Time: the subtle thief of youth

By Simon Dobbie

On a rare commitment-free weekend just gone, I had an opportunity to sit down and watch some footy while the son had his middle-of-the-day sleep and the wife had her head buried in a good book.

The game in question was Geelong v GWS which didn’t promote too much interest in me other than getting a chance to see some of my AFL Supercoach players perform. Before the game, as is their want, the commentators went through each team and put up player profiles and co.

Now, I knew the GWS boys were young. Of course, they are. Just as the Gold Coast boys were last year. However, knowing that hadn’t really sunk into my head at all up until the year that each one of them was born came up. 1993. Given most of them come from last year’s draft, 1993 came up again and again and again.

My mind launched into one of its pondering moods and the number 1993 kept turning through the screws. What does 1993 mean to me? What of significance happened to me in 1993? Shite, I was in my last year of high school. I was 18.

The ‘fact’ is of course a given. Yep, I was 18 in 1993. Just as these GWS boys are now. But what really struck me and set off reverberations in my head, was the fact that it doesn’t feel like 18-19 years since then to me. Very far from it. While I certainly don’t feel like I’m but a few years out of school or a few years out of uni, I certainly don’t feel like high school was half my lifetime ago.

I know that the maths tell me something different, and I know plenty of water has flowed under the proverbial bridge since my high school days. University. Travel. Career. Marriage. Mortgage. Parenthood. But alas, I just don’t ‘feel’ like I’m twice as old as then and that those days are so far behind me.

What is it then that is holding me back from acting my age or coming to terms with where I sit on my life’s timeline? I mean, while I haven’t tried it for a very long time, my mind still thinks I can kick a footy 50m and jump over others to take a speccie. Or throw down a thunderbolt yorker that rips through a batsman’s stumps. Or carry two or three blokes over the tryline with me after storming on to an inside ball. Because I used to be able to do that, so why couldn’t I now?

That’s the way my mind seems to operate. Well, up until now anyway. Not on a conscious level mind you. Not in a thinking/calculating way. In fact, I don’t reflect on any of that at all during my waking/working life. There’s too much else going on. But subconsciously, in a non-calculating way, yeah of course I’d still be able to do that. Why not?

But there are reasons for why not aren’t there? I just don’t think about them so there’s nothing to pull me back to the reality. I mean there’s the sheer fact that I haven’t even tried all those things in years. There’s the fact my reconstructed knee might not be able to cope. Especially as it was the reason in the first place I stopped doing all those things. And there’s the fact that my body certainly isn’t trained to do all those things like it once was. I used to train 4-5 nights a week and play both a seniors game and an agegroup game every weekend so of course my body was far more tuned towards those sorts of activities back then.

That’s the reality. And those are the realities as to why I’ve stopped doing those things. But the mind just doesn’t compute all that and seems to conveniently forget certain things while romanticising others. You played with the likes of Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis and Ben Tune. You played against the likes of Fraser Gehrig, Nigel Lappin and Joe Roff. You could have been a contender. You could have been a…you know the rest surely.

So there I was, watching the GWS players’ profiles pop up and the year 1993 kept on coming up. And those thoughts just above and those names pop into my head and it hits me even harder. Jaysus christ, those guys have been ‘retired’ for years! They played long and illustrious careers but haven’t been around for nearly a decade in some cases. Shite, the realisation that even my ‘glory days’ and the guys I shared them with are outdated and old.

I’m not sure if I’m relating the feeling I had on Saturday very well with these words. It’s a hard one to pinpoint and to explain. I didn’t feel ‘old’ as such. Not like when people talk about cops looking so young and that’s when they felt ‘old’ for the first time. No, it was more like a realisation that my life has come a long way since my so-called glory days and they’re not coming back.

And while many of you are no doubt saying of course they aren’t, they’re long gone, I guess my psyche and my consciousness had never really confronted that reality and had chosen to ignore it. Or just chosen to concentrate on far more important things. Like career. Like marriage. Like mortgages. Like fatherhood.

Yes, that must be it. I’d moved on. Well, some parts of my mind had while others had not. Hence the profoundness of the lightening bolt that went off in my head when Taylor Adams birthdate came up on the screen. My days as an 18 year old are half a lifetime ago. My days when all of life’s opportunities were ahead of me are long gone.

That’s not a bad thing though, nor was it a sad feeling full of regret or anything. Far from it in fact. I have a lot to be thankful for and none of that would have happened if my life’s journey had taken a different path. It was just a realisation. A thought bubble. A recognition of the reality.

Yes, quite the realisation to have on a lazy Saturday afternoon in front of the telly watching the footy. I’m sure Aristotle must have had similar moments watching nude guys run around at the Ancient Olympics. Or Nietzsche as one of the first games of football took place on the university lawns under his office.

Now, where’s that son of mine? I just need to take him down to the oval and show him I can still kick goal from 50m out and….

Simon Dobbie.


  1. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Can definitely relate Simon. Imagine how Dustin Fletcher feels?

  2. John Harms says


    I love this piece.

    I recall when I first realised it [really] weren’t forever. When the penny droppped. Have never recovered from that evening in about 1988.

    Your piece reminded me of a Milton sonnet from the 17th century.

    Sonnet VII: How soon hath Time, the Subtle Thief of Youth
    How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
    Stol’n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
    My hasting days fly on with full career,
    But my late spring no bud or blossom shew’th.
    Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth
    That I to manhood am arriv’d so near;
    And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
    That some more timely-happy spirits endu’th.
    Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
    It shall be still in strictest measure ev’n
    To that same lot, however mean or high,
    Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav’n:
    All is, if I have grace to use it so
    As ever in my great Task-Master’s eye.

  3. Simon – how time slips past is incredible. Predictable, but incredible.

    It was Bruce Spingstein who sang about glory days pasing “in the wink of a young girl’s eye”Quite right.

    Enjoyed the piece.

  4. Simon

    Cracking story, brilliant reflections.

    Yes, I look at players birthdates and can’t believe how young they are, or how old that makes me.
    When I was their age, the age I am now seemed ancient.
    Now of course, my age seems still youthful and full of vigour.
    There was a piece the other day on the site about talk back radio. I remember when I first spent more time listening to SEN than Triple J, and what that said to me about how I was getting older.
    So I check in to the Js every now and then to cling to my departing youth.
    Really beautifully written mate


  5. Richard Naco says

    The impact is even more dramatic when you get up close and personal. A hell of a lot of these fine young men, including the much – and deservedly – lauded Jeremy Cameron, look as though they’ve never shaved. Their musclature is very obviously nowhere near where it will be within a few short years, so for them to be performing as they are becomes even more credible.

    So the promise of what they will most likely become so very very soon is even more gobsmacking.

    As Sheeds said in a recent interview: “Our’s is the only club in the AFL that celebrates a player getting their driver’s licence”.

    One more point. GWS very obviously placed character very very prominently of their list of criteria when selecting their players. According to the law of averages there should be a [insert appropriate obscenity here] in the Giants’ squad, but I certainly haven’t met him. The blokes with whom we come into regular close contact in the cheer squad are universally respectful, intelligent and articulate. It really is very easy to support these men.

  6. Mark Doyle says

    Simon, I think that you should take a ‘rain check’ and get over your paranoid mid-life crisis. You should not be envious of naive 18 year old AFL footballers. Blokes of our age can still enjoy life; both intellectually and physically with good food and wine. In the past few years I have enjoyed cycling holidays in Turkey and Viet Nam and trekking holidays in Nepal. We also can enjoy great intellectually stimulating festivals in Victoria, such as the Melbourne International Film Festival, The Melbourne Writers’ Festival, the Port Fairy Folk Music Festival and watching the Geelong Cats play AFL footy. You can also enjoy great art exhibitions such as the Fred Williams and Napolean exhibitions which are currently showing in Melbourne.

  7. Stephen Cooke says

    Is Mark Doyle actually Caroline Wilson?

  8. Richard Naco says

    Second question: would he like to be?

  9. I defend Marks right to have his say, and would indeed fight to do so … but Jaysus!

    Touching piece, Simon. You write a hell of a lament

  10. Jeff Dowsing says

    I really identify with this article. When there ceased to be an AFL player older than me I knew my life was over (any last strand of youth was lost when Robert Harvey gave it away). Can’t believe I’m even older than Dustin Fletcher.

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