Dogs bureaucratic processes prevail at Manuka

When footy reports focus on the day, the weather, and the strength of the sunshine, the trees and the colour of their foliage, the state of the oval and the scoreboard, and the food and beverage preferences of those in the reporters’ company, you can usually draw a pretty good conclusion regarding the quality of the match.

I went to see the Bulldogs and the Swans at Manuka last Saturday and I’d have to say the Italiano-eggplanty-capsicummy-garlicy sandwiches were magnificent.

It was a big day for Canberra footy. Because there is not a lot of AFL footy on in Canberra . At $400,000 a match (the fee charged by the AFL) it’s understandable this was the one and only.

I woke to the frost and the crystal-clear skies which make Canberra golfers think they’re better than they are. Not a breath of air and the ball carrying 30 metres further than anywhere else on the planet (except maybe Johannesburg). And a fine image the Titleist makes: the white orb against the blue-green Brinadabellas. (So now this report is not only about the aesthetic of a footy day, it’s resorted to golf as well).

It was such a perfect sky that jet-trails remained forever. And as I walked down through Manuka I still hadn’t felt any breeze at all.

Manuka is a classic village-suburb of cafes and restaurants, where everything is over-priced because pollies and their staffers and indeed most of Canberra seem to be on some sort of per diem which means everyone else has to put pizza on lay-by.

But Manuka is worth a visit just so you can see you’ve seen work being avoided as well as it’s avoided anywhere in the world. Manuka rivals Bhutan, although the principle difference is that the Bhutanese have no pretense about work, nor do they apologise for not working.

The other important thing to realise when walking past Timmy’s or My Café or that Italian place on the corner where Peter Costello ate pizza as his minders fell asleep in their Marinara (never order seafood in central Australia) is that the suits (men and women) are all in meetings which some organizational psychologist has advised should be out-of-office.

Even on Saturday mornings.

The streets were awash with a river of red and white as I made my way to the Kingo – one of the few decent pubs in the national capital. It was full of footy drinkers and sundry bull-shit artists and I joined a party of some of the best.

We walked the single block to Manuka Oval which was already chockers, and found our seats. G. Robb, Canberra legal eagle, had organized a few beers for the troops.

And as the game started, I can tell you, the ground looked magnificent. Wembley-like surface. Gorgeous trees of autumn hue: gold and red. The Jack Fingleton scoreboard making those nostalgic for Melbourne life feel even worse. The sunshine crowd in spring kit. The shadow crowd frozen to the bones, the chill working its way through the concrete and the seats like reverse sciatica. Yet reminiscent of any country footy ground you’ve ever been to in Australia.

The Swans attacked early. Seriously under-manned – no Mumford, Seaby, Craig Bolton, and Bradshaw (a late withdrawal) – they played the big Canadian, Myke Pyke,  in the ruck and Jude Bolton as a leading forward. He led well. He just failed to hang on to three not-too-difficult marks in the first quarter. Had they stuck, the Doggies may have felt the growing pressure.

What Paul Roos failed to realize was that this match was in Canberra. Adam Goodes had been given a license, but he failed to understand that a free-spirited role doesn’t suit environs.

The Swans were lively, and led. But the process-driven system of the Dogs was far more appropriate and they ground them down with a bureaucratic approach that was functional. It gave me the shits really. Rocket Eade clearly understood the Canberra conditions.

The Eade process requires most of the Doggies to push back, and to win the footy through quality defenders like Lake and Cross and Boyd. Where the chance presents, the skills of the Dogs on the fast-break, give the forwards – Hall especially – plenty of room. It’s Collingwood’s style as well.

But often the chance doesn’t present, and the Footscray attacking grid (not sure if ‘attacking’ is appropriately used here) chips away across the back, inching forward, and helping those who have Dogs in their Dream team. Even Tom Williams racked up possessions.

The Swans tried to lift, and here and there they did. But the fans were disappointed. It seemed not many of Henry Playfair’s family had made the trip up from the submarine town of Holbrook, if the comments from the crowd gave any indication. Which was a bit unfair because he battled hard, and I’ve always liked him. It’s tough to live with the fact that you are a poor-man’s Kepler Bradley though.

Henry would dominate in Canberra footy, or in the bush.

I was with much smarter blokes who knew to go to the bush straight away. I was in Canberra so none of this striving-to-be-the-best-you-can rubbish. G. Robb dominated at the ANU back in the 70s, and occasionally he’d take the cash at places like Walbundrie in the Hume League where he played with hair to his ass and a pedigree which helped him. His father Tim Robb played in the losing 1950 VFL Grand Final for North. I think he was coach of Walbundrie that season.

G. Robb had managed to find the only surviving ratbags in Canberra and bring them together. Maurice Reilly, boss-cocky of the National Press Club was also with us. He has the happy job of setting up pollies for a grilling every Wednesday, and such is their need for adulation, they come to him and ask for the right to be hammered.

Maurice got the job at the Press Club because he had somehow managed to keep the North Melbourne Football Club afloat a decade ago when they had absolutely no dough.

And also with us at Manuka was one of his directors from those days. It was important in those days that the directors had no personal assets whatsoever, in case they all went under. Richard Farmer, columnist with Crikey, journalist, political strategist, lobbyist, and story-teller, has had fortunes and lost them.

Richard had come to the footy with everything except the bar-radiator to try to keep him warm. With stories to tell, which were far more interesting that the paper-shuffling which occupied the Dogs. Richard is a good judge having fought back from one of his first claims in a Tasmanian newspaper column in the 1960s that “As long as Peter Hudson’s bum points to the ground he won’t be successful at VFL level.”

Richard has orchestrated Labor election victories and failed betting stings, he has owned chains of liquor outlets and he set up the ACT TAB. And he could lunch for Australia. (But not in a Manuka way; more in a National Press Club way). I knew he was a bright bloke the first lunch I had with him, because he had a Betfair account, and knew exactly how to make it work.

So we watched as the Swans didn’t come back, and the sun got lower over the lovely spire of St Christopher’s, where Manning Clark head knelt daily in his quest for grace. And the golden sun made the leaves even more golden. And kept the scoreboard well lit.

It’s just a pity it read Footscray 14.17.101 to the Swans 9.9.63

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written 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 (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Tony Robb says

    I am becoming concerned about the company you are keeping.
    You are indecd correct in calling the supporting cast ratbags. Hell,a solicitor,a club manager and a lobbyist. Count your fingers. You might find you’re a couple short or, at best, had them invested in some unscrupulous money making scheme.


  2. Dave Nadel says

    Beautiful piece, John. Your description of Manuka confirms my attitude in the late seventies and early eighties when I was desperately seeking work and told my friends that I was prepared to go to any Australian capital city except Canberra!!

  3. Steve Healy says

    Great work John, I’ve been lucky enough to go to Canberra a couple of times fairly recently and I love your description of the match and of the Manuka area. It’s a much better area than the actual centre of the city in my opinion.

  4. Chalkdog says

    But what about the bells. Only got to see it on the box but was expecting a Tony Greig moment [ie the price paid for the bride] as those bells rang for a lot of the 3rd Q.
    Yeah we play a pretty “stupid style” of game at times, but we are probably aware we arent the Cats, and I hope we are playing to be there in good shape in September.
    Speaking of “stupid style” I was at a conference today and some dill was parading a Hey Hey regular around dressed in boxing attire [I dont know why so please dont ask]. He seemed pretty pleased with himself [the dill not the hey hey guy] so I hijacked the conversation for about 10 minutes by bringing up famous moments behind the Barkly St goals at the Western Oval circa 1977-84. Hey Hey guy seemed to forget he was dressed like a poor mans Rocky Bilboa and nearly admitted he has pinched his whole career from the Feffer and 3 other blokes.
    Any word on the “banter” in Manuka JTH? AFL Footy seems to be so sanitised these days. Another conference story from some guys from Lonnie – Hawks v Tiges last year. Tambling had 5 ps in a quarter that resulted in 3 out in the full and 2 turnovers that went for scores. A very tragic and disgruntled Tige fan walked to the fence and gave it to him from about 3 metres “Thanks for 5 years of nothing you #^%$*%$ $&^$”. Maybe a Crio question. Best one liner from the outer!

  5. What a great read, I especially liked the bit about the bloke that came wearing everything to keep warm except the bar radiator. Rod

  6. Great stuff, from the sandwiches to the work-avoiders to Henry who would dominate Canberra footy (or the bush).

    And if this is the way the National Press Club lunches …

  7. Bloodstainedangel says


    I spotted you on the way to the ground fropm the Kingo.I’ve never really understood the phenomenom of wearing a scarf of non-competing teams to a game of footy……so what was with the Cats scarf?! – perhaps just a reminder to us Bloods that one of the un-changeable traditions had continued the week before….an inevitable loss for the red and white at the Cattery!

  8. johnharms says

    Just trying to keep warm in the Canberra shade.

  9. Hadn’t seen any articles by you in the papers down here in Geelong so came on the hunt online.

    As usual, I am warmed by your literary meandering. Got to say though that I don’t think you’ll ever top an article you did in 2006 when the Cats were 52 points up on the Eagles during the third quarter.

    The description of the 3-quarter time break visit to the urinals was absolute genius. With the Cats so consistently good now though John, you’ve got less quality material to work with. And its not the same. Love the premierships and love the fact we are indominatable at the minute but sort of missing the uncertainty and the camaderie that came with being a supporter of team that seemed hell-bent on sabotaging itself; the comfort you’d feel when you’d look at another Geelong supporter after a loss that shouldn’t have been and with a simple nod of their head, you’d hear “I know, I know.”

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