JOHN HARMS: Daff’s thoroughly modern buck’s night

A buck’s day can be a very good thing. A very good thing.

I’ve been to a few – all pretty tame affairs, by yobbo Australian standards. Thankfully. (Like the night I had a rest from the card table to find many of the other lads watching Sound of Music on TV.)

My own started at the Shield final at the Gabba and turned into a night at Silks at the Albion Park trots. It was also the Canterbury Guineas night meeting: Universal Prince was hot favourite. But we paid for the day many times over when seasoned campaigner Shogun Lodge, resuming, won the sprint at 25/1. (He ran second, a nose to Sunline in the Doncaster on the day The Handicapper and I were married, and Geelong got flogged by Essendon in the opening round of the season.)

One of my favourite buck’s days was for a bloke called Choiv, who had his at the First Test of the 98-99 Ashes series. His mother-in-law-to-be was waiting at the Stanley St gate at stumps and whisked him away from what turned into a big night – without him.

Another favourite was the night the stripper-to-the-suburban-house was ordered out of some mindless male duty to the prescribed order of buck’s day festivities. I recall sitting at the laminex table with a piece of capricciosa in my hand as my dear friend I. Lamb (Australia) – who played a few (television) games at full back for Eastern Suburbs (and will show you the videos) in the BRL – asked, “How did you get into stripping?” She was making a big effort at the time. She’d carefully placed the ghetto-blaster (as they were called in those days) on the lino, got the tape cranking, and was in the process of removing kit. But I. Lamb’s line of questioning killed all mood and eventually it was decided she put the tassled cow-girl’s button-up back on and have a couple of bits of pizza herself. It was memorable.

Then there is The Spring Carnival, which is littered with the living corpses of blokes down from the bush on buck’s days. Specially-made T-shirts on. Silly hats worn with dead man’s jackets (dull blue with wide lapels) from Vinnies at St Arnaud. And that even sillier sensibility that blokes get when they are traveling together on an aircraft or better (worse?) still a hired bus (with designated driver). “Fang it,” someone will be heard saying; the two most common words heard inside hire vehicles.

I recall another Gabba buck’s day of blokes from Newcastle (“The girls went south and we came north”). The Novacastrians had gone to a lot of trouble with the T-shirts which were individually named on the front with a sort of spreadsheet on the back. Down the left hand column were the names (You had your Nugget, your Macca, your Robbo, your Muzza, your Chucker et al, and of course you had The Buck) and then each column had a figure for odds in it. So across the top were choice categories like ‘First spew’ (Chucker was 4/7) and ‘First refusal’ (which I took to be a drinking term with equestrian origins) and the most choice of the headings: ‘First shag’. Interestingly The Buck was at unbackable odds for that, and their was even some suggestion from a few of the boys that the bookies had already paid out, which was quite impressive given they’d been in town all of 12 hours. A bloke called Goodyear was at 365/1 for “First shag.” Not being a commonly offered price I inquired why he was at $365. I was told that if he happens to find the woman of his dreams once a year then it’s a good year.

There was none of this stuff going on at The Park Hotel, just up the road from The Sullivans’ pub, in Abbotsford on Saturday evening for Paul Daffey’s buck’s party. I was down from Canberra for the occasion.

Daff has played with a lot of footy clubs over the years, and has written about many more, and has a rather fat address book. Being a particularly loyal character Daff invited most of this address book to his party and so for a few hours Abbotsford held the record for the finest collection of blokes-aging-poorly in the history of the planet.

However, they did like footy. And so after the parmas were downed, and the red drained, the boys wandered back to the front bar to watch Essendon and Carlton over a few cleansers.

Which is what I want to talk to you about. (Those recognizing the Alice’s Restaurant format of this piece are to be congratulated).

Because this fixture, between traditional rivals, was a thoroughly modern game of football. Some would say painstakingly modern, the only thing redeeming it being that it was a genuine contest.

But for forty-somethings brought up on the sanctity of centre-half-forward (the position) and the deity of  blokes like Dermie and Barry Stoneham, TD and Vander, and the preponderance of blokes walking around with their hands on their hips after the 19-minute mark of the first quarter, it was a test.

It started well enough with the Jobe Watson, who defies trends, playing like it was Dimboola in 1968. He pirouetted as gracefully as a surveyor changing the direction of a theodolite. And plodded. But two blind turns beat the paddock; one resulting in a goal to Lovett-Murray who smiled at the beauty of it all.

The maverick Watson led like a country captain-coach all night. I was waiting for an old-fashioned Dick Reynolds baulk.

That was unlikely in a high-pressure match that turned in to a two-headed rolling zone, throughout which the ring-a-ring-a-rosy skirmishes happened wherever players congregated. It was truly ugly in one sense, particularly when pressured handballs missed targets. All choked. Yet occasionally a defender would over-commit, and the Chinese Checkers opportunity would be presented.

I sometimes sit on the 112 tram wondering what would happen if no defenders were drawn lemming-like into the handball smother, and for a while all just stood off. Whether we would be returned to the Seven Seconds of Corey Jones. That infamous day at Manuka when Geelong, trailing by five goals, decided not to approach Corey Jones, who stood touching the pill on the ground for an eternity on the back flank.

The other thing that made this Essendon-Carlton game thoroughly modern – apart from the fact that players all look the same to a bloke who grew up with Gary Cowton, Mick Nolan and Scratcher Neal – is the zone-beaten goal. These are destined to be a blight on the game. They were scored in matches right across the round (with the exception of the Freo-Geelong game which had its origins in the 1980s). These are goals where the infallible zone is proven to be fallible. And three attackers are suddenly 40 metres in the clear.

Chris Yarran kicked a classic of the genre in the first quarter, and there were others, but I can’t decipher my notes after Freo Neil arrived and started ordering Bundy.

These are ridiculous games, and there will be plenty of them, if something isn’t done. I’m pretty tolerant but it’s going to take the stealth of eight games a weekend before I’m converted. And then I probably won’t even realize.

Which makes me ask: why wouldn’t those who administer the game try to keep it as the great game we knew – for that period which conicided almost precisely with the existence of the Berlin Wall.

The thoroughly modern game is a new code.

I want the old code back. And here is how it must be done. There must be limited interchange. Players must be left to tire. When they’re tired they can’t cover the ground. Hence, they must defend other players. Not space. This is simple. Obvious. Basic.

Else we will get games of keepings-off, like this Essendon-Carlton fixture, mistake-ridden; games which make some talent-less automaton as important as Paddy Ryder. How dumb is that? Paddy Ryder should be allowed to shine.

Of course, this was buck’s (mid)night analysis.

Someone sang the Bombers song and we got moved along.

Daff and a few stayers headed towards Smith St.

I went home to my hotel and was of insufficient character to withstand the temptations of the mini-bar. I needed something to pass the time while waiting for the Grand National. I slept through fences 5 to 34.

It was a thoroughly good night.

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 on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. John,
    Great read and all the very best to the happy couple. Your comments re zone defence are on the mark. I firmly believe we should devote a page to “Blights” on the game and not just Malcolm’s. I nominate the check side banana,thingos as a starter. Learn to kick with your opposite foot you hacks. I spent what seemed the majority of my teenage years doing a figure 8 drill with Barry Round when he was at Bandiana. Barry could not kick the jam tin let alone over it. However, with perserverence he learnt and the rest they say is history.

  2. Nik Stace says

    I have been devoting some thought the limiting interchanges at the AFL level lately. I agree with John – it needs to be limited to get the game back to where it should be – and not as a clone of Basketball. I was at the Freo-Geelong game on Sunday as a neutral observer, and on a number of occasions Freo executed a 4 player interchange – 4 guys came off and 4 came on at once. It reminded me more of NFL football where they send on “Special Teams” than it did of Australian Rules Footy.

    I believe it can only be a good thing for the game to go back to the way it was 15 – 20 years ago and ensure that if a player needs a rest, it happens on the field – what is wrong with a follower having a rest in a forward pocket?

    One idea I’ve had has in its roots the rule related to the Stretcher where a player is removed from the field on a stretcher he can only return after 20 minutes of game time. Perhaps if a rule was implemented in such a way that once a player was interchanged, he could only come back on after a minimum of 4 minutes of playing time had elapsed. This would slow the interchanges down, but still give coaches the ability to make tactical changes etc. Obviously if a player had to be removed for injury and none of the players on the bench had server their 4 minutes there would need to be some form of exception – but it wouldn’t take a great deal of thought to work it out.

    By this method, you’d still have the “unlimited” interchange that we have had for a long time, but it would slow it down to a far more sensible level. 120 interchanges in a match is just plain ridiculous!!

  3. JTH – I agree. When a game is “thoroughly” modern as you put it, I am nearly bored to tears. I suspect that only the really dumb coaches would think that 40 mindless possessions across half back before a turnover from a poor disposal undoes all the work, could be a good thing.

    I think this way of thinking could rob the Saints of a flag this year. To win a game of footy you have to grab it by the scruff of the neck and bloody well win win it. Attack, attack attack; use the whole of the ground. Remember the 2007 GF. The most beautiful football I’ve seen, notwithstanding that Port was crap that day.

    I don’t have a problem with the interchange as such, but maybe the solution is to outlaw a kick backwards in the defensive 50. Even that idea makes me shudder – the soccer offside rule – yuck.

    Congratulations Daff.

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Modern footy drives me crazy – over coached and analysed. Buff assistant coaches with their sports science degrees justifying their existence by reinventing the wheel every season. I don’t know who’s going to implode first, me or the game. Footy is eating itself.

    The footy served up on the weekend was deplorable, but let’s be honest, the game’s been heading that way for years. The main emotion of supporters from both teams in the North v WCE game was frustration brought on by fiddling around, sideways, risk free movement and poor skill. These guys are professionals yet can’t hit a target from twenty yards. But they don’t practice their kicking in case they tear a quad. And they use golf carts in case they get tired while having a round. And Carlton cancelled a practice match because of rain.

    Someone stop me.

    Very funny, John. Congrats Daff.

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    Sorry, forgot to mention. Limit the interchange. Coach players to play footy.

  6. Footy watchers don’t mind. All I see and hear are people counting “their” superbloodypoints.
    That’s what’s driving me mad!

  7. Dave Nadel says

    You are right Crio. Dream teams are the blight of modern barrackerdom. All my (sport studies) students are into them. When several of my students asked why I wasn’t, I explained that I don’t ever want to be in a position of being pleased that Judd played well because he was in my dream team or regretting that Pendlebury played well because he wasn’t!

  8. That’s true Dave but even more than that is how it totally distorts analysis. It has no team basis and it leads to these awful claims of “so and so had three touches that quarter” with no care on its match effect. I’m afraid it is anathema to me.
    Maybe I could cop it in the World Cup or something to give me some interest?

  9. And Dave…I’m working at Footscary Secondary these days. One of your old haunts?

  10. Rob Clarkson says

    Crio, Dave,

    Marvellous to see the dreamteam backlash starting here. Dreamteams are so overwhelmingly tedious.

    Keep up the good work.


  11. Ross Green says

    Great piece John. Love the Dimboola reference in particular. Even though he grew up in Melbourne, the Wimmera Gene is definitely in there!

    Congrats Paul

    I too was at a Buck’s do on Saturday – races in the arvo (another buck’s do had a bloke dressed as a matador) into private room at…ahem…The Swan for the parma/footy fest.

    What’s interesting is your piece and these threads pick up on a lot of the banter that was going on throghout the day and night, particularly when the game started.

    Modern game = bore fest with zones, and there was some severe anguish expressed against coaches who are obsessed with them (chiefly Clarko. I’m a Hawk and couldn’t agree more – does he have a plan B?).

    Dream Teams are rubbish (this was a contentious topic) and are narrowing the focus of the game. I feel we are becoming obsessed with stats, rather than just good play. Blokes were checking stats all day on iphones, crowing about supercoach points this, Dream Team that. There is a risk of players being judged by supporters wearing ‘Dream Team goggles’, which is just plain wrong.

    ‘Dream Team goggles’ fail to see everything that makes our game great – running off the ball, knock ons, running in support of a teammate, contesting, smothers, SHEPHERDS etc. They see blokes like Rutten, Glass and Presti as ordinary, based on stats that never give the full picture of a players contribution.

    Remember Harry Taylor’s 15 spoils in the 2009 GF? ZERO POINTS.

    Drives me to despair…and a piece I will post soon.

  12. Richard Jones says

    I DON’T know why people bother with dreamteam and/or supercoach. I assume they are separate entities ??

    So like the other posters above I abhor the obsession with how many stats so-and-so got in the first 10 mins. of the 3rd quarter. But Crio, Dave and Rob — is it a sign of advancing age that we’re not interested ?
    Then again like Dave, I don’t want to be pleased Judd, Pendlebury and (shudder) Hodge, Jordan Lewis or Mal Brown’s son all played well. Why the latter three — well, that’s a long-standing revulsion to all things brown and puke.

    I know folk who are quite happy to go off and watch whatever the AFL match-of-the-day happens to be. I can never understand that. Unless Geelong happens to be one of the participating teams, I wouldn’t cross the road to see an AFL match, finals or not.

    For three years up till 2002 I was a member of the calling team for the National Indigenous Radio Service, the Brisbane Lions’ dedicated network. One Sunday in 2001 or ’02, I forget which, I headed up the team calling the Hawthorn-Carlton match at the G. Sheer, unmitigated torture.
    Another time it was North v C’wood from the Dome. Admittedly, I did get to call Geelong games and then the challenge was to sound unbiased.

    And Crio — I’m typing this from 2 blocks down from central Barkly Street in the ‘Scray. How the demographic of this suburb has changed since the late 50s! Back then Anglo-Irish people roamed the streets. And the boozers, a number of which have either closed or been transformed into apartments. They’re a thing of the past.

  13. Richard, I’m looking up to Ballarat Road from Kinnear St, Footscray.
    I can easily go to neutral games as long as they are not packed. I’ll probably go to the MCG on Sunday. Nothing to do with Dreamteams. It is sometimes when I get to appreciate good players in opposition sides…though Richmond and Melbourne might stretch that! You never watch a game without noting something of interest.

  14. John Butler says


    At the risk of crashing this festival of middle-aged nostalgists (not that I don’t fit this category myself), I’ll beg to demur on certain points.

    It’s hard to argue with JTH’s assessment of Saturday night’s game. As a contest between two middling teams, one groping for a new style of play, the other attempting a style beyond it’s players’ abilities, it was utterly mediocre. Like all mediocre spectacles, it failed to stir the soul. This would apply to any age of football.

    As to “modernity” in current footy, well obviously the Cult of the Coach is responsible- both for good and ill. To watch, say, the Bulldogs or Geelong in full flight is exhilarating. To watch ordinary or developing sides trying to emulate them is often tedious. Not all players can cope with the frenetic tempo the best aspire to. If you judge anything by it’s poorer practitioners it won’t look flash.

    As this site constantly proves, the beauty of footy is the many different facets of the diamond. We can all take from it as we wish.

    As to what Dreamteams had to do with this discussion, you’ve lost me. Like ’em, don’t like ’em, who cares? Statistics were around before them, and statistics (in all things) can illuminate or lie. So people obsess over them? What won’t people obsess over?

    I agree with Crio, in that every game offers something… if you’re looking for it.

    Richard Jones is onto something. The constant temptation of middle age is rose-coloured hindsight. It’s not like some things weren’t crap when we were younger. But we were younger, so who cared?

    Enjoy the footy this weekend gents :)

  15. It’s not just bloody super coach points, it’s tipping, too. I hate having to barrack for sides I hate.

    I also hate being in a dreamteam comp where I’m behind Daff.

  16. John Butler says

    That’s the spirit Tony! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  17. Dave Nadel says

    Ross Green is right about dreamteams (and statistics driven analysis) undervaluing players like Presti, Glass and Rutten, but I don’t think my hostility to dreamteams is a reflection on my age. That might be an explanation of why I miss long kicking and high contested marks and hate “floods”, “cages” and “rolling zones” but I reckon I would have hated the logic behind dreamteams as a teen or twentysomething. I just don’t like barracking for players from other clubs, at least not when they are playing against my club.

    Crio, I worked at Footscray TAFE in the early eighties. My son had a couple of unhappy years as a student at Footscray City recently but this isn’t the place to discuss that.

  18. I’m middle aged and I like the way the game is played now and enjoy the skills and the speed – its impossible to expect every team in every match to play well. When was that ever so? Everyone remembers the best parts of the good old days and conveniently forget the bad parts.

  19. Richard Naco says

    Onya Mark! Great comment. And congrats to Daff & Harmsy for being the inspration & the scribe in full flight. Again.

    I like the current dreamteam fad: it’s creating a whole new generation of nerds, and I feel less creeped out if they’re lost in the crowd at a footy game than standing at the end of train platforms, spotting. (IE, not like pigeons.)

    And my perspective may be skewed by my being having once been a massively over achieving basketball coach for a quarter of a century, but I do find it so ho hum when footy people (and it started with Kevin Sheedy a while back) display their utter ignorance of another sport when using it as an analogy to complain about trends in their own.

    The reality of basketball is that once a team has control of the ball, it has twenty four seconds to take a shot that hits the ring. That a team has eight seconds to move the ball out of their defensive half of the court, & that once the ball has been moved into the offensive half of the court, it can not be moved – even accidentally – back in to the defensive half of the court. And that zones are the last resort of coaches who can not teach proper defensive skills, and are easily torn apart by motion of ball and players (esp off the ball) who remember that the ball moves in the air far quicker than a man on the ground. Were such basic principles applied in the AFL, the game would become an offensive spectarkle & zone defences in our game would rapidly go the way of the drop-kick.

    Other than the latent train spotters getting their weekly hit of meaningless stats.

  20. Bring back the 19th and 20th man! Whatever happened to the “war of attrition”, “last man standing” or players “running up and down on the one spot” or being “out on their feet” (what a strange expression!).
    I used to love those games when everyone was stuffed in the last quarter and they would will themselves from one contest to the next. Gone forever- now its all about aerobic capacity. Let’s see how good their aerobic capacity is if they have to play the full 100 minutes (or whatever it is now). Rotations and multiple interchanges are the bane of modern football. Still intrinsically a great game just not as good as it used to be. Current rules result in there being too much reliance on athletic ability (running robots) and not enough on pure football ability.

  21. Pamela Sherpa says

    Absolutely agree- re, all this modern day footy crap. Have decided that I really don’t relate to footy as it is any more. Essendon were awful last night. I’m not going to watch nonsense like that for the rest of the season. Going to find a new hobby.

  22. Peter Schumacher says

    Pamela, these are desperate days for Essendon but give up watching the footy? I suppose that given the fact you are probably watching telecasts starting at 11:00 pm or some such and style of commentary and game that you don’t relate to can’t blame you but this is a big big call! Have to say that I am already totally sick and tired of dream team analysis myself. My dream team will be Brisbane if they get up this year.

  23. Loved your story Harmsy. Let’s bring back the 19th and 20th men and lets have games where the players are stuffed in the last quarter. Let’s stop the inter change nonsense, I can see an interchange of 22 in 2015 if we don’t act.

  24. johnharms says

    I just think the rule-makers have a few levers in their hands and they should pull some and leave others alone.

    The argument is not that the game was better in the good old days.

    However, the majority of players were not as fit in the past. Nor could they kick as far. Hence the gorund in the 1909 GF looks massive on the footage. It still looks pretty big in the 1989 GF. It looks tiny now.

    If you want a space/zone game with rucks and mauls and ring a ring a rosy handball then the interchange rule can stay the same. If you want a man on man game with more positional play then limit the interchange.

    If you want ridiculous Under 12 goals when the zone is pierced, ditto.

    I am all for the elements of the game which make it distinctive being preserved and highlighted.

    Cats were brilliant v Port. Moved the ball so quickly at times the structure was visible.

  25. Harmsy,

    After watching the Cats beaten by the Blues today, I concur that the style and the sizzle is missing. Although Wojo’s leap was a highlight for mine.

    There was a particularly good piece on the geelongcats website a week or so ago about interchange limits etc.

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