Konrad Marshall at the Sportswriter’s Festival: I’ve got a lot to learn…

 

On Tuesday night as a Sportswriter’s Festival pop-up event, Francis Leach hosted a night with ‘Yellow and Black‘ author Konrad Marshall at the Commercial Club Hotel in Fitzroy.

 

I attended as sportswriting fan and admirer of Marshall’s work but I knew I would be outnumbered as the sole West Coast Eagles supporter in a Tiger Army looking to hear Marshall recall tales of their 2017 victory.

 

They were like students sitting cross-legged and obedient in front of a revered teacher, awaiting to hear their favourite bedtime stories retold – the ones where they know the ending is a happy one.

 

And who could blame these fans for wanting that after so many nightmares?

 

I too was somewhat enamoured with the 2017 Tiges. I was able to be there on that special day with my long-suffering-tiger father and sharing that moment with him when the final siren roared will be a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. He was so happy. I was so happy that he was happy. No one deserved to experience that unbridled joy like my dad.

 

However, while listening to Marshall recount his experiences of inner sanctum access, the intimate conversations had and strong relationships built with the Richmond Football Club over the past two years, what really interested me was his experience in how he wrote his seminal book while being a die-hard fan of the team.

 

Francis Leach opened the discussion by asking Marshall about his conflicts as a writer, writing about something you love so much – how do you overcome your bias?

 

Marshall acknowledged it was a complicated notion but was lucky that nothing was too scandalous during his time in the inner circles. He said he would have remained true to himself as a writer and written everything, warts and all should anything have happened while he was on deck. He also mentioned his good fortune in the one scandal that marred the club’s premiership celebrations occurred six-hours after he concluded the book. Exceptionally lucky.

 

His position made me think of myself as an aspiring writer and a fan and I wondered if I could do something like this, write the inner sanctum in an unbiased way of the football club I love so much. I don’t know if I could and maybe that’s something I really need to work on as a writer.

 

I asked Konrad in the Q & A portion of the evening if he thought you had to be a ‘fan’ to write something as comprehensive and passionate as this account.

 

He said being a fan helped him immensely in regards to already knowing the history of the club. He knew the players, the one’s who’d fought until the final day in September in 2017 and all the ones who had come before them. He knew the ups and many, many downs. He knew the fans, the members, the Richmond community because he was already a part of it. But it’s not to say that you couldn’t learn all that if that was your assignment and you were a good writer.

 

My follow up question was, did he think he could do a similar thing for another club if he was approached to. His answer was interesting.

 

He referenced his experience of meeting the people at the football club and that how many of them were not born and bred Tigers supporters until they were brought into that environment. He observed how these people shed their former fan beliefs and converted to the cause.

 

Trainers, Membership staff, Media Managers, and the players themselves sometimes have mostly grown up supporting other teams, but once you are inside the four walls of a footy club, you have to buy in completely. He couldn’t see how this would be different if he, or any writer were to be invited into a club environment that you weren’t a fan of. You would naturally buy in because of the culture you would become enveloped in.

 

I found this response to provoke something in me as I had been inside the four walls of a football club before.

 

I have been involved in AFL Administration for almost ten-years. 3 of which were at the Western Bulldogs from 2013 until the end of 2016 and yes – I was there when…

 

I had a variety of roles at the Bulldogs; communications, media, marketing, membership, match day reporting. I built great some relationships and still value many of the people there greatly. I was definitely brought into the fold as Marshall described. I felt part of the team and it was an incredible experience and environment to be a part of. I still idolise so many of the players and coaches I worked with because of their professionalism, prowess and personality. I still look up to club greats who I had the honour to meet with reverence and admiration because I knew the impact they had on the club and the community and the legacy they left.

 

I celebrated that 2016 premiership like I too was someone who hadn’t seen one in their lifetime.

 

But whenever they played the Eagles, I couldn’t care less about the Bulldogs.

 

This was something I tried to keep to myself as it was an unpopular stance. As Marshall mentioned, so many people in ‘Club Land’ do change teams. This was definitely true in my experience out West. I had a colleague I was close friends with forfeit her allegiance to Hawthorn, leaving behind her three-peaters for the club who at the time had just had it’s captain walk out on them. I knew Essendon fans who were fed up with the drug saga allow the Bulldogs to wash all that pain away and pretend they were never in the Dons camp at all. Even if some never really changed, there was alway the stock-standard, ‘Well, I was an XX supporter but I just want this Club to succeed now.’

 

I was vehement in never my relinquishing unwavering support for my Eagles.

 

I was never going to let the Bulldogs take that away from me. My fandom was part of me, I couldn’t change it or manoeuvre it to suit a job I was doing.

 

While I cheered on the Bulldogs boys in my time at the Kennel and hoped all of them would have successful careers in a mothering sort of way, I also hated them with a raw passion when they ruined the party for my Eagles at any time. The 2016 elimination final was an especially difficult time for me as an Eagles fan in enemy territory. I grimaced as I wiped a tear from my eyes as Bevo gifted Bob his medal. What a beautiful, raw, magical footy moment – but if my West Coast had won that final it could have been them on that podium…

 

It’s a good thing I’m now doing a PhD in sports fan studies to make sense of all this – I do find it fascinating and I will cling to my Eagles tightly for the sake of my research*.

 

But should a day come where my sportswriting dreams come true and I get a little tap on the shoulder to do something like Marshall did (though I realise how unrealistic this dream is!), I don’t know if I could do it. In either scenario.

 

I can only see a West Coast book from me being a fan girl account of all the players she meets and times she gets to sing the song, similarly any account of another club’s season could just result in me feeding intelligence back to the West Coast camp to help them. Though that does appeal to me as a book idea – ‘Kasey’s year of being a football spy to help the mighty West Coast Eagles win the Flag**.

 

So this is where I applaud what Marshall has done in ‘Yellow and Black‘ – biased or unbiased it doesn’t matter because what he has written, what he has chronicled as a moment in time, as a historical document, as an omnibus of passion, transcends that debate.

 

I’ve got a lot to learn from writers like Marshall but for now perhaps I better just stick to the fan stuff.

 

 

*”research”

 

**: A deluded fan girl’s fantasy

 

About Kasey Symons

Kasey Symons is the Women's Football Editor here at The Footy Almanac. She is also a PhD Candidate at Victoria University where her research is focused on gendered issues in sports cultures (primarily AFL) at a fan level. Kasey is a born and raised Victorian who barracks for the West Coast Eagles and yes, she knows that is weird.

Comments

  1. Yvette Wroby says:

    Fun write up of the event Kasey. Was it well attended?

  2. Stainless says:

    Kasey
    I think you’ve identified a challenge that the whole Almanac community should regularly think about. Obviously, this forum allows us to proudly display our biases in a way that Marshall couldn’t, but even when the subject is my beloved yellow and black I am conscious of the intellectual challenge of writing for an audience that has more discerning tastes than self-indulgent, one-eyed rants. The other dimension of that challenge is, as you say, the ability to write equally well about a subject not close to your heart. In some ways, this is easier as it’s less likely that emotion will interfere with the clarity and logic of your writing. What struck me about Marshall’s book is that if I hadn’t known he was a Richmond fan, I would never have guessed it from his writing. I suppose that’s the sign of a good journalist.

  3. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks Yvette, it was a pretty decent crowd.

    Definitely food for thought Stainless. I love writing from the perspective as a fan but I wonder sometimes if I should flex my analytical muscle more to develop my writing. But then I think to remain true to myself as a writer, the fan has to come in as part of the story. What I love about the Almanac is it allows for so many different interpretations of the game through many lens which gives the writing so much more in my opinion. But you’re right in Konrad being an exceptionally good writer in that he conveyed the passion of a fan in his book without placing himself as a fan in the core of the narrative. I deeply admire his skill.

  4. Hi Kasey
    When writing my book I found it impossible to simply write about myself as a fan. Because my footy team has been so much a part of my life, the story evolved as an autobiographical one – which, incidentally most people who bought the book, found the most interesting aspect.

    Good luck! Just do it! Once you start, I’m sure the words will just flow…..

  5. Meant to also mention, Kasey: You say ” I wonder sometimes if I should flex my analytical muscle more to develop my writing.” Surely your writing would develop, irrespective of the form it would take?

    Good luck, once again!

  6. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words Jan!

  7. Konrad’s book differs from most other footy books because it is so very well written. I was so pleasantly surprised when I started reading it. His insights into the season were amazing and his telling of the story was compelling. I read it quickly, which is unusual for me because I seem to have so little time these days (maybe I would have more free time if I didn’t re-watch the Tigers finals games so much). I felt like I had read a real book rather than a marketing opportunity.

  8. Very thoughtful Kasey. As a worshipper at the Church of Latter Day Eagles (been a member 20 years in order to preserve the marriage) after previous betrothals to West Torrens (SANFL – deceased) and St Kilda (annulled – infidelity – both parties) I often feel I am putting on my child’s coat and suspending all disbelief and worldliness when I go to the footy.
    There is something innocent and magical and valuable in believing in fairy tales and good and evil and black and white (not Collingwood) for 3 hours a week. It restores hope in a world (a life?) gone wrong.
    I am working with a lady with a serious disability on her biography. And it has struck me how much an innocent optimism has helped her. An almost recklessness about possible consequences. She told me about a carer cautioning a quadriplegic about his risky behaviour. “What are you worried I’ll break my neck?”
    We are all treading on the thin ice of life. So we might as well dance (Jessie Winchester). I reckon your insightful questions apply as much to our attitudes to life as to footy fandom.
    I suggest we both approach 2018 as “character building” – the first sprouts of the 2023 Flag. Go Eagles.

  9. An enjoyable read, with some really interesting questions you have posed here, Kasey.

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