Forever Grateful

Kit

 

Running late, I

grab the footy bag,
oblivious to how much of my routine
is inside –

right foods,
liquids,
towel, after game clothes,
phone, wallet?

Strapping tape?
Anti-inflams?

Post game clothes?
The iPod to help kill the two hour drive?

 

The videos I have to return,
the rent?

Pushing out the door, I tap my jeans. The shorts are
on under them,
club socks,
boots in hand.

Jumper’s at oval.

 

The rest, I realise, doesn’t really matter.

 

The simplicity of it hits me
as I approach the car,
that will carry me through lifting drizzle

to a storm
of coaches, teammates, opposition,
supporters –

the body politics of a game of football…

Shorts,
socks,
boots.

To kit this escape from
the world.

**********

Forever Grateful

 

There were thousands at the game, but
most have long gone.

 

We’re in the car park, bucking up,
when Elena points:

“Look…”

The Hawes brothers and Kouter,
medals around necks,
are walking out from the oval.
“They’ll have those jumpers on for the
next three days” I tell her.
It’s a thing to behold, that walk,
slow, as if each moment, even this, is golden.
An instinct
they’re too young to realise.

 

“Later tonight, Sunday, Monday, all the stories

will happen. Premiership adventures,” I add.

“But the best

feeling,
the one that will linger,
will be of the drive back
through the hills
to the clubrooms,

knowing what they’ve done,
the week ahead.”
That oasis of silence,
within the rhythm of dark winding roads.

An eye in the volume
of victory’s storm.

They put their footy bags in
in the ute, easy.

 

“Each person’s different, mi amor,” Elena says.

 

Maybe she’s right.

My senior flag days are over,

maybe I’m projecting.

We have a kid on the way.
As my former teammates turn left
towards glorious chaos,
overwhelmingly happy for them,
and grateful,
I steer right,
onto the rhythm of a long, empty highway.
**********

Nutsack

 

The ball falls between about eight of us,

as if looking for a pack.

A kid, no awareness,
ducks his head and charges as Nutsy lunges for the ball.

Blood and splintered ivory fill the air.

 

Game done, Nutsy’s in his footy gear, still outside the rooms,
waiting for a lift to hospital.
He grins,
claret gushing
through holes in and beneath his lips.
.
“Reckon the top row’s forfeit,
Old Dog!”

“It’ll only improve ya, Nutsack!”

“A few less to brush,” he laughs.

 

We’ve shared a lot,
premierships, heartbreak,
funerals.

I’m glad I was there for this.

 

Inside, they’re singing the song.

Nutsy’s lift still isn’t here,
so we crack a few more jokes,
I drink my and his after game beer
for him.

Someone takes our photo,
angus cows, the mountain I live on,

in the background.

 

**********

Pre Game Routine

 

It’s a big game,
they all are.

The coach greets me at our change rooms door,

asks how I’m feeling?

“Morning sex was great,” I say, stretching.

 

I always took my footy too serious.
No grog on Fridays,
no rooting before games.

A lot of fun passed me by.

Now, it’s love.
We have sex every Saturday morning,
slow and easy.

“I don’t believe this…!” he protests.

 

“Relax, I didn’t shoot my load,” I tell him.
“My aggression’s still in there, mate,”
I grip and jiggle my nuts.

“For the…” he moans.

 

“It’s become a part of my pre-game routine,” I add.
“Low impact, gentle stretching.
Loosens these old muscles up.

You don’t want to mess with form,
do ya?”

 

The poor bugger’s stumped.

I give his ribs a jab and get changed
and serious.

 

There’s a fucking game to win!

**********

Old Wood

 

Everything’s old wood.
Our change rooms must have been a hall once,
when the world was timber mills,
horses,
and one thin, winding railway.

It backs onto frost-covered paddocks peppered with
sleeping cows,
on this -2 degree night.

Inside, we’ve just
showered off training, and re-robed
our work gear.

Nutsy dumps the Tuesday slab,
and empty ice cream bucket,
in the middle of about eight of us.

I put my $3 in, grab a stubbie.

We talk shit
while ice forms on our ute windows,
and the Milky Way rises.

I talk about Pipes and his freak
soccer goal,
Drew about the new truck he’s buying.

 

It’s cold, all of us have jobs that
start on dawn,
but none of us are rushed.

“Y’know,” Nutsy says, cracking a second, “I can’t figure how

the rest of the boys
don’t know this is football.”

**********

Branxholme

 

The former logging town is
tucked into a largely forgotten valley,

its oval
small, green, loomed over by a mountain.
Beautiful.

There’s little employment,
youth leave in droves.

The club, like the community that feeds it,
is on the wain.

They have no Under 16s anymore,
so I arrive early
to watch the roaming pack
that is the Under 12s.

 

The ball’s stuck on a far flank,
going nowhere.
The kids down this end are bored.

 

Two local boys and one of ours
are holding the plastic goal and point posts,
using them as guitars.
They pull rock star faces,
twist their lips with
mean licks.

The roaming pack makes is past the wing.
They put the goals back,
get ready to lead,
but the pack recedes to where it came from.

 

They grab their post ‘guitars’ again,
while another kid lies in the forward pocket,
plucking grass,

and somewhere down the ground, within the furnace of
of arms and legs,
future players
are being born.

 

The smell of cooking snags drifts across the oval.

 

I feel love
for the joy of it all,
knowing the club, this league

and its way of life,

will soon be gone.

**********

Jacob’s Revenge

 

Jacob’s black and Jewish and
having a shot at goal from 40
to win the game
against a pack of cunts.

Eight of them are on his mark.
“You’re gunna miss, Jew-Boy,” half call.
“Gas ovens. Ssss. Gas ovens.”

“Nigger,” the other half call.
“Spear chucker! Spear up yer arse!
Nigger.”

Our ruck rover leans into me;

“Imagine if he was gay…”

Jacob slots the goal,
then

gets in their dejected faces;

eyes wide, wiggling a goal umpire’s signal,
left to right,
brushing the nose of
each one.

A balding, bearded man takes a half-arsed swipe,
but Jacob’s already off
celebrating

 

a solid win.

**********

Cusp

 

The game’s played hard,
in and out of bands of sideways rain
that sweep across the ocean
towards us.

 

Our opponents are very much of

their nowhere coastal town –

a place too small to be smoothed over,

both pubs still filled with hairy fishermen,
young blokes and shielas.

The oval’s built on an old tip.
Metal rises with the downpour.
One of our boys splits his hand on
exposed tin.

 

Their ruckman and I hit hard,
earn our beer.

 

After the game,
they have a function.
I drink my way through to it,
if only because we has nothing on,
and there’s not one reason to

go home.

A band flops about the dark corner of
the clubrooms –

players, their partners, locals,

dance and talk shit,
warmed by beer and

an oil drum fire.

 

The night develops a ripper
seaweed sway.

 

Each trip to the bar
the person served before me turns,
fresh grog in hand, happy,

ready to be madly in love with whoever’s

behind them,

brimming with a pissed

; greeting

; joke

; shitstir.

 

To a one, they realise they’re facing a stranger.

That glint

reduces

to a surprised, genial smile.

 

I am the monkey in the glorious pigpen.

Witnessing the perpetual reward
of a moment
of security

that’s overwhelming.

A universal victory,

rarely seen from the outside.

**********

Footy

 

They’ve dropped me
one week for fitness.

for a local bloke.

 

It’s true, I’ve being playing injured a lot,
because I knew they’d replace me
with a local bloke.

One week stretches into a month.

I’m getting B.O.Gs in the twos,

running ten laps before training,
as hard as I can
from the first step.

Each time,
by the end, I fall across the line.

Eventually,
the coach pulls me over
on a Thursday night.

Here we go…

“Can you stop doing those bloody laps before training!
It’s annoying me and
the boys!”

I’m not young, but still naive,
think that the footy club is the town,
want to fit in,
so agree to do the laps
on a non-training night
when no-one can see.
The local bloke plays in the Premiership
and does well.

 

I watch and

maybe

learn more about football.

**********

19 and 50

 

The kid and I watch our teammates and coaches

pour off the oval,

through that one, small gate,

into the rooms,

after which they’ll get changed,
stroll to the clubrooms,
eat selection night grub,
mill and nurse beers.
I roost one high
to start,
for the fun of it.

We build a sweaty rhythm
of kick and lead –

motion without complications,
nobody shouting,
no fear of failure.

Frankie joins us –
a reserves bench player.
Soon, that vacuum starts appearing around the ball,
air sucking out as it
clunks
into my hands.
Frankie and the kid want to finish

with shots at goal.

They have a footy each.
I make for the line, calling;
“Just don’t kick at the same time!”
Trying to run through each mark,
I return the pill on the go,
short and low,
shuffle back for the other.

 

Left, right, left…

There’s that rhythm again.

 

A few old time supporters come outside

for a smoke,
watching from the shadows.
Another kick approaches,
dipping as it spins sideways,
away from my line,
but I attack and clunk it.

 

By now,

freedom’s kicked in.
Most of the kid’s shots are goals,
and
those that aren’t,

I’m not dropping.

**********

FullBack

 

Things look different from fullback.
I’ve never played there in 35 seasons.

My opponent’s that sort;
both fat and strong, hair everywhere –
a reserves full-forward.

Our mob are winning well.
With the time full back affords me,

I notice things I’ve never seen.

“It’s funny,” I tell him. “With the shape of the ball.
You’ll always get players
overrunning its bounce.

“In reserves, though, you often hear the
buddabuddabudda
of whole packs putting the breaks on.”

He says nothing, just keeps watching
the play.

The ball bounces the wrong way out on the far wing,
somebody overruns it.
He and the three chasing all
scramble to double back –

buddabuddabudda

My opponent smirks.
The ball comes down,
we charge to meet it.
Charge

***********

Stepping forward

 

Game won and lost,
the clubrooms slowly fill
with theirs and ours,

beer and loud small talk.

The unwinding, the unwound.

Eventually, our coach walks to the front.

Somebody yells;
“Listen up!”

The coach’s brother, mother and I are sitting behind him,
drinking.
I notice, as he gives out awards,
he’s constantly pushing one leg out,
carrying himself
towards the crowd that seem to make him nervous,
before rocking back.

He hates public speaking.

 

“Watch…” I whisper.
He does it again, then again. We laugh.

He turns, annoyed,
in son and brother ways,
then goes back to being coach –
reading names, giving off praise and
small, huge tells.

This champion bloke,
this leader,
always attacking his weaknesses.

Even here, stepping forward…

**********

Old Timers

 

Tonight, three old timers watched
the young twos ruckman and I do extra,
as they smoked
in the dark, outside the clubrooms.

By the time I’ve showered
one of them is still about.
He’s round, about 60,
free of bullshit.
Without knowing his roll or history,
I know instantly,
the club needs him.

I need him, always.

“Cob, if you don’t mind,
can I make a suggestion?” he says.

Sure.
“I’ve been watching,
you should take the kick-outs.
At least you can hit a
fucking target.”

“Only if it’s 40 meters or less,”
I tell him.
“The young bloke’s improving. He’ll nail it
in a week or two.”

“Still…” he says.

And we leave it at that.

 

It’s so dark all I can really see of him
is the red tip of his smoke,
but I’m insanely grateful for
these ghosts in the club’s machinery.

Its grist.

The content of its volume.

**********

Henry

 

The other mob are thugs.
I fly the flag.

 

One of them ‘warns’ me he’s a black belt.
I bark; “Karate’s meant to be a fucking discipline!”
and it’s on.
Me and him and his mate.

 

After the game I ask Robbie how I did –
he gives me a look, as if
he can’t speak English.

My wind’s gone.
I collapse in the rooms.
There’s a blanket over me.
Tears?
For fuck’s sake!

Why? I’m more annoyed
than anything, angry.

A doctor is telling me
about the human body and involuntary reactions.

I hate him.
My mouth won’t stop yammering about
fuck knows what.

 

Only Henry Ritterman knows.
He’s past 40,
has seen it all,
just back playing for the club
because it’s sunk low.

He bends down to the stretcher
and embraces me.

No words,

just a long hug from the heart.

 

It’s that next level,

physical,
shutting up my rattling brain.

I tell myself I’ll never forget,
and 30 years later haven’t.

And won’t.

 

Next time we played those thugs
I didn’t wait for warnings.

**********

Greatest Hits

 

The beers go down well.

It was a hard game
in solid rain.

They’ve been earned.

 

Now, the clubrooms fire is warm.

 

Frankie tells our circle
about that mark he took.

Coops about splitting open that copper
who was tagging him.
Goose about his premiership.

 

My greatest piece of play
was when Joel took a mark
just
beyond his kicking range.

 

I ran 100 metres, or more,
to pass his boundary side
calling for a handball I was
never
going to get.

The man on the mark, feet still planted, shifted his weight
towards me.

Joel, by reflex, played on
for the three steps it took
to kick the pill
inches

over all the stretching fingers on the line.

Everybody laughed and went to him,
he smiled and took the slaps.

 

Only I knew,

which was fine.

 

Goose starts on about his second greatest moment,
as the coach calls for A
bit of shoosh!
so he can give out the day’s awards,
but most keep talking.

 

I don’t share,
my story doesn’t suit this volume.

***********

Yep

 

The ball comes through the air
to one of theirs
on the switch.

But it’s a bit too high,
I’ll get there.

 

He knows I’m coming,
is going to leap
and make a contest,
so I go early,
feel the lift,
our legs tangle,
the freedom of no arms knocking mine,
no jostle,
only the motion of air.

My hands are above his.
Just before the ball enters them
I feel myself think,

Yep.

 

The good ones you know.

 

The mark’s clean.

Our seniors, watching from the wing, make that sound you live for –
something somewhere within
surprised laugh and cheer.

It’s been a few years since I last heard it –

old and bashing through bush footy reserves.
Landing, I handball off to a back flanker
on the charge.

**********

Milestone

 

The job’s hard,
gravel and sweat,

but toughening the old body up.

Each week the coach gives me
their best forward.

My 50th approaches with a snarl.

 

We run out onto an oval on a ridge
surrounded by mountains,

old white picket fence
and sky.

 

I stopped counting games at 600,
years ago,
just want to compete, give everything,

win.
I’m surprised about how little I care

about this last milestone.

For three quarters my man
doesn’t get a shot on goal.

It feels like old times,
like new times. Like here and now.

Beat your man.

 

In the last I spoil,

but it lands too close to him,
he snaps a ripper 40 metre goal
with the wind.

Then, we have the numbers, so I let him enter a pack
without me,
but he’s stronger than our kids.

Brushing them off, he snaps another,
and they win.

 

Thanks to my man.

 

We get into the rooms.
My partner’s baked a cake, put up balloons.
She’s from Central America and
doesn’t quite get it.

But I love her madly, so
stand there while my mates sing
an awkward birthday song.

 

Birthdays don’t matter.

What does is her.

 

Our upcoming child.

A good country club,

family orientated,
for it to run wild with other kids in.

That village they talk about,
to be raised amongst and free.

 

What matters is next week,
and

if we play this mob in the finals, revenge.

**********

Minced Lamb

 

The butcher taps on his window
as I’m passing,
holding up two palms
in the shape of a mark,
shaking them.

Two old ladies waiting for their
mince laugh.

It feels great, local footy!
Yeah, I took a good one on

the weekend.

**********

Gun Footballer, Gun Netballer

 

We’ve been washed out in the bush,
so I come to town
to pay rent,

where
I see the publican’s boy
walking down a side street
with the road crew worker’s daughter.

 

They’re both tall, about seventeen,
off school and cruising.

 

Holding a footy,
he bounces it on the footpath
so it kicks up into her hands.
Lazily,
she catches and bounces the ball,
so it will kick up
into his,

and back again.

It’s the single most romantic thing
I’ve seen.

They’ll marry and have kids,
each one a champion.

**********

Lo Importante, Importa

 

It’s 4am, she’s not in bed.

 

I find her in the lounge.

 

“Te Amo?” she says.

“I’ve drunk a lot of fluids,” I tell her.

She knows it’s my team’s first final
in a few hours.

After my piss, I return to the couch.

 

“Ahora, Mi Amor. Cue es problema?”

My Spanish is still bad,
so I give it affection.

Whatever I fumble
she usually picks up in tone.

 

“I’m fine. Gracias, Te Amo. Just… anxious.”

 

I move in and embrace her,
so she has my chest,
the muscle of my worker’s arm,
the straight back, oh, of my love.

 

Flesh, to be housed by.

 

There’s nothing to say,
so I rub her tummy,

our baby, seven months in.

 

The government will want to deport us
when it’s born,
back to Venezuela,
its heat, poverty, and growing dictatorship,
because her beautiful market soaps,
and Salsa lessons, these community things,
don’t make enough money
for our nation’s new, cruel heart.

 

I’ve told her, time and again,

things she knows, but needs to hear,
; we’ll fight it,
; either way, we’ll survive,
thrive,
; our baby will overflow with affection,

but don’t tell her now.

For the same reason
she doesn’t press.

 

I have a game to win,
need sleep.

We both feed off my local football.

She integrates, and I,
the Old Dog
give back to the youth of the club
all my years of footy have taught,
everything,
including her, and tolerance,
and we belong.

 

We hug in silence, her tears

filling my collarbone, before running my tattoo –

lo importante, importa,
picked up hiding out in Cuba.

What matters matters,” they told me.
“Family, friends,
enjoying this moment,

with you,

because tomorrow is hard.”

 

 

READ MORE PIECES FROM OLD DOG (MATT ZURBO)  HERE

 

 

Champions All – by Matt Zurbo

 

 

Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words by Matt Zurbo

Published by Echo Publishing

 

Visit the facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AFLChampionsall/

 

You can purchase a copy online via this link. or at Angus & Robertson

Comments

  1. Magnificent, Old Dog.
    Magnificent.
    Forever grateful.

    ¡Muchas gracias, señor!

  2. Haven’t read them all yet.
    Going to give them the time they deserve.
    So far, so good
    So good.

    HB.

  3. Thanks Haiku, (and Regnans!)

    Amtt from the Almanac made a ripper effort to format them properly, but my old computer would just not comply. If you, or anyone, likes them enough and wants to read them spaced out, with the correct rhythm, just email me and I’ll send. matt@mattzurbo.com

  4. These are really fascinating pieces, capturing all sorts of moments in a footy life. You have left the best to last in ‘Lo Importante, Importa’, that is quite touching. And thanks Matt, I appreciate the feedback.

  5. Thank you Matt, and thanks for your help!!!

  6. Matt, what a gift you have. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Mark Duffett says:

    No one exemplifies the ‘write from the heart’ motto like you do, Old Dog. Thank you. I’ll never look at the TCA in quite the same way again.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Wowsa – too much too take in at once. Greatest Hits took my eye, but we’ll be dipping into this one forever.

  9. On a couple bouncing a ball to each other: “It’s the single most romantic thing I’ve seen”.
    Such a wonderful description.
    Thanks, M Zurbo. They are a great read.

  10. Malby Dangles says:

    Brilliant!

  11. Sensational Old Dog plenty of feeling in that !

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