AFL Round 16 – Geelong v Melbourne: Forward to the past

Motoring down the highway towards an overcast-looking Geelong for the Cats’ clash with the Demons, it occurs to me that those of us attending the game might be about to witness a world record. Not in terms of highest scores or winning margins, but something different.

Where else could you expect to witness a match between two football clubs with a combined continuous history of 309 years? Tom Wills and Henry Harrison, joint founding fathers of the code and captains of both Geelong and Melbourne, would be proud.

Maybe, just maybe, these two clubs embody the gold standard for football longevity. Allow me to illustrate.

In 2013 Bastille Day falls on the day after the Geelong (GFC) v Melbourne (MFC) game. Let’s imagine a French football team from the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King Suns (SKS), which discovers that some upstart AFL team, based on Australia’s Gold Coast 300 years into the future and led by someone known as Gazza the Great, has usurped its nickname. Quelle horreur!

Fortunately, after a solid training session one day in their inaugural season of 1709 on a field behind the newly constructed Palace of Versailles (the home of French football), the SKS boys meet a young man (Martie) and a nutty professor (D’oc) who have invented a time-travelling carriage. This vehicle, a 1681 DeLorean Landau, subsequently transports them to a wondrous palace called Metricon in 2013 to take on the Gold Coast Suns (GCS) and restore French honour.

Although all reports of this hybrid rules match have been hushed up, it appears that the result was a tie. Honour was duly restored and the SKS team returned happily to 1709. The Frenchmen however are said to have learnt two important things.

Firstly, they now understood that Australian Rules football was, and is, the best football game in the world. In order to foster the code in 1709 France they agree to set up a developmental body known, loosely translated, as Louis’ Aussie Rules Footy Academy (LARFA). It continues to be sponsored to this day by the famous French aristocratic family, the Norfelottes. Over the years the ‘LARFA Norfelotte’ has made true sports fans happy right around the world.

Secondly, to their amazement they discover that even in 2013 their combined Suns histories, 304 years for SKS and 3 years for GCS, still falls a couple of years short of the GFC/MFC total. With typical Gallic aplomb they simply exclaim “C’est la vie” and toast the Cats and Demons longevity with un bon vin rouge.

Roused from my reverie I find myself sitting in the rain at the Cats’ first Saturday afternoon home game for 11 months. The lights are on and my Geelong 150 year anniversary poncho is keeping most of me dry, sort of. At least the hood prevents the rain from running down the back of my neck, which is something up with which I will not put. In my view it’s almost as bad as ending sentences with prepositions, but not quite.

Clearly this is not a day for pretty football. Early in the game the Demons manage to get the ball inside their forward fifty more than the Cats but soon find themselves three goals behind. Harry Taylor is having a picnic across half back, yet the Demons keep kicking the ball into his vicinity without much purpose.

Taylor, Bartel and the Cats’ defenders and midfielders dominate and continually set up attacking opportunities. Horlin-Smith, a late replacement for Matthew Stokes, bags a couple with one each to Hawkins and Stringer. Melbourne’s only joy for the quarter comes from ex-Cat Shannon Byrnes who pounces on a loose ball following a sliding rule free awarded against Steven Motlop.

Things go from bad to worse for the Dees in the second quarter as entries into their forward line pretty much dry up – ironic on a day such as this. Selwood, in his 150th game, is playing great footy for Geelong, as are Kelly and young Cats Caddy, Motlop, Duncan and Smedts. For Melbourne Nathan Jones, also in his 150th, is battling hard against the odds and is receiving some support from his namesake Matt and one or two others such as Byrnes and Toumpas. But that’s about it.

Now it’s time for the Stevie J show. He’s already had a bit of the ball but suddenly seems to be everywhere, picking up possessions at will, executing look-away handballs and kicks, assisting the forwards with deft touches and flicks, having a ping or two at goal himself and generally having fun. Not everything comes off, but seeing Steve Johnson in full flight is warming the hearts of all us Geelong supporters on a miserable, cold day.

Then it happens – again!

Contesting a ball on the Moorabool St wing Johnson wraps Nathan Jones up in a strong, legitimate tackle. Next, in a separate action and for reasons best known to himself, he pushes his knee firmly into Jones’ neck and shoulder before getting up. Not much in it you’d think, but totally unnecessary.

It’s not a good look, especially as Geelong coach Chris Scott has told us on national television a few days earlier that Steve understands how closely his on-field actions are monitored by the Match Review Panel (MRP).

The MRP in its decisions this year has made it clear that the head and neck area is sacrosanct when it comes to on-field contact. The dreadful neck and spine injury sustained in a local league match by Johnson’s former clubmate, Casey Tutungi, no doubt reinforces this position.

Oh Stevie, when will you learn? I’m afraid we Cats fans wait in hope rather than expectation.

The match continues in non-stop rain and I suspect I’m not alone in wishing there was some sort of mercy rule. Melbourne are completely outclassed and their rare ventures up forward are easily repelled. One amusing exception occurs when Jimmy Bartel of all people drops a mark in Melbourne’s goal square. He regathers the ball and, rather than handballing it to one of several team-mates in the clear, miskicks it eight metres to Jeremy Howe who puts it through from the top of the goal square. Where’s that siren?

We don’t have to wait too long. It sounds a minute or so after Steve Johnson kicks his only goal of the day with a clever snap. He has been clearly best on ground – but the MRP awaits.

In terms of world records it turns out that as well as the notional record for combined footy club longevity we’ve witnessed a couple of others. Melbourne have had the fewest inside 50’s yet recorded (19) and the greatest inside 50 differential in a match (-51). Good numbers for Geelong, but not so good for the Demons. The Cats are heading towards another finals campaign. Big challenges lie ahead for the Redlegs.

As I leave the ground and stride purposefully towards the car I ponder what the coming years may hold for these two great clubs. Will their next 150 years be as good as the last? I hope so and look forward to enjoying at least part of it. As the French might say ‘Vive l’avenir!’ (Long live the future!).

Now where’s that car heater switch?

Geelong 4.5 7.10 11.12 13.20 (98)
Melbourne 1.2 2.4 3.5 4.6 (30)

Goals Geelong: Horlin-Smith, Caddy, Podsiadly, Hawkins 2; Smedts, Stringer, Duncan, Johnson, Motlop

Melbourne: Byrnes 2; Dawes, Howe

Best Geelong: Johnson, Selwood, Caddy, Kelly, Podsiadly, Simpson, Duncan, Taylor

Melbourne: N Jones, M Jones, Toumpas, Byrnes

Crowd: 23,172

Umpires: Wenn, Ryan, Hosking

Our Votes: Johnson (G) 3, Selwood (G) 2, Caddy (G) 1


  1. Tres bien, Burkie!

  2. Merci beaucoup Jen.

  3. There are reasons and very good reasons, why Australian Football has never ever been officially called Australian “Rules” . But I fear it is a losing battle to explain those reasons and why the disgraceful “rules” tag should be left with the dead press of the 19th century in the rugby hold-out and imperial back-water colonies of NSW and QLD.

  4. So, a poncho is the answer to avoiding a soaked pair of jeans!!
    I will bear it in mind in the unlikely event of another trip down to Kardinia Park.
    Great report Burkie, and I completely agree with your thoughts on Stevie J.

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