Saturday in Geelong

by Marcus Holt

When I was growing up Saturday in Geelong was always synonymous with footy. Saturday mornings saw me running out in the resplendent yellow and red jumpers of the Terrifics in the Geelong West YMCA Little League under 9’s. Each week we’d line up against similarly named opposition: the Dazzlers, Rippers, Corkers or Beauts. Positive reinforcement may have had its birth place in Geelong junior football.

The only premiership I ever won was against the Dazzlers in 1970 on the back of our star player Grant Sutherland and our little red haired rover Patrick McGinnes.
Fast forward 41 years and Saturday morning finds me back at a junior footy ground, this time as an umpire for my first game of the season. Resplendent this time in bright orange I may look the part but before long it’s obvious my body has lost all semblance to the 9 year old who used to run around for the Terrifcs. I struggle to keep up with the under 16’s in the opening game and in the second game the under 18’s whiz past me in a blur of footy speed and skill that leaves me breathless. I contemplate alternative means of transport for aging unfit umpires to get around a footy ground; maybe one of those Segways I’ve seen on TV would do the job, or a horse?
I’m just glad that Neil, my co-umpire is fitter than me and carries more than his share of the load. After the game(s) I start to stiffen up as I walk to the car and wonder at the wisdom of it all.

I’ve got about an hour to have a quick look for footy badges at the Collectables Fair in Belmont before the Cats v Roos game at Kardinia Park.
Carolyn delivers Sport Boy and a very tasty packed lunch then drops us off outside the ground.
We find some seats in the temporary stand in the pocket at the river end that is set aside for general admission punters. It’s a good spot: I like having some elevation and a better over-view of the game and bring binoculars to see what’s going on at the city end.

Much has been made of this being the first AFL game ever coached by opposing twin brothers, the Scott boys. They refuse to buy into the hype:
“It’s not about us, it’s about the teams”. Fair enough; it’s an interesting piece of trivia and that’s about it.

Of more long term interest is Geelong’s chance of setting a new record for consecutive wins at our home ground. Victory today will take it to 25 in a row. Kardinia Park has become an impregnable fortress for the mighty Cats.

I have to make comment here on the number of talk-back callers and footy commentators who have suggested that the record is somehow lessened in stature because of the number of “weaker” teams we play down here.
Firstly, we have no control over who we play here or anywhere else, the AFL set the fixtures not Geelong.
As we all know, footy is a business and the dollar is the bottom line, therefore, all clubs like to maximise their earnings by playing the biggest drawing teams at the biggest venues. The Cattery only holds about 28,000 (at this stage) so if Geelong played a team like Collingwood down here 50-60,000 people would not be able to come to the game. It makes perfect common and financial sense to play such a game at the MCG. But here’s the rub, where would we prefer to play all of our home games? At Kardinia Park of course.

Finally, and most significantly in my mind, the criterion for which teams we play at Geelong has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the relative strength or weakness of the opposition and everything to do with the size of the crowd they are likely to draw. Naturally enough that means the non-Victorian teams are scheduled at Kardinia Park because of their small support at away games.
Similarly, North Melbourne tend to play us here because they don’t attract huge crowds. But the thing everyone seems to forget or ignore is that we just happen to be in a period of dominance of Victorian teams.

We have been playing much the same teams at home for years. Let’s just consider the last ten years. Brisbane, triple premiers 2001-2003, Port Adelaide, premiers 2004, Sydney, premiers 2005, West Coast, premiers 2006, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, regular finalists are all regular visitors to the Cattery.
No-one complained about unfair fixturing when we were drawn to play premiership teams down here year after year. Conversely we never play Collingwood or Essendon at home because of the ground capacity and nothing to do with where they are on the ladder.
Sorry, I worked up a head of steam there but it is a pet peeve of mine.

The game itself goes to script. The Cats start well and threaten an avalanche.
North put up some early resistance and Petrie marks everything in sight. Lindsay Thomas rediscovers his radar and snaps a ripper goal.
Dasher Milburn defies all rumours of his demise and ghosts forward to kick a goal. Menzel out-muscles his opponent in the goal square and pulls in a one-hander. Selwood racks up clearances and Matty Stokes kicks goals.

The stand-outs are Podsiadly, Varcoe and Kelly. JPod crashes into packs and pulls down a string of contested marks although no-one in football takes longer to get up off the ground after a mark than James. His kicking is erratic but he still bags three. Travis runs and runs and runs and his finishing has gotten better and better on either foot. And Kelly does what Kelly does: goes in hard, wins contested possessions, delivers accurately and tackles anything that moves, not flashy just super-effective.

After the first quarter North become bit-part players as the Cats pile on the goals and run away with the game. By half time the result is so certain that Chris Scott makes possibly the most unusual substitution of the season so far, giant ruckman Brad Ottens is replaced by midget first year Allen Christensen, hardly like for like. Hawkins and Moons share the ruck duties while Otto rests up for Collingwood next week.

The Cats coast to an 11 goal win, the streak extends to 25, the Cattery remains a fortress and everyone goes home happy.

The only thing that soured the day was the four blokes behind us who swore loudly and yelled obscenities and abuse all day and took extreme exception to my polite request that they restrain their bad language out of respect for the nine small kids sitting nearby. They looked at me as if I had three heads, incredulous that anyone could suggest they had no right to yell and swear and carry on as they pleased. Sport Boy was worried they were going to hit me but thankfully it didn’t come to that.

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