The Uncontrollable Smile

By Vincent Tan

I like Melbourne. I like that “Before the Game” is actually shown before the game. I like that I can sit at a pub and have absolutely no compulsion to zip up my jacket to hide my navy blue and white hoops for fear of ridicule and the inevitable drunken comment about whether I’m related to any of the drowning people on Bondi Rescue.

So here I sit admiring the yolk ooze out of my sunny side up eggs on Degraves Street. I exchange knowing nods with a middle aged man who whispers to me “Carn the Pivotonians”. A fan who knows his history. I give him two thumbs up.

The bespectacled one is there, of course. A scarf her official merchandise of choice. She’s waxing lyrical with her cousin about who’s getting married, who’s having babies, and the layout of Chadstone shopping centre.

Predictably, the mind starts to wonder. I think about how for one day I’d like the job of our fearless mascot ½ Cat, about the pessimists on who suggested that we bottom out and go for draft picks. I think about how Marvel Comics should model their next spandex superhero on Chappy.

My ears are then pricked by a first date behind my left shoulder, about to grind to a ridiculously unsuccessful halt.

From what I could gather from the conversation, she was a personal trainer. Short blonde hair, white teeth, yoghurt and multigrain bread on her plate. He worked in IT, bacon and eggs piled high. He was in that awkward transition phase between “established hair growth” and “I forgot to shave this morning”.

They had exhausted every topic of conversation; mutual friends, jobs, travels, nothing. Every time the question was asked, the conversation would stop dead in its tracks. Not dissimilar to Max Rooke and Raph Clarke in the first quarter of the 2009 GF. I love Max. He could teach my new IT friend the intricacies of established hair growth.

Just as the last spoonful of yoghurt is about to be swallowed he goes for the hail mary. Something needs to happen or else his season is over and it’s too late to tank for priority picks. The clouds part, trumpets sound and he asks the five most important words he will ever mutter.

“So, you like a footy?”

The excitement in her voice confirmed that he was home. She didn’t care whether that was the most grammatically incorrect sentence since Yoda. He had snuck into the eight with the last kick of the day. He wasn’t lifting the premiership cup just yet, but he was in there with a fighting chance.

Over empty glasses of water they continue. The topic has turned to Pendles, Daisy and Didak. Collingwood fans. Even Dream Team is mentioned. An imaginary speech bubble appears in my head and I see Dennis Commetti with his oversize headphones exclaim “that’s ambitious”, but my new friend is on fire.

She has to go, but they’ve arranged to watch the Cats and the Pies in a fortnight’s time. He remains at the table and basks in his victory. He looks like Dizzy after hitting 201 against Bangladesh.

And then I saw it. The uncontrollable smile. You know the one. Involuntarily, it appears on your face and warmth enters your heart.

Reminds me of Lisa Beddoes, my primary school crush. In year four, I had broken my arm, and all the boys had written questionable messages of support.  Then one day during silent reading, Lisa came up to me and whispered:

“Can I write on your cast?”

Cue uncontrollable smile. I love the sincerity of that moment, where your nine- year old priorities of life line up with acute precision and clarity. Sure, I had a broken arm, but Lisa Beddoes was going to write on it!

Reminds me of Joel Corey’s smother in the 2007 Preliminary Final against Chris Bryan. Despite the desperation of the time, one selfless, sincere act allows something to resonate inside which says “we’re going to be alright”.

I love how the Cats are so sincere this year; that the team song is sung from deep within.

So in as sincere an act as we can muster, we politely decline the offer to be dropped off at the MCG. I stand on my imaginary soapbox and give a speech involving Rome, and Romans. The bespectacled one rolls her eyes, grabs my hand and we join the throng of supporters on the William Barak Bridge.

There’s a man playing a tuba. He doesn’t look like he belongs to a happy team from Hawthorn. But musically, he is perfect. He has clearly played before and you get the impression his bread and butter is earned somewhere else. I decide to leave my gold coin in my pocket.

A few steps later, there is a little boy, alto saxophone in hand, standing proudly in the foreground of D.K Lillee. He’s struggling. His reed is out of place and he looks like he needs a sit down. But the buck toothed smile on his face as the two middle aged ladies in front of us clap and sing along and drop their spare change into the maroon fur of his saxophone case confirms to me that sincerity has, and hopefully always will, win the day.

I decide to leave my gold coin in my pocket and reach for my wallet and drop a fiver into his case. He smiles at me as if I’m Lisa Beddoes and I’ve just signed his plaster cast.

The boys run on. They look freer, happier; like the shackles of expectation have been removed. We hold up our fingers in the shape of little kidneys as Tommy Lonergan runs past as a sign of deep respect.

I close my eyes and pray for a sincere performance. I begin to bargain with myself. That a loss is acceptable, as long as the boys looked sincere. As long as they looked like they wanted to play for us, and each other.

It’s 10 minutes into the first quarter and I realise that the bargaining exercise was futile. Buddy has kicked a couple and the doubters are starting to whisper.

I exchange glances with an elderly woman behind me. She has Geelong colours draped over her slightly hunched shoulders and we have a two second conversation with our eyes that says, “I’m glad you’re here, these Hawks supporters are starting to get carried away”.

Now I understand sincerity, but when F bombs and C bombs are aggressively dropped in front of little children by inebriated middle aged men I realise that there is a fine line between sincerity and stupidity.

Chappy kicks true from outside 50 and I start to relax. Momentum changes in the second quarter and Clinton Young is the recipient of a Mackie brain fart on the half back flank. Half time has the Hawks up.

I won’t forget the third quarter in a hurry; Bateman who I didn’t even notice playing bobs up and kicks a couple and the Cats have their backs to the wall 14 points down.

Then in one play, when character was on display and at the critique of 80,000 experts, Trav tore through the corridor and found Podsy lace out. A few years ago he would have stopped running. I keep my eye on him and will him to run. He ran. Past Podsy, into the contest and finished what he started.

Cue uncontrollable smile.

I love those little light bulb moments which give you a glimpse into the team’s character. That one play shows that Geelong of 2011 may arguably not be as dominant, young, or feared since the dizzying heights of 2007-2009, but one thing is for sure. They are just as sincere, just as earnest, and that is enough. That is worth the emotional buy-in, worth the times when you decide to tip Geelong even though you know you shouldn’t, worth the pilgrimage across the country to watch the boys go round. Knowing you belong to something that is sincere.

The game draws to a close and Tommy Lonergan outmuscles Franklin and takes a mark on his chest. Again, we hold up our fingers in the shape of little kidneys as a sign of deep respect.

The sun is setting and Scarlo has been carried off. I’ve always enjoyed the chaos and confusion of the post game scramble. Supporters spill out onto the concourse and look confused that the sun has actually set, assuming that while they were in the G, time stood still, and all was well with the world.

A little girl with the number 14 on her back holds her dad’s hand and screams to him “I like it when the Cats win Daddy”.

So do I. They play the game as it should be played.

Cue uncontrollable smile.


  1. Vincent – there was something important about that game. It was more than just a home and away victory. As you say, the Cats showed us that they are sincere. Whoever beats us this year will have to play well to do it. That’s all you can ask.

    Love the fingers being held up in a kidney shape. Haven’t seen that before but I’ll commence doing it as of NOW.

    Go Cats.

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Lovely work Vincent. I too am intrigued by the fingers as kidneys symbol and how you do it without looking like you are making a rude sign at the people nearby.

    C-bombs. F-bombs. Only long bombs should be tolerated at the football.

    Bring on Friday the 13th…

  3. forwardpocket says

    Hope we get a great game on the 13th between the team who plays the game as it should be played and the team that knows how to play the game.

  4. Gorgeous writing Vincent. Makes me know that people are good, and life worth living – despite what the media and the ‘straighteners’ would have us believe.

    The long Easter break gave me the joy of watching exuberant contests over Easter Monday and Tuesday. Restored my faith in how the game could be played after the rugby scrums and mauls of so many recent games

    Your piece evokes Willo singing and has ‘Cootamundra Wattle’ swelling up in my head and heart:
    “They don’t care to tell the world of kindness,
    Good news never made a paper sell”

    “Hey it’s July and the winter sun is shining
    And the Cootamundra wattle is my friend
    For all at once my childhood never left me
    ‘Cause wattle blossoms (ands Vincent and the Almanac) bring it back again”


  5. Scooter says

    Vincent please keep writing, these are tremendous.

  6. I had an uncontrollable smile while reading that piece. Wonderful writing.

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says


    reading your piece helps a cynical fan like myself want to stay connected to the game. Brilliant stuff. Next week should be a beauty.

  8. Saintly says

    Congrats on the story and the result

  9. Richard Naco says

    Lisa Beddoes lost out.

    You, sir, are a pearl. Watching a game with you would be a treat.

    And I had the same issues in the same game last year with a minority of inebriated middle aged Hawks’ supporters who chose to push the vocabulary just a tad too far for the company of kids, & who mistakenly thought that repetitions of various feline allusions to Geelong’s masculinity were original, enlightening and humorous.

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