Book Launch: The Family Behind the Football

A new Sherrin hand stitched by Syd Sherrin (2005)

The same Sherrin (2012)

Laces out

By Vin Maskell

The Family Behind The Football by Syd Sherrin was launched at the original Sherrin factory in Collingwood on Wednesday evening, 14 July. Guests included Ron Barassi, Peter McKenna, Ray Shaw, Heath Shaw, Alan Didak, Ken Fraser, umpire Denis Rich and members of the extended Sherrin family.

I played a key role in structuring and editing the manuscript of The Family Behind The Football. Here’s how I became involved in the book …

Sometimes in journalism, as in life, it’s best to wait. And keep waiting. And then wait some more.

Sometimes in journalism, as in life, you find things you were not even looking for. And sometimes these things are right under your nose. Or, in this case, just up the road, 300 metres away.

In early 2004 a mate went to a party up the road and met a man, a neighbour of the hosts, who makes footballs by hand. The man uses the skills and the knowledge and some of the tools of his father, his grandfather, and his grandfather’s uncle.

I had presumed all footballs were made in factories, just like football boots and football jumpers and football socks, but here was a man making footballs in very much the way they were first made in 1879 by T.W.Sherrin.

During the 2004 footy season I wrote a weekly column for The Age simply called Kick-to-Kick. It was a 250 word question and answer column about people’s love of football and their memories of kicking a footy. Very light stuff. I was privileged to talk to – either over the phone or via email – musicians Paul Kelly, Rebecca Barnard and David Bridie, activist Tim Costello, tennis player Alicia Molik, jockey Darren Oliver, Victorian premier Steve Bracks, actors John Howard, Ernie Dingo and Peter Helliar, cricketer Keith Stackpole, netballer Sharelle McMahon, and others.

A member of the Sherrin family, and especially one who actually makes his own footballs in his garage, would be just the right person for the column. After all, where would Australian Rules be without Sherrin footballs?

One evening in June 2004, after two or three phonecalls over the previous fortnight and after popping some examples of the Kick-to-Kick column in Syd’s letterbox, I walked out my driveway, turned right, strolled 300 metres up the road and knocked on Syd’s door.

Syd had told me he was wary of journalists. He’d been mis-quoted in the past. He’d seen his father Tom, once president of Collingwood Football Club, virtually defamed. He’d seen how reporters’ mistakes made many years ago about the sale of T.W. Sherrin Pty Ltd had turned into seeming facts.

Syd answered the door and welcomed me warmly. He was generous with his time and his anecdotes. He proudly showed me some of the tools he uses for making footballs and some of the family memorabilia – photos, scrapbooks, school projects by his daughters about the Sherrin history. We spent part of the evening chatting while sitting on a large red leather couch – ‘Sherrin red’, you might call it.

With just the notes from that night I could have written 2500 words, not the 250 required of the column because here, right under my nose, was the largely untold story of T.W.Sherrin – the football, the brand, the family.

And Syd, I sensed, wanted to tell much more of the Sherrin story. One day. And in his own way.

In August 2004, with the footy season almost over, I popped a note in Syd’s letterbox, mentioning that with 2004 being the 125th anniversary of the making of the first Sherrin football there could be some interest from sports editors in a story longer than the 250 words of the Kick-to-Kick column.

Syd said thanks but no thanks and not being a hard-news, hard-nosed, intrusive journalist I let the idea go. If people are shy or reluctant or just not interested then I leave well enough alone.

Halfway through the 2005 season I needed a new football for my Sunday morning kick-to-kick/circle work sessions with a few mates. I popped an order for a hand-made football in Syd’s letterbox, with the wording on one of the top panels to read Kick-to-Kick and the wording on the other top panel to read The Genuine Article.

One night in June 2005 Syd tucked a white cardboard box under his arm, walked out his driveway, turned left, walked 300 metres and knocked on my door.

The ball was a beauty, of course. Bright red, like a heart. Syd also provided me with a ‘personal guarantee of authenticity’ which stated that the ball had been ‘personally handcrafted and handsewn…using the same techniques that began over 100 years ago’. I paid Syd and thanked him and the next Sunday morning there was a palpable surge in energy amongst my mates when I brought out the shiney new ball.

At the start of the 2006 season I dropped another note in Syd’s letterbox, another request to write a story. He was still coy.

I should let this story go, I told myself again. I said to myself that even though this story was sitting right under my nose it looked like it would be a story left untold. But every day I rode past Syd’s house on my way to work and every weekend I kicked his hand-made football.

Syd’s house is right beside a small park and I regularly see kids playing footy there, oblivious that on weekends, just over a paling fence, sits a man in his garage with the footy on the radio and the parts of a footy in his hands, a man measuring and glueing and cutting and sewing and stitching.

In 2007 I wanted to thank a friend, a pen-friend whom I only see two or three times a year, for his years of support and generosity. A Syd Sherrin football, I knew, would be the perfect gift. So I popped another note in the letterbox and a few weeks later Syd knocked on my door with a white cardboard box which contained a bright new football and a certificate of authenticity. I paid and thanked Syd but did not bring up the possibility of writing a story. I had other stories to write, some about football, some not.

At the end of the 2008 season I put away my football (now looking faded and worn), I put away my boots, I put away any thoughts of the Sherrin story. Summer was approaching. I found my wetsuit, my gloves, my snorkel. The beach was calling.

And, then, in the week before Christmas of 2008, a knock on the door. Syd is standing there, a folder under his arms. ‘I’ve got about 20,000 words,’ he says. ‘Can you help me knock them into shape?’

The Family Behind The Football by Syd Sherrin is published by Melbourne Books: www.melbournebooks.com.au

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.

Comments

  1. Tony Robb says:

    Great yarn Vin . I look forward to having a read of the book. There are just so many stories out there that need telling and your quiet persistance has resulted in one them coming to the surface. Well played
    cheers
    TR

  2. Pamela Sherpa says:

    What a gem of a football story. Looking forward to reading the book.

  3. Ripper story – there must be heaps of Syds working away in the suburbs with a story to tell. Somehow they need to be found.

  4. Reminds me of a mate who bought a new Sherrin about 10 years ago when we were in our late 20s. We kicked it once but future engagements were cancelled because it was raining and he didn’t want to get it wet! Even dewy mornings were off limits. That unmarked, red leather of a new footy does make you feel protective.

    I can imagine the smell of that Sherrin factory.

  5. Great stuff Vin.

  6. Bruce pascoe says:

    Good on you Vin. Keep kicking torps. Bruce

  7. Thanks, Bruce., for the comment, and especially for giving me a run in Australian Short Stories all those years ago.

    And thanks Cookie for running the photos.

    At the risk of being accused of blatant self-promotion, you’ll find a sequel to the above story – a more abstract yarn about what became of the 2005 hand-made Syd Sherrin footy – in the new Slattery Media book called Australia’s Game. You’ll also find stories there by Mr Harms, Mr Daffey and a host of others.

  8. Vin

    I found the book by accident in a shop in 2011 and was skimming through it when I saw a photo that looked familiar. The more I read, I realised that Syd grew up in the house I then owned and there were photos of his family, in particular departing for his sister’s wedding, through the book. I turned out that he lived there for years, with his grandfather living just down the street in Hawthorn, where there was boxing in the backyard and cricket balls manufactured in the shed years ago.

    I can only imagine the stories my house could have told, and who had passed through it. Ironic that we should live there, at a time when my son had about 15 footies in his room.

    I contacted Syd, and when we (sadly) came to sell the house, he was able to bring his own family through at an open for inspection to show them where he grew up.

    Small world isn’t it. Thought the book was great, real labour of love, and a nice bloke to go with it

    Sean

  9. Good yarn, Sean. Worth a story in its own right.

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