Professor Johnson, the young skipper and The Doyen of Unobtrusion

Carlton v Geelong

It was a Frank McCourt afternoon as Anna and I sat in the Lutheran Church at North Geelong at the funeral of old Uncle Theo, a cousin of my late father’s. Dank and gloomy, the Heavens were low, and descending. Two-year-old Anna had sensed the mood and was perfectly quiet and appropriately pensive, and even sang along in her own way to “To God Be The Glory”.

A Lutheran funeral is a mighty thing: a gathering of a community which is scattered around the nation, especially the countryside, the remnants of a rural, peasant church rich in connectedness and fraternity. The spread of sandwiches and cakes is always good. Still mettwursts and dill pickles and cheeses, and slices the recipes for which are in the Lutheran Ladies’ Guild Recipe Book.

I met old pastors who knew Dad and Uncle Theo and they wanted to talk footy. Always footy and cricket. Weather. Norm Gaden was over from South Australia. He was at [Concordia] College in the late ‘40s and went home to the Eyre Peninsula where he drove trucks and rucked for the local team in the Far West competition. When he had a job to Melbourne he’d stay at a pub near Arden Street and take in a game of footy.

It was an afternoon of both affirmation, and of challenge. Is this my tribe? Is this my community?

As we left, the road took us alongside the old Geelong Golf Golf Club, now decommissioned. Is there anything sadder than a golf course in decay: half dug up and trees pushed over, with housing development propaganda preached from slick billboards. Where do the memories go to?

Anna and I were caught in traffic returning to Melbourne and I was never going to make Docklands for the Cats game. We listened to SEN all the way up the highway, and while we were stuck on the Westgate Bridge. They were scraping the bottom of the barrel with their talkback topic, “Which current player would be last man picked?” Cringe-worthy stuff and Dr. Turf knew it. I hoped Richard Tambling wasn’t listening, or even more so I was hoping  that he is such a good fellow that he could see it all for what is worth. I’ve heard he’s doing good things at Sturt.

But eventually we reached home just as the footy was about to start.

The kids go into the bath and it’s too late to light a fire. J. Podsiadly is out and I ask myself how Tom Hawkins will handle it all. On evidence, pretty well I would have thought. Does Harry stay forward?

The wind blows and the light rain continues, but the roof is closed at Docklands and I wonder whether fans are ever going to feel they can wear slippers there.

The Cats get out of the blocks with a goal to Duncan in a match which has opened at ridiculous pace. Players are running at a squillion miles an hour and the sleight of handball is a trickery too quick for me. When Carlton have it, they keep it, and in the frenzy it’s Eddie Betts’s trickery and pace which are most thrilling. He is too good for Josh Hunt, and for everyone, and he dominates the opening stanza with three goals, one of which includes a series of spins and a thrust of the boot – the left boot mind you – which projects the Sherrin through.

Josh Hunt knows Eddie is too good for him and as the options to contain the livewire forward are running out he takes an opportunity to pin him to the ground by use of a boot on the wrist, a manoeuvre which is likely to bear Hunt’s name from now on. This is an admission of defeat. Even if it is spur-of-the-moment silliness (of the type many of us have perpetrated when contest has placed us in this strange mind-altering place), I suspect his card will be marked.

The Irishman, Zach Tuohy, (impressive every time I see him) nails a running goal of confidence and responsibility and the excuses start to locate themselves in my consciousness: missing a lot of players is the principal. But wait: what about Carlton? They’ve got even more out, they’re in disarray generally, and they’re no good anyway.

The Cats start to win the footy and the game enters a period of balance. Scrappy balance. Neither side looks, during the first half, that it could be a threat to the better sides.

Jimmy Bartel plays a defensive role. Chappy is still thinking like a footballer but his limbs are receiving messages at a slower rate. David Wojcinki’s adds run on the overlap, and the angles he charts to receive the handball open up options. He’s quick, yes, but he’s also clever.

Unfortunately those options are few and far between. Hawk looks like he’s been out to lunch (which is in itself admirable but not beneficial to the cause) and the big blokes are showing signs that all six metres of the Carlton Three might be a key to the outcome of the game.

For the Blues, along with Betts, Andrew Collins moves beautifully and finds the pill, but continues to look like a nervous golfer who doesn’t believe in his swing (or his chipping, or his putting stroke). His disposal is patchy. Robinson is antsy. Judd is OK but looks slightly uninterested, like he’s ready to do something else, with the IOC or the UN or the Melbourne Stock Exchange.

Enter Johnno. Bryce Gibbs has been given the job on Johnno which makes me think immediately of the Almanac’s columnist Litza. Gibbs is adequate at least, effective at most.

Johnno is playing his faux-nutty professor role, with a lot of talking, pointing, explaining, bum-patting, gathering of the footy, and creative disposing of it. I am in a lounge room in Northcote and I can tell he is the force on the field. I reckon I can read his mind. He is not nutty.

Meanwhile Scarlo rolls his eyes. The veteran full back is a different sort of talent: more Bruce Doull than Allen Jakovich. In one incident Scarlo is the doyen of unobtrusion: a high bomb comes into the pocket and he is behind Hampson. He has judged the ball perfectly and taken his position. He has had the strength to hold that position. At the last instant he turns and the Sherrin comes over his shoulder and into his arms. And away go the Cats again. No fanfare. Sheer skill.

The game is characterised by scrimmages and often when sides get out they butcher the footy. A couple of 50 metre penalties (which were there) assist the Blues cause, but the Cats look the better side, until minutes later the Blues do.

Johnno gets free and takes off. His second bounce is a geometric decision. He is intent on demonstrating (professorially) that there are two axes on the ground by going forward and then stepping sideways but he runs into trouble and gives an undergraduate handball to Chappy. Chappy is nailed and is nothing short of pissed off. (I see finger-wagging) They should have scored.

Motlop moves beautifully, making space around the ground, and kicking three second-quarter goals while Kreuzer takes a mark so strong that coaching staff around the nation raise their eyebrows in fear. He then kicks atrociously. The eyebrows come down.

It’s anyone’s game at half-time.

The kids are down, so I head to the North Fitzroy Arms to put in the rest of the footy tips. (They know Geelong is an automatic selection). The weather is still rather Wexford but the pub is magnificently warm and the diners are kicking on, enjoying the footy, and the guitarist, singing along with the muso’s best Cat and Neil and Eagles.

The legendary umpire Murray Bird is there, and he’s trying to make sense of the contest, and (being a Queenslander) the weather.

Joel Selwood influences the third quarter and Johnno is still here, there and everywhere. The Blues miss. Walker takes a screamer in the style of the Walker screamers.

Betts is still the energy, but doesn’t influence the scorecard. After starting brilliantly, the ball is not quite falling for him. Hunt fights back with a couple of telling marks and sound clearances. Gibbs is alright on Johnno, and kicks a clutch goal. The Cats seem to be in better nick physically and mentally Johnno and Joel Selwood look like nothing will stop them from winning the game. Selwood gathers, baulks, straightens up and sends one home. Bartel kicks a beauty on the run from outside 50.

But Carlton, despite their missed opportunities, will not go away. The Cats lead by a goal at three quarter time.

Harry Taylor goes forward and immediately gets involved. He finds West up forward for a goal. And Selwood converts a dubious free kick (oh dear?) and so, later on, does Stokes.

Yarran is fresh. He hits the post. So do others. Scrubby kicks bobble through and the Blues, with a good deal of the play, register nine behinds for the quarter.

Hampson drops a sitter in the pocket. How would I make sense of the game if I were a Carlton supporter?

Mercifully I am not, and it seems to me the Cats will win. This is not three-beer confidence (although it might be). Again the senior players are very good: Bartel, Corey, Scarlett, Mackie.

They skip three goals clear after Duncan benefits from some creative running from Johnno.

The win is not convincing. But it is a win.

Selwood is the skipper and he has led brilliantly in the second half.

But I reckon I can see what’s going on. This season is all about Johnno. I reckon he thinks the Cats have got another one in them, and he is going to do absolutely everything he can to help lead them. He is the biggest personality on the park. And the biggest footy-nut. He is a true footballer. In the way Dermie and Gary Ayres and Michael Tuck were. Michael Voss and Nige and Leppa.

Although the night has been about Carlton and her troubled state, it is more about Geelong. The Cats are the reigning premiers. They have two of the assets of the game. They are a team. And they are mature. It is certainly not the moment for the in-front-of-the-TV blanket on the lap and the when-I-was-playing stories.

The Cats are right in this, and Prof Johnno is going to be a key.


Votes: 3. Joel Selwood  2. Eddie Betts  1. Scarlo

Twitter   John [email protected]




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. Mark Doyle says

    Another gutsy win for the Cats! We might have passed you on the Princes Highway and had a good run having left Newtown at about 6.05 pm and were parked in South Melbourne near the Crown Casino at about 7.20pm. We were not listening to SEN and good discussion on books, the French open tennis and family updates. Carlton played OK, but the Cats had more better players. My Brownlow votes: 3 – Joel Selwood; 2 – Mitch Duncan; and 1 – Matthew Stokes. Other good players for the Cats were Motlop, Chapman, Corey, Bartel and Scarlett. Corey and Bartel were particlarly good in assisting Duncan against Judd at the centre square and stoppage ball-ups. Duncan did very well against Judd around the ground and is developing well to become an A grade player. My better players for Carlton were Gibbs, Simpson, Judd and Betts.
    I concur with your thoughts about the Lutheran funeral service. I have similar thoughts about the Catholic funeral services including the requiem mass and ‘wake’, which is a great communal way to reflect on a person’s life.

  2. JTH – spot on about Carlton supporters not being able to make sense of it. Same about Collins… and Judd.

  3. John Harms says

    Of course that should have read Unobtrusion. I cannot claim the creativity of B. Dickins.

  4. Great article, and confirms once again that the Cats are more than capable.

    But what about the blues? What does it mean now at the season mid point? Sure a better effort but another loss and not necessarily an honourable loss. Does the club need to reframe things for one last go or just concede the season. I’m not sure and incredibly despite all the who-hah the team is only 2 games out of the top 4. Surely that’s not going to happen but…

    We were told this week by the reserve bank governor that we need to change our psyche that our glass is half full – not half empty. There may be some truth in that statement as far as Carlton’s season goes, especially with key players returning later in the season and the nice draw in July and August. Kudos to Geelong for their fighting win, but I wonder whether this game actually restarts Carlton’s season based on endeavour and effort. If the short-breaked Blues beat the home advantaged, rested Eagles, then perhaps more good is to come than bad, especially with so many games at the MCG to follow.

    If it goes that way, it may not be too dissimilar to the 1976 season of intrigue for the Blues (which by the way still resulted in finals losses and frustrated the supporters no end). That said, that’s a 100 to 1 shot and if it goes the other way (as we all think it will), and Carlton does what it has done uncharacteristically for the last decade (i.e. lose more games than it wins), then bring on a full review of operations to bring about meaningful change.

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    I texted two mates, one carl and one a cat, at quarter time: ‘neither team strong up forward. onballers key’. Two quarters later I texted: ‘Selwood’. Game was perfect for him. He is a gun.

    Umps had bad night. They’re confused. A few harsh words from a few journos during the week about holding the ball decisions and suddenly they’re hot on it. Some terrible decisions. In particularly, against the Carl player tackled and dragged across the boundary line by Stokes? and Jimmy B who was mauled by a handful of opponents, tried to get rid of it, and told the ump while doing so, but was pinged. Shocker.

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    Not convinced by Cats

  7. John Harms says

    Huge game v Sydney on Friday week. Premiership markets had Geelong drift on the basis of their victory, which I fully understand. Swans first half was sensational – and that was away.

  8. Andrew Starkie says

    Cats experiencing a dip year and lacking a bit of hunger I think.

  9. Skip of Skipton says

    The Cats appear to be jammed in second gear. Look out when they find top. Is it too early to be describing Harry Taylor as a ‘swingman’?
    I like it, if for no other reason than putting a cat amongst the pigeons in the oppositions coaching box.

  10. Richard Naco says

    My experience with Geelong is that the more talk about there is about them lacking a bit of hunger, the bit more hungrier they become. It’s a self perpetuating cycle that leads straight to an apocalypse.

    I suspect that in this incredibly close and exciting season we’re all enjoying (well I’m enjoying it – my team’s limited opportunities to shatter the dearest of dreams grants me the comparative luxury of the non-participant – lol), the Cats are that dark dark cloud building up a head of steam on the horizon, before seeping in and laying utter waste to all caught in its path.

    An ambush of titanic proportions is being set. I believe that this will be Geelong’s year.


  11. Richard Naco says

    (seeping in should be sweeping in. none of the other typos in that drivel merit correction)

  12. Cats – À la recherche du temps perdu.
    Blues look a much better side – on a dry track when they get their stars back.

  13. tony bull says

    I nearly got cleaned up by an errant gold ball last night whilst walking my dogs past the Barwon River Golf club. Stevie J was the culprit, perhaps he should tee off around his body?

  14. Cats are travelling OK but they just lack that bit of clean touch. I guess a bit of it goes as youth also goes. Chappy fumbling, Corey fumbling, Enright fumbling. None of it bad, but very noticeable.

    I had Selwood, Betts and Motlop in my three with apologies to Jimmy B.

  15. John
    I’m afraid I am with A Starkie on this one. I reckon the Cats
    are just travelling at the moment, and some of their older
    stars are playing from memory. Yes, the youngsters are a
    good batch, but I reckon the retirements of Ottens, Ling and
    Milburn will be more keenly felt at the business end of the

  16. John Harms says

    I agree Smokie, they are just travelling. But I reckon there’s a key question: is this the best they’ve got, or are they travelling poorly now but with a lot of improvement in them? Fans are not dispassionate, hence the view is obvious. Neither are fans completely without reason. The evidence is that no side (including Collingwood) has created clear form lines – there’s an aberration in there for all of them. But perhaps that aberration is an indication that some of the well-performed sides actually aren’t that good. How could you not rate Sydney on their first half on the weekend? Yet they were beaten by the Tiges. I saw the Crows live and they were brilliant against Geelong. This is a crazy year and that will help sides just travelling, especially ones that know how to win in September. You’ve just got to get yourself a barrier (good for Adelaide) and remain injury-free (not good for Collingwood).

  17. Yep, I understand what you are saying, John.
    The first step is to get to September.
    And given the way the season is panning out, any team on any given day could win a final.
    Could it be the season where a team wins the flag from 5th, 6th or 7th ?

  18. Neil Belford says

    Precisely John – I think the Cats chances are at least as good as any-one else’s. It is the craziest of seasons – which is about to become the new normal. Making the finals in good shape is about all that is going to matter. I don’t think any of the canons about top 4 or top 2, or away finals will count for a rats arse this September. This is the start of the moneyball era, I think this is the way it is going to be . Most of the clubs that are thereabouts now ‘get it’, although I think Essendon and Carlton are miles away – they are still somewhat quaint – like Collingwood in 2011 – its about heroism and a square jaw.

    8th spot can win in 2012. I think there are about three Cats who are already saving themselves for September now – whether they actually have another big campaign in left in them I don’t think even they know, but history says they will give everything finding out. I’m also sure those three wont be any use to the team in 2013 – but hey – they can worry about that in October.

  19. I agree with John’s summation that anyone who can make the finals or particularly the top 4, has a realistic chance of finishing Premiers. As someone who from hard experience no longer bets anything on anything anywhere, I thought I would construct a 100% market of premiership chances (not the 140% market that the bookies offer – skimming a large take for themselves regardless of outcome – given the ridiculously short odds they offer to the needy and the greedy).
    My opinion is that 10 teams have a chance of making the finals, and that once they get there its a raffle – except that top 2 (for non-Melbourne sides); and top 4 (for the double chance) gives a definite percentage advantage. I don’t think Adelaide are the best side in the comp – that’s probably Collingwood on form – but Adelaide’s draw makes them highly likely to get 2 Home finals. Same for West Coast but we have a slightly harder draw, and we are yet to prove ourselves against a good side away from home. Sydney would be shorter if the GF were played anywhere but the MCG. 2 SCG finals may well see them get there and then its toss of the coin. On their day any of these 10 can beat any other – given the right venue; ground conditions and player availability with injury and suspension. I can offer you 3 good reasons why any of them could win it; and 3 equally good reasons why they can’t. Its a brilliant competition among a lot of very good teams (though none is outstanding) – the AFL and the clubs have much to be proud of.
    These are my odds to 100% on the left with the current TattsBet market in brackets:
    Adelaide 6.50 (7.00)
    West Coast 7.50 (6.50)
    Collingwood 7.50 (3.50)?????????
    Sydney 9.00 (11.00)
    Hawthorn 9.00 (4.75)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Essendon 9.00 (13.00)
    Geelong 10.00 (11.00)
    Carlton 16.00 (26.00)
    St Kilda 16.00 (21.00)
    Richmond 16.00 (21.00)
    Rest – Write your own ticket
    My only advice to the dispassionate who fancies a wager would be to lay Collingwood and Hawthorn at a point over the current odds to risk an amount you are comfortable losing. Any positive bet is pure speculation.

  20. John – pity you don’t offer a comments section on your Grand Tour itinerary pages. I see the Corangamite Library is having an Ordinary Board Meeting while you are down there. You could pop along to see if there are any tips you can pick up to offer the Brayshaw Brothers. Ordinary Boards are a North Melbourne specialty.

  21. Hello John – it was lovely to meet you at Mortlake Library on Friday and hear you speak. You certainly gave good value!! The discussion was stimulating and I was impressed to feeli awe at the breadth of your (social) experience and your preparedness to tallk on such a range of topics. If I came prepared to suffer and be bored by footy talk I certainly was not – such a pity that more locals didn’t make it their business to be there. I am sure they would have enjoyed the morning too.

    P.S. I believe I said that I had reluctantly bought an Almanac for my (school) library. On reflection, I bought it because I knew there would be many who would enjoy it – even if they never borrowed another book in their lives!

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