Bert and Vicarious Goalkeeping

bertprofI am a child of the 1950s.

My recollections of that time are of play.

The sad news of Bert Trautmann’s death this week brought back these recollections today.

I was four at the time of the 1956 FA Cup Final that etched Bert into the nation’s psyche. In that game, he played the final 17 minutes with a broken neck.

There is an excellent post about Bert’s career on the Manchester City Project.

Two year’s after the epic Cup Final, Roger Caillois wrote:

All play presupposes the temporary acceptance, if not of an illusion (indeed this last word means nothing less than beginning a game: in-lusio), then at least of a closed conventional, and, in certain respects, imaginary universe. Play can consist not only of deploying actions or submitting to one’s fate in an imaginary milieu, but of becoming an illusory character oneself, and of so behaving. One is thus confronted with a diverse series of manifestations, the common element of which is that the subject makes believe or makes others believe that he is someone other than himself. He forgets, disguises, or temporarily sheds his personality in order to feign another. I prefer to designate these phenomena by the term mimicry

I did not read Caillois’ thoughts on the classification of games until twenty years after their publication but I was living the life of mimicry thanks to Bert.


I had started playing football in 1956 but have no real memory of the Cup Final. Between 1956 and 1960, I took to goalkeeping with a passion. My cousin, Gerald, gave me his old yellow goalkeeper’s jumper with the roll up collar. Whenever I could I played in goal in small sided games in our lane or at the recreation ground. After my jumper was worn out, my Mum knitted me a new jumper (a rather daring purple from some left over wool).

I was usually Bert Trautmann diving at the feet of oncoming players but my new jumper gave me the opportunity for a new persona, Lev Yashin. I thought the combination of the two goalkeepers’ identities was a world beater.

Those early experiences of standing between goals made up of coats for posts and an imaginary crossbar had an immense impact on my love and understanding of sport.

In 1961, I was 9 years old when my Primary School won the Hardwick Shield. By that time I had moved to play right half. I love the picture of the team. I am kneeling on the front left of the picture.


Whenever I look at this picture, I marvel at the size of our goalkeeper. He has the roll neck jumper and is the shortest member of the team. I wonder who his models were. They helped him soar too.

Vale Bert.

Photo Credits

Bert Trautmann




2822963411_baf25e1da8_bI am taking part in a CSIRO Cafe Scientifique event on Canberra Day (11 March). I am delighted to be a panel member with David Rowe and Paul Fairweather. Stefan Hajkowicz is the facilitator.

The topic is What is shaping the future of Australian sport?


I have been thinking and writing about the future of sport of late. Recently, I have posted:
A year ago I wrote about Stefan Hajkowicz’s work on the Future of Australian Sport. I noted then that Stephen and his colleagues had identified six megatrends in sport in Australia. These were:
  1. From extreme to mainstream (the rise of lifestyle sports)
  2. New wealth, new talent (economic growth and sports development in Asia)
  3. Everybody’s game (demographic, generational and cultural change)
  4. More than sport (attainment of health, community and overseas aid objectives through sport)
  5. A perfect fit (personalised sport and tailored training systems)
  6. Tracksuits to business suits (market pressures and new business models)
2577007801_5756fdd242_bI have been thinking about these megatrends. I have been thinking about some earlier work undertaken by Stephen and his colleagues that looked at Megatrends and Megashocks. CSIRO published Our Future World: an analysis of global trends, shocks and scenarios in April 2010. This report noted that a megatrend “is a collection of trends, patterns of economic, social or environmental activity that will change the way people live and the science and technology products they demand.” The report identifies five interrelated megatrends:
  • More from less. This relates to the world’s depleting natural resources and increasing demand for those resources through economic and population growth. Coming decades will see a focus on resource use efficiency.
  • A personal touch. Growth of the services sector of western economies is being followed by a second wave of innovation aimed at tailoring and targeting services.
  • Divergent demographics. The populations of OECD countries are ageing and experiencing lifestyle and diet related health problems. At the same time there are high fertility rates and problems of not enough food for millions in poor countries.
  • On the move. People are changing jobs and careers more often, moving house more often, commuting further to work and travelling around the world more often.
  • i World. Everything in the natural world will have a digital counterpart. Computing power and memory storage are improving rapidly. Many more devices are getting connected to the internet.

The Report identified eight megashocks relevant to Australia (a ‘megashock’ is “a significant and sudden event; the timing and magnitude of which are very hard to predict):

  • Asset price collapse
  • Slowing Chinese economy
  • Oil and gas price spikes
  • Extreme climate change related weather
  • Pandemic
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Terrorism
  • Nanotechnology risks
During this period I have followed discussions about the Crawford Report and the more recent discussions about the Winning Edge. I have been particularly interested in thinking about the ecology of Australian sport during this time. I found it fascinating to consider the synchronicity of the launch of The Winning Edge and the publication of Tim Flannery’s Quarterly essay, After the Future: Australia’s New Extinction Crisis.
I am following the Australian Academy of Science project “Australia 2050: Towards an environmentally and economically sustainable and socially equitable ways of living”. I think we can learn a great deal from deliberation about learning loops. This week Beth Fulton, Steven Cork and Nicky Grigg have shared some of the work of the 2050 Group.

Other Voices

3675431410_4f2a1d179d_oIn thinking about the future of Australian sport, I have been re-visiting a number of authors. These include:

George Orwell’s (1945) The Sporting Spirit.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused.

Johan Huizinga and his writings on Homo Ludens.

One of his five characteristics of play is “play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it”. He argues that “civilization is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from play…it arises in and as play, and never leaves it”.

Roger Caillois and his discussion of Man, Play and Games. Callois presents a taxonomy of play and games and proposes that there are four play forms and two types of play. The forms are: agon (competition); alea (chance); mimicry (role playing); and ilinx (pursuit of vertigo and altering perception).  A Wikipedia article on the 1961 translation of the 1958 French text points out that these four forms of play take place on a continuum of two types of play (ludus and paidia):

from ludus, structured activities with explicit rules (games), to paidia, unstructured and spontaneous activities (playfulness), although in human affairs the tendency is always to turn paidia into ludus, and that established rules are also subject to the pressures of paidia.

Caillois observes “It is this process of rule-forming and re-forming that may be used to account for the apparent instability of cultures”. He points out (in 1958) a tendency for a corruption of the values of play in everyday life.

John Hoberman‘s discussions of Sport and Political ideology (1984), Mortal Engines (1992) and Testosterone Dreams (2005). John Hoberan has had a significant impact on my thinking in the last thirty years. He prompted me to think deeply about sportive expressionism and dehumanisation at a time when I was actively involved in international sport, seeking to optimise performance through probabilistic models of success.

At times like this I return to Gregory Stone. Fifty-eight years ago, his paper, American sports: Play and display, was published in the Chicago Review (9: 83–100). In it he observes:

Play and dis-play are precariously balanced in sport, and, once that balance is upset, the whole character of sport in society may be affected. Furthermore, the spectacular element of sport may, as in the case of American professional wrestling, destroy the game. The rules cease to apply, and the “cheat” and the “spoilsport” replace the players.

A Future for Sport?

As my contribution to the discussions at the Cafe Scientifique, I will propose that for a sustainable future for Australian sport, we should:

  • De-emphasise the acquisition of nation state status through sporting achievement  and recognise the intrinsic value of play, games and sport.
  • Accept the 2000 Olympics as the high-water mark for Australian sport (other than the professional football codes).
  • Think very carefully about providing opportunities for late specialisation in sport.
  • Accept that the quest for television coverage has commodified sport and recognise that we are responsible for this.
  • Lament that despite all our efforts there is cheating in sport and we have hypokinetic diseases.
  • Re-calibrate our thresholds of repugnance.

I think we should celebrate:

… and listen to some of the least privileged children in our society:

AS0000154F06 Primary school children, sports day

In December 2012, the New Zealand Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty presented its Priorities and Recommendations. There were seventy-eight recommendations in total. I was particularly interested in Recommendation 72 from the children interviewed by the Advisory Group. They recommended that:

all local governments ensure that parks, playgrounds and public spaces are safe and welcoming for children, and free leisure and recreational activities are available, especially in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Photo Credits

Surf Life Saving (New South Wales Maritime, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Rough Sea (Victoria Rachitzky, CC BY 2.0)

Geen hulp voor Giusto Cerutti (Natinaal Archief, No known copyright restrictions)

Primary school children, sports day (Anthea Sieveking, CC BY 2.0)

The ‘I’ Words: Integrity, Indignation and Ilinx


I have been left numbed and perplexed by a number of the recent, public announcements about cheating in sport.

Numbed after a lifetime in sport hoping for fairness. Perplexed by why the revelations are surprising.

A great deal has been said of late about the Integrity of Sport.

In the last two weeks, my antidote has been to admire the performances of two exemplary sportsmen: George Bailey and Adam Voges. Both scored delightful centuries in one-day cricket internationals against the West Indies.

Between these two occasions, I revisited a paper by Lois Bryson from 1990. Her paper was written two years after the Seoul Olympics and the 9.79 Race. In it she argues:

We have now reached a stage where we need to take a cold hard look at how sustainable are the traditional sporting values, at least in elite sport. What we see happening with drug taking is a logical extension of rationalist principles. In its intent, the improvement of performance, drug taking is no different from the development of scientifically tested exercise and training programs, diet and vitamin regimes, psychological preparation and the like. All violate the historic ‘amateur code’ so central to the framing of modern sport last century.

Lois was writing after the Australian Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts delivered a Drugs and Sport Interim Report (1989) and Second Report (1990).  She concludes her paper:

A broad analysis of the historical and institutional underpinnings of sport make it obvious that if we were to aim to change the situation more than to merely keep drug use under some reasonable level of control, quite fundamental changes would be necessary. This would require a focus away from profit making and competition, away from expansive rewards, both material and symbolic, towards the style of cooperative sport …


The spate of revelations about cheating in sport were focussed in Australia last week by a very public press conference to announce a Report from the Australian Crime Commission, Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport. (I wrote about the Report here.)

I note that the Report asserted:

some coaches, sports scientists and support staff of elite athletes have orchestrated and/or condoned the use of prohibited substances.

Some sports scientists have indicated a preparedness to administer substances to elite athletes which are untested or not yet approved for human use.

3403919290_7119bb655a_oThe verb ‘orchestrate‘ and the noun ‘preparedness‘ struck me very forcefully. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘preparedness’ as “a state of readiness, especially for war”. This led me back not only to Gregory Stone’s 1955 paper but to George Orwell (1945):

At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue

and Arnold Lunn‘s “selective indignation”. Edward Smyth writes of Arnold Lunn:

He particularly disliked what he used to describe as ‘selective indignation’ – meaning to condemn in the weak what is condoned in the strong. On such a basis he fought his long fight with the Olympic Committee against ‘shamateurism’

A post by Tracey Holmes in The Drum brought me back to this week and current events.  She noted:

Once again, we are pushing into a corner a group of young Australians called athletes. We idolise them and demonise them in equal measure. They are discouraged from drinking, taking drugs (either socially or to rid themselves of pain), gambling and generally living the Australian lifestyle. When they fail to live up to expectations that most of us would never subscribe to, we vilify them.

She adds:

If we are totally honest, how can sport not be untainted by chemists who dodge the system and criminal gangs who launder money? Sport is a multi-billion dollar business. The International Herald Tribune reports that $3 billion a day is gambled on sport. Media organisations pay huge fees for the right to broadcast sport and they, like the athletes, are sponsored by betting agencies. It is in the interest of sponsors, media and clubs to win since in the end, this is not a community sport-for-all program we are talking about. It is a professional, profit driven industry.


Back in 1958, Roger Caillois wrote about Man, Play and Games. In it, he included a classification of games that were characterised by ‘ilinx‘. These games:

…are based on the pursuit of vertigo and which consist of an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure, or shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness.

Ilinx was one of four forms of games identified by Caillois. A Wikipedia article on the 1961 translation of the 1958 French text points out that these forms of play take place:

on a continuum from ludus, structured activities with explicit rules (games), to paidia, unstructured and spontaneous activities (playfulness), although in human affairs the tendency is always to turn paidia into ludus, and that established rules are also subject to the pressures of paidia.

It is fascinating to think that “It is this process of rule-forming and re-forming that may be used to account for the apparent instability of cultures”.


It has been quite a week for ‘I’ words. Current events have returned me to a literature that goes back to 1945. I am grateful to George and Adam for changing the tempo of the week and for re-affirming that innocent play, games and sport can have remarkable qualities and cultural resonance.

I am mindful, however, that notwithstanding the full force of the law indicated in the legal aspects of the ACC investigation, rules, although intended to bring about conformity, do bring about a different kind of non-conformity.

This evening, Stephen Dank is being interviewed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. It will be interesting to hear his version of events.  I am hoping for a fourth ‘i’ word, Insight.

Photo Credits

Australian Rules Football (Step, CC BY 2.0)

The Australian Olympic Team at the Olympic Stadium, Los Angeles, 1932 (State Library of New South Wales, no known copyright restrictions)