Book Review: Best On Ground

Best on Ground – Great Writers on The Greatest Game

Peter Corris and John Dale (eds)

Viking (an imprint of Penguin Books)


The stories of how supporters have come to support a particular team, and how their life has been moulded by that allegiance, are good stories when well told. This collection of sixteen such stories is a collection of good stories. There is one serious anomaly – but more about that later.

With a chapter allotted to each of the current AFL teams, the writers take a varied approach. Former Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham tells of a journey via Carlton which finds its way to Geelong, influenced in her early twenties by a Geelong-supporting beau. In fact it is surprising how many of the contributors have changed teams once and perhaps even more than once. And there is one particularly incredible change made by one of the writers – but more about that later.

I laughed out loud at Tony Wilson’s reaction to his wife Tamsin’s noble gesture of suggesting to their two-year-old daughter that she could barrack for whichever team she chose. Former test cricketer Ashley Mallet takes a more historical perspective on Port Adelaide, spending much of his chapter on the Magpies in the SA league before relating the more recent story of Port Power in the AFL. Having loathed West Coast, Sean Gorman made a conscious decision to go for Fremantle, not entirely unusual when living in Western Australia, but a choice which was met with even more disdain in the three years Sean spent in Melbourne. Only one club is not given a proper hearing – but more about that later.

In choosing their writers, the editors found a good gender balance, a reasonable effort to properly reflect the mixed gender support for the AFL. One of the editors, Peter Corris covers Essendon, while his wife Jean Bedford, tells the tale of support from Geelong to Richmond, a period a dormancy and finally Sydney –accepting them as part of her life on the arrival of Tony Lockett. Then there is the writer who does the unthinkable – but more about that later.

With Geelong covered by Sophie Cunningham, John Harms is given the last chapter entitled “footy” in which he forecasts the difficulties to be faced by new entrants Gold Coast and Western Sydney in capturing hearts and becoming proper football clubs. My favourite line”…in Sydney, some of the world’s finest football minds, and Kevin Sheedy, are trying to unlock the secret of fandom in the new millennium.”

The writers provide an entertaining, amusing and enlightening  insight into what it is to support a football team. So what is this one exception? What club is given short shrift? Which group of supporters can feel hard done by because the eminent person chosen to represent them doesn’t even currently barrack for that team? David Williamson might be a highly regarded playwright, but he obviously knows nothing about football. Who ever heard of someone who used to barrack for Collingwood? Such people do not exist –well they don’t exist in my world.

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.


  1. Andrew, a good review. I’m in the process of reading “Best on Ground”. Being a Victorian now living in Brisbane, I think JTH’s best line is in his reference to the old Bears and the composition of the crowd…”whether they were born and bred in Yeronga or Wodonga”. Classic.

    By the way, my knowledge of David Williamson is that he is a die-hard “footy” fan. As well as writing “The Club” he also has a cameo in the 1981 film “Gallipoli” with Mel Gibson and Mark Lee. Williamson wrote the screenplay for the film with Director Peter Weir. Williamson’s character is the “long strip of pelican shit” (or something to that effect)that Mel Gibson’s character refers to during a scratch match between the Vics (led by Williamson’s character)and the South Australians (Gibson and co) while training in Egypt on the way to the front.

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks Sasha. It is a very enjoyable read. I was at “Women of Letters” this afternoon at Thornbury Theatre, and Noni Hazlehurst mentioned that on the opening night she left David Williamson’s current play – the sequel to Don’s Party – at interval. Other reviews I have read have also been on the negative side. Maybe he needs to return to Collingwood to reinvigorate his creative juices. His best work coincided with his support of Collingwood.


  3. Think there’s another missing piece: nothing of ex-Fitzroy supporters who support the Brisbane Lions. It’s a different experience and history to those Lions supporters in Brisbane. They could have split the Lions chapter I reckon – it would acknowledge a unique club supporter base while keeping the Roys in some sort of spotlight (even if just a 200 watt one).

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says


    read the book on the boat home from Tassie. I found it really engaging and beautifully written. The essays by Sean Gorman and Ashley Mallet were excellent in their insights about Freo and Port. Many of us old VFL fans need to be more aware of those histories.

    Jean Bedford’s piece was brilliant because it contained an honest and reflective philosophical view of the game and its variant meanings.

    Williamson’s piece was ennervating, but fascinating at the same time. I didn’t know that his Grandad was so close to being a player. I wonder how he’d feel now after last year’s flag? I reckon he was in denial and trying to avoid pain by defecting to Sydney. I didn’t believe him and I don’t think his sons do either.

    Tony Wilson’s piece was funny and also very honest in terms of how his love for the Hawks soured only to be reignited by Buddy.

    Adam, there should have been a piece about Fitzroy, major oversight there. Contributions by writers like Waleed Aly or Christos Tsiolkas or Tom Petsinis would have given the book more balance culturally.

    No writers from Gen Y. Why?

  5. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks Phil and Adam. All your points are very well made. A bit of cultural diversity would have added a bit, especially from the names you have provided Phil (but where are the women?). On your last question Phil, apparently they tried for some gen Y’ers, but they all their potential contributors flitted from team-to-team, showing no commitment to anything except their own gratification. Although that might be a slight over-generalisation.

  6. Alovesupreme says

    I’ve just completed the book, which prompted me to have another look at Andrew’s review and the comments. It propbably doesn’t need any recommendation to the fanatics who visit this site, but I can say that I enjoyed it thoroughly.
    I was particularly taken by Jean Bedford’s contribution, but every chapter provided its memorable anecdotes or reminiscences. What especially resonanted for me was the variety of ways in which people manage to follow the game. I grew up in the country at a time when radio and newspapers were the major means of communication. Attending a match was a rare treat. Even when my family moved to Melbourne, like anyone who played in the era of 6 VFL matches on a Saturday afternoon, I only saw an occasional game. This sense of frustrated engagement is strongly conveyed by the exiles,and it is true even to the present day. Heather Wearne’s devotion to the Saints whether in Wangaratta or Brisbane is a fine example.
    The forced changes of allegiance – Damian Farrow’s employment at Adelaide after supporting Hawthorn for half a life-time – must involve a real wrench.
    As for Adam’s disparagement of Williamson’s “used to barrack for Collingwood”, was it Allan McAllister who coined the phrase which I seem to remember seeing on t-shirts “If you used to barrack for Collingwood, you never did”?

  7. Andrew Fithall says

    Sophie Cunningham may be a Geelong supporter, but she has some redeeming features. This is political, but I feel very strongly about it. Sophie says it so well.

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