Book Review: “Footy Town: Stories of Australia’s Game” Edited by Paul Daffey & John Harms

Sometimes the AFL’s corporate alliances, dedicated 24-hour football channel and aggressive conquest for national superiority can blanket the game’s simplicity and the communal values that often unites cultures and drives small towns.

Footy Town is a collection of short stories that strips Australia’s game back to the core. Footballers, club volunteers, obsessed supporters and even local pub-owners can relate to at least one of the 50 yarns written by men and women in this book. Our experiences, both the tragic and the comical, define us. The stories behind the final score and muddied boots, not the peptides, are what make Australia’s indigenous game so long lasting and cherished.

Edited by the men behind the yearly Footy Almanac, Paul Daffey and John Harms, Footy Town takes us back to the places, the rivalries, the people and moments that endears footy to our hearts. From Rioli territory in the Tiwi Islands to Tasmania’s muddy and drenched fields, no culture or quirky footy tradition and ritual are missed.

The stories are narrated with subtle footy-slang and conversationalist story telling. American jargon might have crept into AFL media’s vernacular but fortunately, the “quarterbacks” and “systems”, are thrown out in this book. The Footy Town’s personal, comical and down-to-earth yarns echo the sentiment that Aussie Rules is still a “game of the people for the people”. The stories remind us that local football still has a far richer connection to the community than the AFL does. Hence, the book’s appeal is the fact that the writing is not laced with overwrought prose and clichés but instead, captures the storytellers’ voices, humour and characters.

The stories flow like a winding river because they simply let the personalities and humour absorb us. Shane Johnson’s “The Goal Post Final” makes the old adage “expect the unexpected” so relevant and “control only what you can control” so trivial to our indigenous game. Johnson recalls the 1967 Tasmanian “no result” Grand Final when aggrieved fans stormed the oval to uproot the goal posts before the potential match winning kick. There is something blissfully Australian about the fact that a Grand Final’s sourly and shameful conclusion can enter into Tasmania’s celebratory Football Hall of Fame.

As an avid world traveller, I have come to realise that friends abruptly ignore the obvious (how was America?) and go “straight to business”, as Terry Chapman described it in “The Things You Do For Love”. “What’s your Footy CV: Let’s have it!” is the line so often following a greeting in local pubs and busy town halls. Footy consumes conversation and can stir a town’s pride like few other sports and cultural pastimes can do.

The Footy Town’s contributing writers are as familiar with their local footy leagues as a footballer is to an old rusty Sherin, or a Richmond supporter is to overwhelming disappointment. Footy Town is a welcome addition to Australian football literature. Paul Daffey’s introduction to the book perhaps best describes the richness of Australia’s game and this book: “Footy is about the game, about soaring high and kicking long, but it’s also about people and places”.  

 

 

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