Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder


Work’s taken me about 1 ½ hours south of Hobart. There doesn’t seem to be much footy culture down here. One small club, built and run by ripper people, with one team. No ressies, no juniors, no netball. Only a few locals in the line-up. No after game functions I’m aware of. That one club used to be a whole league that would have been a thing to die for. Locals playing each other up and down some of the most spectacular, remote coast in the world. It breaks my heart. I love that there are those holding it together, keeping the dream alive. But without that club culture of juniors and reserves and locals playing, there’s nowhere to immerse in footy.


There’s none on free-to-air, and the local pub is empty.


To compound matters I’m in love. She’s from Venezuela, so likes baseball. With her about, I’m just no longer in the mood to drive an hour after knock off on Friday to find a pub where half Saturday’s team sneak into to watch footy and mix with farmers talking local bullshit. My days in the bush are long and hard, and I’m still playing. It gives my woman and I very little time together as is. So we hang out on beaut, raw surf beaches, and that stuff on the telly recedes further and further into the distance.


I missed all the pre-season AFL games, but didn’t miss them.
I missed the woman’s footy, only watching fifteen-odd minutes, but was stoked for all involved! What little I did see looked great – people who love a game having a dip. The bigger picture it inspires is also great. Now more and more women’s leagues are sprouting up, it feels like the amount of people playing the game is doubling. Soccer’s no longer a fear. Kids have mums out there bashing into each other. Those mums aren’t going to say footy’s too rough. The whole thing feels fuller.
I missed a lot. This summer I did no trips across the pond just to run around with the Wednesday circle work mob, or play pre-season scratchies in the Pub Renegade League, who’s numbers are getting so great most teams have another team of players on the bench. It’s starting to look like a party that not everyone’s enjoying because it’s so packed you can’t dance.
Maybe some true believers of the league should break away, have a renegade Renegade Pub League, where each team looks far more rag-tag and they get kicked off of ovals all the time and play where and when and however they can, while gutsy punk bands like Batpiss do a set or two hungover on the boundary..


I know it’s all going on, football at all levels, but here my partner and I are, down in the remote south.
I’m playing for a club an hour’s drive away. That’s enough.
With the weekend off for Easter we drove back up north, into Boags territory, and got my first real look at the AFL this year. About 20 minutes of Adelaide and Essendon on the telly at my favourite little Launceston pub – and was blown away!
People who watch the game every week just don’t realise the speed with which it’s changing. In six short months it’s just so much bloody faster, the flocking around the ball by some teams is so much more organised, their forward-spread giving the ball carrier much more protection. The scrappiness is going out of it. The tap to a player in a better position rather than grabbing the ball and being tackled has come to the fore, the skills are up, contested making is up.
Maybe I just lucked out on a good game – from the dawn of time until the future there will be crappy ones – but the whole thing is mind-numbingly electric.


I still have a dream of finding someone who loved the game 30 years ago and has, due to a posting in the Antarctic or something, not seen one since. Imagine showing them a game today. A ripper. GWS versus Footscray. I’d give my eye tooth to watch their reaction!


Back in the day many a mug coach got handed the keys to a Rolls Royce and won a flag. The clubs knew the recruiters were the true gold. And that the brown paper bag fillers who supplied them were often the truer gold. Now, it seems, it’s all about a coach’s vision. His structures and game plans. His ideology – attack, defend, press, roll, lock-down, play the boundaries, risk-take through the middle – the ability of the coach’s team to be moulded into the one living beast, with the one way of looking at football. Progress is measured by factor of ‘buy in’. Good assistant coaches are vital. It now takes every bit of a footy club.


I trained to the elite level for numerous seasons in my life, even though deep down I knew I never had the skills or pace to go anywhere. Just to see what I could be, just to push for pushing’s sake. That level of fitness, that commitment, is addictive, empowering. Yet I have no idea how fun it would be to train and play and live to the AFL’s structures and zones these days.
Either way, Crows versus Bombers took my breath away! I just can’t imagine any other sport requiring such sustained combinations of endurance, attrition, concentration, discipline and relentless mindfulness of team.
How lucky are we!
Listening to the commentators, who watch every game, every week, pick apart the game and certain players, I almost felt sorry for them. Like they’ve lost the “wow!’ of it all along the way.
How lucky am I, to be playing my 35th season, for the most ripper small coastal town somewhere past Hobart. To be away from the bright lights of the AFL and still marvel at it when our paths cross. To know the old stages propping up the corner at my new, old-school footy club were once its battlers and champions. To tap them for stories and help the kids become the next generation.
Life, at the moment, is a dovetail of long hours building remote coastal cliff walks, making it back to be with a beautiful woman, dodging wildlife and scenery while driving a plethora of open road, and local footy.
Sleep can wait. What matters matters.
Thanks Adelaide and Essendon! How good is football!


  1. How good is football Matt – I went to the Freo Melbourne game the other day, and my sentiments were exactly as yours were about the quality of the game. And you are right, we are driven to being so analytical that we do just lose the sense of wonderment about what is happening out there. The quality of the game is so good at the moment I struggle to see how those players can keep it up. It has completely changed in two years and that as much as anything has to do with why the ladder is like it is right now. If you can’t keep up, well…

    Great to hear things are going well too.

  2. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Nice to have your words back Matt.
    I’m taken by that idea of a team being a mob of men moulded into one living beast. And what amazes me from year to year is how the moulds change so frequently, passed on across teams on whispers of the last year’s successes. And somehow the living beast is supposed to adapt over a pre-season and implement ‘tout de suite’! Otherwise they’re history. It’s fiercest evolution.
    The ‘pick apart’ is driving me bonkers this year. Sometimes I leave them on mute and just watch.
    Life sounds mighty fine.

  3. Sounds like you are loving life at the moment Matty! – it’s reflected in your writing!!

  4. Awesome read mate.
    Looks like I’ve got a few hours in front of me catching up on older posts.

  5. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read as always Matt! Love is wonderful and a great distraction and I suppose the secret to its success is the ability to know how much give and take is required for it to continue. It sounds as though you have worked out your two great loves very well indeed.

  6. John Butler says

    Good stuff as always, Matt.

    You’re right re the pace of change. Explains the dramatic drop-off we’re increasingly seeing from former pace setters.

    BTW: read your book over the summer while you were roaming beaches. It’s a ripper on many levels. I reckon it will stand as a valuable oral history resource for a long time to come.

    All the best.

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks all! Cheers John.

    Mathilde you are such a bloody good writer, thank you. You and Neil are right. I rarely watch the footy and listen to the commentary any more. I’ll watch it at a pub with the music playing, usually.

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