By George Megalogenis (2018)
First, one disclamatory reason for liking this book. At a pub on the south side of Adelaide on AFL Grand Final day, 2017, I was the sole Richmond supporter (wearing my Glenelg Tigers scarf and barracking for my 2nd team) which earned plenty of dirty looks. Outside a restaurant in town after the match, I caught the eye of an Adelaide Crows fan, bedecked in all the gear, packing his sullen family into a people-mover. Without a trace of sarcasm (because I’ve seen a few losing Grand Finals, and you don’t rub it in in such circumstances), I said to him “Bad luck mate – the Crows will be back.” To which he charmingly replied “You’ll be dead before Richmond win another flag.”
Megalogenis is obviously a Richmond tragic, and it might be the best thing about him. For whilst we here get a potted but entertaining reprise of the Club’s history and travails over their 150 years and 36 year premiership drought, and a fairly glib analysis of how the Board, Football Department and Team turned it around in 2017, this is still a rather silly book. Indeed, it reads like a vanity project, dripping with nostalgia, with a tacked-on argument – the Richmond experience can inform a return to the type of politics the author prefers – that is trite, unsubstantiated, and embarrassing.
Yes, George, it is true – whilst football has (arguably) been refined, developed and improved, our politics have deteriorated immeasurably. Yes George, it is true, its no longer John Curtin and Bob Menzies (see main image and below) in charge over in Canberra, not even Bob Hawke or John Howard. But to suggest that when Richmond President Peggy O’Neal and CEO Brendan Gale held their nerve in 2016 and resisted a challenge to the Board’s direction for the Club, they “conducted themselves like politicians from another age“, it begs the question, “which politicians? Billy Hughes? Neville Chamberlain? Doc Evatt? Arthur Calwell? Billy McMahon?”
The sporting analogy in politics gets pretty tired. And it usually reflects partisanship, the lifeblood of team sport. When the author asserts “Richmond’s premiership contained the very elements of leadership and community that are missing in our politics today – power exercised without ego, a united team, a dash of charisma and a committed supporter base” you know he is thinking of his hero, staunch Collingwood fan Paul Keating (the man who took a vow of insolvency for Australia and then dissipated his term as Prime-Minister in gestures), rather than, say, Tony Abbott, of whom he comments “Every week of the Abbott government felt like White Pride Round.”
Megalogenis concludes with 7 steps that took governance down the low road from 1992 to date: the turbo-charging of Newspoll (i.e debasement of democracy), Bronwyn Bishop’s show-grilling of the Commissioner of Taxation in a parliamentary inquiry (i.e. debasement of the public service), the 1993 scare campaign against a broad-based consumption tax (i.e. debasement of policy and a primer for Abbott on negativism), Howard’s middle-class welfare (i.e. profligacy with the public purse), Labor electing Mark Latham as its leader in 2003 (i.e. factionalism), Howard’s industrial reforms (i.e.union-bashing) and the failure to reduce carbon emissions.
You could counter this by saying, “It was ever thus.” You could counter with a dozen more examples than that which the author has, inexplicably, selected. You could counter that if we scrutinised the ‘Football Solution’, as applied by the AFL, we’d get: a ridiculously biased and Melbourne-centric competition, with heavy overtones of unbalance in scheduling; a nauseating commercialisation, including relentless rule-tinkering, oppressive officialdom, a troubling degree of organised gambling, and deference to the media dollar; a virtual command economy, dictated by the AFL; faddish social initiatives; an illicit drug culture; destruction of loyalty to guernsey; and vast numbers of worthless contests. When the game is good, it is very, very good; when it is bad, it stinks on ice. Like politics, and everything.
Megalogenis has written an entertaining football record. “Go, Tiges!” It’s a pity that he couldn’t resist the temptation, perhaps fostered by the publishers, to append a simpering, soft-left cris de coeur that is, to quote Paul Keating, “all tip and no iceberg.”