Round 14 – Bulldogs v Carlton: Reflections on Phil Walsh, my father and my sons

Bulldogs versus Carlton

Saturday 4 July 2014

My dad, Gez, and I attend a game at Etihad for the first time in a few years.  Somewhat eerily we find a park in Walsh Street, West Melbourne.  It is a weekend where football seems a side issue to more serious matters.  The passing of Phil Walsh at the hands of his son casts a pall over the game and the event seems but a part of the mourning process.

The atmosphere at the game is muted, as it probably should be.  The minute’s silence is well observed and the game gets underway with little fireworks or fanfare.  The Bulldogs look a bit more into it and kick the first two goals, then add a third through a ripping coast to coast effort finished off by a none-too conservative Tory Dickson who marks inside 50 and burns off Jamison.  My Blues are off to a slow start, but what is even more concerning to me is that Gez’s guts are powerful tonight and he’s dropping them at a rapid rate and with decent ferocity.  The fans around pretend not to hear or smell, but I’m almost certain I saw that lady to my left furrow her brow.

Liam Picken picks up Chris Yarran as an offensive tag, but then drops off later in the term when he or his coaches realise that Yarran just doesn’t care anymore.  I’m not an expert on body language like Dermot Brereton is, but his looks poor all game, as if he’d rather be somewhere else.  Maybe he will be next year.

For the first quarter Jarrad Grant plays loose man on the ball, a position I’d never heard of before, and I think this Beveridge must be a genius.  The Dogs look more dynamic and assertive.  Easton Wood is solid in defense, taking intercept mark after intercept mark.  I’ve heard he’s modeled his game on mine from my under-17s days.  For the first quarter against Endeavour Hills in Rd 7 of 1997 I took the most intercept marks from opposition kicks of anyone on the field.  I don’t know how he found the footage, but when I watch him play I always think back to that special quarter of football, as I’m sure most people do.

Robert Murphy receives many a handball and scythes through the Carlton forward line, delivering to his teammates with aplomb.  I remember one day years ago he hopped on the same train as me.  “What AFL player catches a train?” I thought to myself then, and still do to this day.  He seems one of the most fundamentally decent human beings to have graced the football field and I would dearly like to be friends with him one day.  In fact, if anyone reading this knows him, please let him know I’m interested, but make sure I don’t sound too desperate.

Zach Tuohy and Jake Stringer have a good duel in the first half.  They look like two dudes happy to trade leather then continue the battle afterwards going pint for pint.  Ah, for the good ol’ days.  Stringer is a combative beast and it’s great to watch him in action without constantly being referred to as “The Package.”

The game meanders on, the crowd remains listless.  Carlton kick a goal or something, it doesn’t really matter on this weekend, does it?  At one point I notice that all the railings holding up the Etihad roof look awfully dirty.  “Have they been cleaned since the stadium opened?  How would one go about getting up there and cleaning them?  I don’t think Gez has farted for a while.”  Such thoughts don’t necessarily flow from a high quality spectacle.

Gez and I resort to entertaining ourselves by calling out “ball up!”, every time the umpire calls for a ball up.  Gez makes a living looking after the mentally handicapped and when watching the football one of his patients calls out “ball up!” every time the umpire calls for a ball up.  Every time.  It’s a habit we’ve picked up and used for years.  Nonsensical and meaningless to everyone else but us and I think this is exactly the sort of banter and in-joke that should occur between a father and a son.  And then almost immediately my thoughts are drawn back to Phil Walsh and his son, Cy.  What madness, what unnatural force could bring a son to slay his father?

It wasn’t always footy and ball ups and golf between me and Gez.  My parents divorced when I was ten, and for the next five years or so our relationship entailed awkward, painful, fortnightly catchups at places like McDonald’s and Barnacle Bill.  A disconnection, for sure.  Was he a good father?  No way.  My overwhelming memory of him growing up is him sitting at the kitchen bench, beer in one hand, smoke in the other.  Am I a good father?  I’d like to think so, but who knows what my two little boys will think of me in the years to come.

Somehow Gez and I found a way to reconnect.  Somewhat embarrassingly, a large part of it was because he would supply me with booze when I was too young to procure the stuff myself.  He was right there when my popularity soared as a teenager (it has since plummeted, for the record) and I guess we sort of became friends.  What madness, what unnatural force could bring a son to slay his father?

The events of the past few days seem to deflate the game until Caleb Daniel is subbed on.  He is the shortest player in the AFL at 167 centimetres and wears a helmet.  Somehow the injection of this tiny body breathes life into the game and the crowd lifts, even the Carlton supporters.  He darts around, presents, looks clean and dishes off with ease.  When he goals from 50 near the end of the third quarter he makes our 10 behinds (to 4 goals) up to that point look even more pathetic.  Gee, I wish he played for us.  Every team needs its cult hero and the best we’ve got at the moment is Denis Armfield whose main attribute is leading the league in flurried soccer kicks towards goal, most of which have an uncanny knack of hitting the post.

Late in the third term the Dogs stretch out their lead to a couple of goals after a major from 250 gamer Matthew Boyd.  Then early last quarter goals to Mitch Wallis and The Package, I mean Stringer, generate a 28 point lead which only looks surmountable if we somehow manage to kick 29 more behinds, so woeful has our goal-kicking been this night.

Carlton edge their way back to within 11 points to offer false hope as is customary, but when the siren sounds it signals the moment most of us have seemingly come for – the two sides linking arms in the centre square to pay respect to a fallen brother and father.

At that point I put my arm over my old man’s shoulder, and even entertain the thought of telling him I love him, which is something I’ve never done before.  Then in the piercing silence all I can think is: “please don’t fart, Gez.  Please don’t fart.”

About Elvin Ho

Elvin Ho is a lapsed comedian and freelance writer. He writes about raising and entertaining his two children in the humorous blog, The Adventures of T-Bone and Sea Bass ( A golf tragic and tragically a Carlton supporter, he hopes the "rebuild" doesn't involve re-drafting Mick Martyn.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    Fantastic Elvin! You have just raised the bench-mark for reporting even higher and stopped me in my tracks as I attempt to draft something. It’s funny which observations stick in your mind when you read a match report.
    For me it was your looking up at the dirty roof railings and wondering how they clean them. Also remarking on seeing Bob Murphy catching a tram. Nothing to do with the match its self.
    Really enjoyed your report Elvin particularly as I was there on the night as well.

  2. Quickly becoming my favourite sports writer. Thanks for another great article Elvin.

  3. Good stuff Elvin. The Blues were a bit stiff, what with all those posters and some comical stuff ups. Their best option may have been to sub Gez on and he could have split a few packs with his ‘works’. Still as a ‘tri colour’, i was happy with the result.

    It was a breath of fresh air not having to listen to the banalities over the pa, even if the circumstances were tragic.

  4. Elvin Ho says

    Thanks for the kind words Neil, Ben and John. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. Neil – don’t let my thoughts deter you from penning your own. I’m sure you could add a different perspective to what was a sad and odd weekend of footy. John – I tried to weave in the boo boo between Wood and Casboult in forward 50 but no words could adequately describe their misfortune. You really had to see it to believe it! Well done to your dogs, they’re one of the few teams I don’t mind losing to.

  5. Great article..well written!! I was there on sat night and while my husband and the kids were in reserved seats, my mum, my sister and I were sitting near the Carlton cheersquad. Now that’s an experience!!! Your description of the game is so correct; it almost feels like you were right near us, although, it may have been a bit ferral for you.. I went with my family and took my 79 year old Italian mum who just loves the footy,..I looked at her too and thought the same thing… How can anyone forget the bond between yourself and your parents. Their love is unconditional… I gave my mum a hug too and thought, there are some mistakes in life you cannot make!!!

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