“The Bloke” goes home disappointed

The lights on the MCG towers shine down upon the poor huddled masses with such brightness it looks like the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a Friday night in Melbourne, brisk is the air and somewhat dewy is the grass. Approaching the MCG with thousands of other football worshippers gives me a strong sense of belonging. We the spectators, divided as we are between those with striped jumpers and those with hooped, are nonetheless joined in our love for an almighty footy contest.

It’s still only mid May but already the Pies are being touted as flag favourites, or at least as probable Grand Final participants. A new buzz word is surrounding their style of play – “pressing”. It seems that with every new season and every emerging team there must be a buzz word attached. “Pressing” has replaced “clusters” and “zones” and “floods” and “Saints footy” (whatever that was). It seems to be an attempt to describe the relentless pressure that the Pies put on their opponents all over the ground to force errors and turnovers. But it’s a different pressure to previous seasons. In 2010 the Pies players aren’t just coming from behind the ball in the defensive area, a style that ultimately let them down in 2008 and 2009, they are running forward of the ball too. So when a midfielder wins the ball and drives it forward the whole team presses up the ground to lock it into the forward 50; sort of like how orca whales cooperate to herd shrimp into a tight ball before they pounce. (Did anyone see Malthouse at Seaworld over summer ?)

This is a remarkable change. A Malthouse coached team allowed to run forward of the ball is as significant as Bob Brown expressing global warming skepticism. Maybe this is not Malthouse driving the train, maybe its Buckley?

My phone is full of messages about possible meetings before the game starts:

“You at ground? I’m in section Q8”

“Having one at the Corner. See you there?”

“At London Tav. You coming?”

“In forward pocket city end.”

I’m wondering if anyone is at home tonight.

As I make my way to my seat on level four of the Great Southern Stand I seem to be climbing so impossibly high that I can almost touch the moon. It makes me think of Haiku Bob; he’ll be here somewhere fervently cheering for his beloved Pies, constructing a masterful haiku and looking at the same moon.

The ground looks like a postcard. I want to feel the sting in the bumps and smell the sweat on the players. I conclude my seat is too far away from the action. So I descend the mountain, battling against the overwhelming tide of humanity as they climb the steep stairs of the temple. I wander if all this climbing and descending is beneficial to my cardio vascular system or if I actually have to be in a gymnasium to obtain any fitness benefit. Does the human body make such distinctions? It’s not a completely ridiculous thought. I have a friend who sincerely believes that ice cream is only detrimental to your arteries if you eat it from a bowl; eating it straight from the container doesn’t count, therefore no harm done. It’s all about perception.

The build up for this game has been monumental; perhaps even a bit too much. I mean, how big can a game be? Nonetheless I’m asking the same question that John Harms asked himself as he entered the MCG before the 2007 Grand Final; why does this mean so much to me? It’s only a game of football, isn’t it?

Eighty eight plus thousand people at the MCG in May is like Christmas in July; entertainment without the true meaning. But there is no question that Collingwood crowds make the most noise, their roars are more guttural and primitive than any other supporter, except maybe Watsonia supporters in the DVFL in the 80s. The atmosphere is almost visible.

During the buildup we are all bombarded with stats and chatter and banter and expert opinion, but it all amounts to nothing when the ball is bounced. As the umpire sets the ball down and it rises in the night sky, eighty eight plus thousand pairs of eyes watch it and the battle begins. At this moment the true, brilliant absurdity of football is unleashed; the luck of the bounce, a toe poke, a finger nail spoil, a missed hand pass; these things impact the game with the same force as a towering pack mark or long bomb goal. It’s beautiful.

Well, it’s beautiful for a while anyway. Swan kicks a classy goal to open proceedings then Ablett kicks a ripper from 50 close to the boundary; it all going to script. The skills of the two best teams in the competition are going to be on display.

But the character of the game changes quickly. Both defences get on top and errors are abounding. I haven’t seen this many turnovers since I went to Auskick last winter. Hunt kicks it straight to Leon Davis, Heath Shaw charges down the wing and hits a bloke in seat K17 on the head, and the crowd starts giggling nervously to itself.

A rugged looking Pie supporter next to me (herein after referred to as “The Bloke”) is spitting words out like bullets from a bren gun,

“C’mon Pies, go Pies, faster Pies, crap Pies! No Pies, ohhhh Jesus Pies, c’mon Pies, tackle Pies, shit Pies!…….”

I try to hold my breath as long as he is but decide to stop when I turn blue.

The second quarter starts like the first; more errors than a midyear maths exam. Heath Shaw has definitely forgotten whose side he is on as he continually finds Geelong targets, and the Cats can’t remember exactly why they are there, but they get in front by virtue of the fact that they are the least worst of the teams. Perhaps it’s just the pressure both real and implied.

“The Bloke” continues – “Shit Pies, crap Pies, pressure Pies, goals not points Pies, ohhhhh JESUS Pies! You’re crap Pies, beauty Pies, ohhh turnovers Pies!!………”

Beams keeps the Pies close with two goals in about 70 seconds, the second being right on the half time bell, and he continues his purple patch into the third quarter kicking his fourth. He has four of the Pies five goals. A quick follow up from O’Bree has the Pies in front by nine points and the Magpie Army finds voice. If Johnson, Swan and Thomas had kicked straight (admittedly their kicks were all under pressure) the Pies might have built a handy lead. Nonetheless Joffa has probably leant down to double check that the gold jacket is in his backpack.

“The Bloke” – “Yes Pies, kill ‘em Pies, BEAMSY!! go Pies, yes Pies, BREESA!!, yes Pies, kill ‘em Pies, tackle Pies, pressure Pies, great Pies..…..”

Unfortunately for “The Bloke” the goal kicking after the O’Bree snap went as follows:

Varcoe, Stokes, Mooney, Pods, Mooney, Stokes, Stokes, Wojcinski, final siren.

The Cats midfield had awoken from its slumber. Bartel, Kelly, Selwood, Ablett; line up the usual suspects. The Cats hit targets, the Pies were crushed. The Cats had turned an 11 point deficit into a 23 point lead in fifteen devastating minutes. Giving the Cats a chance with bad kicking is like patting a crocodile; sooner or later you’ll get chomped.  The Pies kicked and squealed and thrashed about at the start of the last quarter but weren’t good enough to land a knockout blow even though it took the Cats seven and a half minutes to get the ball inside their fifty. They weren’t helped by McCaffer’s two misses from 25 metres out; both of them the kick of a non believer. At game’s end it was telling that no Collingwood tall forward took a mark inside their forward 50 for the entire game. It was left to Beams and Ball. (Jolly took one but only when he snuck forward in the ruck).

“The Bloke” – “Shit Pies, crap Pies, JESUS Pies! Hit a target Pies, crap Pies, shit Pies, ohhhh McCaffer! c’mon Pies, goals Pies goals, tackle Pies, Ohhhh shit McCaffer, lift Pies, crap Pies, hopeless Pies! C’mon Pies lift……..”

The challenger was vanquished. As “The Bloke” stepped past me in a desperate bid to leave before he had to endure the Geelong club song he was still going,

“Hopeless Pies, hopeless Pies, crap Pies, no pressure Pies……..”

Perhaps he still is.

Best

Geelong – Bartel, Kelly, Selwood, Ablett, Blake, Enright, Mooney

Collingwood – Beams, Swan, Johnson, Reid, Ball, Pendlebury, O’Brien

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sorpranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Phantom says:

    Dips,

    what’s global warming?

    I like the fact that you were in an anthropological enough mode to record the cultural uniqueness of ‘the bloke’. And in true anthropological context you managed to survive the process without being boiled (headless) in the pot.

    At the local footy next day the Pies supporters, who surfaced, had all sorts of interesting excuses – again.

    Every other supporter of every other club seemed to have loved it. How the Cats status within world politics has improved in the past few years.

    Just to add the creeeeeeeeeeeeeam my local Cats the Wynyard Football Club had an upset (to the non believers) win to claw themselves from the bottom of the ladder.

    Go Cats. Phantom.

  2. Stephen Cooke says:

    I was there too Dips, although on the ground level. Cats fans around me seemed almost indifferent to the result. If we lost, we all know it’s about September. But the Pies fans really wanted this win – it would legitimise their new game plan, show the world they could do it. The tension was palpable. They were despondent when the Cats toyed with them, kicking five goals in as many minutes. Some very glum faces around me, which added to the pleasure of the night.

  3. Phantom – glad to hear about the creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeam.

    Cookey – I know more people who were at the ground than not I reckon. So why did we only get to 88,000 people? – where the bloody hell were the other 12,000?

  4. Stephen Cooke says:

    Maybe they counted the crowd after 3/4 time when the Cats were on top and the Pies fans started filtering out of the ground.
    The half time crowd would have been 7000 more at least.

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    I’m reminded of the great Irish commentator Mícheál Ó hEithir who once said something like:

    “Today’s attendance at Croke Park is 54,998 and where did the other 2 go?”

  6. Phantom says:

    Peter,

    the excitement might have been too much and they croaked.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    Very droll Phantom.

    Love it.

  8. Danielle says:

    Dips, :(
    i was pretty dissapointed with our performance since i skipped mum’s cousins’ wedding thing and all.
    The least they could have done is won the game.
    What is your opinion on Caffer?
    i think it was a huge mistake made by the selection team, they shoulda picked Barham. And when does Chris Pendlebury get his chance??? :(
    Then there is Ball, can’t complain about his ground work but he could have atleast had a shot a goal those two times!
    i miss Medders AND Superman! :(
    Mick has A LOT of thinking to do!

  9. Danni – I reckon the Pies have some up-side from the loss. Next time probably Shaw, Didak, Jolly, and even O’Brien will play better. Also if Mick has half a brain O’Bree, Davis and McCaffer won’t play, and Josh Fraser will play instead of the other big log. Medhurst will play too but I’m not sure about Superman – he’s a bit of a bunny for Matty Scarlett.

    Ball’s kicking (or lack there of) is a worry for the Pies.

    Then again the Cats might have Ottens and Joel Corey back in the side (smiley face) just to give them more of a lift!

    BUT there’s a long way to go Danni………………

  10. Phantom says:

    Matty Scarlett is like my neighbours kids. They have lots of “bunnies”

  11. Danielle says:

    i hope you are right Dips, i want to win next week!
    If Caffer is not dropped then i am going to be furious. He may be a good future prospect but he’s not yet mature enough to have played Geelong! out of all the teams!
    Superman is a bunny? that’s fine! i LOVE bunnies! lol

    if anyone is interested in English today we read a poem about footy by Aussie poet Bruce Dawe called ‘Life-cycle’
    i really loved it do ahve a read if you get the chance.

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081006131310AAwBeZF

    Danni

  12. Phantom says:

    Profound Danielle.

    Poetry is good for the soul, and sometimes good for the grades.

    Cheers, Phantom

  13. Richard Naco says:

    What I found interesting about the game was that the Pies were favourites with the bookies (and a lot of commentators, except on K-Rock for some reason) before the game, but after it was all done & dusted Fox Sports continually referred to them as “the underdogs”.

    Maybe “undercats” lacks the same gravitas, regardless of how more appropriate a title it would be.

  14. Danni,

    I like Life Cycle as well. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen the word “beribonned”.

    I actually feel silly for believing the hype about Collingwood before last Friday. Luke Ball is a nice bloke but I don’t think he’s the difference between winning a premiership and not winning it.

    I think Collingwood’s problem is the same as it’s been for years, probably every year since 1958, with the exception of 1990 (although I would include 1990; they caught Hawthorn on an off year): the quality is not quite good enough.

    It’s better than it’s been in recent years but it’s still not good enough.

  15. Danielle says:

    14- Paul i don’t balme you for falling into the hype. it happens to me every week. Those Promos give me chills!
    i love the word ‘beribonned’ its so cool! gee i sound like a nerd…
    My cousin is school buds with Luke Ball, well thats what he told me when i last saw him and he’s lived in Brighton for ages.
    i wish i could rewind to 1990.
    i always knew i was born at the worng time!
    :(

  16. Danni – just read the poem. Great read. The Pies will have their day, afterall every dog does doesn’t it? Just hope its not against Geelong.

  17. Danielle says:

    16- cool, maybe they will prove me wrong and win the flag, that would be GREAT!!! :)
    you never know i guess.

    ps- Mr.Naco, im stealing CAMERON MOONEY!! He’s mine now!! ;)

  18. Richard Naco says:

    Danielle,

    He’s only your’s if he looks you in the eyes and whispers, “Anabhabek!”

    Or does the dubkah.

    ;)

  19. Danielle says:

    18- lol hahahahahahhahahah
    im feeling really sick but that really made me laugh. :)
    the chances of the above are VERY little!

    Oh, come on PLEASEEEEE!! Let me take him, i love him almost as much as Jack!!

  20. Richard Naco says:

    I wasn’t aware that Jack loved him too!!!???!!!

  21. Danielle says:

    20- lol didn’t mean it that way.
    what i meant is that i love Mooney almost as much as i love Jack.
    BUT if that works then sure!

  22. David Enticott says:

    Dips, Great piece on a disappointing loss. Watching the game again on the tv the following morning I was a bit more encouraged. We were only four goals down with a couple of minutes to go. The early signs were bad when one or two of our players froze inside our forward 50. In terms of team selections I’d leave out- N.Brown, McCaffer, O’Bree, Johnson and Wood and would include: Presti, Lockyer, Medhurst, Dick and Fraser.

  23. What I find interesting is that people are now continually looking for Geelong’s imminent successor and believing in false ‘prophets’. Before the game, Mark Robinson (Herald-Sun journalist in Melbourne) was tipping Collingwood to win, not just because of their new super-dooper game plan and the momentum they had built, but also because they now had enormous self-belief. Its nice to know that enormous self-belief comes with winning a handful of home and away games. That was an interesting statement. I would have thought Geelong, after 3 years of dominance and 2 premierships had a mortgage on self-belief at the moment.
    We’ll bet our 7 wins and momentum and raise you our self-belief. Ahem….
    In roulette people assume 3 reds in a row means its bound to be black next time. That’s human nature and I think that’s what’s happening in peoples’ minds at the moment with the Cats.
    It appears that the honeymoon period is over between the Cats and the footballing public (or teh footy media at least) and now the public/media is looking for a new relationship to lust over again.
    I think the Cats have other ideas.

  24. Peter Flynn says:

    Dips,

    Great report.

    I take it that you didn’t feel very sentimental about the bloke.

    Lol (catchy)

  25. Flynny – The Bloke made me GTM

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