For quite a number of years, I did sports photography for the Star News Group in Melbourne, mostly covering football and cricket, but also a variety of other sports including soccer, rugby, cycling, horse racing and whatever else was of interest to the paper at the time. I also covered general news stories, but I was mainly a sports photographer doing the weekend rounds. I enjoyed the work, but after doing it year in, year out, rushing from one venue to the next and having to sort, select, caption and then submit the photos before the following Monday, it slowly wore you down. There were times when I really had to fight to find the motivation to keep going and sometimes I’d start the day feeling like I was already bowled out for a duck.
It was cricket that really wore me down more than anything else. There you were, out on usually fine days trying to eke out something, anything, of interest from often slow and tedious games. Clearly the matches were of importance to the players but, from a photographic perspective, it really was all too often a case of watching grass grow and usually you only had maybe half an hour to get something decent before you had to move on to the next match (good luck with that). The idea was to catch inspiring action and sometimes you were lucky; however, more often than not, you’d be struggling for anything different from one match to another.
The difference between cricket and football (the Aussie Rules stuff) was palpable. For example, with cricket, you never had to worry about a parking spot, no matter what time of day you arrived. The crowds were usually at the beach, while a few faithful (and sport photographers) pretended to show interest by going to the match. But with football, even the lowest grade games drew in crowds that filled every possible parking spot near and far, sometimes meaning you had to park a kilometre or more away if you came in after quarter or half time. And with Aussie Rules, the only standing around was at quarter and three quarter time.
With Aussie Rules, whether it be AFL, VFL, TAC or whatever level, there was always something of interest happening. There was not a game that I went to that wouldn’t give me plenty of photographs of interest, often far more than I could use. Of course if you were tasked to cover a specific player, you weren’t always lucky to catch them in great action, but actions shots you could get. As a sports photographer, if you couldn’t get anything of value at an Aussie Rules game, you were simply not trying.
That’s why even during the most miserable times of the year, when it was freezing cold, wet and windy, you didn’t feel depressed about being there (up to a point). Some of the games could be truly depressing weather wise, but it was never dull. Mind you, I could make an exception of the Williamstown Football Oval in the middle of winter; that was a place about which no one that I ever met could utter a supportive word.
And the interest wasn’t just there while the game was in full swing; equally during its slower moments or waiting for a decision, there was still a constant story going on. Even during the quarter and half time breaks, there were moments that allowed you interesting shots that highlighted other aspects of the game.
So there’s no doubt that Aussie Rules was my favourite sport to photograph; that said, there were many other interesting sports that I covered. Soccer is one of the most followed games in the world and similarly has a very strong following in Australia, but I could never warm to it, no matter how many games I attended. I just seemed disconnected from the game, as well as the spectators, in a way that I can’t describe. Sometimes, when I went to a match, I felt like I was in a different country altogether.
Then there were a myriad of other sports that arose from time to time, but often there was no overt rhyme or reason at times as to why a particular sport was important one week, month or whatever, and not the next. Not that it mattered to me, if it was on the assignment list, I was there to get what I could get. What all this did was expose me to a huge variety of sports that I would never normally have considered attending, and certainly cemented my views on what I enjoyed and what I did not when it came to many varieties of sport.
When I moved to Mirboo North, I offered to cover the local team’s matches and did so for a year. But by the end of that year, the realisation came that I’d lost interest in this sort of photography and if you aren’t truly interested, then you’re not going to do a good job or a genuine service to the team. I can honestly say that I enjoyed sports photography, but the fact that you hardly ever had a free weekend eventually became a confronting issue and some serious decisions had to be made. So I decided that for peace of mind, I’d let this go and not become committed to chasing games week after week.
Nowadays, I’m more than happy to spend a day or more each year photographing and enjoying the company of a group of people playing sheep stations (or similar stuff), than weekly following and photographing a group of people playing for sheep stations.