The joy of not knowing

“Many of our writers want to predict things,” John Harms said to me back in the early days of the Almanac. “I wish they’d just write about things that happen.”

This was an uncomfortable statement. The only pleasure that comes from watching sport is the sheer tease of not knowing what is going to happen next.

Writing is a pre-emptive step, too. Accomplished writers reach back into known things but the joy of writing for most of us is only haphazard prediction. You start something without wanting to know where it will take you.

Most sportswriters want to know what will happen next in their writing but they also know that the most engaging sportswriting in our time is locked in the gap between prediction and outcome.

Only a few sportswriters know how to recast dead results as living history. The rest of us fiddle with the immediate future.


After Round 23

1. Hawthorn 19-3, 134%
2. Sydney Swans 17-1-4, 138%
3. Fremantle 17-1-4, 131%
4. Geelong 17-5, 130%
5. Richmond 16-6, 117%
6. Collingwood 14-8, 113%
7. Essendon 14-8, 112%
8. Port Adelaide 13-9, 108%

9. Carlton 11-11, 108%
10. North 10-12, 118%
11. Brisbane 10-12, 87%
12. Adelaide 9-13, 103%
13. West Coast 9-13, 101%
14. Gold Coast 9-13, 92%
15. Bulldogs 6-16, 81%
16. St Kilda 3-19, 75%
17. Melbourne 2-20, 55%
18. GWS 1-21 54%

Finals, Week One
Geelong beats Hawthorn
Port beats Richmond
Collingwood beats Essendon
Sydney beats Fremanthle

Finals, Week Two
Hawthorn beats Port
Fremantle beats Collingwood

Finals, Week Three
Geelong beats Fremantle
Hawthorn beats Sydney

Finals, Week Four
Hawthorn finally beats Geelong
(and John and Susan Harms will not have another baby next year)

Gary Ablett wins the Brownlow from Adam Selwood; Chad Wingard finishes in the top five and wins more votes than Patrick Dangerfield.
Jarryd Roughhead wins the Coleman from Jeremy Cameron
Lance Franklin wins the Norm Smith and goes to GWS.


North Melbourne’s percentage was good enough to finish fifth. How many games did they lose under a goal this season? Six or seven? Or was that eight? Every coach agrees that when you lose or win a game under a goal, you can attribute one bounce of the oddly-shaped ball or one strange interpretation of the rules of the game by an umpire under pressure for the loss or the win. Yes, North failed to lock in their winning positions, failed to ice the clock on many occasions in 2013… but they’ll be a scary threat in 2014.

Essendon’s siege mentality has finally become top heavy. Their problem has ceased being useful in terms of team bonding.. The cracks in the club’s structure are now so broad, the playing group has fallen in. Essendon won’t lose their premiership points this year because the season has run out of time. If the AFL comes down on them like a house of bricks on August 26 after they reconvene after considering their lawyers’ advice, and want to remove all their 2013 premiership points, Essendon will have to appeal to save their sponsorship contracts, their reputation and their very skins. If the AFL doesn’t give them a reasonable time to appeal, Essendon will probably go to court and seek an injunction against being excluded from the 2013 final series. None of that is going to be resolved before the finals series begins on September 6.
But what will happen after Essendon have their day in court and, say, lose their case? Will the AFL then suspend them for a year or only allow them to play in 2014 for no premiership points? This is a new curly point. And, even if James Hird is cleared of the various claims that have been made against him, will Essendon be able to recast their culture while he stays at their helm?

See, John Harms? The unknown future is always more exciting than the known past.

St Kilda became an official basket case in 2013. Teams can rise quickly in the AFL but they can tumble out of contention even faster. And, given the Saint’s embarrassing retention of ageing players, that team may be down in the cellar for a long long time.

My secret friend God read this yesterday and said to me, after supper: “Yes, but Apart from the Things you Raise, Everything Else is Going to Plan. I want Skill to win the Grand Final this year, not the Good Team Thing. I’m bored with the Good Team Thing. I want Lance to Kick Ten and then I want My Son to go for the Money. I want him to do Good Works in a Hostile Place. This is His Calling. I want Him to Spend That Money in a Hostile Place. I want Him to Understand My Calling. ”




  1. Grant Fraser says

    Thank you for also identifying the Harms progeny plot. “No kid, no Cats”.
    Grant Fraser (born 1961, father of Alexis in 2008…but none of which I am aware this year).

  2. King
    Loving the predictions. My only variation is that the child in premiership years may finally have come to an end. Hawthorn won’t finally beat Geelong, it will be another Cat’s flag, and the Harms will stop at 3 due mainly to JTH now being in his 6th decade and the Handicapper I believe may finally have reached 30 years of age.

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    The other thing about the “past” is that if you don’t write about something, it didn’t happen. I believe there was a game played on Friday night. Still no report on the Almanac site. I know North-supporting Smoke Dawson is still out of the country. Surely there must be at least one Catmanacker who watched the game? Surely.

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Don’t think you’ll be far off JK. Freo could make a GF. If they win it will be great to see them finally break their duck, but it will also mean that teams will be copying the Lyon method for the next 5 years. That can’t be good for the game.

    I think Tattsbet may have shifted Harmsy’s stance on the value of speculation.

  5. Neil Belford says

    Its not Ross Lyon Phil, it is the conditions the game is played in, and it is happening anyway – anyone watched Richmond lately, Hardwick has become a Lyon clone; and it will last longer than 5 years.

    The best thinkers in coaching will take the game to its optimal state for the conditions that the game is played in. I may be wrong, but I believe I heard Lyon has never lost at Docklands, which in surface area is the smallest of grounds.

    The modern grounds are too small (before anyone rightly points out the HOF has had footy for a very long time, it is a very short ground and thirty, forty years ago there was a vision that footy might depart that ground forever because of that).
    The interchange is also a bad thing if you want free flowing footy.

    Something can be done about the interchange obviously nothing can now be done about the ground sizes. The interchange does have benefits tactically besides just lots of rests, so the other alternatives are
    Reduce the number of players on field to say 16 and or
    Have an onside (as opposed to offside) rule about how many forward you must have (like they have in Australian Rules U10’s to prevent it looking like AFL).

    So, there are those that say just leave the rules alone, and that is fine, but I don’t think you will be able to have your cake and eat it too.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Neil, I’m a fan of free-flowing and attacking footy, but defence is also an art that has been subverted by the clustering of rolling scrums.

    The best game of footy I’ve seen was the Geelong v St Kilda game at Docklands in 2009. Why? Because there were two highly talented antagonistic forces trying to outdo eachother. It was riveting to watch because every passage of play seemed to be meaningful and purposeful.

    Would like to see 16 per side trialed pre-season, but do we really want a cavalcade of defenceless shootouts?

  7. Neil Belford says

    No disagreement Phil, just making observations actually. Maybe the answer is to really (really) limit the interchange. 4 per-quarter or suchlike so all you can do is change the structure of your side, not give players rests.

    Having said that I dont think we would see defenceless shootouts, say you had to have 3 forwards inside the fifty, it would be up to the other team whether they manned them up with defenders and I’m guessing they would. That largely removes the scrum situation and would deliver some great man on man footy – a bit like the game of yore actually.

  8. Interchanges in AFL are getting too much. It will be as bad as cricket soon. Players running off every 5 minutes for massages and lie downs.

  9. Just to straighten one thing up regarding predictions and JK’s memory of the conversation he has mentioned.

    I want to read good writing. I want the first paragraph to make me read the next and so on until I am supped at the end of 500 words or 50,000.

    In the early days of the Almanac, there was a tendency for some (definitely not all) writers to tell us what the position of the competition was and what the writer thought would happen the following week and into the finals. Generally, if that is well-written and well-argued then I’m happy to read it. If it is about the prophetic powers of the writer alone then it can become tedious. If, in writing about yesterday’s Showdown, you took 250 words of your 700 to tell us about Port’s chances of making the finals and how Adelaide need to re-build you are wasting some magnificent material, in my view. What a match. What a final quarter.

    More broadly, I find a good question to ask when reading (or watching TV comment shows on any topic) is the ‘So what’ question. If I’m finding myself going with ‘So what?’ then I haven’t been engaged by the writing or the argument.

    I disagree (enormously) with JK’s sensibility regarding the past. The past, however immediate, provides the essential material. Give me a good yarn anytime.

    Looking forward to a good Geel-North yarn myself so I can work out what happened (again).

  10. Phil, Neil, your thoughts got me thinking…

    Just as improved communication and transportation have made the world a “smaller place”, improved player fitness and speed have made the football field a smaller space.

    This also extends to player size. We have midfielders now who are taller than ruckmen were just a few decades ago. Overall, modern players have a greater span and being able to reach a foot higher or wider than their predecessors all over the ground effectively reduces the space players have to work in. If that’s hard to imagine, imagine a player kicking at goal from 50m and ahving a 190cm ruckman on the goal line versus Aaron Sandilands on the goal line.

    I read an interesting article about soccer a while ago which was arguing that a way to increase scoring was to increase teh size of the goals because the official dimensions had not changed since the average height of goalkeepers was 5’10” but goal keepers are now 6’6″.

    Where space previously existed naturally because of man-on-man positional play, teams must now create space. Skill levels must be at a premium.

    For what it’s worth, I think there is much ado about not nothing, not alot. There seems to be a propensity by the AFL, the Rules Committee, the media and fans to want to address “issues” before there is a trend that confirms the issue. A couple of teams become ultra defensive and the sky is falling.

    When the game first started, it was a rolling maul much like rugby. Yes, there were rules put in place to govern it, but basically it evolved of it’s own accord to become Australia’s national game; a game we all love. When people now describe it as a rolling maul, all I see is that it’s come full circle. It’s not a new thing, just evolution coming full circle.

  11. I reckon that at every ball-up the umpire should tell the players to get back to their positions.

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