Almanac Book Review: Siren’s Call




Siren’s Call, by Yvette Wroby, published by Malarkey Publications


Review by Stephanie Holt

It’s a brave writer who commits, in advance, to write up an AFL club’s season. Who knows what drama or disappointment awaits? St Kilda, leading into its 2015 season, could hardly do worse than the season before, but neither was it vying for glory. The Saints would end up stuttering their way to 6 wins and a draw, without even off-field scandals to significantly test the club or enliven the narrative.


But a footy club, as Yvette Wroby understands so well, is much more than a team and its matchday results. This is the paradox. The wins, the possible finals, the chance for a premiership, are the ostensible driver for everything the club does. But to the fans, in reality, they’re just a welcome sideshow.


Yvette determines to attend every game of the season. Thus the story settles into a gentle rhythm of planning, travel and games; of meetings and greetings; of stories and reminiscing; of a few stirring wins and a lot of results not worth dwelling on. Ventures interstate and even overseas to Wellington vary matchday routines; detours to the Sandringham Zebras (where spectators still join the quarter-time huddles) and the St Kilda Sharks (where she scores an immediate invitation into the rooms) deepen the story.


Yvette introduces us to an ever-expanding community of supporters, volunteers, staff, players and their families. With a gift for striking up conversation, she is ‘collecting new people like stamps. One by one, two by two’. And like any eager collector, she puts them all in her book. Some of them live the stereotype, naming their kids and pets after favourite players, and playing the Marching Saints at weddings and funerals. Others shake it up. Caroline, a Perth grandma and former player, recalls her team turning up to play with hair in curlers safe under a net (‘we had brilliant hair but sometimes no teeth’). Helen recalls girlhood games with an aunt who carried a ritual duet of thermoses, hot chocky milk for half time, and hot green ginger wine for after.


The story breaks, periodically, to profile some of the key characters, those who work so hard – for love, not money – to strengthen the club and its culture. There’s legendary trainer Kenny Whiffin, club historian Georgie Day, Bob Marr of the social club fundraising committee, conveners of supporters groups near and far, among others.


For all her passion, Yvette is a reborn, rather than lifelong, fan, having reconnected with the team of her girlhood after decades of assured but casual loyalty. The dominant figures of her youth remain a touchstone for much of what follows. Carl Ditterich plays a special and recurring role. Those were the days when fans dragged floggers and bags of torn up paper to matches – and when Melbourne streets were dotted with public phone booths that supplied the paper for matchday confetti. Yvette’s unflagging enthusiasm for everyone’s Saints story suggests an insatiable appetite for making up lost time.


Yvette has never played the game, but along the way Paddy McCartin, the #1 draft pick on whom the club has pinned such hopes, teaches her to kick a footy. She practises, and gradually improves, offering her teacher periodic updates. His courtesy and kindness are a touching grace note.


The games offer moments of excitement, but no real momentum, and the season splutters out with a flogging at home against the Swans, and a lacklustre loss in Perth. But this memoir isn’t really about the Saints’ season. It’s about community, and a particular kind of Melbourne life. A suburban girlhood, refugee parents who built a new life, extended connections of family, neighbours, businesses and workplaces.


As the season looms, life is dominated by an ailing mother and gruelling rounds of medical appointments and care. Weekly games are interwoven with another, sadder journey. Siren’s Call shares mum Elfie’s story, not just the doctors and specialists, the indignities and frustrations, but her recollections and spirit. We get to know Elfie, her beloved elder sister Serry, extended family (especially Saints fans Uncle Bob and cousin Gary), another expansive net of connections and stories. When this might all threaten to overwhelm, Yvette retreats to her kitchen, the Jewish grandma in her emerging, to cook huge batches of dumplings and chicken soup to give away. (Yes, there are recipes.) As the season concludes, Elfie’s health is deteriorating, her spirit flagging, and as the season recedes, she wants only to say her goodbyes.


This memoir is a great rejoinder to those footy nonbelievers who belittle dedicated fans, thinking they have nothing in their life but this superficial obsession. In reality, that passionate temperament often spreads itself wide – in Yvette’s case to her family, her adoptive grandchildren, her writing, her painting (halfway through the season, she receives an award for decades of service to her local art society). It’s also a great corrective to those non-Saints who mock fans of a team with such a poor record of success, confusing premierships with profound connection.


Like the twin stories that drive it, this is a book of everyday rhythms rather than dramatic arcs. It moves steadily along, with moments of humour, sentiment and revelation. There are few pauses for reflection, but always another story to share. Often delightful, at times surprisingly moving, Siren’s Call is a welcome addition to the growing literature of footy fandom.


More about Siren’s Call HERE.


  1. Cat from the Country says

    I am enjoying reading Yvette’s book.

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Thank you Cat. And thanks Stephanie for a beautiful review.

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