General Footy Writing: The Footy Almanac is like the ravens that feed me in the desert

By Michael Viljoen

Gadala, Cameroon

When I came to work as a linguist in rural Cameroon in 2002, I knew the land was an Aussie Rules wilderness. Internet connections were feeble and fluky. The first Grand Final cassette sent to me was lost in the post. Occasionally I went weeks without hearing a result. My efforts at keeping in touch were as hopeful as a Carlton finals assault.

One coping technique was joining a tipping competition where all 22 rounds must be picked before the start of the season.

I’ve tried sharing the Sherrin with kids in the village, but their soccer instincts are too strong. Most try to keep the ball off the ground using only their feet. Then when I kick it high in the air, they insist on heading it instead of catching it.

In 2005, the wind loosened the mobile phone antenna on my roof, which was serving the internet connection, right on the eve of Grand Final. I was at a loose end for three days before finding out the Swans won by four points.

In 2008, my attempt to close myself off from the Grand Final result until I received the DVD lasted exactly nine days. I accidentally glimpsed a brown and yellow Weg poster on the net, leaving me perplexed for weeks at just how the mighty Geelong could have dropped that one.

It was all a losing game. But just like the Carlton draft rewards for failure, I was duly recompensed. In 2006 I happened to be in Australia during the Commonwealth Games and scored a position in the Cameroon team as a translator. This meant sitting in the VIP sections behind the PM at the swimming or Prince Edward at the weightlifting. It was a nice change from fighting mosquitoes and tropical diseases.

In Cameroon some locals have come into my living room while I’m watching a footy DVD. Their comments range from confusion during the scrappy play ( “Why do they keep grabbing each other?”) to wonder when it is free flowing (“Wow! Soon everyone in the world will be playing this game.”)

One understanding that transfers across the codes is in the personas of the main goal scorers. The gait of the local number 9, 10, and 11 is recognised in the swagger of Fevola, Brown, or Franklin.

The desert is dry. In all this time, the Blues still haven’t won a finals game. But The Footy Almanac is like the ravens that come to feed me in the desert. (Still, just as everyone would like to live in the tropics, I believe everyone deep down secretly wished they barracked for Carlton.)

About Michael Viljoen

Michael was born in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, the same as Siya Kolisi, the successful World Cup winning Springbok captain, but was raised in Melbourne with a love for Australian Rules. He has worked as a linguist in Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia, where he wrote a booklet on the history of Cameroon's Indomitable Lions, which was translated into several Cameroonian languages.


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    It’s always interesting to read articles like this from overseas. The attachment to and uniqueness of Aussie Rules shines through. I can imagine how much you must absorb every snippet you get Michael.

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