AFL Round 10 – Geelong v Gold Coast: Kardinia Park Alight

Score a footy and Cats gear

Score a footy and Cats gear

Many years ago, as a Geelong-supporting kid growing up in Melbourne, it was a thrill for me to get the opportunity to go and watch the Cats play down at Kardinia Park. It didn’t happen all that often, but I loved it. Geelong weren’t much good in those days – winning back to back wooden spoons in the late 1950’s – but that didn’t matter to me. I wore my Cats jumper with pride. Ever the optimist I just knew we’d be up on top before too long.

Off we’d go to Spencer Street and board an old diesel locomotive train which looked like something out of Murder on the Orient Express but without the elaborate fittings. In our second class compartment I’d check out venerable black and white photos of exotic holiday destinations such as Healesville or Queenscliff and stare out the window as places like Seddon, Galvin and Aircraft flashed by.

At Manor the train often stopped on a siding to allow another to go through. It was only a single line to Geelong in those days. By this stage I would be quite impatient and annoy mum by enquiring if we were nearly there yet, as kids do.

Finally we’d arrive in Geelong (or GEE-long as the station announcer used to pronounce it). Sometimes we’d go straight out to my grandparents house in East Geelong, just a couple of drop kicks from the old Corio Oval in Eastern Park. In early days the bulk of this journey would be on the tram which used to run along Malop and Ryrie Streets. In later years it was a far less interesting trip on a boring old bus.

On other occasions (to my delight) we’d stay on the train and go through the longest tunnel I’d ever experienced – all 400 metres of it – and half choke on diesel fumes on our way through to South Geelong. Then a short walk to Kardinia Park. Our home ground. You beauty.

I was finally among friends after copping it all week from kids at school, often Collingwood and Essendon supporters. They took pleasure in reminding me how weak Geelong was and how their teams always thrashed us, which they did.

They omitted to mention that the Demons generally thrashed them. If I had the temerity to point this out I’d sometimes get a whack in the guts or a smack in the ear for my trouble, usually the next time we played footy. Being about the only Geelong supporter at my school, and discretion being the better part of valour, I learned to keep my counsel and wait for better days.

As we entered the ground at Geelong the seconds would usually be running around in the curtain raiser and I’d go for a bit of a walk around the oval before the crowd built up. The only instruction from mum, dad or my uncles would be to return before the main game started. They knew I’d be fine.

I just loved to soak up the atmosphere. The aroma of pasties and pies heating (those spicier pies with the flakier pastry they seem to specialise in down at Geelong); the fantastic smell of eucalyptus rubdown oil on the players as they emerged from the rooms; the roar as a goal was scored by the Cats, even in the seconds; the silence with which a goal by the other side was greeted. Some things never change.

If the breeze was from the north you’d sometimes get a familiar whiff of diesel fumes as a train went past. Few drivers could resist the urge to blow the horn, which sounded very much like the footy siren. In the unlikely event that we happened to be in front late in the game it would get us excited until we realised it wasn’t the real thing. Then we’d just pray to hold on. Occasionally the Cats would manage to do this and we’d all go back to Grandma’s happy. When we lost we’d just warm ourselves in front of the fire and hope for better things next week.

Fast forward 55 or so years and here I am to watch the Cats play the Gold Coast Suns in the first game under lights at Kardinia Park. With the installation of the light towers, a new video screen/scoreboard and new grandstands extending about halfway around the oval, the Cattery has never looked better. The Geelong footy club, its members and the city are proud of the facility, and rightly so.

I’m rapt that we play most of our home games in Geelong. Like many Cats supporters I’ll be eternally thankful that we didn’t take up the option of moving more than the odd home game to other venues such as the Docklands. Geelong is where our soul is. This is where our hearts beat strongest.

During a fairly heavy shower of rain the Prime Minister declares the new facility open, with numerous club legends and recent retirees looking on. Fireworks erupt overhead. With the ground surface being wet the planned motorcade becomes a walkathon for Matthew Scarlett and David Wojcinski who stroll around the boundary in front of an adoring crowd. As you’d expect, the applause is loud and heartfelt.

As we await the arrival of the Cats and Suns I look around the place and can’t help reflecting on how things were when I was a kid.

I recall, among other things, the rickety old official scoreboard at the city end on the Moorabool Street side, where kids on a platform used to help an official hang large numbers on nails to keep us up to date on all scores, every game being played simultaneously on Saturday afternoons; the press box on the western flank at the river end where Ivor and Leo used to broadcast games for 3GL wireless listeners; the nearby tiny Past Players stand which somehow managed to survive until quite recently – Doug Wade used to love kicking drop kick or torpedo goals from in front of it; the old earth slopes around most of the ground in pre-terracing days; the alfresco country dunnies out the back; the press of enormous crowds that used to turn up to big games, particularly those involving Collingwood or Carlton.

Before the game and at half-time we’d be entertained by the St Augustine’s Orphanage Band or the Geelong Ladies’ Pipe Band. We’d admire the handsome police horses as they did a lap, the policemen often bringing the horses close enough to the fence so we could give them a friendly pat. Later we’d look for the lucky raffle winning ticket number carried around on a stick at three quarter time. We might even throw a couple of bob into the good cause tarp which was carried around the boundary by volunteers most weeks.

They were simpler times, yet there always seemed to be something happening. One thing we didn’t have was continuous noise from the PA system. No-one minded.

Memories of the games themselves abound. Farmer to Goggin, lace-out stab pass to Wade, goal; the ‘blue in the race’; Bill Ryan’s second kick after the siren in the ‘60’s to win a game against the Pies by a point; Ray Card’s bump on Keith Greig; Doug Wade’s towering mark over Hawthorn’s Terry Gay at the river end in 1969; his eleven goals against the Doggies to beat Peter Hudson to the ton one year; Tony Polinelli flying down the wing; Gary Ablett senior’s countless sensational performances which had to be seen to be believed; the turnout of 35,000 plus supporters the day after the Cats won the 2007 flag – did we dream it or are we really Premiers?

What history will unfold tonight?

Early on Luke Russell of the Suns makes a name for himself by kicking the first goal under lights at Kardinia Park. Vardy replies with a deft pickup and snap for the Cats and it’s game on. In a dream match-up Ablett and Johnson start on each other but both are relatively quiet. Matera and Bartel are not, both picking up possessions at will and setting up opportunities for their team-mates. Why do people named Matera continue to cause Geelong grief?

In the first quarter the Suns take the game on with skill and discipline while the Cats look a bit flat and turn the ball over more than usual. Just about everyone is amused at the relative silence, apart from a few half-hearted boos, which greets Gary Ablett’s first goal – a superb running effort in front of his and dad’s eponymous terrace. Most of us just smile and nod, recalling old times.

Having drawn level, courtesy of a Steve Motlop goal after the quarter time siren, the Cats continue to clunk along in the second quarter and are fortunate to be in front at half time. Matera, Prestia and a busier Ablett are showing plenty for the Suns while Duncan and Bartel fly the flag for the Cats. A lack of composure in front of goal has seen Gold Coast return a miserable 1.6 for the term.

For the Cats, Hawkins, who has been unsighted, plays on after a strong mark and kicks one around the corner. Vardy kicks a controversial one off the ground which is referred upstairs to make sure the ball wasn’t touched. Replays on the screen are inconclusive, as usual, and after a minute or so the goal is allowed. Many of us supporters are getting sick of the review system as it’s being applied. Perhaps we could use it for possible ‘posters’, but why not trust the goal umpire on everything else? Too simple?

Early in the third term Bartel runs in for an easy goal and the Cats skip away to a three goal lead. If the Suns don’t respond quickly and decisively the game will be over.

Respond they do; and how. Through crisp handling of the ball, long accurate kicking – take a bow Trent McKenzie – and relentless forays forward they put the Geelong defence under enormous pressure. With the injured Matera subbed off, Ablett, Prestia, Stanley and the impressive Jaeger O’Meara have the ball on a string. In no time at all the Suns kick five unanswered goals, including a couple of beauties from Brown and Harbrow, and have established a two goal lead.

Geelong look rattled and the jaws of Cats supporters drop all around the ground. This isn’t in the script, is it? Fortunately Bartel, Hunt, Kelly and Duncan manage to hold things together for the home team and they steady in red time with goals to Motlop and Burbury. The lightly framed Burbury’s contested mark at the top of the goal square is particularly impressive. A rookie in just his second game he appears to have the wherewithal for a long and fruitful career at Catland.

With scores level at three quarter time it looks like anybody’s game. Jimmy Bartel thinks otherwise as he puts the Cats back in front with an accurate snap. Taking their cue his team-mates lift enormously. The tackling pressure rises to Reg Hickey’s much-loved ‘ferocious’ level. Kelly, Selwood, Stokes, Duncan and Christensen, who has come on as sub, are getting plenty of the ball. Bartel in his long sleeves is everywhere and the goal avalanche begins.

Only Gary Ablett is able to stem the tide when he kicks what is arguably one of the greatest goals ever seen at Kardinia Park, from 45 metres out on the boundary line in the right forward pocket at the river end. An enormously powerful high, spiralling punt kicked under extreme pressure, it never looks like missing to those of us who can follow its trajectory. We know it isn’t a fluke because we’ve seen him do the same thing from the same spot against the Lions several years ago. Many of us clap, some of us stand shaking our heads in disbelief. The man’s a genius.

Ablett’s goal proves to be the last hurrah for the Suns, who look exhausted as the Cats slam on a few more in junk time. The Gold Coast boys will live to fight another day and judging by tonight’s performance the future is bright.

The final margin flatters Geelong, but this a side that knows how to win, seemingly under any circumstances. Their self-belief and ability to rise to the occasion when required is astonishing. Yet again they’ve come from behind to win convincingly.

The Cats’ banners now fly high till after dark down at Kardinia Park. Long may they continue to do so.
Geelong      3.2  6.6  9.10  18.15 (123)
Gold Coast 3.2  4.8  9.10  10.11 (71)

Geelong: Vardy 4, Bartel 3, Guthrie, Motlop, Hawkins 2, Burbury, Hunt, Blicavs, Duncan, West
Gold Coast: Brown 3, Ablett 2, Harbrow, O’Meara, Russell, Rischitelli, Lynch
Geelong: Bartel, Duncan, Vardy, Stokes, Hunt, Corey
Gold Coast: Ablett, Prestia, O’ Meara, McKenzie, Stanley, Brown
Umpires: McInerney, Ryan, Fyfe


OUR Votes: 3 Bartel (G) 2 Ablett (GC) 1 Duncan (G)







  1. Burkie, you’ve ruined my day. 6 hours until lunch and all I can think about is a spicy pie with flaky pastry, and I know in Melbourne there’s no hope in getting one anyway!
    My dad used to watch games at Kardinia Park a few moons ago, sitting inside the boundary fence as an assistant to his mate – one of the St John’s first-aid volunteers. Reading your story was like hearing his great memories.
    No doubt you enjoyed writing this as much as many will enjoy reading it.

    And Go Cats!

  2. Burkie – marvellous stuff. Great memories. I particularly like your recollection of the “good cause tarp”. I’m sure they used to drag one of those around the Lake Oval as well, in South Melbourne. As a kid I used to watch coins flying over the fence into the tarp, hoping that one might fall short which I could swoop on, allowing me to purchase a choo choo bar when I got home.

  3. Peter Schumacher says

    From Cookie, “as many will enjoy reading it”. Absolutely, I reckon that this is one of the best contributions to this site, this forum, that I have read. The way you conjured up the past was so reminiscent for me, not perhaps of the SANFL in my youth, but of the country games I used to attend. Pasties were an absolute treat! The way you gradually brought your piece to the present through to that great Ablett goal in the last quarter really nailed the atmosphere of the game and indeed Aussie Rules in general. How lucky we are to have our Australian code.

  4. Ann Threlfall says

    Thanks John for a great article. Many fond memories that I continue to share with family and friends. I was born in Gheringhap st, then moved around the corner into Maud St as a child. all my family for five generations have lived near KP and are passionate about the footy. The pies were Timms pies, and I miss them!. Netball games finished just in time to get in to the footy for free and half time. Later as an adult, we’d still go to footy, and would even pay. After night games, Clattie’s pub was the place to celebrate premierships. Still going, sitting in Premiership Stand with my adult children. Thanks to the admin there at the club for their great work over last 13 years. cheers

  5. Thank you sir for a great read. As a Geelong fan from over the Tasman, who’s only ever managed to enjoy one game at Kardinia Park (a narrow victory over St Kilda in the early Scarlett days, watched from the Ablett Terrace, I think) I loved your memories: Your tale of the train journey down from Melbourne to the hallowed turf, which I remember we* did ourselves; of all the games you’ve enjoyed there, which we’d love to have done; and of the first game under lights there, which we’d have killed to enjoy.

    Loved your last line too: “The Cats’ banners now fly high till after dark down at Kardinia Park.” Very sharp indeed, sir, very sharp.

    *”We” being the Auckland Geelong Supporters Club. All three of us.

  6. Burkie, the year Wade kicked 11 for his ton was the same year as the great mark over Terry Gay; 1969. The day he kicked the 11 against Footscray, he’d had a quiet first half, only managing one major prior to the long break. 6 goals in the third term, followed by 4 in the final quarter saw him bring up his ton.

    Memories of Kardinia Park,


  7. Kaye Carroll says

    Great memories John. I also used to travel to Kardinia Park in the 50s but from the opposite direction. My parents were farmers from Colac and we used to get to the ground about 11.00 am to get a spot on the boundary. In those days the under18s used to play the curtain raiser and the seconds played at the home ground of the opposition, so you would be seeing the future stars from a very young age – no drafts then of course either. The one negative for us was that because Dad was a farmer, we would have to leave the game about 5 minutes before the final siren, regardless of the score. That was to beat the crowd out of the carpark to get home to the poor cows which needed milking. I can remember John Coleman playing one day and we simply moved to stand at which ever end he was playing at. Great fun, but such a different experience to todays football.

  8. Burkie, really enjoyable memoir. I can just imagine your grandparents place and the excitement before heading off. Geelong and her footy club have a distinctive character, as you have described here.

  9. Hi everyone. Thanks for sharing your memories too. Isn’t it funny how you can remember things from 50 years ago so clearly yet sometimes can’t recall where you put your specs 5 minutes ago. Oh well….

    Dips, I used to love choo choo bars. I much preferred them to soft liquorice or allsorts. Another favourite was fantales – always handy for getting rid of a pesky loose tooth.

    Peter and Ann, when we went to Grandma’s before the footy it was my job to go and get hot Timms pies and pasties from the corner milk bar just down from Geelong High. I’d bring them back in Grandma’s string shopping bag and we’d get stuck into them straight away, with plenty of tomato sauce of course. i’d enjoy an icy cold glass of milk from the ice chest.

    Glen, another memory from the day Wadey took that mark over Terry Gay was that it was the same day Lionel Rose was knocked out by Ruben Olivares in California. There was a sudden, stunned silence in the crowd early in that exciting game when we heard the bad news on our transistor radios. I recall some players being quoted later and saying they’d never experienced anything like it.

    Just heard Cement Mixer Putti Putti on the radio (ABC FM) for about the first time in 50 years. Who says nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?

  10. Thanks for sharing those memories, Burkie !!

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