Can you help Old Dog finish his book?

Dear Knackers,

As many of you know I am working on a book – a sort of oral history if footy, based on interviews with former players.

Anyone keen to get into the head of the legend of your choice? Learn all the little stuff, that won’t make print, the personal stories, as well as their takes on the legend?

You could listen to John Kennedy Sr. do Winston Churchill impersonations. Bobby Skilton talk about the importance of pride. Ron Barassi debunk some Collingwood vs Melbourne myths, Tommy Hafey talk them up. Put your ear to what some Doggie players from the 50s thought. Spend an arvo with Vinnie Catoggio. Have the sheer joy of listening to Kenny Hunter, Simon Madden, Johnny Platten, Schimma. Have two meetings with one of the most genuine people you will EVER meet in your life, the Great Robbie Flower. Have two long talks with the inspirational Dale Weightman in the Richmond offices. Hear what Benny Gale has to say on, well, everything. Listen to Mark Yeates and I, over three meetings, slowly get drunk. Hear the clatter of a Sydney Opera House café as Leo Barry relives that mark, and its aftermath.

Then there are the not as famous players. Brian Brushfeild was a corker! A humble man with a great story to tell. Dennis Munari was one of the best blokes I’ve met. His insights into Carlton, over café noise, were brilliant. Ray Wilson, hero of the Hawthorn 71 flag was one of the best storytellers I’ve come across. Smart, passionate, funny. Lazar Vidovic, Andy Goodwin and Greg Burns were all too tough to give a damn about reputations. They called it all as they saw it. Champions. I honestly hope I see those blokes again! Same with Rene Kink!

Both times I met Blighty, he was Blighty!

Young Phil Davis from the Giants was a modern Captain. Not just a good player, a true ambassador, a gentleman. It was a genuine privilege to meet him.

Barry Capuano, Ross Henshaw, Ken Frazer, Stewie Loewe, Bob Murphy, players from the 40s, like Billy Williams – last surviving member of the 1945 Swans Bloodbath Grand Final. Everybody from Paul Roos to Francis Bourke.

You see, I need help.

My book, the Oral History of AFL/VFL football will, when done, have over 220 of the games greatest players in it, talking about their first taste of footy – Kevin Murray used to organise the local gangs to play in the back lanes, Kevin Rose used to imagine the hiss of the Eucalyps was the crowd’s roar, Gavin Wanganeen knew, with a steely glare, from the first game of SAFL footy he ever saw on a telly he wanted to be not just good, but Great! Tony Shaw was fitter than most because his family was poor and he had to run to wherever he wanted to go. Every story from their junior to AFL/VFL days and many beyond.

The players often talk about their lives. The importance of family. Hopes and dreams. Each chat, or interview, is, on average, 2.5 hours long. I just can’t transcribe them all. If any of you can type, and want to help me out, even with one or two, to be a part of footy history process, I would be over the moon! Ask for a player of your club’s colours. Learn and be amazed while helping a fellow Knacker out.

This book is being made out of love of the game and respect for all those who played it. Some players have asked that they see the transcript before I publish any of it. I will be doing those myself. Similarly, many have told me things off the record, that will 100% stay Off The Record. My eyes only. Beyond that, to have all this greatness swirling about you is nothing short of brilliant!

Not everything will fit in the book. There are amazing small bits in these conversations, like Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neil telling me how after the ’65 GF defeat, St Kilda’s coach Yabbie Jeans was a bit unsure of how to take the next step, so he rang Melbourne legend, Norm Smith for advice. Norm put him onto his brother, Len, who (who Barassi later based his coaching on), and Len wrote up some tips and footy guide-lines, and, more so, five pages on the importance of confidence in individuals and teams, that Cowboy believes, next year, in ’66, got the Saints over the line by a point. Or learn what it takes to make Don Scott your mate – just take big Carl out! Or of how one act from a cunning full-back in a Semi-Final afforded Hawthorne their first flag. Or how Essendon great, Huey Mitchell was so determined to be fit, he found out where Kennedy’s commando course was, and would jump the fence and do it on his own.

This book has the potential to be one of the greats on our game! I’m transcribing like mad, while about to take a full tilt at the interstate clubs. I already have a few players from each, plus about 12-20 players from all the Vic clubs, Brisbane and Sydney so far. Trust me, the insights are amazing! Get into the head of one or two of these legends for a few hours.

Please, help a Knacker out?


  1. Yvette Wroby says:

    Happy to help out with saints boys. Is there a timeline. Yvette

  2. Neil Anderson says:

    Happy to help out with the Bulldogs Boys. How do wish to proceed? Neil.

  3. Matt Zurbo says:

    Yvette, Neil, hi!

    You are both PURE GOLD! Haha. Please, email me, and I will give you a list of Brownlow Medalists, and ripper tough back pockets, gentlemen and ratbags, to choose from.

  4. Matt Zurbo says:

    Thank you!!!

  5. Matt Zurbo says:

    Seriously Swans supporters, look at this list! Bobby Skilton, Ron Stockman, Barry Round, Paul Roos, Leo Barry, Dean Towers,. Dennis Carroll. Robbie McGhie. Silvio Foschini, Billy Williams, John Harriet! With one Ryan O’Keefe to come.

  6. Peter Fuller says:

    I’m happy to help out. While I go for the Blues, I also have great respect for people like Robbie Flower, Skilts and Don Scott. I’m also curious about some of the lesser names, so if you find your a few volunteers short, I don’t mind picking up some orphans.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I’m interested in anyone with an S.A. flavour.

  8. Jane Wynne says:

    Hi Matt,
    I’d love to help out a fellow Otway person! I think it would be really interesting

  9. Matt Zurbo says:

    Swish, you beaut! Have already been to Adelaide twice. How do names like Cornes, Blight, Platten, Elbert, Andrews. I will email you, mate.

    Jane, what a legend! Thank you! I’ll email you, too!

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Is that Lyndon ‘Beefy’ Andrews or Rotten Ronny?

  11. Mick Counihan says:

    I’ll do a couple, Matty: Bloods of course! All the best.

  12. Might have some spare time in a couple of weeks. I have no preference, but the kids will drop me if anything Collingwood comes in.

  13. Keiran Croker says:

    Matt, I could do a couple of Swans players if you still need help. Would love to do Skilts, though you have probably already got someone for him.

  14. Matt Zurbo says:

    Keiran, mate, you legend! Thank you, heaps! Yeah, Bobby is gone, but there are heaps of others. I will email you!

    Thank you again, everybody. All this help is freeing me up a bit to build the formatting of the book (while still travelling the country researching and interviewing. Couches for beds and baked beans for dinner! Haha. But it will be worth it. This has the potential to be like nothing ever before.

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