Desire in old Geelong

There was something timeless about the football in Geelong yesterday. Like the weather has been coming out of the south-west since God put breath into Adam, and the Geelong faithful have been rugging up, and turning up, since the Saturday after that. It’s wild, that weather. The Shipwreck Coast looks like it does for a reason: a sort of gummy Gary Ablett grimace from Yambuk to Barwon Heads. And it was named for a reason.

I have had but a few years in and around Kardinia Park, when its placed into the context of the whole history of the Geelong Football Club; a club that knows its place. But they’ve been important years for me.

I used to fight for my Geelong victories, but these days I lack a little desire. It’s easy to lack desire. Much harder to find it. In the old days desire was a given. They were the days when I was winning Geelong a flag. And so, my Geelong friends, were you.

We were failing. We felt forsaken. And we couldn’t handle that.

I did not see Geelong win at Geelong until I was over 40. That is true. Living all those years in Queensland, and being me, that was completely understandable. I didn’t even see Geelong play at Geelong until I was nearly 30.

That happened when I was in Melbourne teeing up a place to do my PhD. It was a week of winter weather from the sou’west. On nine of the ten days of the visit, a Queenslander could not put his toe out the door. Except for footy. So on a grey-black, blowy day I caught the train to Kardinia Park. (Ah, that’s where Spotswood is. Ah, Lara: I remember those bushfires.) The Cats had won their previous eleven mataches in a row and were on fire. It was a top of the table clash against the mighty Hawks (whom some had written off). I would see Gary Ablett in his natural habitat. Billy. Buddha. Couchy. All the greats I had watched from the warmth of the sunny north.

Ablett had a shocker. He was removed to full-back where Dunstall towelled him up as well. We should have lost by 10 goals. But a few consolations made it look a bit better than it was.

In subsequent years I saw other losses, most notably the flogging at the hands of the all-powerful Lions who belted our little fellas up in Buddha’s last game. I reckon that was 2001. I had a perfect record.

The Handicapper and I arrived in Melbourne in 2003 when the Cats were still building. (Indeed they’d barely purchased a trowel). That season I continued to see Geelong lose at Kardinia. I saw the Kangaroos flog us, and the Lions knock us over. The Crows beat us. When we actually won one, against Melbourne, I was at Port Fairy or somewhere, in a pub. I think that was Easter that year.

So we were 3-10 and second bottom going in to Round 14 against the top side Port Adelaide. In those days my brother and I punted on the footy. Tip 7s and Tip 8s. We used to outlay a fair whack. We had a mathematical system that minimised risk (to almost zero), yet when rough results occurred the top-end of the exponential graph made it all rather attractive. We’d stand out a couple of ‘certainties’ and include all other possible results, and sometimes hedge against a certainty being beaten by taking the line. Then, knowing the approximates on Sunday afternoon, we’d make a decision about hedging, and hence we had control over the final result. This went on beautifully for about five years. (The story of its demise may appear later – in the sealed section – in the year when favourites won for 10 rounds in a row, and cleaned us out).

Choco Williams’s Port was a cracking side at that time, and played silky-skilled footy. We had taken Port as one of our two certainties that weekend, and that afternoon we were hatching a number of live tickets.

As I arrived at Kardinia Park, resigned to another loss, the phone rang.

“Are you going to save on the Cats?” David asked.

“We’re $6,” I said. “We’ve got no chance.”

“S’pose,” he agreed. “But you’d only need $80 on us to be safe.”

He’d failed to acknowledge the key factor. “I’m at the ground,” I said.

That was the explain-all he needed to hear. So we let it go, even though we were sitting on about $500 profit if Port won.

The Cats were very good that day my friends. [Far] Better than we had expected. We were flogging them in the middle and around the ground, and if we’d had any firepower up forward we’d have been more than two goals up at the final change.

We got four goals clear in that final quarter and were looking strong when the young the staggers set in. We stopped. We chipped. We went backwards. Port sniffed the panic on the ground, and around the stands. The Cats fought hard. But Port got a couple back.

The phone rang. “Who you barracking for?” David asked.

“Geelong,” I said. (Convincingly?)

A few minutes later and the Cats continued to hang on, by a point. The ground was rocking. Young women screaming their support. Those men loudest of mouth wanting to stick hot pokers under the umpire’s toe-nails. Old blokes growling and shaking their fists at tip-toe Lingy. Grannies averting the eyes of children.

The entire game was being played inside Port’s 50, the visitors having locked it in. Inevitably the goal to put them in front was scored and our lot on the planet was re-established.

Again Port attacked but by some miracle (and because they had no reason not to) the Cats counter-attacked and in a classic fast-break (before fast-breaks as we now know them were invented) the Cats went the length of the field and way off in the half-lit distance a booming Ben Graham roost rolled towards the goal. Just when it seemed to be running out of steam, and had no dribble left to give, the ball crossed the line protected by a shepherd from Matthew Scarlett.

Of course craziness ensued. And the siren sounded. I had seen my first-ever Geelong win at Kardinia Park. (I’m still paying it off).

I recall enjoying a kick to kick on Kardinia Park with complete strangers.

But I digress.

What I am trying to say is that there were different motivation levels at work in those day.

On Sunday I noted the weather forecast.

I recalled the story of one of the McShane brothers (there were many) in the 1880s. The vice-captain of Geelong in the early 1880s, this McShane had played in a match against Ballarat on the weekend when there was no VFA match. On a wet day he had managed to catch pneumonia, and that was that. The funeral cortege was made up of 2500 mourners who walked through the streets to the Geelong cemetery. Prottos and Catholics united in death.

So, in not attending yesterday, I was considering the future of my family.

Instead I added a log to the fire and turned on the TV, and I immediately felt that sense of timelessness: that the weather had been blowing for generations, and yet good Geelong folk still went to the footy. (Folk better than me)

I also felt that sense of non-hyped footy, however imagined. That this was just another match in the routine of it all, in a year where the Cats would look to Melbourne and the MCG in September. As we have done many times before, and equally haven’t done many times before. We know our lot.

Games these days attract a narrative. They always have, but these days that narrative is sliced, diced, julienned, tweeted, facebooked, pre-matched, texted, emailed, downloaded, uploaded and spruiked until the wisdom is so conventional it becomes true. Geelong: gone or not?

Don’t ask a Geelong fan.

It’s cold and wet and slippery as the players walk to their positions and I tell myself that I’m not going to read too much into whatever happens (although a loss will generate full-scale reading-into-ness) because if I were Corey Enright I’d be hanging out for the game to finish, the hot shower, and the couple of beers in front of his own fire. It’s different for Rupe Murdoch and George Horlin-Smith. But fair dinkum, you wouldn’t begrudge these teams just doing enough and going home.

James Kelly starts like he’s the fave for the Brownlow and Hawkins contests strongly. The undermanned Port Adelaide side looks up for the contest and it’s goal for goal early. The Cats dominate for a while but they can’t get clear and when they do Pods misses a sitter as do Duncan, Taylor Hunt , Duncan again, Smedts and Christensen. All gettable. Finally the old stagers (although Joel Selwood ain’t that old) combine and the Cats are clear at half-time.

Port continue to play a clever game of bottling things up and then setting sail for the open spaces. Enright, who is good all day, mops up time and time again, also doing the work of Scarlo who has received a pesky tag.

The Cats are on top but it is not going to be an easy win. Port demand the Cats concentrate, and put in a real effort, as the visitors just will not drop their bundle.

Westhoff and Butcher (who looks like a direct relative of William Buckley) offer more than enthusiasm, and Renouf and Lobbe also have an influence.

Trent West doesn’t. West can play. We’ve seen it. You don’t have the influence you do at the end of the 2011 season without having talent and application. But he seems to be a confidence player and at the moment he is so down on himself he can’t get out of his own way. You can see how frustrated he is. How disappointed.

I start thinking of ways to get him back to his old self. How to free his mind. I think of Warwick Capper who, when down on form, took advantage of his visits to Gold Coast primary schools where, when mucking around in Grade 6 matches would play himself back into form by kicking four in the opening minutes of little lunch, taking a screamer or two on the back of the 12 year old girl from Labrador, and generally getting the feel of the Sherrin again.

West needs something. Some jolt.

Here’s a new narrative for the slicing, dicing and julienning. I’ll pose it as a question: if the Cats were breaking anywhere near even in the ruck would they be a top four side? Consider the Sydney game. Consider this Port game even.

Do you give West a quarter at full forward. Indeed, should West have kicked the three goals Harry Taylor kicks to start the last quarter. Although, what would you rather have, a ruckman restored to form, or a free spirit wafting on the southerly.

The Cats end up winning comfortably on a day where most don’t want to be out there.

I pour a sherry and put another log on the fire.

And think about the Gold Coast.


Votes: 3. James Kelly   2.Corey Enright  1. Joel Selwood




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 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.


  1. JTH, Carlton has three Trent Wests… and no Corey Enrights.

  2. First saw the Cats live in the 1967 grand final as a 12 yo John.

    First saw them win live in the 2007 grand final as a 53 yo. 40 year hiatus.

    There were a lot of losses and hurtful words from the footy elite supporters in between. That’s why I am just a little bit excitable these days. Only another 35 years of this excitement before I go into debit again and will have to pull my horns in.

    Sorry non Cat Knackers.

  3. JH. I think you are correct – West is down on confidence at the moment. Back in the days when he was a new recruit at Geelong, he had a couple of games in the ones and looked strong and confident and with more than a bit of mongrel in him. I liked him and was surprised when Mumford was promoted to the ones ahead of him. Yes, yes, I haven’t played footy (bit sick of hearing that tired old boys-club phrase) but I have played several sports at A grade level. More importantly though, I have taught children for a couple of decades and know, from this experience, and from life, that confidence is a living thing in the psyche – one more easily damaged in some than others.
    I like to think, though, that most clubs are conscious of this aspect of coaching/teaching/life, and strive to attend to the well being – physically, mentally, emotionally – of those in their work place.
    One of the highlights of Sunday’s game, was the chorus of “Scarlo, Scarlo!” from a group of enthusiastic supporters, who sang out their reprise every time Matty touched the ball, while the weather blew across KP from Bass Straight, and dripped off our plastic ponchos as we stood the Ablett Terrace. (Perhaps they were the same blokes who’d sing “Henri, Henri, Henri, Henri” back in the Henry Playfair days?)
    Thanks for the article. KP drips with history as it does with footy rain.

  4. Mark Doyle says

    This was one of the coldest and wettest days at the footy and that includes bitterly cold windswept days at Deakin Oval in Canberra 40 odd years ago. I lasted until half time and went home and enjoyed a bowl of hot pumpkin and lentil soup and watched the second half on Foxtel in front of the heater.
    I am bemused that some of you Cat’s supporters have seen few live wins. The Cats have given us supporters great enjoyment over the past 45 odd years. I have seen the Cats play in nine grand finals for three wins and last years grand final win was particularly satisfying. I have also seen many other great wins and one of my favourite wins was the 1994 qualifying final against Carlton when five of the better players were out injured – Couch, Bairstow, G. Hocking, Stoneham and Mansfield; blokes such as Paul Brown, John Barnes, Grant Tanner in the first half, Aaron Lord, Liam Pickering and Gary Ablett snr. all played great games. Other great games were the 1967 preliminary final against Carlton (I think!) and the 1989 preliminary final against Essendon.
    This year the Cats are having a reasonably good year considering the loss of four good retired players in Milburn, Mooney, Ling and Ottens plus the injured Varcoe, Menzel and Vardy.
    My only concern this year is Chris Scott’s coaching. He has done a reasonable job in managing the fitness of the players over the past two years, but I am not sure of his strategic and motivation skills.

  5. William Buckley??? Do you mean the escaped convict, given up for dead (origin of “Buckley’s Chance)??
    The US conservative commentator ( deceased) seemed to lack requisite hirsuteness. Ray Buckley (Nathan’s dad) and Woodville stalwart had the chops??
    Please explain.

  6. Tyrrany of distance Mark, coupled with incompatability between my travel plans and the Cats desire to please me.

    All, is however, now forgiven.

  7. Skip of Skipton says

    Indeed that is where Spotswood is. Having lived there in the early/mid ’90s I can say that the people who made that movie, despite it being set in the ’60s, captured the place well. Nothing had changed. Everyone was Alwyn Kurtz or Ben Mendelsohn.
    Sadly, it is not the case so much any more. The community hub, the TAB in Hudson Rd, is no longer there. It might be a vegan cafe now. Damn you progress and gentrification!

    Cats look to be ticking over nicely in the run, not over-racing or pulling. In West we trust. Despite being at the club a long time now, he still has only 30 or so games at AFL level under his belt.

  8. JTH, I’ve attended games at Geelong on colder and wetter days than Sunday…but not that many. The worst was an extremely icy wet one around ANZAC day in, I think, 2001. Geelong were playing North who won the toss and kicked with the wind and the tide. Carey booted a few early and the game was over at quarter time with North having a four goal lead. I sat in the rain all day hoping for the best. Idiot!

    I had to head back to Melbourne via the Bacchus Marsh road as the Princes highway was cut after all the rain. Wish I’d had the sense to stay home near the heater.

  9. John Harms says

    Yes, being in Queensland for 30 years proved difficult. Of course the imagined sense of Victoria being so far away has changed with the (much) cheaper airfares. It was a world away then – like going OS.

    I saw the Geelong Carlton semi in the Labrador Football Club. A magnificent afternoon. ONe of my favourite sporting events ever.

  10. Peter Flynn says

    My wettest coldest was:

    Round: 14 Kardinia Park Date: Sat, 28-Jun-1980 2:10 PM Attendance: 21,555
    Geelong 1.3.9 5.6.36 11.6.72 13.6.84
    North Melbourne 3.2.20 4.3.27 4.3.27 4.3.27

    What doesn’t show here was the mass exodus from the outer at half-time.

    Only the under-cover seated remained.

    Featherby, Clarke and Bright starred.

  11. Featherby, Clarke and Bright. Now there’s a trio who would strike fear in the hearts of any player of the day.

  12. I watched the 2004 preliminary final at the Surat races in Queensland. I watched the night game at the outdoor bar after the races not expecting us to win. When it looked possible in the last quarter I was barracking so loudly all the Qld brethren surrounding me decided to take an interest. When I realised the game was gone late in the quarter, I moved a bar stool under the TV, climbed up and turned the TV off. Then I ordered two rum and cokes.

  13. Rick Kane says

    Featherby, great Subi player.

    The only GF I’ve attended was the 1992 WC Evils vs Geelong, only a few months after I landed in the Big V. Still one of my highlights living in Victoria. And I wasn’t barracking for either team (but I was hoping the Evils went down). We lived in North Fitzroy. Bought supplies at Piedamontes and cooked up a breakfast for champions then caught the tram up to St Pats and walked to the ground. For us new to Victoria it was as Melboune a day as you could have. (If only I had arrived in June 1991!)

  14. Ian Hauser says

    Harms, how very proper to reach for the sherry decanter. Maybe I’m not the only one with 50s tastes. In the cold of beautiful downtown Tumut this week, a good tumbler of McWilliams cream apera hits the spot nicely. However, Col the publican at the Oriental tells me that he doesn’t stock sherry because he can only sell a couple bottles at Christmas for local grannies to make trifle. Thankfully Woolies fill the gap but at twice the price at Dan’s. IJH

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