Book review: Australian Football The People’s Game 1958-2058, Stephen Alomes

The AFL is the alpha-male of Australian sport and its expanding commercial grip in footy heartlands like Victoria and non-traditional football states like Queensland begs one seemingly simple question: What will the AFL look like in the future? Will ‘The Game of the People for the People’, or Populo Ludus Populi, remain an affordable weekend family venture or will the game be the plaything of corporate elites? Or even worse for football loyalists, could the game be dead?

Sports journalist Peter McFarline bleakly predicted in the late 1990s that ‘The Game Could Be Dead in 50 Years’. If we look at today’s record crowd attendances and club membership tallies, the game has never been more popular, culturally diverse and commercially viable. Australian Football The People’s Game 1958 – 2058 proposes that by Australian Football’s bicentennial year, ‘the world’s most exciting form of football’ will remain Australia’s dominant and most thriving game.

Stephen Alomes’ book is unique and will provoke conversation and debate among journalists, local clubmen, scholars and madly passionate footy fans alike. As Australian Football books can be sometimes underwhelming and wrought with sporting clichés, Alomes’ combination of conversationalist writing style and detailed research makes this a refreshingly thought-provocative examination of football’s history and future outlook.

Alomes does not just carefully speculate the AFL’s state of play in 2058 but he also dissects the game’s historical commercial rise. He reminds us that Aussie Rules, both at the grassroots and at the professional level, reflects Australia’s rapidly changing cultural identity. Australia’s rich and rising multiculturalism has shaped the identities of football clubs, from Carlton’s “Little Italy” support base in Lygon Street to the Western Bulldog’s affiliation with the western suburbs’ growing Asian community. Football has become more than just a sport to keep cricketers fit in the winter and an outlet for raw masculine expression. Aussie Rules has become an articulation of positive national identity at a time when defining Australian identity is not so clear. Hence, Alomes’ book appropriately develops into a football and cultural study.

The book is laced with footy nostalgia and insightful anecdotes from journalists, media identities and athletes, even as far back as the early 1900s English Test cricket captain, C.C. Fry, which helps to exhibit Alomes’ contention that Australia’s indigenous game is the supreme code. Alomes understands that the AFL and local football goes hand-in-hand and there is always a trickledown effect from professional to local amateur leagues. Will the game simultaneously remain a popular spectator and participatory sport by 2058 or will the AFL alienate the common supporter when ‘The Game of the People for the People’ becomes just a forgotten ideal?

Today, we are spoilt with access to the global sports market, or ‘sportainment’. Due to the rapid advances in technology, we can track scores and watch live action from any sport around the world with as much ease as turning the kettle on. While the colonial cultural cringe fuels the cynics, I tend to share Alomes’ contention that the AFL will continue to flourish and grow with the globalised market and further strengthen its international presence. If the book were to be revisited in 2058, the book’s subtitle ‘The People’s Game’ would still be apt to describe Australian Football but perhaps with a more international context.

 

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