Australia’s Game is the latest case of Australian football literature transcending predictable and hackneyed player biographies and rehashed match reports. Edited by Ross Fitzgerald and Ken Spillman, Australia’s Game is a revised and updated edition of work from The Greatest Game (1988).
Cricket might still dominate Australia’s sporting literature but over the past 25 years, there has been a subtle cultural shift in football writing. The Greatest Game, and now Australia’s Game, demonstrates that football writing can be creative, scholarly and diverse. Australia’s Game enjoys more than just contributions from journalists, but entries from poet Bruce Dawe, renowned stage and screenwriter, David Williamson, and singer Paul Kelly. The book canvasses football’s powerful impact upon everyday Australian life and the sheer breadth of writers symbolises footy’s far-reach and influence in all levels of Australian culture. We are swiftly reminded in this book that Australian Rules is not just relative to the cheer squad barrackers, suburban youngsters, sporting jocks and small town communities, but even to impressionable English travellers like academic and author David Best!
The book is laced with compact but detailed background summaries about each contributor’s career and link to football. The stories characteristically derive from the sideline or from a witty self-deprecating perspective, like Laurie Clancy’s “The Coach”. Clancy recalls his quirky pre-game speeches as his career highlight: “My account of existentialism… is still spoken of with awe in the district while I understand my Religion and the Rise of Capitalism address to the lads went down well at St Andrew’s”. The Australian self-depreciating humor, sense of mateship and hero-worshipping is evident throughout the book.
Australia’s Game is very similar to football’s other 2013 standout book, Footy Town. Both articulate Australia’s tribal football obsession but the compilation of stories, poetry, essays and scripts in Australia’s Game ensures the book maintains a stream of originality and refreshing perspective. Footy Town’s warm conversationalist storytelling and its consistently connecting community with football are its charms, but are maybe its shortcoming too because the stories are sometimes repetitive.
Ultimately, as September draws closer and reality bites for many football supporters, reading Australia’s Game reminds us why we endure the thrashings and the emotional torment of staying loyal to hapless teams.