The Gestation of a Sports Column

by John Harms

 

Thought I might throw a few words down about my column in the Age on Wednesday – which really was just a bit of fun. Or that’s how it was conceived.

 

I went to the footy last Sunday to see Hawthorn play North. I thought North were a big chance despite their paltry week. Bumping along in the train I hatched a dastardly plan to find Hawthorn fans at their very worst: behind at three quarter time and facing the grim prospect of going nought and three. I decided to stand behind the goals at the Southern Cross station end (the south-eastern end), talk to a few Hawthorn yobs, and then take my seat somewhere near the cheer squad.

 

I was keen to write about the new Hawthorn type; the fan from the suburbs of all-you-can-eat restaurants where disputes on the cricket field are sorted out with a punch in the throat. The suburbs colonized by imperial Hawthorn and mined for gold.

 

In doing this I was keen to challenge my stereotypical view of the bourgeois, eastern suburbs, private school, moneyed, BMW-driving Hawthorn fan.

 

I had satirized this type in the opening pages of Loose Men Everywhere when I conveyed the wish that I had been born into a Hawthorn family, rather than a Geelong family, arguing that I would then have been an adjusted, capable human being. I thought that Hawthorn was full of characters who held the world together like Chris Mew and Chris Langford and Yabby Jeans and (especially) John Kennedy snr. This was all playful.

 

In the second part of the opening riff of Loose Men Everywhwere I highlighted that Hawthorn type by use of juxtaposition. I argued that I could have grown up in Footscray in which case I would be a completely different person again. I wrote that as a kid I’d have made money selling Footy Records at the Western Oval to save up for me first tattoo – Elmer Fudd pointing a shotgun at me freckle saying “Come out you wascally wabbit.” And when the hormones kicked in I’d have got meself a Sandman and an Angels album and set about repopulating Sunshine off me own bat. And these days I’d be a happy adult who loves pizza and Homer Simpson and the serenity at Lake Eildon. I’d still have me Dennis Lillee moustache, 30 years later, and I’d have only cried a couple times in me life: once when Teddy did the lap of the MCG and the other time when the kid sent Chris Grant the 20 cent piece imploring him not to go to Port Adelaide.

 

Whether I’d grown up in Hawthorn or Footscray I’d at least have had a sense of who I was.

 

So, at Docklands I was actually trying to challenge these views. I was also mindful of the criticism I had received from some Hawthorn fans when, last season, I wrote a column about the class rivalry expressed in a Hawthorn-Bulldogs clash; in that case the match from Launceston. It was a nice coincidence that they were the two teams I had featured in my book.

 

A columnist is always observing, thinking, looking for ideas. I take a few pieces of cardboard cut from Weet-Bix boxes on which I jot a few notes. Last Sunday I started taking notes in the train going in, on the footbridge (which was teeming with young families, many of them Hawthorn), and then in the TAB.

 

I didn’t have a bet. I wandered out of the TAB and was standing behind the goals. There weren’t very many people around but I said g’day to the Hawthorn bloke next to me. With his long beard and his African kofia and his hangdog eyes he looked like one of those types who was most alive during the protest marches; a character for whom the sun has never set on the Age of Aquarius. We shook hands (his name was Mal and he was a friendly, chatty fellow). He really was a Geelong College old boy and he really did own a candle shop in the 1970s near Glenferrie Oval (called Frankincense and Candlestein). He seemed like an astute sort of fellow; certainly astute enough to realize that had he been setting up business in Cranbourne, trading in studded pig dog collars would have been more profitable.

 

He was the first person I spoke to. The woman to my left then said hello. Her boyfriend (a preppy-looking type) was talking to someone else. She was one of those tall types who makes herself even taller by wearing tight designer jeans and high heels. She had far too much bright-red lipstick on which included just a small fleck on her front tooth. She had listened to the conversation with Mal and assumed I was also a Hawthorn supporter.

 

“I’m not over what you did to us,” she said. “In last year’s Grand Final.”

 

This I found quite amusing and could have been included in a column, because I then explained I was on her side. So we two Geelong supporters lamented Hawthorn’s domination. Neither she nor her boyfriend mentioned the institution at which they were schooled but I suspect he was more Kew Hawthorn than Narre Warren Hawthorn. Two from two. In the outer.

 

And so I was being dispatched in the direction of my own prejudice. This went on throughout the afternoon. The theme was being presented to me on a platter, particularly when quite near me a bloke was wearing a Vespa T-shirt. I actually chuckled out loud. Had it been a Kawasaki T-shirt, or a Hell’s Angels leather vest, I may have been sent down another path. But it was a floppy-haired 20-something in a Vespa T-shirt.

 

I was trying hard. I was sitting by myself watching the game observing the people around me. At three quarter time the bloke in the Hawthorn overcheck tweed jacket sat down with his girlfriend. I don’t know whether he really was a PhD student but had you been trying to make someone look like a PhD student in a movie this is how you would have designed him. Anyway, by that stage in the timeline of the column, I had moved back into my own imagination, to such an extent it didn’t matter. That was the point of the column. My failure. My tendency just to fall back into my own understanding and project my own meaning on to things.

 

The couple enjoyed Hawthorn’s last quarter and looked rather filled with joy at the Hawthorn win and the prospect of beer and cheap noodles and a bonk back in the rented terrace in Station Street.

 

The bloke’s name was Michael. After the match he introduced himself to me, and we spoke briefly about writing, and about Hawthorn and Geelong. He had a little stubble and a William Hurt haircut. He struck me as intelligent and erudite and far more MSO than moshpit.

 

So I had some material.

 

When writing a column I try to work towards establishing a single idea. I also try to create an appropriate tone for the piece. My columns are almost always playful. They are rarely earnest. If I aspire to anything it is the sort of understanding of character and life that Barry Humphries or the writers of The Simpsons have. They are brilliant observers and writers who are able to take character traits and build engaging satirical observations which have us nodding in agreement.

 

There were numerous signposts in the piece to suggest its playfulness not the least of which was the Latin motto – which I made up. Private schools are held together by Latin (and the twin virtues of Gilbert and Sullivan). I thought I needed some Latin for this piece. I chose the motto of a school at which I was a teacher for six years. Spes Nostra In Cristo Est means Our Hope is in Christ. I thought I’d slip Buddy in there and find out the word for Hawk which is Accipiter. So my bastardized Latin became Spes Nostra in Buddy Est or Our Hawthorn Hope is in Buddy. It is unlikely the Latin makes any sense.

 

Anyway, before this all becomes more ridiculous, I find it quite amusing that some would take such offence at this piece. And I welcome anyone visiting footyalmanac.com.au from Big Footy, especially Hawthorn fans, to our website.

 

Our wonderful writers tend to use a similarly playful theme, although they write what they like, as they like.

 

We at footyalmanac.com.au hope to have a lot of fun, and to write in the spirit which accompanies an acknowledgement of our own absurdity and the absurdity of our behaviour.

 

 

 

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 - Theo9, Anna7, 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. Damian O'Donnell says:

    JTH – I think a Leunig quote is appropriate here. He is talking about critics:

    “They’ve come for you in the night: a coalition made up of the CIA, the public intellectuals, the feminists, the republicans, the Anglicans, and a whole bunch of nice intelligent good-looking people who live along the coast in light-filled homes with clean lines.”

    They just don’t get it do they?

  2. MagnusFooti teneo non quam fruor

  3. presumably, Gigs, that’s an anagram?? Come on, diverge.

  4. No Crio, I wish it was. I just used a cheapo online Latin translator to say “BigFooty know not how to have fun”. Although I had to make my own Latin word up for “footy”…

  5. Too much information, John! You can let your writing speak for itself! We all have our stereotypes and there must be a grain of truth to them, but we also know that barrackers come in many varieties. One of the great things about our game is the way it crosses class boundaries. As a Carlton supporter, I keep company with Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, Richard Pratt, John Elliott (if I must!) but also Manning Clark and many others in between. I went to Melbourne Grammar because they had the Carlton colours but am now a left wing academic. Vive la difference!

  6. johnharms says:

    Matt

    Hear. Hear.

    JTH

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