Doing it for the Jumper
by James Gilchrist
(ConnorCourt, 2009, 263pp, $29.95. ISBN: 978-1-92142-132-7. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Readers might wonder what a review of a book devoted to Australian Rules Football is doing in this religious journal. Admittedly many in the state of Victoria and other predominantly Australian Rules states regard AFL football as their second (if not first) religion.
However, this book by James Gilchrist, a teacher at Genazzano College in Melbourne, is a study of the football history and culture at St Patrick's College, Ballarat, one of Victoria's leading Catholic schools, at least in terms of its footballing prowess. Wednesday Warriors shows how religion and sport (especially Australian Rules football) have complemented one another over the college's century plus history.
While 90 former St Pat's students made it to VFL/AFL ranks over the years, including two future Brownlow Medallists from the one year's team, the college has also sent out more than its share of recruits to the priesthood, including two future Archbishops of Melbourne, Frank Little and George Pell.
The chapter built around an interview with Cardinal Pell on his memories of football at St Pat's and its formative influence will be of particular interest to AD2000 readers, even those who hail from Queensland and New South Wales.
As many no doubt know, George Pell was one of the all time football (and sporting) stars at St Pat's, so much so that he was sought after by several Melbourne VFL clubs in his final year at the college. In the end, he was signed up by Richmond (the club he still supports) for the 1960 season. However, this could- have-been football champion opted instead for the Corpus Christi Seminary, Werribee, and the priesthood. The rest is history.
Cardinal Pell makes clear he sees a positive potential in football (and no doubt sport in general) for character formation: 'In terms of moral values, a good football club can help and sometimes it can redeem a person.' He adds: 'I'd always followed the official religion of Catholicism and the unofficial religion of football and I'd never found any incompatibility ...'.
Wednesday Warriors highlights the truth in Cardinal Pell's observation, with its survey of the history of football's impact at St Pat's through interviews with a cross section of VFL/AFL footballers who attended the college. We learn about the role of the legendary Br Bill O'Malley, who originally coached Rugby teams at Brisbane Christian Brothers coll- eges, right through to the present coach, Howard Clark, a teacher at St Pat's and father of a young family.
Clark is particularly heroic and inspirational. He was recruited to the Melbourne Football Club after leaving school, but before he could launch his AFL career he was struck down by cancerous growths in his spine that have required numerous operations to remove tumours over the past 20 or more years and left him in constant pain.
Howard Clark sums up his philosophy as follows: 'I want to produce outstanding citizens, men with a sense of justice for others, a sense of service to others, good males, good partners to their wives, role models for their own children ...'.
This noble goal is highlighted throughout the other dimension of Wednesday Warriors which provides a bird's-eye view of the First XVIII from start to finish of the 2009 season, climaxing in the Grand Final of the Herald Sun Shield at the MCG. This competition decides which is the strongest schoolboy football team in the state of Victoria - and probably Australia - for that year.
Coincidentally, St Pat's opponent in that Grand Final was Assumption College, Kilmore, the old school of Richmond legend Francis Bourke - much-admired by Cardinal Pell - who provides the book's foreword.
Francis Bourke writes of his own experiences at Assumption College - in recent decades the bench mark of schoolboy footballing excellence - and sees parallels with St Pat's: 'Life at Assumption was more about the maximum development of young men to realising their full potential, rather than simply making champion footballers. I suspect the ethos that prevails at St Pat's has always been similar'.
Wednesday Warriors, which is generously illustrated with photos of past and present St Pat's players - including one of a young George Pell - makes both entertaining and edifying reading.
David Perrin is National President of the Australian Family Association.