Review of the 2008 Footy Almanac

Review by Bernard Whimpress

John Harms and Paul Daffey (eds), The Footy Almanac 2008: The AFL Season One Game at a Time, Penguin Viking, Melbourne, 2008, pp. xxv + 507, pb, $29.95.

John Harms, Neville Turner, Bob Speechley and I were into our third bottle of shiraz over a long lunch at the Pumphouse Hotel, Fitzroy a couple of years ago when I predicted that the sport most likely to produce literary writing in the future would be Australian football. Harms and Paul Daffey’s first Footy Almanac last year was a strong contributor to that literature and The Footy Almanac 2008 notably increases it. Rob Pascoe called the first edition of the FAWisden with wit’ but Wisden is primarily a book of numbers. I’d call it is Wisden on speed.


Harms and Daffey devised the FA after looking into the bottom of a beer glass or glasses.  It seemed like an impossible dream but they put together a team of 34 writers. This year writer’s mates and mates of mates swelled the team to 87 contributors. In 2007 there were no women, this year there are 19. In 2007 the book comprised 141 matches and 148 reports, this year 142 matches and 154 reports. Both books are typeset in 11/16 point Stone Print and the page sizes are identical. The 2008 Almanac produced on buff-coloured stock appears to be 20 per cent thicker. However, at 532 pages it is 18 pages less. So much for quantitative analysis, go figure.


Michael Leunig in his recent essay collection, The Lot refers in one place to true hope arising from ‘the innocence of the soul, often with a moral dimension to it’[1] and in another to seeing his football team [Footscray] win their only premiership in 1954:

… a victory so satisfying that I never needed to follow football again – the quest had been happily completed for me at the appropriate age of nine and I was able to get on with my development unencumbered by an attachment to mass boofhead tribalism.[2]


One can see Harms and Daffey identifying with the innocence of the soul. For the sake of football writing it as well that Harms had to wait for all but one of year of his life for Geelong’s 2007 success and Daffey was probably still in short pants when Richmond tasted its last premiership victory. Instead of moving on we are rewarded in that both men stayed with the game. Given that only one club out of 16 can be successful in any year most football followers will be disconsolate most of the time. There are bound to be kindred spirits. It would be nice to think of the views of the writing team coming from the stands and the mounds (except there are few mounds left). Wherever they come from they are heartfelt, mindfelt, gutfelt, groinfelt.


Daffey sets the tone for the Almanac in his sparkling review which is indeed heartfelt and without a hint of boofhead tribalism. ‘For me, footy is about a lot more than following your own club. It’s about the game.’ Thus he finds himself barracking for the Cats in the third quarter of the grand final, hoping Chris Judd’s mends, stressing the name ‘Kardinia Park’ for Geelong’s home ground not some tacked-on sponsor’s label, loving the ‘random element of going to a small match that turns out to be a beauty’, admiring Buddy Franklin’s temperament, and ‘swooning’ whenever Luke Hodge gathers the ball. (pp. xviii-xxii)


Waleed Aly’s appreciation of Matthew Richardson, ‘Richo!’, in his preface is mindfelt. In it he suggests that ‘people who need only one name’ have ‘unarguable distinctiveness’ and he continues that the ‘magic of Richo is his unmitigated magnetism’. Aly concludes that it is impossible to understand Richo, the man has to be ‘experienced’ and the experience is the greater because he is an ‘agent of chaos’, universally loved and accepted because he is ‘the footballer at his most naked’, ‘something spontaneous, unpredictable and as flawed as ourselves’. (pp. xiii-xv)


This is writing with the reins off and there is plenty more. Cameron Noakes too is mindful as he ponders the pointlessness of a pre-season competition in his opening to the St.Kilda–Sydney match at Telstra Dome on 22 March:

I sat with my boy, in the sun, on the rocks of the beach. Our feet dangled in the Williamstown water and beneath them the only seaweed glistened like a well-dressed rocket salad. It was February. (p. 9)

Noakes could be beginning a novel. He continues, describing old Italian women:

… squeezing into black ‘50s swimsuits and their roasted skin stretched around their large thighs and rounded backs. They sunbathed on their feet, leaning against the rocks; stuck to them like fat barnacles. (p. 9)

He takes 34 lines to get to the game, spends 13 lines there, 16 lines leaving, and this covering a low-scoring thriller the Saints win by two points. ‘Two bloody points’, I’m reminded.


Losers allow us to hear the voice of the angry man who has had a gutful. It’s apt that Tony Roberts should close his report on the Brisbane Lions’ home-ground loss to Sydney in round three: ‘Oh, and if we can’t prise the whistles out of the umpires’ mouth, can somebody pull the microphones off their collars? There already three commentators in the box.’ (p. 50) But he is also making a valid call.


Footy is still about Them and Us and perhaps no one explains this better than Christopher Riordan when his Western Bulldogs meet West Coast on 26 April at Telstra Dome:

We were used to them chargin across the Nullarbor in a blue-and-gold blur, like Vikings: taller, blonder, better looking and better built than the Bulldog boys. Uninvited, they arrived, took what they wanted, and then left without looking back.


We hated them. Hate them. And yet, how we secretly worshipped them, and how we longed to be just like them. (p. 106)


This is groinful but even though the Bulldogs win by ten goals there is a lament:

It was beautiful to watch, even if it was ultimately ephemeral in nature. … Even as the siren sounded and the club song began, the game started to drift away from us like the latest in a series of sweet dreams. Desperate to cling to it, we discussed and rehashed the highlights. (p. 107)


Discussing and rehashing gives football (and sport) much of its meaning, especially for male sports followers. Matt Price has noted, ‘The therapeutic magic of sport is its most important contribution to our lives, even if it is invariably irrelevant or illusory.’[3] The aged and the sick find much comfort in the compilation of the score.


Footy grounds people’s lives and the Almanac writers (re)present that grounding. It is tempting to say that writing like this is Literature from Below except that a better description is Literature from Us. Over New Year I attended the Rennie Ellis photographic exhibition ‘No Standing Only Dancing’ at the Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square. I his pictures Ellis sought a response from his subjects and it is hardly surprising that in his grand final footy shots he turned his lenses on the crowd to engage with them. I urge all readers who care about sport and fine writing to engage with this book.


Bernard Whimpress[4]

Adelaide Oval Museum 



[1] Michael Leunig, ‘Where there’s Life’, Age, December 2006 in The Lot: In Words, Melbourne, 2008, p. 56.

[2] Leunig, ‘Assimilation Blues’, Age, September 2006, The Lot, p. 129.

[3] Australian, 21 December 1999 reprinted in Matt Price, Top Price, Sydney, 2008, p. 74.

 [4] This review appeared in Sporting Traditions, Vol. 26 No. 1, May 2009, pp. 118-121. The author is now plying for hire as a freelance historian.

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