Monday, July 03, 2006


The Other Football Tragic

On seeing this new blog for the first time, my wife pointed out to me that its title was also used by SBS TV's sport supremo, Les Murray, to describe himself.

This was unintentional on my part, but not surprising. The phrase was clearly within easy reach in my subconscious, as I have just finished reading Les's autobiography, which sports the tagline "Memoir of a Football Tragic".

I have had my criticisms of Les in the past, particularly in regard to his rather dogmatic view of the eternal club v. country debate, but I found his autobiography an engaging and enjoyable read. It could have done with some editing, as several observations are repeated and several incidents related more than once, but essentially it's a refreshingly unabashed account of Les's desperate efforts to have his favourite game recognised in his adopted country.

Reading the book, I was often reminded of a memoir I'd read several years earlier by another Hungarian emigre, the Sydney academic and literary critic Andrew Riemer. Like Riemer, who arrived in Australia some years earlier than he, Les makes much of the monoculturalism of 1950's Australia.

There, however, the way divides. While Riemer adopted, as he reports, a conscious policy of mimicry and assimilation, to the point of becoming something of a nut on "Anglo" culture, Les clung aggressively to his heritage. And football was clearly a badge of it.

If I remember rightly, football is not mentioned once in Riemer's book. Both his sons, one of whom I know, went to one of Sydney's premier rugby schools. His descriptions of his parents' contemporaries are sometimes laden with pity, sometimes scathing. His comparisons of the European culture he'd left behind to the egalitarian openness of Australia are weighted subtly but surely in favour of the latter.

Les shows no such apologetic attitude. For him, the Australia of his youth was a cultural desert, and the lack of interest in football one of its worst aspects.

In many ways, this view of Australian culture comes across as pompous and arrogant.

But on second thoughts, perhaps those of us cursed with the football craving these days should be quietly grateful that Les, and many of the migrants of his generation, remained arrogant rather than acquiescent.

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