Almanac (Footy) Poetry: When Tom Papley Beat The Whole World





When Tom Papley beat the whole world


Tom Papley beat the whole world
On Saturday night,
In Sydney,
For Sydney.


Tom Papley,
Who knows
That games of football are for the playing,
And for the winning.


Grandpa Max knew that,
Grandpa Jeff knew that.
Teammates at old South.



A famous coach, who went to the Emerald City, a long time ago,
Set challenges:
“If it is to be, it’s up to me,” he said.


What could Tom do?
Tom, who wants the football
In his hands.
Tom, craving the test,
Like the batsmen who have walked to the middle of this storied ground.


You don’t often see someone beat the whole world.


I remember a snowy-haired centreman
From the South Australian bush.
Learned his footy at Murray Bridge,
Then played for Walla (as they call Walla Walla in Walla)
Before teaching took him Up North.
He was wearing number seven for Coorparoo one day
In the curtain-raiser to the Bears
At Carrara.
He was old-fashioned.
Should have been wearing high-cut boots with the laces wrapped under and around, like a Menzies-era rover.
He was having a blinder
In the late-Autumn sunshine.
He rolled back, to help.
He was about to rove the footy
Under pressure,
Six growling thugs
Bearing down on him
Ready to kill.
He grabbed that footy, and turned onto his left.
He beat every opponent.
He beat his teammates.
He beat the umpire.
He beat the entire crowd.
It was quantum football.
Was he teleported?
However you wish to explain it, he was in the clear
With nothing but well-lit turf in front of him.
Running free.
And still on his left, and staying on his left (why would you think otherwise),
He slippered a darting pass to his forward’s timed lead.

The world got him though.
He influenced games so much for a month
That he was hit behind the play.
He drank mashed carrot and broccoli through a straw for all of Term 3.
Gave footy away.


Besides, he’d beaten the world, once,
In front of a handful of spectators,
Some of whom were paying attention.



In the dying minutes of this any-old-game between Geelong, perennial contenders, and the (rapidly) emerging Bloods,
Who have been brave,
Tom Papley wants the Sherrin.
He tolerates articles about youngsters who’ve tried.
But prefers articles about unlikely (or expected) triumph.


The Cats lead.
Desperate game.
Grimaced effort. From all.


Time ticking away.
And Tom Papley is where the footy is.
It pops out to him
At half forward.


Those brainwashed to play the probabilities
Know that chance insists he turns inside
Onto his (preferred) right boot.
But Tom Papley turns onto his left.
He beats six Geelong defenders
Who are in stride, about to lean over and smother.
Like synchronised swimmers.
Tom Papley is in space;
The space of a Coorparoo pivot.


That’s only part of the story.


When Tom Papley turns onto his left,
His side trails.
He needs to kick the goal.
He moves with the natural momentum,
A dolphin surfing the SCG.
He snaps with his left
And puts it through.


It’s a great victory to the Swans.



With seconds to go
Jeremy Cameron, a reluctant footballer,
Was keen enough (in the moment)
To snatch a mark
Just metres out.


The umpire waved play on.


Commentators and analysts piled on.
Calling for rule changes.


That became The Moment.
But it wasn’t.


The moment was when Tom Papley
Turned onto his left
And beat the whole world.



Read more by John Harms HERE.



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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 three. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Brilliant. And spot on analysis.

    Those brainwashed to play the probabilities.

    My favourite line.

    Ronnie Burns used to pull these tricks occasionally.

  2. Hayden Kelly says

    Very good . I was watching the game as a neutral and it was a moment to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck . Loved the reference to his grandfathers .Max Papley according to all fair dinkum South supporters ie my brother was one of the best players to grace the Lakeside Oval and departed for the spoils of the VFA way to early .
    As a Dogs supporter I crave for a Papley or a Pickett to make our forward line complete

  3. craig dodson says

    When I watch Papley I see my son – a 9 year old who just wants to run free, chase, tackle and snap goals, before giving a high five to his mates.

  4. Peter_B says

    WWRD? What Would (any) Rioli Do?
    Saw Jeremy McGovern walking away from a frustrated Adam Simpson after the quarter time break a few weeks ago. “Yeah. Ok. I know he’s giving me the run around. I know I should have punched. I’ll sort it.” He did.

  5. And alas, the Channel 7 vision of that goal will forever be stuck with the lame commentary of Luke Darcy.
    What a juxtaposition.

  6. Keiran Croker says

    Great words jth. Young Tom did not have the greatest of games, though stood up when he needed to with a pure piece of footy. I agree it was the moment rather than Jezza’s missed opportunity. Though I am biased!

  7. First thoughts when reading of No 7 going up North to play, were of Owen Backwell, Wests. What a player, but obviously not the one you referred to from SA and Coorparoo. Did you ever watch Backwell play at Cararra? Sublime.
    Yes, the Papley dynasty lives on! How lucky are we?

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