It’s not often that you lead an article by saying that you wish that you weren’t a former Australian fast bowler who gets paid to write about football and cricket. It’s strange for us too, so bear with us.
We started up Hurling People Now about three years ago now, after getting drunk with a mate (@bondles) at the pub and watching the hurling, which 7mate had started to broadcast. As the night went on we started yelling that we were hurling people now, which is exactly as embarrassing to recount as it reads.
Around the same time, we had talked about our various interests in sports and sport statistics. So we decided to launch a blog for some of our thoughts, both good and bad. As a result one of our first pieces was on hurling, and it’s not our finest work.
When we started it was firmly a hobby, and there weren’t a whole lot of similar writers out there. Tony Corke and Footy Maths provided some early inspiration (and the latter provided @arwon an early platform), but the “fanalyst” community was small. We met catching the same bus to and from work everyday, and talked about sport and politics on almost every one of them. As well as cars and girls and rock and roll, but that’s less interesting the older we get.
Both of us have experience as writers in the past, but at this stage of our lives any new project would simply be a hobby. No advertising, no cash, no stressing over SEO, very limited promotion. Our social media presence has operated from a content bot, a solitary twitter account sending out articles once. Since starting HPN (the acronym is less embarrassing), we’ve been offered payment for writing but rejected it. We’ve also offered our work on one occasion, as we thought we had something worth saying, and wanted to support a worthwhile website (the late SBS Zela). A few other sites have reposted or linked to our work, and we’re grateful for the exposure.
From the start we figured that the key to this for us was to have fun, and try to find new things that people hadn’t looked at before. Everything else was ancillary.
We both have jobs which are challenging enough without needing to turn our side hobby into a job, and receiving a payment for something that’s just fun for us to do would likely compel us to take this more seriously. We’d never rule out going down that path, but we’re not there right now. Hurling is an amateur sport after all.
In the past three years the footy fanaylst community has swollen with great contributors on a variety of platform, and from some of the older faces blowing us out of the water. Insight Lane, The Arc, Figuring Footy, Madness of Sport, Analysis of AFL, Ryan Buckland, Adrian Polykandrites…the list goes on. We’ve also had the privilege of coming across some who are already at the top of the sports stats field in Australia, like Darren O’Shaughnessy. We don’t want this to turn this into a shout-out list, but it’s worth noting that the footy writing world has moved a long way in three years.
It’s also worth noting that almost none of the names mentioned above works for a major Australian news outlet, let alone on a regular basis.
Brett Geeves, however, does.
When we first came across Brett Geeves, we thought we’d do a long take down article of his loose, opinionated writing. His scribbling is of the style of countless other football writers, heavy on gut feel and takes, but with a lot of basic mistakes. Research, which is the basis of everything we write, seemed like his anathema.
It would be easy – like shooting fish in a barrel. He would do things like quote Monty Python all the time, but over-explain and occasionally fuck up the quote. He’ll write that his old mate Hilfy can now count to ten because of sudoku, perhaps not knowing sudoku only uses numbers one through nine. Or he would blame drugs for everything and jump straight for the high horse.
The first piece that grabbed our attention was about Callum Mills and the Sydney academy, which felt like it was written in a shorter time than it took to read. Perhaps it was the false equivalence with the NBA and one of their all time greats, the cherry-picked AFL example, or the unwillingness to read one of the many articles his own organisation had penned explaining the draft points system and the mechanics of the academy. And that’s before we get to his totally botching the history of the northern academies within a conspiracy theory worthy of Bay 13 at BigFooty.
We even made a table, which took about 5 minutes to research and produce, debunking his entire claim about the picks used to get Mills being an undervaluation of pick 3, complete with the cherry-picked Martin example highlighted:
But most likely it was that HPN had spent the last two or so years trying to explain and value the concept of AFL drafting and trading in relatively simple terms. For us the “trade” was extremely simple, and extremely easy, to comprehend and interpret. If we’d spent so much time doing this, why did Geeves have a job when he was unwilling to do five minutes worth of work on Google?
Geeves is billed as the “AFL Outsider”, while still working for one of the major media organisations in the footballing world. Every time we looked further into his archive the more we questioned why.
Why did he say that drugs were a key factor towards domestic violence, but that the public use of derogatory language isn’t? Five minutes later we found government reports on the importance of language in relation to domestic violence, and the fact that drugs only contributed to (very approximately) 8% of all domestic violence cases (when looking at BOSCAR and ABS surveys of differing methodologies). Why would a man forced into mediation over on-field racial vilification even want to publicly defend the use of derogatory language? Why were all the pieces were filled with unsubstantiated statements or pointless pop culture references? It made our brains hurt.
There’s a place for writers who use emotion more than numbers. Martin Flanagan is a fantastic writer on the game, whose work fits in with a rich narrative history of newspaper footy writing. Russell Jackson at The Guardian has not only written some of the finest articles relating to Australian sport in the past two years, but has also commissioned several others. And we’d be remiss not to include friend of the program Erin Riley, who writes about some of the most important issues in football, and does so bravely and impressively.
There’s even a big place for humour in footy writing and commentary, and the examples (from the Coodabeens to Dull Jack Riewoldt, and all stops between) are plentiful.
Football has a place for writers with a great sense of narrative, just as we feel that it increasingly has a place for writers with a good grasp of numbers and the meaning behind them. We don’t know where Geeves fits in, to be honest. We’ve heard him commentate on Grandstand before, and both of us think he’s done an alright job on that platform. But there’s no denying that his writing is weak, and that his research is even worse. Being an “outsider” is no excuse for not wanting to know more, stage persona be damned. Boasting about getting paid to do so as a point of superiority over hobby bloggers is a bit daft.
At the time of writing this it is unclear what the future for HPN is, although we both think that maybe a slightly more “shit-giving” approach is in order, including a better name. Almost definitely a better name. Maybe the future looks like working more collaboratively with other writers and analysts ass the best approach for us “outsiders”, pooling resources and ideas like SABR did many moons ago.
One thing we are sure of is that we’re glad we’re not Brett Geeves, even if that means we’re short an Australian cap, or a couple of dollars. And, for as long as you’re willing to let us continue, we hope to not become Brett Geeves for a few years yet.