When Travis saved the world




Round 5, 2011

Geelong 17.15.117 d Hawthorn 15.8.98


I have walked the fairways with Seve.  I.V.A. Richards has hooked in my general direction. I have heard renditions of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto that would make you weep. I have sat spellbound beneath Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross at St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow. I have uncorked superb bottles of Rockford’s Basket Press. I have watched my wonderful wife bring our three beautiful children into the world.


And I have seen Travis Varcoe.


I have seen him connect the whole of the Geelong world, from Little Rock, Arkansas to Kilgour Street, East Geelong, in an intoxicating frenzy of sporting brilliance. I have seen him grab the footy at half-back. I have seen him pierce a pass to James Podsiadly leading like good forwards in fine teams have forever, straight up the guts. I have seen him running on as Pods wheeled and kicked long to full forward.  And I have seen him again as he appeared at the fall, picked up the footy at full pace, and poked it through. It was like he had choreographed it, stride-perfect, from 130 metres away. Like it was fore-told in the book of Isaiah.


Forget Lourdes; forget the transformative power of Tasmanian water. Bring the lame and the infirmed. Bring the sad and the troubled. And let the Geelong football team flow over them.


That ten minutes of third-quarter footy at the MCG on Tuesday was pure joy. Reminiscent of the second quarter of the 2007 Grand Final. And just right to celebrate Matthew Scarlett’s 250th match and the birth of his father-son-rule twin boys.


I will remember those few minutes for a long time.


And I will remember the context.


This was a game of football between rivals. Pub wisdom has been pushing the idea the Hawks are still entitled to be considered premiership contenders. Chappy’s wisdom says the Cats will never lose to Hawthorn again.


I prefer Chappy’s wisdom.


A grand, cheating-death sort of statement, that make us feel better about the world. A shaking-your-fist-at-the gods statement. Bugger the hubris. Bugger everything. We’ll win this.


Thoughts of humble pie may have motivated Chappy to lift his side, particularly when, in the opening 10 minutes, it was a debacle. In the military sense a debacle is when all structure is lost, the lines are broken, men run around in sheer panic, and all is lost. A dominant Hawks mid-field and a rampant Buddy Franklin looked like spoiling the (long-anticipated) day. Hawthorn by four goals. It was a debacle.


Strangely, I was not concerned. The signs weren’t bad. Mainly because there were no signs. The Cats weren’t in it at all, and I thought that once they were in it, we’d get a better picture of what would happen over 120 minutes. That sounds very measured and lacking trademark emotion, but for once I put aside my capacity to catastrophise (if you know what I mean).


I spent decades catastrophising.


But that was before Harry Taylor and Tom Lonergan who went to the big blokes, leaving Scarlo to roam. That was before Brad Ottens who, like the father of scared-of-the-dark children, settled everyone down (as he did in the 2007 prelim v Collingwood). That was before Joels Corey and Selwood. And the happy-to-be-fifth-mid-fielder, James Kelly.


That was before Chappy.


And there he was, flushed of face, and a little angry. And doing something. Running around  in the half-shade. He marked, and considered the can-I-can’t-I distance. Well, we now know that Chappy is no punter. He shaped to bomb, recognised the biomechanics of the moment when a man on the mark is committed to the leap, waltzed around him and turned 7 to 4 from 57  into 6 to 1 on from 40. Goal. And then another one from 55.


The Cats were in it. Although not all of them.


It becomes a contest. A who-will-get-the-upper-hand struggle. Cyril Rioli threatens to make the game his own. The usual suspects – Mitchell and Sewell – win the footy. But the Geelong defence stands firm. Taylor Hunt limps off with a knee injury, which brings Daniel Menzell on to the ground. The one-man-down thesis is employed by the commentators, and the first signs of Tom Harley’s (delightful) barracking are evident.


But where is Travis? And Mitch Duncan? Where is Monica?


Suddenly Varcoe bobs up on the wing. He moves the ball along quickly, with one of those scrubby James-Hird-doesn’t-matter-what-it-looks-like kicks which are so cerebral you want to call him to the fence, put a mortar board on his head, and give him a doctorate. The ball winds up with Lingy who is already mega-puffed. The pounding of his heart affects his balance and he misses.


The Hawks struggle to break clear, but when they do, they are away and near-impossible to hold. Young goals. Lewis finds Roughead who has his kicking boot on today. Burgoyne pounces on a Geelong error. The Hawks look strong, but its errors which are costing the Cats.


Menzell takes matters into his own hands. Finding the ball on the wing he looks up to see Joel Selwood make a wide-receiver’s run. Back and away at 45 degrees, with the flight of the footy. Menzell measures the kick, the Sherrin lobs over Selwood’s shoulder and into his path, and the registrar is signing a second doctorate.


Following Selwood’s goal Johnno has the chance to even things up on half-time but he pirouettes so often he’s in danger of coming out in China, and a shot which starts out as a drop punt on the left, and turns into a falling across-the-body snap, hits the post.


Hawthorn by 8 points in a good one. But not a classic.


That changes.


Chappy signals his intentions with a bomb from 55 and scores are as good as level. But Bateman, unsighted till now, breaks free and kicks a couple and the Hawks are out by three goals.


And that’s when it happens. Corey drills a drawing two-iron from 50, and Selwood finds Ottens with a creative pass into the pocket. Surely not? Three doctorates in an afternoon? Goal.


Structure and system and process are struggling to hold on to their primacy. This is a pot of water on the wood-stove and the Mallee root is about to fire up. If the Cats go forward from here, this will erupt. Even better. There is a chain of handballs all of which are on the risky side of the ledger, but they come off, and Travis has the ball at the top of 50, he kicks across his body and the Sherrin curls through. Sensational goal, and Travis knows it. The boys find each other, not because they’re the team thank-you-well-played-low-fives rules. Because their hearts demand it.


She’s boiling. Forward again. And in no time Jimmy Bartel’s snapped another. Brilliant.


It’s a frenzy and Travis is in the middle of it when he gathers the ball at half back. Feeling great emotion, and knowing for a moment, the complete absence of fear, he takes off. To Pods. Keeps running. Contest. Crumb. Gooooaallll! I need to hug people. Oh, Travis. Travis.


The Handicapper hears the yelling from the study, and appears, which is good. Because I need to hug someone. I need to tell someone that the Geelong Football Club and Travis Varcoe can save the world. They can. They can. They are.


Then Savage goals. And so does Guerra. And it’s the Cats by 10 at the change.


In this Alwyn Kurts get-the-fairy-bread-and-the-port moment, I am not thinking of any horrors. I cannot see how the Cats can lose from here.


But Roughead kicks the opening goal of the final quarter and Lewis can put them in front. What? He misses. Ling misses. And the Cats have a fight on their hands. It is made (sadly) easier when Rioli heads down the race only to re-appear with his hamstring on ice.


He watches as Hawthorn’s forward thrusts are repelled by Harry Taylor who has marked everything all day, and Dasher Milburn, looking sprightly.


When Buddy finds the opening from the boundary line, though, it’s a point the difference and anybody’s game.


Not according to Scarlo who is having one of the all-time great mopping up games, and using the footy beautifully.


Nor according to Brad Ottens who has dominated the ruck and played one of those Reg Hickey, Atticus Finch, Mustafa Kemal type games, where he is the rock. When you’re just about to break out the hanky and bury your face in a can’t-cope moment Otto takes a telling mark. He is in the best.


Menzel finds the footy and kicks long to the square. Duncan runs on to it and goals. Then Podsiadly, who has contested well all day, but missed some easy ones, bananas from the pocket, and it’s all over.


The Cats, in a see-sawing game that has been a true joy to watch.


I am suitably affected. I grab my crutches (bloody foot re-construction) and head inside to announce to the family that this is in the top 20 sporting fixtures of all time. (Top 21 now that I have seen Ron O’Sullivan’s lightning 147).


I can’t stop talking about them, even though Theo is watching Bugs and gives the sort of cursory, “Yay, Cats!” acknowledgement that he has worked out serves him well, while his mother, who has picked rhubarb, asks whether we should have the rolled oats crumble or the other recipe.


I want to tell them about Otto and Harry Taylor, Joel Selwood and Chappy. Scarlo. And the kids. And don’t forget James Kelly.


And Travis. My Travis.


Who, whatever happens in this vale of tears, has the memory of a sunny Easter day at the MCG, when he made the world a much better place.



Read the story of the 2011 Grand Final – and Travis Varcoe’s famous goals HERE

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 - 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. Peter Flynn says

    The Varcoe moments captured superbly. It was indeed electrifying.

  2. Hi Harmsy

    I don’t want to indulge in the Cats celebration at the expense of the Mighty Hawks so alls I’ll do is offer these lines from Rodney Crowell’s song, ‘I Walk the Line (Revisited):

    All these long years later it’s still music to my ears
    I swear it sounds as good right now as anything I hear
    I’ve seen the Mona Lisa
    I’ve heard Shakespeare read real fine
    Just like hearing Johnny Cash
    Sing I Walk The Line

    Now, can we talk about something else?


  3. JTH – magnificent. Our lounge room was thunderously loud too. My youngest actually squealed in delight at Varcoe’s curling snap goal. It was like watching a monster 40 foot putt drop in the hole to win the Masters.

    I think you’ve answered your own question as to what is the essence of footy – its right here.

  4. Varcoe was in the attacking 50 when he saw Rioli get free on the wing, he chased in that direction and while he couldn’t catch him he was in position to recieve Scarlett’s kick after Cyril had been forced on his right foot. Handball to Stokes, back to Varcoe kick to Pods.

    In 25 seconds he ran about 220 meters, had two kicks and a handball and kicked the goal. His second goal was a great finish, but his first was the perfect example of getting reward for your run.

  5. At one stage in the 2nd quarter I would have benched him. He made a couple of errors, but he must have learned from his mistakes.

    Certainly came bach hard.

    Have a look at him get away from the backline at the half way mark of the last quarter in 2009 Grand Final. He snuck over to the Toorak wing without anyone knowing.

  6. You capture the joy here, JTH. I was there and I don’t know if it’s because it was the Hawks, or the glimpse of 07 in Q3, or the two kids stepping up, or Chappy (reminds me of Angry Anderson in his pomp screeching “We can’t be beaten”) or Selwood, or Trav (been married and divorced from Trav, fanwise, more times than Liz Taylor and Richard Burton). But two teams can reach a place where it’s not just about four points, it’s more profound, and these two teams are in that place right now. Brave, beautiful footy.
    Great game, sunny day, big waves all along the coast. What a thing to tell our grandkids… that we were alive in a time when Jimmy Bartel was a young, self-effacing, God.

    PS Why are you on crutches? You want C Scott to lay on hands?

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Nice piece JTH,

    it’s great that a player can still elicit such raw and positive emotions in a fan.

    Love the Alwyn Kurts bit. My brother and me used to watch ‘The Last of The Australians’ and it used to crack us up how Ted Cook used to be a fanatic Collingwood fan who hated if his son’s girlfriends barracked for another team, especially Essendon.

    The Cats are going nicely. I can’t believe that less than a year ago Geelong were the Premiers and the Pies challengers. The roles have reversed quickly. Looking forward to Friday the 13th.

  8. Richard Naco says

    Evocative yet accurate, Harmsy.

    That game was a manifestation of all that is so good about our game. And Geelong seems to be developing even more steel in their already finely wrought collective core.

  9. Pamela Sherpa says

    It was a great game ,that’s for sure. Great account JTH. I enjoyed the Anzac day game as well. A great two days of footy. More! More!

  10. I said to my son ‘look he started from there (pointing to 1/2 back) and he has finished up snapping a goal’ We love Travis. He got so many games just being a good tackler from a half forward flank. Thanks Bomber T (reluctantly) you knew a piece of gold when it was not obvious to all. The #5 sits just fine on your back.
    Harmsy, you plucked the essence of the game from the TV, well done, we were lauding Trav with similar adulation from the stands.

  11. Marcus Holt says

    I wish I’d said that.

  12. forwardpocket says

    JTH, it’s one of the great goals. I’ve borne witness to many great ones – McGuane’s run, Rocca’s bombs and the Daicos oeuvre and this is another to tell my boy about. I went and found a link and I am incredulous to say that after viewing the right most edge of the screen in the first few seconds it just got even better.


  13. Great footage.

    Important bit of work by Scarlett (even if he didn’t mean it).. If he let Rioli sell him the dummy and go round him on the inside onto his left foot, you can bet the kick would have found someone.

    That lovely word Corral, could become an important tactic against Cyril. Brent Stanton could have used it a bit better against Pendlebury in the first quarter on Monday as well.

  14. Love your work.. What a game!Dare I say we’re better than last year…and we’ll have to be.

  15. Nick Lovell says

    Beautiful to read John,

    i was watching at home too. I asked my daughter (almost 3) if she wanted to watch the Cats with daddy, and she ran away. I think it has something to do with me screaming at the T.V and mumbling underneath my breath, “fuggen-ate-the-awks” like a mad-man. Daddy gets all crazy when the footy’s on….
    Classic game though, you definitely nailed all the impression points…

  16. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    That goal in the first last night = sublime. Been one of my faves since he crossed to the Pies. Hope Trav has one more flag in him !

  17. Remember this piece well. Hard to believe it’s 7 years on and Travis is still saving the world. His bouncing goal in the final term last night brought the house down – one of the loudest roars I’ve ever heard. Perhaps Travis can break the drought and be the first Pie to feature on the cover of TFA.

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