A Sporting Weekend

Friday evening. I am on the footpath outside the North Fitzroy Arms on the phone to a Swedish car wrecker. The family Volvo has died. He has offered less than the value of the computer which we have recently had re-soldered so that the air-conditioner is not stuck on Saharan Gale. Max walks by chomping on a big Havana, half-smoked, looking like he’s an oil tycoon or has shares in Volvo.

It’s freezing.

Inside, it’s magnificent. Two beautiful fires. Cold beer on tap. The buzz of Friday afternoon freedom, and people checking the footy tips results, and pondering. (West Coast or Freo?). In walks Tony Robb from Canberra with his mates Steve (who is well ear-ringed) and Brendan (the statistician).  They are on tour, and theirs is a quantum step up insofar as Friday buzz is concerned. They do everything to suggest they are renaissance-men: they speak of football at Belconnen, boarding house food at St Joseph’s in the 1970s, and why kicks fly with a 9-iron’s trajectory instead of a 3-iron’s. They are in love with Melbourne.

I do Family Harms’s tips. Which takes a long time these days: five cards to fill out.  Max heads outside to have another crack at his cigar. He’s been grumpy since they changed the smoking rules. He also has a `95 Volvo, so when I tell him the yarn he shows no sympathy, he just asks for the passenger-side rear-vision mirror, and then asks the others how to remove it from its mount. That leads to a discussion of the retrieval of car parts generally. I offer him the spare tyre.

I stay for a couple and then get the tram home to the kids. Tony and mates settle in.

I am then subjected to one of the all-time crook games of footy. St Kilda usually struggle to kick 10 goals against anyone, so to kick 19 against the Crows says a lot about the Crows who are passionless. They cannot raise the effort to run a couple of metres to tackle. It’s bad.

Thank God for the Tour de France, and snippets of the England-India Test from Lords.

Saturday is cold. Theo and I are going to go to the ammos at Brunswick Street, but he gets engrossed in a computer game where he is rewarded in eggs if he completes the task appropriately. He has a lot of eggs, which I assume are a bit like replays on old pinball machines. And then I start wondering whether Theo will ever understand what a pinball machine is.

I start the long job of pruning the grape-vine which is over the courtyard, and the bougainvillea. This is best done while listening to football – North and Brisbane for a while. Change stations for the Swans-Dogs.

We feed and water the kids and after stories, exhausted, they go to sleep, which allows me to sneak out to the pub (with permission). Daff is on the same roster. I know this because he is on the same tram.

At the North Fitzroy Arms the brothers Walker, Phantom and Peter (game show characters?), who are over from northern Tassie, have been ridden from the barriers with the whip. They are happily in front of the fire, half-watching Essendon and Carlton. C. Down is also there. He is on a similar roster to the Harms-Daffey roster, but not near a tram line.

The Friday buzz of the night before has turned into mid-weekend comfortability and a general atmosphere of denial that there is no such thing as work or Mondays. That’s ages away, and no-one is thinking about their Monday persona, their say-the-right-thing, don’t-rock-the-boat, keep-out-of-trouble sensibility. No-one is thinking of work.

Except me.  I am working. In a meeting? Researching? Watching Carlton demolish the Bombers with goal after goal after goal. How many beers have I had in half an hour: they seem to be kicking a goal every 45 seconds? I realise that’s because they are.

I am preparing for Offsiders and I am definitely involved in research when the topic of Cadel Evans and the prospects of him winning the Tour are discussed. He’s not over the line, but he is about $1.50 to win it. Someone suggests it will be the greatest achievement by an Australian in sport. Which is a nice staring point when a few blokes are standing around a fire with beers in their hand. The Tasmanians invoke the spirit of Flanners and suggest that there is more achievement in Doc Baldock and Ian Stewart pulling on a pair of jocks (or whatever) than in any other Australian sporting achievement, and that leads to a tangential discussion of where the Mason-Dixon line is in Tassie (Is it just outside the pie shop in Oatlands?). The footy on TV is completely forgotten and I can’t even recall whether I first saw the Walker mark that night or the next morning. He is no relation to Phantom and Peter.

The debate continues. The yachting and A. Bond are dismissed quickly (by me) although I am accused of playing the man when I suggest it was funded by an appeal to pensioners to send their last $20 in to Mr Bond. (I’m happy to play the man on that one). Herb Elliot gets a run. Contemporary golf and tennis are considered, but that puts Hewitt in the frame. Norman? I go for Bobby Pearce (Who?). And the debate goes all over the place and Phantom Walker drops a few conspiracy theories in when, just to make it a really sensible night, in walk the Canberra boys (two thirds of the posse anyway). They burst through the public bar doors (like Kramer) and Tony sings “da, da-da, da-dah” which has Carlton written all over it.

They have been to Flemington and then the footy. At Flemington I have recommended they introduce themselves to Wally F. Beaver, doubles bookmaker to the down-trodden and disheartened. Tony Robb has nailed him for two doubles on his first visit. (It took me a decade to get a pay-out.) Tony has the Carlton strut, with all of its Elliot-ness (not Herb), which would have been insufferable if it didn’t appear so much like method acting.

The discussion continues until Martin (the publican) points out that we should get home before Cadel Evans launches. What he means to say is that he wants to get home before the time trial commences. The TVs are on SBS and the riders are heading off one after the other. He should turn them off. That would work.

Each heads to digs. Mine are peaceful. I watch Evans and he is very, very strong. Superb.

Sunday and my research has paid off. Offsiders rolls along and the Tour’s elephant remains relatively unmentioned in a mood of triumphalism, albeit not really nationalist triumphalism. I like the Evans connectedness; the determination, the courage.

I half-tell the story of getting interested in the Tour about a decade ago. So interested I went looking for cycling as a sport. And found it. My research took me to Park Road in Milton in Brisbane (there is a mini-Eifel Tower there) where I learnt of coffee riders, those who start and finish in coffee shops, clack, clacking their way in their lycra to a latte or whatever, and talking. I learnt of Melbourne’s hell-ride, and other rides.

The story was published under the title: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Anarchy.

Definitely anarchy. And that is reflected in the Tour. There’s a sort of fin de siecle restlessness (and madness) in the whole culture. In the riders themselves. In the spectators. Carnivale, Craziness. Dress-ups. Manic.

I buy a tub of taramasalata and a ciabatta, and head home. The family is out for a while, relocating the havoc to a friend’s place.

I watch Geelong dismantle Richmond in an ordinary match the main function of which is to provide a stage (and an opportunity) for a few young Geelong blokes (and no Richmond blokes). Allan Christensen finds the footy and runs quickly with it, Travis Varcoe is in and out, and big West is OK. But once the result is clear it becomes tedious in the way that the Tour hasn’t been for a week. The last quarter is up there for tediousness with the St Kilda game.

I am quite glad when the family comes home, full of beans (when really they should have spent some). And normal service is resumed – with the Eagles and Freo in the background.  Having given up on Freo, I return in the dying minutes to see their comeback which means the kids can stay in the bath longer.

Finally they’re all asleep and I prepare for another week – as I am taking it one round at a time – and the minutes pass before Cadel Evans appears. He pedals away like we used to on our Malvern Stars (until I saved up my mowing money and got my Dragstar). I am picking up blocks and books and pieces of marble race, as Cadel Evans is sipping champagne while in the saddle. I am as exhausted as Cadel is.

And we wonder why we romanticise his achievements. It would be odd if we didn’t.





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 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 [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. 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. John
    “Tony has the Carlton strut,” Tony had the long day, bigger night staggers by that stage and was ta total goose of myself so my apologies for that, Stave is a fish and Im but a tadpole. Daff was a tad tired himself. However, Fridays discussion was of a more mature nature and most enjoyable. Steve and Peter Walker are now soul mates We caught up with the Walker boys the next day at Docklands. Predicitably more Tiger Love and more beer. Robb the Fatter will be in town this weekend and Im sure you’ll catch up

    Anyway Great Weekend. and paraphrase that great orator Jeff Fenech. Melbourne I love youse all.

  2. There’s no regrets
    no tears goodbye
    I don’t want you back
    we’d only cry, ie again
    say goodbye again.

  3. Phantom
    Do I take that to mean (john wayne voice over) dont show ya face in town kid or I’mgonna have to shoot ya
    The greatest bit of football commentary on the weekend came not from the lips of Tim Lane or Brian Tayler but from a lovely lass called Belinda, a young English rose who was in attendance the Cats v Tigers game. Belinda, a novice to our game was estute enough to provide the folowing advice to the Richmond Football Club re their performance on Sunday

    “Can some one do anything that resembles something”. Perfect summation coach Hardwick


  4. Tony,

    did you say that those Tigers “are soul'” mates?

    Another quote, from an un named Tiger brother was that “we (Tigers) will win as many premierships as Geelong this year”. He was under enoumous stress at the end of the game, as he waved his scarf.

  5. MMmmmm Phantom! So I must be Devil then ;)

  6. Gerard Henderson says

    Mr Harms,

    There’s no such thing as ‘shares in Volvo’. Its 100% owned by the Chinese.

    Yours Always Boringly Pedantic,
    Gerard Henderson
    The Sydney Institute

  7. johnharms says

    G’day Gerard

    I hate when a device doesn’t quite work. If there were shares in Volvo they’d be worth a lot (based on the cost of spare parts).

    Do you want to buy a 1997 sedan?

    Terrific to hear from you, and to know you are keeping an eye on an of-the-people site. I’m trying to remember: is it Essendon you barrack for?


  8. Well here’s a topic – AFL clubs genuinely supported by major political figures. My test of ‘genuine’ is whether you went to games when you had the opportunity, and when there were no media/tv cameras folllowing you. Not ‘opportunists’ like Keating/Howard who went along to be seen.
    Would they have been secret Almanac lurkers like GH?
    R Menzies; M Clark (historian) – Carlton.
    P Costello – Essendon (I think Michael Duffy – Hawke’s AG was a keen footy man – something tells me Bombers – but his love of the turf intervened as much as politics)
    S Crean; W Kelty (ACTU) – North Melbourne
    J Kennett – Hawthorn
    I think Julia has a genuine affection for the Dogs, but I doubt she ever seriously followed them before becoming a Minister. Similary KRudd is a networker/media tart par excellence – so Brissie Lions games are a means to an end.
    Sportsman who become pollies don’t count – Tassie is full of them because of the personal vote significance of their Hare Clark voting system. D Baldock (St Kilda) and R Groom (Melbourne) come to mind. H Opperman – champion cyclist/TDF competitor – and long term MHR for Corio is another example of a later life convert from sport.
    Any other major political figures spied in the outer over the years, for no reason other than love of the game?

  9. Dave Nadel says

    John Button was such a keen Geelong fan that he used to write letters of advice to Geelong coaches.
    Robert Ray was a genuine Collingwood fan.
    Arthur Calwell was on the North Melbourne committee for some years.
    Malcolm Fraser held the number one ticket at Carlton, a little later Sir Billie Sneddon was President of Melbourne.
    Andrew Peacock supported Essendon as did Labor’s Lindsay Tanner.
    Gerard Henderson’s early employer, B. A. Santamaria was a keen Carlton man. So for that matter was Jim Cairns, a politician of whom Santamaria and Henderson strongly disapproved.
    Bob Hawke barracked for South Melbourne, possibly recruited by his mate and political ally Ted Innes. I think Hawke continued to support them when they moved to Sydney, which would have been convenient since Bob also moved to Sydney on retirement from parliament

  10. Alovesupreme says

    Arthur Calwell was President at North also, I think, Dave. Frank McManus was also North. I thought Kelty was Essendon, and I can confirm, Peter B., that Duffy was a Bomber, although you’re also correct that horse racing was a bigger deal for him, being his post-politics role (Chairman of Racing Victoria).
    Lindsay Tanner once remarked that whatever his difference with Peter Costello, having sat a couple of rows in front of him at the football, he didn’t doubt his genuine commitment to the Bombers.
    Joan Kirner was also Essendon.
    John Brumby, Collingwood: a cluster of Cats from both sides of the State House, Bracks, Hulls and Baillieu.
    Stephen Conroy is Collingwood, although more noted as a soccer supporter (Chelsea?).

  11. Gerard Henderson says

    No, Mr Harms et al, its Andrew Bolt who follows Essendon, I believe. Were I inclined to such proletarian an undertaking as Australian Rules football, I’d be inclined to Melbourne, its establishment incarnation.
    Yours, with my signature deathly countenance,
    Gerard Henderson
    P.S: We can debate this at some length in the ABC green room upon our next mutual appearance.

  12. Mulcaster says

    Mr Henderson

    I hope you will pardon my intrusuion but your views always seems so black and white surely you would be more naturally inclined towards Magpieism? Come on take a step up and stand shoulder to shoulder with the toothless and tattooed “Colling-wood ..three claps …Colling -wood”.

  13. Chalkdog says

    I read your weekend story with interest. I was lucky to be off sunning the family in an Asian location with an eye to Eurosports [TdF] and Australian Network [AFL – interestingly did not see one iota of NRL in 10 days!]. Put the family to bed on Sat night and snuck off to the pub round the corner for the TT. Only two blokes in the bar were ex-pat Lancashire lads. I kept my own counsel until they finished discussing their favourite Muppets characters [Fozzie & Beaker in case you were wondering] and they moved on to Lords and the MCC, and from that cricket in general. Thankfully one of them had an iPhone as they had no idea about much of what they were discussing.
    As Cadel left the blocks I kept an eye on the screen and an ear on their banalaties. As the Schlecks got away they were discussing the poor state of bike paths in Jakarta or something. I had no idea how Cadel was going [no sound on the TV and if it was it would probably be French anyway] so I was thinking up my own Phil Ligget commentary:
    “This race will be won and lost in this stage today”
    “Frank looks strong today….err sorry thats Andy” etc etc
    Suddenly a small yellow sign in the bottom of the screen announcing Cadel is 2 secs ahead on the road. I knew then he was home. Tried to get the Poms interested but they only wanted to talk cricket. Half hour later and I was walking home a very happy man. [Lancashire lads were on to shovels or rainfall by now.]
    Post script: woke up a bit tired next day so shipped the family off to the pool and had a lie in. Found the aforementioned Australian Network and watched Insiders, Business show and up pops Offsiders. It was a pretty low key discussion of the TdF but someone highlighted my thoughts along the lines of 3 years ago we were asking why you couldnt attack on the last day, and this year we were emphatic that you couldnt. Cheers

  14. A nice weekend Harmsy.

    I lasted about 95 seconds during the Adelaide, St Kilda match.

    After being thoroughly swept up in Le Tour fever, it had absolutely nothing going for it. More than happy to watch three hours of men riding bikes up mountains.

    I wonder how this weekend will fare now that the cyclists’ dust has settled. Can I last through tonight’s’ footy?

  15. johnharms says


    Maybe it was Paul H who is a Bomber?


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