The Full Points Footy story
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.¹
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.”²
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.”³
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.”⁴
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.”⁷
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.
- The volumes published thus far are as follows: Full Points Footy Encyclopedia of Australian Football Clubs, Volume 1, 2008. Full Points Footy Encyclopedia of Australian Football Clubs, Volume 2, 2010. Full Points Footy Encyclopedia of Australian Football Clubs, Volume 3, 2011. Full Points Footy's SA Football Companion, 2008. Full Points Footy's Tasmanian Football Companion, 2009. Full Points Footy's WA Football Companion, 2008.
- Forthcoming article by John Devaney
- http://australianfootball.com/articles/view/The+Battle+of+Britain%3A+Nirvana+regained/121 for an account of the 'Battle of Britain'.
- Personal communication from John Devaney. For an account of the BARFL during Devaney’s time of involvement, see http://australianfootball.com/articles/view/The+story+of+the+British+Footy+League+/122 7.Forthcoming article by John Devaney