Thursday, November 01, 2012

Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy

Simon Murray loves footy, films and his friends. The order of preference might change, but those are the things at the heart of his life. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t a little lonely given that he has been single for a long time, but it is true that he might be a little afraid of being in a relationship anyway. Given how much Simon likes to be a bit of a smart mouth and talk about anything, he is strangely reluctant to talk about his feelings and often covers up by making sarcastic remarks. He is the director of a small film festival based in Melbourne which features a lot of gay films and he is pretty comfortable with who he is.

Simon has been a lifelong supporter of the Richmond Tigers (an Aussie Rules football team) and he likes nothing better than to go to the footy with his best friend Roger. That doesn’t mean to say that he doesn’t appreciate good footballers from other teams too, especially the highly skilled superstars of the competition.

One Saturday night, Simon is coerced into going to a party with Roger and his wife Fran (who conveniently is one of Simon’s best friends). While he is there he is listening to some people denigrate Declan Tyler, one of those superstars. It’s true that Declan may not have had the best year on field but he’s been injured. When Simon steps up to defend Declan’s reputation to the group, little does he know that he is about to have a panto moment – yes, Declan is behind him!

Declan Tyler was transferred to the Tassie Tigers (not a team in the real competition) as part of the deal to help set up the new franchise. He likes living in Hobart, but he does miss living in his hometown of Melbourne. When he meets Simon, he feels the instant attraction between them, but it is difficult for Declan. He is very firmly in the closet because, well, there just isn’t such a thing as a gay AFL footballer. Only his closest friends know the truth.

Initially Simon is amazed that someone like Declan would want to be with him, but it soon becomes clear that Declan really is interested, but it’s going to be complicated. Declan needs to regain his fitness sooner rather than later, he is both an on field and off field leader for the club and quite often has media commitments as well.

Surprisingly it is Simon who is very self conscious of their growing relationship, especially when they are out in public. Simon knows that the public doesn’t know where Declan’s sexual preferences lie and he doesn’t want to be the one that does something that alerts them and, in particular, the media. In the end, when they are outed as a couple, it is a very private, very emotional moment when their guards were down that betrays them.

This outing sets off a media frenzy and the impacts are immediate, not only for the couple but also for some of their friends, especially Declan’s friend Jess, who has been his date for several years to the football night of nights, the Brownlow Medal (the Aussie Rules equivalent of the Oscars). Suddenly the two are also the most famous gay couple in town which brings it’s own set of pressures. It also brings the questions of how both families react to the relationship between the two men.

I loved the way that the friendship between Simon and his best friends Roger and Fran were portrayed. It was clear that Rog and Fran only wanted the best for Simon but then when he does meet someone, the friendship has to change shape just a little bit to fit the new situation into it. It is often something that I see amongst my friends. Someone will meet a guy and won’t be as accessible for a while as they want to spend every minute with their new partner but gradually, if the friendship was any good in the first place, things settle down into a new routine. Having said that both Rog and Simon were far too stubborn and there could have been permanent damage to their long friendship. Fran, Roger’s wife, was put into a very difficult situation when Roger and Simon were being so stubborn. On one side there was her relationship with her husband and on the other the relationship with her really close friend. In the end though, there was no doubt that the friendship was important to everyone concerned and they were there for Simon when he needed them.

At this point in time, there has been no current or former AFL player come out and declare that they are gay. It’s difficult to believe that there has never been a gay man who has reached that professional level of sport. It is much more likely that they would rather stay in the closet than openly declare their sexuality. I think that the way that the author portrayed the media storm that would accompany such an outing was very well done and felt very much like what will happen if, or perhaps that should be when, it does eventually happen.

The way that the crowds reacted also felt very realistic. When you are in the crowd at a footy game, you can sometimes see or hear things that make you wonder about where people come from. Yes, it may sometimes be said in a jokey manner and so any offence that is taken may be represented as the case of people being too precious but at the heart of it there are still some serious issues that come to light in the behaviour of the crowd and I am sure that there are times when the target of these jokes are hurt. Some recent examples of this include racial vilification, and the abuse of umpires and the opposing teams players is commonplace by this minority of spectators.

This book is so good at portraying what life in Melbourne is like, and the language and sense of the physical setting is strong too. It’s obvious that Kennedy has spent a lot of time in the city, although he now lives elsewhere in Australia. Even if you aren’t a football fan as such, there is no denying the impact that the sport has on this city. Footballers are celebrities in their own right. Even during the off season misdemeanours will make both the front and back pages of the newspapers and a scandal of any sort will have everyone talking about it at length.

This is a really strong contemporary romance where the two main characters are men. It is a sensual novel in that you can feel the chemistry between the two men jump off the pages, but it is very much a bedroom door closed kind of romance.

I had heard a lot of people raving about how good this book is, but it took news of the sequel to prompt me to finally read it. I can’t wait to get hold of the follow up book for myself and I will be encouraging other people to take the chance to read this book as well so don’t be surprised if I mention it again!

Rating 4.5/5


Football, friends, and film are the most important parts of Simon Murray's life, likely in that order. Despite being lonely, Simon is cautious about looking for more, and his best friends despair of him ever finding that special someone to share his life. Against his will, they drag him to a party, where Simon barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tyler -- unaware that the athlete is present and listening.

Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, Victoria, the home of Australian Rules football and mecca for serious fans. There, players are deemed gods and treated as such – until they do something to cause them to fall out of public favour. Declan is suffering a horrendous year of injuries, and the public is taking him to task for it, so Simon's support is a bright spot in his struggles. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other's lives forever.

As Simon and Declan fumble toward building a relationship together, there is yet another obstacle in their way: keeping Declan's homosexuality a secret amidst the intrusion of well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media. They realise that nothing remains hidden forever… and they know the situation will only become more complicated when Declan's private life is revealed. Declan will be forced to make some tough choices that may result in losing either the career he loves or the man he wants. And Simon has never been known to make things easy – for himself or for others


  1. So Hunter deleted all my stuff off the IQ box so poof! my 2 grand finals are gone, just like that. Think I'll read this over the weekend to get a little bit of a footy fix. It does sound so good, I've seen a few really good reviews for it now.

    Interesting that so far, no AFL player HAS come out as gay, statistically you'd think there'd have to be several at least. I know there's definitely rumours and speculation about some but I do wonder when the first one will take that step.

  2. Oh no! You might have to ask for the DVDs for chrissy or something.

    I think you will like it!

  3. I'm glad you liked this one! I think I had it in my favourites of 2011 (or 2010 - whenever I read it...), but it's nice hearing from someone who's familiar with the setting.

    1. I am definitely looking forward to reading the sequel now.

  4. Great review and I appreciate that this book gives insight into how Melbourne really is. Great character for people to look up to, to have that courage.

    No professional sportsperson in the U.S., that I can recall, especially NFL or Ice Hockey has ever come out as gay. I don't think they ever would, because unfortunately our media would crucify them. Sad isn't it.

    1. It is sad. I can only think of one English soccer player who has come out but that was years ago.

  5. This sounds really, really good (except for the supporting Richmond bit :D).

  6. How awesome, a novel about footy and being gay! I think it must be truly unique. I admire football but I don't watch it; I think the players have great talent but I don't even understand the game much! But I'd love to read this for the characters/relationship aspect.