Friday night footy in the Barossa

Wednesday last week. State of Origin decider day. Magnificently wild winter weather in the Barossa. Yesterday it was hail and sideways rain whipping across the Valley. Today, a bit of everything, but the sky is cold.

Some vineyards are neatly pruned, ready for the Spring. Some are not, tendrils still waving in the wind like robot arms. Today is cold. Showery. Occasionally sunny. It’s driving the pruning teams nuts: semi-crook weather which keeps them outside in their Mawson kit.

I am luckier. I am in the cosiest of stone cottages. An old German corner-fire crackles away, radiating warmth. It’s Robert O’Callaghan’s study which is in the 1850s pug dwelling which looks out across the house block and down Krondorf Road towards Tanunda. I am writing some wine yarns with Robert whose winery, Rockford, is one of the most highly regarded in the land.

He’s a brilliant wine-maker (despite being a mad Port Adelaide supporter). He makes wine in the traditional way – by hand. And is famous for Rockford Basket Press Shiraz and other drops. He’s also a sports nut: a very handy golfer, a (former) nuggetty wicket-keeper, and a lover of footer. He has theories – about everything. And stories.

They love their sport in the Barossa. In Tanunda they’re walking tall: their footy team (the Pies) has beaten arch-rivals Nuriootpa, by nearly 20 goals, on Saturday. They’ve lost one match in about three seasons, and that was a few weeks ago. I’m just glad I’m not out there playing in this weather.

I played a season in the local cricket comp for Eudunda-Robertstown in 1984-85. I had a job in the siloes and the ERCCs were keen to win a flag. We had a good side but the Huns of Tanunda rolled us in the semi. Phil Hermann (the local copper) and Brenton Miegel (the local solicitor) and the likes.

Queensland wins.

I keep writing and by Friday night I am ready to watch the Cats play the Eagles. I am not confident. Although, when the sides are announced, and Ottens is travelling, my mind changes a little. Perhaps the Cats will be desperate. I’m not sure. I just think the Eagles have so much to play for, on the national TV stage, on a Friday night when the pizza-ed and red-wined are taking notice.

Having eaten with friends at Ferment Asia (I can recommend it) I head to the Tanunda pub. It’s full of labourers who have been hard at it since the weather turned bad (at about 3). They’re way past beers and on to the exotics, involving distilled liquor and Coca-Cola. They are bouncing from group to group, eying off the young chickees who have too much perfume on. The greenkeeper from the Tanunda Pines Golf Club (a fine track) doesn’t. He has the wobbly boot on.

“Yeah, what mate?” he says.

“G’day,” I say.

He can’t string a response together.

The jukebox cranks out 80s stuff, as Varcoe opens with a snap. Then Pod puts through another one, and the Cats are on. Johnno looks dangerous and as Boy George fills the room I look forward to a good night.

Then, just after the smiley Scottish Salvo comes in to collect (and one of the blokes behind us says, “You’re not a proper Salvo. You got that stuff up the op shop”) the Eagles fight back.

They lift their intensity, and force a few Cats errors. There are some unforced errors as well. Goal after goal. Ottens is having a dirty night. He’s troubled by Cox and Naitanui (one tap from Naitanui to Kerr is exquisite). The umpires are on to him, and he can’t work out why. One free kick he mouths, “Why?” The next free kick he mouths, “How?” And then he’s outmarked by Mark Le Cras.

It continues in the second quarter where the pressure mounts on Geelong and, growing in confidence, the Eagles run freely and creatively. The Cats look absolutely gone. My eye wanders. Shannon ‘Shaggy’ King is involved in a fearsome bout of Combat Fighting for blokes who haven’t listened (at all) in school. Underneath that screen are the 8-Ball rules which I always assumed were about two-shot penalties and not shooting backwards. But in Tanunda there are just three rules:




The Proclaimers sing that they are on their way. Like the Eagles. More blokes look wobbly. New arrivals check out the talent. Mr Charming (with chains) glides about. He even talks to me. I want to ask him if his name is Barry.

Josh Hunt makes a few errors. Ottens gets worse, until finally he makes a contribution by kicking  a goal from a free kick. His later contribution might get him three weeks.

My brothers, who are in the Valley for an anaesthetics conference, arrive. But there’s no reason to stay. We adjourn to digs to have a couple of ports and analyse the past, the present, and the future of the 2011 season.

Five minutes into the analysis and we have to re-analyse. The Cats are all over the Eagles, moving the ball like it’s 2007. It’s quite a comeback. And the mood changes. They could be closer. The Eagles are rattled. Have they run out of gas?

It continues in to the last quarter when the Cats become completely dominant. They keep going forward – and they keep missing, or squandering possibilities. Yet up the other end the Eagles are efficient. They look tired but each forward thrust results in a major (it seems).

I’m still confident, in the way I was confident in the St Kilda semi last year. I got that one wrong too. The Eagles hold on.

They deserve to win, in what was an unusual match.

What it all means is hard to fathom. Although I am one for watching footy in the moment. And so what it means is that the Cats have lost on an entertaining night in the Barossa Valley.

It’s a place I adore.



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 (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Phil Dimitriadis says

    “in the Valley for an anaesthetics conference”

    I imagine the Valley would be a perfect place for such a conference.

  2. Peter Flynn says

    Barrie rather than Barry I reckon.

    Hunt and Varcoe tested the patience.

    Chappy is becoming a bit of a last-quarter specialist and Bartel has been a little out-of-sorts.

    The Pod (who is doing well) needs help.

    The youngsters have just tapered off recently.

    Milburn as a forward?

  3. JTH, are your brothers musical at all? I always thought it would be great if there was a band called The Anaesthetists going around. A lot of radio DJs would have a hard time of announcing them.

    (Myself, I’ve been planning for years to put together a band called The Procrastinators, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.)

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Gigs, have you not seen the bumper sticker: “Procrastinate Now!”?

  5. Phil, I haven’t seen it. Might have to get one of those. I do have a sign in my rear window that says “BABY I’M BORED” though.

  6. Richard Naco says

    I was in a band called The Solipcistics, but I’m the only one left in it.

    Like most South Australians, I do remember going to the Valley many many times.

    I just don’t remember a single trip home from it though.

  7. Alovesupreme says

    You mentioned Phil Hermann in your recollections of the Valley cricket. Do you happen to know if he umpired football (my guess is at SANFL level)? An ex South Australian of that name umpired in our suburban comp in Melbourne.
    If we’re talking about the same bloke, I’ll try to make certain he sees this.

  8. johnharms says

    It may be. He was the local policeman. Phil Hermann was pretty sharp and could get the ball to move away off the seam, so he was too good for me. I reckon he squared me up quite a few times and got me a beauty on the inside of my right thigh one day. He was a real competitor, and a nice bloke.

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