Almanac Books: ‘The Footy Jumper Book’ – What’s better than a jumper punch? A jumper lunch!


Most footy fans know what a jumper punch is. The grabbing of a fistful of another player’s guernsey and having a swing into the guts.


Personally, I don’t like the jumper punch. There’s a bit too much of a ‘macho bravado’ feel to it for my taste.


I was part of something far more palatable a couple of Fridays ago at the North Fitzroy Arms – a jumper lunch. Footballers aplenty but no false bravado. This was a celebration of all that is good about the game. The footballers, their stories and, specifically in this case, their jumpers.






The lunch was the official launch of Tim Rath‘s The Footy Jumper Book, written in conjunction with yours truly.


You can read a bit more about The Footy Jumper Book here, here and here, but what I’d like to talk about now is the l(a)unch itself. A packed NFA listened to Tim talk about how the book came together, and then feasted on the erudite and amusing words of three greats of the VFL era, Carlton’s David ‘Swan’ McKay and Essendon stars Hughie Mitchell and Johnny Birt.


The trio had already generously given their time to me many months ago, through phone interviews as Tim and I were putting The Footy Jumper Book together.


And here they were again, only too willing to regale us with more footy stories from the ’60s and ’70s.


After our host Darren ‘Smokie’ Dawson and Tim chatted about the book’s genesis, Swan McKay stepped up and recalled some of the finer and funnier moments of his career as player and commentator.


Swan had been able to shed light on how Carlton came to wear a jumper bearing the Australian coat of arms on it when the Blues embarked on a ‘world tour’ in 1972. He expanded a bit more on that story at our lunch and happily took us through the stories of his playing and calling days.


Next up came Hughie Mitchell, and he was followed by his ex-Bomber colleague Johnny Birt. The pair were Essendon teammates for a decade from 1957 to 1967, and it’s more than obvious that they’ve remained mates.


Hughie’s three years older than John. His larger, taller frame and slightly darker hair somehow makes him seem the younger of the pair, at least from a distance.



Hugh Mitchell


In any case they belie the fact that they’re both well into their 80s, with minds as sharp as tacks.


Perhaps again because of his diminutive size, I expected Johnny Birt to be the quieter and meeker of the pair. And when Hughie started speaking, it looked as though those expectations were correct.


But as Hughie went on – and he did go on; and on – Johnny’s wit and cheekiness came to the fore, but only for those who were seated near him.


I was lucky enough to be seated to the right of Johnny, with Hughie at his left. Opposite me was Swan.


After Smokie asked him a question or two, it became apparent that there were really no questions required of Hugh. He became a runaway storytelling machine, with each tale he told reminding him of another to share.


I reckon he told about 20 stories, barely taking a breath. And I reckon 15 of them began as an aside to another story, each aside prefaced by, “Just quickly…”


Hughie was well aware that he was going on a bit – not that anyone in the room minded one bit – and played up to the humour of it.


Next to me as Hugh continued beyond his allocated time frame, Johnny Birt was proving my initial assessment of him wrong, with quiet quips and digs at his great mate Hughie.


As Hugh heaped praise on our book, Johnny encouraged him: “Keep saying that; you’ll get another free book!” And then, as Hughie’s time at the mic stretched further, whenever he took the slightest breath, Johnny would say to the rest of us, “Quick, start clapping; that’ll get rid of him!”


When Johnny’s turn at the mic finally came, he was pretty good at telling a long story and going off on tangents himself.


Rather than hinder proceedings, all of these tangents added to the fun and flavour of the afternoon.



John Birt


You’d think that some of these old stars might get a bit sick of telling their stories. Not so this lot. Swan, Hughie and Johnny beamed with enthusiasm all the way through.


The day after the l(a)unch I emailed Tim, Smokie, John Harms (who pulled the entire show together from the Adelaide Hills) and our editor Vin Maskell. “There was a lot of love in the room yesterday,” I wrote.


And there really was. Love and respect for the game, its players and the fans. And the jumpers, of course. Some of the guests wore theirs on the day. Check out this beauty that Mark Poustie brought to the lunch table:



Mark Poustie



Swan was good enough to send a thank you text to me after the event. Part of his message read: “It was terrific to see your recognition of football at all levels, particularly the grass roots that is usually overlooked by the AFL.”


Those words made me feel very proud. It had been very much my aim, and Tim’s too, to celebrate footy at all levels, through the jumpers that mean so much to us all.


I think we managed to achieve that, with the book, and also at the jumper lunch.


Since the book’s publication, Tim and I have uncovered many more jumpers and many more stories to boot. We can’t wait to get stuck into The Footy Jumper Book Volume 2!



Swan McKay and Mallee legend Michael ‘Boozer’ Robertson swap footy stories.



You can buy the book by contacting Tim Rath:  [email protected]


Gigs introduces the book Here.


Read Smokie Dawson’s review of the book Here.


Read a review of the Footy Almanac lunch Here.


Some unique jumpers mentioned at the lunch you can read about Here.



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About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I reckon there’s room for a chapter on shorts and socks in Volume 2.

    Well played Tim and Gigs.

  2. Great book, great lunch.
    Great people, great atmosphere.

    I am happy to share my old Willy CYs jumper for Volume 2.

  3. Rod Oaten says

    What a great book, loved every page of it.
    I’ve still got my Yalllourn footy jumper. early 1960’s, which I have worn to many Almanac nights, if you would like it for a second book.
    Many years ago, the Almanac published my drawing of old footy jumpers, you probably remember it.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Here’s Rod’s drawing of old footy jumpers – it’s a ripper

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