Monday, August 24, 2009

Sport and LIterature

I have been thinking for a while now about the lack of good writing about sport in Australia, and because of my own personal interest, football in particular.

I don't mean sports reporting, or opinion, but the bigger picture stuff, the literary stuff that has a shelf life of longer than 24 hours.

Melbourne is meant be a city of literature and books or some such, yet in the currently occurring Melbourne Writers festival there was only one event that discussed sport, and it was a comedy debate. Don’t get me wrong, it was an enjoyable event, but why don’t Melbourne writers take football more seriously (or less seriously) as an area of consideration?

This has coincided with me reading an article about Jews and baseball in America.* The author offers a litany of authors, books, plays, and songs written by Jews about baseball, but remarks upon how few have become elite players, and the generational struggle that played out over baseball - the second generation trying to assert their ‘americanness’ with the game.

The author argues that it was partly because they were immigrants that they wrote about the game. It was through trying to understand the nation that they came to write about their own experiences as a new citizen and that led to experience with sport and baseball.

So why is the same not true of Australian writers and football? Are we not allowing migrants to Australia to write? Are we not allowing them to experience football? If not migrants, why haven’t other authors spent more time thinking about the influence of football on culture in Melbourne?

Not surprisingly I don’t have the answer to these questions. All I know is, I would certainly like to read more literary writing about football, because I am pretty sure it would be a worthwhile field of endeavour.

* the article was Eric Solomon, “Jews and Baseball: A Cultural Love Story” in Eisen and Wiggins (eds.) Ethnicity and Sport in North American History and Culture, Greenwoon press, Westport Connecticut, 1994

Monday, August 10, 2009

Time and tide

A week is a long time in football, or so the well-worn cliché goes. Last week the Melbourne footy club were being accused of tanking, sending players off for surgery, and ‘experimentation’. This week, the collective football community has conceded that Melbourne are not tanking, they are just that bad. The less said about the North Melbourne v Melbourne game the better.

I went to the friday night game at the MCG, Geelong v Blues. I made the journey with two cats fans and was looking forward to a win. I thought it would be fun to see what its like for fans who win on regular basis! Sadly it was not to be. I fear the cat’s era of domination cannot hold much longer, injuries are mounting and age is catching up with some of their biggest stars.

And while I know the ebb of this Geelong side will upset the many loyal cats fans I know, their tide will rise again. That’s one of the things I like most about football, the ebb and flow of teams. And while they undertake the inevitable ‘rebuilding phase’ their absence from the top of the ledger makes room for other sides that desperately deserve some time in the sun. Melbourne, Fremantle, North…

Actually, we all deserve some time in the sun. It was frickin’ freezing at the football on Friday night, despite the six layers of wool I had on, and I am afraid I wont ever feel my toes again. This cold and windy winter has brought me more misery than just endless dees losses and frostbite and I, personally, am ready for it to be over.

Bring on the sun, bring on the bbqs, and, most importantly, bring on the finals!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Blah, Blah, Tank, Blah, Blah, Blah

Seriously who really cares? I am so monumentally over all of this talk about tanking.

I like that we have a competition that is designed to try and keep competing clubs as close together in ability, resources and opportunity. It makes sure that we do not have the same team winning each September.

Did you get bored with Brisbane won 3 in a row? I did. Are you bored now watching the fluctuations in Hawthorn’s form and the sudden rise of the perpetual promisers St Kilda? I’m not. What are the chances everything will change completely by the time finals 2010 roll around? Pretty good, actually.

There is an incentive to lose. So what. There really isn’t any great incentive to win for any of the clubs outside of finals contention. Better they get their guys patched up and ready for a good preseason than have them play injured for another month.

There is an incentive to experiment and play people out of position. So what. I doubt many of the players object - it might be their one chance to prove themselves to be the gun forward/backman/midfielder/ruckman they always dreamed of being. Good luck to them.

And OMG, is it really that difficult as a supporter? It just means I am happy either way. I am happy when we win, because winning is what we are here for, and I am happy when we lose because it gives us the opportunity for more wins in the future.

It is true that I have lowered expectations – its what you do to survive tough times at your football club. Maybe I would feel differently if I was a Collingwood supporter and I always expected to reach September. But I don’t. And I trust that the peeps who run my football club are trying their hardest to make sure the club sticks around, not just this year, but for decades to come.

To those muppet Dees supporters who sang the Richmond club song after the game (there were probably two people if we are honest and not looking for a good headline) just STFU and go back to the pub, you are just encouraging the hysteria.

End transmission. Let us speak of tanking no more, lest my head explode from rage.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Two Bulls in a Paddock

What an ugly and demeaning expression that is.

They’re doing it at Collingwood, it seems like Port might be keen, and now it turns out that they tried to do it at Brisbane, failed to get the contract signed, but ended up with the bloke they wanted, when they wanted him, anyway. All of this succession planning is interesting but jeepers, what a beat up.

In the modern era of the game one club has one coach, or at least that’s how it appears from the outside. But things are always more complicated than they appear. Historically the coaching position was never so clear cut, there have been plenty of captain-coaches like Jesaulenko and Barassi, as well as formal and informal succession plans down the ages. And in the modern game the head coach might have the final say, but there are almost as many coaches as there are players at today’s football clubs. Fitness coaches, weights coaches, midfield coaches, kicking coaches, etc. As well as directors of coaching, welfare officers and the like. The players don’t seem to have any trouble figuring out who is boss.

Perhaps the media are the only ones who have a problem with it? Presumably because they are not sure who to hassle for a quote or whose resignation to call for when things are going pear-shaped. Or perhaps its just because anytime they put Collingwood on the back of the newspaper they sell more copies.

I predict that the next two years will be all sunshine and roses down at Collingwood, as long as the team keeps winning. Come round 6 2011, if the pies aren’t in the top half of things, then it will take significant board level intestinal fortitude to not give Mick the boot and install Nathan a smidge early. We shall see...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

History never repeats, I tell myself before I go to sleep...

(with apologies to Split Enz)

I have been taking a stroll down memory lane with a copy of Football Ltd by Garry Linnell. It is truly great football book wich not only gives a fascinating insight into corporatisation of the AFL, but also a beautiful and terrifying snapshot of the recklessness and hedonism of entrepreneurial business during the era.

I have just finished reading the chapter on the creation of the Brisbane Bears, their disastrous move to Carrara on the Gold Coast and the alliance with Christopher Skase that ended in debt and tears. So it is with wry amusement that I note the signing of NRL player Karmichael Hunt to the soon-to-be-realised Gold Coast Football Club. I can’t help wondering, if the Bears had managed a coup like that in 1988 instead of signing fading star Warwick Capper, would the Queensland public (and everyone else for that matter) have paid a bit more attention? Could the path of football history have been changed if we had just thought to poach rugby players sooner?

Good luck to Hunt and the GCFC. I hope it is an experiment that works. And I hope that they have all read Football Ltd, because within its pages are the inglorious mistakes the league and its clubs made in the pursuit of expansion. Mistakes the GCFC would be wise not to repeat.

A hen in the roosterhouse

Kelli Underwood is calling football on TV. And she’s a lady.

I know, we all thought that the gates of hell would open and the MCG would be dragged on in the second a woman was allowed to tell men something about a game a football, but it seems those fears were unfounded. It turns out, external genitalia is not the only qualification for knowing something about football.

Well done to channel 10 for giving her a shot, and for recognising that football calling is not the sort of thing one is good at overnight. For the moment they appear willing to give her the time and support to improve. I hope that continues.

I personally thought she was good. I like a commentator who is humble enough do to the research and actually knows the names of the players (I am looking at you ABC commentary box calling the Melbourne v Sydney game last week. “Is that Morton or Bate?”* ) and tells you what said players are doing on the field. If she didn’t have Malcolm Blight providing his own brand of staggeringly useless special comments, she might have even had something to work with.

I would prefer a few less newspaper articles which damn the woman with faint praise. Underwood’s has had a pretty fast rise from getting the twilight game call on ABC radio to the hot seat of the Cats v Hawks game on a Saturday afternoon, and I think she is entitled to a little time to adjust. Can we give her more than two weeks on the air before tearing her call to pieces?

Having called two cats games in a row, the fan forums are alight with complaints of bias, but seriously, even the most fabulous and virtuous caller of the game, Gerard Whateley is prone to a little bias, so is Tim Lane and don’t get me started on the rest of the special comments crowd. Still if I called a dees game, we could be down by 70 points and you still wouldn’t know who we were playing against.

There is only so much of the fan forums you can read on this topic before involuntarily tossing your computer out the window, but I would like to draw your attention to this gem, posted by melbournemartin on the bigfooty forum,

"This is the problem. She sucks (apparently, I was at the game instead) but if we say it, then we're racist."

Now that is quality analysis.

* Bate


Hard to tell apart aren't they?

Well, that was quite the hiatus

It turns out I have not graced these pages for over a year. Sorry about that. Still, I am pretty sure there was nobody hanging out for the next installment, so can we all just pretend like I have been posting witty, insightful and well-researched pieces on the world of football this whole time. Okay, great.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Listing the MFC

This week the areas of my past and present university life have intersected. It has been proposed that the Melbourne Football Club be put on the National Trust Heritage register.

This is an interesting thing, because intangible heritage is still a new and contested area among heritage studies and practice, so much so that Australia is yet to become states party to UNESCO’s 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the National Trust are having a conference next week to discuss the issues surrounding intangible heritage.

I wont bore you with the details here. The intricacies of the world of national and international heritage legislation are interesting to only a very few. Find me in a pub after about 3 wines if you want to hear the full story.

Were the Melbourne Football Club to be listed, which incidentally I think there is a lot of merit in doing, it would not afford the club and protection whatsoever. And this is where the media always get it wrong. They don’t understand heritage and report everything to do with it badly - when they report it at all.
‘Club spokesman Leigh Newton rejected suggestions the push for heritage listing was a strategic move to stave off extinction or stymie attempts to forcibly relocate Victorian clubs interstate.’

No kidding. The reason it is not a strategic move, is because there is absolutely no strategic advantage to doing so. National Trust heritage listing is a plaque, a little recognition, advice on advocacy from the National Trust if it is threatened, and if the planets align correctly, a marginally more favourable attitude from Heritage Victoria – thought at present they have no capacity to recognise intangible heritage at all.

I think there is value in listing the football club, in recognition of its development of the game and as a founding club. But no one should be deluded into thinking such a listing could have any impact on the chances of the club's survival.

Update: Jake Niall gets its almost half right:

'Similarly, it would be wonderful to maintain the presence of the game's oldest club. But Stynes can't ensure the survival of the Melbourne Football Club via a heritage listing. It will live or die on the basis of its present-day relevance.'

Its still a really annoying article though.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The MFC, nightclubs and other things I dont know anything about

Radio silence over. Apologies for the slackness people, I discovered Friday Night Lights and a month of my life disappeared.

The last month has been an interesting one in the world of football. My football team has celebrated its 150 years of being in style (I gather - the tickets were so hugely expensive I didn’t go and I don’t know anyone who did). And the team now oscillates between half-arsed, bullshit, membership tearing losses, and impressive, really quite near to good, gallant losses. Its heady days! One day, sometime, we might actually get a W. But looking at the fixture and our “forward line”* I don’t think its going to be this year.

By the end of toady we will also have a new board. It all looks good to me, everyone seems pretty qualified and like all Melbourne supporters I think Jim Stynes is a dead-set champion who can do no wrong. I would, however, like to note the lack of women on his ticket. At the end of this rigmarole we will have only one woman on the board. This is not pleasing.

The topic of footballers and nightclubs has arisen a couple of times in the last month, and what I have to say is this:

I don’t actually know anyone who has been thrown out of a nightclub, and given the behaviour of some people still inside, I’m inclined to believe that it probably pretty difficult to get thrown out.

Can these footballers not keep their head down, have a beverage with their mates, take a few happy snaps on their mobile phones and bugger off home like the rest of us? Apparently they can't because they are harassed by people wanting autographs and blokes wanting to test their manhood by picking a fight. I believe them, and that doesn’t sound like very much fun to me. So my question is, why are footballers still going to nightclubs?

These guys are on enormous paychecks, they all have shiny houses they live in with their footballing mates, so I’ve got an idea, a quick post game trip to Dan's and they can enjoy themselves in the comfort of their own home free from harassment, bouncers and Herald Sun photographers. The only front window they will take a piss on is their own. Problem solved. Next…

Having said that, Buddy didn’t really do anything terrible, and it seems Richo didn’t do anything at all, so I think we should all just take a chill pill.

Round 12 here we come.

On reflection, its possible I might have read a little too much wwtdd today, so things are more acerbic than usual. I’ll aim for something more cerebral for the next installment.

*These quotation marks are on purpose. Something else entirely is going on with these.