Painting the globe orange

I am just back from Canberra. I enjoyed the Greater Western Sydney’s first match up there on the weekend, and I reckon there were plenty who did as well.

It started with a longish lunch – on the Friday, and finished with the final siren as the shadows fell on Manuka and the Canberra chill got hold late Saturday afternoon .

It was a good lunch too. The Canberra Carbine Club was hosted by Maurice Reilly at the National Press Club, a fine lunch venue. One of the world’s great lunchers himself, M. Reilly (with Chef) came up with an inspired main course: the pie floater.

I was invited by G. Robb, a Carbine Club member, and supporter of the Kangaroos; his father Tim played for them. G. Robb himself was no mean footballer. He bowled blokes over in numerous postcodes, and is famous in Canberra for walking out of Eatslake FC over a pay dispute, to join the ANUFC where he played for nothing. (He showed them).

Also at the table was Richard Farmer – writer, columnist, punter, wine merchant, lobbyist, election strategist – who fair dinkum could lunch for Australia. He’s been in the rankings since 1964, and hasn’t been out of the Top 10 since man walked on the moon. Few tell a yarn like R. Farmer.

It would have been nice if he’d been a guest on the stage, or the interviewer. He’d have straightened things up a little.

The panel included David Smorgon who followed a ‘Welcome to the Western Front’ video montage which carried some easy-to-spot images of the gritty western suburbs. He was supported by Simon Garlick who was delightfully self-deprecating about his footy but very much spruiking Footscary and the west as Australia’s fastest growing region. Meanwhile David Matthews, CEO of GWS, came out with one of the better lines of the lunch: “The Western Bulldogs have never beaten us,”  he said.

Dipper was the story-teller and if weren’t for him you’d have thought it was a Chamber of Commerce meeting. Dipper added some footy to the afternoon with tales of Doug Hawkins, and of his own father (“I sell you to Hawthorn for $10,000. You a Hawk now. Not Collingwood. A Hawk.”)

We all went home too late, and readied ourselves for the making of history.

I wasn’t a supporter of the proposal to establish a second club in Sydney. There were, and still are, more deserving places in one sense. I have always believed that those who have footy in their hearts should be rewarded for it, not penalised for it. I didn’t warm to the old-eyeball-new-eyeball thesis: that Tasmanians were already part of the faithful whereas the infidels in Western Sydney weren’t. But then I am one of those weirdos who looks at life culturally and spiritually first (when will I learn?) and commercially and functionally when that sort of stuff occurs to me.

I saw the decision as classic footy imperialism at work, with the AFL claiming to be bringing the light of civilisation to the world, when really they were just expanding an economic empire. Western Sydney with its hordes was going to buy the product and was (after how many generations?) going to provide raw material (yes, players) for the competition. Andrew Demetriou was the Cecil Rhodes of Australian sporting life.

However I have changed my mind, or at least my approach.

Rod Gillett altered my view with his well-argued pieces here at footyalmanac.com. That encouraged me to re-consider my vantage point, which wasn’t hard, because I was in Brisbane when the Bears were kicking off, so I know what it is like, and the joy that is to be derived from the game you love coming to you in its highest form.

But, once the argument was lost, like a good Caucus member I was happy to respect the decision whatever it was. So I am a supporter of GWS, and I was a paid-up member when I lived in Canberra a couple of years ago.

GWS has rattled the Canberra sporting cage.

I got a strong impression on Saturday that the peaceful coexistence of the footy codes in the nation’s capital is a thing of the past. The local rag is going hard to support the Raiders (who are no good, but should be better) and the Brumbies (surprising most this campaign). While I was listening to the local sports show on ABC radio I reckon I heard an orchestrated campaign against GWS from talk-back callers. “Why should Canberrans support a Sydney team?” seemed to be a strong discourse to the point where you wondered from where the calls were emanating.

Footy has been doing it tough for coverage in Canberra for a while, and is not the footy town it was when the Commonwealth Public Service re-located from Melbourne in the good old days. But it still does pretty well locally and the crowd that turned out at Manuka suggested plenty of enthusiasm.

Manuka: what a delightful ground in the autumn, or at any time. Perfect playing surface. Country atmosphere. Where the caw of a crow can be heard across the big blue (post-fog) sky. The old MCG scoreboard. The glare of the inland sun.

The Giants, who were making history (apparently), started well against an awful Dogs outfit who didn’t have the fortitude to take the game on, nor perhaps the talent across the park. Through enthusiasm and skill GWS led two goals to nowt, as Israel Folau had an impact as the key forward.

The Dogs didn’t register a major until after quarter time, when Ayce Cordy (who looks like a footballer) did the job, and then Shaun Higgins showed his silky skills with a running left-footer to put the visitors in front.

With Dean Brogan out, Will Minson knew it would be a less threatening afternoon and revelled in his role as dominant ruckman. He certainly influenced the game for much of the second and third quarters against Giles who had one of those days.

The Giants fought hard and for a while they looked like they could force the wobbles onto their more-favoured opponents. The youngsters wouldn’t give it away and it was only inexperience which was costing them. A couple of bad turnovers resulted in goals, when really they should have been out and away for a goal at their own end. Some were skill errors; some were decision-making errors.

The umpires didn’t help the GWS cause with some baffling decisions, three or four of which yielded goals to the Bullies.

Yet the signs were OK. Young Cameron is a beauty. While watching I was trying to think who he reminded me of: long legs, brilliant acceleration, tremendous leap and good hands, all in a package grown in Dartmoor in western Victoria. They say he’d never been to an AFL match or on an aeroplane when he first joined GWS. (Pub talk?) I still can’t think of who it is.

He was good all afternoon and kicked five. He has the leap, and the on-ground skills, and a will to contest. Very, very impressive.

The Dogs did enough. Their experience and hardness were telling and there were a couple of sublime exchanges between Robert Murphy and Adam Cooney, and some involving Ryan Griffen who finished the in-and-under work of the hard nuts.

In the final quarter Davis went forward and Folau went back, and it seemed Kevin Sheedy and Mark Williams were giving their charges opportunity to experience different elements of the game.

Luke Power was terrific. Tom Scully has a way to go, but worked himself into the game in the second half.

One of the highlights came right in front of us when the ancient back-pocket Kevin Sheedy stood among his four interchange players between the fence and the boundary line and spoke to them like a wise old teacher. GWS and Essendon fan Pam Sherpa said later that night, “I love seeing Sheeds with the young blokes. For all he’s done, I reckon this is it. This is what it’s all been for. I reckon this is the most important thing he’s ever done for football.”

While that had a hint of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel about it, I know what Pam is saying. Sheeds and Choco let their love of the game emerge through the energy they find to lead.

They’re on the big bucks, sure. But I suspect it’s more than that. Or I hope it is.

I hope it’s cultural, and spiritual, and not just empire-building, with commerce at its heart.

 

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. JTH – Cameron – perhaps he reminds you of Dustin Fletcher?

  2. John Harms says:

    I reckon he reminds me of John Barker the most – but I reckon he might have a more successful career than John Barker.

  3. I’m not a fan of the nickname ‘Giants’. If they were going to name the football team after one from New York, they should have picked Jets. When the online comp ran, I suggested ‘Barbecues’. Local knowledge, y’know.

    But I am a fan of the concept and the people running it. Sheedy and WIlliams are a great pairing and can do more to get the club off the ground than anyone else. I suspect that Wests will be, over the next five years, more successful than Goldies.

    LIttle mentioned, except by Wise Kev, is the vast range of cultures in western Sydney. They owe no allegiance to any local code, though most might be casual soccer fans. There’s an enormous potential market west of Parramatta.

    Work takes me out there occasionally. A lot of tall, lean, limber Africans around Blacktown, perhaps Sudanese or Somali. I’d love to see some of those blokes running around on a football field.

  4. pamela sherpa says:

    JTH – I can boast that I had Cameron signed up-(on my cap ) before he became a household name! I too admire his zeal for the contest.

  5. Skip of Skipton says:

    Cameron is like Barry Stoneham before he broke his leg.

  6. Richard Naco says:

    One thing that was overlooked in this excellent discourse is that there was a hell of a lot of orange in the 9k+ crowd at the start of the game, and a hell of a lot more of it at the end.

    Over 200 people became members that day, and the two merchandising outlets combined for over $22k of sales. And that much of the orange gear sold ended up being worn alongside the colours of older, more distant teams. Manuka was a veritable sea of citrus by game’s end.

    The weather and conditions were postcard perfect and obviously did not hurt, but the atmosphere around the ground was fantastic (and very similar to that at ANZ in Round 1). Giants’ games are fun to attend, and the team certainly lives up to the creed contained in its beloved song:

    “We will never surrender,
    We’ll fight until the end.”

    It’s an accepted truism that the most powerful form of advertising is word of mouth, so I would not be surprised to see Manuka sell out for the next game there on Saturday week (against the Gold Coast). The next home game will be the first at Skoda, and with Essendon to do the honours of being the first visitors there it will be no surprise if that also sells out.

    There is, seriously, a big big sound in both Canberra and the west of the towns. And it sounds like fun.

  7. pamela sherpa says:

    It was nice to meet you on Saturday Richard. It was great to see so many orange people at Manuka.

  8. Tony Robb says:

    John
    Nice to catch up albeit briefly. Your choice of lunch partners concern me. I can only assume that
    G Robb’s footy prowess was talked up by the man himself as I never saw the bloke get a tough kick in his life “He bowled blokes over in numerous postcodes” Sniper more like it :)
    Pam,
    Im looking out the window now and there’s still orange people every where in Manuka. There is quite a lot of road work going on
    cheers
    TR

  9. I thought the pie floater deserved more of a review than you gave it. At the very least recognition of the inspiration that John Elliott provided to the chef.

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