Writing Online

Or, Thoughts about Contributing to The Footy Almanac

The Footy Almanac is a footy and sports blog founded by John Harms and Paul Daffy (2007). The life of the blog is maintained through a collective process of contributing. There are hundreds of authors. Dozens of authors, bloggers contribute articles, posts or ‘content’ to the website each month. Since 2014, I have contributed about 20 individual articles: ranging from book reviews, photographs, to essays on watching sport, visiting stadia and competing in athletics competitions. Given that some contributors write weekly or fortnightly for The Almanac, I am far from being one of the most productive contributors. The Almanac is one of numerous websites which provides an alternative to the mainstream, commercial media such as The Age or the AFL’s own website. The Almanac is comparable to The Roar, which is also run by a collection of contributors. The Almanac has a large audience and a low entry bar for contributions: there is no minimum word limit and the editors rarely intervene thoroughly in the contributions. The editors are encouraged to spend little more than 15minutes in editing pieces before they go online.

Screen Shot 2018-07-17 at 10.15.32 pm

The Almanac has about 1,500-2,000 visitors per day. Each day between 5-10 articles are published: some of which are summaries of articles which have appeared elsewhere, with links to the original article. Although, there are a number of paid editors, The Almanac also relies on a squad of volunteers who help maintain the website on a daily basis. John Harms oversees the process. The Almanac publishes one or two books each year. Since 2018, there has been a stronger campaign to glean funds from writers and writers of The Almanac to ensure that it remains viable. Readers/contributors are encourage to take out a monthly ‘subscription’ just as they may do so with Spotify or a charity. The website and the books The Almanac publishes contain a minor number of advertisements. The Almanac organises events such as ‘Odd Friday Lunches’ during which past footy greats speak about their career and post-footy life.

**

One of my recent pieces for The Footy Almanac was titled “Field, Ground, Oval, Stadium”. This piece is about 1,134 words and has a total of 7 comments. I haven’t checked – nor am interested in – how many times it has been read. The piece was written after watching a game of footy at Northcote Oval, aka Bill Lawry Oval. The time for my ‘fieldwork’ on the day was about three hours: one-hour travel time (half an hour each way) and two hours of footy-watching. I didn’t make notes while watching the game. Sometimes making notes distracts me from the experience too much of being there. After having dinner, I then wrote up my recollections of what happened during the day. This took another hour: during which time I wrote about 500 words – my minimum target for each day. I had my notes, but I knew I hadn’t yet written an essay: there was only description, without any sense of narrative. Over the next ten days, I then created a narrative out of my various readings and reflections and turned it into a piece about sporting geography and the links to Melbourne’s Aboriginal history. Melbourne is on Wurundjeri Country and is known as Naarm. I intimated at this ancient history, but was particularly interested in the figure of Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls who used to play at Northcote Oval during the club’s VFA history. I juxtaposed this with the more celebrated figure of Bill Lawry whom the oval is named after.

This little essay had taken me the better part of two weeks to write. The trip to Northcote Oval was very pleasant and very close to being a kind of ‘recreation’. I had made the trip there on my bicycle with the intention of finding material, but I hadn’t known what I would find or how I would make something of it. Going there, making the time to observe, and to a degree participate, put me in a space where a piece of writing could emerge. I received some feedback in the form of comments at the bottom of the piece from people I hadn’t met before: in differing ways they said they enjoyed the piece; or at least, found it valuable in one sense or another. There was also some minor email correspondence.

The Footy Almanac – its contributors, readers and editors – values writing from a personal, idiosyncratic perspective. There is little differentiation between the kinds of footy (or sports) that are written about. Descriptions of games played in the Victorian Amateur Football Association are given equal importance to those played in the Australian Football League. One of the skills of being a writer is finding the right publication to suit the piece of writing which one has come up with. In this case, I may have got the balance right through providing something both consistent and mildly different to what is often published on The Almanac. I have since re-published the piece on Reading Sideways (.net) and added some photographs from the visit. The purpose of the piece became an inquiry into the intersection of sports geography with Melbourne’s recent and ancient Aboriginal history.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 1.48.25 pm

Playing, writing