Footy Town,The Footy Almanac’s collection of local footy stories, has hit the shelves.
Forty-eight contributors have written about their clubs or teammates or even just an incident in their football lives.
Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:
Footy Town is a collection of football yarns from around the nation; stories which celebrate footy at its most local: from New Norfolk to the Tiwi Islands, from Rockhampton to Kalgoorlie, from Edwardstown to Fitzroy, and all the way to Mangoplah Cookardinia United.
Written with great love by players, has-beens and fans, they tell of footy clubs and the people who’ve made them, whether in the suburbs or the bush.
They paint a vivid picture of footy’s rich culture; a picture of mud and dust; of Dencorub and the clack of stops; of lumpy back pockets and racehorse half-forwards; of spiralling torps and once-upon-a-time drop kicks;?of savs bubbling away forever.
This is footy; this is Australia’s Game.
Sometimes footy gets a bit precious, which is why I recommend this book. It’s like going to the local footy, chatting to the bloke on the gate and the girls in the canteen, then slipping over on your way to the bar. Mark Fine, SEN radio presenter, occasional VAFA umpire
At the Adelaide Uni Blacks I played with Bob Neil, who once traded his car for a six-pack of West End Draught. There are ratbags throughout this book who believe that Bob got the better deal.
Anthony Lehmann, Before the Game panellist, ex-Adelaide University FC half-back
To purchase copies of Footy Town CLICK HERE
Clubs are invited to purchase bulk orders to use as fundraisers, gifts to sponsors, gifts to volunteers, and as payment to players to keep you under the salary cap. For more details contact Paul Daffey
Here’s the foreword to the book. Let it lead you into a wonderful footy experience.
It was a bright, sunny day at Swifts Creek, on a plain in the lush and verdant Tambo Valley. I was standing around with my notebook tucked under one arm, with my pen jiggling between my fingers, when Swifts Creek president Raymond Gallagher pulled me aside. Ray had just finished a stint taking money on the gate while dressed in his footy gear, socks pulled up and jumper tucked in. He was now attending to a few last-minute items before jogging onto the field to take his place in a back pocket.
“You wouldn’t like a game, would you?”
In five years of reporting on local footy matches around Australia, I had never been asked to play. This was a remote competition, with no reserves, but still I felt flattered. Maybe I was in better nick than I thought.
A fourteen-year-old wandered past with a pair of footy boots slung over his shoulder, followed by a bloke who looked like he’d had two hamburgers on the way to the game.
“We’re a bit short,” Ray said.
A few minutes later I was leaning on a post outside the rooms, marvelling at a ten-year-old who had spent most of the juniors match sitting at half-forward, when Benambra official Mick Gribble presented himself on the other side of the post.
“Nice day for it,” he said. “Mate, you don’t feel like a game, do you?”
Now I was on to them. They just wanted someone, anyone, who was able-bodied. I explained to Mick that I had a lot to do, covering a match in the Omeo District Football League, and I settled in for a great afternoon at the footy.
Footy is about the game, about soaring high and kicking long, but it’s also about people and places. It’s about mapping out Victoria or South Australia or North Queensland through connections made through footy clubs.
I made a memorable connection at Swifts Creek when I met former Benambra president Pierce Edward “Ben” Buckley. Ben had a small plane that he used for crop-dusting. One of his favourite tricks was flying low enough to dip a wing between the goalposts at the Benambra oval. On training nights he dumped superphosphate on the players’ heads.
On this day, he was Benambra’s nominated goal umpire and I was impressed by how little heed he paid the conventions of impartiality. Benambra played in the old South Melbourne colours of white with a red V. Ben had a big red “V” drawn on each goal-umpiring flag.
Before the match, Swifts Creek supporter Nick had gathered wood from throughout the region and built a massive woodpile, more than two metres high, behind the goals. He did this before every home match. The fire was lit at half-time, creating one of the more memorable scenes I’ve seen at a local footy game.
The flames licked at the sky as the sun lowered behind the valley while the match drew to a close. Throughout the evening supporters enjoyed the fire’s warmth. They shared their appraisals of the game and stories about significant events from the past. Then, at about 9 o’clock, they went to the pub.
Rob Allen took the cover photo for Footy Town at Minyip, a wheat town in the Wimmera, during a match between Minyip-Murtoa and the Warracknabeal Eagles. It was a wet day, as evinced by the brooding sky, the big brooding sky, under which footballers fought to assert themselves by kicking goals and behinds. The sky in the Wimmera and regions north and west is always big. Footballers in these regions know by instinct that they’re part of a grander scheme.
I once played a practice match with the Minyip-Murtoa seconds. I was visiting a mate, Steve Russell, who was the principal of the Catholic primary school in Murtoa. Steve was what football people called “a good footballer”, meaning he was a very good footballer, excellent in fact, so extra emphasis could be placed on the good. In football, there are 20 intonations to apply when using the word “good”. It’s a precisely calibrated scale.
Rob Allen has written a pitch-perfect piece in which he documents Roy Cazaly’s year at Minyip in 1925. I am fascinated by the piece, especially its insight into a complex man, but I also liked the doors it opened to return to my weekend at Minyip. (Clearly, it was a few years before I went to Swifts Creek.)
I was rapt to be given the Minyip-Murtoa guernsey for my appearance at half-back because I liked the design. I wanted to play in that jumper which featured the royal blue of Minyip and the Collingwood colours of Murtoa. It was designed in the fashion of the Port Adelaide prison bars jumper, with royal blue above the horizontal bar. The panel on the back that featured the number was also royal blue. From memory I wore No.30.
My co-editor John Harms revived my memories of the jumper during his reflective piece, lightly woven with a sense of connections and place, which closes this book. You always remember your footy jumpers.
I’ve seen many matches under a big sky. I’ve seen one of the many estimable members of the Carroll family pick up a swag of kicks under a big sky at Ganmain. I’ve spent one of the coldest days of my football life under the big sky at Newdegate in Western Australia, a place that is buffeted by freezing winds that whip in off the desert.
The big-sky place that means the most to me is Ultima in the Mallee, where my mother was born. Throughout my childhood we went to Ultima to visit my cousins and grandparents. The footy ground was over the road from my grandparents’ house. For someone who was growing up in the suburbs, it just seemed so open. Orange sunsets burst from the sky.
A vivid memory from those days at Ultima was the use of the word “sav”, which of course is short for saveloys, which are like the daggy, long-sleeve version of hot dogs. I remember watching as the savs were pulled out of a vat of hot water by a woman in an apron with a pair of tongs. The good people of Ultima loved savs, as do the good people in the pieces in his book by Daryl Sharpen and Pam Sherpa.
Daryl, in a piece on Fev’s day at New Norfolk, recounts experiences from his home club in Tasmania while Pam returns to Gunbower in Victoria. Saveloys help to provide the flavour of their wonderfully descriptive pieces.
I also remember going to the rooms at Ultima and being struck by the number of photos of my Uncle John Farrell. Until then I had known that John never looked harassed except when he stepped down from the truck at the peak of the harvest. I knew that he bought Rod Stewart albums for Auntie Kaye at Christmas. The photos of him standing at forty-five degrees to the camera, holding the ball in a sort of torpedo shape, provided a side to John beyond our family.
Ten years ago I was in the South Australian Mallee to interview Rodney Maynard, the former Adelaide defender and now stalwart at Lameroo. My Maynard was lean and fit. He described his long runs around the wheat-dust roads, a practice that had enabled him to win many best and fairest awards in the Mallee competition even as he neared forty years or age.
I’ll always remember how content Maynard looked with his lot. He had the easy smile of someone who had tested himself at the top level, to a high degree of satisfaction, and was now enjoying himself on his home turf. I also remember his use of the word “stand” when he proudly said that he used to “stand” Wayne Carey.
This, I learnt, is a South Australian expression, and I was reminded of the subtle variations in footy language across the states. In local footy, South Australians and West Australians play A-grade and B-grade, whereas Victorians play seniors and reserves. West Australians say “fairest and best” rather than “best and fairest”.
In WA, I discovered a simple tradition that I gather extends throughout the state. It was at Beacon, in the country just before the paddocks meet desert. Every player – no exclusions — who won an award had to say a few words when he went up the front to collect his award. Every player is encouraged to grow.
Dad is from Bendigo and Mum is from the Mallee. They moved to Melbourne before I was born, so I grew up in the suburbs.
My local team was St Bernard’s Old Collegians, which played in A-grade in the Amateurs. Every Saturday before home games my brothers and I and a few mates would walk down the hill and through the scrubby no man’s land that existed along the creek before emerging through a small gate at the back of the dressing-sheds.
We watched while sitting on the boundary line. The players looked so big. Characters like Greg Wade, the bustling captain, Peter Aughton, the ruck-rover who had so much time, and Bernie Angel, the reed-thin centreman who was never off balance. One day I saw Bernie Angel kick four goals in the first quarter, all after taking the ball from the centre and running around opponents with such poise you could balance an egg on his head. Then he curled in a long, low drop punt that just cleared the goal umpire’s head.
Years later Bernie transferred to Uni Blues and I heard a little tale from his Blues teammates. They described their titters while Bernie pulled a handkerchief out from his long-sleeve guernsey at training. It was an endearing detail about a player who stood above your regular footy machismo.
For St Bernard’s away games, I used to get a lift with my best mate’s father. My mate was called Narts and so was his father. Big Narts was the St Bernard’s boundary umpire. Every second week he took young Narts and a few others to away games in the back of his white delivery van; young Narts writes about it in his piece for this book.
One day, in one of those games of word association that kids play, someone in the van asked me whether I’d rather be Ormond or Ivanhoe. I gathered that both must be teams in the Amateurs but I no idea about them. I chose Ivanhoe, and the others laughed. Ormond were on top of the ladder and Ivanhoe were on the bottom.
I remember this anecdote because it was the first time I recall thinking about footy in terms of place. I had no knowledge of Melbourne beyond our patch in the north-west suburbs. It was throughout football, through going to games around the city, that I was able to form a map of the city in my mind.
When I started playing senior footy at St Bernard’s my experience of mapping through footy took on another dimension. Throughout my childhood all the men’s conversations at family functions had revolved around country footy. In playing senior footy in the suburbs I was finally creating my own stories, I was filling in the canvas with my own experiences, and it was a different experience to those of my relatives.
My stories were created at the Gillon Oval in Brunswick, a ground I still regard among my favourites precisely because it’s so urban; at the Harry Trott Oval in Albert Park, where I was part of some famous victories; at Elsternwick Park, which was so big it just didn’t seem right in Melbourne. It would have been considered big even in Cohuna, which has the biggest ground in country Victoria. And yet Elsternwick Park holds so many memories because I played in a few finals there and because I’ve seen so many as a spectator.
And yes I’ve created memories at Ormond and Ivanhoe. I now live not too far from Ivanhoe and I think of those clashes whenever I drive past the Ivanhoe oval, which features small, old, brick social rooms. Nowadays they’re considered old-fashioned; the Hoers are hoping to upgrade. But there’s something comforting about smaller rooms; rooms that are not fighting to be the biggest and the best.
My nearest club in a metropolitan competition is Northcote Park, which plays at the Bill Lawry Oval in Westgarth Street, where the Northcote VFA team used to play. I spent a season watching Northcote Park as part of a column I wrote for The Age. I enjoyed the football side of things, but mostly I enjoyed the chats with two of the officials, John Anderson and John Lewis, who both had been mayor of the local council. We spoke about Labor politics, something that doesn’t happen every day in the Amateurs or country footy.
I loved my experiences of playing the Ammos but I needed to play country footy to fill in that part of the canvas, to satisfy a yearning I had felt after listening to my uncles over plum pudding at so many Christmas lunches. I played at Golden Square in Bendigo while I was doing my journalism cadetship at the Bendigo Advertiser. The experience was disappointing from a football point of view; I didn’t play as well as I wanted to. But some of those experiences remain part of my soul.
I still love the grandstand at the Queen Elizabeth Oval in Bendigo, not even sitting in it, just looking at it from the other side of the oval or sensing its presence as I walk past. The grandstand is enormous, built at the turn of last century when Bendigo wanted to tell the world that it was doing well while Melbourne was struggling to emerge from the 1890s depression.
It was at once a statement of confidence and insecurity; maybe that tension is part of its appeal.
I like grandstands—in Ballarat, Maryborough, Tanunda, Geraldton; a rambling, wooden construction that huddles against the Bass Strait wind at Ulverstone; a tiny, delightful stand at Allansford on the edge of Warrnambool. The most arresting grandstand I’ve seen in my footy travels was at Longford in northern Tasmania. It must be the most outsized stand in Australia. It was built in the 1950s after Longford had won the state championships and the club was clearly feeling good about itself.
But that doesn’t stop it having one of the best views from a football ground in the country. The view to the purple outline of the Western Tiers mountain range is stunning. The only one to compare has been the view from the Moyston oval across to the Grampians in western Victoria. At Moyston, like Longford, there was a purple tinge to the hills, a particularly winter experience. I joined a few supporters during the last quarter in standing around a forty-four gallon drum as a fire flickered from its rim.
At Port Douglas, I remember looking out from the architecturally designed social rooms towards the Atherton Tablelands and imagining them running down the east coast and through Victoria all the way down to the Grampians.
I love the view from two inner suburban grounds in Melbourne. Di Langton describes in these pages the view from the grandstand at Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street Oval across the terrace house to the tall fingers of the city, while Sam Steele describes the vista from Balwyn Park across the northern suburbs to Mount Macedon, which is another view heightened by the diffuse light of winter.
Next to the big, cumbersome grandstand in Longford is a tiny wooden stand with just a handful of seats. It is as delightful as the main stand is gauche. I remember sitting in it during for last quarter of a tough contest between Longford and Bracknell. A fellow supporter rested his arm on the ledge at the front of the stand and placed his portable radio next to his arm. We watched the Longford game from our boutique stand while listening to Richmond and the Bulldogs in Melbourne.
None of the dozen of us in the stand said anything after the final siren but we all knew we’d had a pleasant experience.
In the Top end, I found the most colourful football images in Australia, most notably during a Tiwi Islands grand final between the Tapalinga Hawks and the Tuyu Buffaloes. As described by Tavis Perry during his rollicking account of a season in Arnhem Land, the ground was festooned with colour, with every woman and child carrying streamers, either the brown and gold of the Hawks or the royal blue and navy blue of the Buffaloes.
When the coaches made their speeches before the match, fans waved streamers and shouted their support at the back of the huddle. After every Tuyu goal, half a dozen women scampered on to the field and did a buffalo dance at centre half-forward.
In Brendan Ryan’s piece about his home town, Panmure, being at the centre of the world, he describes the process of his youth in which he mapped that world through the roads and lanes that led to the grounds of opposition clubs. Trips from the dairy country of Panmure to the sheep-grazing country around Worndoo were like trips to the end of the world. In the world that he knew, anywhere beyond Worndoo was off the map.
In the map of my young mind, I had no comprehension of the world beyond Narrandera on the Newell Highway, the road that Victorians take, up through the middle of New South Wales, to get to Queensland. On one family trip to Queensland when I was an early teenager I remember feeling unease when we got to the Northern Riverina, to West Wyalong, and I saw the first set of uprights. It was as though my world had ended, which to a degree it had. My canvas in rugby league territory was blank.
The curious thing is, considering my advanced years and broad travels (hello West Wyalong), that I still feel a slight unease when I’m out of footy’s traditional turf and find myself in a land of uprights. It’s changing, of course; Australia is far more ecumenical these days; one of my favourite footy trips has been through North Queensland with a friend, Murray Bird, who writes in these pages so humorously of a Brisbane umpiring mate known as The Swine.
But by and large I find it comforting to be in the presence of goalposts. It’s the land that I’ve mapped out. It’s the splashes and strokes and daubs on my footy canvas.
No doubt all of you have a footy canvas that’s rich with colour and experiences. I hope you find that that richness is reflected in this book.
To purchase Footy Town CLICK HERE
For more footy articles return to www.footyalmanac.com.au