“Please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.” ― Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch
Unexpected delirium? Bring it on. One of the sports editor’s greatest joys in recent years has been the ooohs, ahhhs and “WTFs” shouted from the corner of the room where we banish the reporter who blogs a big event.
They often seemed to be having more fun than the poor saps editing the print section where the deadline is fixed, the photos won’t drop, mistakes are set in stone and the trucks keep delivering those damnable first editions within three kilometres of the MCG.
The money men keep telling us sports fans have got short attention spans and what they want is bite-sized morsels of modified rules with intermittent fireworks. For these instantly forgettable, pre-packaged contests you’ll want timelines, blog posts and non-stop action to keep you enthused and buying your club’s new clash strip. But what about the small moments?
So suck it up Generation Old, today’s ongoing series of farewell columns from an Age regular comes in the form of that most beloved of blogging tools – a digestible timeline. In this edition: how to become a sports editor.
1972: There’s a six-year-old collecting bottle tops at the back of the old Southern Stand ignoring the losing Bombers at his first-ever VFL game. The kid is surprised and disappointed that there’s no live commentary at the ground. He tragically spends the rest of his life trying to avoid live commentary of the game, particularly the current crop where the first five minutes of a pre-season match is called like the last five minutes of the tightest of grand finals.
1975: Handball in a south west Victorian school shelter shed with a guy called Paul Couch. He’s fast and funny and he wins every time. I like him pretty good. In years to come he’ll win a Brownlow and inexplicably pass away while riding a bicycle aged only 51. It is indeed a Boggy Creek we all must traverse.
1977: Under-14 footy training for the first time. Don’t really know all the positions on the field. They are hastily written on a card and slipped into an oversized St Kilda sock. I’m crap, but it’s fun. This may be because junior coaches have yet to hear of midfield rotations or sacrificial tagging.
1978: There’s a pool table in the hall attached to my father’s church. Weekends are spent listening to crackly ABC broadcasts and bombing long black-ball winners against myself. This skill only becomes useful in years to come when impressing stern farming fathers – if not their daughters. With time opportunity is lost and my elite-level skills wane. I could’ve been a contender.
1980: Walking along a long wet farming road on a week-long school camp. There’s a sheep-dip plastic mailbox and inside it a copy of a little newspaper. New Bomber Phil Carmen has received 20 weeks for headbutting an umpire. I’m outraged at the perceived injustice and petulantly nurse the hurt for the remainder of a soggy week in a drafty hut. It turns out I’m prone to drama.
1981: I’ve jumped a train to be at day two of the Australia v India Test at the MCG. There’s a girl whose father is from Mumbai who tells me she’s from Noble Park. She’s the most exotic person I’ve ever met. A billion people on the sub-continent love cricket? There’s a wider world? Who knew?
1982: Mark Jackson tries to tear all of Windy Hill a new one. The YouTube footage shows me standing on the fence bravely throwing air punches as Rotten and Whacko go at it. My blond locks flow, as do the expletives. It’s exhilarating, if infantile. Football then smelled like beer, piss and crepe paper. Today, it’s lattes, kids’ snacks and scalp moisturiser.
1984: There’s a Warrnambool League tribunal on tonight, says the boss. It’s a bunfight. One bloke gets off but is deemed to have given incorrect evidence in the case that follows. He is called back in and suspended. Mayhem ensues. My report in the local paper is questioned by the club president. “I was misquoted,” he maintains. He wasn’t. Sports journalists everywhere light a candle for the Japanese and their tiny digital recorder technology.
1985: The sage advice flows every Sunday from South Melbourne-Carlton “bloodbath” survivor Don Grossman who as a WDFL official drops the scores and shoots the breeze. A tall, gentle man he is living proof that legends walk among us. Note to self: it’s not the sporting deeds that makes a “great”.
1986: Vroom! Adelaide, venue of debauched south west footy trips since time immemorial, is now an International Grand Prix circuit. It’s year two of this spectacle for me and and title two for Alain Prost. Just quietly, he’s seen a bit more of the world. I’d like to see more. ABC Radio say they don’t want me to file colour. Good, who would want to spoil a sporting event with work?
1987: It’s raining at Port Campbell, another miserable day chasing the ball for the reserves. Albury-Wodonga is a long way to come from for a kick. I’ve been told to run – can’t, I’m too unfit. I’ve been told to yap, I do. My opponent gets sick of it all and his head-butt breaks my nose. To his chagrin, I shake it off and the yapping starts again, albeit more feebly and with less resolve. We win. Violence is for losers, guys, and one day you’ll be called out. My sinuses still ache.
1988: The full-sized billiard tables of New South Wales have destroyed my pool game. I can’t get the angles right to win on the big tables and then I’m stuffed on the little ones. The lesson? Stepping up to bigger things is hard and requires work.
1989: Camped on the hill in Monaco overnight before the Grand Prix. Woken at 3am by two policemen with sub-machine guns and a German Shepherd. Bag searches and thwarting those with criminal intent didn’t just arrive yesterday – OK, at the MCG maybe it did.
1991: Angry Anderson? No. The highlight of the Waverley grand final is waiting in the Hawthorn rooms as the players come off the ground. Across a concrete box full of noise, euphoria and chaos, Peter Hudson catches his son Paul’s eye. There follows the briefest of nods from father to son. I’m sure I’m the only other one in the room to catch it and IT IS glorious.
1992: It’s Jeff Fenech’s second fight against Azumah Nelson. The Bill Mordey PR machine in in full flight, but walking away from a distracted chat with the Marrickville Mauler a friend who’s known him since dot says, “Don’t you see, it’s all over.” The odds don’t say so, but she is right. The corporate bookies clean up. Of course they did. In 1991, I watched as Joan Kirner sadly feigned joy as she pushed the first button on the first gaming machine in Victoria in a Rialto basement slum called Tabaret. It was day one of sports betting in Victoria. In Vegas, Nelson and Fenech bashed each other to a standstill. The TAB suits ecstatically high-fived each other that day because there was only one live unit on the draw. Come in spinners indeed.
1993: I’m enamoured with a girl, who’s not really enamoured with me. Perhaps it’s because when Gavin Wanganeen looks like winning the Brownlow I jump in the car and head straight to the Southern Cross hotel. The gun wins. Later, I’m in the gents and before I can remove myself Ron Barassi is to my left and an effusive Ted Whitten is to my right. Mr Football talks to other legend over the top of my shrinking manhood. I’m not sure if this is sporting heaven or hell. Perhaps this is the pinnacle of sports media success in Melbourne?
1997: In London at a pretty tragic International Rules match when a handsome out-of-work Italian waiter from Adelaide asks me how he’d get into soccer reporting. “Go see SBS,” I say. He does and ultimately becomes Socceroos Team Manager. Where’s my bloody career adviser? A few weeks later, an old mate now working at The Age schedules a lunch between one of my all-night stints on the BBC World Service Africa desk. Looking around my six-bed dorm room, he takes one look and offers: “Spud, are you on drugs? It’s time to come home.”
1998: At The Age they ask me: “You want to work in General, Features or Sport?”
Right there – unexpected delirium. I hope you guys keep finding yours.