In praise of the Red Lions and varsity footy


Tomorrow, at O’Callaghan Park in Brisbane, the University of Queensland FC, will play in their first Grand Final in 27 years. The mighty Red Lions will not only play in the seniors (against Coorparoo), but the reserves as well (against Caloundra).


To kick the day off they are having a breakfast at the Norman Hotel. After extended negotiations they have signed as the guest-speaker former player Derek Humphery-Smith in a front-ended deal which will see the last payment made to Derek in September 2018.


Derek will no doubt tell the tale of his stellar football career as a Twiggy-Dunne style centre half-forward, a career cut down so tragically by injury (in-grown toe-nails I’m reliably informed).


But Queensland footy’s loss was the AFL umpiring panel’s gain. Derek was a trail-blazer of umpiring, a pea-blower before his time. He pioneered the recalled bounce one Saturday afternoon at the MCG when the contesting ruckman finally weren’t sure whether Derek had bounced the Sherrin or was just passing it to one of the boundary umpires to wipe the seagull poop off it.


Retired from umpiring, he now plays golf for Lander & Rogers, a reputable legal firm in Bourke Street, and can be heard bullying David Schwarz into intellectual submission with the tools of his trade – logic, reason, and a basic Churchie vocabulary – on Radio SEN. There are those at the North Fitzroy Arms, where I like to have a beer and put my footy tips in, who believe, like Anthony Mundine, Derek might pick his targets more carefully.


Derek is an inspired choice of speaker on such a momentous occasion, as he represents the Humphery-Smiths, a fine red Lions family. Although, I must say, I always assumed DHS was an only child until, in passing, he mentioned his brother.


No doubt DHS will tap in to the traditions of varsity sport. He knows that there is something quite special about a university sports club, especially a footy club.


Around the nation, uni footy clubs are playing in finals, when for just a moment they put their sense of the absurd aside (that grown men are fighting in the mud for a pig-skin full of air), and get fair dinkum.


In Adelaide various Uni Blacks teams are playing finals. They are a great club sustained by the spirit of Dr Bob Neil, once a legendary seventh grade player who wore grey shorts so he didn’t have to change home or away, who sold all his raffle tickets, who could spear a keg, and who is now a high-ranking defence mathematician charged with the responsibility of solving the simultaneous equations which keep the nation safe. Their sides have names. Their Division C1 (15th grade) side is called the Chardys (The Chardonnay Socialists) and even further down in the grades The Scum play.


Recently the ANU FC – the Griffins – celebrated their 50th anniversary. Australian historian John Moloney proposed the toast to the club on what was a classic night. He captured the essence of a varsity club:


“I boast, but only slightly,” he admitted, “when I say that in the whole history of sporting endeavour no club has poured scorn and biting invective on the supporters and players of other clubs with greater wit, magnanimous acceptance of defeat and dignified but total lack of restraint in an occasional victory than the supporters, many of them academics, of ANU.”


Their famous club song is a hymn to triumphalism and self-abuse, and refers to the puds of all those who play for the blue and whites. Men of conscience may have felt the obligation to attend the confessional having claimed their appendages were of dimensions more likely to be associated with West Indian cricketers than players in a cold-climate footy club.


Many of these men have gone on to leading positions in the fields of endeavour which make up the life of the nation.


Similarly in Melbourne there has been a tradition of playing footy – University had a club in the VFL before the First World War. Now all the campuses field teams from (Melbourne) Uni Blues in A Section Ammos to La Trobe Uni who won one of the divisions in the VWFL.


And there has been a tradition of watching footy, especially at Princes Park. Just as some scholars are late-converts to Catholicism, it seems Princes Park could turn the most ardent fan to the Blues. Manning Clark and Don Watson both started life as Geelong supporters, but wound up loving the banter of the Princes Park terrace so much, with its gathering of poets and playwrights, philosophers and writers and piss-pots, they were converted to Carlton, although Don will tell you that these days he barracks for football.


So tomorrow the Red Lions of UQ strap on the boots representing the magnificent tradition of erudite three-quarter time addresses, of students of law happy to dish out some of their own justice in the back pocket, of medical students conducting anatomical experiments at the bottom of packs, of history students baffling their opponents with Hegelian trash-talk on the wing.


No doubt we will be attacked and abused for being the long-haired, pinko, poofta Commies we’ve always been.


I say ‘we’ because I am a Red Lion. Just as Olympians are never known as former-Olympians, I remain a Red Lion, for those half a dozen games I played in 1980. I can remember at least four of them, in particular the one-point victory in the mud at Strathpine (which is a story for another day), and the 156-point drubbing we copped at Mt Gravatt when at 5’9” and 67kg (and, at 17 years of age, still growing) I was sent out after half-time to stop the big centre half-forward, possibly in Brisbane on the run from H Division. “I get paid to play, you know,” he grunted. To which I stupidly pointed out that they were wasting their money because he was in the seconds, a comment which precipitated him standing on my foot and pushing me up and down like one of those blow-up clowns you get from service stations.


So I have played centre half back for the Red Lions.


And that makes me spiritually connected to all who run on to O’Callaghan Park tomorrow.


I wish them all the best.



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. Rocket Nguyen says

    Great news about the Red Lions Darky – but more research required for a HD

    Sydney Uni take on North Shore in the Sydney AFL’s semi final this weekend.

    Alas CSU Bushpigs beaten by North Wagga at Ardelthan Sportsground last Saturday – but held their own in the half-time brawl … usually uni clubs are monstered by the opposition

    Meanwhile the New England Nomads will take on the Tamworth Kangaroos tomorrow for a place in the grand final at No 1 Oval Tamworth – the venue SMH journalist Roy Master’s lamented in last week’s column had been taken over by AFL. No rugby league played there now – ground shared by the Roos and the Swans which features a new pavilion.

    When Tamworth first started back in the 70s in the Armidale Uni comp they played on the miniscule No 2 oval and we had to get changed in the public toilets.

    Good luck to all the uni teams this weekend

    1,2,3 the uni boys are we……………………….

  2. Thanks Rocket. No doubt there’s some Perth mail etc.

  3. John,

    I am the youngest of the current UQ Red Lion senior players throwing on the boots tomorrow to go 4 rounds, in what may feel like a heavyweight fight against Mike Tyson, to win what some may call a football game but many more call ultimate glory.

    It is astonishing to find all the anonymous supporters and former club players that exist all around the world. We are privileged to have heard from a great many Red lions over the last couple of weeks and are happy to carry the hopes of the club tomorrow.

    Considering that in February the club house and field were both under 8 foot of water and we did not return to training on the hallowed turf of Oval 7 at St Lucia until our first home game in April it has been one of those years everyone will look back at with that sense of nostalgic pride. If successful tomorrow some may compare us to the success of the New Orleans’ Saints at Super Bowl XLIV after the devastation of hurricane Katrina, I admit not many will come to this conclusion but I have, and in that sense of achievement will lie an epic tale to be recited at pubs all around the world for many years to come.

    So get down to O’Callaghan Park tomorrow at Zillmere to watch the two Red Lion teams in their respective grand finals and in your next offsiders appearance John you can wear your old Red Lions Guernsey and send a shout out to your old victorious club.

  4. Waz Derrick says

    Awesome post Kenty! And a great article Mr Harms.

    My background with the Red Lions is very different to Nick’s or Johns. I’ve been involved with UQ Red Lions since about 2007 with most of that time being spent as a volunteer. I tried to play the game, but realized very early that I just didn’t have the body to endure it. This season, from the eyes of who pretty much stared from the outside looking in, has definately been an amazing year for the club. We’ve had some fairly testing times, there has been some issues, there have been some bad times, but there have also been some really great times.

    For the entire club, tomorrow represents a years journey through the rough and the good. As a club, in my opinion, it has been an amazing year. As Nick pointed out, old Red Lions are re-establishing links and supporting the club, our seniors and reserves have blitzed the competition incredibly. Tomorrow, you’ll have all the boys playing, those who missed out on selection, those sadly injuried, plus another division of Red Lions players that did it rough throughout the year.

    For me personally, tomorrow will be what I’ve always wanted to happen…. One Uni, One Culture, One Club……

  5. Alovesupreme says

    A complete listing of the Victorian Amateurs still in contention from the lowest Grade up:
    Swinburne Uni v Richmond Centrals (Division 4 Preliminary Final)
    Monash Gryphons v Ivanhoe (Division 3 1st Semi Final); University High School-Victoria University lost last week’s elimination final in this grade.
    Division 2: Latrobe University finished 5th, their Reserves were eliminated in last week’s 1st semi.
    Premier C: Monash Blues’ Seniors and Reserves finished out of the placings.
    Premier B: Uni Blacks faded from 4th in the last couple of rounds to mss the finals. Their Reserves also missed 4th by half a game.
    Premier A: Uni Blues v Old Xavierians 1st semi-final, and will go in as underdogs. Blues’ Reserves lost only one game, and play the 2nd semi also against Xavs.

    As a member of the white mongrel fraternity, it comes as no surprise that even some-one as forthright as DHS would be reluctant to acknowledge his brother. As I understand it, most footy followers don’t think of us emerging from a institution as wholesome as a family, so it’s unfair to drag anyone with the misfortune to be related to us, into the schemozzle.

  6. Any news on the game?

  7. Rocket Nguyen says

    Hi Gus,

    mate of mine who was rover in Red Lions premiership team 27 years ago tells me the boys went down to Cooraparoo (now the Kings, once were mighty Roos under Laurie Pendrick).

    meanwhile Sydney Uni beat the loathed North Shore to play Balmain (now Dockers – should have to relocate now that they are not Tigers…) in the preliminary final. two things you must do if you live in Balmain: vote Labour and follow the Tigers!

    Wollongong Uni have been on top all season in South Coast comp but can’t locate results.

  8. Michael Power says

    John Harm’s story from the Footy Almanac
    reminds me of one of my first games for UQ reserves when we played against a team stacking its reserves for eligibility for the finals. When I joined UQAFC in 1972 we weren’t yet called the Red Lions . That came a couple of years later after a long stopover at the Red Lion Hotel, Glencoe, on the way back from playing against University of New England. But that is another 10 stories. Anyway, a 63 kg 175 cm short-sighted ex rugby hooker/winger (I had the speed of a hooker, the build of a winger, and the kick of any number of rugby forwards) seeking to convert to Rules found it was hard to get a game early on. But Uni were a very friendly club and after wining and dining me at the Royal Exchange Beer Garden; Bruce (Pork E) Prosser and Gary Poopsie Miller promised me a start. My big chance came against Deagon, during exams, when half the team disappeared. I got to play alongside Pork E in the back line. He told me I just had to mind the rover and an occasional tired ruckman. That was the day Deagon stacked their team and as my luck would have it, a particularly tall soldier from First Grade decided to rest the whole game in the forward pocket. Pork E was fully occupied with his “double” so I learnt how to cope with defeat in an extended lesson. The resting Rover never arrived and I spent 100 minutes being stood on, towered over, pushed out and clocked on the head with an elbow. It was a rough intro to the team and game I came to love over 11 seasons and 130 games. Coaches Tommy Keay and Bill Vivian never taught me any finesse but they did teach me to try my hardest, spoil like crazy and chase down that ball before some big bugger got it. I was ironed out only once in 11 years (by a S Brisbane Ruckman; O Boy!) and even got a best and fairest in my 4th season, so the mentoring by Pork E returned good interest on the free chips and beer at the RE that “O” week in ’72.
    Friar Mick Power No. 55 1972 – 82

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