Theo takes a great leap forward at Princes Park

Saturday morning. Sunny and mild, but the breeze picking up, and bringing with it northern stickiness. Family Harms is pottering about: no plans.

I am thinking about Collingwood. They have done it pretty easily the night before. Dawes and Daisy Thomas continue to mature. They are good, and there is much improvement in the squad generally.

I am drying dishes. Picking weeds out of the lawn. Entertaining the children. Waiting for the Newmarket. When I have one of those lovely moments. I remember that the Cats are playing a practice match at Princes Park. A few blocks away. I suggest to The Handicapper that the boys could go to the footy for an hour.

The boys: that’s Theo and me.

I shouldn’t really say it like that. With its (unintended) implicit suggestion that footy is for boys, and the girls will find something else to do. I don’t even think that, so I wonder why I have said it. Like it’s some father-son thing.

Theo is already showing signs of patriarchy.

When his grandmother was staying with us recently I asked her if she wanted a drink before dinner.

“I’ll have a beer,” she replied.

I started the process of getting the beer.

Theo, three and a bit, was concerned. He waltzed up to Grandma. “You can’t have a beer Grandma,” he announced, frowning.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because girls don’t drink beer,” he explained.

That came on the back of a conversation with one of his other rellies who asked, “Is Daddy funny?”

“Yes,” he said. (Well done, Theo).

“Is Mummy funny?”

“No,” he said confidently.

“Why not?”

“Because she’s a girl.”

Where does this come from?

Then we were at the park the other day where the see-saw has one blue horse and one pink horse. A woman (a professional nanny I suspect, or a very cold mother) was sitting on the blue horse, rocking away with her six year old charge on the blue horse. On arriving at the park Theo spotted this, realised his universe was out of whack, and being a boy of action, felt the need to right it. Immediately.

“You can’t sit there,” he said.

“Why not?” said the nanny.

“Girls can only go on the pink horse,” he decreed, in a slightly agitated way, pointing at the pink nag.

I was grimacing. While I thought he might get away with it, I knew that the chances weren’t great. We were in Northcote.

There was no hint of humour or playfulness in the dissertation which followed and I was left wondering whether we were in a playground, or a sociology tutorial room at the University of Melbourne. Theo is three. Not only does he now understand that girls can choose whichever see-saw horse appeals to them, he has been introduced to the idea of gold-medal lugubriousness.

I love Northcote.

But on this Saturday I am glad to be crossing the Merri and heading through North Carlton. Past The Northern. Into the streets where Vinny Catoggio grew up.

We park relatively easily and walk towards Princes Park with a few diehard fans; two young blokes in Carlton kit are discussing Dream Team.

Theo notices a palm tree which is at a gravity-defying angle, in the Garton St parkland. He points it out to me. I just hope he isn’t feeling sorry for it else an environmentalist might stop him and explain all palm trees have value.

Inside we find a seat in the sunshine. It is hot and Theo’s cheeks are quickly red, and I am left to ponder how demanding the conditions are for the players. We can ask them, because they feel so close.

They feel so close because they are, and the whole afternoon has the feel of local footy about it. The AFL will have to work on stamping this out.

What a brilliant place Princes Park is. (Was?) What a sound it could once produce. What feeling.

I love how the venue converted people to the Carlton footy club. Writer and historian Don Watson was a Geelong supporter until he arrived at the University of Melbourne to study History. I think I’m right in saying that afternoons on the terrace with other uni ratbags had such appeal he became a Blue. These days he follows football. He wasn’t the only one. Manning Clark started life as a Geelong supporter and lapsed for the sake of the Blues. He went with writers and thinkers and pisspots and mixed it with the local characters. I can imagine the banter of that crew; with their ability to find Kazantzakis in Percy Jones, Joyce in Jezza, Orwell in Micky Gayfer.

Writer and Almanacker Tony Birch (who also teaches at the University of Melbourne) wanders by and sits with us for a while. He’s got a thousand footy stories from the old Brunswick St Oval and the Royboys, when the players were still normal people.

They are still normal people, sort of. It’s just they we have been so filled with the propaganda that we think they are ‘special people’. We are the actors in this. We can choose to believe it. For some reason we do. A need?

Somehow even Scarlo, who is right in front of us, is normal when he is at Princes Park, as he shimmies past his opponent and handballs to Andrew Mackie. Mackie also looks normal although that might be because I have met his mother, Mrs Mackie, a mid-wife with a hundred stories, some of which she told when she commandeered the microphone (entertainingly) at the Knackers Grand Final lunch in 2009.

They all look normal. Princes Park has stripped them of the mask.

We half-watch the footy; half-talk; half-help Theo with his three-year old drawing of the oval, which includes a whole lot of lines, nine of which are the goal posts at the Heatley Stand end, and twelve of which are blades of grass.

It is too hot so we head for the shade on the western side. I get Theo a lemonade-Coke (as he calls it) and we sit in the old Edwardian stand there (I can’t remember its name, but it could now be called The Possum Poo Stand). A seventy-something woman who has lived a bit and is dressed in Carlton kit sips a beer in front of that little bar.

Before Theo can point out the error of her ways she leans forward on the drinkers’ rail and, in response to the free kick the Cats have just been awarded, yells, “You’re a protected bloody species, you are. Piss off back to Sleepy Hollow.”

Surprisingly Theo offers no comment.

Otto appears. He moves OK and lets a barrel fly on the run. Promising. Travis Varcoe plays with authority and skill, and looks a class-act. I want to ring the club to congratulate them on the way they have helped him grow in to his role, never doubting his ability. Harry reads it beautifully, and so does Mackie. Selwood is in the best as well.

But Carlton run the footy out of defence very well. Chris Yarran could be something. He looks bigger. His touches brought others in to the game.

Is that Andrew Collins in a Carlton jumper? The kid is silk. Another magnificent decision from Richmond! He reads it. He gets it. He uses it. He shows leadership. In matches for the Tiges he looked like he was on the paddock with the expressed intention of actually winning games. I can only conclude he wanted out of Punt Road. But that’s the guess of the wing speculator.

Waite displays the talent he’s always had. But still hasn’t quite found his place in it all. Russell looks to have bulked up.

I’m unsure of the score when we leave at half-time, but Theo has had enough, and I want to get him out of there before he asks the nineteen year old in the summery tank top whether hers are real or paid for.

We head back across the Merri, not much the wiser, but still confident our boys will be thereabouts, and quite delighted that Theo has survived the afternoon. He has seen footy at Princes Park – and he has even clapped wildly, swept up in the crowd, for the old, dark navy Blues.

I hope he doesn’t forget Geelong.

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. John, It is a lovely story and one which will deserve a retelling at a later time.

  2. If I wasn’t away this weekend I would have been at Princes Park too. I can’t read the Cats at all so far this pre-season. They look to me like a classic 5th or 6th side. Time will tell.

    The last time I was at Princess Park was to watch a whole lot of junior Cats running around in the VFL grand final of 2002 (?). Some of the names in the team that won the VFL flag that year were Steve Johnson, Paul Chapman, Gary Ablett, Joel Corey and probably Jimmy Bartel. Bluey McGrath was the skipper.

    The new grounds, Telstra Dome and the revamped MCG, were supposed to provide the paying customer with better facilities. They do, but the cost has been that the players are further away. I wonder if the players miss the close proximity?

  3. Naw Theo is such a cutie!
    Next time theres dress ups email me so i can be better prepared :)

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Dips, was ‘Princess’ Park a typo or deliberate? That’s what we used to call it back in the day.

    JTH, I’m certain there will be many stories of barracking with Theo while taking in various aesthetic pleasures and eyesores. It will be interesting to see what changes and what stays the same as the years go by.

    Something tells me that he may not be allowed to forget Geelong.

  5. That’s the real fear of parenthood; that our children won’t follow our team. Very thankful that my eldest has taken on the Lions at least. All those dragging him along to night games where he was asleep by the 1st quarter did have an effect perhaps.

    I’ve always told them there are only two points of disowning. riding a boogieboard as a teenager or following Collingwood. But I’m only really serious about one of those…

  6. Alovesupreme says

    I love the fact that you have ignited (or is that re-ignited) your passion for the “Home of Fine Football”, the gorgeous Royal Parade Temple. It’s also wonderful that you have initiated Theo at such an early age into the Liturgy of Divine Service at Princes Park. There is clearly hope for him yet!

    My pedantry obliges me to offer two corrections, and one point of clarification.

    Don Watson’s under-graduate degree is from LaTrobe, and his Ph. D. is from Monash. It was living in Carlton that either corrupted him/or brought him to his senses (depending on one’s allegiance). Don wrote a superb article (circa 1990) on Ken Hunter in the Sunday Herald – a short-lived competitor with the Sunday Age, which soon folded into the Sunday Herald-Sun – which described his loss of faith in the Blues. He loved Kenny, as we all did, and felt that his being dropped from the seniors(around 1988) meant the end of the affair, as it revealed the lack of poetic imagination on the part of the match committee.

    It is not the western side, but the western end, although no-one ever used the compass points. The correct terrminology was Lygon Street end (outer end as a barely acceptable alternative) which became the Legends Stand end, with the Robert Heatley Stand end (rarely the Royal Parade end) at the other end of the ground. The sides were the University wing, and the press-box wing (the press-box was located on the wing where the current dug-out is situated). This was the favoured haunt of the “writers, thinkers, piss-pots and assorted ratbags to whom you refer. There’s no doubt that many Pram Factory productions were planned and plenty of learned journal articles and quite a few novelfound their inspiration and were sketched in concept form in that standing area.

    The Stand which has been desecrated by possum poo (if your report is to be trusted) is the Alderman Gardiner Stand.

    PS: Your note about the AFL having to stamp out this local footy feel reminds me of a great quote from Brian Matthews, when thinking about a particular match: “It’s a great game, it’ll take some really first-rate bad management to stuff it up”.

  7. John
    Although I am not a fan of its tenants, there is just something about Princes Park.
    I often wonder at the wisdom of those who made the decision that saw Carlton leave it behind.
    In my voluntary role as one of the VAFA’s scribes, last season I watched an U19 grand final
    between Therry-Penola and Old Ivanhoe at Princes Park. It was a thrilling match, made all
    the more entertaining by the crowd and the venue…perfect for football.

  8. johnharms says

    Seems like there is a lot of affection for the place that is Princes Park.Alovesupreme, I would love to read some reflections on those times yuo mention, if you have already penned something. And, if you’re not so keen, I’d certianly love to have a chat with a view to writing something myself.

    It was a very enjoyable afternoon.

  9. Stephen Cooke says

    Great stuff John, found myself LOL-ing several times. I was keen to take Harley to the game but his regular midday nap unfortunatley took precedence. I was keen for his first match to be at a suburban ground and Princes Park would have been perfect, looks like his first game will be at the Cattery this year. It’s as suburban as we have left in the modern age – another reason I’m glad we didn’t get the World Cup. I know Costa and Cooky were excited about World Cup funding turning KP into a “world class” “boutique” stadium reminiscent of a mini-MCG, but I like it as it is – disparate grand stands, the terrace, the tiny scoreboard, the scaffolding unprotected from the elements for the visitors. It would be nice for the next generation to get even a little taste of the past when they attend the ground.

  10. Bring back the St Augustine’s Band, and free entry for limbless soldiers.

  11. Great yarn JTH

    I remember my first visit to Princes Park was a fortuitous vindication of a decision I’d made six years previous based on a picture of Jezza’s screamer hanging on the wall at my great uncle’s place in Armadale.

    … and yes, Yarran will be something special.

  12. JTH,

    Theo will not forget Geelong as long as you undertake a sustained and protracted brainwashing process. Be patient, but stay focussed.

    My son showed little interest in footy and looked at my Cat viewing behavior with a perplexed expression for many years in his little hand knitted Cat jumper but ‘cometh the hour…..’

    He demanded to be taken to the 2007 GF. (At 6’5″ he certainly can drink a lot of amber lemonade – cokes in a day at the footy and a night on the (Geelong) town after the game.

    He finally bloomed from the bud of Cat latency when Paul Chapman (thanks Carlton) kicked one over his choulder from in close at the Punt Road end in the second quarter.

    His unashamed ‘coming out’ as a Cat supporter in such a proud and emotional manner in such in front of such a large audience was an absolutely joyous occassion for a father to experience.

  13. Tony Robb says

    As you may recall my 1st visit to Royal parade was in 1972 when I went into the rooms and met Jezza AND Big Nick. The rest as they say is history. One of my favourite stories relates to a famous inhabitant of Princes Park. A mate of mine was at the inaugral President Cup dinner at Crown some years back. There was Jack and Shark etc etc. He went to the tioliet and who did he find holding court .Big Jack with a red in one hand and a smoke in the other debating the Blues best premiership side with Syd Jackson. Brilliant.

    Ive never been to the Cattery but it has certainly turned into a fine stadium from appearances on TV but apparently not from the visitors coaches box.

  14. Thanks for a great article. My main memories of Princes Park are seeing Barry Stoneham break his leg; donating $1.00 to the save Fitzroy campaign only to have them beat us; Tim McGrath unfairly reported for kicking Liberatore, who had grabbed him around the ankle; endless walks across the soggy grass to get to the ground; and sheltering under a wet blanket in standing room behind the goals. On a happier occasion my son played little league at a VFL grand final which was a tremendous thrill. Keep up the subtle pressure on Theo – it’s bound to pay off in the long run!

  15. Nice article John. Glad you had an enjoyable day with Theo. I see the Cats pinched a win via a bit of Stevie Johnson magic. Not the first time this has happened.

    I’ve always liked Princes Park. As a Geelong fan I only went to Cats games, but there were some beauties. Some memories…Polly doing his knee in his first game for Geelong in 1962; Lethal Leigh whacking Neville Bruns in 1985, only to be flattened in turn by Steve Hocking; an unlikely Geelong win against the Blues (in 1981 I think) featuring the even more unlikely Leo King; Bob Menzies in his Daimler on a special platform next to the Social Club; Dasher Milburn’s ‘bump’ on SOS in 2001 and subsequent gesture to the crowd which sent the Carlton faithful feral (still does!); Gary Ablett snr playing in the magoos in his comeback match after ‘retiring’ in 1991; his son featuring in the VFL premiership in 2002.

    Who remembers that delightful urinal behind the terraces near the old scoreboard? You didn’t want to find yourself at the lower end without rubber boots around three quarter time.

    My Carlton-supporting mate Bill, who lives locally, has never forgiven the powers that be (Collo?) for moving the Blues away from Princes Park. His idea of heaven was standing on the terraces with a few mates and a can in his hand watching the Blues win on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Ah the good old days!

  16. Alovesupreme, Thanks for the detail. Much obliged. I only know about this stuff from what exists in the public memory – for that read: what I hear in pubs. And pieces written by people like Don Watson and Manning Clark and Barry Dickins and Martin Flanagan. I hope we are finding our contemporary chroniclers of these matters, and I hope this website gives them somewhere to place their words.

    And on the point of the attraction of that temptress (harlot? gigolo?) Princes Park, when we first came to Melbourne (from Brisvegas)in 2003 we lived in Carlton St, Carlton. (We were doing the Melbourne thingo properly). Early that season I was pulling the weeds from between the bluestones in our courtyard, and could hear a mighty roar from time to time. I eventually worked out it was the crowd from Princes Park wafted along on the northerly. It drew me to the joint, and I stood with the Latinos behind the goals. They were tough on their own. But the banter was brillaint. As was the atmosphere. Sometimes I’d sit on the garden seats.

    I felt an obligation to at least consider the charms of the temptress.

    Thanks goodness for the moral compass provided by Tom Harley and Mr Costa, Stevie J and Young G. Ablett. (I feel obliged to name all of them).


  17. So anyway, JTH. What do you reckon? Were they real or paid for?

  18. johnharms says

    Given this is a piece which was trying to suggest that blokiness gets under the guard without appearing like blokiness, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to answer that question. I averted my eyes.

  19. Fifteen years ago I photographed graffiti on an outside wall of Princes Park. It impressed me so much that “(C) A Stop Privatisation of Footy Production” appeared at the bottom of every footy column I wrote for the next ten years.

  20. Lovely piece John. A really enjoyable read.

    Your son sounds like a cutie!

  21. “Given this is a piece which was trying to suggest that blokiness gets under the guard without appearing like blokiness, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to answer that question. I averted my eyes”

    Can we go to the polygraph on that one please?

  22. Yes

  23. As an Eagles supporter in Geelong, I took my 3 year old daughter along to KP last year to watch the boys get towelled up by the Cats. We left with Cats face paint, Cats flags, Cats stickers and regrettably, a Cats scarf. I may have lost her, but when she now mentions the Magpies (which we have many more of in the backyard compared to Eagles or Cats), I can happily remind her she has a Cats scarf.

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