How the Geelong Football Club helped me fall in love with Basil Zempilas

 

Last night, or early Friday morning really, as the Germans and the Australians went flat out in the hockey (and I saw a couple of the calmest sporting officials of all time), I was moved to the ponderable. A few ponderings surfaced: is it appropriate to write a match report of a sporting fixture a week after the final hooter; has Roget registered enough synonyms for the adjective sensational which I can extract to describe last Friday’s game between Geelong and Hawthorn; and, importantly, is it appropriate for grown men – relatively educated, relatively thoughtful and sensitive, relatively measured in most areas of their existence – to be involved in a tight-hug-cum-ring-a-ring-a-rosey dance in response to a large man from Finley kicking a sack of air between a couple of white sticks?

Oh, how I love life! And its big questions.

For the record Roget was negligent in listing synonyms for sensational, but you can’t blame him: he was pre-Selwood.

And the fact I am penning this now takes all pondering out of the first question.

So it’s the third query I need to address. The ring-a-ring-a-rosey.

I should first describe the moment. We were in M56, ground level, standing at the back. On the flank at the Punt Road end. I was with P.J. Flynn who was making mental notes on the performance of each Geelong player. (He has published these ratings) I was with C. Down who was playing the sensible I-didn’t-get-to-lunch role beautifully. I was with Cookie who was completely engaged by what was happening, but making calm comments and, occasionally, giving boyish “Did you see that” looks. (And Dips O’Donnell had headed home on kid duties.) We’d had a long lunch of Madigan and Yeates, both terrific story-tellers. Some good chat afterwards over a beer, and a bus ride to the MCG.

We’d seen a remarkable opening quarter. We’d seen this fine Hawthorn side claw its way back in the second, and hit the front with ten minutes to go in the match. We’d seen Hawkins snap one against the run of play. And then we’d seen the Cats sweep the ball from the backline, and in a moment it was in Tom Hawkins’ hands.

The crowd was going nuts. I could see Hawkins. I couldn’t see the Sherrin’s flight path. I could see the goal umpire. I could see Billie Smedts standing between the fence and the goal umpire. As the ball left Tommy’s boot I turned to the goal mouth. Smedts looked up. High into the sky. He put his hands up. He started clapping. And clapping. Goal to Hawkins. I saw Johnno, who was hovering (standard practice) lift Tommy into the air. At that moment he could have clean and jerked him without powdering his hands.

Our posse was not thinking. Just feeling. The embrace involved jumping, and some yelling, and it was only the seats which prevented full-on ring-a-ring-a-rosey.

At that moment, someone said, “We can win this.” And then someone else. “We can win this.” And someone else. And blue and white people we didn’t know said, “We can win this.” And suddenly we were in Alice’s Restaurant.

Or just plain old-fashioned Wonderland.

**

So, in the middle of the cold night, I fumbled with the remote control and found the Hawthorn-Geelong replay on the Foxtel IQ. And under a feather-cover (that’s Lutheran for doona) I fell in love with Basil Zempilas. Admittedly, Hannibal Lecter could have been calling the game with special comments from Pol Pot, and my heart would have been taken, but Basil, my boy, you will forever have a place in my heart. (Dennis already has one).

Because, Basil, you called those nine magnificent first-quarter goals. You called The Big O in his return as he tore Hawthorn apart. You called Johnno. You called Harry. You called Chappy and his brilliant reading of the play. You called Big Hawk in contest after contest, bringing the footy to ground, and grabbing a couple of big goals with well-timed kicks (somewhere along the way Hawk has gone from being clunk-fade miss-hit Lee Trevino into being Seve himself). You called Mitch Duncan and Boy Sherringham.

And my mind was taken back to the MCG. While you were calling this Basil, our crew was watching gobsmacked.

There was giggling.

“This is crazy.”

There needed to be Three Stooges slapping, just to bring us into reality.

It was too good to be true. And, while it felt so good, at the same time it had the feel of the last meal of the man on Death Row.

Hawthorn would come back, and they did.

**

I didn’t watch the second and third quarters of the replay.

Nor did I watch the Opals in their final.

I fast-forwarded straight to the final quarter. I had forgotten how many bad signs there were: Joel Selwood kicking out on the full; the Cats not being able to score; the tide of Hawthorn run. I had also forgotten how steely was the Geelong steadying, with goals to Pods and Hawk.

I remembered what P.J. Flynn had said when Hawk kicked one of his goals, his fourth, to take Geelong to 16.9. “First to 100 wins.”

Tom Harley also said it on the coverage (I wish Basil had). But P.J. Flynn added the mathematician’s caveat, “92% of times”. P.J. Flynn would never be responsible for a mozz.

It was a Hawthorn home game and the crowd had been quiet at times, but had cranked up the volume. Scores were level forever. When the Hawks hit the front you could hardly hear yourself. Yet, we were strangely calm, although when Sewell scrambled one through concern was registered, and the series of points which followed had us staring at the swinging noose.

There was, however, no resignation among the Geelong fans. And none – absolutely none – from the players.

Things went Geelong’s way for a minute. Smedts got away with one when Cyril Rioli laid a perfect tackle in a situation which may be used in future to demonstrate prior opportunity (although the tackle itself knocked the ball clear). The Hawks missed and the Cats managed to turn the footy over with a Smedts smother-intercept which led to Hawkins’ cross-the-body snap.

Time changed. There was more craziness. Selwood was crashed to the ground in a wonderful contest with Mitchell, and got up. The Hawks had loose men everywhere as the Cats knew they had to go the length of the field.

Pods was penalised for trying to break a tackle, but Brad Sewell who had been terrific for much of the night took the advantage, got the footy forward to a three-on-one only to see it fall awkwardly for Puopolo. Rather than take possession Puopolo, very close to goal, flung his foot at it and the ball skewed to Mackie.

Possession.

The collective Cat voice rose. A stirring which grew as Mackie chipped to the leading Duncan. Duncan a pass to Johnno who knew to turn towards the corridor. Even though it meant turning onto his non-preferred side. It was the creative play; the play that in two plays time would make the forward 50 look the size of the Simpson Desert. But first his left-footer had to be darted at the skipper. Joel Selwood was there, at full pace, running an angle in the middle. He leapt at the footy with Brad Sewell, that most noble of opponents, just a step behind. Sewell was beaten and in another instant Selwood shot his pass to Hawkins. It all happened so quickly. Hawkins hands held the football with a mother’s grip.

“He can kick this.”

He kicked it.

Yep, he kicked it.

And that’s when we hugged.

Basil, I don’t know what you said. But I’m sure it was beautiful.

The level of skill required in that final play was phenomenal. Watch it again. The decision-making was also phenomenal. The courage of Johnson was phenomenal. It should not be forgotten: the Cats are a skilful side.

Skilful enough to win it?

**

Geelong field a young side to Perth tonight. Those youngsters have been terrific at home but the road trips have been tough. However, they have a good month under their belts, and they are growing in stature.

It will be a good contest.

And whatever happens, I can take comfort from the fact that my new love, Basil Zempilas, will be calling it.

 

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. Well played, Harms. I watched AFL 360 on Fox this arvo and they had a slow motion replay of Hawkins as he was watching his goal pass through. Priceless. He was giddy. He couldn’t believe it, he looked like he was a boy of 12 and his dad had come through the door after a year away. I watched it five times.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    Enjoyed the read JTH.

    Hawkins is a little giddy at the minute.

    I’ve had enough of these Selwood free kicks!

    Johnno Johnno Johnno

  3. Siamese Cat says:

    I only come back to Australia once a year. Last year I scrambled into the G straight off the plane just as Hawkins pulled down a huge mark in the goal square, and then stood gobsmacked as we caused a Pie fan mass exodus in the final 15 minutes. Then I got to see us outplay the Hawks in an absolute belter of a final.

    But this. I was involved in a mass hug in the members as Hawkins put it though. I’m old, so I usually hate all that “lick, a kiss, and a dry root” stuff that the kids go in for these days. But I was out of my mind.

    What a game!

    Still, shame about tonight. I honestly thought the Hawk had broken his neck or had had a seizure. Nice of the home crowd — understandably in full feral mode over the umpires — to clap him off. I’m from Perth, so I know how much that goes against our inbred bogan instincts.

  4. Stephen Cooke says:

    Outstanding effort against the Eagles. To come from 18 points down with one ruckman, half a team of kids and no Hawkins for 3 quarters makes me believe. #wecanwinthis

  5. Neil Belford says:

    Take heart where you can find it Cookie – the Eagles didn’t have many contributors themselves. Did Jonnno get injured as well?

  6. Keep taking the nostalgia pills, Cookie.
    I hear the Spice Girls are re-forming to give you something to celebrate for the weekend.

  7. JTH – great stuff. At the precise moment you were ring-a-ring-a-rosing at the MCG I was ring-a-ring-a-rosing in my lounge room with my little ones.

    Cats were terrific in Perth. As I’ve said beofre, Scott has his eyes firmly planted on 2015. One downside – Matty Scarlett is at the end.

  8. Peter Flynn says:

    Johnno was completely stuffed at the end.

    He was walking like some of the finishers in the 50k walk.

  9. Wrong Flynny.

    They looked like they were running.

  10. John,

    It was high fives and a visit to the Percy Beames Bar for a celebratory on our side of the ground. A great game and a great win.

    Notice you mentioned it as one of your Olympic highlights on Offsiders. Good stuff, even if I’m a bit biased.

  11. Brad Carr says:

    Siamese Cat, on behalf of all West Coast supporters, thanks for noticing the crowd clapping the injured Tom Hawkins off the ground (the Channel 7 commentators referred to it at the time too, a fact that seems to have been very quickly forgotten).

    A simple and obvious act that any half-decent crowd would do (so we’re talking super-gracious stuff deserving of medals here), but a shame Chris Scott had to shoot his mouth off without noticing it…

  12. Ahh so. The arguement has been posed that there was only clapping and no booing of Tom Cat and the medical staff because it was not picked up on Chanel Seven. Great precident.

    Perhaps they were just switched through to a fat food ad at the time and missed it.

  13. Better still, a gambling ad.

  14. Rick Kane says:

    We were in M56, ground level, sitting in Row D, 1-6. Just inside the 50. In light of the result, and with no disrespect to fellow Almanacers, I’m glad we didn’t cross paths. I was numb for about an hour after the game. It took me that long to shake the Corio Bay Blues and really recognise and appreciate the high-quality spectacle we were privileged to witness. Interestingly, the train carriage we rode in home on the South Morang line was as quiet and reflective a ride as I can recall.

    As the Hawks came storming home, I was hoping that they would hit the 100 point mark before the Cats. Mine was a psychological view (a Linus blanket, if you like), rather than Mr Flynn’s more exacting mathematical reasoning but interesting that it does represent a marker of some special point. I was also using another rule of thumb as the game unfolded and that was the shots at goal. At quarter time it was 2/12. And then the Hawks clawed their way back into it, finishing 31/28.

    In the end, it was another great and well deserved win to the Cats but the Hawks have finally found their measure.

    Cheers

  15. Dennis Gedling says:

    I was at the Inglewood Hotel for the match. It’s the home of the WA Hawks and was heaving by the time bouncedown came. Was camped with a neutral but prefers the Cats mate at a corner at a table keeping a low profile. Just like all the other games in the past few years against the Hawks we looked gone but I just kept quiet and willed them on knowibng something could come, that finish by Hawkins was one for the ages. Better than Jimmy in 09, better than Buddy’s non-free kick last year, better than out stoic defence earlier this year. How many times have you sat back and thought ‘well it happen some time’ but still win.

    I’ve also never seen a pub empty so quickly after the game too. It was like Victoria Pendleton and Anna Mears were having a tickle fight out on Beaufort Street.

  16. Shane Johnson says:

    Harmsy…..those officials were calm weren’t they…I noticed that too…full marks in the heat of battle

  17. Not Jaime Rogers says:

    John, it was good to have fellow passionate cats supporters in M56 standing for once. We are there every Cats game and usually outnumbered.

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