Footy Books

Holy Boot blog-Books

Footy books. I have hundreds of them. Sourced from op-shops, fetes and second hand book stores. I even shell out for the odd new book. My books don’t just sit their gathering dust either, I give them a good working over where possible.

Nana and pa

My nana and pa in their Richmond days

My love of both footy and its reading material stems back to my nana and pa’s house in Forest Hill. Old Richmondites, they ‘migrated’ like many from the suburb labelled ‘Struggletown’ to the south-east and finally eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Amongst books on gardening, Australian history and the odd Agatha Christie novel sat a clump of books on our great Australian game. I spent many hours poring over these books, and they have shaped my love of the game, it’s history, it’s social meaning, it’s sense of humour.

Holy Boot Blog bookss

Some of my nana and pa’s footy book collection

I’m going to focus this post on the two books which most captured my imagination; The Courage Book of VFL Finals-1897-1973 and Grand Finals, Victorian Australian Rules Greatest Moments. Both are similar in that they move chronologically through the history of the VFL, and I often read them in tandem. They say a picture tells a thousand words, and as a young boy, it was mostly the pictures I focussed on, along with the match details. As such I’m still yet to read much of the text!HOLY BOOT Books combine

When my grandparents sadly passed, I snaffled the Courage book of Finals , and the below photo is a great memory I have of my nana. You could hardly touch one of her books without a plethora of related news clippings tumbling forth.
Holy Boot Blog nana boook

Below is a photo of the 1907 grand final between Carlton and South Melbourne which sits on the back cover of the book of finals, opposed to the ‘current’ image (1973) on the front. I looked at this photo endlessly as a boy, trying to comprehend just how the marquee styled pavilion and treed terraces was in fact the same MCG I grew up with, a concrete jungle.

What strikes me is the carnival atmosphere this photo captures. People up trees to gain a better vantage point, trees which are positioned in front of the pavilion and grand stand, the warm September sun as Melbourne emerges from the depths of winter. What you’re looking at is in fact the precursor to the old and new Southern Stands. I’m still mesmerised  by this photo.
1909 2This photo of the packed footy tram is a classic, though not necessarily connected to Essendon’s 1897 flag. It says to me that as much as things change, they also stay the same. Stripped back, it’s a photo of football supporters on their way to the footy by tram. I did that myself a number of times last year.1897Something that of course made me snicker as a youngun’ was the fact that the bulk of early grand finals in the VFL were umpired by Ivo Crapp. Still raises a grin. To the untrained eye it may appear however to be a brief report on the days work by the man in white.


From sifting through these old pictures, scores and words as an impressionable child, a deep impact has been made. I was intrigued that Fitzroy was the early powerhouse of the VFL, was amazed that St.Kilda took years to actually register a single victory, and even more amazed that the two clubs played off the the 1913 grand final! How different things could have been had the Saints gotten up? The below photo also shows a great shot of the scoreboard which sat in the forward pocket a the punt road end of the MCG, not all too far from where the kids play up at the cricket these days.

For more reading on the MCG scoreboards and 1913 grand final, these are some fantastic posts on the scoreboard pressure blog.

HB Fitz v St.K 1913As a young Tiger growing up in a Tiger household, I stopped often at the Richmond premiership years, and 1920 in particular. The phrase ‘We Ate ’em Alive’ was born after beating the hated rival Collingwood, who’d the previous year downed the Tiges in the big one. My nana still lived with a hatred for Collingwood born from the streets of Richmond, and as both my grandparents were born in 1920, I always found this page a bit special.1920A quick peruse of this site should quickly reveal that I have a thing for old footy grounds. Well much of that too can be traced back to hours spent trawling through these books, pouring over grainy old photos such as these.

HB footy grounds books

The photo on the left is of the Junction Oval on grand final day 1944, Fitzroy defeating the Tiges to claim their final league flag. It’s hard to spot them, but my grandparents, my nanas sisters and cousins, they’re all there. And why a grand final at the Junction Oval I hear you ask? Well the MCG was out of bounds, home to American and Australian troops amid World War 2.

The photo in the top right corner takes us to Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street Oval for the 1903 semi-final between local rivals Carlton and Collingwood, at a time when the MCG wasn’t the assumed home of finals footy that it was soon to become.

And below that is a wonderful still from the 1950 grand final between North and Essendon, another ‘forgotten’ grand final given North’s lack of success until the 1970’s. Imagine if Waverley Park could have seated people between the boundary and the fence!? Would have doubled the capacity!
1939The composition of this photo always appealed to me, the fickle ball leading the players a merry dance as it tumbled this way and that. The Richmond player is Charlie Priestly, the Melbourne player more noted as a master coach, Norm Smith.

HB combined

Whenever the 1977 drawn grand final is mentioned, as it often is, the image in the top left hand corner is what comes to my mind first. The exhaustion and demoralisation is palpable, though it turns out simply to be Len Thompson receiving a 3 quarter time mouth wash, a fact I only realised as I read the caption for the first time yesterday!

To the right of that is one of the most dramatic pictures in Australian football history. Essendon champion, John Coleman, tearily walking away from the tribunal a shattered young man, a four week suspension ending his 1951 final series before it began. Geelong defeated the Bombers by 11 points come grand final day, surely Coleman would have made the difference? We’ll never know.

 Below Coleman we find the old MCG fence, unable keep the bumper 1908 grand final crowd of 50,261 at bay. However it has lived to tell the tale. Between the two 50 metre arcs on the southern wing of the MCG, the very same 1884 boundary fence, with some slight modifications, still stands, making it clearly the oldest part of the MCG, not so closely followed by the 1985 fly-swat light towers.

HB Grabs bookThe photo on the left shows action from the Geelong v Collingwood grand final in 1937 in pretty much the same position that the 1907 Carlton v South photo was taken (above). The Southern stand was brand spanking new in 1937, and as you look through these books, the action suddenly becomes recognisable with the arrival of the grand stand, suddenly looking ‘modern’ compared with the treed MCG, the knickerbockers and numberless jumpers.

To the right of that photo sees St.Kilda’s Bob Murray, taking what I see as the most graceful of marks in the 1966 grand final, while further right we see EJ the showman in the 1961 semi final against the Saints, triumphantly holding the ball aloft, giving the appearance that he’d just performed quite a feat to secure it.

Finally, as the books were published mid 1970’s, the arrival of glossy coloured images filtered their way into the production. The book on Grand Finals comes complete with an ‘Action Packed 70’s’ colour section, wedged in between the years 1945 and 1946, akin to a Cleo sealed section. Again we see the characterful old Southern Stand, packed to the hilt, as Carlton and Richmond battled it out for the 1972 premiership.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down memory lane. You may even recall these books, or have more recent copies which were reprinted in later decades. While the old days of footy are at times difficult to connect with the game we know today, it’s good to know where footy has come from, that during the 1920’s, the 50’s or the 70’s, the game was always seen as we see it today, quicker and more skilled. We may look back on today’s football in 100 years with a nostalgic glance to a funny looking game they used to play on real grass! Who knows?HB Dad's writing

The Courage book of VFL Finals may have come to a halt in 1973, but my father, in his early 20’s, utilised the several ‘Further Results’ pages at books rear, maintaining detailed finals results up until 1976, along with a cameo appearance from the 1980 grand final.


The Footy Almanac, 2013

The festive season is upon us, and whilst the organised among my loyal readers have finished buying or making presents, there are those of you like me, who are only just beginning to think about starting such a task. Well this may help, as it has helped me. If you happen to be wondering what to get for your footy-obsessed family member or friend as they suffer the withdrawals the off-season brings, look no further for the answer is here. The 2012 Footy Almanac.

So what just is the Footy Almanac I hear you ask. Great question. In essence it is a yearly summary of the AFL competition, with all match reports written by people like you and me, lovers of football. No routine newspaper style ‘match reports’ which merely appear to cut and paste the teams and players names from week to week, in the almanac each match has it’s own unique narrative. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and all that jazz. It’s a far deeper look at the game of Australian Football.


The great thing about the Almanac is that the match reports bring to life the dullest of fixtures in a way that Fox Footy’s obsession with off-season repetition cannot, because they focus not just on what happens on the ground, but also the historical implications, the pub talk, the walk to the ground, the characters in the outer. To me, it’s a more complete picture, lovingly put together by John Harms and Paul Daffey.

You can also become a member of the footy almanac website where you can share your football writing, or any other sport should you wish. Check it out, there’s some brilliant content on the site. If you’d like to order the Footy Almanac you can pick it up at good bookstores, probably some bad ones too, or you can purchase it off the almanac website.

Oh, and make sure you flick to the round 17 Richmond v North Melbourne match. Another glorious Richmond loss penned by yours truly.

Book Review #4 A run through of Runthroughs

Take an international guest to a game of Australian football and there are some key attributes that will grab their attention. One is the immense size of the ‘pitch’ or ‘field’, or that there appears to be no rules. Opposition fans sitting together can raise an eyebrow, as do the goal umpires! Though no longer in overcoat and wide brimmed hat, they’re quirky all the same. Then there is the run-through banners.

Collingwoods 1980 Grand Final team crashes through the runthrough banner- 

The creation, proud raising and then systematic destruction of large run-through banners made of crepe paper is truly a unique facet of the Australian football experience. This brings me to the purpose of this post…to review the book ‘A Run through of Runthroughs, VFL Cheersquads and their Banners.’ I was prompted to review this book after’s Vin Maskell reminded me of it, having been inspired by a short fictional video on the inner workings of a league club cheersquad.

This book, put together by Simon Nowicki and Frank Filippone (published 1988), captures the essence of banners in Aussie rules, from humble beginnings in the early 1950’s through to the grandiose designs of the extravagant 1980’s. And what football book is complete without a forward from Louie ‘The Lip’ Richards, who recognises that cheersquads ‘keep the crepe paper makers in business.’

I got my hands on this book in 1991 for my eleventh birthday. I know this because it is scrawled inside the front cover. I was truly mesmerised with the book; I guess as a Richmond supporter it was important to form a well-rounded appreciation of the winter game. So flags, floggers and banners certainly caught my eye in my formative footballing years.

‘A run through of runthroughs’ is broken down into sections, which sees all type of banner on display. From banners recognising players milestones or club sponsors to banners focussed on opposition weakness, political and social comment, the book moves much like a football season, culminating with a section of finals banners, followed with the big one, Grand Finals.

But first to where it all began…back to the days of black and white photography. With streamers covering the players race as the Red Legs take the field in the 1957 Grand Final, Ronald Barrassi is the player ducking the streamers, perhaps the first player to superstitiously avoid the runthrough banner?

As a banner must be created before match day, and the book takes us behind the scenes to some banner making sessions. Cheersquads used the bellies of grandstands, town halls, sporting halls… anywhere where they could find the space to accommodate the sheer banner size, displayed somewhat in the below photographs.

Keeping the crepe paper industry in business
Let’s kick things off with some funny ones. The Brisbane Bears, (a most misleading title as they weren’t based in Brisbane and their mascot, a koala, is not a bear!) were not like Melbourne league clubs. They had a private owner, played at a makeshift stadium….and it was too warm up there for footy! As such, to protect the games culture, the Melbourne cheersquad came up with this banner.
When it comes to Collingwood you either love them or the opposite. However, you must appreciate their ability to have a laugh at their own expense. This banner came a short time before they broke their 1958 premiership drought.
The 1980’s saw one team in particular dominate. Hawthorn played in seven consecutive grand finals from 1983-1989, winning four flags along the way. They followed this with another flag in 1991. They expected success. Their grand final cheersquad’s banners give evidence of that. The following banners are cocky yet clever….and very artistically put together.
“For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful” 1985 Grand final, a loss.

Cheersquads have long used their banners to send political or social messages, however this had been heavily curtailed after a certain banner that appeared and displeased the AFL in 1996.

On the occasion below, people power ruled the day, and according to the book, VFL headquarters lines were jammed for hours!

 Around the same time as ground rationalisation, the national competitions rugged beginnings also pulled at the heartstrings of supporters. St.Kilda, who were one of many teams rumoured to be relocating or even folding, had this message for the then VFL.
Economics forced the Collingwood cheersquad to think outside the box, asking fans to fill out a coupon in the Herald-Sun and send it in to the club. The overwhelming response saw a ‘double-banner’, seen below.
Melbourne journeyed to Footscray for the final home and away round of 1987. It is still a round remembered for going right down to the wire in relation to finals spots, and had Melbourne lost, it would have been club legend Robert Flower’s final game. As it turned out, the Dees got up, yet the cheersquad should be commended for it’s forward planning. What they should not be commended for however is the appalling bald spot they bestowed upon their club legend. Whilst not blessed with lustrous locks, he certainly didn’t take to the field with a bizarre looking combover.
Another cheersquad to have had a ‘seniors’ moment was that of St.Kilda. Obviously taken with the Olympic games of 1984, this banner gives us a rather inflated view of the footballing world as we know it.
With so many more banners to show you than can fit in this post, I will now show you a few more of my favourites. The first one is obvious. It’s my club. But there’s a distinct Melbourne verses Sydney theme happening here also.
The photograph below strikes me on a number of levels. Firstly, as Pete Motley was a Carlton player tragically injured in a car accident which ended his playing career, to see an opposition club devote one side of their banner is touching. Secondly, in the background we see the rest of the North cheersquad sitting and the darkened second tier of the old souther stand. I loved it up there.
Finally I will leave you with this… two bald blokes who both coached Richmond. Allan Jeans & KB, struggling through ‘that’ banner!

Book Review #2 A Manual of Australian Football by Alan Scott

 During a routine scanning of the books down at Savers, my eyes came across this plainly clad instructional book on how to play our great game…Australian football. The author’s name, Alan Scott was unfamiliar, and a brief spot of research confirmed he had never played league football. On further inspection of the book, I learned he was housemaster and coach of Ballarat College First 18 football team, and “a successful junior coach at that.”

 Published in 1965, this is one of the earliest instructional books on Australian football, with then VFL president Sir Kenneth Luke saying in his introduction that “when we reflect that our game of football was established more than a century ago, the shortage of authoritative manuals of instruction is astonishing.”

 It was a momentous year for Australian football. To my thinking it signalled the beginning of the modern game. Footy in Melbourne had meandered along essentially untouched by progress for decades. Yet money was about to become the ‘name of the game’, and fittingly, the last of the amateur clubs, Melbourne, won their most recent flag in 1964! The 1965 season also saw Ron Barrassi shock the football world by transferring from Melbourne to Carlton, utter sacrilege at the time, yet a sign of things to come.

 Dramatically, not one but three clubs left “home” in 1965. Richmond, North Melbourne and Fitzroy moved to the MCG, Coburg and Princes Park respectively. Clubs had stayed put for the past 80 odd years, with exceptions in Geelong leaving Corio Oval for Kardinia Park during World War 2 and the Dons 1922 move from East Melbourne to Windy Hill. Things would never be the same.

 The game itself had also been somewhat static to this point, though tactics were beginning to evolve from what had previously been a ‘kick it long, go back over your mark’ game plan. Suffice to say, this book was written on the cusp of great change and serves as a neat time capsule of how the game was.

 It should be recognised that in 1965, though still a simplistic sport, great artistry existed in the required skill-set, with many glorious features now lost. Today, all a footballer needs in their weaponry is a drop punt. Yet Scott explains the finer points of the different ‘kicks’ used ….the drop kick, the long drop pass, the stab pass, the punt kick, the torpedo and even the place kick all get a mention! Of course the drop punt is included.

 It’s clear that Scott was unable to forecast the dramatic change about to take place, as the drop kick would be extinct within a decade. Barassi’s move to Carlton as playing coach would have a lasting effect on football. Apart from the 1970 grand final comeback, where he instructed his team to play on at every opportunity and use handball offensively, the 514 game coach equally had a lasting impact on the way we kick.

 “I was amazed when I began coaching how little was thought of the basics of the kick.” Barassi freely admits that he’s partly responsible for phasing out the graceful drop kick, but is unapologetic.

“It’s the reliability of it (the drop punt)…the drop kick is harder to do. And the torpedo kick has always been a chancy one.” Of course he was not alone, with many contemporary coaches moving in the same direction.

 Click here for a guide to kicking a drop kick on ‘kick2kick’ blog

 The torpedo punt managed to avoid this kicking genocide, with season 2011 providing it with somewhat of a renaissance. Scott raises an interesting point with the torpedo punt. “Because it is possible with practice to make a torpedo punt swing in the air, it is a valuable kick to use when you are kicking for goal on a sharp angle.” As an example, forward this video to 2:05 and watch former Brisbane star Darryl White do exactly that.

 While Scott may not have anticipated the streamlining of kicking, when it comes to his chapter on handball, he seems able to see where the game was headed. “There are many boys who regard handball as a last resort when they have no hope of getting a kick….handball can be used as part of a team’s attack-that is, as part of the teams method of getting the ball up the ground.” Ironically, players these days often appear to use a kick as a last resort!

 There is also instruction on how to perform a flickpass, though the following year, 1966, saw it officially outlawed, as it was too difficult for umpires to detect if the ball had been thrown or struck. The Adelaide Crows attempted to reintroduce this when they entered the AFL with their version dubbed the “Crow-Throw!”

 Click here to read the history of handball- includes flick pass and the crow-throw!

 Many other subjects are covered in the manual of Australian Football, including “Running, Swerving, Turning and Spinning,” where we learn the fundamentals of evasion. A chapter titled “Position Play” gives an indication of the rudimentary nature of the games tactics. Here is all a fullback needed to know about his kicking out duties for instance.

Throughout the book, you are reminded time and again that its author is a school housemaster, such is the authoritarian nature of Scott’s ‘advice’ and the life values he incorporates. Consider the following…

“The game must be seen in its right perspective, no boy should allow football to so dominate his life that he is unable to concentrate on anything else.” Where was that advice when I was a lad? Truly addicted now.

“To lose your temper is quite contrary to the whole concept of sport.” Again true, and a life lesson there as well!

“You should wear the uniform of your team proudly. A slovenly player gives a bad impression” Now illistrator George Melrose deserves special mention for this piece.

It’s the yesteryear version of James Hird standing next to Brendan Fevola! Note the lit cigarette and drunken grin!

“There is a tendency among young players to draw attention to themselves by pretending to be injured. This is very silly. No one is really fooled!” Sorry sir. Won’t happen again sir.

 And lastly some health advice “…avoid constant between-meals eating of sweets, make sure you drink plenty of milk and be moderate in your consumption of fatty foods.” However…

“Do not be discouraged if you seem to be too small or too fat or too ungainly. One of the great things about Australian Rules is that there is a place for almost any physical type.”

Summing up, this book is a great record of how the game was not just played, but the manner in which it was used as a means of shaping students into upstanding citizens. At least that was the idea. And a final word from Alan Scott.

“…if you lose, say nothing. If you win, say less.” Now that I can agree with.

Book review #1 From the Outer by Garrie Hutchinson

I’ve decided to kick off my book reviews with one of my very favourite football books, Garrie Hutchinson’s “From the Outer-Watching Football in the 80’s.” This publication is a collection of pieces from his column in the Age at the time called “Watcher.” The book takes place during a time of great upheaval for football in Melbourne, with the impending national game and ground rationalisation some of the key themes that run throughout.

I found this gem at a second hand shop a number of years ago though I can’t remember which one, as I’ve frequented many. However I can recall coming across this particular book with it’s front cover standing out like a beacon amongst and microwave cookery manuals and Max Walker titles that filled the shelves around it. It must have been the image of the old Southern Stand (see pic below), such a dark and wondrous place full of atmosphere, where I cut my football-watching teeth, that grabbed my attention.

The book has been put together in such a way that you can read it straight through, or you can pick and choose what chapter matches your mood. The section I first gravitated towards was the chapter titled “Playing at Home”, where Hutchinson, a Carlton supporter, talks of watching footy from the terraces at Princes Park, of the flukey winds each ground possessed and how the home team “just knew where to put the ball”, and the disappointment of a home game allocated for VFL Park.

In a prophetic moment Hutchinson bemoans the likely rationalisation of the suburban grounds. “So we’ll end up with covered entertainment centres, in Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast and Perth, where football is played under equal, identical conditions by colourful teams in carpet slippers on television two nights a week, nationally.” This was written in 1982. While not entirely accurate, he’s essentially hit the nail on the head in terms of the footy today and the expectations of fans.

Other chapters include ‘Before the Bounce of the Ball’, a look at the anticipation of a season about to begin while ‘In the Outer,’ a look at the nature and behaviour of footy crowds, kicks off with this monologue of sorts…

“The outer- The place to stand: a combination of boxing tent, revival meeting, carnival, zoo and outdoor radio-station, a place threatened by progress and wowerism. What goes on and why?”

‘Teams of Character’ offers insight into most of the old VFL clubs, looking at their rituals and idiosyncrasies. Featured is Fitzroy’s pre-season march from the pub where they were formed to the old Brunswick Street Oval, a day spent on the terraces at the Western Oval, the character of footy down at Sleepy Hollow and what it’s like to support the Dee’s from the MCC’s Long Room.

Other chapters include ‘Footy Heroes’, ‘Rules, Styles and Conventions’ and an ‘Introduction to Football.’ The fitting final chapter is titled ‘The Finals’, which looks at the problems of ‘getting a ticket’, observes the tears shed at Fitzroy’s narrow defeat of Essendon in the 1981 Elimination Final, how to deal with finals nerves and of course ‘The Big One’.

The outer-alive and well

‘From the Outer’ rounds things off with a passionate plea to keep the Grand Final at the MCG. The 1983 grand final had been touted as the the grounds final ‘last day in September’, as the VFL threatened to move it’s big day to it’s own VFL Park, in a stand-off between the VFL power brokers and the stubborn Melbourne City Council of the day

“The idea, and this is sentimental, that the final game of the season be taken away from the very spot, more of less, where it was invented is the worst kind of sacrilege. There are descendants of possums up the very gum trees outside the MCG that Tom Wills and Henry Harrison kicked footies into 125 years ago.”

Thankfully, sanity prevailed.

Hutchinson writes his articles not as a journalist writing for the Age, rather as a regular footy fan with a nice turn-of-phrase, much in the style that Martin Flanagan also writes for the Age these days. He delves below the surface of football in Melbourne to look at the patch-work quilt that it is, interwoven in the fabric of much of our being.

The times have changed, much as Hutchinson predicted, and this book serves as a reminder of what has been lost along the way. Yet if you don’t fancy standing shoulder to shoulder in the pouring rain with a poor view of the ground, then my guess is that you’ll happily take your reserved seat at the MCG or Docklands next year!

The book is out-of print, but keep your eyes peeled at second-hand stores. Melbourne Sports Books also carries an old copy from time to time.