Worrying signs at Collingwood.

Friday afternoon.

I don’t think there was a tip of which I was more certain in the history football, as I caught the tram down to the North Fitzroy Arms, than Collingwood to win Friday night’s game. They would win by a stack, and the doof-doof boys of Lygon Street would be calling for Ratten’s lugs to be served on a pizza. (On the gourmet side of the menu of course).

In the pub the fires were burning and the Blues fans were copping it. That included Tony Robb, down from Canberra who, like a man on Death Row, was pretending to enjoy his fish and chips.

But 24 hours is a long time in football. Indeed, for Pies fans, three hours was a long time in football on Friday night, although not many Pies stayed until the final siren.

The Blues climbed off the season’s canvas to make it two-from-two over The Old Foe, in a fixture which warmed the heart of a shivering nation. There was chuckling from Bamaga to Burnie, from Bega to Broome. Around the world most footy fans (perhaps not Bomber fans) punched the air: “You beauty.”

It was a good night. Back home in the lounge room for the opening quarter, and the signs were OK for Carlton. The performance of the previous two months suggested the improved performance wouldn’t last beyond the first huddle, but it did. Indeed, the Blues grew in confidence, and the Pies were beaten comprehensively. It was a genuine defeat, where the vanquished had little chance of coming back. Which is probably why the Collingwood faithful spent the final 20 minutes of the match smoking Winnie Blues outside in the Yarra Park frost.

Da, da-da, da-daahh.

The next morning I went for a haircut: to Frank the Greek’s on High Street in The People’s Republic. All the talk was football. The bloke in the other chair, a Carlton fan,  had been to the MCG.

As Frank snipped away my grey tumbled to the floor like Darren Jolly in a ruck contest.

“You should win by more,” says Frank to the other chair. “Much more.”

Snip. Snip. Snip.

“You miss so many. From close.”

The phone beeps and his colleague, a younger barber, and another Carlton fan, reads the message.

“My son,” he announces to all of us in the shop. “Half-time at his soccer match. Under 11. They’re losing 4-0.”

“No worries,” says Frank. “Maybe they have the wind in the second half.”

At that moment I want to be like Frank. Actually I want to be Frank. Such an uncomplicated life. With a just a few tools of the trade. A simple bench with a few draws on it. A life of making people happy. Of making them feel better. Of conversation. So positive. And once the white coat comes off and the door is closed, home to tend the tomatoes and stuff the capsicums.

What will the footy talk be in Frank’s shop this week?

It’s certainly a tough season to work out, and a number of camps emerging. There’s a Two Can Win It camp, led by Richard Hinds, who says Collingwood and Hawthorn are the two, with Geelong a possible wild card. Then there’s the Even Season which says there are many chances. That’s camp where my tent is pitched.

I take my lead from Blighty, when I can, and go not with the stats, but with the vibe. (Although the ladder, an obvious measure, suggests it’s a pretty even season). The vibe for me is that there is no stand-out side, and that as soon as you start to believe in the prospects of one mob they stumble. The complication has been that the stumbles have been a big stumbles, and not necessarily a narrow loss in a hard-fought game.

There were two on the weekend: the Pies of course, and the Bombers who were annihilated as they had been in the first half of their recent match against Sydney.

But every side has had a crook loss. That’s one of the puzzles.

From the top of the ladder down, I reckon you can make a case for many of the sides.

The Swans have got Mummy, who can play. He’s strong, and has a quick first two steps, and he leads like an old-fashioned captain-coach from up the bush. (He is from Bunyip). They have a solid defence led by that solid citizen Ted Richards, and players with Grand Final experience. Ryan O’Keefe is a classic. So is Jude Bolton. Sam Reid can leap like a Riewoldt. He takes the ball at full extension. Their mid-field has grunt. And they have pace to burn.

West Coast have Cox and Naitanui. Priddis is still under-rated. Their youngsters, like Shuey, can play. Darren Glass has that rare combination: his noggin is as hard as a billy-goat’s but it contains the grey matter of an atomic physicist. And they play in Perth.

Adelaide are young and inexperienced but when they are on they are scintillatingly good. Tex Walker plays like it’s 1983. Kurt Tippet doesn’t. But he’s still damaging. Paddy Dangerfield leads a mid-field that explodes to all points of the compass. And they have their own Gibraltar in Ben Rutten.

If these sides finish in the top places, they enjoy home finals: a nice advantage, but not  something to bank a win on.

Essendon have me baffled. I want to see them on the MCG before I pass judgment, although at the moment I don’t think they are top four.

St Kilda rise and fall on the fitness (vitality really) of some of their ancients, but their new blood has had an influence, and it is interesting to note that this weekend’s victory came without Goddard. I reckon he’s a super player, but he’s been playing like a bloke who’s just opened a bag of disappointing Snowballs.

Which brings me to Collingwood. They are in strife. Carlton was a basket case until Friday evening. Then they broke the Pies. You have to ask why the Pies succumbed so easily, to a team of lost-in-the-wilderness battlers. Where do you start? The big one is Travis Cloke who is playing the role of anti-leader. (Might win an Oscar for it)  If the young in football clubs are as impressionable as we are led to believe, then surely the big bloke around whom the team is built is like a cut onion in the Vic Park fridge. Is it just me, or is it a little weird that the whole campaign is built around someone who might not want to be at the club, and is willing to take part in a Footy Show series called “The World’s Weirdest Interviews’? Their other key forward is way out of form; their ruckman is like the last antelope crossing the ford; their key backmen…well, they don’t really have any. In some ways Carlton won unwittingly on Friday night. Having picked a veritable Serengeti of talls, an injury to big Hampson meant Eddie Betts had room to lead like he was Brendan Fevola. And the Pies couldn’t handle little Eddie either. The Pies also have a long injury list (which unfortunately looks like having a couple more names added to it) and they’re about to have a major suspension. Clearly their fans gave up on them on Friday night. This must be a very worrying time for all those who love The Carringbush. They may look at their draw for the rest of the season and then check the Ultimate Fighting season.

Hawthorn are there, as a result of the firepower on their list and a mid-field that provides for it. But they are also vulnerable, with a few question marks over their ability to contain good forward lines. They’re flag favourites, but they are under the odds.

Of the other sides, you can come up with an argument for most of them on a good day, but they can also look woeful. Take your pick for a spot in the eight, unless Essendon’s or Collingwood’s becomes available. Carlton? Well what’s a victory against Collingwood really worth? St Kilda? Possibly. North? Just not their year. Freo? Not a bad draw over the next month.  Richmond? The pressure might tell on them.

Which leaves Geelong. The Cats were very ordinary against the Suns yesterday, and against Port the week before. But they are a team of footballers, and they have a few players to come back. Hawkins is holding down the key forward’s position admirably and 2.7 might be enough to get them over the line against Collingwood on Saturday. The problem remains in the ruck. Trent West got his palm to it yesterday and took plenty of marks around the ground, but he is still coming to terms with the notion that the handball is a Sherrin struck by the fist of one hand from the palm of the other. He is still so down on confidence. Geelong’s problems are not trivial, and of concern is that they are not just motivational. Their skill level has been down in recent weeks. But you just get the feeling they have the capacity to invoke that mysterious god, form. At least they know where the deity lives.

It is a cracking season which is a good thing because this winter is bitter and the cooped-up kids are driving me nuts half the time, and making me love life for the other half.

While playing snap on Saturday we were naming the cards as we placed them down.

Theo (age 4), “7 of hearts.”

Dad, “4 of diamonds.”

Anna (age 2), “9 of mushrooms.”

This, like three goals in a minute from Chappy, and a Friday beer at the North Fitzroy Arms, make it all worthwhile.





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. tony robb says

    It was the best of times It was the better of times. The remainder of the trip rose to even greater heights than the Blues on Friday

  2. It was a poor loss by Collingwood on Friday night but not that surprising given Carlton had been beaten to a pulp by the media, so were always going to come out firing. And after 10 wins on the trot, 4 against top 8 teams, Pies could probably be excused a whoopsie.

    The next 2 against Geelong and Hawthorn will be a better indication of whether there are worrying signs for Collingwood.

    I hold little stock in the current ladder in any case, given the inequities of the Fix(ture).

  3. John Harms says

    Jeff, who wins the flag? Who does Coll play in the GF?

    Pies will be hot faves this Saturday night.

  4. Andrew Starkie says


    a month ago I thought the Pies were the team to beat and you know, by September, they may be again. But, Jolly is past his best and I recall Nik Nat almost reducing him to tears during last year’s finals. he will do it again.

    Cloke and Dawes are huge problems for the same and different reasons. Neither can impact a game and Cloke is sabotaging his club’s season with his grab for cash (I’ll never understand these young men who put money before anything else! What about premierships?). Malthouse stuffed the Pies last year and Cloke is doing it this year. Also, their defence is a problem because they have three players – harry, the captain and Heath – who love to drop off their players. That’s two too many.

    Luke ball is a big loss.

    Carlton went one on one and closed them down on Friday night. The Pies couldn’t get a man loose anyhwere, but the Blues could easily when they had possession. That was worrying for Pies.

  5. DBalassone says

    Some fair points being made here; I think the entire backline at times do the “drop off”, even Ben Reid. You can afford to do it when you are 3 or 4 goals up, but not in a close one against speedy opposition. Having said that, Jeff is right, you have to cut them some slack, after winning 10 in a row while blooding a heap of kids.

    I think there’s only a bee sting between the top 7. Pies won 3 games by less than a kick, so could have easlily been 8 and 6. The Premiership race is wide open. Cats know how to grind out a win against anyone and should not be discounted, provided they can avoid a finals trip to Perth. Hawks look to be setting themselves up nicely.

  6. Jamie Simmons says

    My fear for Geelong is having not had pick of the freshest produce from recent drafts, the same old names keep popping up as match winners. Agree about the commentary on Collingwoods nomadic backline but it’s amazing how few are able to punish them for it. Sydney are the one that seem to defy logic every year. When was the last time places 6 & 7 were bona fide premiership contenders? Really enjoying 2012, even without my mob in the mix.

  7. John Harms says

    Don’t write Brisbane off – it’s still mathematically possible.

  8. Andrew Starkie says

    Guys, seriously, the Cats WILL NOT WIN THE FLAG!

  9. Peter Flynn says

    I agree with Jeff re the current ladder and the fix(ture).

  10. Jamie Simmons says

    Aww thanks John, that’s sweet, but telling me a finals birth is “mathematically possible” is a bit like a female telling me I have a “lovely personality”. I’ve heard it enough to know what it really means.

  11. Matt Spence says

    The haircut was very noticeable on the tele yesterday.

    Collingwood, Hawthorn or West Coast I reckon.

  12. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Pies will be in the mix if we beat Geelong and Hawthorn. We missed Pendlebury’s class dearly against Carlton. What I’d like to know is at what stage did Carlton become our pimp when they’ve usually been happy being the whore? Micky as coach, Travis at CHF, most of our development coaches, former CEO.

    Blues fans will be out with their firelights and slingshots for Ratts should they lose to North. Kade is fortunate that it was Sharrod. Had it been Magro he’d be waking up sometime in 2013.

    Hawthorn are the popular bet, but I can’t see how their defence will cope with Adelaide and West Coast key forwards in sunny September. Sydney could have one last tilt if they get a good run with injuries.

  13. I can provide you with a scenario in which GWS makes the eight if you like. (Can’t do it for Gold Coast – it really IS mathematically impossible for them to make it.)

  14. Peter Flynn says

    Sydney at the MCG?

    Not for mine.

  15. Rick Kane says

    The only teams that have beaten the Pies in the last couple of years are Carlton, Geelong and the Hawks. And guess who the Pies are up against in the next two weeks. If they lose to the Cats and Hawks then they fall to the bottom half of the eight with the devil’s own job of scrapping back into the Top 4. We live in interesting times.

  16. Rick Kane says

    Mr D, the Hawks backline coped with Adelaide pretty easily earlier in the season and did a very good job against West Coast in Perth in very trying circumstances.

    I liked the article on Friday or Saturday about which of the top sides best two forwards are performing. The Hawks duo stood above the rest. Yep, Buddy and Roughy are alright. It wasn’t but five weeks ago that ‘those in the know’ were taking Buddy to task for his goal kicking. (While it needed improvement it wasn’t crap. And he was also the leading ‘goal-assist’ player, so he was doing pretty well as far as I could tell). Heading into the business end of the season, our forwards have got a good thing going on.


  17. Jeff Dowsing says

    Andrew, I agree to a point on Jolly, but a few weeks ago he more than held his own against Nic Nat and Cox. He does need to be managed carefully over the next 8 weeks.

    Cloke is not the force he was last year obviously, so I actually think there is an upside if/when he realises he’s doing his asking price no favours the longer he holds out.

    I don’t put much stock in criticisms of the back line. N Brown or Tarrant for Buckley will make a difference, the rest are a pretty damned accomplished group. The rare times they’ve been opened up it’s been as much to do with what’s going on up the ground.

  18. Skip of Skipton says

    The Cats have to start getting their best 22 on the park from here on in. It’s been great for future development playing lots of kids thus far, but the serious business starts now. From yesterday; In: Taylor, Stevie J, J-Pod, Duncan, Varcoe. Out: kids.

  19. JTH

    Once again you forgot to add the required disclaimer: Author has never rated Collingwood, and never will. I’m fairly sure this is the third year in a row you’ve rolled this article out.

    How do we start hot faves on Saturday if we’re gone?

    Love as always.


  20. David Downer says

    Goddard’s recent form ensured he was not the huge loss to the Saints on Saturday night that one might expect.

    But hopefully his snowballs are less disappointing in a fortnight’s time.

    With the season unfolding in this manner, St Kilda’s win doesn’t actually give me any more/less confidence up in Brisbane this week.

    It’s a Forrest Gump footy season.

  21. Earl O'Neill says

    Good take on 4&20s, John.
    It’d be easy to make an argument for and against any of the Top Five’s flag chances, and that’s a wonderful thing. I can’t remember when, after Round Fourteen, there was no clear two or three. Hey, now we’ve got five!
    Good for football.

  22. John Harms says


    It’s obvious. Pies will start hot favourites because the weight of money will be for them. The betting market is the betting market. It’s all about perception. And the perception is that the PIes are good, hence they attract the cash, hence they remain strong second favourites, while Geelong are about seventh faves at 20/1.

    The disclaimer you call for goes without saying.

  23. Jeff Dowsing says

    The perception, myth or reality the Pies are good JTH?

    Only 7 losses in the past 55 games is hard to fudge. That said, timing will be everything again this year, Pies need to get Cloke v2010/11 back and somehow inject some confidence into Dawes as the missing links.

    I’d be backing WCE for a GF berth assuming they get a couple home finals. Hawks have the big weapons so will be in the mix.

    I see a drop off with Syd, Adel & Ess, although 1 or 2 of them might make it to PF Day if matchups & venues fell their way.

    Geel will miss Ling & Ottens too much in Sept, a few of the remaining stalwarts will struggle to repeat past heroics. Would need a rails run like last year to get to the real pointy end.

  24. Richard Naco says

    Geelong can’t win the flag this year – they generously only do it in the odd numbered years (so next year’s race is already done & dusted).

    What we have here is a coagulation of the fallible: basically six teams who can all win it or lose it with equal alacrity, plus about three to four dark horses who are not necessarily incapable of sneaking into September and stealing the lot.

    I have no idea of who’ll be playing in the finals yet, let alone who will take home all the choccies (OK: the Suns, Dees, Powerless & my Giants might be hard pressed to make the post season parties, and last Saturday basically doomed the Dogs & Brisneyland to spoiler status as well).

    But I have learnt that tying my flag to the mast of a ship yet to ride even remotely high in the water means that I am now far more able to sit back, relax, and enjoy watching the race to the finals infinitely more than when every result carried a sub-text involving the future of my own contending team.

  25. JD and PF are on the money about the current ladder meaning nothing. It is all about who you are drawn to play in the last 8 rounds – and where. And what cattle you will get on the park. Hawks sans Buddy and Hodge for the next month against Pies, Bombers and the nemesis Cats. Hmm.
    My Eagles have Swans this week without Waters, Lynch and Shuey???? Then Adelaide in the City of Churches and the Hawks in the final round at the G. Tough asks. That is even allowing for putting the Pies and Cats away at Subi (more hopeful there).
    My opinion is that Top 2 is highly unlikely, more like 4th. Woosh will concentrate on getting Waters, Kennedy, Embley back and playing the last 2 games before finals. Hope we don’t rush LeCras – a touch player will struggle under finals pressure after a knee reco – and we could lose him for another year. Fit, fourth and in form is more achievable than Top 2 for the Eagles. Woosha is a cold eyed realist and he will set up their prep with that in mind.
    The trade off is a likely first final in Sydney or Adelaide – but that’s a realistic goal. Top 2 isn’t.
    I ran the ladder predictor software with my (imperfect) best guesses. Sydney and Adelaide have soft draws and are likely Top 2. I then had Hawks and Eagles, with Pies (tough draw) just missing double chance. I had Cats, Blues and Bombers all missing out (tough draws and I don’t rate them). Saints, Roos and Tigers have easier draws.
    Almanackers should plug their own prejudices into one of the many ladder predictor packages for the last 8 games. It is illustrative of how much who you play twice and where will influence the finals contenders.

  26. Jeff Dowsing says

    Peter, if Syd & Adel finish top 2 it’s an indictment on the fixture turning an elite competition into something mickey mouse. They are good sides, but not in the class nor with anywhere near the list depth of WC, Hawks or Coll. Geel would beat them at the G too, given close to their best 22 being on the park.

  27. John Harms says

    The draw is definitely an issue, but the key point is that it’s what we have.

    That then has implications for the way the finals series is played out. Home ground etc. Which is one of the reasons I am in the even-season camp.

    Also, in this type of season, many a side has improved in the latter part of the year, and even in September.

    I ‘m also in the even-season camp because I don’t reckon these sides are great sides. Great sides don’t have aberrations – they lose a few but in tight tussles.

  28. Even season. Uneven fixture. Who sits where, tells this tale.

  29. Peter Schumacher says

    Brisbane for the finals eh, now that is an act of faith!

    Bit rough to suggest that if Sydney and Adelaide are in the top two it proves how crapulent the draw is. I reckon it proves that these two sides can actually play away which is rather a bonus I would have thought.

    Let’s face it, the only way to have a really fair draw is to extend the season to 34 games or whatever it is for each club to have a home and away.. Even though many NRL players are expected to back up after a State of Origin and soccer seasons go on for ever, apparently such a suggestion is a nonsense because our boys couldn’t last a season. And they are highly paid professionals.

  30. JTH – one line in particular continues to resonate with me:
    Kids are driving me nuts half the time, and making me love life for the other half.
    Glad I’m not alone

  31. Neil Belford says

    Not for the first time I wil make the observation that if ever the flag could be won from 8th spot it is this year. And a lot of clubs could finish 8th – the way the year is going it would be a classic opportunity for Richmond to be absolutely white hot by Round 23 and finish 9th.

  32. JTH,

    The Pies have just won 10 in a row playing teenagers such as Elliott, Williams, Payne, Sinclair, Mooney plus Fasolo. Hardly had a settled side all year due to unbelievable run with injury (our second year in a row).

    Significantly, in our three narrow wins ( v Ess, Geel and Eagles) we controlled the game early, were challenged late, but steadied to kick winning goals in the hottest of heat. That is a great sign and will stand us in good stead in September.

    Forget the Carlton loss. That was always going to happen with the belting the Blues copped in the media in the lead up. Most unpleasant to watch no doubt but we’ve already moved on but feel free to read more into it.

    Cats v Pies this week should be a beauty. Jimmy is a huge out & more significant than Wellingham. Not sure Pendlebury will return & Daisy Thomas must be extremely doubtful with an ankle. Another close contest beckons.

  33. Dave Nadel says

    JTH you are reading too much into the Carlton game. Last year Geelong lost three games, All the teams that they lost to played in the Finals, but two of them, Essendon and Sydney were eliminated before they met Geelong. I suspect that the same thing will apply to Carlton. Collingwood will not meet them in the Finals and actually I don’t expect Carlton to play in the Finals. The Hawthorn loss was more serious, I do expect Hawthorn to be a serious contender so it will be important that Collingwood beats them in Round 17.

    Carlton Collingwood games do not follow regular form. In 1976, when the Pies won their first wooden spoon they still managed to beat Carlton who played in the Preliminary Final that year. The Blues have done the asme to Collingwood during periods when Collingwood was generally the more succesful of the two clubs.

  34. Dave Nadel says

    “asme” that is dyslexic for “same”

  35. Nice read John. Hawthorn.

  36. John Butler says

    Not so sure about the Cats JTH, but agree it’s open. All the contenders have obvious weaknesses.

    And PF et al are right, the fix has distorted the ladder to date. This will be an ongoing problem until (if?) the new teams become competitive.

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