If you’ve read previous posts on this blog you will have gleaned that:
- I’m a lifelong Geelong fan.
- I’ve invested a disproportionate amount of emotional energy and angst in this endeavour.
- As a consequence of points 2 and 3, I’m naturally well disposed to books that support the argument that there is social benefit in supporting the Geelong Football Club.
However, I think I’m still sufficiently objective to recognise that Comeback: The Fall and Rise of Geelong by James Button is an outstanding book and I’d recommend it to anyone who:
- Supports the Geelong Football Club (GFC).
- Is interested in Geelong.
- Is interested in how organisations can successfully implement cultural change.
- Is interested in the role of sporting clubs and other organisations in supporting and enriching communities, particularly in regional areas.
Most sporting books simply aren’t very good. Sporting books about clubs and their social impact that are good generally fall into three categories:
- They convey the drama of a success or failure, and provide insight into the what drove the success or failure (eg. John Powers’s The Coach, Martin Flanagan’s 1970 and David Halberstam’s Breaks of the Game).
- They explain how excellence or innovation in the organisation contributed to success (eg. Michael Lewis’s Moneyball).
- They describe the role and impact of a club or a sport in a community or society (eg. CLR James’s Beyond a Boundary, Ramachandra Guha’s In a Corner of a Foreign Field and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch).
It is rare for a sporting book to deliver on all three categories (although, some of the above do come close), and this is the great triumph of Comeback.
The structure is broadly chronological. As the title suggests, it takes the reader on a journey through up and downs of the GFC and finally, and gloriously, chronicles its spectacular run of success of recent years. However, the richness of the book is not its documentation of the rise of the club as a football power in recent years. Rather, it is its thoughtful and articulate treatment of the following themes:
- The role of a football club in a regional community. The relationship between the GFC and Geelong is skillfully described. In particular, how the club has become more effective in supporting its community and how important this been in the personal development of its players. This has progressed to the point where the GFC’s definition of success focuses on its role in the community, as well as its football achievements.
- The role of football clubs in families. The author beautifully and vividly describes how support of a football club builds bonds within families. Something I’m sure sports fans across the world can relate to (the Cavalier clan certainly can).
- The role of values and culture in changing organisations. The critical role that positively changing values and culture played in lifting the club from its nadir in the late 1990s through to its exceptional successes in the late 2000s and 2010s is brilliantly captured in the book. This cultural change has also fed through to its role in the community.
- Insight into the people who drove the change. The book provides rich insights into the people in the club who drove change and success. Importantly, this isn’t focused on just the coach, captain, stars, CEO, Chair etc, but includes a broad suite of people involved in the club.
I hope others take the opportunity to read the book. It is well worth it.