody else write anything about Geelong today! Dips is ready to explode and I don’t want him pushed over the edge.

  3. Lord Bogan says:

    What, no Fairy Cakes?

  4. Daryl Sharpen says:

    As expected, brilliant. Cheers to all esp. Dips, Gigs and JTH. Glad all at Almanac had a great night.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Very Entertaining as Always Harmsy

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