Hot Blood and the FA

John Harms and Paul Daffey (eds), The Footy Almanac 2009: The AFL Season One Game at a Time, Penguin Viking, Melbourne, 2009, pp. xxv + 518, pb. 

Footy is about hot blood. At various times it has been about plenty of good work in the packs and the claret flowing. Cricket has been about cool appraisal or at least it was in the days before the proliferation of ODI and T20 matches. You could support South Australia or Lancashire in the Sheffield Shield and County Championship but you also had an interest in the doings of Yorkshire and New South Wales.  In pre-AFL days it wasn’t like you hated Port Adelaide because everyone hated Port Adelaide or if you loved Port you couldn’t give a stuff about the rest. In the old VFL and now AFL everyone hated/hates Collingwood. Passion drives footy or at least following footy.

 

When John Harms and Paul Daffey started The Footy Almanac in 2007 I had my doubts about its success. Who would want to read about a minor round game between Richmond and Fremantle several months after it was played? Who would want to read about such a game much more than a day after it was played? Who cared about a season in retrospect if your team didn’t go top? Because the word ‘Almanac’ is in the title inevitable comparisons began to be made with Wisden. Why? No honest person looks at Penthouse for the articles. Readers of Wisden do so for the numbers and maybe the sober match reports, a record of what actually happened when Essex met Northants in 1926. No one will read the FA for a sober match report because there isn’t one. The FA is being/will be read for the writing, for the joy and misery of living.  

‘Misery of living?’ Maybe an explanation is required. A recent American psychological study has revealed that following a sports team is beneficial in terms of longevity whether or not your team wins or loses. Fans live longer than purists who love a game for the game’s sake, or non-followers who walk their dogs in a park. I guess this is some consolation for Melbourne and Richmond supporters even if they get by on a diet of Four and Twenty pies, donuts and VB, and don’t exercise their dogs. 

Last year I described the previous edition as being written by mates, and mates of mates – there were then 82 contributors. Now there are 126 Alamanackers for 186 games which gives the book an Old Testament feel. Nay, not incest. Nay, not onanism because there’s no spilling the seed upon the ground. The seed is well and truly spread around. There’s been a whole lot of begetting going on. 

So much begetting, in fact, that there’s not room for everyone in the book. Instead, as Harms said in his third launch at the Adelaide Lutheran Football Club, a blog side had to be created to accommodate the creative output of people wanting to be involved. Harms added that the project had grown legs – one almost thought of centipedal legs – to such an extent that it was now a true community. And this launch (on the night before the Adelaide Test match) by former Port Adelaide and Essendon star Che Cockatoo-Collins and singer-songwriter Paul Kelly at a community club, had a lovely feel. Like a home for true believers. 

Opening the third edition of the FA is an act of faith. Flipping the pages opens up a bible of many faiths and many certainties. In Tony Wilson’s foreword (and tribute to Buddy Franklin) he is unequivocal in his praise – ‘He is, quite simply the best athletic specimen the game of Australian football has ever known.’ Funny, a year ago an Age journalist said the same thing about Richo and (showing historical perspective) even threw the almost forgotten name of Phil Carman into the mix. Still, let’s not split hairs. If you remember Life of Brian it’s either follow the sandal or follow the gourd. 

The FA’s subtitle ‘The AFL season one game at a time’ defines the book’s framework. This year an alternative might have been ‘From Reason to Romance’. On page 1 co-editor Daffey writes of his opposition to his club recruiting Ben Cousins

I went on air and said it was no good drafting a thirty-year-old whose hamstring had torn from the bone, especially when Richmond were not likely to challenge for the flag in the remaining five minutes of Cousins’ career.

and then being at the opening game when his side was thrashed by Carlton by 83 points and Cousins pulled a hamstring at the start of the last quarter. ‘Perhaps I’m too rational to be a Tigers fan’ Daffey concluded on page 4. In between he had also recalled one of his favourite moments as a Richmond supporter, singing the club song half way through the Preliminary Final in 1995 when his team was trailing Geelong by fourteen goals, so there was romance there. For Harms on page 490 the romance continues: ‘The Cats had won another flag.’ 

Let us sample some morsels from the season. How to test the flavour, check out the cooks via the ‘Nackery. Pam who follows the Dons from the Snowy Mountains and ‘would like to see live telecasts on Friday nights in her lifetime’; Nick (who must be a Power follower) was ‘ecstatic at the MCG in 2004’ but cried at the same venue three years later; Stephanie, ‘a lifelong Saints fan who tries not to bore everyone with her obsession’; ABC broadcaster Mike who says he has twice lobbied management to let Malcolm Blight give the Boyer Lectures; Kevin, ‘a grumpy old man who was once a grumpy young man’; and Richard who ‘thinks a lot, and writes a bit about the game and his club, but mostly just yells a lot’. That should do. 

Pamela Sherpa gets a Saturday telecast at a reasonable hour, 8.30 p.m., Fremantle v Sydney at Subiaco in round 5. ‘Freo are a chance. My theory is that, after playing so many shockers, teams throw all their fancy plans out the window and get back to playing simple footy.’ Right on! Good direct prose like an old-time centre-half-back breaking through a pack and belting a sixty metre screwy over the half-forward line. The match is played on 25 April:

The game is named in honour of Len Hall, Western Australia’s last Gallipoli veteran. Brett Kirk, a football warrior, is playing his 200th game for the Swans. The Anzac ceremony is observed.

A fine distinction and a nice reserve. 

Nick Kossatch from the Riverland brings us the colour of a Peter Walsh radio call of Port v Richmond at AAMI Stadium in round 8. As much colour as one of Walshie’s shirts. When the Tigers grab a sixteen point lead half way through the last quarter Nick notes, ‘My comfort level was evaporating as quick as the Murray!’ As the Power come back in time-on Walsh screams ‘Tredreeeeeeeaaaaaa’ and the forward duly goals for his side to hit the front. Richmond make a final surge in the dying seconds but Tredrea has dropped back to mark in the defensive fifty and Nick screeches ‘Wazzzzzzaaaaaa’. As he says, ‘Who needs Pay-TV?’ 

Stephanie Holt tells us that there’s real romance riding on the round 12 clash between Carlton and St Kilda at Etihad. Her seventeen-year-old daughter Lydia (Sainter) takes her mother’s membership card and her boyfriend (Blue) takes hers and becomes a Sainter for the night. The game is a ripper but as the teenagers board a 10.40 train for Castlemaine the delayed telecast has the mother wondering:

Is Lydia triumphant or vanquished? Consoler or consoled? As I watch Fevola cut our lead to thirteen, a pair of teenagers is negotiating one of the trickiest challenges life presents. 

It’s round 15 and Mike Sexton witnesses Fremantle’s shocker to end all shockers, ‘a night of historic horror’: 1.7 to the Crows 19.16 at the Footy Park that was. He opens with ‘Fremantle has given Adelaide two geniuses: Andrew McLeod and Bon Scott.’ Well, you could say given the world Bon Scott but it surprises me even more to hear an ABC man admitting to a liking for heavy metal. With no game to write about Sexton’s piece is a homily to McLeod, past and present. ‘His movement is so fluid yet for the Crows he is often T.S. Eliot’s still point of the turning world.’ And that’s my second surprise, a second mention for T.S. Eliot in this volume. Harms had quoted from ‘Journey of the Magi’ in his introduction. 

Kevin Carroll attends the Hawthorn–Adelaide encounter in round 20 at the G and begins with a flourish, travelling to the first game in the AFL Green round by tram and ‘attempting to breath in as long as possible during the game, the better to attempt to minimise my carbon footprint’ while the ground is ablaze with footlights. Carroll’s companion, former Hawthorn premiership player, Ray Wilson, keeps asking ‘Why would you? but his question is directed at the Hawks ring around footy which brings little reward on the scoreboard. The Crows secure a comfortable 27 point win, Wilson’s question is repeated as they leave. The floodlights keep burning.   

Richard Arrowsmith leaves a heavier carbon footprint as he drives 735 kilometres to see Adelaide play Collingwood in the first semi-final and gets the Victorian message at the half-way point soon after crossing the interstate border.

In Nhill, a road sign tells me Adelaide: U turn in 100 metres. I sense Eddie’s [McGuire] influence. I do not fall for the evil plan, staying instead with a line of traffic that is increasingly dominated by SA number plates.

At game’s end with the Crows going down by five points he gets “Get back home!” abuse from some Pies fans and shares handshakes with the more civilised. That’s footy. Humanity in all its colours. 

The only game I attended was Carlton v Hawthorn at the G in round six so I’m interested in how it’s reported. I’m footy non-aligned (or so I tell myself) except I have a soft spot for the Blues because of the flaws of Fev. So I watch the play as a purist, note the occasional genius in close, but lament the dozen or so times blokes mark unattended and pick the fifth or sixth thing to do. Instead of what common sense would dictate: play on, run forward, bounce two or three times, set up a loose man and with a driving kick at least advance the ball half the field towards goal. Maybe I’m missing something but waiting for an opponent to arrive, offering a handball to a confused team-mate who is grabbed by the opponent resulting in a turnover doesn’t seem like much value to me even if a possession is awarded on the stats sheet. I don’t find any mention of this in the Jason Christou report but then winners please themselves. It wasn’t a great game but it was always close and by the end a heart-stopper and I’m barracking like mad. Christou dismisses Fev’s final shot at the 34 minute mark as being from fifteen metres out on a slight angle. We could argue the toss but I would’ve said thirty metres and a forty-five degree angle, and the ball was through for ninety per cent of its flight until its late fade grazed the near goal post. Who is non-aligned now? 

The FA won’t settle arguments nor will it ignite them. It may illuminate them. Like many community projects there will be differences of opinion particularly from over the fence. Without straining too hard one can see where sixteen opinions might come from. While the editors have given more and more writers a guernsey some of their original list might feel they’re no longer getting enough of a run. They would have kept their seed within the team but who’s complaining? If you read the FA (and I recommend you do) you will care about footy. You will care about footy but not only footy. 

And you might even take time to walk your dog in the park. 

 

Bernard Whimpress

© December 2009

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