By: Ted Hopkins on: Fri 04 of June, 2010 16:30 AEST (4669 Reads)
The Blueseum is very pleased to be able to give a sneak preview of the upcoming book by Ted Hopkins. What you are about to read is the first chapter of the book 'Home Ground Advantage', where Ted delves into his youthful and personal experiences of modern Australia, of which a significant part involves the Carlton Football Club and his growing appreciation of sports theory.
From the book: "It occurred to me how closely the ascendency of sport from the 19th Century onwards and the modern industrial period were entwined. I asked myself why there was no sports theory when so much sport exists? Religion, politics, economics, evolution, physics etc all have a theory. But not sport. While books on sporting subjects, biographies, sports science, statistics are everywhere, attention to a theory of sport is minimal."
This will be a first for the Blueseum, because we want your reaction to this piece of writing, we want to know what it made you think about, what did it make you question or contemplate? At the end of the chapter an email address will be provided to which your correspondence can be sent. The best responses will be published on the Blueseum as a series after the chapter for perpetuity.
So please enjoy Home Ground Advantage...
THE CASABLANCA EFFECT / FRONT AND SQUARE
Sometimes when I explain the exceptional status that the 1970 Grand Final has attained among Australian Football followers and the personal attention I have gained from it, as due to a Casablanca effect. The drama of that day and the part I played in it was captured and broadcast for black and white television. In the replays I am seen with a long sleeve dark colour jumper, white shorts and a shock of white hair moving freely by my athleticism. Since then, the popularity of highlights replayed on black and white has increased as each football season passes. Similarly, film audiences and critics fondly return to the 1942 classic film, Casablanca.
For sports followers a favourite in the retelling of the 1970 Grand Final is the four goals I kicked after the halftime interval that led to Carlton defeating Collingwood. The number of goals I kicked is documented and known. Yet among the most frequent questions I am asked about that game is how many goals I actually did kick. Why this question? Is it perhaps because of a Casablanca effect?
A famous sequence in the film leads to the moment when Ilse urges Sam to play the song, As Time Goes By. Her words “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.” have since become immortalized as something slightly different; a nostalgic plea to Play it again Sam, which was first popularized by the Marx Brothers in their 1946 film, A Night In Casablanca.
For the spectator, it seems as though the need for assurance in the authenticity of the tale requires departure from the original, a blurring. Black and white film does this. Filming and broadcasting in colour does not resonate in the same way. There are flashback scenes in Casablanca where Humphrey Bogart (Rick) and Ilsa are smooching in front of a backdrop of war-torn Paris. Could these flashbacks have the same appeal if they were filmed in Technicolour? When the narrative returns to Rick’s café, the allure is so palpable because there is such richness of shading.
The Halliwell Film Guide describes Casablanca as: a film that seems to be frozen in time…the sum of its many marvellous parts far exceeds the whole.’ This is often how I feel about the 1970 Grand Final. To me, there is a sequence of events ‘frozen in time’, remote, and engulfed by a narrative that is also distant from what I can recall. The modernist condition of Existentialism and sport are not generally linked. But I feel they are.
Black and white film is modern.
Sport is modern.
Film, sport and fuel; driving modernism.
Even Casablanca can be interpreted within a context of sport and the modernist conundrum of enlightenment and despair, winning and losing. The narrative describes a global league of competing forces – Freedom represented by the United States of America and Totalitarianism represented by Nazi Germany. Each is attempting to invade the territory of the other and score. The object in play is an airline visa exit to Lisbon and who will net it. The main prizes are getting to keep the ticket and the future affections of the adorable Ilsa. The host city is Casablanca and the main arena Rick’s Café. The turf and rules on which the game is played are complicated because of a tricky officialdom, Vichy France.
At game start Victor Laszlo is the unquestionable superstar hero, Rick antihero with questionable form and carrying an injury, the likeable but unfortunate referee Louis compromised by his Vichy affiliations, and a hated Major Strasser still scoring goals. To win, Laszlo requires Rick to step up a grade from existential fence-sitting and become a true freedom fighter. In the café scene in which the German agent Ungate is shot dead and Major Strasser challenges Rick to declare his game plan; Rick shows promise at holding ground but is still equivocal by responding, “My interest in whether Laszlo stays or goes is purely a sporting one.”
Who will abide by the rules?
And who will avoid them and how?
What are the rules?
The climax of the narrative occurs at foggy Casablanca airport. Rick shoots Strasser. As expected, Laszlo wins the prize when he flies off to Lisbon with Ilsa. Both Rick’s good efforts and those of his biggest fan, Louis, receive a worthy consolation. They enlist to play on the side of Freedom. The final scene has them walking into the fog, eager to enlist.
Absurdity is a precondition of modernism
It comes with the territory of despairing optimism
He will say Samuel Beckett was a left arm swing bowler and gifted cricketer.
Fuel driving modernism
Ever since the 1970 Grand Final the number of people who have approached me and said I was there constantly surprises me. Perhaps, I thought, in several instances the person may not have actually been there, but was there in some sense; similar to a person who has not seen Casablanca in its entirety but comments knowing the film as fragments, hearsay. I was there had become a manner of expressing any number of shared experiences offering the person the ability to time travel seamlessly between memorable events.
The 1970 Grand Final had become widely recognized as the birth of modern Australian Football and thus a tableau upon which an opinion, an idea could be reached. And it also set an Australian attendance record of 121,696 for a stadia-sporting event. Indeed, the unique world leading status of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) begins with the simple click of a turnstile. No other sporting stadia in the world, not even the celebrated Yankee and Fenway stadia, can match the MCG for its verifiable turnstile counted entries in any given year. Apart from its volume, the MCG is oval shaped and special hosts two main sporting attractions that are played on an oval arena – cricket and Australian Football.
The MCG is a modern construction and brand
Like the film Casablanca
I was there
A modern tale
‘Truth? Who wants to know the truth?’ asks Martin Flanagan in his book 1970 & Other Stories of the Australian Game.
It’s a big call.
Flanagan is referring to the feelings of the Collingwood defender, Colin Tully, who was my direct opponent at the beginning of the second half of the 1970 grand final.
‘A version of history was being conceived and for the next 30 years he would be dragged along with it like a man on a water ski. Truth? Who wants to know the truth? In bars, there was always a big mouth who wanted to remind him of Teddy Hopkins’ four goals. Over the years he has developed stock response. “How come the people who weren’t there know everything? How come the people who were there don’t talk about it?” Not a week has gone by in the past 30 years that he hasn’t been reminded of the 1970 grand final often when he least expects it.’
I vaguely remember giving several stock responses to Flanagan when I was interview by him prior to the publishing of 1970.
‘Ted Hopkins played only one more match. For the first round of 1971, he was again named on the bench. The following week his name was not to be found in either the seniors or reserves. Hopkins, who had been at Monash University for the preceding three years, says he gave football away because he had a second ‘quest’; he wanted to become a writer / publisher ‘at the innovative end’ of publishing. Teledex, one of his first works was a book of poetry that opened like a contact book. He says he couldn’t pursue both football and writing. Ted Hopkins has since returned to the game with a system of statistical analysis. Hard-ball gets, loose-ball gets, clangers, contested and uncontested possessions – these are his words, his ideas. He doesn’t like his career being summed up by the Andy Warhol line about everyone in the modern world getting 15 minutes of fame, pointing out that he in fact played a total 29 senior games, but ultimately, his explanation of his fame isn’t that different. He says humans use stories to place a frame of understanding over life’s complexities. In his case, he was fitted with one of the oldest – the boy who came from nowhere to decide a big contest.’
Truth? Who wants to know the truth?
Am I a Teddy or a Ted?
The beginning words of Flanagan’s book resemble a scripted over-voice for the opening scene of a film:
‘Sport is drama. Occasionally it tilts over and becomes something more; what happens is that the memory of an event acquires a life of its own and goes careering down the years, unstoppable, ruthlessly refining itself in the public memory…I began to wonder: what happens to people whose lives get tangled up in legend?’
A theme is invoked:
‘The 1970 Grand Final is studded with them, moments that became part of individual stories and memories.’
The narrative is star studded. It has top billings and a plot. He writes:
‘The first person I contacted was Ron Barassi. In so far as the myth of the 1970 grand final has a name, it’s his. With his team trailing by 44 points at half-time, it is said that Barassi instructed the Carlton players to handball at every opportunity; they did, won by ten points and thereby revolutionised the game. Before this match, it is further said, football was a static game of fixed positions and man-on-man contests. The myth of the 1970 grand final, in its simplest form, is that it was when the modern game was born, the progenitor of the one we see today where no positions are fixed and the field of play is one large fluid mass with individuals running near marathons each match.’ ‘After Barassi, the second best-known name is Teddy Hopkins. Brought on at half at half-time, Hopkins, Carlton’s 19th man, kicked four goals. This was the days before the interchange bench; players taken from the ground were not permitted to return.’
In the book, characters from the winning or losing grand final team enter a series of unfolding scenes. Shades of a Casablanca effect. And in 1970, as it is in the film Casablanca there is a heart-warming ending and concluding warning to those who are opposed to proper cause and feelings. In his concluding comments Flanagan laments: ‘television sports – one day cricket, for example – have little or no memory. They exist as a package of highlights together with a result; in no time, each merges into the next, a bright technicolour river whose course is directed by marketing men.’
Truth? Who wants to know the truth?
My frustration with Flanagan’s 1970 is that it leaves so little room for conjecture. It is a fabled account of preferred messages and a warning. Many of his scenes are presented in the manner Disneyland television, where nostalgic reflections of log cabins and trout swimming upstream dominate. The wardrobe is full of stock responses. Folktales. Anthems. Team songs. Sports writing and film are filled with them. Casablanca effects. I feel like I am frozen in glass. When can a Teddy become a Ted?
My attraction to sport is deciphering the constant babble it produces. Randomness. Forensic study of recurring patterns and postures. Desire for continual improvement. Transitions. Fabrications. Strategy. Tactics. Whir of modernism.
I was pleasantly surprised when North Melbourne Senior football coach, Denis Pagan said in conversation that my talent as a player was getting front and square. We had met in 1993 in a café to discuss my interest in recording and studying statistics of football games. He said, I was there at the 1970 grand final.
I’m sure he was
Among the first questions Denis asked during our conversation was, ‘Can you describe exactly how you got hold of the ball to kick those four goals? What position on the ground were you in? The benefit of front and square is something he was keen to teach his own players. The term was gaining currency at the time for the tactic of improving roving chances. In theory, players positioning themselves at the foot and perpendicular to contested situations for the ball have the better chance of winning possession and following up with a score. This occurs because most times the ball is likely to spill forwards from an unsuccessful marking attempt as a result of the contestants thrusting to meet the ball’s projection.
As he staked a claim for the originality of his observations and the innovative coaching of front and square my recollections were challenged. I was impressed by his forensic study of detail and the credit he had given me. Yet I was not entirely convinced about the link he was making. While front and square made some sense it did not in several ways fit the picture I had. The influence of randomness on play could never be as linear as this. I begun to read patterns so I could better judge where the ball was most likely to fall. My junior coach, Mr Macklin had imparted some of this knowledge. He spoke quietly and emphatically that if I wanted to win the ball in roving situations it was best to be near the action – but not too close and not too far away. He encouraged me to go looking for the spilled crumbs as other players contested the ball. When I asked where it was best to stand – just here or there, he couldn’t say. For a youngster eager for approval and to stand out, it was frustrating not to hear a tidy solution. Provoked, he gently encouraged me to watch how the champion players did it. He noted they seldom run in straight lines. They are good at varying pace and approach angles. He called it “spreading”, which he described as the ability to quickly change direction to cover the best option. He reminded me that I would recognize when I was good at crumbing. It was when I could read the brand on the side of ball from anywhere on the field.
Nevertheless, a coach describing how to go out and do something on the field and offering occasional hints is one thing; it is another to actually do it. Apart from the inherent variables and difficulties the task itself presents, complicating matters is an opponent and the rules administered by a referee or umpire.
Sports theory can make a difference.
A loose-ball get is significant.
Where did it come from?
Australian Football belongs to the category of invasion sports. Other sports in this category include football (soccer), rugby union and rugby league, American football, basketball, handball, polo and water polo, hockey and ice hockey. Typically a field invasion sport involves a bounded field of play, goals located at opposite ends of the field, a ball or puck, two opposing teams, a refereeing or umpire. Periods of play between start and end are generally divided into halves or quarters. The objective of this category of sport is to ‘invade’ the opposition’s defensive territory, and score. Invasion sports are always counting upwards.
Other sports fall into four other categories.
Measurement sports include athletics track and distance events, swimming, rowing, horse racing, motor racing, skiing, archery, pole vaulting curling, and golf. Typically this category includes a prescribed track or course. Measurement criteria include actual time taken to complete, sequenced crossing of a finishing line, nearness to target, distance thrown or jumped or covered, and shots taken. Official policing is required at the start and end of the event. In events of longer duration, there are often forms of monitoring and policing throughout all stages. Common to many of the measurement sports, but not exclusive to them, is an artefact essential to the play – javelin, stick, ball, arrow, club, or vehicle. The period of play can be based on a go to whoa principal, or divided into laps or rounds. Measurement sports vary according to how they either count upwards or downwards.
There are not that many types of bat and ball sports but most of them are popular. They include tennis, table tennis, squash, cricket, badminton, and baseball. Some are played on a bounded field, and others are played on a bounded court or table. Baseball and cricket are unique because their scoring systems are based on runs. Other bat and ball sports hinge on points scored. The period of play can be a single game, or a match, which in turn is divided into games, sets or best of series. In cricket and baseball, officials are located to adjudicate the point of delivery, the point of batting, and what is happening in the field. Officials in other bat and ball sports are usually located at the halfway mark between opponents and in positions to adjudicate line calls. Bat and ball sports count upwards.
Adjudicated sports are those such as gymnastics, diving, judo, synchronized swimming, figure ice-skating, and ski moguls. Typically this category involves performance routines over a given track, apparatus, or an arena and there are usually predetermined official bonus points according to the degree of difficulty, and for technical and artistic execution. The period of play is either a go to whoa time allocation in which the performance must occur, or the completion of a course, or apparatus routine. Because expert opinion is the foundation of adjudicated sports an official panel is usually assembled in positions with the best line of sight. The level of expert opinion required means that competitors perform their routines as discrete soloists. Synchronized swimming is a wonderful exception. Adjudication sports generally count upwards and can also incorporate demerit points.
There is also a hybrid category, which combines at least two key features of the other four categories. Ski jumping is an example that belongs to this hybrid category. It includes elements of a measurement sport that has adopted characteristics of adjudicated sports. Fencing and boxing include both characteristics of an invasion sport as well as an adjudication sport. Hockey and hurling are invasion sports that feature the prominent use of artefacts more familiar to measurement and bat and ball sports. Polo is an invasion sport featuring the use of a vehicle and stick.
Common to each of the five categories is an unambiguous time for the start of play and an unambiguous time for the conclusion of play. An official or some form of official mechanism signals a start of play and finish. Between start and finish there are factors of skill, tactics, injury and luck involved making the final outcome uncertain, at least in the initial stages. At the end of play a result is declared, which is most often a winner and sometimes a draw. In some instances if it is a draw it stays a draw, or there is a formula for extra time, or a play-off to determine the winner. A win or a draw can only be declared according to three principles: a go to whoa single event or best of a series or a forfeit. Depending on the particular sporting code, the result is based entirely on the codification of rules, agreed numbers, time taken, distance covered, points scored, or runs made.
All these elements are true of any sport.
That the score is the score is true of any sport.
Modern sport is an empirical system.
Hence, this is why match officials have become indispensable and more conspicuous.
The origins of the modern invasion sport go back to village rugby where 50 or more combatants on either side would line up at opposite ends of the town, charging and trampling on each other along a narrow street. Massive physical forces were involved, as the try lines for each team were often miles apart. There was a sense that the game would only stop in cases of death. In the mid-nineteenth century when private schools colonized rugby, strict codes of control were imposed over the anarchy of dangerous village games. Private school rugby embraced measurement and behavioural control. At the time, similar dynamics were occurring in other fields. Author, Bill Bryson writes in his book At Home; Until almost the middle of the century, instructions in cookery book were always wonderfully imprecise, calling merely for ‘some flour’ or ‘enough milk’. Then, in 1845, a poet in Kent named Eliza Acton wrote Modern Cooking For Private Families. It was the first book to give exact measurements and cooking times, at it became the work on which all cookery books have since been, almost always unwittingly modelled; though it was shouldered aside by the vastly, lastingly, powerfully mystifying influential Book Of Household Management by Isabella Beeton.
From these village and school beginnings, the modern invasion sports have tended to follow two distinct courses; overlapping between codes or within a specific code. One course is reminiscent of glorious battles. Formal traditions. Brutality and muscularity juxtaposed alongside adoration for ‘the beautiful strategy involved in the game’. Forensic detail. A delight in set plays and establishing beachheads.
The other course tends to favour the expansive, random and free flowing aspects of a game. Often it was the colonial nations and regions which first introduced more liberal interpretations of how football and rugby could be played. The same nations also led the way in developing local adaptations that differed from the Imperial blueprint.
Invasion sports lend themselves to invention.
They are unique for the opportunities to chase the loose ball, adjust to random situations, evade and strike, look for the crumbs and the gaps. Of all the major invasion sports, Australian Football is the richest in producing random and crumbing situations. The field is oval shaped and large by any standard. In play, there is no offside rule or restrictive zones for 36 players allowed onto the field at any one time. The number of handballs, kicks and marks in a game and the 100 minutes of actual playing time, are high by any standard. Importantly, umpiring starts and re-starts are uniquely designed to give an even chance for both teams to gain possession. Typical of a colonial upstart, Australian Football does not have a definitive, convincing single course of evolution. There are early white settler accounts observing an Aboriginal game featuring a ball made from possum skin, players divided into two sides of about 50 to a 100, each represented by a totem such as a snake or a black cockatoo, and rewards for the players and team handballing and kicking the padded skin most times and further. Other accounts cite the early influences of British village rugby and school rugby, which is supported by the evidence of the first officially recorded game that was played between two local private grammar schools. There is also an uncanny resemblance of the code to Gaelic football, suggesting as well the influences of a cantankerous Irish Diaspora on early settlement.
The adaptability and inventiveness of invasion sports is a fuel driving modernism.
Sports theory is not chaos theory.
Invasion sports yield cues that can be studied forensically.
Cues held in recurring patterns of play and body postures.
Training begins a at base level whereby youngsters can learn the tricks of the trade; as it was for a small group of pubescent Moe boys mulling on the banks of the nearby Narracan Creek swimming hole just below the railway bridge devising a tog and towel chase game variant, in which each of the boys rolls up his bathers high into the crotch, not only accentuating the shape of balls and dick, but also highlighting the rear crack, and exposing the maximum rump flesh. Bathing towels were rolled into whip shapes with fringes exposed at the thin end and at the other, thicker end, which was suitable for gripping and notable for applying painful stings if the distance and flick of the wrist and forearm were judged correctly. The creek bank formed one boundary, the bridge pylons another, a Blackwood tree and some blackberry bushes formed a complete circle. On an agreed count the game would begin. The purpose was to stay within the boundary limits, avoiding or inflicting, as many stings to the balls and bum. Other invasion games such as poison ball, blind-man’s bluff, keepings-off including a myriad of adaptations and inventions nurtured the reading of recurring patterns and posture movements and formed the mental maps so helpful for later translation into playing sport.
Like the towel chase and sting invasion game, puberty was agonizing. I could not separate the heated mixture of feelings and uncertainty from my obsession to succeed at sport. I sensed that my ability to stand out at sport among neighbourhood children, at school, in the township and even the local district where I was beginning to get noticed and praised was also part of the reason for experiencing long periods of loneliness. I was aware already of a contradiction between acceptance and isolation, which is a predicament for many elite athletes.
It is in this space where the honing of skills develops. In the endless retreats to places such as the bedroom where there was just enough privacy for the longing and doubts and masturbation to occur. There was the relief and friendliness gained from simply holding the football, twirling it in the hands, tossing into the air and catching it, rolling it along the floor, watching it bump into objects, observing its behaviour. Responding to each nuance with intimacy, urgency.
In those many isolated pubescent hours touching the football, handling it, feeling its shape, I began to understand, intuitively at least, the ability to predict what the oval ball might do, given its imperfect shape. A treasure I recall as I progressed from junior to senior and later elite ranks was the exponential increase of footballs available for training and mucking about.
My parents gave me my first football. For most of the neighbourhood children it was the same. The earliest scenes are the bedroom, the yard, the street, paddock, vacant lot, and park. More often than not only one or possibly two footballs are in play. I liked training for the Moe junior squad because there were often three of four footballs on the training track at any one time.
The Moe Seniors had even more.
The first time I trained at Carlton, I was intrigued when a staff member dragged two large bags out onto the field. When he tipped them over a host of brand-new footballs spilled on to the ground. Attention to detail had increased. The program was strenuous, but had to be followed if you wanted to compete with and against athletes imbued with special gifts and total dedication. Something I learnt early joining elite training was the intense level of intimacy the established professionals had for the game. Generally, professional athletes are not dispassionate. They are more often the opposite.
Ultimately, all sport has its origins in the homeland.
The unambiguous start of the play for the 1970 grand final was when the umpire blew his whistle and held the ball aloft. He then bounced the ball hard in the centre circle so the ball would spring high into the air. The unambiguous end of play was when the official timekeepers clock reached 100 minutes of play plus calculations for additional time for stops in play during the previous 100 minutes. At this moment the timekeeper sounded the official siren and as soon as the central umpire heard it, blew his whistle and held his hands aloft to signal the end of play. The goal umpires met in the middle of the ground to confer and verify that each had the same score – Carlton 17 goals nine behinds and 111 points and Collingwood 14 goals 17 behinds and 101 points.
In such a close result the above average scoring accuracy of Carlton contrasted to the below average scoring accuracy of Collingwood, and was a decisive factor. Instead of this obvious observation, the initial interest centred around Carlton’s use of handball in the second half and bringing bench-player Hopkins onto the ground. Prior to the 1970 grand final, during the game itself and shortly afterwards I cannot recall ever having imagined or visualized myself as a premiership player. Many players will say striving for the ultimate success is what motivates them. In my case it seemed the homeland and my self-doubts were driving forces. Coach Barassi, often a haranguing type, provided rare encouragement when he said I was good at reading the play and he liked the way I was capable of switching on the energy and picking gaps. I saw my selection in the team as a privilege and when the chance arose to play I was clear about my responsibilities. When the final siren sounded and Carlton was ahead I remember a feeling of relief. Now, in retrospect, I am aware of the privilege.
What first made me realize playing in a premiership team was special occurred during the closing stages of our victory lap of honour. A wild flurry of Carlton supporters invaded the pitch and stormed towards the players. I caught a glimpse of a stocky man about my height and with long curly black hair running directly at me. Elated, he leapt and latched onto me with both his legs and arms in a manner similar to how a giant squid might grasp its prey. He immediately began squeezing harder and harder. I felt my body crushing inwardly and I could not breathe. All I could think of was suffocation. Why or how this person eventually loosened his grip I do not know. Folded over, gasping for life saving air I was left in no doubt a premiership meant people go to extremes. Of the joyous scenes that followed in the dressing room I merely recall an indistinguishable frenzy; nothing like the singularity of being squashed by a manic bone-crusher supporter ‘high’ on elation. Since the grand final I have often thought of the proposition:
Can abuse be called love?
The decision to dedicate myself to becoming a writer happened suddenly in the spring. In 1971, prior to the winter season I had taken a job as the Manager and Head Ranger at Falls Creek Snow Resort. During the thaw I drove from the mountain to visit the nearby rural city of Albury. Along the Kiewa Valley Highway I stopped to have a break and piss beside a hillside paddock. In the near distance, surrounded by grass, was a Hakea Tree. The air and the leaves were still. Watching the foliage closely I was jolted by what appeared to be a shaking of air directly behind the tree. The tree itself had remained perfectly still. My first reaction was thinking an animal or bird had created a disturbance. I looked hard and long for an explanation but could not discover anything immediately plausible. I was certain I was not hallucinating and suspected my observation was not mystical. Returning to the car, it dawned on me that what I had possibly noticed were patterns of transparent air similar to those when glass is formed from laminates. I imagined these patterns could be described and if I wanted to do this I must teach myself how to be a writer. As I continued towards Albury, I came to understand the sequence of events were akin to a poetic episode. During the time it took to reach the outskirts of Albury, there was a feeling of light intoxication as the car motored towards its destination.
In the Encyclopaedia of Australian Football players it briefly describes the career of Ted Hopkins with a concluding sentence that I am fond of and which seems as if the author had deliberately intended to invoke an element of intrigue for his subject: ‘Originally from Moe he had poor eyesight and during his numerous sojourns on the bench he had to wear glasses to see the play.’ In fact I am only moderately short-sighted. However, it is correct that from the childhood beginnings of mucking around in the backyard I have taken pains to observe how the geometry of play unfolded so I might place myself in a field position with a better chance winning the ball. Should I go front and square to scoop up the crumb, or is there something noticeable in the pattern of plays and body cues of other players, which tells me I should veer? Or as my mother would sing as she waltzed around our lounge room:
Should I go or should I stay?
My long experience in sport tells me that each player and each spectator relishes the liberty to draw their own mental pictures of what is happening before them in a sporting contest. Modern sport attracts so much attention because it presents a geometric narrative embedded in principles of uncertainty. In the spirit of modernist endeavour, forensic studies confirm that elite athletes stand out because in their specific field of expertise, either consciously or unconsciously, they are better at deciphering layers of complex cues and reacting quicker than anyone else, which is why they can often make the game look easy when it isn’t.
Following the year spent at Falls Creek I settled in Albury for three years before returning to my homeland for two years and then eventually relocating to Melbourne, where I have remained. I continued exploring my newfound interests in writing and publishing and had made the conscious decision to train myself in the skills of industrial offset printing. I needed a means of income support, but importantly, I also wanted to gain a grasp of the production processes integral to the evolution of writing and publishing.
Fuel driving modernism
Drawing a connection between sports, modernism, writing and printing was not immediately apparent to me. I had touched upon this theme in a story titled ‘Round Barassi’ first published in 1988 in my book The Moon And The Bistro Bar Are Full. The opening paragraph reads:
In the last ten years I have spent considerable time writing and very little playing football. An auntie, who disapproved, said, “Why don’t you at least write about football?” A friend, Graham Jackson said, “One day football could be very important in your writing.” So far, I have not felt a need to explain my participation in the sport, though many have described what I did as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘exceptional’. These comments have little to do with my own estimation of the events.
A connection became possible after I had stepped away from my printing activities and taught myself to become a sports statistician. I started with two things: I adopted a new methodology to gather football statistics and created a new vernacular to describe the measurement criteria. I devised a specific measure for the ‘crumb’. I called it a ‘loose-ball get’, because I suspected the ability for securing this form of possession, and in turn executing an effective disposal, was crucial to team success. I felt the word ‘crumb’ did not adequately describe the randomness or significance of the event. Mathematical analysis of the data relating to the loose-ball get has since confirmed the causal links it has in determining the results of games. Other measures and terms were devised to describe events. For instance, the ‘unforced error’ became a ‘clanger’, the generic term ‘hard ball’ became a specific measure called a ‘hard ball get.’
Not long after this the terminology was popularized in the media, I became aware of how the vernacular and measurement criteria stimulated usage beyond football. I heard of a joke doing the rounds in gay bars based on someone looking for a ‘hard’ or ‘loose’ ball get. A series of advertising posters appeared for the Milo chocolate drink; referring to the product as equivalent to a ‘hardball get’. The term ‘clanger ‘ leapt from relative obscurity to regular appearances in news stories and commentary.
I felt privileged
I had a framework for further forensic study
I had realized the importance of the vernacular for describing statistical events. To communicate with a broad range of people the statistics needed to be presented in a form that could tell stories. Spreadsheets and tables of numbers can only have limited appeal. A lesson of modernism is that for any subject and its manifest complexities to extend beyond a special interest group, it must have the capacity to replicate and proliferate. It must prove its value and relevance in the homeland.
When I examined the initial data sets produced from the gathering of these football statistical measures I could see lines forming like the isometric bars of standard weather maps. As the data accumulated and the tools for analysis and interpretation steadily became more sophisticated, ordinary weather maps merged into enthralling forms resembling satellite weather pictures. A connection between sport and modernism was close at hand. I was starting to see the influence of Casablanca effects and the meaning of front and square.
I had reached a paradox:
Why is there no sports theory when so much sport exists?
Please send your thoughts inspired by this chapter to and it may be published here.
If football is akin to existentialism (which essentially believes that the individual is responsible for their own progression and advancement through the repercusions and consequences of their own actions), how would he reconcile various communist blights on the game such as drafting, restrictions on free agency, competitive balance funds, salary caps, all of which ensure that the individual (in this case, club or player is interchangeable) and their actions have little consequence toward their future?
Being a bit of a Nietzsche-ite, this poses a few questions for me:
- How does one truly achieve? (if Robert Warnock is doing well in the reserves, but Kreuzer and Jacobs are doing better, and subsequently can't get a game off the weight of his performances, is this truly existentialist, or utiliterian?)
- Is there a football God? (Other than Gary Ablett Snr? Do we truly have a universal deity that defines our code?)
There's a whole heap more, would love to build on this further, using Daybreak and The Gay Science, to explore the concept of a master-slave morality within AFL supporter ranks, which could probably be easiest to translate to the lack of "personalities" within the AFL ranks, as opposed to drones who rattle off cliches, but I see it as something that could go toward explaining supporter frustrations with tempo football also.
Great article. I'm a pretty simple bloke so a lot of it is lost on me. But here's my two cents anyway.
I've always thought that Teddy Hopkins (the one we know from the video footage) pretty much represents every kid that has ever picked up a footy (or similar shaped object) and imagined himself or herself coming from nowhere to inspire victory on the last day in September.
Near where I grew up there was a park that I spent countless hours on, kicking a footy between a power pole and a tree that in my mind were goal posts. I'd have shots from every angle - if it went through, it put the Blues up by a point with seconds to go, and if I missed I'd kick the ball high in the air, chase it down for a mark, as if I'd ingeniously intercepted the kick in. From this mark, the siren would go, and I'd line up to give the Blues victory.
When I now imagine myself and how I think I looked I see Teddy Hopkins - in that footage he looks like a six year old boy, playing amongst men.
For mine, this is the attraction of the '70 GF - it (right or wrong) represents the dreams we all had as kids of football stardom. The ultimate Cinderella story. And I never tire of it.
The Casablanca effect probably sums up the conversation I've heard in the many offices I've been a part of that goes something like - 'footy ain't what it used to be - how good were the 70's and 80's...gee it was good'. But was it? Admittedly, I was never there as an adult, but I was there. Wrapped up in a duffel coat with Wayne Harmes' 37 on my back and a Bruce Doull badge on the front. I was cold, often wet, distracted by the smell of pies, peanuts, cigarrettes, and the sounds of tinnies being blown around by the bitterly cold Melbourne breeze...hoping they'd blow toward me so I could add another to the stack I was standing on to get a better view of my boyhood heroes. For those blokes at the office water cooler their reminiscing is a place in their minds where they only remember the good times and never the bad. I don't remember the cold. I dare say those same people who ask Ted Hopkins the most mundane of questions probably don't remember Bert Thornley.
Hopkins' musings evokes memories of my first encounter with prominent American writer, the late George Plimpton whilst Club Professional at an elite New York Racquet Club. Plimpton had once written an article in the New York Times explaining what he called the 'Small Ball Theory' to assess the quality of literature about sports. His argument being that there seemed to be a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes - that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature. 'There are superb books about golf' he wrote, 'very good books about baseball and tennis, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls.' That analogy certainly applies to Australian Rules Football.
Plimpton devoted much of his life and had gained recognition for competing in professional sporting events and then recording the experience from the point of view of an amateur. Having read his books and armed with the knowledge that Plimpton was not as proficient on the tennis court as he might have been on other playing arenas, my lesson plan incorporated technical facets of other sports to which he was more familiar and incorporating them into his game.
As author of 'Paper Lion', Plimpton joined the training camp of the 1963 Detroit Lions on the premise of trying out to be the team's third-string quarterback. His hours of practice some 30-odd years prior had not gone to waste as the footwork and motion for handing off to his running back soon became the exact movement I wanted him to replicate for his forehand volley. His sojourn of playing goalie with the Boston Bruins came in handy in hitting a low backhand, and his stint as baseball pitcher for an All-Star game at Yankee Stadium became important in enhancing the follow through of his punchy, yet incredibly effective serve. My lesson with Plimpton had been my own experimentation on a subject matter who understood sport better than most - that ideas and concepts from other sports can develop the evolution of another sport.
As a "participatory journalist," Plimpton endeavored, in a wry, self-deprecating manner, (much like Deano's view of Hopkins himself) to play out the fantasies and the daydreams that so many of us have. His experimentation of pitting amateur against professional is a theme still debated today. It's one that will be debated further in the coming years as new franchises to the AFL test the transferable skills of Rugby League converts to our great game. The Blues have already done it with an Irishman who played hurling. Theoretically, it's possible. Sports theory can make a difference.
I do remember the cold (and Bert Thornley), but also the sunny , warm days where you wouldn't want to be anywhere else other than Princes Park. Loved it.I joined the Carlton Social Club as a junior in 1971, and this year is my 40th consecutive year of membership. Probably a bit strange seeing the SC no longer exists .
But I look at it as my donation to the club, especially as I can't get to many games these days.
Even though I had the option of watching the game behind glass, or sitting in the stand, I loved the atmosphere of the outer. Each VFL ground had it's own atmosphere, each unique. If you went to Windy Hill or Victoria Park, and we managed to jag a win, you felt like you played a part in it, simply by braving
I miss that. Today, IMO, the playing venues are almost generic. Same, week after week. In the PP days, my mates and I STOOD in front of the press box, until Jack built that monument to himself. Then we moved over in front of the scoreboard, only to finish up back in the Social Club thanks to the Legends Stand.
Then finally we got the arse right out of the joint. I HATED SITTING ! Even in the finals we stood (even if we had seats) so we could all be together.
Ofcourse the facilities available to the public these days are vastly superior to those of the past. Family friendly. Which I have no argument with. Had to happen.
But I still miss the good old days. Great memories.