In 2006, Kevin Sheedy once attended my high school’s basketball breakfast function as a guest speaker. At first, it seemed strange that Sheedy was invited to a basketball function, particularly, when he only just referred to negative Richmond play as “basketball crap”. Perhaps the softly cooked bacon and eggs dazed the room but Sheedy’s words immediately had the crowd emphatically on his side. For those listening to him for the first time, they were stunned by his earthly and jovial tone but considered awareness. He’s the ultimate marketer, or in football terms, leader. His success as a coach is due mostly to his ability to sell a message to his players, corporates and supporters.
Sheedy is one of Australia’s most successful sporting identities. He is a three-time Richmond Premiership player, four-time Essendon Premiership coach, a football Hall of Famer and now a prolific writer! It might be fair to say that Sheedy has produced more books than Greater Western Sydney triumphs. Unless you’re an avid Giants supporter, this might be a positive result. Sheedy is truly one of Australian football’s more intriguing, quirky and surprising personalities. He was a plumber but now he stands as an innovator and one of football’s more aggressive promoters.
Sheedy’s latest book, The Long March: Reflections from a lifetime in football, is a series of succinct essays casting his honest opinions on issues within and beyond the boundary in Australian football. The Long March, with Warwick Hadfield, captures the full buffet of Sheed-isms. Of course, no Sheedy press conference, lecture or book can be authentic without a certain degree of his idiosyncrasies. He manages to touch on the unfortunately polarising issue of climate change and the invention of wheeled suitcases all in the same chapter and in a football book. No issues, however detached from the grassy football fields, seem to escape the plumber’s attention.
His passions for Indigenous Australians and “A Fair Go Mate” for immigrants are obvious early in the book. He plants bold propositions to enhance the game and promoting further inclusion of Indigenous Australians, like an “Indigenous Rookie List”. While the AFL’s continual push for expansion into new markets, both nationally and globally, has stirred opposition from traditionalists, Sheedy actively embraces the expansionist movement in his book.
The book is laced with Sheedy’s lively opinions about influential characters like “the Sundance Kid” Paul Roos and “football’s Shirley Temple” Dermott Brereton as well as trailblazers and innovating leaders like Barry Cable and Allen Aylett (VFL president during South Melbourne’s move to Sydney) who Sheedy describes as “joining the long march” to expanding Australia’s indigenous game. Throughout the book we are reminded that while Sheedy is a supporter of the AFL and their expansionist philosophy, he also enjoys stirring the media, AFL House and opposition clubs.
This book is not only amusing but also partly representative or illustrative of the AFL’s philosophy on growing the game and firming as Australia’s undisputed national game.