Robert Murphy and your inner Bob Marley

Bob Murphy by Michael Weldon

 

I still remember listening nervously to Bob Murphy’s Princess Park debut against Carlton in mid-2000. These were the pre-multi-billion dollar broadcasting rights days, so I didn’t have the luxury of Fox Footy’s live coverage. Rather, I stared intently at the radio as my 2:10 Saturday companions Tim Lane and Dwaye Russell on 774 ABC kept me informed with their lyrical description of the game 200kms away in Melbourne. I had read all the coverage of Bob’s debut in the week’s papers with a keener-than-usual eye. Bob was an ultra-scrawny teenager with a pimply face and a head the size of a pin who looked like he belonged in the U/16s. The photos in the paper, which deliberately highlighted his twiggy arms for shock value, didn’t paint him as a gallant warrior. But as a skinny teenager myself, a fellow country boy and a mad Bulldogs fan, I had a ready-made hero. I seriously worried for Bob’s safety that day as he lined up against the might and muscle of Koutoufides and Co. One hip-and-shoulder from the an unexpected direction and it seemed like Bob might just snap in two. But of course, they couldn’t catch him let alone break him. Bob dodged and weaved and danced around his opponents as he would for another 299 games.

 

As Bob reaches 300 AFL games this week, I have spent some time reflecting on what his career means to the game and to our club. Bob will be remembered as one of the truly unique characters of Australian Football. In a sport (or an ‘industry’, as everyone seems to call it now) where players are moulded from birth and raised in academies and institutes to play at the highest level, Bob still exudes the vibe of a full-time artist, part-time footballer. My favourite photo of Bob is of him holding the recently acquired 2016 Premiership Cup at the Whitten Oval Sunday celebrations in his lambswool-lined denim jacket and Wayfarer sunglasses, like some kind of international rock star. However, the hipster exterior masks something deeper. Bob is a thinking man’s footballer and a romantic who deeply appreciates the history of the game. This is obvious to anyone who has read one of Bob’s famous Age columns. Apparently Bob is an unofficial Bulldog historian and regularly regales his teammates with stories and legends of the past. Bob is also a leader of men with an inner spirit that has helped change the culture of a traditionally down-and-out club. He has grown from a boy among men into a force and I think when the history of our club is read in 100 years Bob will sit alongside EJ as our club’s most important figure.

 

Bob Murphy is my favourite ever player (although Liam Picken certainly tried his best in last year’s finals series to change my long-held view).  He is a reminder that our great game is made for all shapes and sizes, and that skill, ball sense and the ability to read the play a split second before anyone else, are still more important attributes than the size of a player’s biceps. Watching Bob in full flight is one of life’s great pleasures. He has twinkle toes reminiscent of a 1930s swing dancer and glides along the wing like an ice skater. (I have always thought that if Bob wasn’t a professional footballer, he would have been Australia’s only Olympic figure skating gold medalist.) Elegance isn’t usually in the job description of an AFL footballer, but Bob demonstrates why supporters value style as a player trait. His ambidextrous foot skills, which deliver the ball at bullet speed and rarely miss a target, are in the top echelon to have ever graced the football field. Bob would appreciate more than most that modern football is played on bowling green surfaces in enclosed arenas, rather than the suburban mud pits of the 1960s and 70s, where his foot skills would have struggled to reach their full potential. One of the unfortunate consequences of living overseas for many of Bob’s football years is that I have missed him live, where his genius for reading the play is revealed. Because it is from the vantage point of the grandstand with the whole field in view that the spectator can see Bob surveying the play from the half-back line, always thinking two moves ahead.

 

When Bob has the ball in his hands, no matter the score or the situation, I always feel an inner calm. The coolness with which he handles the Sherrin brings out every Bulldog supporter’s inner Bob Marley: “Don’t worry about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing gunna be alright.” Bob has that rare ability only the true Rolls-Royces posses – Hird, Pendlebury (and now Bontempelli) – where he seems to have more time and space than anyone else on the ground. It is an intuition totally at ease with the frantic movements of the game that cannot be taught. I have a vivid memory of a game at Docklands against North Melbourne in the late-2000s when the Kangaroos stormed back from behind in the last quarter and looked like snatching it. With a few minutes to go, Bob was handed the ball on the run about 50m out and glided towards goal. It was one of those moments when the game seems to freeze and the player with the ball moves in slow motion, frame by frame. I had time to think to myself “Bob has it, Bob has it! Everything is going to be alright.” As the script foretold, Bob slotted the goal from about 40 out. He drilled it low and hard like a tracer bullet to a lucky supporter in the cheer squad and the crowd erupted.  


At the end of one season a few years back Bob wrote an article in the Age about how it felt, as his career neared the end, to be down the bottom of the ladder, so far away from that elusive premiership. It was an incredibly honest and open article which few professional footballers would have had the courage to publish in national newsprint. I shed a tear that day as I railed at the injustice of the world, about why it is so unfair that some of the game’s most deserving players seem destined not to win the big one. Robert Harvey, Bobby Skilton, and now Bob. If memory serves, that column was written at the end of 2014, a year that would go from bad to worse as our captain walked out, our CEO quit and the coach was sacked. No one predicted, maybe not even Bob, that just two short years later Bevo’s inspired Dogs would shock the football world and complete one of sport’s great fairytales.

 

I went for a walk on Grand Final morning last year and thought about Bob. I’d just read his article in The Age, “Our Bulldog clan is uniting and the pain is fading”, which was typically romantic and whimsical. One line stuck with me: “this could heal our football club.” On my walk I thought about the importance of people like Bob – the ones who tell the stories and preserve the traditions – to clubs at every level and to the wider game. I thought about why it was so important that we win that afternoon, so that the generations of Dogs fans to come could hear about the magic and might of Bob and Bevo’s boys and their famous 2016 finals series. Wins like today make football clubs, I thought. They not only heal football clubs, they keep the flame burning for decades to come. I didn’t tell anyone, but after that walk I knew with complete certainty that we would win. I knew we would do it for Bob.

 

I have thought about Bob a lot since September and often wonder how he’s feeling. Is he frustrated or sad that he didn’t get to join his clan on the field in the history-making final game of 2016? The way I like to imagine him feeling is proud. Proud of the players he inspired, the culture he curated and the spirit he ignited when he took over as captain in late 2014. After all, the 2016 Premiership would not have happened without Bob. I know that it still burns him to an extent that he wasn’t out there on the field on Grand Final day. And I know that he is desperate to sit atop the dais in 2017 as the official Premiership Captain. Of course, I want the same, but I don’t think it matters what happens this year. Bob’s deeds have already cemented him as the Bulldogs’ spiritual leader for eternity. The image that has come to represent our great club that will endure alongside Teddy giving his “You’ve got to inspire me” speech, is of Luke Beveridge handing his Jock McHale medal to Bob saying “This is yours, mate. You deserve it more than anyone.”
Thanks Bob. Thanks for the memories and for redefining what it means to be a Bulldog. Congrats on 300 of the best. I will miss you desperately when you’re gone.

About Andy Brennan

Mad Doggies fan from Ararat. Now in Brooklyn, NY, via Melbourne

Comments

  1. G’day Brenno, Welcome. Realyy enjoyed your piece.

    Where will you be watching, and how will you be watching?

    And what keeps you over there at a time of Bulldog beauty?

    Cheers
    JTH

  2. E.regnans says:

    Love it Brenno.
    I know what you mean about Bob’s story from The Age on Grand Final morning.
    There was a touch of the “Life of Pi” about – who can tell the best story?
    (Here it is: http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/afl-grand-final-2016-our-western-bulldog-clan-is-uniting-and-the-pain-is-fading-20160929-grrre4.html)

    Wonderful to be in audience to his parents on GF Eve at the Almanac lunch.

    Well played, Bob.
    Well played, Brenno.

  3. What a great way to honour your Bulldog hero. An inspiring piece of writing that brought tears to my eyes

  4. Great article Brenno! Enraptured all Bob’s attributes on and off the field. A very eloquent piece of writing.
    Hope Bulldogs make him proud this Saturday!!

  5. Brilliant Brenno – “the ones who tell the stories and preserve the traditions”. You just did.
    Ya know – Bobby shooda been an Eagle. We wanted to draft him in ’99. Bloody Mrs Murphy. Bloody catholics. Bloody power’a prayer.
    Bob and Cuz. Cuz and Bob. What a combo. Cooda won 2 more flags. Cooda saved him from himself.
    Both cooda been sleepin’ under a bridge now.
    Glad Bobby stayed a Dog. Greatest story in my 50+ years of watching footy. Women wanna mother him and blokes wanna be him.

  6. Thanks Brenno. I enjoyed your tribute. Welcome.

    As Bob’s career- dare I say it- enters its final stages I wonder what he’ll do next. Whether he coaches or disappears to Nepal or enters the media I’m sure it’ll be interesting. He’s in that wonderful place where he’s at the centre of the football universe, and yet he’s above it.

  7. steve todorovic says:

    An evocative article, Brenno. As a mad Tiger supporter of 50 years now, Bob is my favourite present day player. Your description of him gliding across the wing evokes wonderful memories of that other footballing Nureyev of the 70’s and 80’s…another great Bob who coincidentally also wore the #2 and who also would not have weighed more than 70kg dripping wet…Robbie Flower. I had the pleasure of playing with Bob Flower as kids in under age teams at Murrumbeena in the late 60″s and early 70″s and also in the school team. He did things at the age of 10 that took your breath away when you watched him on the footy field…Bob Murphy has done the same. But as you write, Bob Murphy is more than just the elite, majestic footballer who has endured for 300 VFL/AFL games….he’s the quintessential good bloke whilst at the same time being the lefty working class intellectual who sets the moral compass for all footballers and football followers. Football’s Bob Dylan. For those who haven’t watched it, there is a wonderful hour long chat between Bob and Martin Flanagan on all things football and writing, held in 2015 ( pre the ACL) and available on You Tube. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxRf0H597Dc.
    There are some hilarious anecdotes told by both ,men but in particular, watch out for Bob’s first realization as to his Irish ancestry ( about 3 minutes in ) and how a decision to not include Nick Riewoldt in his list of favourite players, had certain ramifications. ( about 14/15 minutes in) .A brief reading of his experiences around his first ACL are hauntingly poignant, given what was to follow the very next season. Here’s to everybody’s favourite footballer….we salute you, Bob!

  8. A wonderful tribute Brenno. Almost makes me want to be a Bulldog! Alas, the Hawks have my heart – but champions need to be celebrated no matter the colours they wear.

  9. Haiku bob says:

    Ripper piece Brenno.
    Bob is a rare gem.
    Very happy for him.
    Let’s hope he can join the Skinny-400 club (Tuck, Bartlett and Fletcher).

    HB.

  10. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Hi Brenno,
    What a great summation of Bob!

    Up here in Sydney, I used to wait by the online Age for his columns to appear each week. I always thought (and still do) that the premier attraction I wanted to experience in Melbourne was lunch at Pellegrini’s with Bob – a bowl and a glass of wine and chunky white bread to mop the sauce and make the stories last longer. And we might have a browse through The Paperback afterwards.

    I couldn’t agree more with you about valuing elegance and style in a player. As well as pure skill. And humour and care. Full time artist, part time footballer. Full time human, part time footballer. They are rare and Bob is the King.

  11. Quote Originally Posted by HOSE B ROMERO View Post
    Press release from Barkly street.

    Bob Murphy’s guard of honour will consist of:

    Scott West, Irene Chatfield, Brad Johnson, Sue Alberti, John Schultz, Sigmund Freud, Doug Hawkins, Albert Einstein, The lady from reception who has worked there for 52 years, JFK, Simon Beasley, Mother and daughter from ‘The year of the Dog’, Stephen Hawking, Lally Bamblett, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Carl Jung, The Big Lebowski, Aker, William Shakespeare, Chris Grant, Ghandi, Robert De Niro, Phyllis Diller and Jesus

  12. JTH (and everyone!) – Thanks for your kind words.
    I’ll be following from Brooklyn, NY via watchafllive.com, the AFL’s overseas subscription (about $150 for all the games for the year, live and on replay – great value!) It’s bloody tough to be over here during such a Doggie purple patch! I hope to be back for at least the second half of Bont’s career.

    Steve – I never saw Robbie Flower play live, but I also thought of him as the closest Bob analogy. Really enjoyed the Open Mike with him a few years back (which I watched just after he sadly passed). You’ve said it better than I could have that “he’s the quintessential good bloke whilst at the same time being the lefty working class intellectual who sets the moral compass for all footballers and football followers.” I thought about that as I was writing this….he somehow manages to perfectly strike that balance. Thanks for the Martin Flanagan interview…two of my favorite writers together.

    Mathilde – sounds like an amazing date. Can I join?! The paperback is one of my favourite places in Melbourne and browsing with Bob would be a dream come true.

  13. Brilliant Piece!

  14. Beautiful. Thanks Brenno.

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