In September 2002, despite being only 5 foot 8 inches tall and lacking any discernable horizontal leap, I, Greg Gibson, totally messed up my one and only chance of taking a genuine hanger.
The venue was the Bayswater Football Ground and the occasion was the EFL Grand Final between Vermont and East Ringwood. Unfortunately, I played for Croydon and we hadn’t made the finals … it was half time. As is generally the case in September, the weather had faired up enough to make beautiful footy conditions and to tease all the cricketers that would be rained on for the entirety of the following month.
I’d had a couple of beers, enough to make me keen to try things, but not enough to severely limit my physical capabilities. In fact, for that five seconds in time it seemed that my physical limitations had been lifted and I suddenly knew what it was to be Gary Ablett Snr, John Coleman or Tony Modra.
For some unknown reason, which I would prefer to think was instinct, but was probably just 4 cans of not-quite-cold-enough VB, I decided to take a specky. I had learned early in my footballing life that specky-taking wasn’t for me. Tackling was, so was bumping, but the high mark wasn’t my go. Whenever I attempted one, which was increasingly rare, I would inevitably cork my stepladder in the ribs, lower back or, embarrassingly, buttock.
On this occasion, it was probably that the stepladder wasn’t really my friend, but rather and acquaintance of my friend that inspired me to launch into a likely bruised bum. Whatever the reason, I remember clearly just going for it. I leapt and, to my surprise found my left knee to be suddenly planted on top of Nudge’s right shoulder. My body was perfectly straight and pointed directly skyward, so that I was almost two people high. I remember thinking, “Oh crap.”
To my left, over by the East Ringwood huddle, I heard someone shout “Gibbo!” I had no idea who the voice belonged to, but I had played Under 18s with East Ringwood and I wondered if it was one of the players in the huddle seeing me. Was I, a humble spectator, providing the highlight of a Division 1 Grand Final Day? This is where it went wrong for me, when my brain kicked in.
It dawned on me that I was propped on top of a bloke’s shoulder and that I was about to come down. I totally lost track of the ball and then reached for it when I saw it at the last moment. It turned out that it was closer than I realised and it hit between my elbow and my torso and dropped safely to the ground, which is more than can be said for me. I hit the ground on my right shoulder with a mighty thump, but came up with the biggest grin ever.
For the rest of the day I tried and tried to repeat the miracle hang but for whatever reason, my talent for delivering nasty corkies with my knee had reclaimed me from whatever it was that had allowed me to channel the great high leapers. Never again would I feel what it is to be up there with Ablett and Coleman, but forever would I have the memory.
This year, I, a staunch Richmond supporter, have watched as many Melbourne games as my wife will allow. While it is true that the Dees feature one of the worst team lists of the modern era, it is also true that their list contains one man who flies for the ball like no other in the same period of time. Every time Jeremy Howe flies for the ball I marvel at his instinctive talents, which is what his ability has to be.
To time the leap, to carry it out with precision and fearlessly keep balance in the air and eye on the ball while grasping that ball cleanly with one take is a skill that he has that I did not. It is a skill that we admire, and even envy. It is the greatest part of our game, and every time I see it I’m transported back to the day that I almost did it.