Phillip Taylor’s love of the Hawthorn Football Club took him on a journey from sportsblogger to published author.
You work in corporate communications. How did you break into sportswriting?
It was the old “write what you know” situation. I’m primarily a writer and I needed an outlet where I could escape the mire of corporate verbiage such as “leveraging core capabilities” and “aligning strategic visions”. Given my obsession with Hawthorn, a friend encouraged me to write about them – most likely he was just sick of hearing me talk about them. I began writing a blog as a writing exercise and I adopted a “week by week” match review mainly as a way of forcing me to write each week.
It wasn’t written with the intention of publishing a book, but a literary agent friend saw it and showed it to a few local publishers, some of whom liked the writing and saw some potential. When Hawthorn lost the Grand Final in 2012 the project died away, but I continued the blog in 2013 and as the finals approached and it looked like Hawthorn would be a strong contender, we put together a proposal for publishers. By the time Hawthorn won the premiership, we had a book length piece that not only covered Hawthorn’s successful campaign, but also some of the other dramatic events of the season, such as the Essendon supplements saga, the racism scandal and the speculation about which team Buddy Franklin wold play for. These elements provided a narrative arc and cohesiveness to the story and helped make it more than just a “week by week” account about Hawthorn. The fact that I’d done the bulk of the work and it was more or less ready to go was crucial in the publisher’s decision to go ahead.
For up-and-coming sportswriters, is it more important to know one sport (or one team within that sport) inside out, or to be able to write about sport across the board?
It depends on the type of writing you’re embarking on. A specialist in a particular field can get away with knowing one sport thoroughly. Journalists, however, tend to cover a range of sports so they need to have a depth and a breadth of knowledge about sport in general. I know someone who works for AAP covering football, cycling and recently the Commonwealth Games, so he has a very broad knowledge about sport in general. But sport is like any subject matter – you need a certain degree of knowledge to give your writing credibility. Most of your readers are likely to be those who already know something about your topic, particularly if it is in a specialised field, so you either need to be able to tell them something they don’t already know, or at least write about the familiar from a fresh perspective.
Realistically, how hard is it to interview presidents, coaches and players? Is this kind of access restricted to established sportswriters?
In my case it didn’t come up. However, the AFL and the individual clubs are very protective of their image and like to control any media. There is an accreditation process for journalists covering the AFL, but if you’re writing a book, you’d first need to seek approval from the club and individual involved. In my case neither the AFL nor Hawthorn cooperated with the book, although all the photos we used had to first be cleared by the AFL. I was writing from a very personal perspective, so other than the normal legal checks, the lack of cooperation meant that I was free to write what I wanted.
Can you be a sportswriter without being a diehard sportsfan?
It depends on your perspective. Some of the best sports books focus on social issues as they connect with sport. For example, Anna Krien’s book, ‘Night Games’, is about the treatment of women in football, whereas ‘Black and Proud’ by Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond focuses on racial issues in the AFL. One of the most well-known sports books, ‘Friday Night Lights’ by H.G. Bissinger is about the role of high school football (in this context, gridiron) in a particular Texas town in the 80s – it is as much about the education system, race and a community’s values as it is about American Football. The best book about English football hooliganism, ‘Among the Thugs’, was written by a visiting American who had very little exposure to English football prior to writing the book. So objectivity can offer a useful perspective. Fan books like mine, ‘High on Hawthorn’, or Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’, however, are fuelled by an obsession that is only possible after years of irrational devotion.
Your book’s been published and you’re still blogging about Hawthorn’s games. Will you ever tire of writing about Hawthorn?
I’ll never tire of watching them play, but I doubt that I’ll continue to write about them forever in the ‘week by week’ format I’ve been employing up until now. After all, there’s only so many gags I can make about Ryan Schoenmakers’ pony tail. Still, J.K. Rowling wrote seven Harry Potter books before she moved on, so if the Hawks can win seven in a row, perhaps I’ll match her. And it’s worth noting in passing that Harry Potter wears a brown and gold scarf.
About Phillip Taylor
Phillip Taylor is a Melbourne-born writer and long-time fan of Hawthorn Football Club. He was at the MCG in 1971 when the Hawks won the premiership and has now seen them play in 15 Grand Finals, winning 10 of them. He works in corporate communications, has a Masters in Communications and blogs about Hawthorn. His first book, ‘High on Hawthorn: The Road to the 2013 Premiership’, was published by Nero in 2014.