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Personal Score

a collection of essays by
Ellen van Neerven

$ 14.21 $ 18.95
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Personal Score: Sport, Identity, Culture, essays by Ellen van Neerven

* Winner, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2024 - Non-Fiction
* Shortlisted, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2024.

"Personal Score is at once an analysis of the coloniality of sport and the Indigeneity of sport. Its scope is breathtakingly vast—Ellen van Neerven weaves together the autobiographical, the historical, and the sociopolitical so expertly, and, in doing so, demonstrates a new way to write toward Indigenous freedom. Personal Score hums with the vitality and intelligence of a definitive text."
—Billy-Ray Belcourt, author of A History of My Brief Body and A Minor Chorus

Personal Score: Sport, Culture, Identity is a vital and deeply personal testament to self, family, community, culture, and sport.

Award-winning writer Ellen van Neerven plays soccer from a young age, learning early on that while sport can lead to exhilarating experiences and community-building, it can also be a painful and exclusive world. The more they play, the more they realize about sport’s troubled relationship with race, gender, and sexuality—and question what it means to play sport on stolen, sovereign land, especially in the midst of multiple environmental crises.

Formidable, poetic, and impassioned, Personal Score: Sport, Culture, Identity is improbably many things at once, simultaneously a rumination on sport, relationship to land, Indigenous rights, trans inclusion, and race. Van Neerven weaves broad cultural touchstones, such as Zinedine Zidane’s red card in the 2006 World Cup finals, with quiet moments playing soccer with their family, biking to and from practice, detailing a competitive and amorous relationship with a teammate, and simply enthralled by observing the landscape.

Fierce, original, and also abundantly tender, Personal Score: Sport, Culture, Identity is a ground-breaking book that demonstrates van Neerven’s unrivalled talent and courage.


“[A] brilliant collection of essays in which Ellen van Neerven masterfully interrogates [soccer’s] relationship to the land, to First Nations, to tradition, to sexuality and to gender.”
—Karla J. Strand, Ms Magazine

“A thought-provoking and complex look at the different factors that come into play whenever sports are involved.”
—Tobias Carroll, InsideHook

"I’ve always been interested in books that drill down on a specific topic in such a way that we also learn something unexpected about the world around us. Australian writer Van Neerven’s sports memoir is so much more than that, as they explore the relationship between sports and race, gender, and sexuality—as well as the paradox of playing a colonialist sport on Indigenous lands."
—Claire Kirch, The Millions

Winner, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2024 - Non-Fiction
"Ellen van Neerven’s remarkable memoir Personal Score seduces with its synthesis of poetry and political critique, grounded in a strong sense of place. It is essential reading for its insights into settler colonial violence, gender and sexuality, climate justice andof course—football. And it is also a reflection on family, friendship, love, pride, and the joy of kicking goals. Van Neerven describes Personal Score as ‘an ugly book that was born of the ugly language that I grew up hearing in this country.’ Yet it is a pleasure to read their account of the years during which ‘I am the parts of me that don’t know what I know now’and to learn from them what it is they now know." —Judges’ report

Shortlisted, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2024 - Indigenous Writing
"In this ground breaking work of creative nonfiction, Mununjali writer Ellen van Neerven extends an invitation to readers to enter a cultural space. Within this space van Neerven candidly explores gender politics, trauma and resilience while fearlessly challenging the pernicious settler myth that ‘sport and politics don’t mix’, and asking poignant questions like: can a nation really separate identity politics from sport; and is sport really the great leveller that the nation claims it to be?" —Judges’ report

"Personal Score is at once an analysis of the coloniality of sport and the Indigeneity of sport. Its scope is breathtakingly vast—Ellen van Neerven weaves together the autobiographical, the historical, and the sociopolitical so expertly, and, in doing so, demonstrates a new way to write toward Indigenous freedom. Personal Score hums with the vitality and intelligence of a definitive text."
—Billy-Ray Belcourt, author of A History of My Brief Body and A Minor Chorus

"Sport plays a central role in Australian life, yet remains one of the final frontiers of reckoning with who belongs within it and who has been discarded in its journey towards ubiquity. This work lays bare the many unspoken threads tangled up in modern Australian sport, from relationships with bodies to relationships with land, and highlights the paradox of sport as both a liberator and exterminator of difference, as told from the perspective of a queer First Nations writerof which this space contains so few. Splicing together personal memoir with history, journalism, and throbbing poetry, this is a crucial interjection into the myths we tell about ourselves as a sporting nation, coalescing in a new and necessary kind of sports writing."
—Samantha Lewis, Australian Football Writer for ABC Sport

"Van Neerven’s prose is intimate and alive, their sentences arc like a fluid pass, linking complex insights with biographical reflections... An eloquent statement and a reminder that whatever is written about sport on these lands should be built on the recognition of what came before and still survives."
—Jackie Tang, Readings
Review: Personal Score

"Weaving together race, Indigeneity, sports, sexuality, gender, class and Country, they offer something no sport historian has... a beautiful story of Blackfulla lovefor sport, for Country."
—Chelsea Watego, The Conversation
Review: Personal Score

"Ellen van Neerven asks a direct and profound question: 'What does it mean to play sport on First Nations land?' ... Van Neerven, through their own experiences as player and spectator, asks us to consider what we value most about sport and how we can nurture and protect it."
—Tony Birch, The Saturday Paper
Review: Personal Score

"Ellen van Neerven cleverly recalls their lived experience, touching upon the connections between sport, culture and identity... Personal Score succeeds in its depiction of van Neerven’s holistic personal evolution, in their yearning for something that can be attained only if the playing field is level. Further, the offering challenges the reader to view their position on the field of life while interrogating their role within the game—because life is a team sport."
—Dorcas Maphakela, Arts Hub
Review: Personal Score

"Powerfully refutes any suggestion that athletes should avoid activism and instead 'shut up and play,' while also offering a wonderfully complex and thought-provoking account of the joy and pain of a sporting life from a vital, incisive voice that asserts a perspective too often neglected in discussions of the topic."
—Gemma Nisbet, The West Australian
Review: Personal Score

"Through personal anecdotes and beautifully exacting prose, van Neerven explores our country’s relationship with sports, race, gender and sexuality."
—Jessie Tu, Women's Agenda
Review: Personal Score

“Ellen van Neerven’s Personal Score is many stories, fragments, memories, anecdotes and poems interleaved with meticulously researched and beautifully written histories of First Nations sport in so-called Australia. This book is a night walk, a football bouncing deftly, bodies pushed and pushing—so intricately woven it reads like a root system. Read it. Then read it again. This work is exquisite.”
—Quinn Eades, author of All the Beginnings: A Queer Autobiography of the Body and Rallying

“Van Neerven brings their untameable voice and critical eyes to a tour de force that captures the complex, passionate relationship First Nations people have with sport, reminding us that we fight colonisation on every front, assert sovereignty with every act, and it’s family and connection to country that keep us grounded, especially when the playing field isn’t even.”
—Larissa Behrendt, Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney

"Soccer and non-fiction sit parallel as two of life’s mysteries: I admire and consume both, increasingly when they’re more than fields of men, but I’m certainly not a natural. Ellen van Neerven’s Personal Score unmasks these forms through an intimate exploration of what it means to play and be on First Nations land."
—Laura Jean McKay, author of The Animals in That Country

“Weaving memoir, poetry and polemic, Ellen van Neerven digs up some fascinating nuggets about sports played by First Nations people on this continent pre-invasion, returning through millennia to all the thorny present-day issues of how race, gender and sexual orientation play out in sport. With their trademark vernacular ease, van Neerven coasts between elite competition and community-run sport, their love for family, country and ‘the beautiful game’ shining through.”
—Fiona Kelly McGregor, author of Iris, Buried not dead, and Indelible Ink

"Van Neerven’s ability to challenge and expand politics is thrilling, their flair for language exhilaratingly intimate."
—Nakkiah Lui, writer, actor, director

“I’m a footballphobe whatever the shape of the ball, but I was riveted by Ellen van Neerven’s shapeshifting Personal Score. It effortlessly warps the conventions of the sports memoir, deflecting attention from the individual to the collective, and replacing triumphalism with a thinking-through of what it means to play sport on stolen land. And its narrative voice is a marvel: direct, poetic, inquiring, intimate and frank.”
—Michelle de Kretser, author of Scary Monsters, On Shirley Hazzard, among others

"It occurred to me, walking and reading in Personal Score a story of van Neerven walking and reading in Kurilpa (West End) the names of signs written about by poets... that we are always wandering, tracing, sometimes circling back, growing familiar or seeking out whatever is not, and all the while learning this lesson: not to be afraid."
—Declan Fry, The Age
Review: Personal Score


BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion

Click here to view and/or download the Personal Score reader guide as a PDF.

[Link will be live in 2024!]


Ellen van Neerven, author of Personal Score (Two Dollar Radio, 2024)

Ellen van Neerven (they/them) is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh and Dutch heritage. Ellen’s first book, Heat and Light, was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers’ Prize. They are the author of two poetry collections: Comfort Food, which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize; and Throat, which won the Kenneth Slessor Prize, the Multicultural NSW Award and Book of the Year in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. They live in Brisbane.

Sneak Peek

Coming soon!


Publicity Contact: Brett Gregory, brett ~at~ twodollarradio ~dot~ com
TITLE: Personal Score: Sport, Culture, Identity
TERRITORY: U.S. & Canada
FORMAT: Paperback Original (1st printing, gatefold)
LIST PRICE: $18.95
PAGES: 340
PRINT ISBN: 9781953387455
DIGITAL ISBN: 9781953387462
RELEASE DATE: April 9, 2024
SIZE: 5.5" x 7.5"

AUTHOR PHOTO: Anna Jacobson.
COVER DESIGN: Eric Obenauf.
COVER PHOTOS: Flowers, Mushrooms, Butterflies, Bugs, Seashells, Kookaburra: Biodiversity Heritage Library/Flickr; Starfish, Australian Salmon: Tasmanian Archives and State Library (Commons)/Flickr; Bicycle: “Advertisement, Union Crackajack [front],” courtesy, California Historical Society, MS 197_003.jpg./Flickr; Player: “Sam Kerr playing against USWNT 2012,” Thewomensgame/English Wikipedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sam_Kerr_playing_against_USWNT_2012.jpg.

Printed in Canada by Marquis, with the following environmental statement:
*Printed on Rolland Enviro. This paper contains 100% post-consumer fiber, is manufactured using renewable energy - Biogas and processed chlorine free.
*FSC certified paper (inside and cover).

Paper Rolland Enviro icons