NEW SPORTS BOOKS:
THERE are two goals here, if you’ll forgive the analogy on the biggest weekend of the Australian sporting calendar: one, to avoid the cliches that often fill the workaday sporting book and, two, to elucidate here at least some of the authors’ passion for their chosen subjects.
I was as guilty as any sportswriter of that first sin when reporting on football (OK, soccer) in England for many years, having spent my formative years listening to the clatter of my father’s overworked typewriter when he was trying to think of something original to say about the lower-tier team he reported on for almost 40 years. And that’s surely the key to sportswriting: finding new ways of saying much the same old thing.
As Australia’s indigenous footy code reaches its season climax at today’s grand final (try to find some news about world affairs in today’s Melbourne papers), Matthew Webber has looked fondly down to the other end of the ladder, where Gold Coast have just completed their second season in the AFL one place above their wooden-spoon finish in 2011, giving some credence to the optimism in his title, House of the Rising Suns: Tales from Football’s New Frontier (Ebury Press, 416pp, $29.95). Here’s a confession: I haven’t caught the Aussie rules bug like all of Victoria and the sport’s emerging ‘‘ franchises’’ (product terminology that infuriates Webber, and me), including the Gold Coast, led by Gary Ablett Jr (son of ‘‘ God’’) and rugby league recruit Karmichael Hunt.
But Webber’s passionate love-hate affair with his club during an often tortuous journey through its inaugural season is heartfelt and always filled with hope.
If you’re a sports nut, you can’t help but be moved by Webber’s often poignant but never syrupy digressions on the Suns, and his love of the game, such as this after they lose in a spirited display to Geelong:
Former Sydney Swans captain Brett Kirk, with wife Hayley, has come up with a tome quite different in tone and style in Brave Heart: Lessons Learnt from Life (Random House, 256pp, $24.95). It’s a book that could as easily be found on the self-help shelf, with its insights into Buddhism, meditation, mind, body and leadership strategies, and the true values gleaned from a sporting life.
Kirk was a much admired player until he retired two years ago and here he makes clear that his sport has helped him shape the spiritual path the rest of his life will follow. These days, his morning affirmations feature his gratitude for what he has in life, including ‘‘ a house with a backyard’’. I would rather recall him as the marauding, indefatigable tagger who helped the Swans win the premiership in 2005 than the bloke on the beach meditating. And for them [children playing the game] I pray this isn’t a flash in the pan, that these Suns shine brightly for a century, that this stadium is the centrepiece of their young imaginations, a place where freakish talents live and breathe, where gravity is defied and where the impossible is somehow achieved, to the thunder of a hometown crowd in the sunny cool of some Gold Coast Saturday afternoon one day down the line. Because it’s never a question of whether anybody ever leaves the game. The only question, if indeed it’s a question at all, is whether the game will ever leave you.
Legends of the Australian Football Hall of Fame, edited by Geoff Slattery (Slattery Media, 368pp, $39.95, HB), gives some remarkable and detailed insights into the 24 Aussie rules Legends inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Naturally, they’re a who’s who of the game’s history, among them Roy Cazaly, Gordon Coventry, Alex Jesaulenko, Leigh Matthews, Bob Pratt, Bob Skilton and Ted Whitten. For the record, you can become a Legend by causing the game ‘‘ to change significantly for the better’’. And no one would dispute that these grand two dozen didn’t deserve their status.
In the seasonal cycle of sport, when the flag is finally presented today thoughts may quickly turn to the forthcoming cricket season. In tandem with the screening of the TV series, its co-writer Christopher Lee has fashioned the book Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War (NewSouth, 256pp, $24.99). It’s what might be termed a tabloid-style view of the machinations that led to World Series Cricket, complete with Packer-style expletives. That particular aspect of the text jars, but otherwise it’s a roller-coaster ride from John ‘‘ Strop’’ Cornell’s original suggestion, as Dennis Lillee’s manager at the time, about getting more money for cricketers and the possibility of forming a rebel series, to the British court case where, according to observers, Packer summoned all his powers of persuasion to bring an end to the stand-off with the cricket establishment.
Ken Piesse is one of the country’s most prolific cricket writers and his latest, Dynamic Duos: Cricket’s Finest Pairs and Partnerships (Five Mile Press, 274pp, $32.95), details the game’s ‘‘ finest pairs and partnerships’’. Naturally, Matthew Hayden, who contributes a foreword, and Justin Langer feature prominently and are pictured on the cover about to indulge in one of their familiar embraces. Of course, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath also get a deserved mention, as well as Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, Ponsford and Woodfull, Sutcliffe and Hobbs, and Brown and Meuleman, whose stories are all embellished by some detailed statistical tables compiled by Charles Davis. Oh, and let’s not forget ‘‘ Lillian Thomson’’.
With the rugby league season concluding tomorrow at ANZ Stadium, Gaz: The Autobiography of a League Legend (Ebury Press, 258pp, $32.95) by Mark Gasnier and The Daily Telegraph chief league writer Andrew Webster, comes clean about the 2004 Origin scandal when the St George ‘‘ legend’’ left a message on a woman’s phone which, despite the asterisks, leaves no doubt about its meaning. In the context of the game’s scandals before and since, it’s nothing that would surprise fans or officials.
It’s a moderately enjoyable tale of a player whose career was dogged by injuries but who knew just when to quit, and that could be a lesson for the many sports stars who can’t resist the continuing adulation — not to mention the money — but whose careers end with a limp.
Tony ‘‘ Tank’’ Gordon was a bullocking New Zealand rugby fullback/winger who switched to rugby league and played for the Test team before becoming coach of the Kiwis side that famously beat the world champion Australians in 1987. Tony ‘‘ Tank’’ Gordon: My Dad, My Legend (New Holland, 256pp, $29.95), the story of his eventful life, is a surprising little gem, written with admirable honesty by his daughter Rashelle Gordon and completed shortly before Tony’s death in March. Surprising, because it details her father’s gambling and alcohol problems, not to mention a traumatic separation from his first wife, Rashelle’s mum, and his fight against the NZRL over fraud charges, for which he was cleared. It’s heartfelt and unpretentious and all the better for that.
The oh-so-serious Winning Attitudes: Sports Wisdom for Achievement in Life (Hardie Grant, 160pp, $14.95), a collection of ‘‘ sports wisdom’’ from a handful of longretired sportsmen and women, including John Eales and Glynis Nunn, is something less than inspiring. Take this from former Olympic rower Nick Green: ‘‘ Most of the time we would identify a weakness in our opposition crews, and then try to put a lot of pressure on that weakness.’’ Profound.
Where’s Yogi Berra when you need him: ‘‘ Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.’’
Karmichael Hunt gets the ball away for the Gold Coast in a match against St Kilda in July