Game Day by Miriam Sved

I remember a photo in the newspaper of Carlton’s Chris Judd being carried off the ground on the shoulders of his teammates after a milestone game (his 200th??). One of the guys carrying him was a nuggety little forward and as a result, there wasn’t an even weight distribution and Juddy sat awkwardly, legs splayed. I looked at the photo and immediately thought “Careful of Juddy’s groins!” Because Judd’s groin is a genuine concern for most Carlton fans. Isn’t that slightly ridiculous? Which is why this line from Miriam Sved’s Game Day resonated:

“Some minutes into the first quarter the team’s ruckman, Kevin Walker, comes off after a particularly violent collision of knees. Kevin’s knees are closely watched objects of anxiety around the club…”

Game Day picks apart one season of AFL, broadly following the journey of two rookies, Mick Reece and Jake Dooley. Sved chooses to tell their stories through the eyes of the various ‘players’ involved in the AFL, from teammates and talent scouts to fans, the club doctor and a ‘footy mum’. Each chapter offers a different perspective and while some are more successfully executed than others, Sved manages to weave her intimate knowledge of the game and its fans through each chapter. And it isn’t always pretty. Or honourable. Or sportsmanlike.

“Contrary to the sentimental bollocks the press serves up, footy’s not about mateship. It’s not about loyalty and team spirit and back-slapping. It’s about war.”

The chapter told from the perspective of the team PR manager is excellent – while his footy-mad little girl obsesses over her favourite player, he’s busy trying to cover-up that same player’s latest indiscretion. This is followed by an equally good chapter told by a ‘maggot’ (an umpire). However, the standout chapter is at the beginning, told by a young woman in a bar, hoping to become a WAG.  Her story is chillingly familiar and the details nag at the back of your mind for the remainder of the book.

Telling a story from multiple perspectives can feel disjointed yet Sved avoids this with regular references to Mick and Jake’s progress and crisp, distinct voices. Plus there’s the thrill of the game – it’s hard to build footy tension on the page but for the most part, Sved manages it whilst avoiding trite “So-and-so kicked it to Mick…” commentary. That said, a critical game told from the perspective of the club doctor was lack-lustre.

Where did the book lose marks with me? Predominantly because while particular plot lines are resolved, you don’t get the detail of how the central characters feel about these outcomes. I like to read about #ALLTHEFEELINGS and this is where Game Day slightly misses the mark – we know there’s passion, despair, frustration, hope and elation in every game of footy and a little more on the page would have rounded out the book.

3/5 Game Day will do deservedly well in Melbourne – save it for September if your team’s already in planning-the-end-of-season-footy-trip mode.

I did like the reference to a footy-mum with her “…catalogue of recipes for ready-to-inhale meals…” but footy books must be read with the obligatory meat pie.


6 responses

  1. “Game Day” got a very good review in Saturday’s “Age”; reviewer Cameron Woodhead said it “is an absolute corker” and that it’s “the most supple, lively literary take on AFL I’ve read”. There aren’t many novels about AFL around but I read a very entertaining novel by Tony Wilson called “Players” a couple of years ago which was largely centred on AFL football show personalities.

    • I enjoyed Players as well – I reckon Tony Wilson is hilarious. He blogs occasionally (about everything from sport to parenting) and his pieces are always very funny but thoughtful.

      I’ve read two young-adult books about footy but can’t think of any more other than those… a limited audience, perhaps?!

  2. The AFL fan girl in me is very happy that there’s a book like this out! I think I’ll read it given there aren’t a lot of options out there and yeah, I think I have some time on my hands in September 🙂

    • This book banks on an assumption that anyone familiar enough with the language of Australian Rules Football won’t be interested in reading literary fiction. None of the language rings true and much of it is simply erroneous. Some serious research should have been undertaken for the author to at least become familiar with the terminology of the game, before she embarked on this rather hackneyed and obvious story. A book this bad could only have been released because the publisher thought it might sell some copies in AFL states, which only goes to show that book publishers don’t understand the sport either.

      • I read an interview with the author (can’t remember where…) and I’m pretty sure she said that she wasn’t Melbourne born and came late to love AFL – I wondered if that let her disengage in a way that born-and-bred fans don’t?? Who knows, but I do agree that a book like this has a very narrow audience – for example, if the topic was NRL, there’s NO WAY I would of picked it up.

  3. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Wrap-up | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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