Almanac Footy: A Life Before Foxtel and Friends

Last night I sat in the comfort of home watching a thrilling game between Collingwood and Sydney. I don’t support either, but was grateful that I could turn on the television and (with the power of two remote controls) watch a genuine thriller. To live in a world where every AFL game can be live in the home is, to many, normal.

But it wasn’t always that way.

I am a product (proudly) of 1961. Hawthorn won their first flag, probably not directly because of me. It started something of a trend, with the Hawks winning far too many since. Geelong took out the “consolation” night series, Roos got the spoon and Carlton got the Brownlow & Coleman (John James & Tom Carroll). Meanwhile, I did little more than crawl around the floor making gurgling sounds (still do, occasionally!).

It took a while before footy got a hold, but once it did, it stuck. I remember Dad being apoplectic after listening to our beloved ‘Dons go down to the Blues in the grand final. By then I was old enough to take in the game and I loved Barry Davis. I even had a small poster for my wall.

I was too young to play myself, so I had to invent ways to live this game in between Saturday night replays. Being inventive by nature, I found solutions.

The most obvious was the back yard. The main supports of the paling fence were the goals. The back fence and the back porch were the boundary lines (loosely). The wheelbarrow was the opposition defender and the lemon tree made a fairly useful opposition centreman (usually from Collingwood) that I could baulk around at will. The old leather footy took a shellacking as I ran uncontested all match around every possible opponent (trees, the car, Mum) and won every match I played…and – of course – I kicked every winning goal.

Then it was time to go inside for the night, but I wasn’t satisfied.

Tetley Tea once had bird cards inside their packets. The names of these birds would become the players in my imaginary football league – The Birdsville Football League – and the great teams of the era grew. The Finches were my team, but they had stiff opposition from the Parrots, the Rosellas, the Wrens, the Sea-Birds, Water-Birds, Cockatoos and Assorted Ones (the Assorted Twos joined the league later after I got new cards). For years the Finches (fittingly red and black!) dominated the competition.

Being an avid collector of footy cards, I would also make teams on the floor of cards. I remember my Essendon team saw Geoff Prior at full back, Don McKenzie went into the ruck, Barry Davis was on one wing, John Williams on the other (because I liked him and wanted him on my field) and Geoff Blethyn at full forward. Sometimes I would change them, but usually that group would “kick” the little red coloured Cuisenaire rod from one to the other. Essendon always won.

Equally as simply, I could make teams out of blocks…red, blue, red…tallow, white, yellow…blue, white, blue…and so on. They all had heads made from the smaller sized block. There were no black blocks so I couldn’t make little Essendon men, so my team were the yellow, white and yellows. Almost predictably, they also won.

In school, most of these methods were unable to be replicated. A slightly more devious game had to be played, so I copied other boys (it really wasn’t a girl thing then). I would take a hexagonal HB pencil. On each face I would make a set of holes with another pencil. One side would have one whole, the next had two and so on until I had one to six. I would the roll the pencil on my desk out of sight of the teacher. First roll was my team’s goals, second was points. Next roll was the opponent’s goals, next points. That was the first quarter done. The process was completed until each team had their four quarters competed.

I would often make complete seasons over a week or so.  Experts at this game could learn to manipulate the movement of the pencil, so, again, Essendon did pretty well over the years.

Finally, Saturday would come around and we would tune into the various Melbourne radio stations – most games had their own station. We would listen to whichever one had the Essendon game. All games were done by around 5pm and then we would wait to watch the footy replay around dinner time. Then the process of my own games – whichever one I was into at the time – would recommence for another week.

The world was a simpler place and enjoyment didn’t have to cost money. I could spend hours amusing myself with footy. Later I joined a local team – the Clayton Magpies – and life headed in other directions. My games became real. Later still, footy would be played on Sundays, South Melbourne went to Sydney. Television ratings began to matter. World of Sport got cancelled. Evening replays were replaced by live action – or at least delayed telecasts. The world changed.

Today I have footy twenty-four seven. I am an expert now with remote controls rather than pencils, blocks and footy cards. So many times I hear how good it is to watch footy nowadays…a veritable smorgasbord of live action. People try to convince me that to live footy is easier than ever in 2017.

Oh! How I lament what they missed when they grew up. Footy today is simply different. It isn’t better, and I have the pencils to prove it.



About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.


  1. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Hi Wesley.
    I simply love this. The specifics of your childhood football are utterly enchanting and express so finely the capacity for imaginary detail in a child’s mind; it is revolutionary.
    My partner often tells me I was born in the wrong century. I’d love to sit down and watch a quiet game of pencil footy.
    Thank you.

  2. Ditto Wes. The power of imagination is always better than real life.
    The games I played alone in the park opposite our SA country home, listening to my heroes on the house brick trannie. Dodging around the oaks like they were rooted to the ground and snapping one from the gum tree pocket.
    Scanlens and Esso cards and my specialty the Coca Cola bottle tops. Scratching the cork off with my thumb nail to see what lay beneath. Asking Dad to stop at every country deli or service station so I could raid the tray below the bottle opener on the front of the Coke fridge.
    Thanks for sharing and inspiring memories.

  3. george smith says

    It was Tuckfields Tynee Tips not Tetley! The bird cards were paintings in the style of Robin Hill and not always accurate. For instance, the one for the Pacific Gull was a dead ringer for the ordinary seagull! As there were about 500 cards in the set, it is unlikely that any kid whose parents didn’t own a tea shop would be able to collect the lot.
    One day I must write an article on the intersection of tea and footy – for example my grandmother in Sunshine had a whole drawer full of Lan Choo labels redeemable for presents – worth a fortune if only she’d cashed them!

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