Round 18 – Geelong v Brisbane: We’re here now, but he is coming

 

 

If the 2015 season is going to be remembered for anything it’s the contrast between the vigorous debates about the state of the game and the fact that so little of the actual footy is worth remembering.

 

Geelong, in its own way, contributed to many of the debates on a day and in a game that will mostly be remembered for pedestrian footy, leading to a predictable result. But Cats fans went home happy and I had one of the best days at the footy I’ve had in years. Steve Johnson kicked the sealer at 6:35 of the third quarter.

 

Brisbane played as though they expected to lose and no one, Harris Andrews and Jed Adcock aside, did anything to inspire or challenge their teammates to think otherwise.

 

For most teams winter is the main stage. For those at the top, it’s an evolving pageant in which rare losses only bolster their narrative of imminent triumph. Most of the rest are quickly reduced to the chorus. For Brisbane the stage has been a public autopsy. At times they’ve had more on the injury list than the playing list and with so many young players expected to fill the breach, they’ve filled out the bottom of the ladder since the start of the season.

 

Most match reports these days mention the all-consuming debate that has fractured footy fans for weeks — the booing of Adam Goodes. Quite why a crowd of non-Indigenous people booing an Aboriginal player is regarded as “complex”, as AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said, is beyond me. It’s a case of racist bullying, plain and simple.

 

Geelong fans spent their afternoon gently booing a different Aborigine, Allen Christensen. A former club favourite and local boy, he chose to leave in “complex” circumstances and the crowd reminded him at every opportunity, which wasn’t that many. Conspiracies were openly discussed, the usual speculation surfaced. Even a former Grammarian I sat with had “pretty good info from a taxi driver who has his finger on the pulse.”

 

But ‘next week’ was the conversation mumbling through many in the crowd. Geelong will play Sydney at Kardinia Park and Goodes will almost certainly be playing. Many, like the Grammarian I sat with, were worried about what is to be expected if the worst happens and people near him begin booing. The challenge is drifting toward Geelong like a toxic fog.

 

“If yer kids are there and they hear that shit, you have to say something, don’t ya?”

 

“I think I would, you know, feel like I should say something.”

 

“Hard to know exactly what to say, though.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Good people will be expected to do more than nothing this weekend. Ordinary people with kids will have little moments when they will be tested.

 

Going to the footy in Geelong is a social thing; people walk there together from home. People like to criticise the quietness of a Geelong crowd, but footy has a different place. It binds people together, flattens the class distinctions, opens social possibilities between people they only know from work, or Auskick. People they’d otherwise not bother saying hello to.

 

Every supporter loves a win but at Geelong they need the game to be played “as it should be played”. It’s reason to turn up when things aren’t great. It’s why Chris Scott has the highest winning percentage of any AFL coach, but many in Geelong grumbling. The first half saw Brisbane drop back, forcing Geelong to kick backwards and wide, looking for gaps without taking a risk. There were only 21,000 in the crowd, for a guaranteed win.

 

Crowd groans, eyes roll: “Come-awwwwn!!”

 

And shouldn’t we be able to boo? Footy players nowadays are bigger than us, better looking, more highly paid, socially mobile and get to shag the types of women who wouldn’t touch us with the stilettos they walk on. The unspoken social contract is that we get to put shit on them when they fail.

 

Geelong has one of the last terraces, a place of stand-up debate, mild abuse, wit, exhibitions of footy knowledge. It’s a weekend release for the (mostly) men whose lives will be lived, as TS Eliot once said, “in quiet desperation.”

 

That’s why Billie Smedts is as important as Jimmy Bartel. Despite having everything in his lap that I would kill for a quarter of, Billie stumbles a lot, and I get to watch it. Against Brisbane, Billie was having a vintage day and copping Bronx cheers by the second quarter. After the game we could have a beer and roast beef roll at St Mary’s footy club, agree about Billie and laugh a little bit. But heckling Smedts or booing Christensen isn’t the same as booing Goodes right now and was never far from the conversation.

 

For the many parents like my Grammarian, challenging the possibly racist booing means challenging people they’ll likely know: their brother-in-law’s mate, that plumber who fixed the toilet, that person they snogged at The Attic in the 90s. It’s the downside of the only community ground in the AFL; the people own it, everything in it, the premiership pennants, the banter, the beautiful blue and white hoops, and sometimes the shit-bags.

 

When I wanted to show a woman I loved the place and people I loved the most I took her to Kardinia Park. I took her to the terraces, on a cold rainy day against St Kilda. The banter kicked off immediately, for Saints fans give us as much as they get. It rolled and rucked the entire afternoon and occasionally got very direct.

 

She was frightened sometimes and laughed as well and sang the song at the end. Then she looked into me and with rain dripping off her eyelashes, said, “So this is where you’ll be on the weekends?”

 

“Mostly, yeah, you wanna come?”

 

“Maybe, sometimes, but I get it.”

 

Back in the outer, being good Australians all, gentle anxiety was giving way to xenophobia. Rumours of marauding outsiders buying tickets to the Sydney game just so they could boo Goodes were circulating. I’d even heard them in Melbourne during the week. It might be an easy out, but as one bloke at the St Mary’s bar said, “the shittest thing would be if he didn’t play.”

 

Despite anxiety, there is a chance the impending fog of racism can be overcome. Maybe the people of Geelong will be tested and found to be good. Now that would be a banner worth flying high, down at Kardinia Park.

 

 

GEELONG                5.1   7.4   13.7  17.11 (113)
BRISBANE LIONS   2.1   3.6   5.7   8.9 (57)

 

GOALS
Geelong: Walker 5, Johnson 3, Hawkins 2, Selwood 2, Guthrie 2, Caddy, Motlop, Lang
Brisbane Lions: Adcock 4, Taylor 2, Freeman, Bewick

 

BEST (according to afl.com.au)
Geelong: Guthrie, Motlop, Walker, Selwood, Caddy, Mackie, Johnson
Brisbane Lions: Martin, Adcock, Beams, Rockliff, Andrews

 

Votes: Motlop (Geel) 2. Walker (Geel) 1. Adcock (Bris)

 

 

 

 

 

About Hamish Townsend

Hamish Townsend was born and raised in Geelong, supports the Cats and lives in Brisbane.

Comments

  1. Skip of Skipton says:

    Which one was the Attic, Hamish. James St.? Or do you mean the Lyric?

    I was hoping Buddy would make his KP de-boo, but is out injured. He didn’t play the last time Hawthorn were there in ’06.

  2. Hi Skip
    The Attic was in James St, an underage nightclub where teenagers often encountered their first public passion experience. You sound like you’re familiar?

  3. Dave Brown says:

    Great piece, Hamish. I am somewhat dreading this weekend – it just feels like one way or another we have lost something.

  4. You’re not the only one Dave, we just have to believe in the good folk of Geelong. I’m sure they will prevail.

  5. Lovely, Hamish. I wish there was an anti-boo we could conjure up. Drowning it in applause might work. Remember how some teams in the UK adopted the Italian habit of applause when nongs began to interrupt the minute’s silence at games in respect of some death or other.

  6. Mondo Townsend says:

    Once again Hamish you nail Geelong beautifully, with insight.
    I especially like the amusing vignette about taking a girlfriend to a game. So you, How may of us did it!
    As you say, cats fans, unlike any other fans, hanker for the fast freakish beautiful game. They will embrace Adam Goodes.

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