Reading sports books in the time of Cholera

 

Life at present is actually not too different for me. While May would see weekends taken up with local football obligations, maybe a game of hockey and national football watching, my weeks and weekends don’t look much changed from either this time last year or even early in 2020.

 

I am currently luckier than most, being required to go to work each day, so being among other people and staying extremely busy. And with my weekends not usually dominated by many dinners out, movies or a Facebook worthy summary of my social life, and still being able to walk the dog along the Yarra for a few hours, I don’t have the usual iso stories of Zoom meetings, baking or slowly going mad.

 

But the current closure of libraries has led me back to my bookshelves for late night and weekend reading material, having also exhausted many of the wonderful street libraries on front fences around my area. Whilst I have revisited old favourites that have been thumbed through on numerous occasions, such as my Forsyth, Clancy and Child collections, I found myself going back to my sporting collection.

 

I had bought a copy of Tony Wilson’s wonderful account of the 1989 season and Grand Final, and this led me to return to a handful of sporting books from the shelves. I am a quarter into my second reading of Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge’s brilliant but poignant Chasing Shadows, the story of Peter Roebuck, having finished Leather Soul by Bob Murphy last week. In selecting these from the shelves, I was able to scan the various sporting books I have accumulated, causing me to reflect on where the love of sport books came from.

 

(It also made me think where the hell some that I used to have are now, either been loaned out like Steve Waugh’s 1000 page epic or stored in the attic).

 

When I was about five, in the very early 70s, my hippy uncle Chris left on a trip to the UK. He left behind his record collection and sports books and, having never returned to live in Australia since, these things formed an integral and memorable part of my early years. With music, he left behind a great love of English 60s music, so my record player was constantly churning out the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Herman’s Hermits and a vast array of singles.

 

But it was also his collection of many cricket books, mostly accounts of tours through Australia, that I loved. Two stood out: Four Chukkas to Australia, an account of the 58/59 English tour, where a star-studded team led by Peter May and containing Truman, Statham, Tyson, Bailey, Laker, Lock, Cowdrey, Dexter, Graveney, Evans and more, unexpectedly fell 4-0 to a Benaud-led Australia. Another was a wonderful book by, I think Johnny Moyes, of the famous 60/61 West Indies tour here.

 

In the mid-70s, my parents bought a fibro shack in Blairgowrie, down an unmade road and surrounded by tea tree. A handful of things were inherited from the previous owners, one being a 1960 hardback book about a man called Sir Donald Bradman. I was about eight and hadn’t heard of him and was immediately captivated by the amazing story. It was from a Red Lion Lives collection by Anthony Davis, from a limited series that also contained bios such as Mountbatten and Sir Alexander Fleming. Five weeks over summer spent there with no TV and just the radio cricket commentary, abalone diving and Uncle Chris’s record collection are fond memories.

 

 

 

Like so many Almanackers I have maintained my love of reading and books of sport ever since. While my collection of books cannot really be called a collection (especially when you see photos of the homes of writers like Engel, Haigh and Frith), I do like my small library and took the opportunity recently to survey the contents.

 

There are some little gems in there. A history of the Sherrin family, written by a Sherrin family member, which I bought because I opened the book in the shop and found a photo of our then home, and discovered the family lived there for many years in East Hawthorn. The Thoughts of Truman Now, in part by Fred himself but with lots of help from English comics like Eric Morecombe, The Cricket Book of Days, a calendar with loads of information about what occurred in cricket history each day of the year, and the very biting Viv Tufnell, by the Almanac’s own Peter Z.

 

The Bradman theme continues with Bradman’s Best by Roland Perry, Remembering Bradman by Margaret Geddes, The Don, a pictorial review of his career and, with some connection, a brilliant bio of Harold Larwood by Duncan Hamilton.

 

There are collections of cricket history in varying forms. David Frith’s England vs Australia, a review of every test played 1877-1977. 200 years of Australian Cricket 1804 – 2004, a set of Jack Pollard books, detailing Australian Cricket 1893-1917, 1917 to 1948 and 1948 to 1989 and 100 years of Australian Cricket, by Peter Murray and in the shape of a cricket ball!

 

There are other bios, as diverse as Rod Marsh and Alan Davidson, a beautiful book called The Game is not the Same by Alan McGilvray, and some wonderful collections of Gideon Haigh’s articles.

 

The football books are more recent. It goes without saying there’s a fine collection of Almanac season summaries, 2012-14 and then the Doggies Premiership one and both of the Tigers ‘17 and ‘19. As well of course as Footy Town and various wonderful Harms tomes (including Loose Men Everywhere). There’s even a book containing the Carlton and United 1998 Best Sportswriting awards pieces, which includes a young Harms piece, about a John Rillie basketball grand final win in the Brisbane suburbs. [Now published in the first edition of Long Bombs to Snake – read about it HERE. Ed]

 

The Richmond theme continues with both Konrad Marshall Premiership season accounts (Yellow and Black and Stronger and Bolder) and then there’s George Megalogenis’s brilliant Football Solution.

 

Straying away from the traditional Australian summer and winter sports, we move to Moneyball, The Boys in the Boat, various Rowing coaching manuals for the kids and a treasured copy of Keith Dunstan’s The Paddock that Grew. American Football has recently enter the shelves too, with a wonderful account of coaching and leadership by Michael Lombardi.

 

I’m now motivated to search the attic for others. There are definitely a couple of Ponting Captain’s diaries up there which I never really got into. Watching the Last Dance has been fun, as has been ignoring the medical advice to watch my red wine consumption. But I have loved going back to re-read sports books and settling in.

 

I might need to ask my mate Julian to return the Waugh book.

 

 

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About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.

Comments

  1. Great read Sean.

    If you were to lend me that Bradman book you would never see it again, as it would fit perfectly into my now tidy and organised book shelves. I particularly like the covers on older books so I have a small random collection, mainly children’s books, picked up over the years for a dollar or two at op shops.

    Loved the George M book, but I took it in as an audio book so it won’t be in said bookshelves for later re-reading.

  2. george smith says

    1990 saw Collingwood books by Peter Daicos, Tony Shaw and Alan Macallister. in 1992 came the definitive history of Collingwood by the old enemy, North fanatic Brian Hansen. After rubbishing Collingwood weekly in Truth Newspaper and Inside Football, it must have taken a lot of loot to get Brian to write a history of the Magpies…

    Not so much came out about 2010, I guess that Eddie, Malthouse and Buckley were too busy doing TV Ringside to notice. There was a book by Christie Malthouse about her dad’s career, worth a read.

    Another book worth looking at is Saving our Skins by Dale Weightman. gave us an insight into the 1980 Richmond premiership and the subsequent destructive years.

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Sean, great to see your writing back on the Almanac.

    Like you, been doing plenty of reading in these strange times, though my most of it has been an unread pile of more recent books, not delving into the back catalogue of my library. Viv T is due for a re-read!

    I’ve not seen that Bradman book pictured in your story, one to chase up.

    Enjoy the reading time and stay safe.

  4. Hi Sean. Brilliant, erudite and clearly with too much idle time. You should be writing your memoirs, or helping your wife paint the house!!! Maybe not, as you are gainfully employed and working in a critical field.
    I can offer you some books for your library….my husband’s collection re history of Hereford cattle and Merino wool, but they are not a good fit. Funny that nobody wants them.

    Just keep writing and entertaining the troops! See you at the first amateur footy match.
    Your Mother-In-Law

  5. Terrific piece. Thanks for the mention Sean. No doubt the intersection of book-ownership sets in the Venn diagran of the Almanac community is considerable. Of the more obscure books you mention, I have the Sid Sherrin (highly recommended). In fact we had Sid as guest at an Almanac lunch. Terrific lunch. So many good books to read. Even books on Hereford cattle and Merino wool. Such a pity CUB puled the pin on thos cllections from 1996-98, which included some amazing photos too. Whatever happened to Trent Parke?

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