Grand Final Day Infirmity

By Manning Clark (circa 1981)

Manning Clark at the podium, George Harris Stand, circa 1981. On the head table is, (left to right), Carlton General Manager Ian Collins, Avco Chief Brian Sixmith, Carlton President Ian Rice, Senior Coach David Parkin, Chairman of Selectors Wes Lofts, fellow Carlton Directors Bruce Comben, John Minuzzo, Kevin Hall and Peter Jones, and football manager Shane O'Sullivan - Carlton Football Club image.


On the last Saturday of September every year many of the inhabitants of Melbourne, and indeed of the whole of Australia and even in foreign lands, are stricken with a strange infirmity.

Over 100,000 gather in an enclosed space mistakenly known as the Melbourne Cricket Ground. There for two and a half hours they lose the appearance of human beings and become like beasts of the field. They growl, they roar, they bellow, they yell and they howl while 36 Wagnerian Godlings compete with each other for possession of a leather ball.

So far, no one has been able to explain how or why this extraordinary cult came to be. No one has been able to explain why a game of football should along with ANZAC Dy and Melbourne Cup Day, be for so many Australians the ‘One Day Of The Year’. No one has been able to explain why the game stirs such emotions in the hearts of those who see it and those hundreds of thousands elsewhere who hang on the news of the result.

The psychologists, especially the sniffers for evidence of human indecency, talk about sadism: the historians talk of leisure made possible by the industrial revolution; the moralisers rave on about madness in the hearts of men; advocates of social change thunder about sport becoming corrupted by consumerism and commercialism. The youths of ancient Greece, they say, wore garlands on their heads: the youths of Melbourne wear a Coca-Cola hat band, or caps with such vulgar captions scrawled on them as Blues or Magpies.

Spectator sport, the frowners say, is one of the symptoms of a sick society, a society that has lost its way. We live in an age of ruins, and this annual contest between two football teams is our bread and circuses, evidence that the barbarians are not far away, or maybe are even here, and that we are so befuddled by the constant titillation of our senses that we cannot even see what is before our eyes.

I suppose we should be grateful to those self-appointed improvers of mankind and all the spiritual bullies who tell us what to think and do. Ever since the 1920s, I have suffered an attack of this strange infirmity on Grand Final day.

Happily for me, ever since 1937 I only get a bad attack when Carlton is in the Grand Final. One of the many virtues of the Carlton players over the years is they do give their supporters years in which they can convalesce and strengthen themselves for another bout of the strange malady. The truth is: I love it. I love it to that point of madness of repeating the words of the popular song ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing/Although you’re leading me to ruin. Just keep on doing what you’re doing. ‘Cos I love what you’re doing to me.’ I love every minute of it.

So today, as happily Carlton has once more made it, I shall be there for a good wallow, an emotional bath of agony and ecstasy. There will be much of both. If the game is close, there may be more than I can endure in my season of the sere and the yellow leaf.

There will be so much to enjoy. If the weather is right, if it is one of those halcyon spring days in Australia when you have the feeling you can see for ever, and if Carlton plays well, and if I can silence that fear that what matters most in life does not happen very often, then there will be moments of wild ecstasy.

There will be the wit of the crowd. I know the occasion is a field day for Ockers and Ockerinas of Australia. After all, we are the spiritual heirs of the mockers of Botany Bay. I know many absurd things will be shouted at the players. Some players will be accused, strangely, of being ‘bloody poofters’. Men of great courage and physical strength will be exhorted to ‘take their corsets off and get in to the game.’ All the absurdity of human passions will be there in excess.

There will be magical moments rather like an epiphany. There will be that moment a few minutes before half-past two when above the great roar of the crowd you can still hear old-timers calling out loud the words, ‘Here comes Carlton’ – that moment when tears are inclined to roll down the cheeks if one allows oneself to be too carried away. There will be, you hope, scenes to remember for a life-time.

At times it will seem that the mysterious powers in charge of the universe have suspended the laws of nature to enable David Mackay or Peter Bosustow to leap so high off the ground. There will be many of those moments when Peter Moore or Alex Marcou tuck the ball under the left arm and go for a run while the crowd shouts, ‘He’s off.’ There will be moments when Ricky Barham bounces the ball and glances back over his left shoulder like a schoolboy wondering whether one of the masters is looking.

There could be moments of terrible agony. It is possible that scores will be level as the game enters the time-on period in the last quarter. Then none of the wisdom of the ages will help. Saying to myself, Be still my soul. It will only be for a moment, does not help. Nothing helps, except the siren – and that seems like an eternity away.

Anguish or ecstasy or despair, I propose to do it again. Like my fellow-barrackers, I am an incurable sufferer from the strange infirmity of Grand Final day. There will be time to recuperate, time during the long, hot summer. To get ready for more of the same. Then as the days grow hot, and the fish again start to bite at Wapengo on the far south coast of New South Wales, I can convalesce and strengthen myself for the next time when the Carlton players make me feel as though my love has come to me.



  1. Rocket Nguyen says

    As CMH Clark wrote in one of his volumes, A History of Australia,
    “Australia did not have a Paris commune, instead it created Australian Rules Football in it’s own image”

  2. This, too, is why I love the Almanac…

  3. I’m assuming Clark gave this speech on Grand Final day 1981 in which case I guess he would have felt that his “love had come to him” later that day, although not before a few moments of “terrible agony” when Collingwood took a decent lead during the 3rd quarter.

    For what it’s worth, I stood on the Southern Stand wing that day and my most vivid memory of the “absurdity of human passions” was when a group of about 20 young men from one of the university colleges turned up during the curtain-raiser and proceeded to belt out a succession of well-rehearsed, highly melodic but thoroughly obscene songs. After several round of these ditties, the surrounding crowd couldn’t help but join in. Under the low roof of the standing room area, the noise was deafening and the experience for a rather naive 17 year old, exhilarating.

    As pre-game entertainment, I’ve never known better. I think Manning Clark would have approved.

  4. Mark Doyle says

    A good read Mr or Mrs Admin. Rocket, I too remember Manning Clark’s quote. I am also reminded of Manning Clark’s monday lectures at the ANU 40 odd years ago. When Carlton won he would wear his Carlton footy club jumper and entertain us on the history of the Carlton Footy Club. I also knew another historian at the ANU named John Ritchie who used to tell us after sunday mass of entertaining afternoons at the Clark household watching the VFL live telecast and kicking the footy on the street at half time. My friends and I had a similar ritual at Telopea Park, Barton. Where are the contemporary academic footy tragics like Manning Clark and Ian Turner. Ian Turner’s Ron Barassi Memorial Lectures at Monash were also good value.

  5. Mark,

    There are plenty of footy fans in the academy, and some are even researching in the area of Football Studies. Some write for this site – Dave Nadel, Joy Damousi, Tony Roberts, Ian Syson (all codes), John Weldon. As well there are many in other university departments.

    If you read the 6-volume history you can tell CMH Clark is a frustrated sportswriter at heart. So many footy and cricket references. Clark lived both sports. he was a first class cricketer, and sec of the Uni of Melb CC. He started life as a Geelong supporter but being on campus in the 1930s he switched to Carlton. His son Rowland tells the story (in the 2010 Almanac) if the family jumping in the car and driving from Canberra to Princes Park – and Manning getting speeding fines. He really loved Carlton and he really loved footy.

    Mark, I am also reminded of John Molony, brother of Carlton player, Brian. John is a distinguished Australian historian and footy fan.

  6. Alovesupreme says

    As you’re no doubt aware, Manning played a few matches for Oxford University, including against the might of Yorkshire, who boasted Hutton, Sutcliffe, Leyland, Bowes and Verity.
    I have a lovely recollection of his appearing on whatever Lateline was then called with David Kemp (later Federal Minister, but then in the Politics Dept. at Monash), in the early stages of the 1983 election campaign. I suppose Richard Carleton was the interviewer. At the conclusion of the segment Carleton mentioned with amusement that while they were waiting for the interview to begin, Manning had tapped Kemp on the knee to tell him he’d played cricket against Kemp’s father at Melbourne Uni.

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