Weekend Memoir: Round the grounds

by John Harms


During the past week the scheduling of AFL matches has been a topic of discussion. Monday night’s match between Collingwood and St Kilda, despite being an ordinary game, seems to have been a reasonably successful experiment. However many feel that football has hijacked yet another day of the week.


Spreading football across the weekend means you can now watch just about every game in full. Footy becomes your default position. Nothing much happening? I’ll just see how Freo and Port are going, and before you know it you’ve watched all of it.


I’d like to see more matches on a Saturday afternoon, for lots of reasons. One of the main reasons is that it would see the return of one of the great institutions of Australian life: going around the grounds.


When I was a kid we lived for a while in Shepparton which was on the very limit of the range of Melbourne radio stations. This made for frustrating afternoons trying to pick up the footy coverage. Of course the ABC’s country service came through loud and clear but the ABC never seemed to cover Geelong matches, and they were forever breaking into their footy coverage to cross to Joe Brown at Flemington or Geoff Mahoney at Randwick.


A series of antennae helped us pick up 3KZ on our ancient HMV radiogram, one of those ones with sparkly nylon speakers and every radio station in every state listed on the orangely lit panel. Amid the snow and the static you’d hear: “3KZ is football.” And that the match was brought to us by Radio Rentals. (“Phone eight seven eight dub-late dub-late”).


I loved when a goal was scored and they went around the grounds – the five other venues ringed around inner Melbourne. Or down to Geelong. The noise of the crowd in the background  and the short, sharp score from the voice of a former footballer: ‘fifteen and a half minute mark, Hawthorn 11.19, Footscray 12.12.” And then to the next ground where the tone of the crowd was different. You could imaginewhat was happening from just six seconds of live cross. In the instant before the voice gave the score there would be just enough information from the background noise to form an idea of what was going on: the roar of a goal, the woman shrieking at Victoria Park, “leave ‘im alone you animal,” the rise and fall of voices as someone flew and failed to latch onto a big grab, the chant of “Rich-mond clap clap clap” which suggested the Tiges were coming back, the collective cry of ‘Ball!”


I loved how 200 games in the VFL meant that the round-the-grounds blokes knew when something was important enough to be mentioned: “They’ve locked the gates here, Harry”; “Cowboy Neale’s got his fifth” in a second quarter cross; “Jesaulenko’s down and I reckon they’ve called for the stretcher”. And when the situation became critical they had the freedom to cut across the main broadcast: “Wade’s got another one. Scores are level, Harry” or “Essendon have hit the front”.


This was a great language; a language I knew and understood.


And of course there was always that call in the last quarter as they went around the grounds again, “We’ve got the close one.”







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 (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected]tyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great memories Harmsy,

    in the late 70s/early 80s 3KZ had George Ferry, Bobby Henderson, Roy Simmonds and Laurie Sandilands. They often used to send Ferry to Victoria Park and whenever they crossed with Collingwood coming back in the last quarter, the noise gave me goosebumps.

    At the ABC my favourite was ‘Skeeter’ Coghlan who would come up with gems like: “We’ve been playing ten minutes and the Magpies look a bit ‘disorientated’ at the moment.

    Another classic was when Smokey Dawson crossed to Gareth Andrews at Kardinia park and asked: ” Are the pussies purring Gareth?” After a slight pause Gareth replied:”Ah..not yet”

    When 3UZ had the footy in 1985 they would send Crackers Keenan to Moorabbin. After watching the Saints lose by 100 plus points for the 3rd time in a row an exasperated Crackers lamented: “Why am I out here again?”

    Footy on the radio has not been the same since.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Radio coverage still has it’s charms. Listening to the W.A. and S.A home games (via internet) with their local commentators and perspective is often quite amusing.
    Thankfully the coverage via the net is clear and there is a choice of radio stations to switch between if desired.

  3. Rod Gillett says

    This brings back great memories John.

    But, of course, living in Shepparton you were able to get the ABC loud and clear because of the Radio Australia antennas out on the Congupna Road.
    Meanwhile in Kyabram we had to put up with 3SR’s Jim Hovey’s call of the Goulburn Valley games. He only knew the names of the Shepparton players, be they from Shepp, City United or Lemnos.
    The most colourful country caller, I reckon, was 3BO Bendigo’s dimunitive Dick Turner, who used to “call-the-board from the QEO, the home of football in Bendigo” while urging us all to eat GB pies – “the pies that fill but never kill”.
    Not only did he know the names of all the players, he knew their occupations, and where they came from as well as wonderfully describing their physical attributes; “the fleet-footed Peter Moroni” and the “barrel chested bulldozer driver from Heathcote, Dennis Pangrazio”
    I first remember seeing Dick broadcating from the back of a furniture van at the Park Oval in Echuca – I was mesmirised by him, even though he was a Danny Devito look-alike with glasses!
    He was an unabashed Golden Square fan which did not endear him to the people of Rochester so much so that a couple of scallywags used to remove the ladder from the broadcast box and leave him stranded if Square happened to beat Rochy!

  4. Harmsy – great stuff. I used to love it when the Major on 3KZ said “and we’re broadcasting through 3WM in the Wimmera Mallee”. As a kid I used to wander where on earth the Wimmera Mallee was. I had visions of a mysterious land full of strange animals.

    And I used to agonize when they went around the grounds and Bobby Henderson from Kardinia Park would make the call that the Cats were “home” early in the last quarter. Didn’t he realise that the Cats were NEVER “home”!

  5. Peter Schumacher says

    Don’t forget the mixmaster which would invariably be started at about 4:30 when just for once a Norwood match was being broadcast on 5KA the station call not interupted by race calls, this was really bloody fantastic. My home town, Birdwood is only about 42 K’s from Adelaide yet somehow the reception was mostly pretty ordinary due to power lines which snaked right past our roof. I think that the mixmaster thing must have been my mother’s way of getting back at us Norwood barrackers because her team Sturt were in my early youth total easybeats for most teams. Anyway the effect was that the radio became virtually useless.

    Peter Schumacher

  6. Thanks for the great memories, John. It also brought back the days of getting the Melbourne Herald on a Friday arvo and checking the experts tips to see if they thought your team would win. And there was a full preview report of every game. If Alf Brown did the preview of your team’s game, then you knew your side was in a big game. And if he picked your team to win, you hung off his every word and adopted his rationalisations as yours to convince yourself that a win was on the cards on Saturday. And of course if they did win, you’d be straight down to the corner shop on Saturday night to get the “Last Race Final Football” edition of the Herald and a copy of the Sporting Globe.

  7. Marcel Kamperman says

    Just came, belatedly, across this article. My favourite statement was: “and now we’re crossing to Skeeter at the G”. Those were the days!

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