Black and white memories of Kardinia Park

Modern day footy is played in comfortable stadiums with excellent amenities. We are very fortunate as spectators, but I reckon our children miss something that my generation had, in that they will never have the unique experiences offered by watching your team play at other clubs’ suburban home grounds.

Each venue offered something different in terms of logistics to get there, ground size, preferred viewing spot, level of amenities and the hostility of the local supporters. The only Victorian ground that retains any of the feel of these venues is the Cats’ stadium of many names. While it has also been named Shell Stadium, Skilled Stadium and Simonds Stadium (and was indeed known as Baytec Stadium for a couple of months, but no AFL games were played there during this period), it will always be Kardinia Park to me, or its modern colloquialism, the Cattery. Like most supporters of other clubs, my memories of “away” grounds are predominantly those of my own club playing there. As the Pies take on the Cats this weekend (albeit in a home fixture, but who can tell the difference?) and with the refurbished Cattery due to re-open in a couple of weeks, I’d thought I’d record some of my memories of games at the venue between the Pies and the Cats.

As a kid it was always both an adventure and a curiosity to be heading down the highway to what was affectionately known as Sleepy Hollow. An early memory was Dad arranging return transport from Geelong for we three boys because he had to attend a wedding and needed to leave at half time. The wedding must have been for someone very close to him, because he usually only put in an appearance at the receptions for people who were impertinent enough to schedule their weddings during the footy season. Driving to Geelong to see half a game made me realise, at a single figure age, that footy really was more than a game in my family, and that the Pies were a core part of who we were.

Many games at Geelong stand strong in my memory, but I will focus on three of them, in 1976, 1991 and 1967. Sadly these were all losses for the Pies, although there were plenty of wins there, the Pies winning 22 from 41 outings there.

When we travelled to the Cattery in our wooden spoon year of 1976, we took a team containing all-time Pies luminaries such as Colin Kimmorley and Jimmy Board as we were guests at the celebration of Sam Newman’s 300th. While Sam enjoyed a rapturous reception as he led the team onto the arena in his white boots, he spent much of the day on the bench as the Cats enjoyed a narrow win largely due to our horrendous inaccuracy, 11.27 to 15.9. The main highlight came at half-time. As the siren blew, Ronnie Wearmouth decided it was time to exact retribution for an earlier misdeed by a Cat and then immediately set sail for the sanctuary of the change rooms. Unfortunately for Ronnie the races to the respective change rooms were adjacent to each other and when he entered the rooms he realised he’d gone down the wrong race. Retreating with a string of Cats chasing him was not an easy task and a vigorous scuffle involving players and officials from both clubs took place at the entrance to the two change rooms. While it wasn’t easy to see from my vantage point, Dad, who was on his way into the rooms in one of the various roles he held with the club, later filled me in, including that he had tried to block a path for Ronnie.

The last big game between the two clubs at the Cattery was Round 24, 1991. The Pies had made a very sluggish start to their premiership defence before a strong second half of the season left us needing to win this last game of the year to sneak into the five. The Cats were one of the form teams of the competition, featuring names such as Couch, Bairstow, Hocking and of course G Ablett senior, and were a formidable opponent on their own patch.

With the game certain to attract more demand than there was supply, and reserved seating for visiting members not existing at this stage, we took no chances and left early enough to be there before the reserves started. My trusty companions were Stork, his brother Mark and The Artist Formerly Known As The Big Man (TAFKATBM), who was severely hampered by a recent back injury. He struggled to endure the walk to the ground from our nearby parking spot, and it looked like being a very long day for him. Much to our amusement he brought a small folding stool to sit on during the quarter breaks, as we watched from the terraces on the outer wing.

Stork was sporting a look that was well ahead of its time. His once flowing blond locks had already reached the point of being sparse and thin and he responded by getting a then unheard-of number one. When he walked a lap of the ground during one of the breaks in the reserves he told me had seen and been chatting with my dad. Hilariously, when I saw Dad, he said to me “What the hell is wrong with Paul O’Connell (aka Stork)? Is he having chemotherapy ?” Stork and I still get a laugh out of that question today !

The 1991 game was bookended by tragedies for the Pies. In the week before the game, one of Tony Shaw’s brothers, Kelvin, who had played reserves and Under 19s in the black and white, had committed suicide. When Shaw and the Cats’ skipper Andrew “The Rat” Bews tossed the coin before the game, The Rat warmly embraced Shaw in a magnificent gesture of support. The tragedy at the other end of the game didn’t come for about five weeks, but that game was the last for Darren “Pants” Millane, who rolled the dice of life one too many times in early October.

The game belonged to the Cats. After a bright start the wheels fell off for the Pies, with the Cats dominant, led by Bill Brownless, and injuries adding to insult with Daicos rolling his ankle and Millane hobbling on a poison leg he carried into the game. As TAFKATBM struggled to the car we decided that we would find somewhere (safely back in Melbourne) to have a few drinks and reflect on a year in which the Pies had struggled to back up, perhaps having celebrated a bit too hard and too long. We weren’t the only ones to let our hair down after that game – it later came to light that Millane and Denis Banks had also enjoyed a night out, including briefly taking control of a bus outside the infamous Tunnel nightclub. Strange days indeed.

Interestingly my biggest “memory” of the Cattery is the 1967 game for which I was not present. I was only four years old and my parents would only let me go to home games at that age in the safe environs of Vic Park !! The game is famous in our family folklore because of an incident involving Dad and a close workmate, Les Merry.

The game was Round 1, with the Pies coming off the heart-breaking one-point GF loss to the Saints, and the Cats tipped to be big improvers. Dad’s mate Les was a Cats fan but he had been to no more than a handful of games. When the fixture was released Les asked Dad whether he could come along to a game during the season and Dad said he would take him to the season opener at Kardinia Park. Big mistake Les and big mistake Dad. Dad wasn’t great with opposition supporters during a game, it rarely worked out well.

Les was incredibly short-sighted. He wore big black-rimmed glasses with a strong resemblance to Coke bottles. He once famously swam the wrong way at the beach when the shark alert siren sounded, heading out when everyone else headed in. Les was a gentle soul and spent much of the day asking Dad to explain umpiring decisions “What was that for, Kev?” Big mistake Les. Despite having umpired as well as played in the VFA, Dad was not that objective in his views of umpiring decisions involving the Pies. On top of that, Dad wasn’t one who liked to engage in small talk, even footy small talk, during a game. He was intense and not hard to upset during play. Dad reasonably patiently explained decisions to Les for the first half, but as the game got more intense, so did he.

Many of you will know the famous denouement to this game. With the Pies leading by 5 points with seconds remaining, the ball was kicked deep into the Cats’ forward line. The Cats’ Billy Ryan marked close to goal straight in front and the siren sounded as he ran into kick, although the field umpire didn’t appear to hear it. Ryan kicked into the man on the mark but was awarded a 15 metre penalty amid mass confusion and chaotic scenes with spectators and the then obligatory mounted police joining the players and umpires on the ground before Ryan kicked the goal to win the game. Click here to see the footage.

Unfortunately Les didn’t see the final moments of the game. A few minutes earlier, with the game in the balance, a Pie had taken a mark but a free kick had been awarded against him for a push. Les had turned to Dad and said “What was that for, Kev?” Massive mistake Les. Dad was turning somewhere between crimson and purple and could take it no longer. Dad exclaimed with exasperation “It was for a push in the back…like this” and shoved an unsuspecting Les firmly in the back, sending him tumbling down the terraces.

I’m not sure how things were straight after the game, but somehow Dad and Les’ friendship survived this indiscretion. As previously noted, Les was a gentle soul. He was also no fool, never asking to go to the footy with Dad again, and equally never receiving another offer. These days one would half expect a lawsuit, or at least a Facebook unfriend for such behaviour.

There were some great days at the Cattery involving the Pies, and even the practice game at the start of this year induced a hint of nostalgia and some serious exploration of how I might get there for a Friday 4pm start. These reflections do leave me wondering what stories our kids will tell of coming to the footy with us. Will they have the same sense of nostalgia and character from having been to the G and the Dome ? I’m not sure, but I hope I’m around to hear and maybe even read my daughter and nephews’ reminiscences. I don’t think I have any skeletons in the closet like Les, but perhaps I have consigned them to a place as distant as many of my memories of the great suburban grounds.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    G’day Steve.

    I really enjoyed reading your piece.

    Geelong were 6 goals up at half-time of that ’76 clash.

    After the half-time schmozzle up the race, Collingwood kicked 7.13 in the third quarter. A great win by Collingwood, I reckon the 3GL talkback after the game would’ve been interesting.

    The end to the ’67 game was chaotic. Myself and a couple of mates have proclaimed that Geel v Coll play for the Lance Perkins Cup in honour of that fine umpire who officiated that day.

    I reckon Sam played his 300th now recognised as his 297th (because he played for Victoria 3 times while Geelong played a VFL game)against Collingwood in 1980. The crowd that day was 42278.

    I didn’t know or can’t remember the backdrop to the ’91 clash. Thanks again Steve.

    Flynny

  2. Steve Fahey says:

    Thanks Flynny

    I loved your report for the Cats and the Bombers, vintage Flynn

    You are of course right re Sam Newman – my memories were a bit confused !

    I had also had forgotten the 1976 third quarter, twenty scoring shots is remarkable, looks from below that there was a strong wind favouring one end -19 goals to 7 at the various ends

    Round: 17 Venue: Kardinia Park Date: Sat, 24-07-1976 2:10 pm Attendance: 22,724
    Geelong 3.5.23 10.6.66 11.6.72 15.9.99 C: Rod Olsson
    Collingwood 1.8.14 3.12.30 10.25.85 11.27.93 C: Murray Weideman

  3. Geelong and Collingwood clashes at Kardinia Park produce some memories. Big clashes in 1981, and 1988 sw the Pies establish their credentials over the Cats,as both teams sought to display their early season finals prospects. 1972 when a big Pie lead was whittled down by the Cats with a Ken Newland point at the death giving the Cats victory by that margin. To return to the Cats 6 point winning margin in 1976, both encounters that season saw the Cats wining by that margin. Some sort of fearful symmetry .

    Glen!

  4. Enjoyed reading about “Wrong race Ronnie” – one of the funniest things I ever saw on the football field. My recall is that “Windows” Turner had whacked Ray Shaw and Ronnie decided to jump into him, flatten him and bolt for the rooms (should have worked – he was very quick), with Turner in hot pursuit. The only casualty out of the whole scenario was the Geelong trainer who got in the way at the top of the race and got flattened! Can remember Thommo trying to fight his way down the Geelong race to rescue Ronnie.

    Two things about visits to Geelong – some clubs would stop the team bus halfway down the highway to enable the players to stretch their legs, and the oh-so-long drive home after being beaten (still, better than flying home from Wellington!)

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    Steve,

    I was silly in my comment. A typo. It should read a great win by Geelong.

    It’s still a great trip to Kardinia Park. Stand and drink.

  6. Steve – ripper piece. I remember the 1991 game quite vividly. Its a real shame these suburban battles no longer take place. They had a closeness about them that doesn’t exist at the shared stadiums.

  7. Andrew Fithall says:

    Thanks for the article Steve. The 1991 game was the only time I have ever been to Kardinia Park – with wife Helen and a couple of my work colleagues who were both Geelong supporters. I didn’t really enjoy the day so have been disinclined to venture there again.

    I have been encouraging Helen to take our one Geelong-supporting child (the other three are mine!!!)

    I have many memories of trips to Victoria Park. I always found that venue very warm and welcoming.

    AF

  8. Luke Reynolds says:

    Great work Steve. My first ever VFL/AFL game was the 1988 Geelong v Collingwood game at Kardinia Park. Great memories of standing in the outer on my Dad’s tin beer cans so I could see, and the thrill of my hero Peter Daicos lining up right in front of us on a forward flank. Great win too, went home very happy.

  9. ramondobb says:

    Aaah the memories indeed, Steve. I’m from the same vintage and have similar memories. From the late 60s to early 90s I did the road trip many a time. Here’s a few of mine, thankfully with some WINS highlighted!

    My first memory is the painful 1972 loss by a point – my idol Macca had snagged a bag of 9 goals but we lost by a point in the last minute. According to Mum and Dad, this little 9 year old boy pulled his black and white beanie over his face and cried his eyes out, with many passer by giving a consoling pat on the back! Just looking back at the stats, no wonder I went the blub – we were leading by plenty all day and got pipped on the post by a 7 to 2 goal last quarter.

    1976 was a very windy day from memory. Remember big Bruce Gonsalves (complete with goatie beard?) in one of his only games. “robin” was right, Mick Turner felled Ray Shaw from behind, Ronnie saw it from close by so ran in and returned the favour and all hell broke loose.

    1982 is a game that really sticks in my mind. Last round of the season and Pies reeling from a dreadful year trying to avoid a second wooden spoon. My buddies thought I was mad wanting to go to this game but I took the train trip by myself and stood on the wing. I witnessed the great man Daics put on a clinic of footy with 30 possessions in the centre (complete with permed mullet!). Two other favourites, Banksy and Billy Picken, also played blinders and we won by a kick and avoided the spoon. Peter Moore played a great game, which turned out to be his last for the Pies after the Hafey fallout of earlier in the year and the lure of Demon dollars.

    I did the 1991 game with a buddy and remember it was so freezing I wore my wife’s ski jacket (bright pink which stood out in the Ch7 coverage when I watched the taped replay!!) Stood behind the goals at city end and witnessed a classic Daics goal where he was held by one arm but still was able to swing around and soccer the ball through the big sticks. In hindsight with it being Pants’ last game, a very sad game indeed.

    84-86 had some good wins, with BT snagging goals in 85&86 (and his infamous footage of going off at the umps putting him on his angle), Abernethy had great games off half back. And 88 saw a great win with young Graham Wright kicking four goals and continuing his great debut season.

    Aaah those were the days!

  10. David Downer says:

    Top read Steve, even for a Saint like me!

    Many things to be envious of re Geelong currently, but having kept their home ground is top of the pile for me.

    Modernisation is the reality of course, but that suburban tribalism was it’s own force and energy. You just can’t get the same buzz inside a ground co-tenanted by 4 or 5 others. It just never feels “yours”. When your team’s not travelling well, you could at least fall back on the other emotions that come with playing on your own dung-heap – or that of someone else’s.

    I wish the means were available that everyone could have done up their own home ground back in the 80s/90s as Geelong have done. You’re right, today’s kids are missing those experiences and that unique “connectedness”. I was luckily there for the tail-end of it all.

    St Kilda head down the highway in July for the first time in about 10 years. I’m sure one of our many Catmanakers can sneak me in for a reminder of the patented Kardinia Park experience.

  11. Terrific piece Steve. Some great memories, though I must admit I’d forgotten about Ronnie Wearmouth’s ‘blue in the race’ effort, even though I was there that day. By coincidence I’d also been there for the Killigrew/Rosenow ‘blue in the race’ some 14 years earlier. All pretty harmless really, though both incidents got the Cats members’ stand excited.

    The player races at Kardinia Park are now about as far apart as possible, on opposite sides of the ground. No more blues in the race – I guess that’s progress.

    Looking forward to the next edition of the Lance Perkins Cup this Saturday. The mighty Cats haven’t beaten the Pies since the 2011 Grand Final. We’re due.

  12. I remember 1988 as my first venture down to K-Park and the Pies winning well on a bit of a mud heap. Timmy from Thomastown would have been happy with Starcevich’s game that day. The other curiosity was the old Past Players Members Stand – a tiny little white glorified shed wedged between two of the members’ stands.

    I think the PPMS was still there in 1999, my 3rd and last excursion. Like 1976 & 1982 it was an annus horribilis puntuated with a litany of close defeats that rendered a crappy season even worse than it might have been. And that day we got done by a point despite Sav kicking 7 and being on top for most of the day. I remember being infuriated by several ‘home town’ decisions in the final quarter (yes, I do accept that it was very hard for away teams to get frees in front of the Vic Park CFC Social Club!). Maybe the umpire needed his night goggles on, it was bloody dark by the final siren.

  13. DBalassone says:

    Great post Steve. That ’76 scoreline is possibly the strangest I’ve ever seen – up there with the drawn ’48 grand final. I was there in ’91 too – we had won 8 of our past 9 games after our premiership hangover start to the season and had to win it to make the finals. I remember getting to the game with the old man before the reserves started and watching Fraser Murphy slog it out in a black & white jumper, which was weird. Also remember a clash in ’95 where Ablett took another hanger over Gary Pert and kicked a bag. The crowd went nuts. It was a circus. Made me realise what people felt like when they come to watch their side tackle the Pies at Vic Park.

  14. Lord Bogan says:

    Love it Steve,

    my only journey to Kardinia Park was in the 1980 match where Sam Newman’s ‘300’ milestone was celebrated and we lost by 3 goals. Remember Rod Blake being everywhere and the long ride home. Every 100 metres there seemed to be a car parked on the side of the road with a group of blokes having a slash in the woods. So many eskies, so few cares.

  15. Bob Ely says:

    Great work Steve. I’m a Cat fan but instead of being at the game at KP in ’91 I found myself at Waverley watching Hawthorn flogging Essendon while trying to keep up with the scores on ‘Ol’ Sepia’ as the Cats took care of the Pies and the Roys caused the boilover of the year and finished over the top of the Eagles. However, later that evening I found myself in a queue about to make my debut appearance at the infamous ‘Tunnel’ nightclub when a car screeched to a halt out the front of the entrance and out tumbled Darren Millane and Dennis Banks, overly rehydrated from the long drive back of Geelong Rd. Riding shotgun with them was some bloke who used to cover the footy for Channel 10 at the time but who’s name escapes me now. Needless to say, the news of Pants and Banksy’s attempt at a Reg Varney impersonation early the following morning didn’t come as a huge surprise!!

  16. Steve Fahey says:

    Thanks all for your kind comments and your own fantastic memories.

    I particularly laughed as my memory was prompted of teams stopping the bus to stretch on the way to the Cattery – wouldn’t have been required if they had had Bobby Davis driving the bus !! I also got a good laugh from remembering the Past Players Members Stand.

    The mention of Mick Turner has prompted me to add another great memory that I deleted from the article due to length. Turner and Ricky Barham were best mates and found themselves opposed on a wing on a few occasions, including at the Cattery. One year, which I reckon it might have been the 1981 game that a few people have mentioned, they put on some party tricks. When Turner dodged around Barham while he was leaping to smother from his position manning the mark, the Cats’ faithful went wild. Predictably when Barham took a mark he returned the favour and the crowd enjoyed the one-upmanship as much as the two mates.

    Great times.

  17. I was there in 1999, a close result to the Cats, in my last ever game at Kardinia Park. I recall the seating being put in at the end of the 1996 season, and our then favourite standing area on the outer wing was being restricted. Memories.

    Glen!

  18. Paul Harkin says:

    Fantastic recollections. I haven’t read all the comments, so I hope I am not repeating anything. I remember being at Kardinia Park when the infamous Duncan Wright cut loose. He clobbered a Geelong player. Geelong players came from everywhere and as each one arrived they were duly dealt with. I think Freddy Wooller was the last victim.

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