Almanac Memoir: Denouement, September 2010

Recently I watched the 2011 Grand Final and then posted the match report (written in the euphoria of the flag way back then), as if it had happened yesterday. Of course, Geelong supporters were happy to re-live the match. And lap up the report. Pies fans weren’t. Paul Barclay (of RN fame), a massive Collingwood fan, added a comment asking whether I’d dig out the match report of the 2010 Preliminary Final. He wasn’t to know the significance of the night for me (and the Harms family). So, here it is, my story of the last two weeks of September. It hadn’t been published on the Almanac site until now, but does appear in The Footy Almanac 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

My father, who loved the Geelong Football Club, didn’t handle the 2010 Preliminary Final loss to the Pies very well. He died at midnight that night. He had been pretty crook for a couple of months.

 

He wasn’t expected to die that night. His health had been improving, and he was out of hospital. Which is why my brother Mick and I were at the MCG watching the weird Geelong performance unfold before us. It was like John Wren had got to them. Gary Ablett’s last game before heading Up North.

 

After the final siren, we trudged towards Jolimont and suffered the jubilant Collingwood throng on the Epping train, through Wren country.

 

But just after we arrived home, word came that Dad had deteriorated quickly, and passed away.

 

Theodore Elmore Harms. Our eccentric, loving father.

 

Mick and I sat and talked.

 

Although his body was failing him over the last months, and he’d lost his zest and sharpness, his mind was still in reasonable nick. He liked to talk politics and current affairs. “Julia Gillard?” he said, when, during the election campaign he was asked what he thought of the Prime Minister. “I’m very glad I’m not married to her.”

 

He liked to talk footy. He loved watching Geelong, and the Brisbane of old. Typical Dad: he had an eye for the teams and footballers who played the game with the purity he admired.

 

He had tried to die a few times.

 

On the weekend the Cats were playing Sydney he really went downhill. My brother David rang to say we’d better get to the Royal Adelaide Hospital as quickly as we could. I jumped on a Saturday-afternoon plane in Canberra. We got caught in a terrible storm near Adelaide (the one that destroyed Penola) which, on approaching the tarmac, so buffeted the cabin that the pilot aborted the landing. The thrust took us high over The Pat and into the night and we circled Spencer’s Gulf for over an hour, me thinking that I wasn’t going to get to the bedside on time. When, a couple hours later, I got to his hospital room I found him sitting up, looking fit and well, surrounded by my three brothers and my mother. They were watching the Geelong-Swans match. “G’day,” he says. “The Cats are playing beautifully. Steve Johnson’s having a great game.”

 

He loved sport and he passed that love on to his four boys, and we have passed it on to our own kids. He was one of those sportsmen who help make Australian sport strong. He was handy. He had a side-on bowling action (loosely in the tradition of Lindwall) and could be quite sharp, and he was often sent in at No. 3 to knock the shine off the ball. He had the service action of the country tennis player, very much like Ken Rosewall. When he played golf his pipe never left his mouth. His swing resembled no known pro, and few known golfers.

 

He followed the footy closely all his life. His father and grandfather had been Lutheran clergymen in Geelong; the spirit of Geelong had breathed the faith into them. And so it was passed on to Dad and to future generations. Us. Dad’s was a wireless and television and newspaper support, yet just as heartfelt, although he did get to the occasional game. He was at the second semi-final in 1952 when Geelong trounced  (one of his words) Collingwood by ten goals and went on to win the flag.

 

He was a very friendly member of a crowd. He felt the need to introduce himself to those within handshake distance, even at Footy Park where he nearly got in strife once (not that he noticed) when he asked the Crows fans within earshot why they weren’t applauding the magnificent feats of Gary Ablett senior (who kicked ten in a losing side that evening).

 

He loved the aesthetic of sport, not the grrrr of sport. He loved fair play. He loved beautiful play.

 

And so we had to bury him.

 

The extended family gathered in Mum and Dad’s little A.V. Jennings home in Mt Barker, with its beautiful garden. Mum, four brothers and wives, ten grand-kids (and one on the way), and the great aunts and uncles.

 

My friend Mike Selleck (and others who have peered into the Lutheran way) says Lutherans are good at funerals. He says there is always victory in a Lutheran death, despite the dying. And the sadness.

 

There was victory for Dad.

 

He was teaching us until the end. He had taught us grace, love, justice, compassion, kindness. He had taught us to love conversation; taught us how to make others welcome. All by example. And now he was teaching us to die.

 

A traditional Lutheran funeral, where the grand hymns were sung triumphantly, was followed by the burial. On the one hand, so final. On the other hand, not. My mother lent towards me as the coffin was lowered and said, “It’s just his body.” Which she believes. She says that she knows.

 

Then back to the church hall where the St Mark’s Ladies’ Guild put on a bring-a-plate style lunch. I recognized all the cakes and slices from the Lutheran Cook Book.

 

And then back to Mum and Dad’s for beers and Rockford reds. We sat in plastic chairs in the carport, under the full-budded wisteria, bursting to bloom. We told stories as the kids practised their speccies on the lawn, Nanna not even worried about the cherry, peach and apricot blossoms which filled the air like a confetti of fowl-house feathers. Oliver Harms took some rippers. And Angus (whose maternal great-grandfather played in the ’32 and ‘34 Richmond premiership teams) terriered in for every contest.

 

But we all had to leave. It had been the saddest yet richest of times, a feeling of the deepest connection which will never leave me. I remember looking around and thinking: “These are the people with whom I have spent my life.”

 

We travelled on Grand Final morning, through the countryside, magnificent again after a decade of struggle. When the Mallee looks like County Kildare you know it’s been a good winter. Listening to ABC radio – some cars in the convoy on Roger Wills and 891 Adelaide. Some with the Coodabeens on 594 Victoria.

 

We stopped at the Keith Bakery, where so many South Australians stop en route to the footy in Melbourne. And on through the vineyards to Naracoorte.

 

We crowd around Uncle David’s TV. We look out across the lawn to the Heysen gums across the flat.

 

The older cousins settle in for the afternoon; the younger cousins watch for a moment but don’t make it to the first bounce: the trampoline and the kite and the scooter are more fun. The uncles and aunties crack open the beers. A platter of cheeses and dips and mettwurst and fruits and nibblies arrives.

 

We don’t know who to support. We can’t support Collingwood. But how do you support St Kilda? How do you tolerate the fearfulness of Ross Lyon, the spiritless after-game speak, especially when he has a squad of such talent? What would Dad say?

 

He’d say Lyon must be a persuasive character.

 

Otherwise thoroughbreds like Riewoldt and Goddard, Hayes and Fisher, would form a deputation and knock on his door and say, “Boss, you’re killing us. Let us play. Please. Free us up.”

 

Perhaps we will be cheering the Pies home? (But what would Dad say to that as well?)

 

When the ball is bounced, and Jolly goals in a matter of seconds, and then Collingwood look the better side, Harms hearts turn to the Saints. They are the underdog already.

 

During the first quarter I’m not too worried. It’s the Saints mistakes which are costly. During the second quarter I’m a lot more worried. The Pies do what they have done throughout the second half of the season; what they did to Geelong. They apply tremendous pressure. Relentless. Supreme fitness. Physical strength.

 

We kick the footy at half-time.

 

We gather around the telly again.

 

Please make a game of it Sainters.

 

And they do.

 

Hayes is simply phenomenal. He plays every role: organizer, motivator, defender, tackler, third man up, and he goes in and gets his own footy. Goddard’s role is different. He has to be the Crosswell: the pentecostal performer who lifts the battlers (some of whom look out of their depth). He has to break a tackle and take off into the unknown, bouncing, and bouncing again. He has to take the telling mark in defence. He has to kick the footy 65 metres to pressure the back end of the zone.

 

It’s a slog. A rolling mugby mess. But an exciting rolling mugby mess where occasionally someone gets clear; someone is presented with an opportunity.

 

We cheer that the Pies are on the ropes in the final quarter and I am barracking far more determinedly than I imagined. I am barracking for Lenny Hayes and Brendon Goddard, because they are pure.

 

And then Goddard soars. After two hours he has the stamina and strength to launch himself to take a genuine funeral-afternoon speccie. Nearly as good as Oliver’s.

 

We are out of our chairs.

 

He kicks truly.

 

The Saints must win now.

 

But the Pies rally, and find themselves a point up. In the dying moments Hayes, still in the thick of it, throws the footy on to his boot and it wobbles forward, then bounces.

 

“Milne!” we scream. We have time to scream, “Milne!” again. But he can’t pick it up. We put our heads in our hands. We don’t even care for Ross Lyon’s St Kilda.

 

Although clearly, at that moment, we did.

 

A point.

 

The final siren went, and we credited the draw to dear Dad in Heaven. Maybe he wanted the Cats to be premiers for another week.

 

And the little’uns were still outside kicking the footy.

 

 

 

Read more from 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 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.

Comments

  1. Outstanding JTH. Fabulous memories of your father, “teaching you how to die”. I’ve never thought of it that way but that’s what parents do.

    The Cats of 2010 were a strange lot. They lacked the beauty in their game that your old man liked.

  2. E.regnans says

    The pies of 2010 such a beautiful amalgam.
    Like conglomerate rock.
    Or members of a school staff room.

    Thanks for sharing your personal story here, JTH.
    I find it humbling and enriching story in many, many ways.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Lovely, evocative piece, John.

  4. DBalassone says

    Beautiful piece JTH.  I remember reading this in 2010 (my first TFA  guernsey), but ten years later I read it with different eyes, having lost my own father in the interim, and thus I connect with it in a new way.  You look for meaning everywhere when they pass.  You look to find them everywhere.  Meanwhile life goes on all around you (‘And the little ’uns were still outside kicking the footy.’)
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you move back to Melbourne from Canberra the week of the Prelim? The Cats looked flat that night – many surmised it was the end of the Cat Empire.  Who would have thought they would bounce back the way they did a year later.

  5. Thanks Dips, ER, Kevin, and Damian.

    Damian, you have a good memory. 2010 was a crazy year – with five or six trips from Canberra to Adelaide (to say farewell to Dad) and Canberra to Melbourne (for wrok) with two infants and one on the way. We moved back to Melbourne that Prelim Final week. And we thought Dad was going t be OK. He was out of hospital and in a nursing home not far from Mum and Dad’s house. And then he died. A great blessing is that I had been able to tell him the things I needed to tell him in our final times together. As you know it is an enormous time. I should dig out the eulogy.

    I went to Dips’s Dad’s funeral – which was similar to Dad’s. A truly magnificent and memorable day farewelling a wonderful man J. D. O’Donnell.

  6. JTH- Read this yesterday and when Claire got home she read it too, and having experienced the loss of her parents she found this paragraph especially poignant-

    But we all had to leave. It had been the saddest yet richest of times, a feeling of the deepest connection which will never leave me. I remember looking around and thinking: “These are the people with whom I have spent my life.”

    Introspective, funny, touching. Brilliant. Thanks.

  7. Peter Fuller says

    John,
    Thank you for this beautiful piece. I surely read it in the Almanac, as I know I always read the books cover-to-cover, yet I have no recollection of your superbly-chosen words. It should also have resonated with me as my mother had died a couple of months earlier. She had been my guide and the source of values such as the scrupulous honesty and fairness which she lived (my dad went a quarter century earlier).
    I for one would love to read your eulogy; I’m sure it would make a wonderful companion piece.
    The two matches also dredge up memories, as I was there for the Preliminary Final and astonished by the insipid Cats’ performance. The two Collingwood-St. Kilda Grand Finals are the only ones since 1992 that I’ve watched on tv rather than at the G.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Beautiful piece JTH. How wonderful to have those words recorded in the 2010 book and now on the site.

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I wish your dad had seen me and shaken my hand at that Crows v Cats game in 1993 JTH.

  10. Rulebook says

    Superb,JTH plenty of messages there and please dig out and post the eulogy

  11. Trevor Blainey says

    Ah John, that’s terrific as always. Didn’t read it when published and as you know it has a certain ring to it now. Loss like that does sharpen the thoughts. But the last sentence is where relief lies. Good to look forward to those things.

  12. Stainless says

    John
    I re-read this piece yesterday – Mothers Day – the first since my mum died. We corresponded at the time of her passing about the loss of a parent. I greatly appreciated your words at the time and so much in your piece resonates. Victory in death, despite the dying. Wonderful.

  13. Thanks for these heartfelt responses.

    Swish, that’s a classic.

    Mickey, much appreciated.

    Stainless, I recall the sadness that leapt from the page when you emailed me at that time.

    Luke, Dad was a man of love, but he didn’t have much time for Collingwood. Or the old Port Adelaide.

    Peter, I don’t think there are many who read more widely or deeply than your good self. I recall meeting you at a Vulgar Press function (hello Ian Syson) where conversaton turned to the written word very quickly.

    Trev, I very much appreciated your recent Speakola eulogy for your own father.

    Rulebook, thanks for your thoughts.

    And, yes, I will dig the eulogy out. The four Harms brothers got together the night before Dad’s funeral in Mt Barker. We had a few reds, and then about midnight we opened an old bottle of Rockford Basket Press. And chatted about what might go in the eulogy. The brothers then went to bed and I tried to put something together. In some ways I had said some things to Dad (and the world) when describing his Christmas service at Peep Hill Lutheran church in Confessions of a Thirteenth Man. Those words seemed to strike a chord – many responses to them. I’ll find the eulogy.

    Thanks All.

  14. John Gordon says

    Beautiful John.

  15. “These are the people with whom I have spent my life”
    As true and profound a line that I can recall on this site.
    As I get older, I find myself being more reflective and considering this concept.
    Thanks, JTH.

  16. Remember reading this from the book. Had a powerful impact in calming and centring me at the time of mum’s passing in 2012 (also in Mt Barker). I have always thought of you as a secular priest passing on your father’s teachings – though preaching from a different gospel.
    Sport is our god. The MCG our temple. We follow different desert tribes with competitive versions of the one true faith. I don’t believe – but I have a powerful need to be back among my people comforted by the rituals of the church.

  17. Frank Taylor says

    Beautifully written piece about a fine outstanding man John.
    You have been blessed, as have I with my mother.
    Thanks
    Frank

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