Round 21 (2015) – St Kilda v Geelong: The Performer

 

In this depressing football era of conformity and homogeneity, of football as an industry, of players forced to play a ‘role’, of inane public utterances such as ‘within the four walls’ and of a congested game style that is rolling maul in fabric and dynamic, there’s a performer who is the exception to savour.

 

He dutifully and happily conforms to team ideals and the collective. He is unselfish, sometimes to a fault, always seeking to bring a teammate into the game with a look away handball or a perfectly weighted 33 metre pass to advantageous space.

 

He understands that there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’. Like Wendell Sailor however, he is also keenly aware that there are five in ‘individual brilliance’. He’s a rogue and a lair with an unshakable confidence in his ability to get the job done. The sort of bloke who’d ask for another card when sitting on 18 in blackjack. The sort of bloke who’d try the impossible and go open misere with the joker in 500 just to see what might transpire.

 

Within the confines of a football field, he’s forever exploring team and personal boundaries. Always endeavouring to widen the bandwidth of skill. Always seeking new possibilities for continuity of possession and of expression in a game that is desperately bereft of such qualities. All very much in the Bobby Davis philosophy of how the game should be played.

 

In a combinatorial sense, he’s always developing new templates and blueprints to beat the scrum and inventing new and exciting pathways to goal. Sometimes because of system breakdown, sometimes because of a lack of geometrical simpatico with teammates and sometimes because of ambition far outweighing possibility, such pathways can become frustrating cul-de-sacs. The joy however is that so many more become grand Parisian avenues and boulevards.

 

His football should be viewed through the lens of the great performer. A prestidigitator. A conjurer. An artful dodger. A footballing polymath. Occasionally a rodeo clown with a nose that honks when squeezed. We can live with the latter.

 

Johnno. Johnno. Johnno.

 

On Saturday night, it was the best of Johnno and the worst of Johnno. And as it often does with the gifted, it all happened so quickly. And it then took an eon and serious refreshment to make sense of it.

 

It’s the second quarter. Geelong are down and not playing cohesive football. The Saints are, and their intensity is high.

 

Johnno is clear with ball in hand. To be fair, you wouldn’t say he is exactly streaming towards an open goal. Instead his gait and pace is more of a jog to clear the head after a reasonable night on the ink. He doesn’t need to take a bounce. Of course Johnno considers it a must to take a bounce. Before our eyes, he morphs into a pantomime cow (thanks Old Mate Grant). The pantomime crowd behind the Geelong goal point and yell with increasing urgency and horror.

 

HE’S BEHIND YOU!

 

“He’s gunna get…”, I murmur (probably louder than I realise).

 

There’s a defect in the fabric of Johnno’s space-time. A wormhole develops. Shane Savage violates all the footy physics laws that Johnno has mastered and chases him down. Johnno has lost his frame of reference. A dribbling, piddling and embarrassing miskick barely rolls through for a minor score. The great performer has been pantsed on his stage.

 

Where was Johnno’s awareness? WTF?

 

There is uproar. I feel like I’m outside Old Parliament House in November 1975. I’m waiting to hear Norman Gunston through a megaphone.

 

One stern, stony-faced St Kilda supporter to my left, who may not have cracked a Mona Lisa type smile since Michael Gardiner’s mark and goal in 2009 yells out, “Pensioner”.

 

I turn to look at Old Mate Harms. The sage will make sense of it all.

 

Old Mate has this vacuous lifeless look. Devoid of expression. Zombie-like. Just like the way Shane Watson looks just before he reviews a plumb LBW decision and is predictably (even to Watson) sent on his way. I think Harms may have passed away. I’m relieved when his jaw starts to twitch and his lips move.

 

“That is outrageous”, Old Mate proffers.

 

After further reflection, he then follows up with, “That is ridiculous Johnno.” Every syllable punctuated and every pause accentuated by shock.

 

Benny Hill’s Yakety Sax streams through my consciousness. I want to chase Johnno around Clapham Common continually slapping the back of his head.

 

Johnno has become Jackie Wright. Pensioner indeed!

 

We all have a dry wash or three and attempt to move on at a lost opportunity that could cost a finals berth.

 

This is the beauty of Johnno though. And it is why he should be signed up for nine years minimum on a contract that allows him to lay on a banana lounge next to a goal post, clad in colourful board shorts and funky shades and sipping pina coladas while Hawkins does the hack work.

 

A few minutes later all is forgiven. It always is with our Old Mucker. That’s what unconditional love and affection is all about. Johnno procures the ball 35 metres out, wheels on a generous arc running away from the goals and dobs it with his non-preferred. It is a goal that only John Sharrock could kick. Johnno runs around the boundary away from goal fingering the charged air molecules with vindication.

 

Was I really hearing Benny Hill crazy music a few minutes ago? After we all take stock, I now hear the soothing and melodic sound of a lute. I feel like lighting up a Djarum clove cigarette. Instead I settle for a sip of cognac (source not to be divulged).

 

The game is now down to the wire. Motlop and Cockatoo have been on fire. Beautiful players these two.

 

A long bomb to the Saints goal is marked in defence by guess who? A minute to go Johnno. Find Enright. He’ll work it out. Or kick it to Harry. He’ll mark it. He’s the last quarter match-saving-mark specialist.

 

Johnno plays on like a loony and handballs to a stationary Bartel in the back pocket with nobody to kick to. Jimmy hacks it to a St Kilda bloke and it leads to the Saints levelling the score. It also leads to Harms questioning punting and the very meaning of our existence.

 

Meanwhile, a couple of Paul Vinar torps from the ground a phone goes off in the middle of a heartfelt engagement party acceptance speech. With 15 year old boy timing and enthusiasm, Liam informs his mum Marita (has sat in the same seat in the Brownlow Stand since 1984) that it’s a draw at Etihad.

 

With all this madness going on at Etihad, newly engaged Daniel’s old man Rob is on stage and is the recipient of some loving son plaudits.

 

Back in about 1986 at Waverley, Rob was so disenchanted by Devine’s coaching that Devine found himself coaching the last quarter from a box that had its window shattered. Rob was led away. Guilty only of over-exuberance (akin to some of Devine’s zany gesticulations at three quarter time huddles) and unlucky that the amorphous structure of glass can result in structural brittleness.

 

On stage, Rob must sense from Marita in the audience that something is up. This football husband and wife have watched a lot of Geelong together. What does a father do at such moments? With Daniel in full flight, Rob pulls his phone out and checks the score.

 

He too ends up with that Shane Watson look about him.

 

Johnno. Johnno. Johnno.

 

Read John Harms on Stevie J and the footy instinct.

 

ST KILDA   5.4   8.7   11.9   14.13 (97)
GEELONG   5.1   9.2   13.4    15.7 (97)

GOALS
St Kilda: 
Bruce 3, Minchington 3, Hickey 2, Gilbert 2, Membrey, Savage, Riewoldt, Newnes
Geelong: Johnson 4, Hawkins 3, Vardy 2, Mackie, Taylor, Gregson, Guthrie, Motlop

BEST 
St Kilda: 
Steven, Riewoldt, Gilbert, Newnes, Ross, Minchington
Geelong: Motlop, Johnson, Enright, Guthrie, Hawkins,,Taylor

INJURIES 
St Kilda: 
Nil
Geelong: Josh Caddy (knee)

SUBSTITUTES
St Kilda: 
Josh Saunders replaced by Brodie Murdoch in the third quarter
Geelong: Josh Caddy (knee) replaced by Nakia Cockatoo at half-time

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Farmer, Mollison (hates Geelong), Wallace

Official crowd: 25,245 at Etihad Stadium

MALARKEY VOTES

(3) Motlop

(2) Johnno

(1) Enright

 

 

 

Ladbrokes image

 

 

Comments

  1. So much in this P Flynn.

    You’ve nailed it – with some beaut observations.

    Bring back the crazy amateur.

    Brilliant piece.

    Good to have some Geelong material on the site at last. We need some Joel Selwood milestone celebration material as well. Might have to dig out my old Inside Football article.

    PS. I took multis with 6 selections: all combos of 6 winners, 5 winners, 4 winners etc. All won, except Geelong. Thankfully Ladbrokes pay half divs on a draw. What could have been! Still a happy weekend when you add Ladbrokes Port +51.5 at $1.92. The bookies there were out by a lazy 73.5 points. Rare for the bookies.

  2. E.regnans says:

    Ahh that’s a cracker.
    Love the sort of bloke… who’d have a crack at the misere whilst holding the Joker.
    Oh yes.

    Fantastical and spirited and all with a “why not?” kind of lift of the left eyebrow.
    That’s Jonno and this writing both, PJF.
    Beautifully done.

  3. Danny Russell says:

    Yes, this beautifully sums up the enigma that is known in our house as “SBJ” (or, on a bad day, “SFJ”).

    The matter of the deployment of the joker in misere is one for its own stream, but I would argue the impossibility of the undertaking.

  4. Well old mate, I reckon that’s the best piece of writing about our dear old mucker, Johnno, that I’ve ever read. Superb lines in here. The Parisian Boulevards bit. Outstanding.
    Johnno in board shorts waiting next to the goal posts for the next 9 years. I’d be in that.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great stuff PJF,Stevie J is unique and incredible to watch even as a non cats man.Re the draw the happiest couple at the ground were,Roger Froggy Murdoch and Julie having a son in each camp in Jordan and Brodie hugging and joyous about the result with half of Port McDonnell FC in attendance at the game

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    What a bio OM Flynn! Superbe, with the e. This is a re-read.
    I want a time machine so I can go back and stand alongside.

    Maybe we’ve got just a bit of Johnno in Jetts. Please let him stay. Just for freedom of expression.

  7. mickey randall says:

    Wonderful stuff. So many fantastic images in here PJF. As artful as Johno having a night out.

    Especially enjoyed the Jackie Wright reference. How could I not!

  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    You’ve channeled your inner Johnno here Mucker. ‘Prestidigitator’= Brilliant

  9. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks Old Mates for your kind words.

    The most hilarious Johnno moment of the year occurred against North when Walker marked the ball in the pocket and a nearby loitering Johnno demanded the ball and didn’t get it.

    Johnno threw teddy out of the cot and Walker hit the post.

    Old Mate I was thinking time machine when I heard that Chappy was retiring.

  10. Brilliantly creative writing PJF. Like a Bubba 7 iron around the trees. Were he and Johnno separated at birth?
    Johnno’s face and waddle reminds me increasingly of Elmer Fudd as his centre of gravity shifts progressively south. I can hear him saying “wascally weagles” and “its bucks hunting season” in the pre game.
    Any old Croweaters reckon Johnno reminds them of triple Magarey Medallist, Lindsay Head? Genius at play. Slow as a wet weekend, but could find space in a rush hour train. Played Sheffield Shield cricket, and trained an Interdom heat winner, My Gal Sal. They don’t make ’em like that any more (save for Johnno).

  11. A brilliant read (tribute), old mate.
    A couple of questions:
    1. How good would it have been to see Johnno as a junior?
    2. What on earth was Norman Gunston doing on the steps of parliament when Gough was dismissed?

  12. That goal of Johnno’s after he was run down by Savage is the best I’ve seen from him. And didn’t he love it!

  13. Superb, Sneak. Didn’t think I had time to read your piece – now I need to find a further two hours to watch the replay and decipher the code. Failing that a bit of Benny Hill and Jackie Wright (how do you remember this stuff!) on You Tube.

  14. Gareth Andrews says:

    Flynny that is one for the ages. Having watched most of Stevie’s games at this level it is hard to even imagine what he may have been like as a kid–an uncoachable superstar.

    Interestingly. he want to be an AFL and is one of the great thinkers of our game. A bit of the Sheedy’s methinks.

    your writing is just as breathless. well done.

  15. Gareth Andrews says:

    …AFL Coach

  16. No G porn here, only Geelong prose. Thanks PF.

    Norman may have been a fill in for Sir Les.

  17. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    PB, re Lindsay Head, I’ve never thought of him/Stevie J but this shows why he was called “The Artful Dodger”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F98EKxGNgPk

    Is that you at the 9:30 mark PB?

    My Gal Sal is prominent too (and Bobby Gibson gets a look in too)

    Stevie J running a pub? Hmmm.

  18. I fully agree with JTH & Dips. Some fine work there Flynny.

    Looking forward to seeing you all for lunch tomorrow with Der.

  19. Andrew Starkie says:

    Beautiful, Old Mucker. He has been entertaining and brilliant, but the curtain may be calling. We are all but travellers here. Watched the final two minutes on the AFL site; Saints unlucky not to receive a 50 with that final entry. Sainter marks Jimmy’s hack kick; Cat runs over mark; ump misses it.

  20. Terrific piece Mr Flynn. Captures Stevie J’s uniqueness beautifully. Maddening and magical, often in the same passage of play. Who else but Stevie could get away with casually mucking up two ‘certain’ goals from the top of the square (remember the Bulldogs game?) at critical times, yet be one of the first picked the following week?

    Love the Benny Hill analogy. Every time I see Stevie j in action from now on (hopefully for at least another year in the hoops) I expect I’ll conjure up images of Jackie Wright being chased around London to the tune of Boots Randolph’s Yakety Sax. Surely one of the zaniest pieces of music ever composed. Perfect for Stevie.

    Cheers, Burkie

  21. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks to the second wave of Old Mates for your kind remarks.

    I note that Johnno recently scored an albatross at the par 5 6th at Metropolitan. From memory, the second shot was a wood from the rough!

    I think Geelong will quiet likely give Johnno the Tijuana.

    This will be the wrong decision.

  22. Garry ibbs says:

    Great read and agree it would be great to have him another year.

  23. John Butler says:

    Love the swagger here PJF.

    Not sure why the Cats would be in such a rush to give him the Tijuana. It would be bizarre to see him in different colours.

  24. Great piece, we’ll (tigers) will take him for a year so we can marvel at his magic and mumbles

  25. I knew it was coming. We all knew that Johnno’s time at Geelong was ending. But I’m still really sad to read it. In fact, I think I might actually cry. Another victim of “the process”; of “going forward”, of “the transition”.

  26. Peter Flynn says:

    I kept reading the full-forward line this morning.

    F Menzel Hawkins Johnson

    I’m the same as you Dips. I fear Geelong has lost being Geelong in style of play and in bandwidth of footballer types it accommodates. This has been happening for awhile now.

    Johnno!=OLD MATE

  27. Flynny – can we nominate Johnno as the first life member of the OLD MATE hall of fame?

  28. Peter Flynn says:

    Inducted together with Chappy, Enright, Jimmy and Rooke

  29. Feeling a bit sad today. Will really miss that crazy, zany, wonderful No. 20 for the Cats. Never seen another player like him. Well played SJ. A worthy member of Flynny’s OLD MATE hall of fame. Shouldn’t take too long to reach LEGEND status I reckon.

    Cheers, Burkie

  30. in the glare
    of the fading day
    Stevie J from nowhere

    – Round 4, 2010.

    I will miss Johnno, too.
    And Chappy.

    There was a relentless presence about both of them..

    HB.

  31. Yvette Wroby says:

    I will miss all the love of Stevie j on the almanac . All this boy love warms the heart. You will always have years of YouTube and memories to keep the love alive. You will always carry a bit of Stevie j in your hearts. Wake up each morning and be a little Stevie j. That will bring a smile to your dial. Yvette

  32. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks for the latest wave of comments.

    HB I will miss Swan when he finishes and Yvette I miss Lenny.

    Yvette I carried Johnno home in a plastic bag this morning.

    Very rarely do I buy a newspaper. Today I did.

    My Old Cheese reckons Johnno played with a bad knee and after the game apologized to all his teammates for the ‘madness’.

    I like Burkie’s word.

    Zany!

    PS yesterday I marveled at E Betts. What a player!

  33. One would hope this is Stevie J’s last AFL game. To go out a winner is a deserving farewell for a player who has enthralled and excited footy fans for a decade. it would be sad to see him play a season or two in another teams colours. Sure it might bring him more $$$ but it will not enhance his career. I think of two other small forwards who went to Richmond, Paul Hudson and Adam Houlihan, both of who failed to contribute much . Let’s hope Stevie J has finished his AFL career a one team player and we can savour our memories of his performances in the blue and white hoops.

    Glen!

  34. Just as good the second time around.

  35. E.regnans says:

    Agreed, Dips.
    Stunning, PJF.
    Well played S Johnson.

  36. ” a couple of Paul Vinar torps” . Longford oval. ( The late ) Paul Vinar kicks out from full back. It goes well past the centre . .Barry Lawrence takes it at true centre half forward on the first bounce, turns and drop kicks a goal. Indelible memory, won’t see its like again .

  37. Old mate Johnno. No overblown press conference for him.
    He announced his retirement in his training jumper.

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