I remember a photo in the newspaper of Carlton’s Chris Judd being carried off the ground on the shoulders of his teammates after a milestone game (his 200th??). One of the guys carrying him was a nuggety little forward and as a result, there wasn’t an even weight distribution and Juddy sat awkwardly, legs splayed. I looked at the photo and immediately thought “Careful of Juddy’s groins!” Because Judd’s groin is a genuine concern for most Carlton fans. Isn’t that slightly ridiculous? Which is why this line from Miriam Sved’s Game Day resonated:
“Some minutes into the first quarter the team’s ruckman, Kevin Walker, comes off after a particularly violent collision of knees. Kevin’s knees are closely watched objects of anxiety around the club…”
Game Day picks apart one season of AFL, broadly following the journey of two rookies, Mick Reece and Jake Dooley. Sved chooses to tell their stories through the eyes of the various ‘players’ involved in the AFL, from teammates and talent scouts to fans, the club doctor and a ‘footy mum’. Each chapter offers a different perspective and while some are more successfully executed than others, Sved manages to weave her intimate knowledge of the game and its fans through each chapter. And it isn’t always pretty. Or honourable. Or sportsmanlike.
“Contrary to the sentimental bollocks the press serves up, footy’s not about mateship. It’s not about loyalty and team spirit and back-slapping. It’s about war.”
The chapter told from the perspective of the team PR manager is excellent – while his footy-mad little girl obsesses over her favourite player, he’s busy trying to cover-up that same player’s latest indiscretion. This is followed by an equally good chapter told by a ‘maggot’ (an umpire). However, the standout chapter is at the beginning, told by a young woman in a bar, hoping to become a WAG. Her story is chillingly familiar and the details nag at the back of your mind for the remainder of the book.
Telling a story from multiple perspectives can feel disjointed yet Sved avoids this with regular references to Mick and Jake’s progress and crisp, distinct voices. Plus there’s the thrill of the game – it’s hard to build footy tension on the page but for the most part, Sved manages it whilst avoiding trite “So-and-so kicked it to Mick…” commentary. That said, a critical game told from the perspective of the club doctor was lack-lustre.
Where did the book lose marks with me? Predominantly because while particular plot lines are resolved, you don’t get the detail of how the central characters feel about these outcomes. I like to read about #ALLTHEFEELINGS and this is where Game Day slightly misses the mark – we know there’s passion, despair, frustration, hope and elation in every game of footy and a little more on the page would have rounded out the book.
3/5 Game Day will do deservedly well in Melbourne – save it for September if your team’s already in planning-the-end-of-season-footy-trip mode.
I did like the reference to a footy-mum with her “…catalogue of recipes for ready-to-inhale meals…” but footy books must be read with the obligatory meat pie.