Felice Arena & Garry Lyon
192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
Twenty years ago when the AFL season was being dominated by the team from Port Adelaide but two less-likely contenders, Brisbane Lions and Collingwood fought out the premiership, one of the most popular series that wouldn’t stay on the shelf was Specky Magee – the story of a 12-year-old footballer whose off-field challenges almost surpassed his on-field exploits.
Nicknamed Specky because he takes such spectacular marks, the young Specky can’t understand why there is a photograph of him in footy gear in pride of place in the family home yet the family can’t stand football. And so he decides to investigate… It is Specky’s backstory that made this such a popular read because suddenly the boys particularly, were reading about their own challenges as they navigated puberty and family interactions and the bridging that child-adolescent chasm. They found themselves in the story.
And while Felice Arena’s name wasn’t well-known at the time, Garry Lyon’s was. As captain of the Melbourne Demons from 1991-1997, three All-Australian nominations and an emerging media career, Lyon was a leading personality whose name on the front cover of a book would draw in even the most reluctant reader. For it to evolve into a series of eight books was just the icing on the cake. There are many who owe their reading prowess today to that series, girls as well as boys, because this was also a ground-breaking series that was written for both. While the AFLW was still 15 years away, nevertheless the girls are strong characters who help shape Specky off the field. And Christina introduces him to the notion that girls can play as well as boys.
It is testament to the quality and strength of the story that it is being re-released 20 years on from its debut and it will have as much appeal now as it did then. While the series spans Specky’s life from 12-14, and thus perhaps is at the upper end of the readership of this blog, nevertheless there will be younger readers who will cherish it for being one of just a handful available about their beloved game.
Meanwhile, having read the series all those years ago, I’m looking forward to Arena’s new title – The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan the story of a young girl who used her football skills to raise funds for the troops in 1942… perhaps the origins of AFLW go back much further than we think.