My expectations of this book outweighed the result. A compilation of conversations held with the greatest players in Australian Footballs history held much interest as the 2012 season comes upon us quickly. But the result was hit and miss – some absolute gems of conversations, but others that descended into cliché and standard rhetoric.
The initial question I would have for Ben Collins is how did he go about selecting the interviewees? Presented as a the champion team and coaching staff they certainly would be awesome to watch in full flight, but in reading the names the feel is that the interviewees amount to who was available and willing rather than the best. The irony however is that those persons I would class as individual club champions but not champions of the game were often those who provided the most interesting read, so in this respect the reader must be grateful.
The highlight of the book for a Victorian based reader were that interviews were conducted with Neil Kerley, John Todd, and Glen Jakovich. Kerley and Todd are famed figures as players and coaches within South Australian and Western Australian football, they never played in the VFL/AFL however are legends of the sport. To read their stories was fantastic, and opened my own mind into the world of football that did and still does exist beyond Victoria and the modern AFL, but has largely been ignored within Victoria. Jakovich likewise, though a stand out during the 1990s for West Coast was another from Western Australia, and his story was fascinating but largely ignored outside his home state.
The book is not a series of questions and answers, though obviously Collins while interviewing each player would have led the conversation with queries, the final products are a series of paragraphs and thoughts. This makes the book all the more engaging, and though repetition is always likely to creep in, helped to keep it at bay. Unfortunately some of the interviews are simply boring, and have been provided by persons who clearly have little else in life outside football to provide context and balance. As you would expect it is the modern games interviewees who suffer most.
My favourite interview has to be with Bob Skilton. A man who has had his life defined by personal footballing success, and the lack of it for the team he played with, but spends most of the time referring to others who influenced him. The humility and understatement is amazing for a man who won three Brownlow medals and nine South Melbourne Best and Fairests.
My mistake probably was to read the book cover to cover. Such a work probably works best as a place that you dive in and out of as the mood takes you, one interview at a time. It has served its purpose in whetting my appetite for the upcoming season. Tennis Balls.
Cover image thanks to fishpond.com.au