Almanac Lunch Report – Matt Zurbo’s ‘Heart & Soul’

Anticipation was high for last week’s Footy Almanac lunch. I’d taken time off work. The lunch guest was billed as Matt Zurbo, who was to be launching his book Heart & Soul.


Since 2013 when I first knew of the Footy Almanac, Matt Zurbo (or Old Dog as he is often known) has regularly piqued my interest and admiration with his stories of people and place, footy and life. Old Dog’s writing often splits me in half with its insight and pathos and common good. But we’d never met. That’s fair enough, as he has tended to the nomadic life; across the Otways, the wilds of Tasmania and even around Townsville. While I remained anchored in the harbour of Melbourne. Until Friday.




It’s Friday and I’m in the bar with Dips and with Smokie and with Peter Fuller and with a growing number of others and we now (“who’s that?”) spot someone coming (“here he is”) through the bar’s corner door. And so we meet here – in the front bar of the North Fitzroy Arms Hotel, at the most appropriate place possible: at a Footy Almanac lunch.



“Here he is: it’s Matt Zurbo.”
“Ahh here is: David Wilson.”

And here is Elena and here is Cielo.

Percy Jones sits at his usual spot at the bar, as the pub rapidly fills with luminaries of Australian Rules Football (ARF). Everyone in the place is ready to talk with Old Dog. Our chat is brief.

Unfortunately and sadly John Harms is absent for this lunch; recuperating under doctor’s orders down the road in The People’s Republic. (I hope your recovery continues apace, JTH).

The book that is being launched grew from Matt’s efforts over many years, during which he travelled Australia talking footy and talking life with those to have made it to the Big League.

This book is called Heart & Soul. It contains stories from 26 players – all delivered in their own words. Check it out.


(click to enlarge)

LtoR: Torch McGee, Barry Capuano, Ricky Nixon, Ken Fraser, Matt Zurbo, Francis Bourke, Lazar Vidovic, Nicky Winmar, Percy Jones.


Whereas usually John Harms would shepherd us into the dining room, settle the harrass of horses and act as Master of Ceremonies, today the North Fitzroy Arms’ Tex runs us through a list “as long as my arm” of luminaries before introducing the menu and the next MC, Dips O’Donnell.


Dips (“know your role, perform your role”) plays understudy well, before Old Dog takes the microphone. This he shares over the afternoon with Nicky Winmar, Ricky Nixon, Ken Fraser, Francis Bourke, Lazar Vidovic. Almanac lunches are usually held under “Chatham House rules” – what is said at lunch stays at lunch – so I can’t reveal too much here. Perhaps I can say that all of Gary Ablett (Snr), John Coleman and the “P&O Fairstar” feature at various times. One story prompts an unusual question from the floor: “How many nightclubs does Castlemaine actually have?”


I don’t know how Matt Zurbo manages to fit so much activity into his life – but he does it. Every story and every conversation, every question and response is filled with warmth and with the human spirit. Love of club, love of teammates, love of the game is evident throughout, from all involved.


The book is beautifully presented by the Slattery Group, and features a foreword by Russell Jackson, who is also at the lunch. In it, each player’s words appear verbatim. Stories in the book are from: Billy Williams, Ray Stokes, Russell ‘Hooker’ Renfrey, Thorold Merrett, Allen Aylett, Ron Barassi, Ron Stockman, Ken Fraser, Lindsay Fox, Brian Brushfield, Dennis Munari, Graham Cornes, Robert McGhie, Peter Knights, Rene Kink, Robert Flower, Ken Hunter, Ian Paton, Greg Burns, Mark Yeates, Andy Goodwin, Mark Zanotti, Joe Misiti, Michael O’Loughlin, Brad Ottens, Simon Black.


All in their own words, preserved. It’s a time capsule. Brilliant.


When I first see the cover art I know immediately that it is the outstanding work of Jim Pavlidis. On the back cover Martin Flanagan is quoted thus: “Matt Zurbo is as romantic a figure as exists in Australian football. He’s like Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac rolled into one.”


Congratulations M Zurbo. It was a pleasure to meet you. Congratulations to The Footy Alamanc on a terrific lunch. Good luck everybody, with the book.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Great words ER. Friday was a terrific lunch. Honest and true to the NFA.

    Great to meet you Mr Zurbo. And plenty of good wishes for the book. It will capture hearts and souls.

    Still can’t quite picture Lazar Vidovic (Videovic as Dyer called him) in a Castlemaine night club.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    I had this event earmarked in my calendar but unfortunately like JTH I was also recuperating from a brief stint in hospital. However ER, your report, as always, more than adequately filled the void for me not being there. Cheers.

  3. Rulebook says

    OBP thank you,I have had the pleasure of meeting,Old dog and driving him around in Adelaide a huge lover of the game and truly gets it re real grass roots footy as well hope the book continues to dominate!

  4. Excellent report on a wonderful afternoon, e.r.
    It was great to finally meet Old Dog in the flesh.
    Lazar Vidovic is a born raconteur.
    Nicky Winmar spoke very well.
    JTH has a fine understudy in Dips O’Donnell.
    Good luck with the book, M Zurbo.

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Hey! I just saw this!! Thank you mate! Your writing makes me jealous!

  6. E.regnans says

    hope all is well.

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