Reviewed by Ross Fitzgerald

Cazaly: The Legend by Robert Allen,

  • Publisher: The Slattery Media Group 2017
  • ISBN 9780992363161
  • RRP $39.95

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, which was when the Collingwood football club won a record four Victorian Football League (VFL) premierships in a row, my father Bill (“Long Tom”) Fitzgerald, played almost 100 games for Collingwood seconds. But, because of their depth of talent in those halcyon years, he never featured in the club’s first eighteen.

When I was a lad in the early and mid-1950s, every Saturday evening Dad and I would walk to our local shops and buy, hot off the press, The Sporting Globe. Remarkably, this pink-colored paper of record included copious details of and about all that afternoon’s footy games. The Saturday edition included the goal kickers, those who were that round’s best players and, most importantly, all the final scores.

As it happens, the birth of The Sporting Globe in 1922 coincided with Roy Cazaly’s rise to prominence as a high-flying forward at South Melbourne. Moreover Cazaly’s friendship with the paper’s chief football writer, Hec de Lacy, led to a series of reminiscences published between 1931 and 1938.  Written after Cazaly had all but finished playing (but while he was still coaching), they provide, as Robert Allen explains in this fine biography, “valuable insights into (Cazaly’s) career, his fitness and coaching theories, and his recollections of those he played with and against across a quarter of a century.”

As the book documents, Cazaly and de Lacy’s friendship resulted in an intriguingly detailed retrospective – published in The Sporting Globe in 1953. Along with all relevant issues of The VFL Record, and Michael Conaty’s impressive 1996 Sydney University History honours thesis “Up there, Cazaly”, the material from The Sporting Globe and many other newspapers, especially in Victoria and Tasmania, has helped Robert Allen piece together the details of Cazaly’s playing and coaching career.

Of all the summaries of Cazaly’s on-field footballing performances, one from The VFL Record in round six 1926 is particularly revealing: “High marking at South (Melbourne) opened the eyes and the lungs of the spectators, who cheered long and loud, especially after one effort by Cazaly, who went up and seemed to stay in mid-air …before bringing the ball down like a sky pilot fetching home an enemy plane.”

This is why when, in 1988, myself and the West Australian based Ken Spillman published our path-breaking book of original essays about Aussie Rules, The Greatest Game, we featured on the front cover Noel Counihan’s evocative painting of Roy Cazaly, playing for South Melbourne, football in hand, flying high above two hapless Collingwood defenders.

But while Cazaly: The Legend chronicles Cazaly’s stellar career in Aussie Rules football, Robert Allen’s biography features and explores much more.

Indeed this is one of the most fascinating sporting books I’ve read in a long time.  Ranging from a brief history of Cazaly’s Huguenot forbears, to details of the Great Depression, of the two world wars in Australia and elsewhere, as well as details of his large and loving extended family, the book highlights the fact that Cazaly was an all-round athlete who also excelled in rowing, cricket, and harness racing.

On July 29, 1911, at the age of 18 and a half, Cazaly played his first VFL game for St Kilda. He moved to South Melbourne at the commencement of 1921, remaining there until the end of 1926.

Cazaly played his last game of Aussie Rules, a charity affair, in 1959, at the age of sixty-six. This was a mere 4 years before he died, aged 70, on Thursday 10 October, 1963 – a week before he and his beloved wife Aggie would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary

In between 1911 and 1941, as well as starring for South Melbourne, where initially he played in the ruck, Cazaly became coach of the South Melbourne “Bloods” and later coach of Hawthorn – who were initially known as “the Mayblooms”, before they were nicknamed “the Hawks”. In the rival Victorian Football Association (VFA), Cazaly also played for Preston and captained-coached Camberwell.

As well as being a fine country footballer, especially for Minyip, a town in the Wimmera region, Cazaly represented the state of Victoria 13 times, was The Sporting Globe’s best all-round VFL player for 1923, and starred in the Tasmanian Football league as captain-coach of North Hobart and New Town. He made a huge and beneficial impact on all these teams and also on their local and regional communities.

Wherever he lived and worked, Cazaly was well known as a staunch advocate of a balanced diet, healthy living and life-long fitness. In this, he reminds me of the great teetotal, premiership-winning coach – Tom Hafey (1931-2014).

Later in life, Cazaly became a physiotherapist and masseur whose “healing hands” not only helped injured sportspeople, but also those afflicted with polio. In this regard, he was an avid follower of the techniques of Queensland nurse Elizabeth Kenny, whose then radical therapy of not immobilising polio patients, but of remedial massage encouraging in them a great deal of movement, made her famous worldwide. In May 1950 Cazaly was an unsuccessful Liberal Party candidate for Denison in the Tasmanian state election.

But for all Cazaly’s many activities and achievements, he is rightly best known as a VFL highflyer – who especially excelled at South Melbourne. Of all the photographs in this meticulously researched book, the standout is a full-page iconic image of Cazaly on 16 July 1924, football high in outstretched left hand, in action for the “Bloods” and pitted against Essendon’s Norm Beckton.

No doubt helped by the enormous popularity and cult status of Mike Brady’s hymn to Aussie Rules football – Up There Cazaly – in 1996 the highflying full forward became one of the twelve inaugural Legends of the Australian Football Hall of Fame.

After devouring Allen’s finely researched and spaciously illustrated biography, it is hard to disagree with an editorial in the Melbourne Sun-Herald of 13 January 1963, which stated that “Roy Cazaly is to Australian Rules football what Babe Ruth was to baseball and Don Bradman is to cricket”.


Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, and the author of 39 books.