Knackers v Overland: a case for the mind, the body and the soul

by Straight Break

Sport, some Greek with too much red wine in him decided, is about the mind, the body and the soul. That’s our problem. Of all the civilisations on which to base ours, we are stuck with the damn Greeks. They invented the gymnasium, which is not like the gymnasium in the United States which was invented so the college boys could drill holes in the walls of the bathrooms of nymphs. In ancient Greece the gymnasium was a place where boys sat at the feet of wise men in tunics who spoke to them of philosophy and poetry, and insisted that they build their fitness and strength.

Two thousand years on and we are still buying it. We still have mottos like Mens Sana in Corpore Sano (a sound mind in a sound body) which is actually Latin, suggesting the bloody Romans bought in to it as well. It’s the motto of schools, universities, dodgy new-age retreats, and the Carlton Football Club.

Which suggests there may just be something to all this.

If there was ever any doubt about sport and the mind, the body and the soul, it was cast aside in a the riveting contest between the Almanac XI and Overland for the Jack Clancy Trophy (which was retrieved from the front bar of the North Fitzroy Arms where it has rested for nearly five years).

Jack Clancy would be proud. He is one of those characters ancient Greece and the Carlton Triangle of Death (Jimmy Watsons, Percy’s and the Albion) throw up. A fine sportsman and man of letters Jack is the sort of man who should have trophies struck in his honour. His VFL career is the stuff of legend: one game for Fitzroy in 1957 where he started and finished on the bench.

Jack once wrote about this, a piece published in The Greatest Game. I read it in the Duhig Library at the University of Queensland, when I should have been reading some post-modern obfuscalia. I sensed there was more truth in football stories. Now I know.

Many years later I was having a quiet beer in the North Fitzroy Arms when I was introduced to a tall man in his seventies: “Jack Clancy.”

Being in the precinct of Fitzroy, and having completely romanticised the notion of Melbourne football tribalism, I took a stab. “Did you write that piece about playing one game for Fitzroy?” I asked.

“Yes, I did,” said Jack.

“I read it,” I said. “In Queensland.”

We had a beer and a chat. Good ideas travel well.

Jack’s brother Laurie died recently. He was a ripper bloke, who could write an amusing line, and understood the vanity-vanity-all-is-vanity position of the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes (penned long before Richmond were providing the inspiration for the position). In one of his gently comic novels he draws on the inspiration of an actual tragedy when a senior literary figure was carried off the ground after having a heart attack during the annual fixture between the literary journals Overland and Meanjin.

Yesterday’s match was a the continuation of that tradition, in a round about way, and we were hoping for no physical harm, nor distress.

Indeed we believed the soul would be elevated by a noble performance, a courageous performance, and aesthetically beautiful performance.

As P.J. Flynn slammed the door of the vehicle which had ferried him to the venue, those in view knew straight away that any grand, expectant notion would be seriously challenged.

The once-dashing batsman from Geelong had backed more winners than losers at the Lightning Stakes meeting at Flemington, and while he always finishes about even when punting (taking expenses in to consideration), on this day he finished more even than he usually does. By the look of him, the dollars expended in the celebration of their accrual, may in fact have been the principal factor in achieving the net result.

P.J. Flynn appeared to be living in two-second delay, in the way that ABC radio commentary and Channel 9 pictures are no longer synchronised.

The other Knackers were gathering around skipper Gigs Gigacz. They appeared a little nervous in that  half-an-hour-before-cricket sort of way, when you are sizing up the team yon to see if it contains anyone who could kill you. Showers squalled across Gillon Oval, and play looked like being delayed. The wicket had survived the night but was unrolled and had the six-o’clock shadow brought on by the general humidity which has descended on Melbourne in recent times.

The two teams kept their distance, each trying to imagine what cricketing experience could possibly reside in the temples of mind and body which had donned whites and near-whites, greys, browns and some rogue red. Were there centuries and hat-tricks in the careers of the Overland crew, the fraternity of beat-poets who’d brought their beautiful women along to intimidate us with their appeal; and their tribe of children so we quivered in the glow of their virility and fecundity.

We were not intimidated (by this stage). So what if their skipper, Nathan Hollier, lived his life as a Hemingway character? And had taken up boxing in his late twenties and was the veteran of a dozen middleweight bouts, one of which was in Moe (or environs)? While our skipper was The Age’s leading anagrammist and could explain all things important in sport and life through analysis of postcodes.

Then came a key moment: the toss. Hollier called correctly, and put us in. Play was delayed briefly while the tempest past, and Umpire Syson (who wore numerous hats throughout the day) decided it was too wet to bowl from the southern end, so the first eight overs were to be bowled from the northern end.

If you ever have cause to ask Bob Massie what is the perfect breeze for the outswinger he will say, “That breeze at Gillon Oval, Brunswick, at the start of the Almanac’s first match in `011.”

That John Harms had left match-ball shopping until after the Lightning the day before and could only secure two-piece nuts before the shops shut didn’t help. (Although they were good-quality match-ball Kookaburras).

John Butler, who had impressed with sound technique in the Brunswick St nets the Sunday before), was in danger of being bowled around his legs, such was the hooping of the Hollier outswinger under the leaden skies. JB played across one (ever-so-slightly) and was bowled.

His opening partner, Neil Belford, had winced at the other end, before remembering he was steeled by the dusty land of the West Australian wheat belt, and the double break at the mouth of the Margaret River. Employing a stance, nineteenth century in its appearance, he put himself between the ball and ignominy, protecting his stumps with tremendous pluck, waiting for the head high full toss.

When it came, he dispatched it to the fine leg boundary for four.

There had been much doubt as to whether a boundary would be struck all day ad Syson and Harms had decided not to put out the boundary cones (they could think of no-one on either team or in the entire shebang who would be willing to walk around to put them out, and it was even less likely anyone would want to pick them up).

Harms had always wanted to play on a massive olde-Melbourne ground with history, and the fence as the boundary, and a porcelain urinal.

So he was quite thrilled to point percy in the three-bay, brown incarnation of the pissoir in the dressing room, the smell of which hadn’t enjoyed the ameliorating effect of the piss-trough lolly for years.

Gillon is a wonderful place, with its old grandstand (pretty big), and its clubhouse of ancient honour boards and the F. F. (Gus) Allsop Bar. It’s a place of guttural appeals, and rally-calls, and the protests of gabardine-coated men incensed by winter injustice. It’s a place of kids running about eating jelly-snakes and looking for empty while their parents got on with the important stuff.

And it seemed Harms would get a game, despite failing the earlier fitness test, as only ten had turned up.

Belford continued his dogged innings. Dave Goodwin had looked a little concerned as he watched from the fence in that way that you are when the ball is going in all directions off the green top. A player of his time, he too had the back-and-across shuffle that all of us who admired the heroics of I.M. Chappell developed. Has there been a batsman whose runs have meant more to his side? Who knew first and foremost that being a cricketer was about winning cricket matches? Who was the complete antithesis of Shane Watson?

Goodwin was patient, but also cognisant of the 35-over reality, and drove at a fullish delivery, only to have it cannon from his inside edge on to the leg stump. Gone for one. Two for twenty. Belford went soon after for a team-lifting 11, which brought Flynn together with David Bridie.

Bridie is taller than you imagine when you are listening to his orchestral masterpieces. He too has that game forged in the 1970s. The key factor in having a game forged at this time is it makes him close to 50 years of age, like the rest of us. He looked solid.

Until this time runs had been scratched out. Then Flynn took guard, and the game changed. The damp wicket was very slow, making shot-making difficult. That Flynn was in two-second delay served him extremely well, and he played as if he were at the WACA in 1975. He pushed for two here and there, taking Bridie along with him, and had set himself to be the rock on which this innings was built.

Meanwhile the lonely figure of Dave Goodwin could be seen in the far-off nets. Having admonished himself, he then banished himself, to garnish his deeply-traditional loopy Clarrie Grimmet  leggies with a little last minute polish. You could see him trying to keep his gaze from the croquet lawn on the other side of the ground.

When Bridie went – pulling a short one that stopped on the track for so long it surprised him – Flynn was unperturbed. He spoke sternly to C.D. Down and they set about building from 4/44. Down also showed he had played the game, belting the ball into the distance, only to see it slow quickly in the lush couch, while he was being called through for a panting second.

Hollier switched his bowlers around. Tinsel Tony Wilson tried to dig a few in, with little effect. But it was the off-spinner Probst who broke the partnership, with one that got through Down’s defence.

Which brought the skipper Gigs to the crease. He took his time, realising the class was at the other end (leaning over on to the top of his bat handle, forehead resting on his two hands) and did everything in his power to rotate the strike. A series of six singles gave Flynn the strike. Flynn looked to be in complete control when he was gunned LBW by the concerned umpire (a former editor of Overland). Such was the outcry at the decision that for a moment Flynn was called back. By then, however, Flynn knew that manliness and momentum kept him headed straight for the pavilion.

While the runs were being accumulated in the middle, Craig Little had been having a little hit. Unlike the rest of us, the younger man Little has retained much of his body in the chest and shoulder region, and as he stroked the first few away he looked like he might just belt one in to Northcote. He must have been thinking along similar lines because he came down the track to the well-flighted off-spin of Phil Dimitriadis and swished with such force that meteorologists with a belief in chaos theory noted the time and place. Unfortunately the bat failed to connect with the ball, and Little was hopelessly stranded when the bails were whipped off. Little limped off, the only effect of his wild swipe being to strain the base of his buttock. “I’ve done me arse,” he said, as he returned to the sheds.

Dimitriadis, the first Greek to look like Fred titmus, bowled with authority, picking up the swash-buckling Tim Ivins. The experienced Smokie Dawson decided to see the off-spinner out. He and Gigs pushed the ones as the total passed 80. Dawson was patient. Dave Goodwin was watching the overs disappear and asked whether this would be a good time to yell, “Have a go.”

Smokie’s dear wife Marg, who hadn’t said a word all day, didn’t treat this a as rhetorical question. Her voice could be heard from behind, “It wouldn’t help. He always bat like this.”

Umpire Syson courted further comment when he gave Gigs out LBW, with three overs to go.

This broght Harms to the crease, and he and Smokie used their experience to get the total to 9/102 at the end of the 35 overs.

This seemed respectable, and as Andrew Fithall served the snags on bread, the Knackers were quietly confident.

The skies had cleared but Little and Gigacz were still able to move the ball around and quickly Overland was in trouble. Gigacz bowled Probst for 2, and then Little got one to lift on young Dan Sysin, who really looked like a player (and had kept wickets well too), and he was well-caught in the gully by Dave Goodwin.

At this point Harms thought he best go and get the family from home, to witness what was going to be a wonderful victory. Spirits were high in the middle when he left.

Dips O’Donnell, perhaps the best substitute fieldsman since Gary Pratt, had replaced Harms, and was moving across the Gillon turf like a colt, albeit a colt in Harms’s Volleys.

Harms collected the family and popped in to the North Fitzroy Arms to collect the Jack Clancy Trophy. It had been blu-tacked to the bar. When he went to pick it up the base remained, the blu-tack having been fortified by the vapour of Carlton Draught in a way that might attract the interest of NASA.

“I can get the base off for you,” said Zorka, the publican.

“Don’t worry,” said Harms. “It’ll be back here by 7 tonight.”

It was at that moment that things changed.

When Harms and family got to Gillon Oval something had happened. Shoulders drooped. Heads were down. And balls were being struck vast distances. The Knackers looked beaten.

Buckley and Wilson, and then Hollier and Logan, all took to the bowlers. It was carnage – apparently. With just a handful of runs to get the two Overland batsmen in the middle had the audacity to retire.

Two wickets fell in quick succession but it was too late; the total was reined in in the 29th over. Overland was just too good.

The sorry bunch of Knackers that sat slumped in the dressing room were living proof the Greeks were right. Broken they were. They looked physically exhausted. They were worried about the difference between mind and body. Who they thought they were. And who they really were. This was grown men facing the reality of their own mortality. Where had all those years gone?

Dave Goodwin tried to lift the crew. But gallows humour prevailed.

And all retired to see if Gus Allsop could lift their souls.


The Almanac XI v Overland

Played at Gillon Oval, Brunswick

20 Feb, 2011

The Almanac XI

N. Belford           c ? b Jones                                          11

J. Butler                b Hollier                                               2

D. Goodwin        b Hollier                                               2

D. Bridie               c ? b Logan                                          15

P. Flynn                  LBW Probst                                     15

c. Down                b Probst                                               6

A. Gigacz              LBW Hollier                                        6

C. Little                 st Syson   b Dimitriadis                   6

T. Ivins                  b Dimitriadis                                       2

Smokie Dawson  st Syson  b Peck                                9

J. Harms               not out                                                 8

Extras    (B1, LB1, W18, NB1)                                       21

Total (35 overs)                 9 wickets                          102

Tapp 3-1-7-0; Hollier 4-1-6-3; Jones 3-0-6-1; Tinsel Tony Wilson 4-0-19-0; Logan 3-0-9-0; Peck 4-0-18-1; Probst 3-0-7-2; Stan the Man 4-0-11-0; Dimitriadis 4-0-9-2; Carter 3-1-7-0


Dan Syson           c Goodwin b Little                            2

Probst                   b Gigacz                                               2

Buckley                retired                                                  31

Wilson                  c Flynn b Down                                 18

Peck                      c Ivins b Goodwin                            3

Hollier                   retired                                                 16

Logan                    retired                                                  16

Jones                    st Dawson  b Goodwin                    0

Carter                   c Flynn b Goodwin                           2

Tapp                      not out                                                 5

Stan the Man     not out                                                 5

Extras    (LB2, W2)                                                            4

Total (29.1 overs)             9 wickets                          104

Little 5-2-7-1; Gigacz 5.1-0-17-1; Belford 2-0-6-0; Bridie 3-0-8-0; Butler 1-0-7-0; Ivins 3-0-9-0; Down 3-0-14-1; Goodwin 5-0-21-3; O’Donnell 1-0-13-0

Overland won by one wicket (although the retirees could have returned)


  1. Great report, JTH. It was a fantastic day – well, almost.

    Dan Syson was well caught in the gully by D Goodwin, I think.

  2. John Butler says

    “the difference between mind and body”

    Never a truer word spoken JTH. :(

  3. Super summary. Love the description of the Grand Stand.

    Wearing the Harms’ volleys was an interesting experience.

  4. That last bowling stat is embarrassing. Sorry Knackers.

  5. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks JTH,

    A most entertaining read.

    Thanks also for your part in organising the show.

  6. JTH
    you nailed it with the description of the urinals. Hadn’t seen those old
    porcelin types since the old MCC Members’ Stand was demolished.

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says

    The thing I loved most was the camaraderie in socializing with a great bunch of blokes. Hopefully,we can make this an annual event. Thanks for a wonderful day boys.

  8. In the head of Harms everybody looks like Fred Titmus.

  9. Tony Wilson says

    Great stuff Harmsy. And no, I didn’t deliberately dig a few in. Just tried to get em to bounce once, and that’s where they pitched. Grateful for a wonderful six hours break from tweeting about Ricky Nixon.

  10. Arnie, Fred Titmus lost a toe in a boating accident I believe.

  11. Tinsel, I’m glad you pointed that out. On closer inspection the line did intimate far more control than appropriate. Can you send this to Media Watch. It would be grand publicity for all of us.

  12. As Jimmy Durante once said “Ahhhh ….. When I foist met ya ….. ya looked like a Greek God …. now ya just looks like a Greek”

  13. #4. Don’t be too embarrassed Dips. Bruce Reid would’ve loved to have had those figures in the last over of that match against Alan Lamb.

  14. Sounds like it was a most enjoyable afternoon, evening and beyond. I would have loved to be there. Next year we’ll get up a rough approximate of the Barmy Army to support the team with song and other such crazy stimuli, called … the Knackeries Barrackeries.


  15. Dips (aka Jonty)

    You saved plenty in the field, so I wouldn’t fuss. You looked positively sprightly compared to some of us.

  16. still having sleepless nights over my embarassing dismissal.keep playing it over in my head chanting,what would roy fredericks have done……(smacked it to the net between the goals on the leg side)….I wish

  17. Don’t worry Dave.

    Fredericks would’ve stepped on his stumps (’75 World Cup Final).

  18. I’ve always wondered how Roy would have approached the Slazenger B51, and what he would have brought to American baseball.

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