Two types of wit

Australian crowds contain their fair share of wits: funny, insightful, ridiculous, subversive, and a bit naughty. They are often men. They are good-natured, but not always. A lot of amusing bile is launched in the outer, and from the members pavilion as well.

I have heard many an amusing comment which has won for that wit, a little time where the sun lights up life’s shadows; a moment where all within earshot have laughed and smiled and wished we were sharp enough to think of something like that.

The stage that is a footy crowd, from which such slings and arrows can be launched, is one of the few places in Australian life where a level playing field exists. You rise and fall on the quality of your comments alone. Wits come from all background, and their observations know no social barriers. I have heard many a comment barked over the boundary fence which for a moment has made a king of the unemployed postal clerk from Narre Warren.

Some of these comments are shamelessly full of frustration, vitriol and malice. That’s one of the things that makes them poignant.

I once heard a woman, who had spent most of the game vociferously disappointed with her own team (“You’re no good Harbrow, you gutless wonder”) and the umpiring (“So you’re taking the Geelong cash now Humphery-Smith, you cheating white toff maggot”), turn on the opponent with a crowd-stopper. “Get away from the fence, Ling,” she screamed, as he followed the Sherrin over the boundary line, “you’re scaring the children.” A wave of laughter rippled through the area.

Some comments can only work if your listeners have an appreciation of the complexities of  the context. I was once in the Rose Hotel, Fitzroy, among a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of the inner-city educated. Go-Betweens T-shirts and designer beers. All there to watch Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs on Foxtel. They looked like an Age-reading crew so most would have been familiar with Bob Murphy’s whimsical and relatively cerebral mid-week footy column where he extols the virtues of the footballer-intellectual playing the glorious game.

At one stage in the action on the telly, Murphy decked young Xavier Ellis (a celebrated thug would have been proud of Murphy’s hit) in what appeared to Hawthorn fans to be a reportable offence. As Ellis lay motionless on the ground, the pub crowd went quiet, and a voice from the back yelled, “I hope you like Rousseau, Murphy, because you’ll be reading him for the next six weeks.”

In Round 3 of 2008 Geelong was to unfurl the premiership flag at Kardinia Park in a match against Melbourne. The terrace was chockers and I was standing behind two Dees fans. The Geelong VFL side were also premiers. The pennants were arriving at the ground via two parachutists. As they descended they couldn’t be seen until one released a red flare and the other released a blue flare. The Melbourne fan in front of me turned to his mate, “Hey Macca?”

“What?” says Macca.

“Did we win the flag last year?”

There are many from this tribe of wits at the footy.

And even if they are angry and frustrated and upset with the world, and with their own full forward, who can blame them. There is something honest in the release.

However there is another type of wit, best not named in a family newspaper. He is the fan whom I’ve heard yell, “Get back to Caulfield you Jew-boy Goldspink.”

He abuses Indigenous players.

And now young Africans. He is not defined by anything but his ignorance.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and 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 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.


  1. Thanks JTH. I grew up around older men at country cricket and footy grounds of the 60’s and 70’s. I loved listening to that dry, laconic, self-effacing wit (the Chips Rafferty kind) that seemed to define Australians who grew up knowing something of World Wars and the Depression.
    The favourite story passed on to me from my family concerned my ‘Uncle’ Jim. He was not strictly an uncle, but he lived with my father’s parents (my grandparents) for at least 20 years. I think I unintentionally absorbed a lot of my bad life habits from observing Uncle Jim, whenever I came down to Adelaide for the school holidays to stay with them. Jim always sat in his deck chair on the back porch with a beer, the pink Sporting Globe (you could tell the passing of time from whether he had the midweek or weekend edition) and the radio tuned exclusively to either the cricket, footy or the races. I never saw Jim do a day’s work or raise a tea towel in anger. As a child I naively (and much to my later detriment) thought Jim had it made. I dreamed of emulating his lifestyle.
    I recall 2 (probably overlapping) versions of how Jim came into my grandparent’s life and house. One is that he and my Pop were on the ‘susso’ together painting the Morgan to Whyalla pipeline in the Depression. The other is that Nan’s father owned/managed pubs, and Jim became his yardie/barman and drinking mate. When my great-grandfather became ill late in life, he asked my devout Catholic Nan to ‘take Jim in’ because he knew he couldn’t fend for himself outside the protected environment of the pub jobs.
    Anyway my favourite story is of Jim in an earlier life. He was a rabbit trapper in the mid north of SA, where my Dad’s family came from. This was a good lifestyle for a single bloke without the strength to be a shearer. Like shearers you only got paid when the job was finished. A ‘cockie’ would hire you to eradicate all the rabbits on the property. There was no point in leaving even a single breeding pair, and you had to ensure that you cleared a wide enough area that none came in from surrounding farms.
    The money was good in the early weeks. I understand ‘a penny a pelt’ was the going rate. That could mightily feed a man’s thirst – when you eventually got paid. As the weeks and months dragged by there was a lot of ‘argy bargy’ between cockie and trapper as to whether the rabbits were eradicated and when payment would be due. (I think it was the blueprint for John Howard’s Work ‘Choices’.)
    Trapping was a lonely life. Jim camped in the farmer’s paddocks on his own, with what I gather was something like a covered wagon and a patient draught horse (I’ll call it Hercules as in Steptoe and Son). Hercules was a ‘silent sentinel’ – permanently tethered in the stocks of the wagon, and Jim slept by the campfire. Once a week the cockie would visit him to check progress and bring out meagre supplies of tea and flour. This was Jim’s only human contact. Jim was getting thirsty and craving some time in the town with his mates at the pub. He was frustrated with a particularly miserly farmer who insisted that there were still rabbits about (despite none appearing in Jim’s traps for weeks) and denying payment.
    One night there was a violent storm with thunder, lightning and gales. Next morning the cockie thought he should check that Jim was alright. Arriving at the campsite he found the wagon on its side with the stocks broken, and Hercules tied to a distant tree.
    “Christ Jim,” the farmer enquired. “Did the storm blow the wagon over?”
    “Nah,” said Jim. “Hercules seen a rabbit and he bolted.”

    That’s Australian wit.

  2. Two good ones I’ve heard lately, probably old ones though;

    a player hesitates after a free kick and his kick goes out on the full. Someone shouts,

    ” You know a lot of players woulndn’t have thought of that.”


    ” Hey Campbell, I hear West Perth gave you two clearances in case you lost one!”

  3. A story is related in the history of the Melbourne University Football Club about “Ivanhoe Ida” a famous supporter at Ivanhoe Amateur’s matches. She yelled to a Melb Uni player “If you were my son, I’d poison you” to which the player responded “And if you were my mother, I’d take it”

  4. Tony Robb says:

    John I had an encounter with one of the latter wits yesterday in a form of one rather angry man weilding an iron bar in my general direction. Manuka All class.

  5. Ian Syson says:

    Tony, what were you doing at the soccer?

  6. Pamela Sherpa says:

    One of the funniest comments I’ve heard at the footy was near the end of the 03 grand final when Brisbane were thrashing Collingwood .. “Do you want to phone a friend now Eddie?”

  7. Jamie Simmons says:

    Ahh yes Pamela, poor Eddie had to put up with a few on that fateful day in September 2003. Late in the 4th Quarter when the camera crossed to a forelorn Eddie on the big screen I overheard a gentleman yell (in his best TV announcer voice), “Who wants to be……..a Runner Up!”

  8. Richard Naco says:

    My most memorable quip came during the 1973 Finals’ series. Two Norwood supporters were reading what passed for the Record in those days, and one came across an article about Port Adelaide (Norwood’s traditional rival).

    “It says here that they’re gonna build a library at Alberton”, said one.

    “Jeez”, replied his mate, “they’ll have to teach the wharfies to read.”

  9. johnharms says:

    Some great yarns, and quips.

    PB, your Jim reminds of the yarns about the WWI vets who lived ‘down the riverbank’ or ‘down on the creek’. They’d seen too much. It’s where they’d sit around with the sauce in a brown paper bag: sherry or port. Hence the Australian expression, made familiar again by the former PM, “Fair suck of the sauce bottle”. And, I think you’ll find it is ‘suck’. Because it is a charge laid at the bloke who’s hanging on to the booze for too long.

    Tony, there might be a story there.

  10. Mid 87, Jon dorotich was going through one of his ‘down’ periods when he could barely do a thing right. We played Essendon out at VFL Park, it was one of those windy afternoons out there when good football was just about impossible but not many were making the game look harder than Doro. Three timed in as many minutes, Essendon score a point, SOS kicks out to JD standing on his own, he drops the mark, ball spills to an Essendon player who kicks a point, SOS kicks out…..repeat from the top. As Silvagni looks upfield for the fourth time, a bloke calls out:

    ‘One change to the plan, SOS – keep looking for Dora – but then KICK IT AS FAR AWAY FROM HIM AS YOU CAN!’

    Laughter all round. From that moment Dora’s form marginally improved, and the next week he collected three Brownlow votes and 10 marks as Carlton stopped the Sydney juggernaut dead in its tracks.

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