‘Best not to bring wives and girlfriends to this party,’ advises Laurie (their coach) with a grin as he hands out the details….Or they won’t be your wives and girlfriends no more.’
It is difficult to imagine a coach of an AFL football team giving such advice to young men in the modern era, but, according to Catherine Harris in ‘The Family Man’, this was still happening as late as the 2006 season after her hero – Harry Furey – and his team won the premiership. But whilst the idiocy of and potential for public relations relations disaster that is Mad Monday still lingers (but for how much longer?), nothing, I guess, would be impossible. The event the players were given the aforementioned advice about was a ‘sportsmen’s night’ – an alcohol fuelled ‘entertainment’, complete with a second rate stand-up cracking gags of dubious taste and inebriated dicks encouraging young, in one case very young, dancers to, ‘Show us yer tits.’ Not much, to my mind, sporting about that! At the particular evening in question an unspeakable, but unquestionably newsworthy, act occurs that is at the core of Harris’ debut novel.
Now it seems that the Weekend Australian’s book critic, Ed Wright, had the same notion as I for the December 6 edition of his newspaper – to read (and in his case review) two local writers attempting their first novels. Both chose the unique Australian brand of footy for this and – perhaps surprisingly – both are female. Brave? Well it shouldn’t be, should it? There is no earthly reason in this day and age why writing about a man’s sport should be the prerogative of just the lads. We’ve long moved on from that notion, even if the club Harris references is still seemingly in the neolithic period when it comes to attitudes towards women. Age columnist Caroline Wilson has been writing on our great game to stunning effect for years, albeit not in fictional form.
Mr Wright is a tad more positive about Harris’ project, as well as Miriam Sved’s ‘Game Day’, than I. It must be said, though, that there is not exactly a deluge of novels about our sport to compare them with. Wright cites ‘Salute to the Great McCarthy’ and ‘Deadly Unna’, but for my money the pick to date is Paul Carter’s ‘Eleven Seasons’ from 2012. The reviewer is correct in his assertion that ‘Game Day’ is the better of the duo, and I did like the way Sved structured her tale of a year in the life of a footy club. She took a number of major and minor players and examined their impact on the team’s campaign for a flag – coach, potential star, injured recruit, team doctor, team groupie and so on. There’s Luke Campenous (do we read Wayne Carey), a centre-half with a golden boot, but boorish to the max off-field. It’s all mildly intriguing stuff. The author’s prose is also somewhat better than Harris produces but, nonetheless, I found myself not being won over by it to the same degree as Wright.
Reading the above, though, was not the same league of struggle I had with ‘The Family Man’. Perhaps it was the title that put me off. My team, Hawthorn, prides itself on being the ‘family club’, but the events of the ‘sportsmen’s night’ were anything but family orientated. But then, as with the recent unconscionable indiscretion by a young Hawks wannabe, unseemly acts can gain adverse publicity for even the most squeaky clean of operations. I suspect, as does Wright, that Harris is attempting a fictional take on Anna Krien’s ‘Night Games’. Is the supposedly toxic culture of St Kilda in recent times her model? Gary Ablett Senior would be a dead set for Harry Furey’s dad, disgraced former champion Alan. Harry carries with him, through the off-season, the terrible truth of what really happened on that night and his role in it. His participation, we discover, is not quite what we may have expected. But really, I had lost interest long before that. Her over-wrought, at times over-ripe, writing style, didn’t really set the appropriate tone. I persevered as I wanted to achieve my aim, but was relieved when I finished that last page.
There is no doubt both these authors have potential in the industry and our local publishers are to be given credit for continuing to put into print those who aspire to a career as a wordsmith. Hopefully these two can be supported enough so a more successful sophomore novel may be produced in due course.
In the same column that these two tomes were given the treatment by his critical, but fair eye, Ed Wright also passed judgement on Kylie Ladd’s ‘Mothers and Daughters’. It was a very positive review and this author stuck to traditional fare for writers of her gender. I won’t say it – I simply will not. Deep down I admire Harris’ and Sved’s guts for having a go in, if you like, foreign territory.