Footy at Manuka: a preview

It’s a big weekend for Canberra footy fans. Yes, the Brumbies have the toughest possible opponent, away, in Christchurch. Yes, the Raiders will probably lead the Storm at half-time. And, yes they will sing ‘Abide With Me’ at Wembley on Saturday night before the FA Cup final.

But when all is said and done, and the Deep Heat hits the gastrocnemius, the big event of the weekend is at beautiful Manuka, because a game of Australian footy, wherever it is played, is a ritual celebration that leaves astute anthropologists drooling.

Whether it’s at Ardlethan or Grong Grong, or at the MCG, a game of footy doesn’t merely begin when the umpy holds the ball aloft and the siren sounds.

A game of footy is a profound cultural experience which brings together the key elements of life; a spiritual experience which starts right back in 1859 in Jerry Bryant’s pub at Jolimont when, over a few beers and a dram or two of Scotland’s finest, a collection of chaps committed to Olympic exercise book, the rules of the local game.

The game has rolled along, gathering meaning, bringing into its bosom the hearts of men and women and children. And when you attend a match, you have attended all matches. And when you rise to salute the Brian Lake hanger (taken in the back pocket) you are part of the great tide of humanity which has seen Coleman and Jezza and Ablett and Winnie Abraham.

When you walk to Manuka tomorrow you’ll walk with every person who has walked to every ground in the history of the game. You’ll trip over a crack in the footpath just as people have done for generations.

When you meet at the Kingo you’ll meet like all footy-lovers have over the years: expectant, hopeful, and in desperate need of four sharp ales and a chicken parma.

And one of your pot-bellied mates (who has still got the hots for Jo in Man About the House) will be in his (tight) long-sleeved Footscray jumper with 24 on the back, and be carrying a Sherrin for the dob afterwards. He’ll talk in romantic tones of his Melbourne youth: of being set upon by three painters and dockers in the Emerald on Clarendon St for wearing a Scraggers jumper at the Lake Oval.

You’ll stand around talking like all footy fans have talked over the years: about the ins and outs, and who will play on who. And someone will say that Ryan O’Keefe is over-rated and the rest of the pub will stop and turn, and from that day on remember you as a total dip-stick.

You’ll cross the road, and overhear someone from the Department of Miniscule Minds saying that if the ACT Government has coughed $400,000 for a crowd of 12000 people that they should be entitled to $33 towards their reiki classes.

But you’ll soon forget that.

Because you’ll spot the old MCG scoreboard and the golden leaves and the hills in the distance.

You’ll look out over the magnificent green surface. And see the boys gathering in the race.

And you’ll feel part of a game which is yours.

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. Peter Schumacher says

    I must say John that you really do capture the essence of the expectation that arises before a game. Seemed to have a spiritual aspect to it all, as in “When you walk to Manuka tomorrow you’ll walk with every person who has walked to every ground in the history of the game”

    I just want to change tack a bit and discuss the venue and my last experience there. Manuka is such a beautiful ground, but I have to admit that the last time I was there, it was summer,it was a still, hot, day, it was that Prime Minister’s Eleven game in which Boonie got 100, Clive Lloyd got about 50 I think and Roger Harper both whirled his arm over and provided all tbose present with the best fielding display that anyone there would be likely to see.

    This gets me to the next point, great as Manuka is, it looked really damned cold towards the end of the final quarter.

    I guess this has strayed right off the subject of your post and that is the ageless game of AFL and its supporters over the aeons. I just wish that AFL was the winter sport in Canberra.

  2. Tim Ivins says

    Peter you are spot on, Manuka can get really cold but that’s half the beauty of it. I remember a similar situation last year and thinking that this is perfect. There is nothing better than holding a pie in one hand and a thermos coffee in the other as an icy wind that feels like it has blown straight from the Antarctic cuts you in half.

    In a way, Manuka takes footy back to its suburban roots and I hope the AFL & ACT government continue to embrace that.

  3. The Department of Miniscule Minds – beautiful. That could be any number of government offices !!

  4. Tony Robb says

    A what a great day it was but sadly our only game for the year. Good turn out of 14,300 (against a live broadcast on fox and 10) which is basically a full house at Manuka.(disgraceful 21K at the North-Crows game) Doggies are back with a yap and the Swannies showed where they probably are really at. It’s a rare occasion that one gets to talk about football with strangers in Canberra (missing the Almanac dinner denied me one such opportunity) and experience the pre game build up. It gives the place a sense of passion which is lacking at times one must say. The Brumbies supporters are theatre goers and the raiders fans are less than passionate at the moment. At times I think that non footie people just dont get that sense of belonging to the sport. Most likely because the opportunity for tribal rivalries doesn’t exist in a one team town. This is best seen at Brumbies games. Silence only interupted by cheering when the Brumbies score. Its a strange atmosphere as there are usually no one supoporting the oppositon unless they are playing NSW or Queensland

    Off topic John. We have a spot available tomorrow at 12.09pm if you want to have a hit. Give me a bell if you are interested


  5. westcoastdave says

    What I love about this place is that this whole sequence can ultimately wind up as a personal invitation for a game of golf!

  6. johnharms says


    Count me out for 12.09. Unfortunately.

    This is supreme golf weather.

    And I do like being reminded of the beauty (and specificitt) of the golf club time sheet.

  7. Captures the essence beautifully.

    The one thing that I think could have been added is that moment, when you first see the teams, that wish, of a split second or so, for the talent/skills/opportunity/dedication to be part of it. For as long as I can remember that is the first thing that passes through my mind.

    I’m sitting here after the mercury has nudged into the mid 40’s for the 8th day in a row reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that weekends will no longer involve more than a few hours outdoors. Still, the investment of a 10ft trampoline located in the guest bedroom of our apartment has seen the ‘tackers’ with some sense of physical activity!

    Nice to think that it is not so toasty elsewhere, no matter how hard to believe.

    Our happy bunch is looking forward to 6-8 weeks back on the Sunshine Coast in June/July. The eldest is excited about doing Auskick after a happy season with the Abu Dhabi Auskickers. Unfortunately, only 2 games at the Gabba, but I am looking forward to the QAFL and local games up the Coast.

    The life of an Ex-Pat Desperate…

  8. johnharms says

    Rocket said it rained the other day in the Middle east.

    Which reminds of a recently-heard term from Perth – that Adelaide was the Middle East.

  9. Andrew Starkie says

    The last time I was at Manuka – the GF’s family live around the corner – I wandered into the ‘Members’ and noticed planning proposals for a revamp. One proposal was to completely down scale the place into a park type oval.

  10. Andrew Starkie says

    And you can cook your own steaks at a pub nearby. MAy be the Kingo actually

  11. johnharms says

    Yes, the Kingo. Where we had the recent Footy Almanac dinner

  12. Jonathan says

    Is there any heterosexual bloke who didn’t fancy Jo from Man About The House?

    Great article Jon. Have to get to Canberra one day. I love a chill at the footy, something I rarely experience at Subi, unless the games at night. If anyone wants evidence of climate change then they could do worse than ask me to try and remember the last time in the 130 or so Freo games I’ve seen that I got really cold and wet at the footy
    (Port at the WACA) or why it’s invariably a blindingly sunny day.

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