This book is pretty good. It contains the words of 24 AFL coaches and players whose careers spanned from World War Two to the mid-2000s.
As such we get a range of impressions showing how dramatically the game has changed over sixty odd years: from the days of playing coaches like Charlie Sutton, Ron Barassi and Bob Skilton to the completely professional game we have today. Sutton's playing days, for instance, were broken by war service. Barassi's father (Ron Barassi Senior, a Melbourne premiership player in 1940) was killed on active duty, which led to a close personal and football association with his coach at Melbourne, Norm Smith. Bob Davis talks of fronting up unannounced to try out with South Melbourne, but getting short shrift and going to Geelong instead. These were the days before zones and drafts and even before the father-son rule.
The most insightful contribution comes from Allan Jeans, the St Kilda player and coach and the man who led Hawthorn to three premierships. Jeans speaks of those characteristics which are essential to success on the field: sound administration, getting the fundamentals right, then adding tactics and discipline, especially self-imposed discipline. He is striking when talking about the impact on the game of improvements in the condition of the grounds (allowing shorter kicks, more handball greater balls skills; better communication and transport, allowing a national competition.
Here I must declare myself. As a Hawthorn supporter of 50 years standing, my interest gravitated to the Hawthorn people in the book: Jeans, Peter Hudson and Darren Jarman. I learned that Jarman was shy, and the Hawthorn old hands none too friendly, with one notable exception, Gary Ayres. I read how Hudson applied an intensely analytical approach to his ground play and kicking for goal.
I learned new things about players I admire from other teams - the battles Bob Skilton and Kevin Murray had playing for teams near the bottom of the ladder and the trouble both players had with the hierarchies of their respective teams South Melbourne and Fitzroy. I found particularly moving the stories of the indigenous players, Michael Long and Gavin Wanganeen who had so many more obstacles to overcome than non-indigenous players - the move to a big city, adapting to a very different culture and the odium of racial prejudice.
The nature of the book (a selection of players from different eras, clubs and a states) means that some players will be of less interest than others. The verbatim transcripts of their answers to questions means we are informed only to the extent of their individual eloquence and candour. So the collection is mixed. There is however more than enough to provide someone with an interest in AFL with valuable insights and good stories.
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