Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Overdue and out of date Tony Squires book review

This review was originally commissioned by Ian Syson to appear in Das Libero 2. It took me far too long to get around to writing it, but after I'd finished it Ian said he liked it, and that he'd put it up soon. He didn't, and it's been sitting on my USB stick for months now. I shudder to think how many people have gone out and bought this book without first reading the genius that is this review.

There are many things wrong with Tony Squires' Cracking The Footy Codes: A Beginner's Guide To AFL, League, Union and Football. First of all, it's written by Tony Squires. The reasons for his longstanding and continuing popularity of any sort elude me. So, if you happen to be a Tony Squires fan, you can skip the rest of this review. You're probably already enamoured with near everything he does, and likely already have a signed copy of this tome.

Cracking The Footy Codes seeks to take a general look at the four major football codes in Australia, in an attempt to provide a useful primer to those wishing to brush up on unfamiliar sports and possibly become some sort of convert. It contains relatively thorough overviews of the rules of soccer, league, union and Australian rules. It also throws in some trivia and cultural observations which are intended to prepare the neophyte follower for their early experiences, done with what I presume is Squires' trademark humour.

What works well in this book are the clear rules and regulations, together with diagrams. The problem with this is that all this information is also available, for free, online and has been for quite some time. Therefore the book’s strongest characteristic – and perhaps its only one – is technologically defunct. There is no real point acquiring this book if all you want to do is read up on the rules. The book in that sense is fundamentally a 19th century product. It ignores the existence of video games, the internet, television – especially Pay TV which lets us watch so many sports. I learnt most of what I know about American football through these means, often by osmosis rather than careful study.

Which leaves us with what remains. The humour was lost on me. I found it lazy, generic and outdated. AFL – not the name of the sport, but hey, he's from New South Wales and that's what they call it up there for some reason - gets some of its club theme songs mulled over. Rugby League has some of its teams mentioned – Manly are rich, no one can remember South Sydney’s last flag even though they've won so many, haha. Soccer though misses this. We get the 'Hand of God', diving, references to Posh and Becks and that mysterious gap between 1974 and 2005 that no one can penetrate. The skirting of local soccer issues is obviously because Squires is not fluent in that language – or he does not want to impose new and strange knowledge on soccer noobs of the alternate reality that was Australian soccer before it began its Cultural Revolution a few years back.

The presumption of sports generality – the ability to become a fan of multiple sports – also left me feeling cold. Who are these people that have so much time that they can become experts or dedicated to more than 1-2 sports simultaneously? I, and I assume most sports fans, have the time and emotional capacity to dedicate themselves to only that many sports. So what kind of person who is already interested in one or two of these sports with any sort of dedication, would have the time and inclination to pick two or three more? This book is therefore firmly directed towards the sports generalist. The one for whom sport is a pastime and not a duty, for whom the spectacle and the occasion is just as important if not more so than the result. An oversimplification? Perhaps, but I think the point is valid.

But seeing as this is a soccer/football publication, we should take some time out to review that particular section in a little more depth. It doesn't start well. In the opening pitch for the game, Squires refers somewhat obliquely to the difficulty of choosing a team in Australia until recently, and how many Australian fans have fallen for English clubs. There are also elementary factual errors. The A-League choosing to play in summer is a furphy. It merely followed on from the NSL's practice since 1989. Johnny Warren was not the captain of the Socceroos in the 1974 World Cup – that was Peter Wilson. Craig Johnston was not the first Australian to play in the FA Cup Final – that was Joe Marston. Someone using this book as a reference for a trivia night is going to get a nasty surprise.

Yes, I understand that this book is meant to be light-hearted, though it failed to raise chuckles at this end. And yes I understand it's not meant to be a hard hitting sociological piece on the where, why, how etc of football fandom in Australia – though if it does contribute to that debate, it doesn't paint a very positive picture of Australian sports fans and their supposed loyalty. But most of all, it doesn't perform any of its purported instructional functions any better than a quick web search would. One day some of these people who are still insisting on top down modes of communicating to the masses will come to realise that the masses just aren't listening. One for the Squires fans, people with a pathological fear of computers – who won’t see this review anyway – and no one else.

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