Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reviw: A Game of Our Own - Geoffrey Blainey

The promotional types at the Australian Football League will probably not appreciate the work of Geoffrey Blainey in producing this brief history of the game of Australian Football, but I have. Blainey is an esteemed historian, though one who has not avoided controversy throughout his career. This work is more likely an act of personal interest than a desire to educate his readership as others have been, but for the appreciator of Australian football it most definitely is a worthwhile read.

Though just a couple of years ago we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Australian football, in reality the modern game, even the game of the past 100 years, has borne little resemblance to the anarchical contests played out in the mid 19th century. The thriving colony of Victoria, with Australia's then largest city in terms of population, became entranced by the prospect of developing a game of football of its own. Football games were all at this stage in their infancy, neither Rugby (Union) nor Association Football (Soccer) were close to being codified, and the Gaelic game even more obscure. In prose not too cumbersome so as to bore the reader, Blainey paints you the picture of this game that grew out of a desire for sporting pursuits to occur during the Victorian winter very quickly into a cultural obsession.

The game fought fiercely within its ranks to codify rules. Largely accepted has been Tom Wills' letter which supposedly drove the formation of the rules committee in total, but in reality there were more factors at play and Blainey describes these with clarity. Wills did chair that committee, however based on the evidence collected by Blainey this plainly was very much only the beginning.

It wasn't until the breakaway Victorian Football League movement in 1897, and the subsequent innovation required in competition by the remaining Victorian Football Association, that the game started to fully forge its identity beyond the other codes. Such analysis of Blainey should, to some extent, shut many of today's critics up who argue incessantly the game shouldn't be changed so often (when constant innovation for the first half a century is exactly what it took for the game to truly come into being).

The read will challenge many with long held beliefs on the origination of the sport. Blainey presents that it does appear that Australian Football was primarily a game evolving over time from the Rugby and Association Footballing traditions primarily, rather than a simple whim of an individual one day – but this does not diminish what a revolutionary game Australian Football was, and Blainey has produced a work capturing that revolution perfectly. Ironically, Basketballs.

Cover image courtesy of http://www.readings.com.au/

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