My illusion

The Geelong Football Club has had two rather large wins over the past two weeks, both at Kardinia Park. You could say of the first, against Melbourne, the oldest of rivals, that it had quite an impact. And of the second, against the Gold Coast, that Guy McKenna was lucky to keep his job. (Which shows that context and imagining are everything).

As the fans streamed through the Bobby Davis Gates two weeks ago there was a sense that their team would win, but that an improving Melbourne side might be up for the battle. At that stage not many people knew of the behind-the-scenes turmoil at the Dees.

I was blissfully unaware of any news reports that Friday, or of the rumours wafting from pub to pub on the fumes of Southern Comfort and Coke. No news of ultimatums, or Cameron Schwab’s sacking, or Tom Scully’s negotiations, or players meeting with Jim Stynes (routine or otherwise), or Dean Bailey copping it from everywhere.

I was too busy punting at the inaugural Almanac race day, and enjoying the fine fare dished up by J. Dunne’s chefs and the very efficient staff in the MacFarlane Room (twice when mid-steak lunchers left the table to put on a bet on, their plates were tidied away). It was an excellent day, if for no other reason it cacooned us from the real world (with which I tend to have difficulty coping).

It started with the crew of 26 racing revellers in fine spirits. D. Downer had completed a magnificent document bound with the finest ring: The Footy Almanac Form Guide. Geelong Racing Club: Gateway to Glory.

I had started to peruse it the night before but only got as far as Race 1 Horse 4 Jockey Jack. It hadn’t won in 20 starts but I noticed the owner was T. Monti. So I rang him. A barrister and Ned Kelly scholar Trevor Monti is president of Williamstown Football Club and has raced many horses, some of which have had Greta in the name. He is of the strong view that, while incarcerated at her majesty’s pleasure, in a hulk off Williamstown, during the 1877, Ned Kelly played on the wing for Willy. Ned only played 11 games, because the authorities wouldn’t let him wear the white shorts.

T. Monti told me that Jockey Jack was a shocker and that he had sold him, but that Racing Victoria hadn’t changed the details. He said he couldn’t win. The sale was enough for me: it made Jockey Jack a living certainty.. I had $10 each way, and it looked the winner from the 600. Paid about $7.40. The day was set up.

And so the day progressed. Interviews with guests like that ratbag Jim Fidge, former mayor of Geelong, and Alastair Ewart, Australia’s most bullish trophy provider, punctuated the day.  L. Kavanagh, son of M. Kavanagh, told us about some of the up and comers for the spring and tipped us one of his in the seventh. It didn’t salute.

The boys from the Goodna Rugby League Football Club on the outskirts of Brisbane were on tour and did a rendition of “Cheers  boy! Cheers! We are for Goodna! Every now and then we have a win.” Ted Bradley told us about the floods which inundated the clubhouse and his house, but that it would all be OK in the end.

Etoile something-or-other won the sponsored sixth, but from the silence I suspect no one in the room was on.

It was a top day. The only thing missing was Wally F. Beaver, doubles book-maker to the people. Someone said he had been spotted during the week sunning himself (Wally in speedoes?) like a lizard on a rock at Port Douglas. The bastard! On our hard-earned. So we battled the tote instead. The Queensland boys put a dint in things. Most had a winner or two, based on D. Downer’s wonderful analysis of the form document. J. Norton of the Wandering Eye was the best-performed on the day.

We adjourned to Biily’s pub to talk about it. Oblivious to all.

But I don’t mind that. If the MacFarlane Room at the Gateway to Glory gets me away from the rubbish, and keeps me happily in my own illusion, I’m all for it.

Middling punting success (about even) and gentle imbibing meant that the crew was uncommonly sensible and we were on the train back to Melbourne by the time North and Carlton were playing at Docklands.

That next morning I wasn’t one of those Geelong faithful getting the ticket clipped at Bobby’s gates. I was the guest speaker at the Fitzroy FC luncheon before their C Section game against Ormond at Brunswick St Oval. My topic was the Fitzroy premiership sides of 1898 and 1899 which included great characters like the skipper Alex Sloan, postal clerk and stroke of the Victorian eight, who nearly missed the 1898 Grand Final. Some time before, while sculling on the Yarra, he rowed over a corpse. He was called to the coronial inquiry, scheduled for Grand Final day. However, the magistrate was a Fitzroy supporter and adjourned the matter. Centre half back Pat Hickey, Reg Hickey’s uncle, (so Matthew Primus’s great-great uncle) as tough a bloke who ever played for the Maroons. And Stan Reid, about to be ordained a Presbyterian minister, and sent to tend to the flock of miners at Kalgoorlie where he no doubt played football as well as distributed the Sacrament before joining the West Australian force which served in the Boer War. Stan was one of only two VFL footballers killed in action in South Africa. The other, by a freakish coincidence was one of his Essendon opponents in that 1898 Grand Final.

As I stood there talking about these characters I looked out the window across the very oval where they played over a century ago. No doubt there was club politics then – football clubs are human organisations.

Having watched the first half (after a sluggish start, some nice footy from the Roys) I wandered home to see the Geelong-Dees, the coverage of which I thought would begin at three. When I turned the TV on, Geelong’s match was on Fox, the coverage of which was live. Geelong 20.4 led Melbourne 1.4 at half-time. Incredible! The highlights were remarkable. Johnno was at his creative best.

The rest is history.

From Dean Bailey’s Monday press conference onwards, the issue was sliced, diced and julienned. This was a big footy issue, but it also did highlight the degree to which the coverage of the politics of footy has encroached on good old footy talk.

In my illusion it’s the on-field stuff that keeps me happy. Give me an after-match beer and some family and friends who want to talk Johnno and Travis, and the confusion created when Cam Mooney kicks easy goals, and how the Geelong forward line might be structured come September.

These are the things that matter.

These are the distractions that my weary soul needs.






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. Richard Naco says

    Sporting politics is kind of like the lower intestine of the AFL. It’s pretty awful what goes through there, but you’re well & truly stuffed if nothing does.

    Like you, I’d rather be singing the praises of playing personnel with those whose eyes are also focused on the glory than carping on about the miasma of machiavellian machinations bubbling on (largely) unseen away from the paddock.

  2. Sounds like a great day missed!

  3. Neil Hassa Allen says

    I feel in the name of the national competition, mention must be made of the “State of Origin” pool match at Billy’s pub between WA & Vic. And the sorry tale of the sadness in P.Flynn eyes at the VIc’s dramatic loss. Next year.

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