Rodge and Tobe


Yesterday, on dusk, I found Rodge and Tobe sitting on Rodge’s ute, which was backed up to a pile of road gravel beside a gully hair pin.

I pull in, sore and grotty from work.

“Old Dog!” Rodge smiled, throwing his hands in the air.

“What’s up, blokes?”

‘We were nicking some Shire gravel for Tobe-Dog’s drive and we got bogged in it!” he laughed.

“Better get you out then,” I said, reaching for my snap-strap, lost somewhere under mulch and saw.

“Hey,” Tobe said. “Beer first.”

And we sat on bullbars and trays, bogged in the evidence, on a road-side, around dinner time in the bush, man-ferns everywhere, talking shit, as if it and life were free and easy.

“Let’s do our top five,” I said to Rodge.

“What happened to letting the dust settle?”

“Nah, let’s do it now,” I told him.

“Okay,” he said, giving me that face that’s all serious and not and all Rodge. That’s perfectly, stupidly earnest. “Number One. Meatloaf.”


   I watched the Grand Final at Roland’s. In his punched-out little shed we’d hooked up like a poor man’s stadium. When Meatloaf came on most of us were keen. I mean, it was Meatloaf!

   “Look at him!” Roland shouted, laughing in disbelief! He’s high! He’s high as a fucking kite!”

   “I can’t hear him,” Trouble complained.

   “ He’s so… It’s just too… He’s high as a fucking kite…!” Roland cheered.

   “He’s not even singing the words!” I said. “He’s too out of it to even lip sync.”

   “No, the woman is singing for him,” Trouble said.

   “As a kite!!” said Roland.

   He was loving it! We all were. The Meat was everything GF entertainment should be. Colour, movement, comedy.


   Pure, unadulterated tragedy.


   More real than those in charge had ever, ever wanted.

   Sorry Meat, I love you. You tried your guts out. But you had us all laughing and whooping and full of life and hanging even more for the footy. You reminded us, in the best way, that all the tinsel and glitter is still just tinsel and glitter.

   “Do the anthem!” I pleaded. “Do! The! ANTHEM!”

   “Let him umpire!” someone from the back laughed. “Let him umpire!”


“Meatloaf first? That’s a bit too steep. Give him second,” I said to Rodge.

“Who’s first then?”



   I still remember the first Sidebottom. It’s why I’ve paid attention to Steele his whole career.

   One day, when playing for St.Kilda at Morrabin, Gary was knocked out by a full can of beer while arguing with the umpire.

   Everybody in the press went troppo on it without thinking. What pissed visiting, Animal Cage drinking, supporter is that good a shot? The can was thrown by a Saint follower, at the man in white, and dropped their own Centre-Half-Forward.

   It said a lot about St.Kilda at the time.

   Heaps, even.


“Why Sidebottom?” Tobe asked.

Steele looks so scruffy, so unfashionable. He’s not solid, not flashy. But there he is, in every final he’s played, underrated, going hell-for-leather. Starring, without the flash. Never playing a bad game.

“Because he’s honest,” I said. “Because I believe in him.”


Tobe reached into the ute’s cabin for more beer.

“Hang on, I don’t get this,” he said.

He looked at me and Rodge, as he handed our beers over, like he knew us.

“Wait, wait, I sorta get it,” he said. “I’ve got one. No. 3 of 5. Lonergan? Cloke had the game won. Harry Taylor was being spanked. Enter the nobody.”

“And…? “ Rodge said, looking at Tobe.

“Well, he was like, that Ellens, bloke, from Adelaide. Or Dear from Hawthorn. That x-factor that bobs up that nobody planned on.”

Rodge laughed. He has the best laugh, all lazy and loving life, and not forcing itself on anyone.

“Fourth,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Rodge. “Nah.”

“I’m in this,” Tobe cackled, happy with himself. “I’m still not entirely sure what it is, but I’m in it!”

“Christensen,” Rodge said, as if that was enough.


Which it was.


 25 minutes to go, a game seeled on a half-back-flank. That exact moment when a push becomes something mighty and unstoppable.

   One mark and immortal.


“Selwood,” I said.

“Not Bartel?” Tobe asked.

“Nah, Jimmy was Best On, sure, but he did that Paul Roos thing. Played where he wanted, whenever he wanted.”

“Takes balls for a coach to let a bloke do his own thing like that,” Rodge said.

“I just reckon Selwood hit that bit harder when they didn’t have the ball. Made it easier for Ling and the rest. Wore down Pendlebury.” I said.

“Mate, how good was he?” Tobe said. “Only slowed down because all his support gave way. He’s got the fucking lot. As good, as tough, as anybody.”

“Yeah. But nah,” Rodge said.

“What about Lingy, anyway? He stopped the unstoppable. Games have to be saved as much as they have to be won.”

“…Yeah, nah,” Rodge gave the idea a chew. “Hawkins?”


   In Roland’s shed, sometime in the first, we all watched as Hawkins flew for a speckie, dropped it, landing on his arse like a big donk, while Collingwood ran the ball out.

   “Stop wasting space!” I had roared.

   I just can’t stand those people who have it all and waste it. Everything except the grit.

   “Nah, nah, that’s a good sign,” Roland had said. “He’s going for it. You’ll see!”

   And, bugger me.


“Reid was injured!” I protest. “Hawkins didn’t get another kick after they put Taz on him.”

“Did they put Taz on him?” Tobe asked.

“I think so. Dunno. I’m  bluffing,” I said.

“You’re full of shit,” Rodge laughed.

“They should have made that move earlier, like Scott did with Lonergan,” Tobe said. “How many Grand Finals have been lost by coaches who weren’t brave enough to look past their big names and go with the flow of the day?”


   Yabbie Jeans once told me at a sports night, every team has six guns. The team that will win the Premiership is the team with the better bottom six players.

   Richmond won in 1980 when they put the unknown Stephen Mount, a flanker, at CHB, and Jim Jess at CHF, making it that one too many talls for Collingwood’s backline to deal with. Ryse-Jones slaughtered Dermie. Flannigan went into the ruck at quarter time replacing Bourke and almost won it for Geelong in ’89. (Ablett helped a little.)

   The list is endless.


“Well, how about Scott, then?” Tobe said. “He didn’t just take over, he changed the way they play. Less handball, more long kicks. Still high risk, high reward, but through the middle, rather than along the boundary, and, bang! Get it on the boot, son!”

“How many is that, anyways?” Rodge said. “Do we have five yet?”

“Leon Davis,” I said.


   Years ago, I played in a Grand Final on a VFL CHF. The opposition pretty much built their game around him. When he kicked a goal early in the first my heart fair sunk into my arse.

   I did not feel confident, I did not feel strong. My legs became lead. Air didn’t want a bar of my lungs.

   Leon is known, through-out the footy world, as a GF choker, and there he was, re-invented, in the back pocket, a new man, given, by divine fate, one more roll of the dice.

   To make a real name of himself.

   To create something to hang his hat on.

   To be the star he should be.

   To get that damn monkey off his back and kill it!

   To rise.

   And his man kicked the first goal in the opening ten seconds.


   And the second a minute later.


   On the biggest stage of all.

   Yet he fought back to be a handy player for the Pies. Their one bloke who kept running with the ball, kept taking them on.

   Total respect, Leon.


“Done, Leon,” Tobe said.

It was time to move. He didn’t even want to know why I liked Davis.


I attached the snap and pulled them out, helped them load a bit more evidence, they gave me a traveller and I was gone.


I thought about it as the car wound its way up through the shifting greys of falling dusk. No music, no radio, just the sound of the motor and my pig-skin brain.

We could talk shit all we wanted, but Bartell did steal the show. Footy is what it’s about.

  1. Jimmy.
  2. Meatloaf.
  3. Sidebottom.
  4. Christensen.
  5. Neon.

And, bad luck Lingy, raffle the rest.

Four names, one moment, to be woven into my vision and memories of legends, finals and football.

To be history.


Not one other car was on the road my entire trip to nowhere. As I said: farmers and dinner time.


   Two weeks earlier, up on the mountain, I had run into Rodge in his tractor, pulling hay. It had seemed strange, seeing such a solid chunk of farm life surrounded by a thin gravel track through the eucalypts.

   “When the GF is over let’s give it a while for the hype to die down and figure out our top five,” I had said.

   “Players?” he had asked.

   “No. Just top five. Whatever sticks in your gut. We won’t even give it a a name.”

   “Alright,” he had said, giving me that goofy grin.

   And we were both gone. Back to work again.







And, yeah, fuck it, Lingy.


They’re the things that will stay with me.


  1. Damo Balassone says:

    Great stuff Matt and great to see Leon finally get some fair press. He played a decent game, had 20 touches and took a couple of nice contested marks. But the knockers got on his back because we lost. He definitely conceded too much space to Varcoe for that 2nd goal but I think there is a misconception about the opening goal of the match. That was more to do with the magnificent double effort of Ottens who got the ball out to Selwood who was streaming forward from the clearance. Leon had no choice but to leave his man and charge Selwood. This left Varcoe loose for Selwood to handball to him. Varcoe kicked truly.

    I was more concerned about the space that Harry gave Steve Johnson.

  2. Matt Zurbo says:


    I reckon you are spot on about Leon. He made a name for himself, indeed it was his job down there, to roll the dice and take them on. And he did. And never stopped swinging.
    And Ottens. He also did that in the goalsquare for THAT goal that sealed it. As a big man, it breaks my heart how few marks ruckmen take in GF lately, but damn, he was great on his knees! Haha!

  3. Damo Balassone says:

    LOL. It’s sound terrible but Ottens is the best in the business on his knees. I’ve never seen a Ruckman as lethal with his second efforts at ground level as Ottens – whether it be knocking the ball on again, or shooting out a handball to the player in best position.

  4. A nice 5 Matt, though I’ve got to admit, I was more confident of a Cats win with Leon in their side.

    I think the only way they’ll top the Meat’s performance is if they hook him up with Angry for next year’s GF for a duet.

  5. Matt Zurbo says:

    Pete, Angry’s had his chance. I want to see Alice Cooper being wheeled out to sing ‘The Department of Youth.’

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