"IT'S HARDER than football here."
St Kilda player Stan Brady penned this gross understatement in a letter to his mother from the Gallipoli war zone in 1915.
Brady's words inspired the title of Barbara Cullen's new book Harder Than Football – League Players At War, which was launched at AFL House on Thursday morning.
Essendon icons Jack Jones and Harold Lambert (who served in New Guinea), former Essendon and Greater Western Sydney coach Kevin Sheedy, ex-Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and several AFL club historians were among those in attendance.
In a remarkable feat of research over seven years, football historian and Essendon life member Cullen has produced a 629-page tome that collates, for the first time, a database of the almost 2500 League footballers who served our country, including more than 150 who died on active service.
Cullen, whose great-uncle Cliff Rankin fought in World War I before captain-coaching Geelong to its first premiership in his debut season as coach in 1925, writes that she was raised in a family that shared stories of football and war.
Footballers who served, Cullen adds, "ranged from labourers and clerks to teachers to surgeons and barristers, they have been ranked from privates to Major Generals and everything in between".
Harder Than Football is an excellent reference book, and is so much more than that as it provides far more than simply the basic enlistment details.
"Some stories have made me laugh or shake my head, while others have brought me to tears … I hope there will never be a need to add another name to the list of men who died on active service," Cullen writes.
With a foreword by Sheedy, a former national serviceman, Harder Than Football is structured into easily navigated categories that divide players by the wars they served in (from the Boer War to Vietnam) and the clubs they represented.
Harder Than Football – League Players At War, by Barbara Cullen, published by The Slattery Media Group and supported by the AFL. RRP: $49.95.
To purchase go to shop.afl.com.au