Almanac Local Footy: Small Time

It’s been a strange year. Football wise. With the book consuming every day and night, playing footy was my only outlet. Even then, Saturday nights I’d round-off the drinking early, and go back to the desk by midnight. It’s amazing just how quickly you fall away by doing that. 2-4am after a game is when team bonding really happens. The trick is to play your guts out and earn it. Without Sunday sessions down the coast, or long winding drives to small pubs buried off the main road to nowhere, or long weekend woodcutting and barbies with the family men, or Thursday night poker, it’s felt like semi-retirement.


Saved a fortune on beer, though.


Now the book’s done it feels good to be back in the bush full-time, working. Hard and simple. But our season’s over. The ressies got bowled in the elimination. Ten points. Still filthy on it. I’m still training with the seniors, though, helping out, doing my small bit to keep it a club. They’re a good shot. Maybe I can kick a lot of ankles.


Ironically, I now have time to watch the AFL. One game a week will still do me. More than that, I see too many people become blunt to it. I become blunt to it. Players do mindnumbingly brilliant things, especially in close. Get flung left, right, sideways, yet still find a target. Snap the ball into their hands from behind their ankles, while running flat place off its line, and copping a bump, and still get out a handball. The way they tackle is frightening.


I never want to lose the wonder of that.


I never want to become a know-it-all, who talks down these freaks of nature, or treats what they do as everyday. There’s the most freakish passage of play and some footy addicts simply say; “Player 35 could have smothered there.” Or moan, as if they know better, “Clooney’s past it.” Maybe they’re right, but it’s the tone they use, like they own him. Clooney has bung knees, has been a great player, you can see he’s damn well trying.


Sometimes there’s a player with not enough courage, you notice it. Or someone who makes poor decisions, or has no left, tackles with his fingers, not his ribcage, the usual things. Some players not up to that standard. But that’s secondary. Noticed, not dwelt on. Not taken as a personal insult, or clouding the overall brilliance.


One match a week and I can still study the game, the way it’s played these days, marvel at their discipline! Notice team roles, and sacrificial plays, and bigger pictures beyond statistics. That’s what’s best about watching the AFL. It’s big names, its razzle-dazzle, its big time, it’s chess-like detail.


I just don’t want to be one of those people who live for it.


I still love the bush, still love my community. All communities. My club. Playing. Bush footy. Helping.


I played a few senior games early this year, then, rightly, the club looked to younger players. As the year’s gone on they’ve pulled further away from me, and I guess I’ve gone a bit backwards. Now, when we train, the way they’re so good at half volleys, the way they hit the ball so fast, some of their kicking, it’s like I have the best seat in the house. I’m still in the slipstream of it.


The conversations we have watching our senior boys on the weekends, the Trent Griggs’ the Jobe Reynolds’, are no less detailed than the AFL commentators discussing Pendlebury or Grundy. We know their strengths, we know their weakness, and debate their best place within the team structure. Then share a drink with them.


Tomorrow I have the choice of going down to Hobart to watch a mate play for Sydney, or running water with a fifteen year old for our local seniors in an important final. I’d love to support my mate, he’s a dead-set ripper, a real friend, but it isn’t even an option.


I’ll retire one day. Then what? Probably walk away, move to New Zealand. Or become one of those wrinkly old junior coaches.


  1. Malby Dangles says

    Great to get a piece of Zurbo brilliance on the Almanac.
    I like your description of the drift away from the group. I’ve experienced this (but not in footy terms). I agree that one has to work hard to make time to be with family/friends or otherwise there is a drift of sorts.
    How did your 15 yr old buddy go in the game? And did you do a good job running the waters out?

  2. Old dog I completely get this article 100 per cent in so many ways being 10 or so years older than you it brought back a lot of memories and yep I still love community footy

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Malby, our boys won by a point and now have the week off and are in the Granny. My water running was the difference.

    Rulebook, your the footy king! AFL or local, you seem to know what matters and what does not.

  4. A characteristically insightful piece, Matt.

    Every player who crosses the line and steps on to the field in AFL has courage. Yes, there are varying levels, but to reach the pinnacle of the game takes enormous amounts of dedication and sacrifice.

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