Book Reviews

Finding Jack Dyer

Written by Tony Hardy

Tommy Hafey might have immortalised the words, “There’s nothing more tigerish than a wounded tiger”, but it was Jack Dyer who embodied these words more than any other player that donned the yellow sash. In today’s era of nine-year multimillion-dollar contracts and antler-deer-spray, revisiting the good old amateur days and the characters who helped shape each club’s identity for better or worse, is like relishing a spot of whiskey in front of the fire.

Jack Dyer’s life has been recounted numerous times through a combination of myths, legends and half-truths. We all cackled at the Dyer-isms and marveled at “Captain Blood’s” ruthlessness on the football field. The Richmond hordes all lovingly knew Dyer as “Captain Blood” but who was the man? Were “Captain Blood” and Jack two different entities or were they more intrinsically connected? Tony Hardy’s book, Finding Jack Dyer, uncovers the man and the legend.

Hardy’s account of Dyer’s life, from his school days at St. Igs to his role in “Save our Skins”, is laced with insightful perspectives from Richmond heavyweights, like Tom Hafey, Kevin Bartlett, Francis Bourke and Paddy Guinane. Yet, the book is no definitive encyclopedia of Dyer facts. Instead, Hardy stays true to Dyer’s famous knack of embellishing the truth by occasionally inventing conversations, characters and sometimes shifting chronology. Importantly, Hardy’s imaginative style doesn’t impact on the book’s overall ability to depict a genuine and accurate depiction of Dyer.

While Jack is the book’s obvious protagonist, Sybil Dyer is the headline-supporting act. Sybil is the steadfast wife, mother, businesswoman and the Dyer family’s plucky fullback. It’s through Hardy’s account of Sybil’s sudden death at the age of 50 that we get a raw insight into Captain Blood’s heart and vulnerability.

Jack’s larrikin tone and off-the-cuff storytelling defined his media career at Wide World of Sports. In Finding Jack Dyer, the power of storytelling conveys the challenging climate of post and pre-World War Two Australian life, and in particular, the working suburb of Richmond. For instance, Hardy tells the story of Jack’s compassion for Richmond’s impoverished and struggling citizens. Each night, Jack left his car unlocked at night for a homeless man to sleep in – much to the bewilderment of his daughter, Jill. Jill recalls Jack’s lecture to her about showing respect and giving time for the Richmond strugglers: “It was my Richmond supporters that put you through college because they saw me on the ground playing football… I’ve had a terrific ride, and I’ve had that ride because people like that drunk yelled for me”.

Any football enthusiast will enjoy Hardy’s easy conversationalist style and constant reference to a character named ‘The Patient’ who represents all long-suffering Richmond supporters. Collingwood fans may take a more perverse pleasure in reading that “Collingwood, Collingwood, Collingwood is The Patient’s ongoing nightmare”. Yet, for those Tigers fans who still seek solace from Carlton’s destruction of Richmond in this year’s elimination final, then advice is plentiful: “His legs are crossed, forearms resting on his inner thighs, thumb and index fingers pressing. The match is bad for his and every other Richmond’s supporter’s health, but he focuses on his breathing and manages the anxiety,” (relaxation technique duly noted!).

However, Finding Jack Dyer is not without its imperfections. For example, Brother Peter Duffy, who played a key mentoring role in Jack’s childhood at St Ignatius, was not a Jesuit brother as stated in the book, but a De La Salle brother (a religious order based on the teachings of Jean-Baptiste de la Salle). Furthermore, Hardy tends not to take a definitive stance on contentious issues, such as Dyer’s 1932 Best and Fairest. Despite Punt Road’s Jack Dyer statue and the club’s Honour Board stating that Dyer won the 1932 Best and Fairest, there is no evidence to suggest that any player won the award. MCC librarian and football historian, Trevor Ruddell, asserts in the book that Dyer’s “win” was a fiction concocted years later.

Jack Dyer played 312 games, kicked 443 goals for the Tigers, and broke 364 collarbones. As a Richmond supporter and pessimist (both go hand in hand), reading the tales of Captain Blood gave me comfort that there was a time when the Punt Road boys would not embrace mediocrity and surrender a comfortable five-goal lead in an elimination final!

Eden Park: A History

Written by John McCrystal and Lindsay Knight

Every country has its sporting coliseum. Australia boasts the Melbourne Cricket Ground, England treasures Lord’s and North America showcases Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. For New Zealanders, whose love affair for rugby grows deep, Eden Park is where they make their weekend pilgrimage.

John McCrystal and Lindsay Knight’s Eden Park: A History is an account of Eden Park’s journey from swamplands to proud hosts of the world’s third biggest sporting event- the Rugby World Cup. In 1900, New Zealand’s largest stadium was a sports ground and by 1914, Eden Park became two drained ovals.

The book is filled with delightful anecdotal stories that provide both a social commentary and an amusing read. Reminiscing about the year 1902 when Eden Park was still covered in rocks, blacksmith and Eden Park visionary Harry Ryan recalled, “it was one of the unwritten laws of the club that every member who came to practice should take at least one stone off the ground with him when he went home, and in this way the ground was gradually cleared”. These anecdotal gems and the authors’ understanding of social history ensure the book is more than just a neat coffee table book.

Eden Park: A History is also every avid sporting trivia fan’s encyclopedia, or, at the very least, for Kiwi sport. The ground may be New Zealand rugby’s spiritual home and has certainly born witness to more than one Wallaby thrashing, but rugby was not the first football code to be played on the once swampy lands. Amazingly, an Australian Rules exhibition match was first football code to grace the fields.

As a MCG loyalist, trolling through the history of Eden Park triggered my own fond memories of spending a Friday night or a Boxing Day at the mighty G’. The MCG and Eden Park encapsulate Australia and New Zealand’s fierce competiveness and religious-like commitment to sport. More importantly, the two grounds have the ability, like few other sporting cathedrals, to create an affectionate cult following for the nation’s sporting heroes. If it’s the crowd at Eden Park chanting “Had-Lee, Had-Lee, Had-Lee”, or MCG’s Bay 13 imitating Merv Hughes’ stretching and 90,000 Melbournians chanting “Warney”- the two stadiums truly share a unique ambience.

While the book captures the fans’ loving perspective and celebrates New Zealand triumphs at Eden Park, McCrystal and Knight dare to illustrate the ground’s ugly moments as well. Sport can often be the most reliable means to unify people- but this wasn’t the case in 1981 when a Springbok’s tour of New Zealand was allowed despite the apartheid regime strangling South Africa. McCrystal and Knight are particularly critical of former New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon who naively “believed sport could and should rise above politics”. Severe hostility and “battle lines” were drawn from outraged protestors once the New Zealand Rugby Union invited the Springboks. Sadly, the tension and rage reached its climax at Eden Park, where the ground resembled a fortified army base instead of a sporting stadium. The book’s description of the violent events that took place during the Eden Park Test is tightly done with anecdotes from protestors and telling photographs that shock.

Ultimately, Eden Park: A History avoids the typically dull “timeline” account of a stadium’s history. Instead, the book is an enjoyable 231-page presentation of New Zealand’s sporting heartbeat.

Australia’s Game: Stories, Essays, Verse & Drama Inspired by the Australian Game of Football

Edited by Ross Fitzgerald & Ken Spillman

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.

 

Cricket Cauldron: The turbulent politics of sport in Pakistan

By Shaharyar M. Khan and Ali Khan.

Dominance and futility are cyclical in international cricket. Nearly every major test-playing nation has tasted the high of unified excellence and the low of splitting incompetence. Yet Pakistan, a country rarely lacking cricketing talent, remains the one test nation that continues to frustrate and confound us with their on-field capitulations and off-field theatrics. Drawing inspiration from Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, there is nothing constant in this world but Pakistan’s inconsistency.

How do we understand Pakistan cricket when we have underwhelming exposure to its culture, personalities and political climate? There’s no cap on the often clichéd and ill-informed opinions circulating about Pakistan and its national cricket team. Yet, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s former Chairman, Shaharyar Khan, provides us with an informed overview of cricket in his new book, Cricket Cauldron: The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan. His publication evaluates the Pakistani cricket team’s history and cultural significance and he also provides an opinionated breakdown of the PCB.

Khan’s three year reign as the PCB’s Chairman (2003-6) oversaw most of Bob Woolmer’s coaching tenure and endured stirring controversies, like the Oval Test drama of 2006. Despite the fact that no Chairman’s reign over the PCB can be devoid of scandal or player tantrums, Khan did strengthen cricketing relations with India. This is demonstrated by India’s drought-breaking 2004 tour of Pakistan, and for a period under Woolmer’s leadership, improved training standards and on-field performance.

Khan’s experience as a foreign secretary is evident in his book as his summations of key figures in Pakistan and world cricket are measured and often diplomatic. He particularly praised former ICC Chief Executive, Malcolm Speed, who he described as “direct in style in the Australian manner” but “widely respected for his integrity and frankness”. However, he does provide some forthright judgments on other key cricket personalities, even if they are directed at everyone’s favourite battering target- the umpires!  In light of the Oval Test ball-tampering debacle, Khan names match referee Mike Procter as “passive and weak” and Pakistan’s public enemy number one, Australian umpire Darrell Hair, as a “time bomb”.

Pakistani cricket has some of the more intriguing and polarising characters in the world game. From Imran Khan to Inzamam-ul-Haq, they can endear and detach fans in the one session of play. However, for Shoaib Akhtar, who attracts the beaming spotlight for both his bowling deeds and off-field extracurricular activities, he still remains somewhat of a complicated puzzle. Khan provides one of the more insightful and sensitive opinions on the express fast-bowler. During the infamous Oval Test, Khan attempted to reason with the captain Inzamam and his team to end the protest regarding umpire Hair’s ball tampering accusation by returning to the field. The team followed Inzamam’s stubborn refusal, except for Akhtar, who was the sole player to respond to Khan’s desperate plea. Khan uses this moment to illustrate that while Akhtar is “wayward”, he is also “worldly wise” and “nobody’s poodle”. We realise that Akhtar is more than just a party boy and scandalous athlete.

Khan also explores some debilitating factors that have plagued Pakistan cricket’s national and domestic games during and after his PCB involvement. For better or for worse, “excessive religiosity” underpinned Pakistan’s cricket culture during Inzamam’s captaincy, which was blatantly evident in Khan’s detailed account of The Oval Test Match debacle. He also adds that the lack of strong role models has been one of the most significant factors for corruption – like spot fixing – to thrive in Pakistan.

Khan emerges as a warm, worldly and considered administrator and diplomat who is detached from the corruption and pettiness in Pakistan cricket. He notes in his book that he strongly urged the PCB to undertake significant structural change from a “dictatorial one-man show” to a more traditional cooperate structure.

Yet, Khan doesn’t proclaim to be the central and most influential figure in Pakistan cricket during his tenure as Chairman. He appears appreciative of Woolmer’s decisive influence as Pakistan’s coach. He argues that Woolmer “[p]roved that with a sensitive approach, a foreign coach could overcome the cultural and language gap”. To a certain extent, Woolmer is the book’s central and favorable figure.

However, Khan’s Cricket Cauldron sometimes falls into generalised summaries of cricket matches and disappointingly brief glances at provocative moments, like the Sydney Test Match in 2010. Also, the book doesn’t escape factual blunders, such as incorrectly stating that Pakistan won the World Cup in 1996.

Ultimately, Cricket Cauldron: The turbulent politics of sport in Pakistan, poses one thought provoking question: what do we learn from Pakistan’s attitudes and responses to cricket?

The Long March: Reflections from a lifetime in football

Kevin Sheedy

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.

Footy Town: Stories of Australia’s Game

John Harms and Paul Daffey

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”.

Open Mike

 Mike Sheahan

2012 was a significant year for football broadcasting: a billion dollar five year television rights deal, football diehards’ gospel channel Fox Footy reappearing on our screens and ruthless tit-for-tat talent poaching between football broadcasting stations. Yet behind the glitzy deals and headlines, a stalwart of football journalism, Mike Sheahan, decided to hang up his pen and full-time duties at the Herald Sun.

Mike Sheahan’s book Open Mike is a transcript of his own one-on-one Andrew Denton-like interview show on Fox Footy. In what was his most publicly praised work in 2012 while in “semi-retirement” and certainly his least controversial (Mike’s Top 50 anyone?), Sheahan interviews past and present players, coaches and even the great Tony Charlton.

After viewing Open Mike on TV and in print, the interviews can be enjoyed on both platforms. In the book, neat career summaries are provided before each interview. Sheahan’s strengths as an interviewer, like his short and direct questioning, are very evident in his book. Occasionally we are hit with some eye-opening reading like Robert Wall’s admission that he deserved to get the sack from Carlton and emotion-stirring moments like Dermot Brereton’s personal struggle with two family members committing suicide. While a number of interviews don’t necessarily reveal something new, startling or shocking, Brereton’s interview was particularly illuminating. “The Kid” or “Judge Dermie” can be sometimes portrayed as just the bigheaded blonde media personality but Dermie’s interview showed a complex, self-reflective and candid side to him that the general public are not exposed to.

Mostly, this book is an opportunity for footy lovers to reminisce over their champions and villains, and in a few cases, understand them from beyond the boundary.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s