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The Weekend Australian - Review - - 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

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