There's Nothing Like AFL Footy

Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football – edited by Ross Fitzgerald
From the Outer – Edited by Alicia Sometimes and Nicole Hayes

My Dad liked Wally Clark. Ostensibly my father supported Cooee in my region’s local footy comp – a club, that, like so many others, did not survive into the new millennium. But, of course, he admired any good footballer playing for our coastal teams. This was particularly the case when they donned the maroon and gold of the North West Football Union to take on the NTFL, from up Launceston way or, more specifically, those high and mighty Cascade swilling southerners from the TFL. If our men managed to beat them – a rarity, but it did happen, celebrations were long, my father was ecstatic and much Boags was quaffed.

outer02Wally Clark and Kevin Murray 1963

Wally Clark was a rover. It’s a term no longer in use, submerged by the generic one – midfielder. Gone are the days of the rover, along with ruck-rover, wingman, flanker, centreman or pivot, drop kick, stab pass, flick pass and so many others. With the saturation coverage of the AFL, today regional football in the south, north and north-west is a mere shadow of its former self. I remember, as a callow teenager, watching Wally Clark when his team, Latrobe (later to boast the magnificent Darrel Baldock as its captain-coach), travelled to Burnie’s West Park to take on my mob, the Tigers. I recall him as a short, close to the ground, beer-barrel shaped player; the captain coach of the coastal Demons from ’64 till ’67. He won the local equivalent of the Brownlow, the Wander medal, in ’65 and no doubt would have donned the maroon and gold – maybe even being selected for ‘the map’; selected in the state side to take on interstate rivals. Occasionally our little island could even match it with the Big V.

In those days our teams would welcome back locals who had made a name for themselves over in Melbourne, such as the Doc. With robust finances, as healthy numbers supported the local clubs, big names could also be attracted to play out their twilight competitive years here. Wally Clark was one such.

Reading ‘Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football’ and ‘From the Outer’, I found Wally Clark mentioned in both. Here’s Barry Dickins writing on his beloved Royboys in the former – ‘My hero, Butch Gale, rots (sic) (Yes, ‘Heartfelt Moments…’ could have done with more thorough editing) on with a big barrel chest out and lots of people reaching over the concrete race to pat him on the back, he is glossy with Deep Heat Muscle Ointment which I forever associate with courage and determination and agonizing ligaments; his rover trots on next who is wearing the very first example of the famous Flat Top Hair Cut and he is Wally Clark; and Fitzroy fans all yell out excitedly on viewing him, ‘Good on yer Wal!’

Tony Birch, recounting in ‘From the Outer’, had a similar addiction to Dickins for the Roys. Here he is on Wally, ‘As a kid my maroon and navy football jumper warmed me with the number 7 in honour of Wally Clark,…Wally was built like a butcher’s apprentice and played 105 games for the club.’ Later Birch was to forsake Clark for the great Kevin Murray in his affections. I knew Wally Clark had come to Tassie’s northern shores from the VFL back then, but until I read these two tomes recently had no idea that he was the ‘real deal’ amongst the big guns in his day. I checked him out on a VFL/AFL website in the ether and discovered he was a star, playing eight seasons with Fitzroy, giving ‘gutsy and commendable service.’ He debuted in 1955 and saved his best for his team’s unsuccessful finals campaigns in ’58 and ’60. He was their top goal scorer in ’62 with the slim total of 21. But the following year he was back in the reserves, therefore his decision to seek greener pastures elsewhere across the Strait as his powers waned. Yep, my Dad was correct in regarding Wal so highly. He stayed on the coast after retirement and could often be found in footy club-rooms, entertaining with his fine voice. Like the Cooee Football Club, sadly he didn’t see in the new millennium either.

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There is some dross in these two publications, particularly in ‘Heartfelt Moments…’, but there’s also some great wordsmithery as many a notable writes on the effect the native game has had on their lives. ‘From the Outer’ is the better, more attractive publication, with a cover illustrated by the wonderful Oslo Davis. The fairer gender dominate the contributions here, but I loved Jason Tuazon-McCheyne’s item on the formation of the Purple Bombers, a very personal account of the growth in support for the LGBTI community by football bodies across the nation. Sam Pang tells of the day he sat by the Flying Doormat (Bruce Doull) at Carlton’s last game on the Princess Park grass. There was one fine effort that wasn’t all that complimentary of our game. Catherine Deveny would have to rank up there with Keith Dunstan as a footy-hater par-excellence, far preferring her kids to be on computer games than having anything to do with the AFL – to the shock of her Melburnian mates. You see, for someone with no family tradition in the game, growing up in the city was basically a trial. Sophie Cunningham writes glowingly about the Geelong Cats and their frustrating climb, over the decades, to the powerhouse they are today. There’s Alan Duffy’s account of how he coped with, on meeting his new girlfriend’s parents, hearing the words ‘This is a Hawks family, Alan.’ The implied threat involved was obvious – they didn’t seem to care as much about his intentions for their daughter. Also included are reminiscences from role model-umpire Chelsea Roffey, Stan Grant, Christos Tsiolkas, Angela Pippos and Bev O’Connor.

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Alongside Barry Dickins in ‘Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football’ is that great D’ Brian Dixon, as well as Jeff Kennett, Susan Alberti, Chris Bowen and even George Pell. Ken Spillman’s account of the day Lethal Leigh felled Barry Cable is a ripper and we have Richard Allsop recount his favourite Hawthorn moments. He plays tribute to the sublime skills of the indigenous genius of our native sport who is universally simply known as Cyril. Another great, also with a shortened moniker, Roo (Mark Riccuito), is adoringly portrayed by Chris Kenny. Humanising Liberal politicians everywhere is Josh Frydenberg’s paean to his beloved, once mighty Blues. ‘Now a father myself, I have responsibility to pass on that love of the Navy Blues to my little daughter.’

As for my own daughter, I am so proud that Katie is as fervent a fan of the brown and gold as I am. Together we have followed their fortunes in yet another finals campaign, unfortunately an unsuccessful one this time. But what of my granddaughter, Tess? Well now, there is another force at work here. You see her paternal grandmother is a passionate follower of the Hawk’s nemeses from down Corio Bay way and the Tiges, when asked who she barracks for, smiles sweetly and replies, ‘The Cats, Poppy’. And, to my surprise, I don’t care a jot. If she develops the same love of the game as Laurel, her great grandfather and her mother, it is enough for me.

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