How the Pies keep bookies in European cars

Friday night on a crisp Canberra evening. Greeting-card sunset. Chill in the air. The High Court and the National Library looking US-grand behind the autumn reds and yellows of the trees across the Burley-Griffin’s lake.

In Melbourne, people bustle. A sense of happy urgency prevails. They are invoking their footy plans (which I’ve been cc-ed into all week, much to my frustration) for what is to be one of the games of the season so far: Geelong and Collingwood at the MCG.

Friends (of mine, and each other) meet at the Windsor and other watering holes. They dive in to Maroondah Highway fish and chip shops en route to their dormitory homes. What did we do before mobile phones? (“How many potato cakes should I get?”)

In Canberra the true believers know what a real sports night it is; a real footy night. And they have plans. Like nineteenth century missionaries in Istanbul. Only I wish Canberra was Istanbul.

A bloke has popped in to Manning Clark House to say he’s off to Ainslie Footy Club, another group of mates is going to Eastlake. The Canberra Cats have organized a gathering to cheer the boys on. (Many have made the trip to Melbourne.)

I’m watching it in front of the fire.

I spend the footy season mucking around with the Betfair AFL premiership market. It’s busy enough that your bets will be matched if you are patient. (Over $1 million has been traded so far).

I have been laying Western Bulldogs and (especially) Collingwood.

Geelong is backed in the hours before the game and get into $3.65. But so is Collingwood, and at one point during the opening quarter, when the ball follows Ben Johnson around like he’s Peter Featherby and the Pies show they will be competitive throughout (and possibly win) you can lay them at $3.65 as well. I look for every remaining dollar available. I even check under the couch cushions.

The Pies premiership price doesn’t change in the opening minutes. They kick the first goal in no time. They could win.

It’s hard to read from the TV but it looks like neither side can penetrate centre half forward and a stalemate exists.

But still the Pies price sits there, just under $4.

I don’t understand it. They just don’t look too flash on paper, but they keep winning. It seems that famous Friday night a couple of years ago just can’t be erased from the footy memory.

I prefer to recall last year’s Preliminary Final, a slaughter which surely violated a number of the Geneva Conventions.

The AFL rub their hands together. For about the fourth time this season already they have a top-of-the-ladder, one v two fixture.

And the MCG looks chockers. This is what Melbourne is about.

There’s about the same amount of room on the paddock. Neither side seems willing to commit numbers forward. A goal each. It’s dour, but intriguing. And this will probably suit Collingwood, in the way 0-0 at the 85 minute-mark suits Bury against their Manchester neighbours (in recent times at least).

How will the game be broken open? Johnno: give us something. G. Ablett? Didak?

Kelly gets plenty of it, but turns it over. Hawkins roams like a Labrador off the leash. The Cats sneak away with a couple of goals.

Mark Blake does a terrific job in the ruck. He wins the hit-outs, and around the ground he grows secure in the secure knowledge that no-one opponent will come near him. He shows the ball and Pies run away. His faking creates Red-Sea paths the like of which I haven’t seen since mid-career Michael Jordan.

As the Cats look like they’ll go into half-time with a handy (but unconvincing break) Dayne Beams lands a couple of goals. The first comes from a Josh Hunt moment. The defender makes up ground to spoil brilliantly and then botches his clearance, which turns into an un-clearance, and Beams scores.

The fluctuations are lovely. While the Cats are on top they are in to $3.40 while the Pies are out to $4.10 (if you wanted to cash in). As the lads eat Snakes and banana sandwiches in the sheds the Pies come in to $3.85 again.

Collingwood come out strongly and lead. But somewhere along the way Bomber Thompson’s power of observation tells him that the Pies aren’t so good, just desperate and determined and very Collingwood. So some license is given and the Cats run freely for a while.

Travis Varcoe is superb, demanding the footy. In the past he has left you with the distinct impression that he thought others had the right to the Sherrin, and that his lot was to tackle and block and shepherd. But since returning from injury he has looked a more mature player. Quick. And creative. He and Stokes play important roles in this match.

The usual suspects perform well for the Cats, although a special mention should go to James Podsiadly and Cameron Mooney who give the Cats the sort of structure which has served them so well over the past three seasons. A couple of the Cats end-to-end goals had a bit of the 2007 Grand Final about them.

Bomber wins the tactical battle on the night. His use of Matthew Scarlett, who is allowed numerous uncontested possessions, is important at times.

But it is a general all-round performance, which sets things straight again.

By game’s end the Cats are $3.15 for the flag, and the Pies $4.50. By night’s end the Cats are $3.05 and the Pies are momentarily $5.50. They have settled at about $5.30 this week.

Australian bookmakers have purchased European vehicles on the back of a few local entities: Greg Norman in majors, Chief de Beers at Eagle Farm, and the Pies to win the flag.

To me the Collingwood Football Club is perennially under the odds, which is why we should all have a Betfair account.

I just hope no-one takes any notice and Pie fans just keep taking the price on offer.

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. JTH – I’m interested to get your vibe from the couch. Being at the ground I had a strange sense of calm for most of the night – the Cats always looked a bit better even when they were behind. Though with Collingwood you can never be certain you’ve killed them off. Bit like European wasps. Was the couch a stressful place or calm?

  2. johnharms says

    Couch was calm Dips. Throughout.

    The thing that made me calm was that the Cats were getting more than their share of the footy but using it poorly in the first half. I assumed that would improve, and it did.

    I thought it was a game they would have to lose to lose, rather than the Pies win.

  3. John Butler says


    From an unaffiliated couch position, the first quarter seemed quite strange.

    Players kept making mistakes from what seemed inferred pressure, rather than direct physical pressure- as though everyone was zoning off slightly and confusion reigned as a result.

    Later on, the tackling increased, and it seemed just a matter of the Cats ceasing to butcher the ball going into half forward.

    Did it seem a high pressure game if you were there live?

  4. johnharms says

    Dips, vibe from the couch also included bathing and dressing children, trying to consume a can of Toohey’s new, and take a few notes. This demanded considerable concentration and will to watch.

  5. How things have changed! Pre 2007 I would have been a nervous wreck all night, now I believe they are always good enough to win. Have we become like the Hawk supporters of the 1980s?

    JB – was a high pressure game but the crowd was strangely subdued. Maybe because of the relatively low scoring? Maybe because the game didn’t live up to the hype?

  6. Tony Robb says

    So John. Having recently opened up an Betfair account and being dazed and by the array of choice and confused by the option ie how do you do a multi? Waht is simple terms is the biggest valur with Betfair over say Centrebet to which I have contributed a small fortune over 15 yrs but has attractive things like best of the best price on the horses

  7. johnharms says


    I reckon I was one of their earliest Aust customers. I just loved that the prices offered tended to be over the odds, and way over the odds for longer priced conveyances.

    Check out AFL flag betting, and French open betting.

    Also, the ability to trade. Back and lay. eg I laid Collingwood at $3.65 Q1 Friday night and backed them again at $4.50 (Q4) and again at $5.50 (now), for an obvious result. And there were various smaller trades in between.

    The abiltiy to lay a few horses in one event and manage your own position in relation to square is also a key asset.

    It just takes time.

    I haven’t explored Betfair multis so much.

    However I have taken TAB quaddies and then laid one-outs to very good effect.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says


    it was a night when the Cat’s intuitive footy triumphed over the Pies’ regimented Buffalo Gals style. Until we learn to play instinctively we will not win a flag. At least it was a six goal improvement on last year’s Prelim.

  9. There’s no team that could currently go head-to-head with the Cats playing intuitive footy. It would end up being a blow out. That’s why Hawthorn (Clarko’s cluster) and Saints (Lyon’s Den) have come up with ugly regimented footy to try to counter them, with some success (we will never get over 2008). But I agree that intutive footy is the way to go or as Bomber puts it, it is “the right way to play footy.” And the stas show it. Bomber unashamedly moulded the Cats on Brisbane who he though played footy the way it should be played. Cats possess it a bit more but essential game style remains. Down the guts and try to find an option forward but if none then long and fast to a contest. I think proof that its the right way to play footy is that Brisbane and Geelong played in 7 grand finals between them for 5 wins in the noughties. Based on this, I see Melbourne and Essendon looming as the possible next big things.

  10. JTH,

    Eastlake Football Club – young player called Riley McMahon – loves the Cats – mother loves the Pies – Her maiden name was Delahunty and she grew up in Melb.

    The question is. Would he have any sort of a footy or political petigree?

  11. Andrew Fithall says

    Phantom. Not knowing anything other than your point 10 reference, My guess is the mother would be Helen (sister of Mary) and the father Damian (Bloater). Not a lot of sporting pedigree on either side, but fine people nevertheless.

  12. johnharms says

    Will look out for them.

    I know Vin and Leo and that crew who are the Murtoa cousins. Met them all as a result of our horse running second in a Murtoa maiden in 1996.

    Yes, mighty fine people, if they’re like the D’s I know.

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