The following is an article from written by former Red Lion John Harms titled “In praise of the Red Lions and varsity footy”:
Tomorrow, at O’Callaghan Park in Brisbane, the University of Queensland FC, will play in their first Grand Final in 27 years. The mighty Red Lions will not only play in the seniors (against Coorparoo), but the reserves as well (against Caloundra).
To kick the day off they are having a breakfast at the Norman Hotel. After extended negotiations they have signed as the guest-speaker former player Derek Humphery-Smith in a front-ended deal which will see the last payment made to Derek in September 2018.
Derek will no doubt tell the tale of his stellar football career as a Twiggy-Dunne style centre half-forward, a career cut down so tragically by injury (in-grown toe-nails I’m reliably informed).
But Queensland footy’s loss was the AFL umpiring panel’s gain. Derek was a trail-blazer of umpiring, a pea-blower before his time. He pioneered the recalled bounce one Saturday afternoon at the MCG when the contesting ruckman finally weren’t sure whether Derek had bounced the Sherrin or was just passing it to one of the boundary umpires to wipe the seagull poop off it.
Retired from umpiring, he now plays golf for Lander and Rogers, a reputable legal firm in Collins Street, and can be heard bullying David Schwarz into intellectual submission with the tools of his trade – logic, reason, and a basic Churchie vocabulary – on Radio SEN. There are those at the North Fitzroy Arms, where I like to have a beer and put my footy tips in, who believe, like Anthony Mundine, Derek might pick his targets more carefully.
Derek is an inspired choice of speaker on such a momentous occasion, as he represents the Humphery-Smiths, a fine red Lions family. Although, I must say, I always assumed DHS was an only child until, in passing, he mentioned his brother.
No doubt DHS will tap in to the traditions of varsity sport. He knows that there is something quite special about a university sports club, especially a footy club.
Around the nation uni footy clubs are playing in finals, when for just a moment they put their sense of the absurd aside (that grown men are fighting in the mud for a pig-skin full of air), and get fair dinkum.
In Adelaide various Uni Blacks teams are playing finals. They are a great club sustained by the spirit of Dr Bob Neil, once a legendary seventh grade player who wore grey shorts so he didn’t have to change home or away, who sold all his raffle tickets, who could spear a keg, and who is now a high-ranking defence mathematician charged with the responsibility of solving the simultaneous equations which keep the nation safe. Their sides have names. Their Division C1 (15th grade) side is called the Chardys (The Chardonnay Socialists) and even further down in the grades The Scum play.
Recently the ANU FC – the Griffins – celebrated their 50th anniversary. Australian historian John Moloney proposed the toast to the club on what was a classic night. He captured the essence of a varsity club.
“I boast, but only slightly,” he admitted, “when I say that in the whole history of sporting endeavour no club has poured scorn and biting invective on the supporters and players of other clubs with greater wit, magnanimous acceptance of defeat and dignified but total lack of restraint in an occasional victory than the supporters, many of them academics, of ANU.”
Their famous club song is a hymn to triumphalism and self-abuse, and refers to the puds of all those who play for the blue and whites. Men of conscience may have felt the obligation to attend the confessional having claimed their appendages were of dimensions more likely to be associated with West Indian cricketers than players in a cold-climate footy club.
Many of these men have gone on to leading positions in the fields of endeavour which make up the life of the nation.
Similarly in Melbourne there has been a tradition of playing footy – University had a club in the VFL before the First World War. Now all the campuses field teams from (Melbourne) Uni Blues in A Section Ammos to La Trobe Uni who won one of the divisions in the VWFL.
And there has been a tradition of watching footy, especially at Princes Park. Just as some scholars are late-converts to Catholicism, it seems Princes Park could turn the most ardent fan to the Blues. Manning Clark and Don Watson both started life as Geelong supporters, but wound up loving the banter of the Princes Park terrace so much, with its gathering of poets and playwrights, philosophers and writers and piss-pots, they were converted to Carlton, although Don will tell you that these days he barracks for football.
So tomorrow the Red Lions of UQ strap on the boots representing the magnificent tradition of erudite three-quarter time addresses, of students of law happy to dish out some of their own justice in the back pocket, of medical students conducting anatomical experiments at the bottom of packs, of history students baffling their opponents with Hegelian trash-talk on the wing.
No doubt we will be attacked and abused for being the long-haired, pinko, poofta Commies we’ve always been.
I say ‘we’ because I am a Red Lion. Just as Olympians are never known as former-Olympians, I remain a Red Lion, for those half a dozen games I played in 1980. I can remember at least four of them, in particular the one-point victory in the mud at Strathpine (which is a story for another day), and the 156-point drubbing we copped at Mt Gravatt when at 5’9” and 67kg (and, at 17 years of age, still growing) I was sent out after half-time to stop the big centre half-forward, possibly in Brisbane on the run from H Division. He grunted, “I get paid to play, you know.” To which I stupidly pointed out that they were wasting their money because he was in the seconds, a comment which precipitated him standing on my foot and pushing me up and down like one of those blow-up clowns you get from service stations.
So I have played centre half back for the Red Lions.
And that makes me spiritually connected to all who run on to O’Callaghan Park tomorrow.
I wish them all the best.