An imperfect symbiosis


by Paul Daffey


Amid all the hoo-haa about the phone-hacking scandal and the attendant revelations about the media, politicians and power in England, I thought I’d lay bare the workings of newspapers and … yes, you asked for it … country footy clubs in Victoria.


The newspapers and the footy people need each other. It’s sometimes unfortunate, but they do.


The newspapers like to run stories about coaches and players and favourite sons and daughters because people read them. The newspapers present themselves as being of the community. They reflect the communities’ attitudes.


The newspapers also run teams at the end of the week and all the results of the weekend’s matches at the first opportunity during the week.


Never underestimate the power of the results in small type at the back of sports sections. Anyone with anything to do with country footy will always read the results, to see whether their mate’s son is getting a kick, or to see whether Jack Spratt is still returning from Melbourne each week, or just to see who’s playing well.


(“Hey, Thelma, I see young McCarthy’s getting a kick.”)


(“That’s good, love.”)


Without the stories on footy identities and the weekly teams and details there would be no sports pages in regional Victoria. And hence there would be lesser income from advertising. Conversely, if the newspapers did not provide these services, country footy people would feel like their arms had been cut off.


So they need each other.


Every so often you hear about a footy club that boycotts a newspaper because they don’t like what has been written. This boycott generally entails the refusal to talk to reporters and the refusal to submit the teams after training on Thursday nights.


The newspaper might retaliate by refusing to run the result of that particular club’s matches, but generally they don’t bother with such pettiness. The newspaper knows it’s the club’s supporters who are missing out. Those supporters will ask for explanations from self-important committeemen.


Supporters who aren’t intimately involved with the day-to-day running of the club want to see the teams and the results. It’s their way of feeling connected to the club, especially if they can’t get to the ground each week.


Truth be known, the powers at the club also feel they’ve lost something by not being able to read about their club. The boycott lasts one week or two at the outset.


Then normal service resumes.


Every so often I speak at a local footy club in my capacity as a journalist who’s written a lot about local footy. At these functions I’m always asked why the newspapers can’t run just positive stories.


I explain that the best stories have conflict and tension. Most country newspapers are extremely close to their communities and therefore don’t deal much in conflict and tension. I say that if the club can’t deal with the occasional story that’s not exactly to their liking, then their behaviour is a bit sooky.


It’s a two-way street. Footy club people should be prepared to put up with occasional discomfort in exchange for the regular feel-good stories and the weekly listings of teams and results.


It’s an imperfect symbiosis. Every newspaper is locked into an imperfect symbiosis. A good newspaper will sometimes stretch that relationship because they have something uncomfortable to report.


Normally I side with newspapers in these discussions, but I do remember an instance when I felt sorry for a player who’d been wronged by the local hacks. (That’s newspaper language.)


I was working at the Bendigo Advertiser when Peter Bradbury, the Essendon premiership player, was the playing-coach of South Bendigo. As is the way with big-name players, much was expected of him. He had to get 40 possessions before he was named in the best players.


His deeds regarding the laws of the game were also under closer scrutiny. A story in which Bradbury was suspended for striking was huge. Then Bradbury was reported for kicking. The paper went berserk. A large heading announced the charge.


By large, you will understand that I mean very large. International terrorist large. World War 3 large.


I can’t even remember whether Bradbury was suspended for the charge. I suspect not. Surely I would remember if he had been.


But I do remember the size of the headline. I remember thinking that the newspaper—my newspaper (I was probably working on sport, but I wasn’t working on that particular story)—had completely overshot the mark.


I remember thinking this wasn’t World War 3. It was only country footy.






  1. Daff – I’ve never forgiven The Age newspaper (can’t remember the journalist) who was writing about Stawell and referred to me as “diminutive”. Why couldn’t he just say “short”. I still get stick at home about it.

  2. So Dips, we can refer to you as ‘diminutive Damian “Dips” O’Donnell’?

  3. Great to have you back, Daff. Are you aware of any good country footy voicemail hacking stories?

  4. Gigs – if you do I’ll punch you on the nose old boy.

  5. You might need a step ladder to reach by all accounts D D D O”D

  6. The headline would read “GIG KO’D BY D D D O’D (and of course that would be bigger than WW3)

  7. Mark Doyle says

    Paul, I agree with your essay on the relationship between country footy and newspapers. Country newspapers provide a much superior coverage of their local footy than the Melbourne newspapers coverage of AFL footy. The Melbourne newspapers and radio/TV coverage of AFL footy is generally trivial and celebrity nonsense; the journalism and report writing is of a poor standard and questions asked of players, coaches and administrators are generally loaded and designed to obtain a cheap headline. Report writng in country newspapers of local footy games is generally of a good standard. Country newspapers are also much less celebrity focused.

  8. Phantom – LOL

  9. Dips if you have a killer punch, then you’ll be ‘deadly diminutive Damian “Dips” O’Donnell’.

  10. And if you are a southpaw you would be “deceptivly deadly diminutive Damian “Dips” O’Donnell’.

  11. Rocket Nguyen says

    On ya Daffodil.
    Just wondering who the testiest country coach you’ve come across.
    Reckon Dirty Dave Williams would be in the frame… i got a blast from him when you wrote the piece on Ky recruiting big Singh a few years back
    The Shep News boys handle him with kid gloves

  12. Paul Daffey says

    Hi all,

    What’s this about little people and punching? Dips, is it true that in every small man there’s a larger man struggling to get out?

    Rocket Nguyen, how quickly you’ve moved on from your Middle Eastern identity of Mohammad Shekh Al Bin Rocket? How’s it going in Vietnam.

    Dirty Williams has been the most openly testy coach I’ve come across. I can imagine the Shepp News having run-ins with him over the years.

    I’m trying to think of a more passive-aggressive type, but one’s not coming to mind.

    Phantom was president of Wynyard for one inglorious season. He fulfilled the passive part but I’m not sure he was aggressive.

    Thinking about it, the Hepburn leaders were an aggressive mob. If you believe their view of things, they’ve been under siege since forming in the 1860s.

  13. Paul Daffey says

    There’s a former coach down Geelong way who’s rather testy with the media–and he’s a former journo himself!

    Mick Atkins is one of the best local footballers I’ve seen; I saw him kick a classic goal for North Shore that I’m unlikely to forget. But I gather his intensity was too much when he was coaching St Joe’s.

    Perhaps that’s why St Joe’s has now got Russell Robertson as playing-coach.

  14. Dave Nadel says

    Dennis Finn, when Captain Coach of the Old Collegians in the Warrnambool District League in the 1980s, had a reputation for being feisty. Dennis’ main targets apart from opposition players were umpires and tribunal members. An academic I worked with at Warrnambool Institute was quite frightened about being the Sharks’ nomination to the tribunal one night when Finn was up. Apparantly on his previous tribunal appearance Finn had threatened a couple of members.

    On September 19, 1987, The Warrnambool Standard had a back page artice, triggered by Finn’s reappointment as Captain Coach, in which Dennis answered his critics. His best line, which the Standard used as the caption to his photograph, was “People think I’m a raving, inhumane baby eater” That has to be one of my favourite lines in football reporting.

    Warrnambool being the town it is, I knew people who had worked with Dennis Finn at his day job. They said that he was one of the nicest blokes in the office.

  15. Why didn’t Warrnambool switch from Standard to Super in the ’70s, like everyboy else did?


  16. Russell Robertson played for the Burnie Dockers (his old team) a few weekend’s ago in a local derby to try and get the gate takings up. Its a joke.

    How many clubs has Acker qualified for finals for this year?

    I had to sack our coach that year to keep the club from imploding, Daff. One of the hardest nuts going around in state footy, but a very honest, sincere and committed bloke. One of the hardest decisions I have had to make in football. Is that aggressive enough.

    Are you going to the feline derby on Sunday? I am quite happy for you to buy my brother and me a beer.

  17. Paul Daffey says


    I bet you got your vice-president to do it.

    You’re on re- the battle of the felines. I would owe you a beer–or at least a pair of red Boags thongs that Murph furnished me with when I was last in your neck of the woods.

  18. Paul Daffey says

    PS. Does your brother still think Richmond can make the finals?

    In my experience, he’s a hopeless optimist.

  19. John Williams (brother of Greg) was a scary man. Big, deep, gravelly voice that was truly nerve jangling. Made me run that bit faster.

    My brother played for New Norfolk when David Rhys-Jones was captain-coach of one of the sides they played against. He was reported for hitting Paul Humphrey, another Drysdale boy playing down there, and at the hearing he looked at Baz and said, “If I wanted to hit him, he wouldn’t have got up.”

  20. Daff

    I reckon country papers (a lot like most media) reflect their readers rather than attempt to influence them.

    That said, most of what goes into the paper is not in the public’s interest, but rather the interest of the public.

    In the country opinions on players and team run pretty deep and it doesn’t take much of an effort to by into the hype.

  21. Andrew Starkie says

    Dave Nadel,

    I was playing Under 18s at Old Collegians in the WDFL in ’87. I was in yr.11 at CBC. Catholic school, Catholic club. Heady times. Great, innocent, windswept, two nights a week training, days. Going all misty eyed just thinking about it.

    Dorsal Finn was the most known (and hated) football person in town at the time. He escaped a striking charge during GF week much to the disgust of the rest of the ‘bool. Typical tribunal, they said. Conspiracy. Floss McMahon was suspended for another incident and missed the GF. People said he took the fall for Dorsal. Dorsal’s notoriety dragged a huge crowd to the GF. We had all three teams in and lost them all.

    At the B&F night, Wattsy, the club president, got up and rallied the troops: ‘The rest of Warrnambool hates our guts!’ I can still feel the surge of green and gold pride go through me.

    Dorsal gave me my first senior game the next year against Deakin Uni. I felt pretty safe with him on the field.

    He’s now in Adelaide writing male self-help books. Life, huh. Funny.

  22. smokie88 says

    I reckon circa 88 I played in a practice match for Apollo Bay against Dorsal Finn.
    Big unit.

  23. Dave Nadel says

    Andrew. Thank you for the update. I would probably question the statement that Finn was the most hated football person in town in 1987. There was also a bloke named Geoff Clark who, after a long career at South Warrnambool, formed the Purnim Bears which played in the Mt Noorat Football League for one season. They won the Premiership but were promptly expelled from the League because of violence at the Grand Final. Much of the hostility was directed at Clark, not only because of his alleged on field misdemeanours but because he was also leading land rights struggles at Framlingham.

  24. Who kicked the first goal in your ’87 GF Dave?

  25. Dave Nadel says

    I don’t understand the question, Phantom.

  26. Dave Nadel says:
    July 21, 2011 at 10:36 am
    I don’t understand the question, Phantom.

    I don’t understand the Phantom most of the time, but his team is in the middle of an era so I just have to bite my tongue.


    Anything less than finals for the Tigers in 2012 will be a failure for me, & Lids :)

  27. I think violence in sport is pathetic speaking as captain U/18 premiers and champions (undefeated), and best and fairest 1981 Old Collegians Warrnambool.

    This character Finn who harvested our club’s good name and position later in the eighties, and made a big name for himself should read Gandhi and grow up.

    Violence is a toxic downward spiral and always moving on tells the story. Nice in the office? Oh please.

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