Book Review: Siren’s Call by Yvette Wroby

 

Why do you support your football team? The answer to this is as simple or complicated as the individual it is directed to. Or the circumstances in which that person finds themselves. When Yvette Wroby set out to follow every St Kilda game through the 2015 season, she also had an evolving family situation that takes this book well beyond the realms of the standard football memoir. Though football is central to events, this is really an exploration of the connections we make in life, the ways in which we seek meaning within a larger context.

 

As we are introduced to the author’s birth family we are drawn into the story of French Jewish immigrants, forced out of their homeland during the Second World War and seeking to establish themselves in a new home town. That town being Melbourne, football inevitably enters the story. Yvette’s Uncle Bob, a constant but understated presence, proves the initial conduit. Carl Ditterich is an early idol, as he was for so many Saints supporters of that generation.

 

Work, marriage and children see the Saints take a back seat, but the connection remains. A new century finds changed circumstances and a renewed involvement in the game. Yvette discovers The Footy Almanac community. A woman inclined always to act, writing of the “strange fever” that has reclaimed her becomes another new obsession.

 

This writer’s antipodean football odyssey introduces us to the rich array of characters associated with the St Kilda football club. We encounter Angels and Sinners, Travelling Saints and Moorabbin Wingers, not to forget True Believers and many other groups. We meet Kenny Whiffin, Georgie Day, Michael Egan and Nina Sundqvist. All have come to their adopted passion in their own way, for their own reasons. But all are bound by that passion. The very act of supporting a football team connects you to a world beyond your own immediate concerns. The Saints may be having an undistinguished year (not unknown), but the community surrounding the club forges on undeterred.

 

If this book served no other purpose, it would stand as an encyclopaedia of the St Kilda universe, a Saints version of a Lonely Planet guide to the red, white and black life.

 

But there is more here than a football frolic. Yvette’s mother Elfie has an existing T-cell lymphoma condition. As we pick up the story she is undergoing a series of radiotherapy sessions. Elfie’s travails become the parallel storyline. Anyone who has been touched by cancer will be familiar with what follows. The waiting periods in hospitals, the care and professionalism of staff, mixed with the frustrations any large, sometimes unwieldy system inevitably produces. For the patient, there is the hope of recovery as a trade-off for the enervations of the treatment, and the growing frustration if those hopes aren’t met. For the family, there is the challenge of keeping spirits raised.

 

Unfortunately, wishes in this case are not fulfilled. Yvette writes about what follows in a very matter of fact style. Having experienced something similar, I find her observations here ring very true. Those close to the patient remain steadfastly optimistic, lest some recovery spell be broken. This can inure you to the real situation. Then a loved one visits for the first time in a while. Their evident shock jolts everyone back to reality. This, sadly, is a story so many families will know.

 

It is not all grim. Far from it. Yvette’s curiosity for life is unstoppable. Whether she’s in a hospital waiting room or a football stadium, she can’t help meeting new people, encouraging them to tell their St Kilda stories. In an age where certain powers seem content to serve football up as packaged TV product, this book mounts the counter argument. Go to the game. Talk to the people around you. You’ll be surprised at what you will find.

 

Football’s enduring promise is the hope of the next season. Whatever may have gone before, there is a chance to write the story anew. This is not a book prone to excessive philosophising, but if there is an underlying conviction it is that a positive approach will be rewarded. This belief is something the author is always prepared to put into action, through good times and bad, through crushing defeat or stirring comeback.

 

By pursuing what interests her, and always being willing to ask why, Yvette Wroby leads us through an often deeply personal exploration of both family and football. You will gain insights into AFL players and fans, you will encounter St Kilda Sharks notables before the AFLW made them household names, you will sample every football state, and get a strong sense of how men and women appreciate the game in their own distinct ways. And you will even end up with a killer recipe for chicken soup.

 

I highly recommend the experience.

 

Malarkey Publishing
RRP $25
http://cartoonswork.com.au/sirenscall.html

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Livable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Great wrap JB

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thanks so much John B. Very much appreciated.

  3. Stone Cold Steve Baker says:

    Well said JB.

    St Kilda have just been walloped by Hawthorn in the pre-season comp, but already I feel like I know Jacques and half of the Rosenberg clan intimately!

    Mazel tov (once again) Yvette!

  4. Deborah Rosenberg says:

    Lovely review! I’m so glad Yvette has written this book about family, friends and footy. She tried hard to bring me in to the football fold but it wasn’t to be! Congrats Yvette. Thank you for capturing our family story through the footy lens that you know so well.

  5. I love when a reviewer really connects with a book. This is a faithful representation of Yvette’s book. Thanks for your thoughts JB.

  6. John Butler says:

    Thanks for the comments folks.

    And thanks to Yvette. It was a pleasure to review this book.

  7. matt watson says:

    Can’t wait to read it…
    Well done John.
    Football can be life. It is but a part of life…

  8. It’s an awesome review with positive words. The review was mentioned on ABC 774’s Drive show yesterday. I hope this review boosts book sales. Well said mate!

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