Book Review: Loose Men Everywhere from Footscray to Oakey – The Parallel Universe of Two Footy Fanatics.

   “ Football, I was starting to realise, was about many things; more things than I had ever consciously thought as a child. When you are a child footy has an effect on you. It makes you feel things, think things, know things. Only you don’t realise that footy is having an effect on you. You just experience it all.

John Harms  Loose Men Everywhere

 

My copy of Play On  (the omnibus of John Harms’s three books – Loose Men Everywhere, Memoirs of a Mug Punter and Confessions of a Thirteenth Man) arrived surprisingly quickly in the mail. I suspect John Harms added some extra stamps to ensure a three-day delivery.

 

Peter the postie dumped the parcel and accelerated away on his 90cc bike faster than usual. No chance of a gidday or a pause to talk about footy today. Collingwood had lost again on the weekend.

 

There are many similarities with our football-loving journeys, but the big difference is that John was surrounded by a football-following and Geelong Cats loving family from birth. Whereas two years after I was taken to see the Bulldogs win the Grand Final in 1954, I was the only one in my family left to bother about the plight of the Footscray Football Club.

 

My father as the sole-bread-winner and a product of surviving the Depression years, saw idle chatter about football-teams and as a waste of time. Unfortunately this also meant there was no time to see his son play local footy or cricket if ever there was work to be done. I’m not saying this to be critical because I did have a loving stable home-life during my first ten years living in Footscray. But from a kid’s point of view, it was the disappointment of having no-one to turn to for consoling if the Dogs lost and no-one to celebrate with me when the Dogs occasionally won.

 

By chance the loneliness of the long-suffering Footscray supporter continued into my teens and adulthood. My teenage friends were interested in cars rather than footy. I never seemed to meet girls who liked footy, let alone knew anything about the Bulldogs. And when I finally met the girl of my dreams, she turned out to be not of my (footy) faith.  A lover of the Arts rather than appreciating the fine art of kicking and hand-balling.

 

I should have mentioned  that my alienation from all things Bulldog became official when we shifted from Footscray to Burwood in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It was across the great social-divide in those days.

 

The only Footscray jumper- wearing kid surrounded by Melbourne jumpers in the playground. It was a mere two years since the Footscray Grand Final win so there wasn’t too much sneering, but I was definitely the odd one out. Reading about John Harms going from footy-loving Shepparton in Victoria to Rugby-playing Oakey in Queensland brought back all those memories of dealing with playground hierarchies. John survived when the top-dog asked if he could run and John said, “ Shit yeah!”, or words to that effect and proceeded to show them all just how fast he was. After all, he was from Victoria and one day he was going to play for the Cats. My acceptance breakthrough came after I was picked out of the Grade 5 kids to play footy for the school. One of my few achievements in Primary School and the one I’m most proud of.

 

Fifteen years later in Oakey the young John Harms still dreamed of playing for Geelong while avoiding how to get seriously injured  by rugby players who wanted to drive him head-first into the turf. My dreams were stifled by the pessimistic outlook at home, so I felt I had reached my potential after being selected to play in the Burwood High School footy-team. The one constant between John and myself was the obsessive following of our football-teams where ever we were and at what ever stage of life we were experiencing. Being historically linked to our footy-clubs was like having a safety-net when life threw us a curve-ball. And there were some doozies.

 

John was disadvantaged most following our teams when it came to the tyranny of distance. He relied on ABC radio broadcasts to keep track of scores from Melbourne and described his frustration as the signal was lost just as they were about to cross to Geelong for a score- update. For some reason they filled in the ‘dead- air’ with twangy Indonesian music. I did wonder when I read this, if it was the Radio-Australia signal coming from Jakarta rather than from the studios in Lonsdale Street  Melbourne.

 

Living in Melbourne I had no such trouble picking up a signal for a number of footy-stations. As I entered my teens the ever reliable ‘ tranny’ was the key to my youth independence and ensured the widening of the generation gap. You no longer had to crowd around the Art-Deco monster radio-console in the good- room with the folks. Reminiscent of that old black and white footage showing families listening intently when Robert Menzies announced it was his melancholy duty to inform us Australia was also at war.

 

John’s path from school to uni seemed to be fairly well-mapped out. The fact that he was accepted  at Brisbane University barely rated a mention in ‘ Loose Men Everywhere’. The anguish of deciding whether to give up playing football so he could watch the AFL match of the day on TV was far more important and covered several paragraphs. He was always chasing down copies of the Sun News Pictorial Newspaper for the latest footy news where ever he was living in Australia. This is where our footy-fanatic journey was similar again.

 

Because I didn’t go straight to uni after school, I started work in the Public Service but couldn’t see myself chained to a desk for the next forty years. So twice I left to travel around Australia hoping to make my fortune. The first trip was to the Snowy Mountains after a seventeen-year-old workmate told me, “ They’re makin’ big money up there!” That sounded quite exciting to my under-developed teenage brain, so I packed up the mini and after giving notice at my secure employment, headed for Cooma.  The second escape was to Western Australia where I ended up briefly at the mining town of Mount Tom Price. Like John whenever he travelled, the first thing I did was get my poor despairing father to send copies of the Sun newspaper to the other side of the continent, just so I could  keep up with the footy news.

 

With all the travel and miss-spent youth out of the way, I did settle down to get married and begin many years of part-time study, firstly at night-school and then university. With work, raising a family and study, I barely attended any footy-matches. But I always had the tranny up to my ear if we were out picnicking, pushing the kids on swings or taking the dog for a walk.

 

Until I read ‘Loose Men’, I had forgotten about Geelong’s severe drought. John was alive when Geelong won the premiership in 1963, but he was only one year old. In his book, he actually made note of his birth in a Geelong Footy Club context, just as he did with other landmark events in his life. He said, “ I was born in Round nine of the 1962 VFL season. Geelong lost only four games in the entire home and away season that year, but I was born in the week of one of them: a forty point flogging at Windy Hill.”  So John and I both know about droughts and it’s nothing to do with living in the country.

 

The stars finally aligned in July 2012 when John and I met in the Mortlake Library. The posters around town and the local paper told us the great man was coming to town. My wife agreed to attend as well after I reminded her that John had written articles for The Age and not just footy stories. John turned up to be greeted by an audience of three and one of those was a non-believer.

John’s enthusiasm promoting the Footy Almanac didn’t wane because of the lack of numbers, even winning over the non-believer when the discussion turned to the art of good writing. My wife and John have since corresponded regarding an academic study she is presently undertaking.

 

I took up the challenge to write something for the Almanac when I realised John understood where I was coming from with my loyalty and long association with the Footscray Football Club. I introduced myself to the Almanac with a piece called ‘ Keeping The Faith’ written in biblical-language style. It told the story of being taken to the Grand Final in 1954 and then enduring the longest drought in footy history. A lot longer than forty days and forty nights in the wilderness.

 

When the comments arrived including a few ‘welcome aboards’, I knew I wasn’t alone with my thoughts about footy any more and I became part of a family of true-believers.

Order a copy of Play On.

Play On front cover final

About Neil Anderson

Enjoys reading and writing about the Western Bulldogs. Instead of wondering if the second premiership will ever happen, he can now bask in the glory of the 2016 win.

Comments

  1. jan courtin says

    Nice one Neil
    As with most life-long footy fanatics, there’s always a story to be told, especially when remembering times from childhood. Only problem is that the longer our fanaticism goes, the more we tend to forget! Although, the long-term memory is supposed to be better than the short-term !

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Beautifully written. Thanks for the thoughts Neil. The writing helps salve the soul in losses and helps release the magnificence of a win. Go Doggies. Will be watching tonight with Denise.

  3. G’day Neil

    Thank you for these very kind words, and for the insight into your own love of the Scrays. We certainly do have much in common.

    Footy is an endlessly fascinating thing.

    Regards
    JTH

  4. Good onya Neil. I recall my time at primary school, then high school being the sole Geelong supporter. I managed to get to 3, 4 games a year. Living where I did, I saw far more Footscray games.

    My mother came down to the big smoke in 1954, to work at what is now known as Western Health. I never asked her who she barracked for prior, but the year she came to town Footscray won their only flag. She remained a loyal follower of the tri colours until her death earlier this year. If they win the 2016 flag, how do I view that in light of her 60+ years support of them?

    Keep up the writing, and you might soon be scribing about premiership glory.

    Glen !

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic Neil, your story is also very interesting and enjoyed the parallels you have with John.
    My appreciation of clubs like your Bulldogs has grown from reading stories from passionate fans and great storytellers like yourself. Look forward to following the Dogs journey as the rise continues from your writing.

    Peter the postie sounds like a good bloke.

    Loose Men Everywhere is a brilliant read, as are the other two stories that make up ‘Play On’.

  6. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks Jan,
    I think I enjoy the childhood memories the best. The long-term memory does seem more reliable and if we’re old enough, we can get away with fudging the truth when we write something.
    Thanks Yvette.
    Yes the writing really helps when things are grim and it’s the best way to connect with like-minded people such as fellow Almanackers. Enjoy the footy with Denise tonight.
    Thanks again John and congratulations on the book. I guess you’ve well and truly moved on with the Michelle Payne story which I must buy to read about her childhood, which I assume was in Ballarat.
    Gidday Glen. What a great year 1954 was. Your Mum coming down from Corowa? Did you say you also work in the Health system? I think Kerrie Soraghan’s mother went to the 1954 GF and it was the first match she ever saw. And yes, the writing will go up a notch if the Dogs win the GF this year.
    Thanks Luke.
    I think you might have headed off JTH at the pass by meeting him at the Colac library before he got to Mortlake on his grand tour of the Western District. Peter the postie is a good bloke. When the Dogs were winning last year and if the Pies were struggling I used to hide in the bushes and spring out as he pulled up at the letterbox. Like the Asian guy in the Pink Panther. If the Dogs lost I’d make sure he went past before I went to the letterbox.

  7. Ta Neil, yep my mum came down from the Corowa n 1954. A flag in her first year in Footscray.

    Like my mother i’m a health professional , though not a nurse. I work in the West , maintaining a family link with health services in the area.

    Good luck in 2016. 4,1, damn good start. I’ll watch your scribing with interest.

    Glen!

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