THE FAIR AND THE FOUL
INSIDE OUR SPORTING NATION
David Hill had a notable career looking after important stuff, such as the railways, water and the public broadcaster. Sport looks frivolous next to these sectors, but it always had a hold on Hill, who connected to the Australian passion for its pastimes when he arrived as a young migrant.
This genuine affinity inspired Hill’s forays into sport administration, which included a stint as president of the North Sydney Bears rugby league club (where he played junior football) and head of Soccer Australia. Hill’s own love of the game – all of them, seemingly – enables him to be uncommonly clear-eyed in assessing Australian sport’s faults and shortcomings; it’s not the critique of a fan, but a patient teacher who believes his student can do better.
The Fair And The Foul tells a history of the nation’s sport, in thematic rather than chronological terms. The book’s arc tracks the seismic shift from Bradman and the golden era to the commercialism wrought by Kerry Packer and the national football codes, as well as how issues of discrimination and corruption manifested themselves in sport’s mirror to society.
Hill’s account is most effective for his presence at the creation. He has a cracking tale that illustrates Packer’s love of sport (it involved the LilleeJaved incident). Another is the time he was mistakenly invited to a party at The Lodge in Canberra, when the prime minister’s staff had meant to invite the David Hill who was head of sport for Nine and later Fox.
The recollections of Hill’s time at the Bears and Soccer Australia, now known as FFA, are markers of how long-term change grinds along. Hill fought a lone-hand battle in rugby league against ubiquitous tobacco advertising; in soccer, the challenge was the ethnic basis of the clubs. In their time, each was considered insurmountable, but looked less so in retrospect – an important lesson for any sport that would resolve its toughest problems.
Hill concludes on a survey of the state of the footy codes, and yes, he does declare a frontrunner. Against the eternal question of whether our market can sustain four footballs, Hill (pictured below on the right, next to Terry Venables) notes that our leagues have not been fully professional for all that long – something that this book helps one to understand.
GOODFOR: Students of the sporting big picture. Readers of this magazine, basically.