Local Footy: The club where Blunnies mattered
Like quite a few of our readers, Matt Zurbo has been wearing Blundstone boots all his life. Which is why he has written about them here. [Blundstone is a sponsor of the Almanac. If you have a Blunnies yarn, send it in – Ed]
My first season was at a working class club. Lots of tatts, muscle, several good potbellies. The skills could be ordinary. I was fifteen but we had no juniors, so I played seniors and reserves. I didn’t care – the change room was a land of giants! Hard men from a time in footy now gone.
The oval was tucked away between the creek, a timberyard and the local tip. Like heaps of kids from around there, to afford stuff I sold papers after school, or did some labouring, so was often late to training. The boys would already be out there, fifteen each end, a wad of elbows and tatts playing marker’s up until the coach called them in. The first thing I’d see rushing into the change rooms would be a floor full of loosely strewn footy bags and work boots. I’ll never forget it; pair after pair, either side of the room, two wonky rows of smelly, steel-capped glory.
One night, Stan, one of the boilermakers, was as late as me. I worshiped Stan, even though the bloke usually ignored me. He was the first to fight, the first to punt, the first to drink, the first to show up for the working bee at the clubrooms. Stan put the blue singlet into footy. “Bloody how are ya!” Every sentence started with a swear word.
It was raining, so there were a few player in the rooms with us nursing fake injuries, putting off going out. Stan was way down the other end. As I was taking my work boots off he called, “What brand are they?”
His voice was all gravel. A demand.
“What bloody brand are they?”
I had saved up for my Blunnies, would work in them, go to school in them, kick in them at recess. I almost lived in the things.
“Blundstones…?” I said, nervously.
Everyone grinned. Stan smiled a big, stupid smile.
“Bloody oath!” he scowled.
That was important for some reason. Just, I guessed, like someone would judge you if you were Holden or Ford.
Footy boots came and went. I’d get mine secondhand. Brands didn’t matter a hoot to me. Still don’t. Yet, for some reason with Blundstones it always had. Whenever I got a new pair I’d marvel at them before putting them on. So simple. Tough. They’d been founded in Tassie in 1870. 1870! That made them something uniquely Australian, no matter where you came from. And, at a club like ours – Spiro, Mario, Mohammed, Smith, O’Dowe – we came from everywhere. To me, they were the chippie’s ute, the blue heeler. The meat pie for lunch. Vegemite. The Malvern Star pushbike. The FJ. The EH. The bushie’s salute. A part of a bloke’s kit. Worn and loved.
That night was the first time I noticed the smaller rituals and loyalties of footy. Over the following years they became everywhere. Like rocking up to training at my bush club and seeing 15 of the 18 cars there were white utes. Like raffle prizes that define a club – coastal Lorne, with its tourism, had a crayfish. In town they had a dinner for two. Up in the mountains we had a big bag of spuds. Like the way an Old Geelong, or Old Scotch or Old Whatever team all rock up to the footy in good cars. The way modern AFL players touch their hair when being interviewed. The way battlers’ clubs all have players with tattoos of their children’s names. The way young clubs all go home after selection, but clubs with older players all hang around, play cards and turn up the volume when Almost Football Legends comes on the telly.
The way every club, big or small, has premiership photos on the wall, ancient or recent, with 20-odd blokes in them grinning like monkeys. The way my favourite supporters always seemed to be the ones gathered around the oil drum fires. The way each presentation night there’ll be at least one bloke who says: “I’ve played at a lot of clubs, and their ain’t no other one like this one!” The way, no matter what club you go to, it will almost always be a 300-plus reserves player behind the bar. That there’ll be the one bloke who’s always last out of the showers.
I was the only one at that club who wasn’t a tradie yet, or, as it turned out over the following years, a bush worker, ditch digger, factory hand. To me, my youth was glaring! I tried bloody hard to make up for that on the field by bashing into backs, running back for marks, putting myself where I’d get thrown around. The back pats would come as we walked off the oval, but by the time we hit the showers the talk would turn to work contracts, unions, beer, sex, or lack thereof, with the misses. I still felt that divide.
It went like that most of the year. We’d win games, lose games, the season rolled on.
One night, mid-July, we were going to do some competitive work at training. The coach wanted it “Hard and bloody willing!”
I’d arrived late again due to doing some work for the local mechanic. The coach sent me back into the rooms to get my mouthguard. I ran through the door and saw my Blunnies in the crooked line with all the others, and remembered Stan’s dopey grin. This surge ran through me. Maybe for the first time felt a part of something bigger than score-lines.
Matt Zurbo’s book Champions All is of interest to all footy-lovers. Read more about it here.