Out: Cohen. In: Katrina

One lazy afternoon, in a marquee on the banks of the Brisbane River, in a spot which would have been three metres under water last January, I sat with the battered and the downtrodden at the feet of Michael Leunig. We had been drawn to him in our individual and collective downtrodden-ness because his topic was everyday despair. I related to his gentle words that day, and I concluded that to have such a profound understanding of sadness Michael Leunig had to be a supporter of the Geelong Football Club.

How else could Leunig know such sadness. How else could he know such suffering.

That was before 2007.

In those days, when travelling on trams, I’d find my forehead leaning on the window and, as the dribble trickled from the corner of my mouth, and the tired old shops drifted by, I’d wonder what life might have been, a Jeremy-Irons voice re-visiting failure and frustration in my mind. In those days I’d listen to Cohen and Cave and put Eva Cassidy’s Fields of Gold on repeat until the track wore out.

That was before Joel Selwood.

In those days I’d look out that tram window and the laughter of children would make me weep.

That was before Tom Harley took the reins.

In those days I’d watch the 1989 Grand Final again and again, and wonder what made Chris Langford and Chris Mew the great men they were; the sort of blokes who hold the world together.

In those days young blokes in pubs looked like Nick Davis; they were boundlessly happy like Carlton supporters who believed the world belonged to them, and would come to them, who had a sense of entitlement that I didn’t. That all post-1963 Catters didn’t. We didn’t believe we were deserving of the premiership cup.

In those days, I took refuge in St Paul’s letter to the Romans, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”

I hoped.

And then something happened. It was as if the spirit of Max Rooke filled the Geelong world. Wherever the Geelong diaspora had taken us around the planet, that spirit came in through the windows and the doors, and through the gaps in the Baltic pine floorboards of our cheap rentals in Fitzroy, blowing the yellowing poster of G. Ablett senior from under the fridge magnet and the Ian Nankervis footy card off the notice board.

We won the flag. In 2007, we played the most scintillating, joyful football and we won the flag. We won the flag. Geelong won the flag.

There were tears. Different tears, but from the same place.

That premiership marked the end of tram-dribble. I stood tall. Fresh. Deeply contented. Out: Cohen, Cave. In: Formby, Katrina and the Waves.

In 2008 when we lost to Hawthorn, the doubt returned. Was 2007 an aberration? Had the footy gods allowed it?

But then 2009 changed that again. We won the flag.

And we have kept winning, celebrating the game each week with skill and artistry, in a way which turns your schnitzel into a parma, and puts bubbles in your beer.

We are living a new world. In all of this glorious Geelong beauty, there is a sense of blessing. We are blessed to have Chris Scott and Chappy, Otto and Harry Taylor. The whole lot of them.

And we are blessed to be playing Collingwood in a Grand Final.

I don’t always travel by tram. I go to the footy by train, along the Epping line, through Clifton Hill towards the MCG. I am dribbling again these days, mainly because we have three kids under four years old: Theo (2007), Anna (2009) and Evie (2011).

Now as my forehead leans on the carriage window, and the dribble pools, I look wistfully out across sad Victoria Park to another time; a time of Colliers and Coventrys, Roses, and McKennas. I can see Joffa in shorts, botting fags. And Eddie talking to his network of pie-sellers whom he’s signed on making full use of the subsidies offered through a government job-creation grant the forms for which he filled out with the help of his Year 5 teacher, Sister Boniface, at Our Lady of Perpetual Bingo.

We chug towards the next station and from high on the line I can see out across the rusty rooves of Collingwood, to Abbotsford and Raheen, and I wonder how long it will be before Ed makes an offer to the Pratts. I look out at this storied suburb of grim determination with a proud footy club that used to represent it.  And on to Jolimont.

This will be a great Grand Final: joy for one team, Leunig’s despair for the other.

As Bobby Davis used to say, “I hope both sides play to the best of their ability, and the better side wins.”

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. 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 - Theo12, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Masterful stuff.

  2. Hear, hear.

    “celebrating the game each week with skill and artistry, in a way which turns your schnitzel into a parma, and puts bubbles in your beer” funny and touching.

    Cheers

  3. Nothing evokes the glory of football like a Harms. Beautiful John, good luck on Saturday.

  4. Grant Fraser says

    Harms

    Stop having kids. I can’t afford any more and I want a Hawks premiership next year.

    Rgds,

    Grant Fraser (DOB 9/6/1961) father of Alexis (DOB 4/7/2008)

  5. Grant Fraser says

    and what is with the Catoggio wig @ page 15 of The Rage?

  6. Clearisghted says

    Beautiful.

  7. JTH,

    I enjoyed your piece but must confess to raising my eyebrows as I read the final few paragraphs.

    The contrast that you painted of the beautiful, free-wheeling, Geelong spirit versus the run-down, sad, yester-year depiction of Collingwood was very interesting. As were the thinly veiled implications re Ed & representing the area…etc

    I guess we all should bow to the Cats, who have never had to leave their spiritual home, unlike like so many of our teams.

    So – you are blessed to be playing Collingwood in the GF? This generally implies victory is assured as the thought of losing a GF to Collingwood tends to weaken even the strongest knees. Most opposition fans state their desire to head out of town without staying to face the music – displaying the sort of pathetic courage we Pie fans expect. In contrast, Pie fans have stood and faced their music, played so often, over the years.

    So – we may not actually play footy in Collingwood any more, and we may have many supporters who don’t sit with scarves on their knees at the footy, and we may have a few who lose their marbles at a game, and we have a few out of work, and we have Joffa & Ed.

    But we are many, and we are varied, and although the footy world is jumping off us because the Cats are purring, that last quarter versus the Hawks was real finals footy and just the tune up the Pies needed for Saturday.

    So – win, lose or draw, Collingwood will continue to represent us regardless of where they play or how bleak and rusted Abbotsford may look.

  8. Peter Tibbles says

    John, I’ve always enjoyed your work on the radio and in print, however, I need to get something off my chest after reading your piece in The Age.
    You Geelong supporters may wish to think of yourselves as the poor put-upon barrackers with your Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake songs. Really, you’re just wearing a pretend hair shirt. You have, what 7, 8 premierships? Two from the last few years and you carry on about the one that you believe was yours. Our music is more Mickey Newbury or Chet Baker. Okay, we had the greatest footballer who ever pulled on boots, but that did little for we Footscray supporters (I refuse to call them by this silly new name). We can claim not just Mickey and Chet musically, but probably the full gamut of country music. Blues as well.
    Anyway, in spite of my rave, I hope you win. There are worse supporters – Hawthorn springs to mind, but the Collingwood/Carlton/Essendon trio are the worst of the lot.

  9. Lovely piece – reflective and whimsical. I get that Nick and Lenny got the chop, and that you are now ‘Walking on Sunshine’ at the Cattery. But ‘Formby’ in????
    Are you ‘Leaning on a Lampost’ until a certain little half forward goes by, or do you check out Mick’s gameplan ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’?
    Harms in a pork pie hat playing the ukelele. I’d like to see that.

  10. JTH

    As always you do us proud…Go Cats!!!

  11. Great stuff John. We just can’t let Evie down. Go Catters!

  12. Adding a new line to the resume:
    “Tram-Dribbler”
    I love it

    Go Cats

  13. Had an eyebrow up, myself, Bakes. But I can’t improve on your last two “Sos”. We ARE many and varied, and our boys are representing all of us just fine.
    Re your first “so”, I think Harmsy was just relishing the prospect of a blockbuster GF. They might not like us much, but they can’t bring themselves to turn away.
    GO YOU BEAUTIFUL PIES.

  14. It is a pity there has to be loser in this one as both are worthy winners!

  15. MOC,

    You are probably right. But it just sounded a touch presumptuous is all.

    I must say I like the vibe coming out of the Pie camp. Mick was very calm on The Footy Show tonight. His boys really love him and will give him everything they’ve got. Let’s hope they get the job done.

    So too was Luke Ball on Ten. Isn’t he a marvel? Could well be the most popular player in the AFL. All the mums I know just love him.

    BTW………Cats $1.72 Pies $2.10. Very interesting market.

    Go Pies!

  16. “Our Lady of Perpetual Bingo”…!!!

    Very appropriate, in a week when Eddie is publicly moaning on behalf of the pro-pokies lobby, apparently he can’t make money from a large supporter base and onfield success without the parasitic devices.

    Credit to Geelong’s Colin Carter; he evidently has a social conscience and/or has read the Productivity Commission’s report. The contrast kind of gives tomorrow a little ‘good vs evil’ about it…

  17. Brad,

    Agree with you here.

    Be nice if all of the AFL clubs could unite on this much-needed reform. Ed often speaks out on behalf of other weaker parties who are happy to hide behind his comments. They reap the benefits when they arise but then let him take all of the fall when it backfires.

    On this occasion, I wish Ed was like Colin.

  18. Superb John. It’s true, we each know both sides of the coin. May the best team win mate.

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