Almanac Country Footy: The Pub – Season 41


When one club wouldn’t give me a fair shake in the Ones, rather than spit the dummy, I decided to SPRINT ten laps before training each night. Give every step everything I had, pace nothing, spare nothing, so that come lap ten, I’d cross that line at a crawl. The fitter I got, the harder I went. Everything, every minute, every run. Ten laps. Fall across the line…then train.


Do extra after training. Last to leave the oval. Never miss a night. A long time ago, physically, in my prime.


The habit of those ten laps before training stayed for years. It felt good. Like footy done right.


For the voluntary training session last Friday, after work I cut through the rainforest of Turton’s track, driving the Lavers Hill ridge to Port Campbell. A dead set corker little coastal hamlet that houses the Twelve Apostles, and a dead set corker little pub.


It had been a hard, draining week harvesting tree ferns in the mountains. I stank, I was cooked. The oval, like most country ovals, was a thing of its town, beautiful, on a rise just behind the houses, fresh salt water air and the sound of waves, a fine clubrooms and sweet playground on the far wing, so you could easily watch your kids and the biffo.


Heaven, made sad by the fact they haven’t had a footy club in decades. All these old ovals peppering this great southern land, housing ghosts, memories, a way of life gone. Youth, large families gone, pushed to cities and rural centres by lack of housing, and merging of farms. By the rich weekenders and Air B&Bs buying up all the places a family might exist.


I’m told most city clubs are booming right now. That makes me insanely happy, yet has nothing to do with my world. I did my warm up lap on the soft, uneven couch grass for us all.


The lovely wife met me there, dropping off our kid, and was gone again.


After one lap I was sweating! Haha. By the second I had to stop and suck in air before I went again. Yet, by four laps the body and lungs were starting to remember how.


I pushed through a few more, finishing on 6 or seven – none of them sprints. Those days, it seems, are over. Had a few shots. The kid was waiting in said playground. I’d promised her the beach before a counter meal before home, 25 minutes away.


On the beach I did 30 sand sprints, not far. Enough for ten hard steps that eased into a jog. Old men slow down, but I was never quick. As long as I can keep those first hard few yards, the diesel of bush work, and club training, should get me through.


Thirty push-ups on the shoreline.


Swim with the kid, which was the reward. For training, for ten hour days in the bush. For all of it. She is glorious, everything, running alongside me, taking short cuts. A shoulders-hunched, giggling run. Grabbing and distracting me. Five, going on perfect, dog paddling, trying to learn to body surf the smallest shore break waves.




The last three Fridays I’ve come down, there’s been at least a few old stagers in the pub, former rivals, different clubs, good men all. 41 seasons of bush footy has build a beautiful, thick web across many of the pubs in the land. A nod and a wink, a corker greeting, a few beers.


Big Hawk, a ripper bush ruckman, tall, strong, with a good mean streak. Hanagraff, a classy CHF with the most likeable grin. A forward pocket who’s name I couldn’t remember, but always greeted me well.


Tonight, though, it was just me and strangers, watching my girl sitting on a bar stool playing pinball. Seeing her dance to the sound-check song. Eat her kids’ serve of fish and chips. I’d already had a ‘countery’ once this week, and am watching my gut for footy, I’d wait until we got home.


A game of pinball in the Port Campbell pub


We drove back to Moonlight Head passing the Twelve Apostles heading the other way, just another part of our daily commutes, then up to the base of the mountains where our shack backs onto a historic, defunct wagon trail pub, from the days of horse and carts – the old wagons, enormous beer barrels and faded horse stables still peppering its yard. Tall grey kangaroos boxing on.


The bar at the front remains mostly intact, as does the lady’s room behind it. Men and women weren’t allowed to drink together in those days.


Before the Great Ocean Road, the pub was a halfway point on the two-day ride along the coastal ridges, from Apollo Bay to Warrnambool. A place to sleep before continuing long, lonely journeys. Cars killed it. There’s nothing for miles. Nothing beyond beauty, dairy farms and dense, cold gullies full of tree ferns and glow-worms.


Ironically, the reef off Wreck Beach, one of seven when you climb down the cliffs, is where we put my dad out to sea several years ago. The old Tiger. Now we live here, twice a week we make it down to the shipwreck anchors in the rockpools, so I can swim off work, and the kid can roam a rule-free zone. Sometimes we take dinner down. Each walk back we turn and blow a kiss to her granddad.


She is a social beast. Be it ten years or twelve, we probably can’t live this remote forever. I’m constantly reminding myself that each moment here is magnificent.


As is each moment of footy.


Game 700 should come and go this season, a nice little bump on the journey, but not a goal. I always said I’d play until my efforts are no longer worthy, and polled okay in the Ressies last year. Enough to give it another spin. I see the same character of landscape in the champion men and boys I play and train alongside. In the netballers. In this club I adore, that keeps me in love with football.


The ten sprinted laps before training are over, but I have to get footy fit, do extra beyond training with the team. Our club is of this land. Being a part of it, with my mates, helps me belong.


Next week, three laps before a break. Harder laps. Or four… A total of eight, nine, more… Then beach sprints.


The wagons trail pub should never have shut. Enough tourists pass now, it would be doing just fine.


Read more from Matt Zurbo HERE

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  1. “Five, going on perfect”
    One of many great lines in this piece.

    Good luck for the season, mate.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Cracking read Old Dog, all the best for the coming season. My grandson will be playing U18s this year so hope to finally catch up with you at an OD/ Imps game..

  3. Compelling read.
    Time stopped for a moment as a moment is relived.

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