My original website, Full Points Footy, ran between January 2001 and December 2011. The subject matter of the site was the history of Australian football, and as the name implied, it aimed to do this as broadly and comprehensively as possible. There were biographies of coaches and players from every major state competition for instance, not just the V/AFL. Coverage of clubs was even more exhaustive, as the site contained profiles of virtually every senior grade club in Australia which was in existence at the time of publication.There were also sizeable portions of the website devoted to interstate football, records and statistics, memorable matches, the game's chronology from 1858 on, and numerous articles by football enthusuasts and historians from all across Australia. Allied to the website, from 2008 onwards a series of nine books was published. Only seven of these are still in print and you can find out more about each of them by clicking on the cover photos below.
The book contains profiles of leading 20th century Australian footballers from all over Australia. A selection of players from all the major state competitions are included, as are several who played wholly or partly in the WA goldfields competition and the Broken Hill League up to the start of world war two.
A detailed review of the book by Andrew Gigacz can be found on the australianfootball.com website here.
More details at my store page.
STOP PRESS! Volumes two and three are now available.
This book examines a period when football underwent a seismic and ineradicable change brought about by the determination of the Victorian Football League to wrest control of the game’s development and destiny from the various state controlling bodies and the Australian Football Council. Whereas the VFL had initially been the first among equals, it gradually assumed the role of the sole and undisputed guardian of the code. The AFC, once football’s ostensible national controlling body, became an irrelevance. Instead of a national sport with a national remit we ended up with an expanded VFL with a majority of Victorian member clubs supplemented by a token sprinkling of teams from interstate. Such teams were in most cases created from scratch and could in no way be said to derive directly from the states’ unique and distinctive football traditions and culture. For some, it was a brave new world, but evolution does not inevitably entail improvement.You can read Andrew Gigacz's detailed review of The Stolen Dream here. The book is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle formats.
A Far Off Land: Australian Football and the Birth of a Nation, was published on Thursday 25th April. It traces the development of Australian football during the first quarter of the 20th century in the context of major domestic and world events. The cover was designed by Darren Williams, further examples of whose work can be viewed at http://djwilliamsart.com.au/.
You can purchase the book from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-devaney/a-far-off-land/hardcover/product-24070534.html.
It can also be purchased from Amazon Australia, Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon India, Barnes and Noble, Booktopia, Blackwell's, Booksamillion, Book Depository and Alibris. Sample pages can be viewed on Google Books. You can read a comprehensive review of "A Far Off Land" at https://forums.onlinebookclub.org/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=109713. EBay is quite a useful site for sourcing my older, out of print titles. Prices do vary, so shop around!
"A Far Off Land" is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle formats.
In a general sense, Footy Flashbacks is based on the same philosophy and ideals as Full Points Footy. However, it is also somewhat more ambitious, as it aims to examine and describe the evolution and development of Australian history in the context of a world undergoing rapid and significant changes owing to technological advances, major military conflicts, the growth of secularism and so forth. Feedback is welcomed, as are contributions to the site. I can be contacted either by means of the online contact form or by sending an email to email@example.com.
by Bernard O'Dowd
Last sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space,
Are you a drift Sargasso, where the West
In halcyon calm rebuilds her fatal nest?
Or Delos of a coming Sun-God's race?
Are you for light, and trimmed, with oil in place,
Or but a Will o' Wisp on marshy quest?
A new demesne for Mammon to infest?
Or lurks millennial Eden 'neath your face?
The cenotaphs of species dead elsewhere
That in your limits leap and swim and fly,
Or trail uncanny heart-strings from your trees,
Mix omens with the auguries that dare
To place the cross upon your forehead sky,
A virgin helpmate ocean at your knees.
by Jack Davis
Where are my first-born, said the brown land, sighing;
They came out of my womb long, long ago.
They were formed of my dust - why, why are they crying
And the light of their being barely aglow?
I strain my ears for the sound of their laughter.
Where are the laws and the legends they gave?
Tell me what happened, you whom I bore after.
Now only their spirits dwell in the caves.
You are silent, you cringe from replying.
A question is there, like a blow on the face.
The answer is there when I look at the dying,
At the death and neglect of my dark proud race.
The amazing story of the prolific pom, John Devaney, founder of Full Points Footy, the predecessor to australianfootball.com, as told by Back Page Lead's Charles Happell.
The most prolific and passionate chronicler of Australia's native football code, whose word count now stands at 2,800,000 (give or take a thousand), lives not in Launceston, Lancelin, Langwarrin or Langhorne Creek but the heart of verdant Lincolnshire.
As in the county on England's east coast, birthplace of Margaret Thatcher and Sir Isaac Newton, and home of Bateman's Good Honest Ales and third-division Scunthorpe United FC.
John Devaney works from an office at home which he says is about “two Billy Barrot drop kicks” from the historic and impressive medieval pile, Lincoln Cathedral. The “BBDK” is a unit of measurement foreign to just about every Lincolner, but one he uses to Australians who might remember the great Richmond centreman of the 1960s and understand immediately that the reference equates to about 100 metres.
And it is here that Devaney tends to his obsession most days: writing about Australian football. This week, he was busy piecing together reviews of the 1911 VFA Final and Grand Final between Essendon Association and Brunswick, a companion piece to a review he had already written about the 1911 VFL Grand Final between Essendon and Collingwood. (Sensing my puzzlement at the other end of the phone, he quickly explains: “The chief point of interest, of course, lies in the fact that Essendon triumphed in both VFL and VFA, a feat the respective clubs were to repeat the following year.” Ah, yes, of course.)
It's this jarring juxtaposition which is difficult to get your head around. Here is a 56-year-old man, who spent precisely seven years of his life in Australia – the last of them in 1970 – sitting in an office in Lincoln, churning out reams of copy about football clubs and leagues dotted around a sunburnt land 17,000 kilometres away.
At last count, Devaney had catalogued 1194 clubs, from Aberfeldie in Victoria to the Zillmere Eagles in Queensland, and 3108 player and coach biographies. They appear on his website – called Full Points Footy before its sale last year; reincarnated now as australianfootball.com - and six bound, self-published books.
His wife, Laura, shies away from calling him potty or barmy or even eccentric. She prefers “idiosyncratic”.
The story of how Devaney came to be Australian football's greatest archivist and chronicler – and that's no idle claim because his body of work is truly in a league of its own - is a true epic.
His determination and single-mindedness in tackling the daunting task of cataloguing the Australian game's myriad leagues and clubs is redolent (in a way) of the American army surgeon Dr W C Minor, better known as the Surgeon of Crowthorne in Simon Winchester 's book of the same name. Dr Minor spent most of his life in a Victorian asylum for the criminally insane but played a fundamental role in the making of the first Oxford English Dictionary by becoming its main volunteer contributor.
Devaney understandably baulks at the comparison, saying he's quite sane, thank you very much. But he acknowledges the oddness of the situation, and the relentless fervour with which he's attacked his project. “It's been a pseudo-religious passion, it's been my life really,” he says from Lincoln. “It must seem very strange and odd, to Australians in particular – maybe incongruous is the best word – but there you go, that's life, isn't it?”
The Devaney back story starts in 1963 when his parents moved to Adelaide from Liverpool and he, a six-year-old boy in shorts pants, realised he'd have to find a new sport to follow after discovering no-one at his primary school had heard of Everton Football Club, the team he supported back home.
So he was introduced to the local code, first by kicking a mate's plastic footy and then attending South Australian league matches with his equally curious father.
An early memory is South Australia's rare and much-celebrated triumph over Victoria – at the MCG – in 1963. Sixteen months later, his father took him to the Adelaide Oval for the SANFL grand final between Port Adelaide and Sturt, a match that drew 62,543 spectators, so many in fact that the young Devaney recalls seeing almost nothing of the game.
But a seed was sown. Something in this new, athletic and wildly chaotic game struck a chord within him.
His Eureka Moment, as he calls it, came on July 1, 1967 when, by himself, he attended an interstate match between South Australia and the arch-enemy, Victoria, at the Adelaide Oval. He watched, enchanted, as these powerful yet balletic athletes played the sport in a way he'd never seen before.
“It wasn't a full-blown love affair until I saw that game. I actually went to it by myself as a 10-year-old and it was the first time I stood and watched and studied a game quite closely. It was a great match as well. It would probably look pretty ramshackle now but at the time it was the pinnacle of the game.
“The intensity of the game was one thing I remember: both teams were absolutely desperate to win. And the skill level was something to behold, too.
"Billy Barrot was playing in the centre for Victoria and was one of the best players. Royce Hart was playing, too – he was a youngster then and might even have been in his first season of senior football. His one-on-one battle with the South Australian full-back was fascinating to watch. I played full-forward for the school team so I was intrigued by the strategy side of the game, as well.”
Even though the Vics squeaked home by less than a goal, the young Devaney was so entranced by what he'd seen he rushed home to watch the replay. “From that day on, footy was forever transformed from being merely my favourite sport to something more akin to a religion,” he said.
He chose the Port Magpies as his team, began writing up match reports when at school and can remember doing a 5,000-word school project in the first year of high school, 1969, complete with hand-drawn illustrations, which was grandly titled The History of Australian Football.
But his mother and father made the heartbreaking (for him) decision to leave Australia in 1970, when he was 13, and head back to the UK. He'd been in the country for barely seven years but that time left such an indelible mark on him it was to shape much of the rest of his life.
“Although several of the friendships which commenced during my time in Australia have endured for more than four decades since, and I have revisited the country a number of times, I have never been able to call the land I love more than any other 'home',” he said.
Back in England, Devaney started a file with sections for each footy club in Australia and he kept abreast of the game by subscribing to publications such as “Football Life”, “The SA Football Budget” and “Football Records”. He also sent off for annual reports from clubs and leagues in all states, making sure his focus was never restricted to just South Australia or Victoria. Later, he'd buy every book published about the native game, from remainder-bin player memoirs to serious histories.
He wrote his own novel about his emerging love affair with football, titled All My Most Memorable Times Have Been Imagined, and in 1989 was a pivotal figure in the establishment of the British Australian Rules Football League. Dismayed by BARFL's original plans only to field teams from London, Devaney made a compelling case for a club north of Watford gap to be included and that club – the East Midland Eagles, based in Leicester – duly took its place in the league's debut season in 1990. Devaney was in his element: he served as player, president, club historian and league historian for seven seasons.
It wasn't until the late 1990s that he began thinking about collating all this information he'd gathered into something more permanent and substantial: an encyclopaedia of Australian football clubs.
That idea eventually morphed into the establishment of a website, fullpointsfooty.com.au, which went live in 2001, and the publication of six bound volumes of books, the first one of which appeared in 2007.
The clubs range from the obvious and mega-successful – Collingwood, West Coast, Port Adelaide and so on – down to the two-men-and-a-dog, speck-on-the-map type outfit. But all are accorded the same care and attention to detail.
Take, for example, Devaney's entry for tiny Mole Creek in Tasmania's Leven Football Association: “Details of Mole Creek's early history are scant but the club is known to have won the inaugural premiership of the Chudleigh Football Association in 1920. Between 1950 and 1983 the club competed in the Deloraine Football Association, claiming a competition record twelve senior grade flags. In recent years the Bulldogs have been highly successful participants in the Leven Football Association contesting each of the last six grand finals for wins in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009. The 2009 grand final clash with Railton was a nail-biting affair in which Paul Hampton kicked his seventh goal seconds before the final siren to give Mole Creek victory by a single straight kick, 18.10 (118) to 17.10 (112).”
At the other end of the country, his entry for Tapalinga in the Northern Territory reads : “The Super Stars have won eleven senior grade flags from seventeen grand finals, making them the Tiwi Islands Football League's second most successful club, after Imalu. However, Tapalinga can point with satisfaction to triumphs over Imalu in each of the last two senior grade grand finals.”
Similarly with the player profiles. He's catalogued all the obvious ones: Whitten, Matthews, Robran, Blight, Cable, Farmer, Baldock and so on. But he's also given due recognition to forgotten champions of a bygone age such as Horrie Clover, Vic Thorp, Harold Rumney and Fred Baring who are written about with a loving hand and great attention to detail.
Not even the most ardent and knowledgeable footy fan could tell that these biographies and club histories were written by an Englishman living in the shadows of Lincoln Cathedral, whose brief sojourn in this country ended in 1970. They carry the ring of authenticity; here's someone who knows and loves the game.
“I would be confident in claiming to have written somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million words about Australian football since the turn of the century,” Devaney said, when pressed about his word count. “I know I've written an awful lot, there's a fair bit there.”
It seems remarkable that he's never heard from anyone at the AFL about his project – to inquire, congratulate or offer assistance. You might have thought the 20-odd years he's devoted to charting the Australian game would have earned some sort of recognition, maybe even a gong, but Devaney beavers away in his Lincoln study unconcerned by the absence of any official affirmation or accolade.
Often, he has to explain to new acquaintances about what he does for a living – as it happens, he writes and looks after his ailing wife full-time for which he collects a carer's allowance – and sometimes notices them backing away slightly as he explains his 49-year labour of love.
Then there are the times when he gets chatting to Lincoln locals and the conversation turns to the Australian game. When he got talking to two sports-mad Englishmen at his local pub last week, they genuinely and resolutely believed Australian football was known as 'gridiron' and was played by men in helmets and assorted body armour.
“While I was eventually successful in disabusing them of this impression, I was quite unable to implant a more satisfactory image of the sport in their minds, for the simple reason that neither of them had ever seen it played,” Devaney said. “And as every true aficionado of Australian football knows, there are no other forms of sporting endeavour which are even remotely comparable to 'God's Own Game'.”
One constant theme that runs through Devaney's work is not just his affection for the sport but his antipathy towards the body known as the AFL, and the Victorian-centric way in which it has sought to commandeer the code. He hates, for example, any reference to amateur, country and suburban footballers playing “AFL”. No they're not, Devaney says, they're playing Australian football.
In describing the rich and successful history of Tasmanian club, Cananore, for example, Devaney notes acerbically: “These achievements alone should be sufficient to earn the Canaries a prominent place in any objectively selected football 'Hall of Fame', but the sad reality is that, with football outside the AFL-VFL behemoth being accorded less and less value and credence with each passing year, it is not likely to be very long before Cananore's highly laudable legacy disappears without trace.”
In fact, so sorely was Devaney's loyalty tested in 1977, the year the VFL “sabotaged” the National Football League's nascent attempts to develop an Australia-wide competition by withdrawing its support and setting up its own rival tournament, he gave the game away altogether. That meant for three years disentangling himself emotionally from the sport, and trying to purge it from his system.
Only when, perchance, he flicked on the television in September 1980 and saw the Kevin Bartlett-led Richmond side completely dismantle Collingwood in the Grand Final did footy once again regain its hold on the Englishman. “Whatever the rights and wrongs of the VFL's attempts to take control of football, the game itself ... remained unsurpassed in terms of its sheer skill, athleticism and physical toughness, while its spectacular elements were completely unique,” he said.
Unable to afford pay television, Devaney these days gets his fill of Australian football via the internet, making a special effort to tune into the Port Adelaide games. He has been back to Australia several times in the past 42 years, his father having relocated to Tasmania in retirement, and his passion for the country shows no sign of diminishing. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the family's journey to Adelaide from Liverpool, and his fateful introduction to Australian football.
Devaney says he likes the modern game but perhaps not as much as the idealised game of his youth. He thinks it's become slightly homogenous in that every team at AFL level plays a similar style. He also can't abide contrivances such as the nine-point goals which have been introduced recently in the pre-season competition - an Americanisation, he feels, which the game can do without.
“That just mirrors basketball, doesn't it, when you get three points for shooting outside the ring. I just don't see the point in that. I think Australian football should play to its strengths. And its strengths are unique and inherent in the game as it is. It doesn't need to borrow from other sports. I think that diminishes it, personally.
“So my love affair with Australian football continues as intense and obsessive as ever, albeit without certain frustrations. In particular the administration of the game, particularly at the top level, continues to irritate and sometimes bemuse me. Despite its name, it seems clear to me the Australian Football League has failed to disentangle itself from its Victorian roots, with those in control harbouring certain assumptions about the game and its history which continue to stymie development.
“I also find it's become quite homogenous. Players all play much the same way; there's not those distinct styles there once was. The variability and contrasting styles - that was part of the charm for me, as with that state game in 1967. If you half close your eyes when you're watching the television now it could be any two teams out there playing.
“Still, I don't want to give the impression that I've fallen out of love, as it were. Let's say the marriage is going through a slightly rocky period. But we'll survive.
“I will enjoy those aspects of the game which still beguile, thrill and excite and cope as best I can with the feelings of estrangement evoked by my misfortune in living on the opposite side of the globe from the epicentre of the finest sporting action on the planet.”
And with that, Devaney excuses himself to put the finishing touches to his essay on the 1911 VFA Final and, of course, the equally notable Grand Final, his word-count inching its way towards three million.
This article first appeared at backpagelead.com.au and subsequently at australianfootball.com.
Adam Cardosi tells the extraordinary story of John Devaney, an Englishman based in the East Midlands (UK), who just happens to be one of the foremost authorities on the Australian game.
The East Midlands town of Lincoln, England, is well known as the home of Lincoln Cathedral, which is among the finest medieval structures anywhere in Europe. It was, for almost 250 years after its construction, the tallest building in the world. Tourists come from far and wide to visit this famed Norman edifice and the nearby castle, and to savour the atmosphere of this historic Midlands town.
As far as the game of football is concerned, it is the round ball game that people in this part of the world naturally think of when the concept of football is raised. Perennial strugglers Lincoln City F.C. is the town’s flag bearer, although the ‘Imps’ fall from grace in recent years—demoted from the English Football League—has dampened spirits somewhat. But whatever the plight of the local team, it is the game of soccer that most of Lincoln’s sporting fans follow, notwithstanding a sprinkling of support for the rugby codes. There is, however, one notable exception to this general rule, an eccentric lone wolf, a Lincoln local who just happens to be one of the foremost authorities anywhere on the Australian game of football.
Only a couple of Billy Barrot drop kicks away from the famed cathedral a middle aged English gentleman by the name of John Devaney is hard at work preparing proofs for the latest offering from ‘Full Points Publications’, his own ‘private label’ publishing venture to showcase his extensive research into the Aussie game.
He is surrounded by stacks of old footy books, classics such as ‘The Vic Richardson Story’, ‘Men of Norwood’, and ‘The North Story’, less polished offerings including myriad ghosted autobiographies and footy pot boilers, as well as piles of magazines—obscure back issues of the SANFL and WAFL Footy Budgets, Football Times, Footy World, the VFA Recorder, various league yearbooks, and club annual reports, just to name a handful. Here exists an oasis of Australian football history in an otherwise completely barren desert. That such a shrine to footy exists at all in a town, a country, a hemisphere all almost oblivious to the very existence of the Australian game of football makes it all the more remarkable.
Devaney is working on the fourth and final volume of his ‘Encyclopedia of Australian Football Clubs’, bringing to a conclusion a massive undertaking to document the history of more than 2,000 football clubs and leagues from all levels of competition throughout Australia and abroad. Simultaneously, he is finalising a two-volume tome entitled the ‘Victorian Football Companion’, the latest in a series of state ‘companion’ volumes that has seen the publication of books about football in Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. In his spare time he is also compiling a new volume devoted to the great games of footy history in all the major Australian competitions.
When the latest round of publications is complete, it will bring to ten the number of football books published by this prolific pom. Indeed, as the word count approaches three million, Devaney can count himself as one of the most prolific of all footy writers, if not the most prolific. Given that level of output, one may be forgiven for questioning the quality of the copy, but the fact is that his work is not only underpinned by years of reading and research, it is also remarkably well written and engaging, albeit a little idiosyncratic. It is the latter characteristic that comes from a unique perspective, as one would expect when the story of the great Australian game is told by a Liverpool lad, now firmly ensconced in Lincoln, who has spent close on fifty of his fifty-six years living in the British Isles.
To trace the origins of this unique story we must venture back to 1963 and the arrival in Adelaide of the Devaney family under the auspices of what was officially known as the ‘Assisted Passenger Scheme’, or ‘ten pound poms’ as they were more colloquially labelled—a term now embraced with a degree of nostalgic affection it didn’t have at the time! As a six-year-old thrown into the deep end on the other side of the world, young Devaney tried the best way he knew how to adapt to his local environment. In Australia in the 1960s, one of the best ways to do that was through sport, cricket in the summer and, in the southern states at least, Australian football in the winter. As Devaney recalls,
“…Football’s prominence in the media, particular on TV and radio, coupled with the obsessive interest shown in it by many of my new Australian friends both at school and in my neighbourhood, made it very difficult to ignore.”
As the years went on, not only was the local game difficult to ignore, it began to exert a profound influence on his psyche.
The thrill of attending with his father the 1965 SANFL Grand Final between his adopted team, the mighty Port Adelaide under Fos Williams, and the emerging power Sturt under Jack Oatey, was an important milestone, albeit clouded by mixed emotions.
In front of a then record crowd of 62,543—well over the Adelaide Oval’s authorised capacity—the Devaneys, like many others who’d managed to get into the ground only to find no suitable vantage point from which to see the play, failed to see a ball kicked in anger, let alone savor what was one of the great games of the era. They did, however, hear more than a few voices raised in anger from other unfortunate spectators in the same predicament.
“…there were, I recall, quite a few acrimonious exchanges at the turnstiles as people (unsuccessfully) demanded their money back. In the end, Port’s victory by 3 points provided me with only minimal consolation for my dad’s and my failure to see any of the play.”
Undeterred, the young man continued his journey of discovery in the new game, attending matches and playing for his school, until one day in July 1967 he had a ‘Eureka moment’, his football nirvana when, in his own words, his attitude to the game was “forever transformed from being ‘merely’ my favourite sport to something more akin to a religion”.
The occasion was the annual interstate clash between South Australia and Victoria at the Adelaide Oval, a thrilling hard-fought contest that went down to the wire. Much to the chagrin of the locals, the ‘Big V’ sealed victory with a goal practically on the siren. But for the eleven-year-old Devaney, who through fate of circumstance had attended the game on his own, it was a revelation.
“I returned home in something approximating to a state of rapture, South Australia's narrow and—in my view—unjustified loss notwithstanding. It was as if the scales had been whisked from my eyes; enlightenment had dawned. Football, far from being just a game, was a metaphor, indeed a conduit, for life itself. As of this particular day, and this unique and unrepeatable set of experiences, football and life, for me, would become so inextricably intertwined as to be virtually indistinguishable. Football became my life, my raison d'être, my fulfilment.”
“Despite the fact that I had had a keen interest in football for several years, this was the first time I had been confronted full on by all its essential beauty, drama, pain, exhilaration and allure. I was, to coin a cliché, born again, and nothing in the world would ever be quite the same.”
Over the next three years, the young man become obsessed with the game and spent virtually every waking moment devoted to it, until that is, a bombshell came from out of the blue. The family decided to return to England—permanently. The Australian dream was over. So too, it seemed, the football odyssey of a fourteen-year-old just entering adolescence. The mighty Magpies of Port Adelaide would most probably fade into the background in favour of the mighty Toffees of Everton. But against all odds, things didn’t turn out like that at all.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the Australian game had made such an impression on the young man, given it was the key to social inclusion in a foreign land, and that his stay in Australia coincided with those key formative years when a young person’s identity is being moulded, and their interests are taking shape. It is often the case that those who are passionate about the game, or any sport or endeavour for that matter, were usually first exposed to it during those formative years between the ages of seven and fifteen, most commonly through a parent or mentor in combination with the trusted peer group. Moreover, some of the deepest impressions—those that last a lifetime—are often made when the game becomes a metaphor for something bigger than itself, whether for the nostalgia of better days or better places, for significant relationships with family or friends, or the loss thereof, or for life itself.
This was certainly the case for the young John Devaney. Forty years of living thousands of kilometres from the physical manifestation of his beloved game did nothing to dull the emotional passion sparked during those formative years in Adelaide. Indeed, if anything, his love of football grew even stronger, although by necessity that love, and the development of a sharp analytical focus about the game, was kept alive, in isolation, by Australia Post—magazines, journals, annual reports, and books, and later VHS videos, arriving in a steady stream at the Devaney household for nigh on forty years! All that reading, thinking, and musing on the great game was, for the most part, a one way conservation, at least until the mid 1980s when exhibition games of Australian football were staged in London, and, in the wake of these, a British Australian footy league was formed.
Although Australian Football had been played sporadically in England over the years, the most famous match being the October 1916 exhibition game between the Third Australian Division and the Australian Training Units at Queen’s Club, West Kensington, it wasn’t until the mid 1980s that the VFL embarked on a concerted effort to promote the game in Britain, and indeed internationally. Beginning in 1986, leading VFL teams played what became an annual post season exhibition match at the famed Oval (Kennington) cricket ground in London. It was at this fixture in 1987, the infamous ‘Battle of Britain’ fought out between Carlton and North Melbourne, that John Devaney once again experienced the joy of live football. The match, he later wrote, was “absolutely the best game of footy I’d seen for nigh on two decades”. In fact, it was the only game of footy he’d seen for nigh on two decades!⁵
There was no doubting it was a match of thrills and spills, not to mention numerous ‘off the ball’ incidents, with a couple of king hits to boot. As a Yorkshireman sitting behind the Devaneys remarked, ‘by ‘eck, tha’ don’t ‘old back much, do they?’. Whatever the quality of the game itself, watching live footy again made Devaney feel he had ‘come home’, at least in the spiritual sense. It also stirred the fires within, and prompted some serious thought. As he wrote in his diary later that day;
“Today’s whole experience left me thinking about what I might do to promote the game of footy in this country. Pretty pretentious, what? Still, somebody’s got to do it, so why not me? ‘You don't get nowt for owt!’ as that Yorkshire geezer at the match might well have put it.”
In the wake of the higher profile accorded Australian Football due to these exhibition games and increased TV coverage, a number of British and Australian enthusiasts took the bit between their teeth and formed the British Australian Rules Football League (BARFL). Devaney, who was one of the league’s driving forces, became the playing President of the East Midland Eagles, based at Aylestone Park, Leicester, the only team located north of the Watford Gap in what was, and still is, a London dominated competition.
After a promising start, the Eagles, one of the few teams to be predominantly British-born, began to struggle, although they soldiered on until 1996 when the retirement and resignation of the playing-president proved too much for the club. Having turned forty, Devaney was finding all the travelling–a 250 kilometre round trip even for a home game–rather onerous, not to mention the bumps and bruises associated with playing. But when no one stepped forward to assume the reigns, the club folded and the Eagles were no more.⁶
For the former president, who had been at the forefront of documenting the goings on of the club and the League in general, the end of active involvement at club level was replaced by a desire to research and write more deeply about the history of the game he had fallen in love with, all over again. This, as he would later write “was crucial to the evolution of what would later emerge as Full Points Footy”.
Scouring all the sources he could muster, and he could muster a lot given he’d been collecting newspapers, magazines, annual reports, newsletters, and yearbooks for more than twenty years, Devaney wrote wide-ranging yet detailed sets of notes on a vast array of clubs and leagues, expanding over time to include players, teams, and famous matches. A key theme of the project was to refocus thinking to what he believed was one of the most fundamental aspects of the game, its unique Australianness. As he later put it;
“…the more research I did the more concerned I became about the way in which all aspects of the game’s history tended to be portrayed from a very constricted, V/AFL influenced perspective. Gradually, the ambition of creating a site which treated the game as quintessentially Australian rather than just Victorian, and which examined all aspects of its history from that standpoint, emerged.”
The first public manifestation of a decade’s worth of research, coupled with two additional decades of collecting, reading, and thinking about the game, was unveiled in January 2001, with the launch of the website ‘fullpointsfooty.net’, a site created largely by Devaney himself using the HTML development language he mastered specially for the task. Over the next eleven years of its existence, the site grew to enormous proportions as more content was added, and provided readers with a wonderful online resource to study all aspects of the game from an Australia-wide viewpoint. It was also the source material for the six books published under the ‘Full Points’ moniker that followed later in the decade
The ‘Full Points Footy’ website and content has now been absorbed into this new site, australianfootball.com, invariably picking up where John Devaney left off. What he understood, and I concur, is that there is a real need to record, understand, and appreciate the past for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end, and place the history of the game on a sound historical footing, free of bias or official influence. Much new material will be coming onto the AF site over the coming months, and I’m delighted to say, that will include new content from a familiar source. Despite relinquishing control of the FPF website, John Devaney’s work goes on. There are four more books in the pipeline, and while these will be published independently through ‘Full Points Publications’, and available for purchase online as standalone volumes, all the content will eventually find its way into the pages of this website.
I’m delighted that the partnership between the new site and the old FPF will continue. John Devaney is a kindred spirit. Not that I agree with everything he has written, but I appreciate the difference he is trying to make, and the gaps he is trying to fill, not to mention his devotion to the task. There need to be alternative voices away from the centre, a centre that is now growing exponentially in numbers and influence, and John is one who is certainly attempting to fill that void. As a long-standing expat myself, I appreciate the ‘outside looking in’ perspective that John has brought to the game. I also appreciate how difficult it must have been to follow so closely the game from afar, especially in the ‘old’ pre-internet days.
The ‘Full Points Footy’ body of work stands as testimony to John’s dedication to the task and enduring commitment to the game he loves. I hope that his contribution to the literature of our game commands the recognition it deserves.
This article first appeared at at australianfootball.com.