Up There Cazaly and The Myth of Icarus

150 Years of Australian Football Conference


July 15 2008

Up There Cazaly and The Myth of Icarus: An exploration into the narrative of freedom and failure in Australian Rules football.

By Phillip Dimitriadis




The Myth of Icarus is a story about defying gravity, escaping imprisonment and overcoming fear. It is also about remaining cautious while having to throw caution to the sun. Flight is the only way to escape from a prison for Icarus, ironically built by his father (coach) Daedalus.

The song and film clip of Up There Cazaly by Mike Brady works within a similar mythological narrative. The recurring image of freedom in AFL footy is the high mark. It defies gravity and symbolically differentiates from British games like Rugby and Soccer. The spirit of the mark could be viewed as a symbolic escape from British rule and colonial imprisonment.

Up There Cazaly also offers escape to fans from the drudgery of work, another metaphor for a prison. The lyrics capture the rapture of the moment of flight in the Icarus myth and the temporary defiance of gravity. Hope and freedom are symbolically glimpsed in the ephemeral moment of the ‘Screamer’.

Icarus and Cazaly fly in the face of the sun and prescribed earthly experience. The footy ground is a metaphor for the sea that Icarus falls into, depicting a battle with an underworld of antagonistic forces. Brady sings “Fly like an angel” and in the next verse urges “Fight like the devil”, both followed by “You’re out there to win”

The song uses mythological language to depict the constant struggle between hope, fear, freedom/flight and reality/ gravity. The Myth of Icarus has often been used by football authors as a metaphor of hope and failure.

The pictures are from the art gallery in Ikaria, which is an Island in the Aegean named after Icarus. He was said to have fallen near this Island. Most of the images were painted during the Byzantine period after Ovid discovered the story and reprised it almost 2000 years ago.

It is striking how the poses are more akin to taking speccies than flying headlong into the sun. Put footy in their hands and perhaps Ikaria could vie as the spiritual birthplace of Aussie Rules.

Up There Cazaly


Roy Cazaly played for St.Kilda and South Melbourne between 1911 and1927 and was heralded for his ability to leap high and take gravity defying marks. According to Ross, “Cazaly was a non-smoker and non-drinker, and says that a lung full of air at the moment he leaps for the ball gives him added levitation” (In Ross, (ed), 1996, p.125).

Apparently, Cazaly’s aerial feats inspired some diggers on the battlefields during world war two where Australian Rules football seemed to be a popular diversion from being shot bayoneted:  “News too of other games around the battle fronts, where the cry ‘Up There Cazaly’, is often heard as the boys go into action.” (In Ross, (ed), 1996, p.168).

One has to wonder if the Rugby League or Union soldiers engaged in the cry with the perceived flippancy depicted here as they contemplated possible death or permanent disfigurement. And yet it is the expression of this hagiographic mythology and the description of a clean living and conservative Cazaly that camouflages the brutal facts of war and helps boost morale among young wide-eyed men.

They weren’t chanting Up There Smith or Smallhorn so there is some substance that separates Cazaly’s deeds from those of other footballers.

Singer songwriter Mike Brady penned arguably the most recognizable song about the game when he released ‘Up There Cazaly’ in 1979. Brady puts music to the archetypal themes that seem to rivet many fans. The chorus of the song says:

Up there Cazaly
In there and fight
Out there and At em’
Show em your might
Up there Cazaly
Don’t let em in
Fly like an angel
You’re out there to win (Brady, 1979)


An interesting contrast to the final line of this verse is when Brady recognizes the duality of the hero who is not whole by exhibiting purely angelic qualities. He balances ‘fly like and angel’ with ‘fight like the devil’ in the following verse and this is an interesting paradox because it exalts demonic behaviour in a context where muscular Christianity and the imagined good must prevail.

Brady is expressing a mythical and real agon in this song.

There can be no angels if they have no devils to contend with. Brady, with these two lines has possibly expressed one of the more earnest truths about the consciousness of the game, its players, supporters and writers.

He is saying that in reality we want our game to exhibit both extremes of the myth. There is no middle ground. You can either be an angel or a devil but we don’t care as long as you win.

Paradoxically, there is not a single image of a goal in the entire clip and this signifies a celebration of ‘playing’ rather than solely winning.

Perhaps is safer to fantasize about Cazaly, Coventry, Coleman and Haydn Bunton because their deeds provide palliative entertainment. They will not become tyrants that send Collingwood fan’s to the gas chambers or turn Carlton into a Stalinist gulag.

Football fantasies must be predominantly childlike and therapeutic because reality undermines their power to instil hope and innocence. However, an element of failure must also be lurking in the background so that experience retains an earthy realism.

This is why a mythological figure like Icarus seems to figure prominently in much football literature. Icarus depicts the brave, yet immature archetype that flies into the face of the sun and plummets to his death into the sea.

Gravity and antagonists always intervene. In Footy the ground can be a metaphor for the sea that Icarus falls into. Fight like the devil depicts a battle with the underworld on the field, ie, Taking hits, showing courage and fighting injustice from umpires.

The Footy ground is both a labyrinth and an altar. Victory and Flight symbolize temporary escape from the labyrinth.

The oval shaped ground and ball are symbols of fertility, rebirth and hope. Yet they can also be seen as symbols of frailty and danger, exposed to human and unseen forces wanting to control their destiny.

The line: “In there and at em, don’t let em in”, I interpret as not letting fear and gravity interfere with courage and spiritual hope.

The song uses religious mythology Angels/Devils which depict the constant struggle of hope vs. fear, imagination vs. reality and flight vs. gravity.

It is interesting that the moment of death in Icarus’ story is rarely referred to in football literature. It is mostly about the moment of flight, the defiance of gravity, of human bondage, the possibility of attaining the freedom and powers of a deity. In his poem High Mark, Dawe captures the rise and the fall. He writes:

–          tensioning for the upward leap,

hands now

eagle claws,

god’s hooks, hungering

for the leather dove, the run

among mere mortal men

in time, in place, become

the leap into heaven,

into fame, into legend

-then the fall back to earth

(guernseyed Icarus)

to the whistle’s shrill tweet. (In Fitzgerald and Spillman, 1988, p.225)

So why is the example of the archetypal influence of Icarus predominantly in ‘flight’so popular in Australian Rules literature?

Footy allows the ‘flier’ to fight like the devil when he lands. This crucially transforms the myth. Life continues. In Icarus’ case it doesn’t.

Martin Flanagan also uses the analogy to characterize Tom Wills. Wills did fly high to help invent the game and in the process establish himself as a great sportsman, but he also fell into the sea of alcohol that contributed greatly to his death.

Should Wills to be portrayed as a demi-god, a martyr or a human being who was good at sport but could not deal with his personal demons?

Perhaps it is the contradictory nature of some football heroes that makes them much more interesting as historical figures through literary representations. Would Flanagan have been compelled to write The Call had Tom Wills lived to a ripe old age and died feebly in a nursing home at the age of ninety?

Possibly not because Wills’ story may have become sanitized, there would be little mystery to one of the fathers of Australian football who was buried in an unmarked grave at a Heidelberg cemetery in Melbourne at the age of fourty-four, childless and penniless. The tragedy helps give the story balance by eliciting curiosity and intrigue.

If football re-animates archetypes, then Tom Wills could be seen as the flawed hero whose innocence and youth betrayed him in his personal life. His legacy as a ‘play hard, party hard’ archetype can still be seen today.

Ben Cousins, Gary Ablett , Wayne Carey and Brendon Fevola have been the most recent public examples of carrying on the legacy of ‘flying too close to that metphoric sun’. If Tom Wills had lived in Melbourne today I think he would he have sympathized with Gary Ablett snr?  Flanagan writes:

A young man does what young men have always dreamed of doing. For an instant, he stands alone in the sky, all others beneath him….The crowd’s delight is a wild surge of sound. At that moment all else is forgotten. (Flanagan, 1998, p.181).

Flanagan may have been influenced by what has been marketed by its publisher as the classic Australian football novel: A Salute to the Great McCarthy, by Barry Oakley. Oakley predates Flanagans sentiments in The Call when he writes:

‘Flight!’ he says, waiving the air. ‘It lies deep in the mind of man McCarthy, the diver flies and the vaulter of poles, we fly in our dreams, your Christian heaven. The footballer, yes, you in your own extraordinary national game, I see you in the pics up there on their shoulders. I lie me down to sleep and I fly in my dreams – sailing, arms out over the town, swooping and climbing, I go where I wish!’(Oakley, 1971, p. 101)


Stats In Up There Cazaly clip:

Balloons: 1

Banners: 1

Bread Rolls: 1

Bumps/Biff: 5

Celebrations: 2

Fans: 12

MCG: 2

Kicks: 1 (Kevin Murray fighting like a devil)

Handballs: 1 (Bob Skilton)

Goals: 0

Marks 21

I heard ‘Up There Cazaly’ before I knew anything about the Myth of Icarus.

Therefore a slice of football culture has been responsible for inspiring me to revisit and appreciate my own cultural heritage.

How does footy do that for you?

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.


  1. Phil – fabulous work. I knew nothing of the Myth of Icarus but then again I’m not Greek. The picture on the right (above) looks like the mark Gary Moorcroft took for Essendon in 2001.

  2. “They will not become tyrants that send Collingwood fan’s to the gas chambers or turn Carlton into a Stalinist gulag”.

    More’s the pity…

  3. Jane Greenwood says

    Terrific article! In my years as an English teacher I had EM Forster’s dictum, ‘Only connect …’ permanently inscribed on the board. Phil’s article makes all the connections. Thanks!

  4. johnharms says

    G’day Phil,

    I love this stuff. So much to think about. I love the links you identify. And I love the idea of exploring the deep-seated appeal of things.

    So much to respond to. I’ll just pick a couple for now. The motif of freedom you identify is so significant. I think that the idea of running in to space, getting the footy on the run, and having the freedom to do with it as you please is magnificent. I can even remember thinking it when I was playing, particuallrly in a game for the Adelaide Lutheran C Grade. And when you have found space the whole universe is looking at you because for that instant you are the actor, and if you are skilful enough you will do something which benefits the rest of your team – a pass, a goal etc. Hence when free you have opportunity to serve community.

    It is timely that my response should follow Jane Greenwood’s (who may be persuaded to publish on this site) above #3. Jane is my old English boss and I will embarrass her by saying what a superb teacher and natural leader she is. We English nuts sought refuge from the students (and reality) in Lohe House staffroom and I was blessed just sitting with them. It was a staffroom of natural story-tellers, and people who make the sort of connections you do Phil. They see things is the sweep of all human experience, and their lively minds had been formed by great writers, their own experience and their willingness to speculate in the interest of understanding. Jane has a thousand stories to tell. I will publish a poem by another wonderful figure Mike Selleck who died in December – too young. I hope to write about Mike. I spent one of the most remarkable afternoons of my life when I flew up to Brisbane to say goodbye to him in late October.

    The second point I would focus on is the poem ‘High Mark’ by Bruce Dawe, which I reckon is about search and transcendence. I used to use it for my Year 11s. As Jane will affirm, it is surprising but kids respond well to poetry. If the mysterious notion of ‘the poetic’ is introduced to them. Like all of us, they respond to things that they connect with. Often we’re not sure why we are responding. Why do I feel so connected to Murray’s ‘Nocturne’?

    Last night I was googling Bruce Dawe in the hope of writing to him to get permission to publish the whole poem. Haven’t found a number yet. (Jane, have you got one?)

    But thanks for your piece Phil. Really interesting stuff.


  5. Damo Balassone says

    Enlightening stuff Phil. The fluidity of Australian football comes across in your words here – just as Mike Brady manages to convey it with his melody.

    There is something poetic about the spectacular mark, and also in the evasive movements of Flower, Daicos, Jarman and Matera, etc.

  6. Loved it Phil. Like Dips I knew little of the Myth of Icarus, apart from the obvious one which is that it is an anagram of shitty café humor, which ties in nicely with our discussion of last Sunday.

  7. Mulcaster says

    “The song and film clip of Up There Cazaly by Mike Brady works within a similar mythological narrative. The recurring image of freedom in AFL footy is the high mark. It defies gravity and symbolically differentiates from British games like Rugby and Soccer. The spirit of the mark could be viewed as a symbolic escape from British rule and colonial imprisonment.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t Mike Brady a Pom? And wasn’t this song commissioned by chanel 7 as a jingle to promote it’s coverage of the old VFL? It has the same cultural significance as the “Aeroplane jelly” song or “We’re happy little vegemites”, a catchy tune designed to sell a product.

    Australians did not fight in World Wars one and two because they liked football, significantly they fought out of loyalty to Britain. All diggers in world war one were volunteers as were those in the second AIF and the RAAF and RAN in world war two, they were often under British Command.

    Seriously, Phil I love your work but when has Australia ever sought as a nation to “escape from British rule and colonial imprisonment”? Even today if you scratch an Australian you’ll find a Pom. We did not take the opportunity to become a republic when given the chance. Even during the 1930’s we did not embrace the Statute of Westminster. it was only during the darkest days of World War two that we sought to have an ambassador in Washington.

    If you don’t believe me see what happens when British royalty comes here.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Hey Mul,

    you make a number of valid points and you are right about the allegiance to Britain that remains in much of our culture.

    I do believe, however, that VFL/AFL footy contains an antagonistic spirit towards British rule, mainly because of Irish immigration and the Aboriginal experience. I’ve often wondered at what point the code became more distinct from Rugby and Soccer and why? I don’t think that has ever been answered clearly and definitely needs more research.

    While the wars raged footy never stopped, particularly in WWI when Mannix and many Catholics began to oppose conscription.If we were completely in line with protocol the game would have been suspended. It wasn’t despite much patriotism around it. My take is very subjective and colored by my Greek/Australian acculturation rather than a British/Australian one and that is understandably problematic.

    The song itself would not be as potent without the film clip. My point is that the song and the cultural package contained in it somehow disseminated from mere jingle into something that resonates at a greater depth for many who follow footy. I also ask the question about why the ‘Mark’ is magnified as the focus when the object of the game is to kick goals? I find it to be an interesting paradox as well a clever marketing ploy to sell the game.

    As for “If you scratch an Australian you’ll find a Pom”, I’m not sure if that is true to the degree it was a decade or two ago, certainly not in my experience growing up in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs.

    And yes, we could have voted for a Republic, but I’m not sure that many people fancied having Eddie McGuire as President. That definitely would have put off many non-Collingwood fans and I’m only being mildly facetious when I say that!

    My other point is that a jingle helped me to explore something deeper and more meaningful in my own cultural history and made me realise that at some level there is more meaning for me in the game than in a myth from the old country. Either way I found a connection and readers will interpret that connection or dispute
    it through reflecting on their own perspectives of what is real…as you have done,Mul. Thanks for the feedback.

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says

    #3 and #4

    Jane and JTH,

    appreciate your comments and the fact that you were able to make a connection with the piece. Mixing myth, jingles and footy is fraught with danger, as Mulcaster rightfully points out.

    However, there is scope for the imagination of the footy fan to be inspired from a number of realms, whether they be literary, poetic, musical,historical, mythical, popular or from passages of play from the game itself.

    For Dips, it conjured the image of Gary Moorecroft taking arguably one of the best Marks of all time. It gave Gigs the opportunity to unleash another one of his incomparable anagrams and allowed Gus to imagine a footy utopia without Carlton or Collingwood fans.

    Footy is more meaningful if its relationship to other aspects of life/culture is reflected in those sometimes subtle, sometimes acute moments where truth touches the reader,viewer,participant and stays with them.

  10. Mulcaster says

    What disturbs and saddens me is that we do not have a particularly rich tradition of folk song in this country.
    When the Barmy Army sang “Jerusalem” I was moved. The song is instantly recogisable as English and the bastards know all the words.
    Our national Anthem is almost unsingable if you are intact….and no one knows the second and third verses.
    “Waltzing Matilda” is the fall back. You dont hear Australians gathered in a foreign land singing Üp ther Cazaly”. Given we will sing along when it is blaring out over a loud speaker’, it is not a spontaneous song.
    It saddens me that our best sporting anthems are stolen or re worked e.g. “Pommies take it uop the arse Do Dah Do Dah” from the “Campdown Ladies”; “Aussie Ausie Ausie Oi Oi Oi” originally a west country chant Oggy Oggy Oggy oi oi oi” even Öoh ahh Glenn McGrath” was originally “ooh ahh Cantona”.
    I would love it if we could have a decent song to sing in all circumstances, whether in sorrow or in joy in triumph or in defeat.
    “Walzting Matilda” is way too jolly for a funeral. And doesn’t work in sadness.
    I am probably wrong when I say scratch an Aussie and you fuind a Pom….Just see what happens when anyone starts singing “Danny Boy”…we’re all Irish!
    Even the yanks can revert to good old Country and western when they need to.

  11. Phil Dimitriadis says

    #10 Mul,

    your post begs the questions: What does it mean to be Australian and what exactly is Australian culture?

    I think people still struggle with the notion of a distinct identity in this country and the example you give about expressing passionate patriotism through song is a case in point.

    In my piece I’m also critical of the ‘Up There Cazaly’ catch cry as it excludes those brought up in Rugby or Soccer culture. Perhaps footy’s origins are British, but the code has evolved into something that can be identified,arguably,as a unique game played in most parts of Australia rather than anywhere else in the world.

    The USA is not much older than Australia in terms of white settlement, but rightly or wrongly, there is a patriotic fervour that is expressed through ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘America The Beautiful’. Is it because they fought a war of independence against the Poms? I think that would have a fair bit to do with it.

    We started off as a prison colony (white settlement) and the shame or stigma associated with that still permeates our psyche as a nation.

    The Australian Flag is also a major symbolic divider. Maybe part of Australia’s charm is that our identities are fluid and flexible. Maybe we are blessed by not having the burden of blind nationalism. Major issues here, Mul. You got me thinking again!!

  12. Mulcaster says

    For me being Australian equates to a commitment both emotional and physical to the continential land mass and surrounding Islands that constitute the commonwealth (including exclusion zones). Anyone can become an Australian by moving here. We have all done it at some stage in our ancestry from the dreaming onwards. A newly arrived migrant may speak with an accent but is more Australian than ….. shall we say Rupert Murdoch. The newly arrived come here by choice and in my view show a deep commitment. I remember Henry Lawson (I think) writing from New Zealand how he had enough of Australia and was ready to stay away until he smelt a gum tree. It gets under the skin. Even Australians who have been away for a longh time can remain ommitted. I think too much is made of southern cross tattoos and jingoistic brainlessness. I despise stupidity. Blind Nationalism….sadly, boofheads can’t tell the difference between partiotism and nationalism. I would however, like a good song that a busted arse barritone could bellow…a unifing song ….like when the coppers on “The wire” start singing “Death of an American” at wakes.

  13. Mulcaster says

    Tht should be committed not omitted in the fourth line…don’t worry the Viscount is raving.

  14. Cassandra says

    Love your writing Phil, enchanting.

  15. Phil

    Congratulations on Collingwwood wining the pre season competition….Doubtless you will be pleased.

  16. Mul

    I detected Collingwood flying very close to the sun this evening.


  17. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I just got home Mul. After witnessing 5 losing night and day Grand Final losses I broke through for my first slice of live silverware. Lord Bogan is a happy man tonight :)

  18. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Apart from a few nerves late in the 3rd…never in doubt JTH. Is this what it felt like in’08?

  19. Mulcaster says


    In my next life I want to come back as a yank who can hold his liquor….this is a song woth singing

    “Kiss me I’m Shitfaced” by the DropKick Murphys….who should be honorary Collingwood fans


  20. Ian Syson says


    Is it also the case that when they came to record UTC they used a sound grab (to emphasise the words “hear the mighty roar” etc) from an English soccer crowd.

    I realised the footy = anti-Britain argument was at least suspect when I published Mr Muyt’s Maroon and Blue with its image of the Fitzroy team being presented to the Queen. The British football historian Tony Collins argues that Australian sporting culture tends to be like Yorkshire sporting culture — anti-metropolitan with a passion but loyalist when it comes to the crunch.

  21. Mulcaster says


    I had not heard of the use of a sound grab….but it wouldn’t surprise as the song was a jingle advertising chanel 7’s football coverage. I suspect that as the Scots have proven people can be anti-english and British at the same time. I suspect for many Australians the unstated reality is they are Menzies British. The shadow of empire is still cast over this land. The convict past has a relevance but so too does the strong history of free settlement. In Australia we still have the monarch’s head on our coins, the union jack on our flag. Yet if you fly into Heathrow with an Australian passport issued in the name of Queen Elizabeth II you queue with the foreigners. The notion of “British Stock” was strong in Australia up until the 1960’s. My dentist an ethnic Indian born in Kenya but brought up in Britain(trained in Birmingham) told me he loved Australia was “becuase it was jusst like home only warmer”. Rather stupidly, I said “Gee, I thought Kenya was warm” his reply was naturally enough “England is home”. He said we get English comedies and TV enjoy the same sports and have the same attitudes. I suspect that Bob Menzies’enduring legacy to Australia is our British reflex.

  22. Phil Dimitriadis says

    #19 That was a hoot Viscount. I liked it so much I put shared it on FACEBOOK. “Soaked, soiled and proud”…love it :)

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