AFL Grand Final: Me Hero!

Me Hero!


Brian Lake has beautiful hands. They are attached to his angry eyes.

Just follow my stories on the Almanac over the years and you’ll know what a huge fan I am. He gets more mentions than Ablett or the Pope.

He never leaps too high, or runs under the ball, or feels the need to wrestle. He backs himself. As good as anyone in the League, he reads the play. He marks.

I have never seen him a mile above the pack, like Gibson, all off balance, going the punch. Never seen him, knees in an opponent’s back, going the spec. He leaps as far as he has to, to put his hands up, arms stretched, with just enough give for the brace. He meets the ball in perfect stance.

That’s why so many players fail to knock him off his marks.

He reads it off the boot. Imagine how much energy and worry that would save. No obsessing over your opponent. No conceding in confidence, body language, or being led to the ball. No catching up.

I’m with my man. Tick.

The ball’s leaving the boot. Tick.

Judge it.

Mark it or punch.

Brian is super with his body. Knows when to nudge, when to bash into, when to stand off. Often waiting until him and his man have left the ground before giving a hip, or pushing with his chest. That way his lighter frame is no factor. The ground, strong thighs and gravity are not involved. His is an aerialist. By reading it so early, and well, often his opponent has to go the spoil on him. Which, at worst, is another mark Brian’s rivals don’t have.

And, like Scarlett before him, he hits the ground running. Whenever he can. It is a rare day he goes back on the mark and lets a pack form down the ground. He is not fast, just runs with a key position player’s steady push, just goes. He chips to pace on the wing, handballs to line-breakers, carries it himself. Launches attack after attack.

He does spoil, but unlike so many of today’s well-drilled athletes, he is a footballer. He has a true mark, and knows when to an not to do which. Watching him play is a tear in the eye of us ancient lovers of the mark.


That is the footballer. How he does it, but the reason I’ve always liked him so much is twofold.

He goes for it like a bloody Old School BOSS! AFL players are so disciplined these days, they climb into the Heavens, have the chance to shake God’s hand, and, instead, act like good little schoolboys. I, like Roosy, and McKay before him, back through the history of the game, loathe the double-fisted punch! The uncontested punch! The head-and-shoulders-above-everybody punch! That’s not football. It’s maths.

It’s uptight. Not carefree. Not brave. Not fun.

Yet the crowd has been trained. A good, crisp fist and they all clap like proud, frumpy parents. It drives me mad.

I asked Peter Knights about why he went for so many speccies?

“The object of the game is to get the ball. It was how I could best do that.”

Why make all that effort to time and rise for a neutral result?

I dunno. Maybe the other players don’t have hands as good as Lake’s? Maybe they’re playing safe, because they know 70% of the time the ball will bounce out of their mitts anyways, into their opponents?

Not Brian. He goes for it! He gives hack bush backmen like me real fucking joy! Lets us know we don’t have to be shadows of forwards. We can be The Man! We can be as important, as brave.

Yes, every now and then he will be out-marked because of this, or the other mob will rove to his feet. Maybe one in ten times. But the other nine he is off and running, launching attacks from which goals result. Nothing’s for nothing, which is all a double-fisted punch is.

He has a dip.


The other thing I always loved about the man, when he was playing for Footscray, was how stroppy he looked. There was no blank face. Losing shat him! He was going to go down swinging. All guns blazing. Damn, I dug that!

It was, and still is, so easy to picture him outside footy, having a can, at the barbie, being a Dad.

I knew he was best on, but tainted by the Brownlow and its like, was sure a forward or on-baller would get Norman. When his name was called, as a backman of 30 years, I raised the small country pub’s roof! Justice at last!

Brian Lake is a Footballer. There is nothing simple about that. One that has personality. In spades. You can see it in how he plays the game.


I will always barrack for that!



  1. Matt – I love watching the best of Brian Lake which is awesome as you say. But 2 things – he should get 6 weeks for the cheap shot on Walters. Because it was a cheap shot. Why stick out a late elbow to take out the opposition’s best forward? Dumb and/or nasty.
    Lake’s dumb brings me to Hodge. Lake is instinctive, but Hodge has a tactical computer in his head. Hodge tells Lake where to stand and who to play on. Who to mind and when to run off. Hodge’s brain + Lake’s skills = using talent to greatest effect for the team.
    Clarkson strategic genius wins premierships. Lake on his own loses preliminary finals.

  2. Brilliantly incisive Matt. I’ve watched just about every game Brain Lake played for Footscray and savoured every exquisite nuance you’ve just described. His balance is just extraordinary.

    On Brian winning the Norm Smith medal, I wasn’t sure I would admit this, but you’ve compelled me to. I teared up. Part of it was that I was overwhelmed with joy for him, as I always thought he deserved more recognition, but also part of it was that I was so damn bitter that it was for the Hawks. It just seemed so unfair that one of favorite sons crowned his career elsewhere (and especially for a team I really loathe.) We sure have a lamentable record for holding on to talent at the Western Oval and Brian leaving us for greener pastures (and finding them more lusher and greener than he could have imagined!) will probably now make it more of a problem.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    A win for The True Footballer not The Athlete ! Too often at the Drafting Table the
    Brilliant Athlete is picked and the Genuine natural Footballer is ignored for me when looking at a kid Footy Smarts is Number 1 which Lake has always had Peter B don’t sell
    Lake Short yes Hodge has helped but Geez he was only a couple of ridiculous free kicks to Riewolt away from Playing in a GF for WB as Matt Z states he has always been a Great Reader of The Game when to Mark etc it was a Error from Lyon to allow Lake to be The Plus 1 way too Good a reader of The Game for that
    Clarkson re Picking up Dew and Lake Inspired = 2 Premierships
    Thanks Matt as Eloquent as Always

  4. Neil Anderson says

    Fantastic to see Brian Lake win the Norm Smith. I watched the match then turned off (but recorded) the presentations thinking that BL deserved the medal but it would probably go to someone who kicked four goals, or a mid-fielder who played a good second half.
    I turned off the TV because I’m sick of repeats. As my team struggled to even get close to the big dance, I’ve watched those poos and wees jumpers collect their medals up on the dais through the seventies , eighties, nineties and the naughties. Enough is enough!
    Brian Lake would be valuable back at the Bulldogs if he was a twenty-year old. Then again, he might need a ‘Luke Hodge’ type mentor on the field to direct him so he could maximise his skills.

  5. Peter, I reckon, for once, we are gunna have to disagree. 1. Hodge is a champ, and very important to the Hawks, but his legend is overstated sometimes. There is no way he made Brian Lake. Brian has been All-Oz long before the Hawks. Does it help him to better fit into the Hawks game plan? Sure. But the way Brian knows whether to defend or attack, the way he reads the play, leads to all those interceptions. He always had that. 2. That elbow was a much hammed-up event, i reckon. not thuggery. A GF hello. I have copped hundreds. The bloke nearly snapped his back he flung himself so far back for the 50. You shake it off and file its memory away for the next pack/ contest.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says


    Lake winning the Norm Smith was my highlight of 2013. It could be a portend for better things. Lake rose above structures, processes, boxes, strangulation and uber athleticism to show us why we fell in love with Aussie Rules to begin with.

  7. Geez, Phil! You summed it up for me perfectly!!!

  8. I’m with Peter B on the Brian Lake elbow. ‘A GF hello’ according to Zurbo. Not so, I say. Maybe I’m too naive – I’ve never played the game – but why champion such behaviour? Why condone it? Why encourage it? Why blame the bloke who got hit?

  9. I reckon Matt is spot-on.

    I love Lake because he backs himself to mark the ball. Few other backman do it, and none make it look so effortless. His reading of the ball in the air is superb.

    He took one of my favourite marks.

    It was a qualifying final between the Dogs and Hawthorn on a Friday night at the MCG. Might have been 2008, when Buddy was at the height of his powers. Lake and Buddy stood locked under the ball. Lake gave such a faint shake of his hips that it was undetectable, but Buddy was edged out just enough for Lake to stick his arms up and take the ball in one clean action.

    The judgment, the aesthetics, the audacity to back himself against Buddy when the Hawthorn champ was the closest thing to Superman …

    I love that mark.

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