AFL Round 21 – Geelong v St Kilda: Friday Freedom

Friday afternoon. One of my favourite times of the week.

When I was teaching it was beers after a flat-out week of Maths and History and organising rugby and basketball training (yes, I coached rugby, and at an accreditation clinic I even packed down with the Queensland scrum. I have had my head in Tony Darcy’s bum).

Then, when I was back at uni as a postgraduate student it was well-deserved beers after a week of research and golf, and I felt like I was making my way through books I wanted to read.

For years I used to meet with staffroom mates, for an afternoon which we felt we’d earned. And so the spirit was free, and the tongue loose. And then out for a bite and home (no Friday night footy then) to get organised for early-morning golf at Indooroopilly. In my St Peters years I drank with a brilliant teacher (and a great bloke) called Mike Selleck, a Melbournian, who had moved to Brisbane with his young family in 1974, and stayed. While he was a citizen of the world (although, like a Bronte, he was completely untravelled) he had a strong Melbourne sensibility. He loved footy. The Bloods. And he loved ideas. He really was trying to make sense of the world; a more genuine attempt I don’t think I have seen. He’d have received a kangaroo stamp from Fyodor Dostoyevsky for trying.

He was profoundly Catholic in an intellectual sense, and a student of History and Philosophy; a tremendous observer of people; a wonderful conversationalist; at once a judger and an acceptor for whom nothing was unexpected, knowing History and human beings so well.

Those Friday nights in the public bar at the RE in Toowong were memorable, even when it was just the two of us, which, after I’d left St Peters, it often was. He still went every week, committed to the ritual and the release of it all.

Mike’s gone now. Too sad.

I am reminded of these times every Friday afternoon when the spirit of the weekend descends and all is abuzz. I try not to miss the North Fitzroy Arms session, an hour of beers and footy tips, although I’ve hardly been this year.

I’m not there on this Friday evening, though. I’m in Cookie’s Bar in Swanston St. Upstairs. It was once the headquarters of the Australian Communist Party and it’s alive with Fridayness. A sort of RRR and Monthly crowd and quite a few folk who wouldn’t miss Q and A. (Q and A was not one for Mike Selleck: “That’s frog shit,” he’d say of the panel of self-servers and self-promoters gathered weekly, before returning to his Augustine or Walker Percy or Kirkegaard.)

I am sitting in Cookie’s with Joy Damousi, Collingwood fan and professor of History at Melbourne Uni and Father Kevin Dillon who wanted to ring the bells at St Mary’s, Geelong,  a couple of Friday nights ago when Tom Hawkins kicked that goal. Even though it was almost 10.30. We are planning our attack for the forthcoming debate at St Paul’s Cathedral. Is football a religion? We have been asked to support the proposition that it is.

That done, I have time to stroll towards Etihad Stadium. Along bustling Swanston Street and then down the quiet and darkness of Little Collins. Duffel-coated and scarved. Pushing into the cold. Past laneways of lit merriment which look so English. Nooks and crannies of sort-out haunts. Clinking of glasses and the hubbub of four-drink conversation. And dancing, do-you-want-to-come-home-with-me playfulness.

I pass a lone flutist playing a Mozarty classic I recognise but can’t name. (Mike Selleck could.) There is no-one within coo-ee. But he plays all the same. I pass Gurner’s Lane, after which the Cup-winner is named. (I backed Kingston Town). Over the rise and towards the lights of Etihad flickering from Spencer Street through the winter branches.

I stop at the Saint and Rogue for a quiet ale with D. Downer, St Kilda’s finest, before we head to the ground. He is with workmates: the climax of Fridayness has passed for some as they are about to make their way home. But it hasn’t for others as women smoke and pints are drained.

Time gets away. We mount the Spencer Street stairs, and charge along the footbridge. In through the gates and at the very instant we reach the standing rail the Sherrin is bounced. It’s like the old start of The Flintstones.

Before we are properly camped on the docklands wing Taylor Hunt has kicked a couple of goals and the Cats are on. The Saints settle. Stephen Milne is being his normal self. As are the umpires who have the crowd puzzled in three reverberations of the pea.

It’s an even contest until the Geelong mid-fielders get on top and between their run and their use of the footy they have loose men everywhere. Swarming. Hawkins has a picnic for a few minutes, finding space on the lead. He spends the first half dobbing them from everywhere.

Joel Selwood and Leigh Montagna are in a mobile wrestle which must be annoying for both, but the Cats have other ball-winners. Johnno and Kelly are creative and the Saints have no answer. Trent West wanders forward and is too tall for the swatting defenders. He scores again when he receives a sweeping handball from Corey Enright and goals on the run from 50. The Cats fans smile a little more as he jogs back to the centre. Is it a sign?

The Saints toil away, and stay within reach – just. They are missing their two key forwards: Nick Riewoldt is in the coaches’ box nursing his knee, and Justin Koschitzke is plodding around centre half forward looking for yum-yum weed. But their two small forwards are damaging: Milne with three goals and young Ahmed Saad quick and clean-skilled. Saad’s set shot for goal is something to behold: ball held idiosyncratically, the approach about the length of Chairman Mao’s march, and the pendulous kicking action just perfect. Then he eludes Scarlett with dexterity and pace to dribble through another.

D. Downer is not thrilled about it all. Another season gone? He is watching it in that Glum-from-Gulliver’s-Travel sort of way. The umpires aren’t impressing him: the raft of 50 metre penalties creating confusion; and the smothering of Johnno’s set shot creating amusement. Add to that some bumbling from his own and he concludes, “This is Fawlty Towers stuff.”

At half-time the Saints fans are dejected. But their spirits are more than lifted after the break when they start to win contests and build momentum until they are on top all over the paddock. Goddard has an influence. Saad and Milne threaten to cut loose, but the run-on is slowed by a succession of bad misses. The Cats look wobblier than at any time in the past month (and that includes the Pies game), and when the onslaught continues to start the final stanza the pressure looks to be getting to them. Saad nails another set shot. The run-up is again magnificent. “Surely not,” think the Cats fans. “It can’t end like this.”

But the Cats click into gear again. Young Rupe Murdoch kicks a beauty from 50, at a time when the Cats most need it. Hawkins bombs another two. Both goals are introduced to the world by a D. Downer, “He won’t miss this.”

He’s a good judge: D. Downer.

Almost ridiculously the Cats win by seven goals. It’s the right result on the basis of the first half, but certainly not on the basis of the second.

It’s a solid win for the Cats and a disappointing loss for the Saints who had their chances (as they did against Collingwood).

D. Downer is resigned to his lot. He reminds me of the Geelong folk of yesteryear. When I was D. Downer I thought it was the gods, and I was waiting for the Cats to be chosen.

Now I have no idea what makes footy teams that little bit better (although I think having a really good ruckman helps). Whatever it is, I still think it must be the triumph of soul over ego.

And, as any Saints fan will tell you, the gods are still in the heavens where it is forever Friday afternoon.

I just hope they are not toying with Tom Hawkins, and I hope they have big plans for Trent West.

I finish the night in the most Melbourne of ways: I get the 112 up Collins Street and along Brunswick Street, past the Brunswick Street Oval, over the old Merri Creek Bridge and into Northcote where, where a little terrace house, is the warm sanctuary of a family.

Mine.

I tuck the kids in, tip-toe past The Handicapper’s door, and fall asleep in front of the replay, well Fridayed.

 

Votes: 3. Hawkins  2. Milne  1. West

 

 

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, Evie6. 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. Can we win this?

  2. Dips O'Donnell says:

    JTH – beautiful piece.

    “He’d have received a kangaroo stamp from Fyodor Dostoyevsky for trying.” A line for the ages.

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    You’re right about the footy gods. they reward and punish.

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    harmsy, friday arvo drinks in the staff room is what I miss most.

  5. Great story Harmsy, terrific feeling within. Fridays are my favorite day of the week too!

  6. Saturday morning is my new favourite time, although I think that’s because the Cats have been pulling off some great Friday night victories of late. Love that Saturday morning feeling.

  7. “…..feel like lov’n you…… s’all I want to do….”

    (David Bowie gets the words mixed up in his version)

  8. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Loved this piece JJM. Felt it all the way. And as a Sydney-sider who adores Melbourne, that little walk down Collins Street made my day. Am now going to have a quiet word with Mike Selleck about Saturday night and ‘our’ Bloods.

  9. David Downer says:

    Superb JTH …unlike the last fifteen minutes of proceedings for some of us.

    Very Melbourne. Very Friday.

    Chairman Mao’s march the best description for the Saad pronounced run-up (er, walk up) yet.

    And special mention to “as any Saints fan will tell you, the gods are still in the heavens where it is forever Friday afternoon”.

    My resulting Saturday morning “tired and emotional” state is a tale in itself.

    “Fridayness” indeed.

    D.Downer

  10. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Beautiful Harmsy,

    Footy, philosophy, beer and good company is a great mix.

  11. Stik in the UK says:

    Great stuff John. Its not so much what is written but where it takes the reader. Melbourne lanes, Haskins, Fridays when Thursday night’s stupidity at Nicholson’s had not worn off before being topped up at the Mitre, and the less direct walks up Collins and through the gardens for the Friday night matches.

    “A sort of RRR and Monthly crowd” – we don’t get much of that action in Newbury.

    We do however, get to wait (within the cone of silence) until our Friday night or Saturday morning to watch the Friday night matches and my family and neighbours can attest to the fact that the delayed viewing does not diminish the sincerity/ferocity of the barracking and admonishing (especially when Brent Guerra enters the frame).

    Speaking of RRR, whatever happened to Ian “Wildcat” Bennett?

  12. Dennis Gedling says:

    Best and most apt description of ‘Q and A’ I’ve seen. Definately using it in conversation tonight during Fridayness. I think made comment on it in an article but Saturday mornings are always great when your team has won on the Friday night. In fact the rest of the round has a post-coitus glow to it knowing the points are already in the bag.

  13. Ant Selleck says:

    John, thank you for this very fitting tribute to my father.

    Cheers

    Anthony

  14. Catman Abroad says:

    John,
    About to head back to the tropics & you encapsulate all that i love about our game.Beautifully stated.
    Whilst we receive games , its just not the same.
    I’m thinking of crushing some beer cans, standing on them & watching the footy like i did down @ K Park in my youth.

  15. Stik in the UK says:

    Catman Abroad,

    Surely the art was in positioning the empties “just so” and carefully mounting them so as to AVOID crushing them.

    My mum had a beautifully finished timber step incorporating subtle forward tilt and carry handle that raised her the 4 inches necessary to see over the crowd on the terrace in front of the Brownlow. (South side of the players race – whose cyclone wire I would hang from until I got too old to get away with it.)

  16. Love your Friday night footy and beers stories John. And have taken to calling my wife “the handicapper” after reading your articles. She doesn’t like it.

  17. Great stuff Harmsy. And I agree with Cookie – the Friday night wins (especially the Hawks win) make for a beautiful euphoric Saturday morning, setting up a whole weekend of just enjoying the rest of the games knowing the 4 points are safely banked.

  18. Michele Davis says:

    Love that story John. I love that Fr Kevin wanted to ring the bells at tehe Basilica
    When Tom Hawkins kicked the goal! Do it next time!

  19. Theresa Stolz says:

    John the RE is not what it used to be!!! Just as the easy post work ( or even the Friday lunch) drinks are rarely indulged in now , what with that curse of economic rationalism – such frenetic and long work hours everyone feels compelled to subscribe to… As for Mike Selleck it’s too sad- u made me both smile and weep some tears -his imprint on our lives – still. Love your words.. CheersTS

  20. JTH, just when I think I’m over my home town, I read something like this and miss it all over again. Cheers

  21. Siamese cat says:

    I loved this piece. What a lovely tribute to Mr. Selleck. That was a generous and wonderful thing to do.

    You also captured Melbourne beautifully.

    The whole thing made me feel happy.

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