& Talking with Swish about Very Important Matters
I meet Swish on the corner of Spring and Collins St. I am wearing my Richmond baseball cap as a means for him to recognise me. I have no idea what he looks like. A couple of years ago Swish corrected a mistake I had made regarding my drawing of a Centrals footy jumper. The Tweets and images of Mike Hugo, whom I follow on the Twitter, are often responded to by Swish. And these in turn by Mr.4Boat Rees. Over time it became clear he has much knowledge about South Australian football – and Centrals in particular. I asked him if I could pick his brains about the SANFL. But, by the time I met him, I had changed the angle though: what I had become more interested in was the rise of The Footy Almanac and how he contributes to it. And how it provides a starting point for his writing(s).
John Harms and Paul Daffey founded The Footy Almanac in 2006 and the first book was published in 2007. A website followed. The Almanac is part of an ever growing number of sports blogs. The Footy Almanac’s website promotes the 2007 volume with the following: “Why has there never been an amusing, insightful, game-by-game review of an AFL season? […] Well here it is. The Footy Almanac 2007 is full of passion and madness. Our writers know and love the game the way you do.” I’ve drifted in and out of reading The Footy Almanac. I have also contributed a few short pieces: mainly short reflective pieces which I couldn’t otherwise find a home for. At times I’ve been frustrated by its lack of editorial input. But that is the system The Footy Almanac follows. Make it open. There are advertisements, but the advertisements are uncommon: The Interchanger App, Intuit, Howitt Partners. And there is a shop where one can buy The Footy Almanac edited volumes.
Swish tells me to call him Swish. It seems a bit soon to be on nickname terms, but, it also seems that Swish is more comfortable being called that in his talking-footy contexts. We sit down in a pleasantly calm cafe: absolutely devoid of hipsters and we’re free to talk of un-hipster-ish 80s trivia. I tell him my purpose in troubling him for a conversation in the middle of his working day. I’m interested in fan writings, me says. But fan writings are more than the ravings and notes of wildly passionate and often unhinged sports-obsessed folk. The details recorded in The Footy Almanac offer an insight into the minutiae to the changing sportscape. The Footy Almanac’s website could, however, help the reader a little more through more systematic and structured design. Much like The Conversation‘s website, articles quickly move off the front page due to the high-volume of articles. I tell Swish I want to speak with him because he has been a consistent contributor over a number of years. And, through his comments, rather than being tendentious or argumentative, he has played the role of informant – complementing and broadening knowledge about a player’s or club’s history.
Swish: “I hadn’t done any writing before The Footy Almanac, and I haven’t done any since for any other publication. Well, except for Stereo Stories which is run by Vin Maskell. But, that is roughly in the same orbit. I don’t have too much of an interest in writing for other publications. The Footy Almanac is where I enjoy doing my writing. There are no barriers; anyone can write for The Almanac. That is what got me into in the first place. My first articles were about ‘my brilliant tv quiz career’. And then, after a while, I started to write articles on footy. When I write about footy it is always more than just the actual game time. It starts with what happens in the morning: just the minor details of going to Coles etc and working out what I want to eat while at the game.
He has other kinds of archives too.
Last year I recreated the 1986 Adelaide University football team’s season from the perspective of a fictional journalist, ‘Gordon Agars’. Three of their teams won premierships that year. I played in one of them. I was able to draw on the AUFC Year Book which had the details of every game of every league. I’m not a researcher or a writer by trade, but I was able to draw on the Year Book and my own memories to flesh out some stories. Now and then I would use some stories from The Advertiser – about the Grand Prix, about a wine conference, about the Hindley Street after-hours chemist. I decided to do this only in the last week before the season began, and then I was able to finish the project. I ran out of a bit of steam towards the end of the year, but, I saw it through.
One of the things we say about The Almanac is ‘come for the articles, stay for the comments’. Sometimes my articles bring about good results; sometimes, I post articles which I think will get a fair-amount of ‘eyeballs’, but, in the end don’t gain any traction. In one good example though, I posted an article about my three games of Mini-League for Centrals. Not long after a guy got in touch with me and asked if I had a copy of the Budget from the game. Sooner or later I managed to find the Budget and the person was very thrilled. He was able to say to his children, ‘look, this is where I actually played a game on such-and-such oval.’
One of my tactics for writing is that I scan every page from a Budget/Record and then write notes up about what is written. Often this is about the players who play for a club in South Australia and where they end up playing in Victoria. One thing I have noticed is that in the 1960s, the advertisements in the Budget were very local: corner shops, butchers etc. By the 1970s they’re already big name, multi-nationals: Coca Cola and the like. We’re able to trace local history just by reading the Budget. I have thrown a lot of my Budgets out. I kept the first game of the season as well as any final games Budgets. The first game was important as it often had a summary of the previous season. One thing I found was that in the first game of 1972 Port played Glenelg at Centrals home ground in Elizabeth. So, it was a neutral venue. This is of course is a little bit odd as Elizabeth is a fair distance from Port. The reason it was being held there was that the Adelaide Oval, which often served as a neutral venue, was being used for the Claxton Shield (Baseball) Series.
Swish doing his fieldwork
At the moment I’m working on documenting the players who have come from other state leagues and have played in South Australia. For many it seems that the VFL is always the league that sucks in players from other states. What is also interesting though is how many footballers have also gone the other way. Many have done so at the end of their careers, but other minor names have gone over to play in the SANFL because that is where they had their best opportunities. And then there are also the quirky cases, for example, like when Royce Hart played in only one SANFL game for Glenelg in 1969, which happened to be the grand final. This was because in the finals series there was a draw which meant the SANFL finals series was out of sync with the VFL finals series. So, he played in two grand finals: one for Richmond, and then, the following week for Glenelg. Royce had been stationed in Adelaide for National Service. ”
The audience of The Footy Almanac are also many of the contributors. This is part of what separates The Almanac from the mainstream footy media – The Age, The Herald Sun, Fox Sports and the Australian Football League’s own website. The difference does not necessarily lie in expertise, experience or knowledge. I can’t be convinced that the Almanac’s contributors know less about footy than those who are paid to write for the above mentioned outlets. The difference lies also in the scope of subjects broached and approached by the contributors. Contributions may be loose around the edges and have half-finished ideas: but this quality too is present in much of the print media. The gaps and weaknesses of ideas or information stated in articles are taken up by readers who make comments at the conclusion of articles. Many of the contributions on The Footy Almanac remind us that there is a footy beyond the Australian Football League and that footy-as-we-know it has a pre-history which involves such wild and obscure leagues as the SANFL, WAFL and heaven forbid a TFL. Amateur leagues are written of passionately. Women’s leagues, too, continue throughout the season, after the AFLW has been wound up prematurely. The Fitzroy Football Club lives on and plays at its beautiful oval with its beautiful grandstand. The Footy Almanac is a resource and an archive of everyday sporting minutiae. The articles provoke discussion and have a tendency to be open-ended. Therein lies its strength.
The Budget and Matters of State Importance
*Photos from the Archives of Mr.M.Swish Schwerdt