Round 1 – Melbourne v Geelong: Ambitious

Dips (who is the miracle worker accountant who keeps the Almanac solvent) and John Welch (down from Steak’n’Kidney).


When feeling a little world-weary, and a Bex is not doing it for you, and you’re churning through the weeks (even though it’s only just March), Round 1 of the footy is your antidote. If anything makes you feel young and hopeful again, it’s the prospect of an afternoon of summery light and green grass and short sleeves and your team’s first appearance in the race for the year. “Here comes Geelong!”


On Sunday afternoon the spirit of hope had descended on the watering holes of the MCC (and greater Jolimont). It was alive and well in the Stumps Bar where I caught up with Al and Sue Hamblin and friends including John Welch down from Sydney who, I can report, is still speaking left-handed (in rhyming slang and riddles); it was alive in the Blazer Bar, where I couldn’t find the dads from the Fitzroy Under 11s; it was alive, pre-match, in loyal Demon Bernard Dunn who was jumping out of his skin when I bumped into him on the concourse; and, I’m assuming it was alive and well during the game in Dips O’Donnell and his posse of lunchers who were deeply entrenched in the Jimmy Stynes Room. I recognised it as half-alive in P. Flynn who was just off the plane and still operating on Cardiff time when I stood with him.


In my boyish excitement my plan to find all of them was unnecessarily complicated if not rather ambitious. But there’s always people to catch up with and that nonsense has been going on since Felix (actually the great Tom Horan) developed the tradition of writing of  wandering around the ground and bumping into people.


But there was a footy game to watch – and it started in a sunlit frenzy. There’s the new ones to keep an eye on. Who’s that Melbourne bloke in Barassi’s jumper, the one with the freakish leap (is it Fritsch?) and, oh, there’s Fogarty bobbing up and snapping one for Geelong. Look at Tim Kelly. He’s going to be fun – for a decade (God willing, as my father used to say). And that’s Ratugolea. Wow! He doesn’t run, he glides. Like M.A. Holding. Yep, he can take a mark too, and kick a goal. Then there’s that other recruit: G. Ablett. Shoulders looking more like his dad’s. Up a size or two in footy shorts.


It’s a brilliant opening quarter with end to end footy. Two capable sides having a real go. G. Ablett gets clear at half-forward and, fighting against his momentum, straightens on to his right, sprints away, squares his shoulders, and caresses a sweetly-timed shot home. The Geelong crowd erupts. There is sustained heartfelt applause, and even a few tears. Any hint of doubt or cynicism washed away in an instant.


But there’s a game to win and the Cats get on top in the second quarter kicking seven to go four-goals and change clear. They have pushed themselves very hard in the first half and are down a man. Harry’s done something – maybe an ankle or foot?


The Dees respond in the third. A few Cats look ginger. Stewart looks sore. Guthrie senior looks proppy. Then Joel Selwood’s body is contorted and the Cats’ crowd grimaces. Just seven points up at three quarter time.


The final quarter is a slog. Both sides are tired, but the Cats are further down the scale towards exhausted. Menzel plays as an isolated deep forward (we used to call that full forward) – and kicks a beauty from the pocket. Blokes can’t run. But Selwood wills himself into contests. The defence stands firm(ish). Menzel is our hope. He takes a ridiculously skilful mark (one to watch on the replay tonight) and can kick the sealer. Inexplicably, he misses from the top of the square. He has a chance to make amends when he marks 40 out. But he misses again.


We’re in front but a certain fatalism lurks. We can’t move. The Dees miss about three chances and then it’s mistake after mistake after mistake until Gawn marks 20 out directly in front. Bugger it! We were brave but we weren’t good enough.


Just as I am thinking how much I despise losing in Round 1 (so deflating), Max misses. We have somehow scrambled home.


Ambition is fulfilled when the various parties congregate on the Robbie Flower Terrace. Dips is finally spotted. He’s had a stellar afternoon and is clearly making a move up the rankings for Australia’s best luncher. John Welch has his Demon mate Dirk Bowser in tow and is not impressing him with his hooped analysis of the game.


We’re kids coming out of a movie: ‘what about this’ and ‘what about that’.


John Welch tells us he’s grinning like a shot fox after a fine performance on the balcony. “I was losing my religion out there,” he says, “up and down and turning round. I had to explain a few things to those Melbourne bastards. They know nothing about football.”


After an ale or two footy conversation dies down. “How are the ten furlongs going?” he asks.


“Ten furlongs?” I query.


“Yeah, your mile and a quarters,” he says. “Your daughters.”


Dips is still re-living the match. He’s got Geelong in him.


The bar gets closed.


So we all go home – with the four points, and feeling no weariness whatsoever.



John Harms writes for His ten furlongs are very happy at Merri Creek Primary School, as is his son. His trouble and strife prefers to remain anonymous.



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. “Sons” – currant buns? I always remember the late lamented Senator John Button’s (a diehard Pivotonian) description of Federal Parliament as being like boarding school that gave adults an extended adolescence under the cloak of respectability (hello Barnaby). Footy serves the same purpose on a shorter term basis.

  2. Earl O'Neill says

    Lovely rhythm John, first para could be set to music.

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Uplifting stuff JTH. Enjoyed what I saw of Ratugolea and Parfitt. Gazza looked rejuvenated. Monday will be an interesting test.

  4. Yvette Wroby says

    Love it. I can see you all there enjoying time with friends.

  5. Ken Haley says

    Beautiful, heartfelt prose, John, recalling as I do the intensity and immensity of your love for your Dad.
    Iif it weren’t for the execrable pun (not that that’s ever stopped me)
    I’d wish myself never out of Harms’ way. As for Earl’s wonderful observation, can I say the first para
    has indeed been set to music. Was listening to an orchestral version of some Beatles classics and,
    just as I read: “Here comes Geelong!” the magical uplift of “Here Comes the Sun!” filled the room.

    A thousand pities George isn’t around to ask if he’d mind a late change of lyric!


  6. As a former adorner of headbands, I must admit I was willing the enigmatic Jayden Hunt to unleash another 70m torp (following on from his effort in the NT last year) if only for the improbability of the finish.

    That aside, a very fresh and entertaining contest for 3+ quarters from the great founders of the game.

  7. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Ah the togetherness of the footy village. Nothing like it. Looking forward to the sunlit frenzy of the SCG tomorrow!

    I can imagine the incredible softening when Gary Jnr kicked that first goal. How superb for cynicism to fade in one swift move. Now the ‘Lord of the Isles’ can truly start planning the neon mini Gary to go up beside his Dad.

    ‘Grinning like a shot fox’ … Wow! That’s a new one for me.

  8. HI M de H, When in Sydney (God willing), I’d like to introduce you to John Welch. There is this sort of understanding that you know he’s just on the edge of trying to make you laugh and speaking normally. He is an old style ratbag of the type who can still be found in little Sydney and Melbourne pubs.

  9. If ever we need to select a person to lunch on behalf of the Almanac, it will surely be Dips O’Donnell.
    Great yarn, JTH.
    I like the idea of wandering about, catching up with different people, but I always end up getting settled in the one place.

  10. Loved it John. Max almost kicked the ball in the wrong direction…

  11. Hi Ken, Thanks for your comment which snuck by me last week. I should also acknowledge “Here Comes Geelong!” I reckon there has been a long tradition of using this phrase – going back to the nineteenth century, when times were not as rigid/fixed as they are now. The writer-historian Manning Clark also used it. Rather than borrowing, I hope I am tapping into a tradition.

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