Vale Bobby Davis

Image: Alex Wadelton

 

 

I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Bob Davis.

 

A lot of people are.  He was the most warm-hearted man. You always walked away from his company feeling better about the world and its people. There was sunshine in every moment of his media career.

 

A lot of us fans feel we knew him, and feel we were much the better for knowing him. Bob did so much for so many.

 

I am too young to remember Bob as the Geelong Flier. But my father used to talk about him, with tremendous fondness. They are about the same age. And that dual premiership team of the early `50s stayed with my father like the Chappell-Lillee-Thommo side of the next generation has stayed with me.

 

Dad told me Bob went looking for the footy, and when he found some open space, my father reckoned he could really take off.

 

I am even too young to remember him as a coach.

 

But Bob Davis was an important name in our household because, for many years, he was our last premiership coach. And there were those of us, who despite our hope, thought we might pass on before there was another premiership coach at Kardinia Park.

 

I only know the stories. The tales which are secure in the Geelong mythology, of Bobby and Happy Hammond before the ’63 Grand Final, of Bobby when he realised what he had secured in Polly Farmer. Of going up the bush in search of other talent, with that other favourite Geelong son, Bill McMaster (who will be deeply saddened today).

 

I was barely at school when I learnt who Bob Davis was. He was that man on World of Sport with other characters like Lou and Jack. In those days, the late `60s, when my father was the Lutheran minister at Shepparton, we hoped for short sermons so we could get home to watch ‘Mark of the Day’ and the analysis of the Geelong game, on our recently-purchased first TV.

 

We were a devout family – to two causes: the love of Christ and the Geelong Football Club. I wrote in Loose Men Everywhere that Bob Davis and his fellow-panelists were like the characters of the Old Testament: I could tell they were important men but I was too young to understand why.

 

Now I know.

 

Bob Davis read those words. And when I met him for the first time (in 2002) he wanted to talk about my book, and footy, and Geelong, and Gary Ablett senior. Never about him.  Always about you.

 

By then I had also seen the highlights of old shows from the days when TV executives and producers were trying to develop characters along the lines of the comedic American equivalents. But the boys didn’t have the slickness: the humour and the joy were in the honesty and the stuff-ups and the sheer good fun of it all. That was who they were, and that was what footy was. Billy continues in that tradition today.

 

I had also read Bob’s biography, and, after we moved to Melbourne from Queensland, saw him as the fine media personality he still was. He did various shows, like Grumpy Old Men. He was genuinely funny. And starting to look older.

 

I once went to the footy media awards (another one of life’s experiences, always dangerously self-congratulatory) and I got talking to Bobby. He was as friendly as ever, and always one to pull your leg, in that old-fashioned way my father and my uncles used to.

 

That night he was being inducted as a Life Member of the Media Hall of Fame.

 

I learnt a lot that night about Bobby, from a source who surprised me.  Sam Newman made the speech, and a brilliant speech it was, of Bobby coming down to ‘The Grammar’, as Bob called it, to look at young Sam. This was a speech of immense respect, intelligent and witty, with a sound sense of perspective. I learnt  a lot about Sam that night too. Sam is clearly an actor when on The Footy Show’s pay-roll. That night Sam wanted us to know that Bobby Davis had been a key influence in the direction his life had taken; that night Sam wanted us to know that he has respect for the game and the best people in it.

 

I would bump in to Bobby from time to time. At the footy. Where we would return to the same topic: hope and the young Cats players.

 

He’d always greet Susan as if she were his daughter-in-law. I also got to meet his wife, Margaret, and his children who are about my age, and full of Davis warmth.

 

One time he came to where we were sitting at lunch and said, “I never miss the Offsiders.”

 

“I thought you’d be at mass, Bobby,” I said.

 

“We always set the V-C-R,” Bobby said, with his Bobby intonation (that Ian Cover does so well). Then shook hands. Like he meant it.

 

Before the 2007 Grand Final I was invited on to ABC Victoria’s Morning Show with (that day) Kathy Bedford, another Geelong supporter. Bobby and I talked about what it meant to be a Geelong supporter and hope for a Geelong flag. At the end Bob said quite simply, “I hope it’s a good game. I hope both teams play to the best of their ability, and the better team wins.” I reckon he meant it.

 

It remains one of the most enjoyable ten minutes I’ve spent.

 

He was parochial, but the parish was a mere affectation when compared to the place of all people.

 

His delight at the joy of others could be seen when he presented the 2009 Premiership Cup to Tom Harley and Mark Thompson. This was another momentous day. By then he looked much older, a little thinner in the face, and although his eyes were full of love, I also remember feeling that, like my father, he knew the world was starting to belong to someone else. It was happy-sad moment to see.

 

Late that same afternoon, outside the MCG,  I bumped into his daughter Margot, and we embraced like two people who’d shared something special. That included the premiership, and an appreciation for her dear father.  I could hardly hold back the tears as I tried to say, clumsily, that it was so good to see Bob out there.

 

My father died on preliminary final night last year, just after Geelong had lost to Collingwood. Bob died yesterday, after a fine win against the old nemesis. Especially the nemesis of their youth., when all was before them.

 

Now they are both gone. I love them both. They have given so much.

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. 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 - Theo12, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says

    Nice one JTH.

    FD Bobby was the one who re-named John Newman as Sam Newman.

  2. David Downer says

    Fitting tribute JTH. I was shocked when I saw the news. I’m a little bit younger again, but Bobby’s warmth always shone through the TV and he transcended generations, supporters of all teams, and sport itself. He was the footy/TV version of your favourite uncle that everyone loved to bits. While I generally recoil at footage of the 2009 GF presentation (and that Darrel Baldock missed out on this moment), the footage of Bobby Davis always softens the blow and you cant help but smile when watching him – these are healing qualities he was perhaps unaware of! The two of them, the absolute all-time spiritual leaders of their clubs are now at peace, just a few months apart.
     
    Vale Bobby.
     
    DD

  3. Stainless says

    John

    A sad day indeed for football and a touching personal reflection. Bobby always came across on TV as a lovely bloke and a true gentleman and your piece confirms it. Your description of him presenting the 09 Cup matches exactly my recollection of him up on the dais that day – beautifully expressed.

  4. Polly Coufos says

    A beautiful piece John. Very touching.

  5. Murray from Brisbane says

    fantastic harmsy … love it Muz

  6. Dan Crane says

    It always seemed to be that Bob had endless faith in the Catters, and not just regarding on-field success but in being the greatest club to be associated with as a fan, in that the greatest team of all was not only about the players on the field and coaches but every single person associated with the club. It’s why i’m so glad to be a geelong fan – and as a 14 year old lad before the 89 GF to the 34 yo bloke before 09 Bob was the figure that fired me up like no other, his smile was worth a million flags — he will be sadly missed. GO CATS.

    A wonderful article JTH, thank you.

  7. John Butler says

    Vale Bobby and Jack.

    Lou’s the last one left.

    A lovely part of growing up in Victoria.

  8. RIP BOBBY

    Eleven years no cup, then
    Bobby made a flag achievable
    I just can’t believe he’s gone
    It’s fair dinkum unbelievable

  9. Beautifully written John. A sad day indeed. You’re a lucky man to have known him.

  10. Wonderful tribute John. I have checked this website a few times today as I assumed you’d write one.

    As someone too young to see even the boy from the Grammar school even play, I have to rely on words from others to understand the impact that Bob has had on the club that I love.

    I’ve never heard someone utter a bad word about him. Vale.

  11. Wonderful tribute JTH – fair dinkum unbelievable. Bobby would have appreciated this enormously.

    I almost want to barrack for the Cats (well I do when my beloved Big Cats aren’t playing).

  12. Anne Cahill Lambert says

    Beautiful piece, John: even from my jaded brown and gold eyes. He was a wonderful contributor to the game, at all levels.

  13. Damian Callinan says

    I was touring in regional SA last week and found myself staying at the Renmark Golf & Country Club where I had spent a few nights as a kid during one stinking hot Riverland summer. Bobby was the part owner in those days as I recall and also a client of our dear family friend and traveling companion Jeanie Phillips. Jeanie used to tag along on our holidays and insisted on paying for everything. Jeanie was PA to the managing director of Stafford Ellinson Suits which Bobby sported on more than one occasion on ‘League Teams.’ As the sun set over the 9th green and the heat faded on my sizzle platter enough for me to get near my ham steak and pineapple, Bobby came and pulled up a chair. Here was this bloke I watched every Thursday night and Sunday morning making us feel like we were the royal family. For the rest of the night he made sure we were looked after and even slipped us a free bottle of plonk … might have even been Ben Ean Moselle.

    Beautifully wriiten JTH. You render our great game and its people with humanity and love

  14. JTH – wonderful piece of work. I’ll always remember Bobby’s smile on the dais after the Cats won the 2009 flag. Priceless.

  15. bernard whimpress says

    So full of love John and I feel better for having read it. Your comment on Jack, Lou and Bob as the Three Wise Men in Loose Men Everwhere has always stuck with me.

  16. Feel so sad yet so happy. What a great man. Love to his family and friends, may the man himself rest in peace.

  17. Haje Halabi says

    passionate and great tribute, well done.

  18. Thank you for taking the time to share your recollections of a man that touched so so many people.
    fair dinkum unbelievable.

  19. Dave Nadel says

    Beautiful tribute John. In between the clowning, Bob, Lou and Jack shaped the way a whole generation looked at footy.

  20. Fantastic Tribute Harmsey,Its odd to have such an affection for a Man I never met I.I never realised my affection till now.Thanks Harmsy

  21. Being an SA/WA boy, I only have limited memories of Bob Davis on Ch7. But I do have an image fixed in my mind from the first book of Footy Champions I was given as a boy. Ball tucked under his arm. Hair striving to keep up with him. The Geelong Flyer on the burst.
    Bob’s passing brought back memories of another Cats devotee of similar stature and nature. I got to know John Button in Canberra in the Hawke Government years. No matter how important the legislation or how dire the political situation, John always had to get back to Melbourne to watch his beloved Cats every weekend. I thought it passing strange. Geelong was not much chop in the early 80’s from memory.
    Your touching tribute reminds me why love of club and game has been more important than success (nice if you can get it – but a fleeting impermanence) – over many generations at the Cattery.
    I can picture John Button, eyes twinkling, standing on a fruit box in front of St Peter’s lectern. He is giving the Final Arbiter his two bob’s worth to add to the long list of reasons for letting Bobby in. “Even Heaven can be a solitary place without your mates. With Bobby here we’d never be lonely”.
    Life as it ought to be played. Amen to that.

  22. Thank you Harmsy, a very fitting tribute to a truly wonderful man, a great footballer and all round fair dinkum good bloke.

    Whilst I am a St.Kilda follower of some 50 years, like so many other lovers of our great game, I rarely missed the footy show and the three wise men applying their knowledge, opinion and humor to the game of football.

    I offer my sincere condolences to Bob’s family, friends and all his extended catters family. We will never forget the great Bobby Davis. R.I.P. Bob

  23. Steve Fahey says

    Magnificent piece John, thank you.

    The true legends of our game such as Bobby cut across club allegiances, usually long after their playing days.

  24. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Fitting tribute JTH,

    Bobby loved fast, attacking footy and always came across as a genial man. Loved that he would not leave the dais in 2009. Maybe he knew it would be the last flag he’d see. Sad day for those of us who grew up with Bobby and World Of Sport in less complex times.

  25. A fine tribute John. Thanks on behalf of us Cats and Bob Davis fans.

    I remember the kindness Bob showed my mum and I at training at Geelong one night decades ago. I was keen to get his and Polly Farmer’s autographs. Although he was pretty busy, Bob took time to speak to us in a friendly and helpful manner. He gave me his autograph and took me into the medical room, which was normally out of bounds to kids like me, and introduced me to Polly who was having treatment on that famous knee of his.

    ‘Pol’, he said, ‘could you please give this young lad your autograph. He’s been waiting outside with his mum in the cold for ages’ Polly naturally obliged. I still treasure that autograph book, and the associated memories, fifty years later. Vale Bob, you were one of the best.

  26. Andrew Starkie says

    Great stuff, Harmsy.

    World of Sport many years ago:

    Lou: Bob, you were celibate for twelve years!
    Bob: Yes, but then I turned thirteen!

    Gee, we’ve lost some sporting legends and characters in the last few weeks.

  27. Magnificent tribute Harmsy, there was a real lump in my throat as I read it.

  28. John

    Wonderfully written. You have captured the essence of the fella who will remain the pulse of Geelong, even after he has gone. I was fortunate enough to see him play. Football across the board is richer for what Bob Davis put into it. You are spot on. He never talked of his own deeds unless urged to do so. And even then he would spend just a few moments and then get back to other topics. Total humility. He enjoyed being an entertainer. But in doing so he was inclusive, never focused on himself. Bob Davis – a real Cats and VFL/AFL great; one of life’s real gentlemen.

  29. Georgie Young says

    What a fabulous piece. Fighting back tears by the end.

  30. tim mcbain says

    brilliant article Harmsy.

  31. Richard Naco says

    Thanks John. A wonderful and evocative piece, which Bobby fully deserves.

    I came to Geelong because of the spirit & style of the club, both of which owe so much to Bobby’s influence in that committment to flair and fairness.

    “Play the game, as it should be played”!

    Indeed.

    Vale Bobby.

  32. JTH
    Been up to Shepp today to talk to some people. (met Miss Scott, my Gowrie St grade 2 teacher, who I painted my face with a Choo Choo bar for in 1967, knowing it would win her heart. It didn’t somehow.)
    A great many memories and ageing friends. And I’m damned if Bobby wasn’t right there among them, in a way. Loved your declaration of love. He deserved your piece, which is the best I can say about your piece. Cheers. Ajc.

  33. I had the absolute pleasure of working with Bob at 3GL and later K-Rock. What a absolute gem of a guy, not a bad word for or about anyone, and hilarious. Fondly I recall oftentimes (the legend) Ted Whitten crossing to “Bobby Davis, around the grounds…” only to hear nou’t but the broadcast of the final hundred metres of a horse race that Bob had afew…um, bob on. And Ted left yelling into his mike, “BOB DAVIS! BOB DAVIS!” Genuine characters, unique in their own ways. Sympathy to you all Geelong Cats fans.

  34. Shane Johnson says

    Wonderful words John

    A sad day indeed for footy. Footy wasnt the winner today

    As Bruce “Bugsy” Comben, the tough Carlton back pocket, said after shirt fronting Bobby one day

    “The Geelong Flyer has just been derailed at Werribee”

  35. Way too young to have had seen him play but have so much respect for him. Whenever I saw him down at the club, he was always happy to stop and chat to the young supporters around him. For that, I thank him. He made it such an experience and firmed my stance as a Geelong supporter. RIP Bobby, you were fair dinkum unbelievable!

  36. Lucas Garth says

    One of the best articles you’ve ever written.
    I am a young one but I know class when I see it and that was Davis. Indeed that was and is the hallmark of what makes Geelong.

    He played the game of life as it should be played.

    RIP #fairdinkumunbelievable

  37. Thanks, Harmsy, for an outstanding piece on a truly legendary character.

    But thanks most of all to the man himself.

    We know footy supporters everywhere loved the great man, but for us Cats fans he’ll always be OUR Bobby Davis.

    I know how much Grand Final Days 2007 and 2009 meant to me; I can only imagine what heights of rapture those moments brought to him.

    We salute you, Woofa. Gone, but never forgotten.

    P.S. John, any chance your piece might work its way into the 2011 Almanac? I’d like to think so.

  38. Well said… I remember him from World of Sport with Jack and Lou and I have always felt that for Bobby, his humour was never forced and was just a natural part of him. He was always the consummate professional in everything he did. He always came across as a kind warm caring man who was more interested in others than in himself.

    It’s a sad loss to the world with the passing of an Aussie Rules legend in Bobby Davis.

    RIP Bobby Davis, the Geelong Flyer

  39. Andrew Gaylard says

    Thanks, John. The piece Bobby deserved.

    He was never a remote hero for me as a child, let alone later. Because of who he was, he was like a loved uncle, yet a famous and deeply respected one, and that never changed over fifty years.

    “Ah, what sagacity perished here!”

  40. Beautiful stuff JTH.

    It was hard not to love Woofa. Sunday mornings in the late 70s early 80s, mum and my sisters would go off to a charismatic church, while dad and I would head straight to nonnas who cooked up a storm, while we watched World of Sport and the antics of Bobby and co. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since the show was axed –as stated in the previous post, you always felt like Bob was an uncle, and John’s piece here confirms what a great man he was.

  41. johnharms says

    Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to make a comment. I will print them out and send them to the Davis family. It will make an unusual, but very meaningful, condolences card.

    I hope to respond to some of the individual comments later today.

    JTH

  42. Clearisghted says

    Lovely tribute, JTH, to a true gent.
    The manner in which Bobby lived was epitomised by his beloved Cats at their best: the right mix of courage, humour, humility, skill, flair and unabashed joy.
    Bless you, Woofa. You played as it should be played.

  43. Anthony Beck says

    Beautifully written JTH.
    Captured the essence of a very good man..

  44. Duncan Wade says

    God bless you Bob. You will be missed

  45. Nathan Hollier says

    Beatiful, John.
    I’ve printed this out and sent to a pal who’s not ‘wired’, in Mildura. A mad cat’s fan who also lost his dad recently.
    Thanks.

  46. Great piece John. I really enjoyed reading more about Bobby the man. Very sad loss for the footy community.

  47. Richard Jones says

    WELL, Darky and other Cats’ fans I am old enough to have seen Whoofer play.
    From 1949 onwards, in fact. I was 11 when we won the 1951 grand final and I was there in the old Southern Stand.
    Somewhere up in the Gods but eyesight is very keen at such a young age. My schoolmates and I loved watching Bobby play — and also ‘Hooker’ Renfrey, Bernie Smith, Brucey Morrison, Tom Morrow, Geoff Williams, Johnny Hyde — and a cast of many more.

    Bobby was special, though. He could take off from a couple of steps and be in full flight, hurtling down the grandstand wing towards the city end goals. He was a great kick, too, and would regularly sink the leather into what we’d call today 50 metre bombs.

    We always used to stand on that side of Kardinia Park. I’ve always been a stander-upper at the footy, probably carried over from those 1950s days. The Bobby Davis show would unfold right in front of us.
    He never liked the outer side, the Moorabool Street flank. Bobby liked to perform in front of a bigger crew.

    He was good on the left side of the body too. Now that was something in the early Fifties. Brownlow Medallist Bernie Smith (the 1951 medallist) was a completely one-sided player. Just had the right boot did Bernie.
    Mind you, her was extremely adept with that boot!

    Didn’t see much of Bobby’s TV days as by then we’d moved to Papua New Guinea. But I knew he was a joker and that he would have carried off his role with aplomb

    .

  48. Very sad to hear the news,but glad that I’m old enough to have seen Bob on W.O.S. and league teams.
    He was really a part of my youth and a little bit of me departed yesterday as well.
    Condolences to the family,and let’s hope the Cats can bring the flag back to the football ground for him..

  49. Charlie Sutherland says

    Dear John
    Congratulations on a super article capturing Bobby Davis and his wonderful personality and impact on you and other Cats. I loved reading it. Bobby was the spiritual leader of Geelong and I wonder who you think takes his mantle now?
    Thanks again
    Charlie Sutherland

  50. Richard Naco says

    Charlie,

    One of the key elements (& most attractive aspects) of the Pivot is that there is an endless line of characters who are dyed in the wool Geelong people. None of them will ever be another Bob Davis – that mold was well & truly broken after the original was cast – but the names Billy Brownless, Andrew Bews and in time, Cameron Ling and Joel Selwood also hold (or with the passing of time, will hold) significant sway. Catters to their boot straps, generous, charismatic and ever the life of the party. And you can add JTH – the poet of Corio Bay – to that tradition as well.

    All inspired by and ever owing to the legacy of the great man.

    We as Catters all are almost inevitably impelled to ensure that the memory and spirit of Woofa are never allowed to fade away from the club, and that we stay committed to playing the game as it should be played.

  51. haiku bob says

    news from home
    i didn’t want to hear
    — first rain

    shared grief —
    a single cloud
    covers the whole sky

    RIP bobby

  52. JTH

    Beautifully written…thank you! Just like your piece ‘Gardens of Blue & White’ in 2007 you got my tearducts flowing.

    Coincidently my father who also loved Geelong so very much and respected Bobby immensely passed away 23 years to the day prior to Bob. Dad saw a few Cats flags in his time and I was with him as an 11 yr old when we won it in ’63 but Dad never got to see the joy on Bob’s face as we did in 07 and again in 09.

    I watched Bobby as a kid on TV and whilst I never saw him play, I had the great pleasure of working with both him and EJ each Saturday morning for some years on 3GL. The ‘on-air’ moments were great but the ‘off-air’ ones were priceless as JD will attest. Never a dull moment with those two in a studio.

    I hope all Knackers will take the opportunity to come to Geelong next Tuesday and help us farewell the great man, Bob Davis. And maybe afterwards we can all raise a glass to the legend at Billy’s pub, The Valley Inn.

    RIP Bobby

  53. Matt Zurbo says

    Beautiful…

  54. JTH you have to stop writing things that bring on the water works. I sit here in early hours getting my Almanac fix and the wife (Management) comes out and thinks there’s something dreadfully wrong. Just a happy cats fan immersed in heartfelt words. I hope the spirit of Bobby rides with the boys and they can continue to celebrate his legacy by playing the game as it should be played.

  55. Peter Flynn says

    FD Bobby sold us a Fairlane in about 1974.

    He came to our house.

    I was so nervous/shy that I hid in my room and played with my matchbox cars. I reckon Hairy Hustler (1971) was leading the field.

    Eventually I was coaxed out.

    He was a lovely fella.

    He ran a motel about 10 minutes walk from our joint and I often saw him walking towards Geelong Golf Glub (conveniently across the road at the time).

    My Old Cheese would often see him down the street and FD Bobby would always say hello.

    Simon Townley of the Addy nailed it when he noted that FD Bobby was the face and chuckle of Geelong.

  56. Good life motto…”play the game as it should be played”.
    Should’ve had a minute’s smiling and laughter tonight.

  57. The passing of Bob Davis, is an end of a life that meant a lot of memories of a different time. I thought of my mum and dad, ringing mum to laugh about what was said on league teams the night before, of Jack Dyer, as I am a richmond fan, but Bobby was funny and a gentleman. R.I.P. Bobby you will be missed, say hi to Mum and Dad for me

  58. Pamela Sherpa says

    Sad news for Geelong fans and friends. Bob, Jack and Lou were genuinley funny and not to be missed on World of Sport.
    I enjoyed watching the tribute on ch 7 last night .

  59. Lovely tribute piece John. Having heard of Bob’s love of the punt, you might want to have something on the omen tip of SUBWOOFA tonight in the last at Globe Derby.

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