Ritual or routine?

Growing up, footy, for our family, was a matter of ritual. Each season developed its own rhythm, its own timetable, and we would find ourselves doing the same thing at the same time each week. Church, school, Saladas and Vegemite and Adventure Island after-school and then kick-to-kick, Monday’s newspaper to read, and F-Troop, being allowed to cut the paper up on Tuesday and sticking stuff in the scrap book (never under-estimate the place of Clag in footy),  Friday newspaper for the teams, footy panel, Saturday newspaper with the kids pages and Kiss of Death and the radio schedule, the long wait until 2.08pm (was that the time?), the battle to get decent reception on the radiogram, and pre-footy replay TV (I especially remember Felix the Cat).

Waiting for the footy replay. Would it be Geelong?

Then homemade sausage rolls with flaky pastry and tomato sauce for tea in front of the fire with the latest invention – briquettes – burning away (to make us smell like Bury), while we watched the footy. Family discussions after Dad’s analysis. Bed. And learning your text card for Sunday School the next morning. Then church and home for stew with mashed potato and Worcestershire sauce with white bread to mop up the gravy, all in front of World of Sport. Sunday afternoon of reading Bill Peat books and some big kids’ books with no pictures, and Dad going off to Girgarre or Stanhope for evening service and me being the only one up with Mum and the clothes horse in front of the fireplace and Mum at the ironing board until Dad came home with a single cherry ripe for us to share.

I call it ritual. It was too important to be routine.

But now that I am in the middle of the parenting end of it I am starting to wonder. Why did time go so slowly then? And now it seems to flash by with everything done at a rush?

The Handicapper and I had a debate on Friday night (one of those ones where both make their case stridently), about how we were going to spend the weekend. I find it staggering that, after 13 years togetehr, each Friday night during footy season it comes as a complete surprise to her that I am planning to watch Geelong play on the weekend. It just hasn’t dawned on her. Footy is so insignificant, it is not in her thinking. At all.

Saturday morning. We take the kids to the park. Each park has a name. The closest is The Pink Horse Park but we went to The Big Slippery Slide Park on the rise above Ramsden St Oval at Clifton Hill.

“Look,” says The Handicapper, as we are parking and two teams are warming up on the ground, one in Fitzroy jumpers, the other in Brisbane Lions jumpers, “they’re going to play footy.”

It’s like she’s Dirk Hartog and she’s just stumbled across emus on the beach at Shark Bay.

The kids love the time at the park, but soon you can’t see the cityscape for the rain, and we head for the Alphabet Café for a shared pancake and coffee and hot chocolate. And then home.

We make a fire and the house becomes cosy as the rain hits the glass. Too much rain. It might be the reason I am not at Kardinia Park.

But then again the real reason might be more poor debating skills and a realisation that running off to the footy for an afternoon of beer on the terrace with Marvin Vaas (“But isn’t he a cricket writer?”) leaving Mum with three kids four and under isn’t wise.

It’s a compromise.

Theo watches the start of the footy with me. Baby Evie goes to sleep. Anna is doing Reading Eggs on the computer. So Mum has some time to herself. She is wading through a Microbiology text book which is about as dense and complicated as a Ross Lyon game plan.

We all live in the lounge-dining room of the terrace house and that’s where Foxtel is, so in order The Handicapper hates: greyhound racing, harness racing, the gallops, footy, and darts. All interrupt her concentration. (I’ve learnt it’s wise not to point out that you think she actively listens out for Foxtel).

Recently we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. The Handicapper bought me a wonderful present. Having researched them for weeks (and waited for the sales) she presented me with  wireless TV headphones which I now have to wear when I am watching anything to do with sport on TV.

I am concerned about this. How will it affect Theo’s memories of childhood? How will he ever know ritual? Surely the house should be filled with Cometti and Harley?

Theo lasts a matter of minutes in front of the footy before he’s off “doing craft” as he calls it to Blue-Tac to his art gallery walls (Oh dear).

So I am free to take in the game, albeit in my new headphoned universe.

On a grey day the atmosphere from Kardinia seems sleepy (or is that the headphones?) I can hear the thump of footy on footer (headphones?) Pods takes a big mark to cheers (headphones?) and wheels, finding Hawk. I am nodding already. Could this be another big day for Geelong? His kick holds in the southerly (ah, same wind as in Northcote: headphones?) and doesn’t make the distance.

Kelly misses, and Corey misses and it seems the effect of the new headphones is for the Dees  not to be able to touch the Sherrin. Johnno goals and he has got that smart-arse look on his face that he occasionally gets (actually, let me re-phrase that: that he occasionally doesn’t get). Despite the conditions the big blokes are doing well. Mitch Clark  moves beautifully and takes a ripping back-over-his-head flying mark of courage, athleticism and coordination. He has already snapped one and he’s keeping his side in it.

At the other end, Hawkins looks like he’s about to run amok. He’s up on his toes and leaping and moving around like you do playing chasey barefoot in the summer time on Queensland blue-couch. The Cats look in complete control. Corey is the kelpie in the house paddock; Enright is the kelpie in the back paddock; Steven Motlop is the kelpie pup.

Good kicking keeps the Dees in touch, but it looks like the Cats will burst away at any moment. The fiery Jones plays with steel and resolve, and the two young Melbourne skippers are in many contests, even if they don’t win them. The flashy Cats are out-flashed by the leap of Jeremy Howe and Tom Lonergan has little chance of containing Clark as he is sitting in the new grandstand with a niggle.

Jimmy Bartel has a strong first half which results in a couple of goals. And who is on Chappy? He seems to be free all of the time, marking at 60 a few times which has me yelling, “Go the torp.”

“Go the torp” in a household, the silence in which is otherwise only broken by the sound of Anna’s Pac-Man game, hangs in the air.

“What?” says The Handicapper.

“Did you say something?” I say, removing one ear.

“Did you say something?” The Handicapper says.

“No.” I say.

“Yes, you did,” The Handicapper says.

“Oh, yes,” I say. “I said go the torp.”




“Yeah, Chappy,” I say. “He should have had a shot.”

“You know you’re making a lot of comments in there,” says The Handicapper.

“Did you say something?” I ask, removing one can again.

I am realising that headphones create an altered reality. Although it may not be the headphones. I am spending the afternoon in the intimate company of that famous commentary team McLachlan and Zempalis (surely the Tamsyn Lewis and Tamsyn Lewis of commentary teams). It could be them. They are in my head. Closer to me than The Handicapper by the length of the Terang straight. Do they prevent this afternoon from being ritual? Have they locked me into a life of domestic low-fat WeetBix and loin chops with the tails trimmed off?

Thank God for Johnno. I’ll remember forever. He is a plate full of loin chop tails (and throw away the chop bits); he is pork crackling by the trifle-dish full, and sparkling shiraz through a straw; he is as many Turkish Delight Easter eggs as you can shove into your mouth.

Johnno is why we love footy. He is running everywhere. It’s like improvised theatre and he’s dragged Motlop into it all. The coach later looks for euphemisms and says the attack was a little ‘cavalier’ but I know deep-down C. Scott loved it for the creativity, if not the performance. The coach is, after all, only human. And he has the insight to say it llike a slightly peeved teacher. Just fort he record.

I am now in my own world of Johnno-love and Motlop-love. Evie’s still asleep. I haven’t noticed Theo blowing on the dying fire and sending sparks everywhere. Oddly, The Handicapper has, even though, generally, she’s not confident about fires, hence it is my brief. (“I’m not good at fires – or roasts.” A rare admission. I think I noted the date and time.)

Motlop can really run. He looms (from out of shot), and then goes up a gear. I like when new footballers loom.

Meanwhile Lynden Dunn, with his moustache, which makes him look like the fifth brother of a struggling country house in Oxfordshire, who has been hidden away in the World War II airforce. But he battles away. You can’t help bad luck.

Clark takes a couple more big grabs. (The marking of both teams has been a highlight).

There are some classic Johnno moments. And some classic Geelong moments. Some start deep in defence. One, in particular, is a slick chain of handpasses which eventually sets young Stringer on a path to goal and he slots through the first of his career. He may not kick one as good, in any form of the game, anywhere in the world.

But then that’s the sense of joy you get when this team is on.

Evie wakes up. The headphones go away. The sound is turned down but the images remain. Geelong has won comfortably. Freo and the Coast come on.

There’s tea to prepare. Baths. Stories.

It’s ritual. It has to be.


Votes: 3. S. Johnson  2 S. Motlop  1. C. Enright  (with apologies to Mitch Clark and Joel Corey)



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 - 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. Dennis Gedling says

    Great stuff. In regards to Perth ‘A list personality’ Basil Zempilas I’ve only just realised that the rest of Australia is now having to deal with his somewhat questionable skills as a commentator. It’s like a lab in Perth accidently released a super virus on the rest of the country. We’ve had Bas in our ears since the mid 90s.

  2. JTH – I understand completely your concern about the headphones. At our house I do my house work tasks (yes I do some) listening to my ipod with headphones on. I think I am being a wonderful husband and father because I know neither my wife nor children particularly like my music. And guess what happened? I was asked if I could play my music without headphones so they could all hear it!! And when I remove the head phones I get “haven’t you got any good music on that thing?” Remarkable.

    Anyway you should also consider that Theo and the others will grow up with memories of their own ritual. Theo might write something like,

    “I recall my father sitting on the edge of the couch with his headphones on completely enthralled in the footy. Every now and agian he would pierce the silence with “Go the torp!”

  3. I’m hearing “Go the torp” from a grumpy old man sitting in nursing home somewhere and his companions noticing him for the first time, because he has been asleep for three hours. Is this the future of fooyy with head phones?

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I can relate Harmsy and Dips. I get he headphones given to me when I watch the soccer from England. Of course when Newcastle score I can’t help but yell and carry on. Although last night was much quieter.

    I also cop flak from Dina about Foxtel being a waste of money, yet last night she was happily engaged with WAG Nation. Go figure.

  5. Oh i relate to this so well. I’ll be showing my wife this, i’m sure she’ll have a chuckle. We’ve got three 10 to 1, I hear you loud on clear!

    My footy ritual/s have changed dramatically over the years, though some things remain. Travelling to the MCG, the teams on a Thursday, Monday morning papers, family footy tips…(not online), putting a scarf out the window after a win.

    I’d never stopped to think how footy rituals for my kids will be so different to mine, and a a result I think I’m going to be more mindful of trying to win their hearts and minds footy wise.

    Thoroughly enjoyable read.

  6. Rick Kane says

    As has already been said. Saturday night I went to a friend’s daughter’s 21st rather than to the G to see Cyril and Buddy boot 11 between them. (If you could see me, I’m shaking my head wistfully). I tentatively approached the idea with my lovely wife that friends of the family don’t really have to attend a 21st. The party is, after all, for the kids. It was met with the kind of stare wives learn at wife school and reduces the husband’s argument, position and standing to a croak in the blink of an eye. Arriving at the party the first thing the father of the party girl said was, “what are you doing here, haven’t you got an important match to be at?” We had a great time at the party and I followed my team’s fortunes via an App and Twitter.


  7. Great read JH. Those footy rituals are very sweet.
    Our Mum would pack home made sausage rolls wrapped in a tea towel and newspaper and another tea towel, to take to the footy at KP. She’d also have a thermos of milo made with milk and, to this day, I swear the taste of milo out of a thermos carries the sweet and warming taste I loved when sitting on the outer wing in my duffel coat.
    When I was older, after playing netball (at KP), I’d wander over to the reserve (at KP) and join my family to watch the Cats play.
    As a parent, there has been no problem between my husband and I regarding visiting rights of the footy, on the telly or at the ground. Even in a mixed marriage like ours – Geelong/Richmond. That is because I made sure our daughter was brought up right – she barracks for Geelong. Even now, all these years later, she lives in NYC and keeps tabs on her beloved Cats.
    You have to start early with these rituals.

  8. I see Wocjinski is out for 8 weeks with Scarlett fever.

  9. pamela sherpa says

    This would be funny if it weren’t so serious . Or should I say ‘ this would be serious if it weren’t so funny’.
    Don’t worry, it’s hard to imagine the kids not becoming immersed in Melbourne mad football culture. Before long they’ll be joining you on the couch and barracking for the Cats. Then you’ll have to buy the Handicapper a set of head phones.

  10. The headphone world can be a lonely one. As you have daughters as well as a son, perhaps your article could run with the sub-title: “The Loneliness of the Non-Sexist Father” ?

  11. Paul Campbell says

    Enjoyed the piece, Harmsy and particularly related to your point on how; “it comes as a complete surprise to her that I am planning to watch Geelong play on the weekend. It just hasn’t dawned on her. Footy is so insignificant, it is not in her thinking. At all.”

    After considerable time period, “Indifferent-to-Football-Woman” now asks forlornly, “What are the Hawks doing this weekend?”, so the block can be planned around.

    I have the same issue with Foxtel. It has been communicated AFL has a noise level superior to all other sports – fervent commentators etc. (I agree). English Premier League matches tend to waft across the room atmospherically and it’s to the credit of callers like Martin Tyler as much as the calm-inducing songs of English crowds.

    On the couple of occasions I have had access to corporate seats, I2FW has joined – for the scene, not the footy. If the Hawks were the L.A Lakers she would be there every week. Her Blues-Brother has divulged I2FW’s affiliation with Collingwood when aged 11 – this was about a boy and both were cast-off ….very fortunately for me. PC

  12. Dave Nadel says

    The Handicapper needs to rethink her strategy. My wife figured that interesting the kids in footy would lead to me taking them to the game on the weekend, leaving her with some hours of total free time. It worked for a while. My son was never as keen on footy as his sister. When his sister reached her later teens she still barracked for Collingwood but had other things in her life and only goes to a few games each season. Instead my wife now uses the (upgraded: i.e. adult) ticket that was originally bought for my daughter. So that’s all right, too.

  13. Andrew Weiss says

    I have a wife exactly like yours JTH – not one bit of interest in football or any sport that is played. You can imagine my suprise when she got me Foxtel for my birthday earlier this year when she heard that there would be only 2 Brisbane games on free to air TV this year. Six weeks into the season she is ready to throw the Foxtel box out the window and probably would do so if she didn’t have a keen interest in the Vampire diaries on Fox8.

    To make things worse both my sons (aged 6&4) are absolutely obsessed with football and now my wife finds herself out in the elements either on a Friday evening or early Saturday morning watching her eldest son running around in the U/8 or being harrassed every minute of the daylight hours by two sons wanting to have a kick with her in the backyard or giving her score updates of the make believe matches that they are playing.

    All i can say JTH is that when young Theo starts having a football obsession you may need something more than headphones to get through the weekend.

  14. Jamie Simmons says

    See how long you can get away with wearing the headphones around the house, when the footy’s not on. Just point to your ears and shake your head whenever “The Handicapper” talks.

  15. Richard Naco says

    I don’t have access to any broadcasting of footy (no RupertTel/ no 7 Mate) so my medium of choice is Melbourne radio via the AFL website.

    And my wondrous non-footballing wife simply cuts me slack to don the cans in our little otherwise useless alcove and listen to my two games each week (yes – two, except for the bye weeks & Round 10) with ne’er a murmur, although I do endeavour to claw back some Frequent Family Points during the rest of the week.

    More than that, she positively encourages our progeny to be actively involved in the Giants’ cheer squad, seeing his committment there as being far more beneficial to his social, artictic & general development than any risk of becoming a stereotypical footy boofhead. She’s even (shudder) taken to suggesting to him that next year he drop tennis & take up Aussie Rules as his sport of choice.

    And this week, probably because her missing us for an entire day while we had the most fun achievable at the footy in Manuka in Round 5 really stung her, she’s coming to see the Gold Coast – Giants game.

    You bee-ewty!

  16. John Harms says

    Yes, a common experience it seems. Thanks for the comments.

    Must report in on the domestic bliss.

    Young Evie (15 months) is just starting to talk. She started with ‘this’ and graduated to ‘dere’. This was followed by ‘Dad’ and ‘Mum’. However tonight she has taken to calling us ‘Dum’ and ‘Mad’. The Handicapper has claimed ‘Mad’ as hers. I think she wins.

  17. Richard Naco says

    Handicapper didn’t win.

    It’s Evie in straight sets, all the moreso as her parents so obviously think that she’s an involuntarily Spoonerist.

  18. Stephanie Holt says

    Lovely story John, but oh, what a modern dilemma.

    I see that you seem to have also grown up in a family where the TV button was glued to Channel 2 but somehow drifted to one of the dreaded commercial channels for World of Sport. As did ours.

    TV/church schedule conveniently allowed the heating of the oven and the putting in of the roast before leaving for church, and the completing of The Sunday Roast (my job – gravy) while World of Sport ran.
    Strangely, I grew up with my mother rolling her eyes that my well-spoken Dad didn’t speak “Like Leslie Howard” and that I spoke “Like A Fishwife” but somehow there was a never a word of criticism of Jack and Bobby and her adored Lou.

    Footy-on-TV should definitely be shared. With whoever can cope. Our dog is being dogsat by a footy-mad friend while we are in US. Her first message on little Bella’s settling in was that Bella was clearly smarter than their existing dog because “She doesn’t run out of the room when I yell at Geelong on the telly”!

  19. The avenging eagle loves her footy. No probs there. But cricket is ‘like watching grass grow’. They haven’t even reached the lunch break, and I get ‘isn’t it over yet?’. Solution is large alfresco windows with tv on mute. Bruce Springsteen on the stereo. I have full radio rights in the garden, and the roses get a lot of pruning in summer. There is a lot of window peering for replays of wickets and Warner wonders.
    Its a win win win win win solution. The garden has had very little attention the last 6 weeks. I blame the weather, but I think its footy games and Almanac reading/writing.

  20. Rick Kane says

    Hi PB

    I reckon Springsteen might be the answer to everything, you know, like the number 42. If you havent seen it, find the 16 March episode of The Jimmy Fallon show. Bruce is the guest. He performs 3 songs with the E Street Band, including horn section and Jimmy Fallon’s house band, The Roots. Bruce also appears in a skit with Jimmy playing himself circa 1984.


  21. In more than passing thought the realisation has arrived that it is hard to appreciate the footy through the tv medium. My wife tolerates my watching of games much more since she has been to a few games and literally been punching me in excitement. While she doesn’t ‘get’ footy on tv, she at least respects my needs within reason.

    The reason being the ability to record games and watch at more convenient times for her, not necessarily me. The kids are more intersted in playing footy than watching it, so the 2 tv arrangement is a godsend for their saturday morning cartoon watching requirements.

    Our impending return to the Antipodes after 8 years of expat life is filled with increasing anxiety on the affordability of pay TV, the proximity of pubs, clubs etc that will be showing games and so on. This year in the Middle East our game quota is 4 per weekend. Not that we are tempted to stay any longer.

  22. My wife staggared me the other day when she glanced at the vision on the news of the (eventually retracted) report of Montagne’s strike on Magner and exclaimed “oh rubbish, he didn’t touch him”

    Then, after my son’s U12 game last Sunday, she was happy to volunteer and explain why a free paid against his side was blatantly unfair and wrong.

    Never thought it would happen, but I suppose it seeps into the soul after many years


  23. my watching of the same game was less joyous than yours JH.I did think stevie j’s ten metre 45 degree angle foot pass was a tribute to jimmy stynes who used to do that regularly having learnt the deft short foot pass in Gaelic footy.However Saturday’s game was much better than the corresponding game last year when whilst watching the game in my hotel room in Bowen Qld ,I managed to break the remote control device within 5 minutes of the first quarter by throwing it across the room in disgust.It was all down hill from there.

  24. John Dunne says

    Yes J Harms-childhood footy rituals that are embedded forever.
    The ritual in the Dunne household bounced the ball at 7 pm on a Friday night where The Kevin Dennis Football Show (hosted by Mike Williamson) was compulsory viewing with the closing jingle going something like this ‘Kevin Dennis how we love your football show, see you next week when you tell us how our teams will go’
    Williamson was back the following night after Football Replay as the anchor man of Football Inquest consisting of a panel of ex footballers who were the TV equivalent of Around The Grounds.
    Williamson would throw to the panel with something like this ‘ The Cats got home in a thriller against Collingwood down at Kardinia Park today and Reg Hickey saw all’
    And who could forget Frank ‘Bluey’ Adams conducting one on one player interviews in an enclosed box that wasn’t unlike an old wooden school desk !

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