Joel Selwood

For years we Cats fans wondered what the hell we’d done to deserve such outrageous fortune. If there were a way to lose, our beloved footy club would find it. That, I’m afraid, was our lot.

Yet, despite the suffering of many a crazy loss, we Cats fans stuck at it, determined to see it through, but wondering whether we would – or even could – win a flag again.

For years I watched all this from afar, until in 2003 we moved south to see what it was like to be immersed in the Melbourne footy culture.

Our presence seemed to make things worse.

The ridiculous Nick Davis semi in 2005, which I watched in the Rose Hotel in Fitzroy, sent us spiralling to a new low. More than ever, I felt like Geelong’s destiny was to play in losing finals, and to never know true joy. As John Cleese said (of Geelong?): “The despair I can handle, it’s the hope that kills me.”

In the week leading up to Swans game a couple of weeks ago, I fell asleep with the cricket on the radio and Fox Footy on the telly. I was woken up at about 3.30 to the roar of a crowd. It was the first of Nick Davis’s goals from that final quarter. Fox had scheduled a replay. Perversely, I watched the final 14 minutes, and I was reminded of life back then, and the cumulative forlorn misery of four decades.

Some things change.

It’s Saturday afternoon, a couple of weeks ago. I am with Mathilde, a Swans supporter who has come down from Sydney for the Geelong game. She is a convert, drawn to footy by its aesthetic beauty, its action, and the sense of hope and community it offers.

We join her friend Paul and jump on the train at Southern Cross, down through the working class suburbs of the west and across the Werribee Plain. It’s all so new for her.

Other friends – wizened Geelong like P. Flynn and J. Dunne who have populaed the outer since Paul Sarah was running around – join us at the Lord of the Isles for the pre-match ritual before we all wander across to the terrace where the good folk of Geelong have gathered since the club moved to Kardinia Park around the time of the Second World War. We are standing among fans from families whose support for the Cats goes back generations.

This is a significant match – for numerous reasons. There is the 2015 footy reason: the Cats are trying to stay in the race for the eight. There is the broader social and philosophical reason: Adam Goodes is returning to the game and I am hoping the Geelong crowd share the view that people have the freedom to be. And there is the favourite son reason: it’s Joel Selwood’s 200th game.

These reasons are all important to me. Especially the freedom to be – a given as far as I am concerned.

Joel Selwood’s 200th has been a little lost in proceedings. But not among the Geelong faithful who fully appreciate the significance of the moment, and understand the depth of his involvement and influence.

In Joel Selwood’s freedom to be, there is a football. He is a footballer. Football is at the heart of him. Not only that, for Geelong people he is one of the greatest footballers, one of the greatest clubmen, of all time. And he is still in his mid-20s.

To understand why he is so regarded, you have to put aside the position of the Geelong Football Club in 2015, and take yourself back to the state of battered uncertainty in which we festered in September, 2006. Geelong missed the finals that year; the coach was hanging on to his job; the players had ability but no authority, potential but only fleeting moments of belief. (Remember the West Coast game! We can laugh now but it wasn’t funny at the time.) The club was locked into a culture – and we fans reflected it.

What changed in 2007? Neil Balme came down the highway to run the footy department. Tom Harley was appointed captain. Bomber Thompson lifted his game. And a recruit with a dodgy knee limped in: Joel Selwood. His role should not be underestimated.

The Footy Almanac began in 2007. So it’s a chronicle of Joel Selwood’s footy life, a litany of great respect and affection from the beautiful writers, and a crime sheet for writers from other clubs.

To read those early reports is fascinating. He started his career with a loss to the Western Bulldogs when the wrong Johnson (Brad) kicked seven. (“Here we go again!”) In the second round Tom Hawkins made his debut. In Round 3, Joel Selwood was an emergency. Sitting in the stands, wolfing down a pie and a donut, he got the call that he was needed. He took off, togged up, and the Cats had a good win, with Tom Hawkins booting four in the first quarter and a bit.

I first really took notice of Joel Selwood in Geelong’s terrible home loss to North Melbourne in Round 5 which put the Cats 2-3. (“Here we go again, again!”) He was easily our best player. Of greater concern was that he was also easily our best leader that day. A few weeks shy of his 19th birthday! From then on, my eye was drawn to him.

Others also spotted him. At the MCG one Saturday afternoon against Collingwood (the day Frank Costa sorted out the train strike), a 20 year old uni student behind me, already besotted, just watched Joel Selwood all afternoon. As the young mid-fielder made position, or was about to close, or was about to get involved, this young bloke would just start saying, “Joel Selwood. Joel Selwood, Joel Selwood” and young No. 14 would wind up with the footy.

The Cats got on a roll that famous year. Joel Selwood became a fixture in the side. The rest is history.

From the outset, Joel Selwood has been an inspiration, a young man with belief and a capacity to lead; a magnificent player who has helped change the way Geelong play footy. He is driven, not by mere performance and the playing the game, he is driven by victory.

He has added steel to the Geelong side – over nearly a decade. When the Cats need a lift he is the one to win the Sherrin in the middle. He is the one to bring others into the game. Joel Selwood is the most influential player of his generation. The Cats have won three flags which still has some of us shaking our heads in gratitude.

Joel Selwood showed us cultural change is possible. No wonder people stayed to cheer him off after the Swans, having led Geelong to another fine victory.

No-one left. It was one of the most heartfelt chairings I have seen.

Joel Selwood: champion.

We headed home on the train. Mathilde had seen a bit of Geelong life. Different now. We’re OK.


ALMANAC LUNCH with Darren Flanigan this Friday Aug 28, 12.30 for 1pm at the Royal Melbourne Hotel, 629 Bourke St. $50/$40. Two courses. Drinks at bar prices. RSVP please.


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 three. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. JTH – Selwood does hold a place at Geelong that is special and probably unique. He helped drag an immensely talented Geelong side to the table of self belief, but is finding the weight of dragging this current side to be a heavy burden.

    I can’t think of many other footballers who have played with such drive and intent. And skill. Bravo Joel!

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Selwood is unique he is the best player ever at getting low to the ground so subsequently you hear the
    Duckwood crap.we all must wonder how his body is coping with the battering it gets but if as expected the cats add,Dangerfield how much it will help,Selwood and the cats to come back in to premiership calculations ?

  3. Dips,
    Selwood must be prying that Dangerfield comes to Geelong.
    That would really free up Selwood to get his second wind.

  4. JTH – as the second of “a set” with PJFlynn’s Jonno piece, I should say that this Collingwood frame reacts very differently to J Selwood.
    I love watching Jonno.
    The cheekiness.
    The “anything is possible,” “Watch this” persona.

    J Selwood frustrates me.
    I see him as a warrior; in more of a “damn that Selwood” kind of way.
    (in the voice of Jerry Seinfeld when he again sees his postie Newman).
    Picking himself up off the bottom of a pack, Swan and Pendlebury thwarted again… “Selwood.”

    Disbelief at his hoodwinking of umpires and shrugging shoulders.
    Amazement at what must be his accumulated scar tissue above each eye.
    But, yes, respect for the leadership he undoubtedly shows among 18 other young men.
    More of a Kingswood than a Ferrari.
    A beauty.

    Loved the train across the Werribee plains.

  5. jan courtin says

    Thanks for the reminder: “The ridiculous Nick Davis semi in 2005”

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    A lovely re-live, weeks later JTH.
    Is that where that train went?

    I’ve never loved Selwood, but gee I can imagine how you folk adore him. And admire his strength, of will as much as body. He is indeed like the unflashy steel girder that holds up the structural wall. I do however love Tom Harley …

    So many other good questions here JTH, about the potential for cultural change, about how we chronicle and account for, and especially the one about what your own ‘freedom to be’ might be.

    Do you think Tiger fans are feeling a bit Cleese-ish?

  7. Next year you will have 2 Selwoods by volume; and 1.1 by talent. Good luck.
    At least the Eagles are keeping the smart one, Adam, to be our next coach after the Simpson Era.

  8. Peter Flynn says

    Follow me boys and I’ll get us home.

    That’s Selwood I reckon.

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says
  10. Added steel to the team. Never thought of it like that, can’t believe I hadn’t. Can’t believe he’s not universally respected…..but then I can’t stand Sam Mitchell. Each to their own. Well played Harms

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