Poetry: Country Football

Footy Town


My earliest in-the-flesh footy was local footy. Country footy. When I was about seven I used to ride my bike to the magnificent Princess Park at Shepparton and hang around under the levy bank or along the wing as the sounds of footy reverberated around the stands of towering gums. I stood with the townsfolk in the three quarter time huddle. Lemnos’s huddle.

Over the years I have collected footy poetry (more on that later this week when I introduce Damian Balassone’s new book). I used those footy poems in schools.

Kids related to the footy in it, although it is more complex than that (in a way I fond very encouraging). Kids tend to bring a negative prejudice to poetry; a prejudice which, in my experience, is easily overcome if you present things to students in a way which engages them. Kids tend to have a positive prejudice about footy. So presenting them with footy poetry might be seen as tricking them into appreciating the poems. What became very clear in using footy poetry for upper-level high school students, though, was that it was not the footy that was winning the kids over, it was actually the poetry, and the nature of the poetic.


Some of the poems I have used are by the late Phil Hodgins who, sadly died of leukaemia at the age of 37. He was a star. Perhaps I can dig out his series on the different kicks in footy. (Vin Maskell probably knows them off by heart). We have used the final lines of Philip Hodgins wonderful poem “Country Football” as an epigraph in our new book Footy Town. I love the whole poem. The sow image is superb with all of its inference of sustenance. That’s writing! I hope you enjoy it.

Country Football

by Philip Hodgins

The ellipse, Hindu symbol of fertility,
is flanked by crowded cars
nosing up to the rails.
It suckles like a sow.

Inside the cars voices report
From significant, never been there places –
Kardinia, Moorabbin, Windy Hill.

Reflecting each other from the cusps
rise two-dimensional white cathedrals.
Today they will be temples to apostasy

Their entrances are guarded by clones
Whose torches blaze pure white.


From corrugated iron purgatory
Many men feed out in lines like
limbs varnished with an intoxicating wake
of eucalyptus oil.

Landing near afflatus
they disperse into pairs
of cryptic numerical combinations.

But one without a number,
as resolutely white as the cue ball,
omnipotent in a classical pose,
holds aloft a red ellipse
and whistles up
a terrible trumpeting of motor horns
for this afternoon’s do or die.


For more information about Footy Town CLICK HERE

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 - Theo12, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. I love good poetry for the same reason that I love a good painting. One of these days I’ll figure out what the reason is.

    This poem is a beauty.

  2. My heart gladdened when I opened Footy Town and saw the quote from Philip Hodgins. I didn’t know the poem and it’s terrific to see it now in its entirety. I’ve got a ‘sampler’ edition of Hodgins’ A Kick Of The Footy – all of 10 pages. Maybe we could serialise it sometime. Hodgins wrote about much more than footy, of course. A few years back our local second-hand book closed. The last book I bought there was Hodgins’ Dispossessed, not about a bloke dropping a footy but about the end of a way of life for a farming family. Strong stuff.

  3. Nothing magnificent about Princess Park, Shepparton – except the setting.
    A bog track which always suited the tough and flashy blokes from Lemnos.
    Shepp was the establishment club, the Catholics played for United, and the migrants, aboriginals and others on the margins turned out for Lemnos. It made for interesting social dynamics given the rest of the teams in the GVL have a farming base.

    The poetry is magnificent. What a great discovery. Footy Town has unveiled some great stories.

    Vin – would love to see a kick of the Footy.

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    We read Hodgins’ poetry in a yr11 class i took a few years ago. Has he passed away?

  5. jth
    As I read it I visualised that poem at Princess Park, strongly reminiscent and powerful piece. I lived right opposite PP and after the ump whistled up the terrible trumpeting of motor horns me and a couple of mates would be crawling round the arse end of those motors shoving penny-bungers into their exhausts and then scarpering away through the bush amid a hail of cans and expletives. Once when I was about seven Neville Bamblett and I were hiding out in a cement pipe there when we spotted a couple of teenagers pashing on behind a red gum. She was a ginger, and Neville stuck his woolly scone out of the pipe and yelled out, “No doubt about them redheads.” A natural comedian, as many indigenous are. I laughed for about a week.
    Despite above comments my old man played for Shepp United and was mos def not a mick.
    I’m going to old Murray Slee’s 90th next week. He rucked for Shepp back in the 40s after the war. Came down to the G to try out for Richmond once and these seventy years later can still remember some toff yelling at him, “Get back to the bush you cart horse.”

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