The double torp

I think I saw one of the great goals on Sunday evening. It came as Theo and Anna were trashing the bathroom. The details (of both incidents) remain a little sketchy. The thing I am most confident of is that Anna (two years old next week) tipped about 12.7 litres of water on to the bathroom floor, in a vote-winning display for water-spillers, but not for mothers or fathers.

The thing I am less confident of was what was happening at Footy Park in Adelaide during the Crows-Geelong twilight fixture. No doubt we will see it replayed many times this week, and, given Mick Molloy’s new torp segment, it will feature prominently on Before the Game this Saturday night.

I really hope it is a case of life imitating art – or at least life imitating Channel 10. I hope the protagonists concerned were keen to get a few torps away so they could feature on the show. Because that would show the ordinariness of footballers, and hint at the drudgery of their workplace; a drudgery which is forever lurking no matter what your occupation. It would make them like us: playing putt putt around the office.

I reckon it was late in the second quarter.  I had listened to the first quarter out in the garden while cutting back the star jasmine, rampant from last summer’s growth, and now entangled with ornamental passionfruit (gorgeously exotic flower on this one); so entangled as to make a weave like a tartan serviette.

Roger Wills and Walshy were calling the game for the ABC. It’s the last time Rog will call his beloved Cats, and they weren’t doing too well for him. Rog is retiring in a few weeks time. I was chopping and hacking away, and Theo was making a pile of the tendrils and leaves, and telling me to watch out for stinging nettles (a recent development at the end of the garden), and Anna was making sand pies in the sand pit.

I have known Roger Wills for some time now. I had listened to him forever before I met him, as he was the voice of ABC SA sport. He was always at his beloved Adelaide Oval, or calling the action from Footy Park, or talking about Norwood, or at some other sporting event. Rog has always been an all-rounder.

His nomadic past and his child-like enthusiasm for things (which has never wavered, Rog is a romantic) mean he has come to love so many sports, especially the various footballs and cricket, for what they are. No doubt he has his favourites, but he is never parochial and he will engage you in conversation about the plight of the Australian front row as enthusiastically as he will the reliability of Paul Chapman.

He was born in Queensland (so he can tell you about the old rail motor which took him to and from Brisbane in his early childhood), grew up on a property in central New South Wales, went to school at Geelong Grammar (which is why he loves the Cats, and loves them with a passion), is a graduate of ANU in Canberra (where he got his bum frozen,  was taught history by Manning Clark,  and as a full-back in the rugby side had an undisclosed percentage of his teeth knocked out having fielded an up-and-under in a way that exposed them to a local policeman). He worked for the ABC in Tassie, before moving to Adelaide in the mid-80s, and has been the pivot of the ABC side there since.

If life imitated Roger the world would be a better place. He sees the good in most. He has magnificent energy, a capacity to gather stories and remember people, and a real zest for life. He has so many stories all of which are competing with each other to get from his mind to the public arena at the same time. He loves the stories so much (and so he should) that he is itching to tell the next one as it pops in to his head. So Rog is the master of the tangent. Unlike Gough Whitlam he is not a master of the return to the original point of the story.

This means conversation with Roger is more buffet than it is a la carte. But, my goodness, it’s entertaining, and that love of people shines through. You can tell from his (and Sue’s) hospitality that he is absolutely genuine.

I met Roger, I suspect, because he is a reader, and I suspect that is rarer in sportscasters and sportswriters than you’d think. But Rog reads across the topics – not just sport. And he’s always suggesting a book. He’s also one of those people from whom you receive a manila envelope in the post from time to time (about fortnightly) with a collection of articles torn from national papers, suburban rags, and journals and magazines of which you’ve never heard. And a series of photo-copied pieces as well. All have underlines and highlights and crazy left-handed Wills scrawl on them like he’s just seen an apple fall from a tree and is putting together a relative theory of gravity or a grave theory of relativity. Or something. With the ‘!!’ in the margins, punctuation which contains within it the Wills laugh.

Of the many sports journalism elements which are mixed in Rog it is his preoccupation with what happens on the field which I love. His text is always the play itself, and the situation of the competition. He has played (and is still playing), and so he knows sport from a player’s perspective. And he is willing to bet that this is how most of us want our sports reported and discussed. I think he is right. It’s the game that matters, in all its drama and beauty, weirdness and absurdity.

He understands all types. He has the metropolitan sensibility, and yet he is as hay-seed as the lads at the Eudunda-Robertstown Cricket Club. He is an all-rounder.

Now, where was I, before I went off on this Rogerian diversion. Yes, life imitating art, and wishing for all the world it were imitating Roger’s art.

The goal. Yes, the goal. Rog and Walshy called a scrappy first quarter. The Cats, said special comments men Steve Williams and Jamo, were playing like millionaires; as if they’d played against poor opposition in recent times. Spot on. Scores were level when I put the sheers down having concentrated so hard on the task and the football I’d failed to notice Theo and Anna puddling around in the water they’d released from the tank. (“We’re washing our hands, Dad” and “I think it’s a flood Dad.” “Look out Dad: it’s coming your way.”)

By the time the kids were in the bath the Cats had clicked into gear and the match was on the TV. (What a pity there is a 5-second difference between the ABC call and the Fox images these days).

A behind to the Crows. Josh Hunt goes the torp from the square. He doesn’t quite nail it, but it still spirals to the middle where Pods, striding out from half forward takes it on his chest. He dishes instantly to Johnno, who barrels on the run. It pierces the air, violating Adelaide Airport airspace for planes landing from the north and west, and travels a vast distance, before touching down in the lap of Stokes inside 50, and the Cats have another one. Classic goal.

The Cats get on top, and even though they are not headed, the match is never theirs. Jimmy Bartel celebrates his 200th game, the boy who on winning the Brownlow, spoke firstly about his old claub and old mates at Bell Park. (Rog would have loved that).

The kids are in big strife (maternally), 12.7 litres easily going over the Harms Holy Limit of Water Spillage, and I am keeping an eye on both fronts.

Rog is gathering more stories, this time from the commentary box at Footy Park. They might involve “the boy from Geraldton” or the weather or the boundary umpire whose physio’s cousin has got the fish and chip shop in Kapunda.

I look forward to hearing them over a beer.

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, Evie7. 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 – marvelous effort to concentrate on the footy throughout all that mayhem from children. You can calculate how much water was spilt by paying close attention to your next water bill. It will tell you how many litres per person your household uses. If its over 155 litres per person you’ve spilt a sh** load out of the bath. That’s all you need to know.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    JTH,

    I loved that goal. My vantage point was a Margaret River B&B.

    Johnno was too creative on occasions during this game. However, his back-up instinctive torp to Stokes was genius.

    Really enjoyed the Pod’s work.

    Well played R Wills.

  3. Australia Bar, Soi 11 says:

    It was a strange game. I knew we were going to win, so I never got alarmed even when were down for a bit at the front end. When Josh unleashed I said: “Wobbly old kick, but … legs!” and my wife, who was reading a soap opera magazine on the couch next to me, went “Arrr”. Then the follow through, and the shake of the head, and the remembrance all over again that we are in with a real go this year.

    Honestly, Stevie is a lair. So is Cam, much as I love him. That give off when he had taken a mark right in front didn’t say too much about his confidence. I’m still not sure about him even if he doesn’t collapse before the finals. Plus, he needs to grow a beard.

    Back to Melbourne from o/s for the first time in 15 years in a few weeks. Arrive on the Friday on the morning of Cats v Pies. I used to live in Burnley, so I’m going to take the (foreign born) wife and kid down Swan St, into the hotel, a quick meal at Thy Thy 2 (hope it’s still there), and emerge just as the twilight kicks in and the G starts to make itself heard. Can’t wait, even if it is a dud game. Melbourne, you’re a lady.

  4. Australia Bar! Did you see any of the Asian Champs in Bangkok last weekend?

  5. Richard Naco says:

    My wife’s foreign born as well.

    I never, even in my wildest dreams, thought I’d marry somebody from Sydney.

  6. Dan Crane says:

    JTH – Roger Wills reminds me of sitting in my tree house near the creek/dam just north of Clare as a 14 year old tragic, my sister was probably making sand pies as well, she didn’t care much about a 1989 dour clash between two strugglers – he could bring excitement to any game, perhaps he could get nabbed for collingwood vs. brisbane this week?

    Richard & Australia Bar– my wife is a crows fan, that’s really foreign – in so many ways!

    Australia Bar – hope your wife enjoys mecca

  7. Mulcaster says:

    My experiences of bathing children are limited but as I understand the rules of engagement if the following occur it doesn’t matter how much water is spilt:
    1. the child is actully in the bath imersed in water.
    2. the beast smells better after it comes out than when it went in
    3. there is less visible dirt or grime on the urchin after the process.

    I have a friend who tells a tale of his youth (some time in the 1950s). He was a redheaded child with freckles (still is) When he was sent to his step-sister for a “holiday”. The step-sister was a nurse and had to work. The urchin was left to his own devices and managed to break something (obviously of value). His step-sister placed him in the concrete wash tub, at the back of her house with the following words “Filthy beast …look at all these spots …all over you! … how did you get so dirty” He was …. despite howling like a banshee …. subjected to solvol and the scrubbing brush. Needless to say the freckles remained.

  8. John,

    Aren’t torps fantastic! As a kid following the Cats I was spoiled rotten by magnificent Doug Wade torpedoes week after week. They usually went straight through the middle, often from 50 or more yards out. His drop kicks weren’t bad either. Other great exponents were Paul Vinar, Tony Pollinelli (what a left foot he had for a little bloke) and later Ben Graham and G Ablett snr.

    I loved the way torps would curve one way then fade back just at the right time, particularly for Wadey. Great to see Josh and SJ try them out (with some success) on the weekend against Adelaide.

    My alltime favourites:

    Seen live – Twiggy Dunne’s goal to tie the Grand Final in 1977; Gary Ablett’s 70 metre left foot snapped goal from near the centre of the MCG on the day he kicked 14 against the Tigers; Ben Graham’s 85 plus metre kick from full back which landed on the logo on the wing at Footscray in the 1990’s; any of Doug Wade’s 500 or so long torpedo goals for the Cats.

    Seen on TV – Malcolm Blight’s 60 metre beauty to win the game after the siren at Carlton in the 70’s; Jeff Fehring’s 94 yard monster goal (wind assisted I think) at Moorabbin.

    Long live the torp. Now let’s see a few drop kicks!

    I wish I’d listened to Roger Wills on Sunday. I thought the TV commentary was dreadful, particularly from a certain bloke with a moustache (not that I’ve got anything against moustaches).

  9. Roger is one the best people you’d ever want to meet. Generous, always got something interesting to say, loves a laugh and a beer. It’s been a real delight to have known him for many years and sat with him at the cricket in Adelaide during Sheffield Shield matches. Pity he’s retiring before the start of the Cricket season………………..

Leave a Comment

*