Echoes of Dreamland: on footy and footy writing and 2018

Forty years on, when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today,
When you look back, and forgetfully wonder
What you were like in your work and your play,
Then, it may be, there will often come o’er you,
Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song –
Visions of boyhood shall float them before you,
Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along, 

Follow up! Follow up! Follow up
Follow up! Follow up
Till the field ring again and again,
With the tramp of the twenty-two men.
Follow up! Follow up!

 -Forty years on, Edward Ernest Bowen and John Farmer (1872)


-Howabout those Tigers?
-Mate. The Doggies.
-Oh, yeah. Howabout Cyril?
-And that tie! 2010, wasn’t it?
-Leo Barry.
-Oh yeah. Clark Keating.
-Darren Jarman.
-Wilson… like a cork in the ocean… over his head… oh my word.
-That quarter time punch-on.
-Twiggy Dunne.
-‘Mackay… to the wing position on the members’ stand side… Jesaulenko, you beauty!’
-‘Hit the boundary’

The “State of the Game” looks alright.

Fuck knows why the afl wanna change the rules. Fair game going on at the G at the minute. And shit sides will still be shit no matter what the rules are.
Dane Swan, 28 July 2018


The Governance of the Game maybe not so bright.

Everyone gets a voice in a democracy. And there are options from which to choose.
Democracy is in trouble – globally we see the big democracies teetering – making decisions that are probably not in anybody’s long term interests.
Plato recognised that the big problem with democracy was the essential underlying principle that each voter should be well informed. Well intentioned and well informed.
There is no way that any of us can be well informed across all the issues that crop up in a day, a week, a decade.
And yet we make decisions about others who claim to do so on our behalf.
If we could trust these others to always act in good faith – for the greater good – there would be no problem.
But a confusion of motives for those in power makes this problematic.

“ ‘Let’s consider your age to begin with — how old are you?’

‘I’m seven and a half exactly.’

‘You needn’t say “exactually,”’ the Queen remarked: ‘I can believe it without that. Now I’ll give you something to believe. I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.’

‘I can’t believe that!’ said Alice.

‘Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’

Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’ ”

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland


Something kind of democratic but also kind of sad is happening to information exchange on Planet Earth. What a congested and confused peak-hour-Hoddle-Street of jostling opinions pour forth every day. Every day! Perhaps forgotten are the days of the specialist reporter; days when the only written word available on the Matter Of The Day appeared in the newspaper. The days when newspapers shaped opinions.
I’ve heard it said that “opinions are like arseholes; everyone’s got one.”
And with the rise of social media, I guess publications are now like arseholes.

It can be difficult to differentiate, to read the waters, between a reputable source and one that is not.

And when no less an office than the President of the United States of America decries reputable sources as publishing “Fake News,” the waters are not so much muddied, as rendered opaque.


The game is still a little way off. But wet grass glistens in the weak winter sunlight. A flock of birds wheels overhead as the early game continues. Shouts, tackles, the whistle. We’re putting our boots on, clattering about on the concrete as our coach drags a bag of footballs out of his car. It’s another Sunday afternoon.

“Alright, you blokes.”

We’re laughing. We’re serious. We’re cold. We’re warm. We’re the Under 15 footy team.


Australian football has a life of its own. It has life. The place of Australian football inside, a part of, Australian life pre-dates the Federated nation. The game itself defies easy description, yet has been readily picked up and both readily and passionately carried by settlers of all background, of all nationality, of all age, gender and outlook. Settlers of Australia.


What is it about the game of Australian football? Australian football is an enabler. An enabler of community. Something within it allows, it promotes a shared language and a shared experience; a shared sense of the absurd.


Routs and discomfitures, rushes and rallies,
Bases attempted, and rescued, and won,
Strife without anger and art without malice, –
How will it seem to you, forty years on?
Then, you will say, not a feverish minute
Strained the weak heart and the wavering knee,
Never the battle raged hottest, but in it.
Neither the last nor the faintest, were we! 

Follow up! Follow up! Follow up
Follow up! Follow up
Till the field ring again and again,
With the tramp of the twenty-two men.
Follow up! Follow up! 

-Forty Years On


Suburbs and towns field Australian football teams. Teams that represent clubs. Clubs that are formed, created, maintained. Maintained by people playing their roles. For many roles exist. And roles within clubs are filled, from President to cleaner; with these roles even being filled by the very same person.

“Who have we got next week, Macca?”


“We’re all mad here.”  [Cheshire Cat]

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


New arrivals to Australia soon learn the dance; the rhythm of the year. They watch the game (“why are there so many people on the field?”). But more than that; they experience the game. They invest. They choose a team. And they learn a new language; a language both spoken and felt. A language both aural and visual. A language of swooping, jarring crashes and of soaring moments of physical grandeur. A language of history and of baggage and of significance. A language peculiar to particular pocket of Australia.


Harry Collier (1907–1994), Australian Rules footballer, was born on 1 October 1907 at Collingwood, Melbourne, the sixth of ten children of Albert Augustus Collier, signwriter, and his wife Hannah Josephine, née Binks, both Victorian born. Harry’s early years were spent at 13 Turner Street opposite Victoria Park, the home ground of the Collingwood Football Club. He was educated at the nearby Victoria Park State School. Harry and his brother Albert ‘Leeter’ Collier (1909–1998) developed an interest in the local football team. They watched the team train and sold Football Record match guides before games. They were also schoolboy athletes, representing the State in football. In 1924 the brothers played for the Melbourne district club Ivanhoe. That year Harry won its best and fairest award and was invited to try out for Collingwood. An injured knee delayed his debut until 1926; Leeter had appeared in his first games in 1925.”

-Dave Nadel at the Australian Dictionary of Biography 


I’m walking with no fixed destination. Walking to be outside. Walking to be.
Feeling the unseasonal wind on my face; a wind that usually arrives in Spring but is this year felt in mid-winter. (Is this a portent of times to come?) And an hour (or two?) later, and without thinking, I’m through the gates of the Melbourne General Cemetery.
The first thing that strikes me is the lack of space. A lack of space for new residents in the Melbourne General Cemetery. Recent plots now appear alongside driveways. Some are placed down the middle of a wide access road. Nobody moves out of this place.



“Let’s do a few run-throughs. Get the ball in your hands.”

Our coach is calm. The suggestion of a joke, a quip, permanently hovering around him. And we’re happy to pick up a ball, handball them to the next guy. It requires no thought.



Across the country people walk, ride, drive to the ground: players, officials, club representatives, families, friends, supporters.

Thousands upon thousands of people, arranging their lives to Be Here Now. For to Be Here is to Be Connected To Something Bigger. It is the chance to look across that gap between you and the next person. It is a chance to lay eyes and ears on this place called home. It is a chance to see your own reflection. To be.

Footy is a chance for parents to slip into neutral. For the village to raise their children.

For children, it’s a chance to slip the reins. A chance to see what others get up to. To expand their world view.



As our coach ducks inside the clubrooms, it’s Jacko who alters the mood. He takes the footy in exaggerated manner in front of his eyes. It’s a handball drill. Jacko then surprisingly looks to an imaginary opponent on his left, blind-turns them, and has a bounce. He actually bounces the ball. All while commentating himself. “Ohh, Jacko takes it out in front; sticky fingers on the lad. Plays on and WHOAH! sells the dummy If You Don’t Mind! He has a bounce. He’s away!”

Jacko is away. We’ve all stopped to watch this – our nutty wingman acting the goat again.

“He races towards goal!”

And he truly races towards goal. There’s another game taking place out there on the field. Our handball drill is taking place outside the clubrooms, built on the margins of the half-forward flank.

“Oh-ho! Don’t TELL ME!”

And Jacko roosts the pill from the impossible angle. He’s well outside the field of play, a field that is in occupation by another game, but he has a shot anyway.

And it sails through the goals, post-high.



“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


From sometime in 2000 until the end of 2003 I would travel most mornings through the Melbourne General Cemetery (Yes, the dead centre of town. Yes, people were dying to get in there). Either on foot or on bicycle, the most direct route between home and workplace took me through the Cemetery.

It was here that I met the monuments to Michael Dawson. And to Eliza. And to young Matthew over there. Thousands and thousands of graves. Baking in the early morning heat of summer, hunched under showery low skies of winter; monuments themselves stoic, unaffected; grim in their number; curious in their gathering.

Had Eliza, born 1868, died 1921, seen many games of Australian football? Had she been a Carlton supporter? Had Eliza attended games at Princes Park, on the very border here of the Cemetery itself? Almost certainly she had been aware of the game; aware of the code. Almost certainly Australian football would have been, to a small or large extent, a part of Eliza’s life in Melbourne.


Oh the great days. in the distance enchanted,
Days of fresh air, in the rain and the sun,
How we rejoiced as we struggled and panted –
Hardly believable, forty years on!
How we discoursed of them, one with another,
Auguring triumph, or balancing fate,
Loved the ally with the heart of a brother,
Hated the foe with a playing at hate! 

Follow up! Follow up! Follow up
Follow up! Follow up
Till the field ring again and again,
With the tramp of the twenty-two men.
Follow up! Follow up!


Maybe democracy is not the answer.
Maybe China has the answer.
Maybe adherence to human rights paradoxically thwarts any effort to establish our collective future.
No one in China debates whether a tunnel is needed to relieve traffic congestion.
The tunnel is simply built (or not) according to the One Party’s plan. A plan that is forward-looking.


Our coach reappears at the clubrooms door. Jacko is collecting high-fives, celebrating his near-miraculous kick at goal.

Jacko runs right up to our coach.
“Did you see that?”

We’re all on tenterhooks.
“Jacko, I see it, but I don’t believe it.”

And our coach turns back towards the rooms. A grin flicks across his face. “Bring it in, you blokes.”


It was 2013 when I first wrote a story for The Footy Almanac. Since then I have never really known what to write. I would sometimes have six different ideas before breakfast. But not write about any of them. Sometimes I would imagine myself a sportswriter. Sometimes I would imagine myself a writer of fiction. Sometimes I would imagine that to spend so much time on unpaid volunteer activity was strange. Sometimes I would imagine being paid to write stories. Sometimes I would watch games of AFL footy. But more usually I would not. Always I would enjoy the participation.




“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.

The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Sport is changing. The landscape of sports media is also changing.
So many voices, clamouring to be heard.
This is true for footy as it is for cricket.
Look at me.
Listen to me.
As it is true for all exchange of information.
It is true for music.
It is true for art.

Yet most voices in sports coverage sing without imagination.
So much analysis, so little thought.
So much opinion, so little debate.

Coverage of Australian football in Australia is a good case to study.

This is our national game; our indigenous game. A game that is spiritually and culturally ours. (Questions naturally arise: What makes it unique? Why? How can these things be preserved in a homogenising world? Should they be preserved? What is history? What is culture?) A game that is covered by many hundreds (thousands?) of individuals paid to hold positions of media voice.

Is there a role for advocacy? For questioning? Who would play such a role?


“On a beautiful sunny spring day in 1967 our family hopped in our apple-green Mini Minor to make the thirteen-mile jaunt from our dairy farm in the district of Flowerdale into Wynyard. We then drove another few miles along the coast to Burnie to watch the final game of footy for the year.

The game couldn’t be finished…”

Shane Johnson, “The Goalpost Final” – [read the whole glorious thing here]


Forty years on, growing older and older,
Shorter in wind, as in memory long,
Feeble of foot, and rheumatic of shoulder,
What will it help you that once you were strong?
God give us bases to guard or beleaguer,
Games to play out, whether earnest or fun;
Fights for the fearless, and goals for the eager,
Twenty, and thirty, and forty years on!

Follow up! Follow up! Follow up
Follow up! Follow up
Till the field ring again and again,
With the tramp of the twenty-two men.
Follow up! Follow up!


We’re walking to the clubrooms now, laughing; Members of a mis-fit under 15 football team. With not a thought, not a care for tomorrow, for next week; not a care for a distant day forty years hence… to a time when some of us would be married, some not, some employed, some not, some in fine health, some dead.

No, look at us.

We burst out of the clubrooms door.

We sparkle and soar in the midst of our living.




Follow up! Follow up!



About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Terrific ER. You’ve covered a lot of ground here. And the big question: perhaps democracy is not the answer? I often recall the JFK quote regarding democracy:

    “…democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.” Powerful argument.

    I regard democracy as our grumpy old uncle or aunty. They may be grumpy and flawed and old and tired and annoying. They may have the ability to annoy and even cause disputes in the family. But they’re ours and we still hold them dear.

    China is not the solution. Compulsion never is. Have a look at a website called Women’s Rights Without Frontiers. Immensely disturbing. I think I prefer our system, even if it is buckling under the pressure of the thought police.

    Footy is symbolic of the struggle and the human condition. To my way of thinking it can only survive (in its true form) if it has anchors; if it is set on solid ground. To move forward it needs to recognise and value its past.

  2. E.regnans says

    G’day Dips – thanks a lot.
    Good point by JFK.
    And I agree on the *idea* of democracy. It’s wonderful.
    Maybe there’s a breakdown in the *implementation.* As Plato recognised.
    Or maybe capitalism is the problem.

    I’m wondering how we (humans) will be able to collectively act as we must, in order to successfully meet the challenge of, say, climate change. When we’re unable to agree on much at all.
    (e.g. a ban on supermarket plastic bags)

    The echoes with footy here can be pretty clearly heard, I reckon.

  3. ER very true. But the fact that we can’t agree keeps things interesting don’t you think? When disagreement becomes extreme is when we have problems. The modern political debate shows this (on both sides). We should encourage rational thought not squash it. I guess with democracy comes responsibility.

    Capitalism is a conundrum.

  4. Rob Hocking says

    Thanks Dave.
    Just had a week in Florence learning a bit about Dante, art, history, politics, vino rosso, life ……
    A long way from the G, and the old school on the hill, but the more I learn about history the more it seems we revisit the same themes and challenges explored by earlier scholars.
    40 years on used to seem like an eternity but I’m 36 years on now and seems like yesterday we were singing another song at school. This time a Latin song called Gaudeamus igitur that meant nothing at the time but a whole lot more now.
    Some good “anchors” here. Best regards to my umpiring mates at AFL Capricornia, South West AFL Portland and Gove AFL Arnhem Land. Play on!!

  5. G’day R Hocking.
    Thanks for your comment – Florence sounds tough – but anywhere we can take pause to think about things is a Good Place.

    History and its patterns repeating is a curious idea.
    With a fair bit of evidence supporting it.
    Finton O’Toole in the Irish Times last month on the rise of Fascism:

    Gaudeamus igitur indeed.
    All we have.

  6. Brin Paulsen says

    Hi ER,
    Really enjoyed this. Plenty to think about. I’ll try and come back and write a few comments but in the meantime just wanted to thank you for your writing.

    Plenty of previously anchored concepts, positions, assumptions seem to be drifting amongst the clouds at present.


  7. Yvette Wroby says

    I love these journeys with you David. Dreaming and footy, politics and thoughtfulness, climate change and how we have conversations that include rather than divide…

    And it’s Friday night and the rhythm of footy is here.

    Thank you

  8. E.regnans says

    G’day Brin, g’day Yvette.
    Thank you.
    Very kind. Happy Friday.

  9. Greetings illustrious Great Gum Tree.

    I’m curious what you define as democracy : the right to vote every few years for the same clowns to represent us in parliament, or something like participatory democracy ? The latter Is alien to our world in 2018. I was just reading Tony Shephard , head honcho of the Giants, putting out his two bobs worth of the AFL pouring lots of $$ into his club. This is the same chap who acted for Messrs Hockey and Abbott to oversee savage cuts to expenditure due to Australia’s ‘debt crisis’. The fact the debt has increased shows his credibility.

    I love watching the footy on TV, as that’s now its primary purpose. It’s the fore runner for the entertainment industry. This isn’t an opinion, or a criticism, it’s an observation. TV deals for AFL, NRL, Cricket, Tennis; it’s big business. Let’s enjoy watching these lucrative spectacles, let’s do our bit to retain, encourage grass roots sport, but democracy in any of its possible forms is anathema to this sporting component of a profitable entertainment industry.


  10. “It was 2013 when I first wrote a story for The Footy Almanac. Since then I have never really known what to write. I would sometimes have six different ideas before breakfast.”

    Ain’t that the truth…

    Brilliant, meandering piece E.r; above all else I just wanted to say thanks for being part of the furniture here. Go well.

  11. E.regnans says

    G’day Glen –
    “What is democracy?” is a pretty significant question.
    And a fine one to ask.

    The AFL is not a footy competition as it’s first priority. I see that.
    It’s an annual TV series.
    Everything coming out of AFL makes sense when viewed through that lens.


    Thank you, sir.

  12. John Butler says

    Another thoughtful meander through a landscape of ideas, E Reg.

    I don’t think democracy is really the problem. It’s an inherently messy affair. Always has been. Hopefully always will be. The problem is we’ve become acclimated to only a very limited version of democratic practice. In doing so, we’ve disenfranchised ourselves. But as what is currently on offer suits fewer people, I think a reaction is inevitable. It could go many ways.

    Those who claim to run our football seem curiously insecure at present. Is it the anxiety of those who fears they don’t have the control they pretend to have?

    Perhaps they realise they matter much less than their salaries otherwise proclaim. A glorious day of football such as Saturday render petty bureaucratic interventions irrelevant.

    Thanks for the trip.

  13. Well done, for there is a lot going on here, e.r.

    Sometimes I wake up and attack the day with a positivity that it will all work itself out.
    Other days, I am confident that there is no way anything will work out.
    May you live in interesting times, indeed.

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