I’ve been looking forward to this game all year.

I cut a few extra loads of wood on Friday, finishing past sunset, just to be tired. To sleep early, but couldn’t. I should have gone to the pub, done my routine. Watched some AFL while nursing a few beers, letting small Friday talk bounce off and through me.
Football, when you reach an age, has a rhythm to it.
Of games,
of preparation
and training
and Fridays and Sundays,
of injuries and healing,
and seasons of the year and levels of fitness.
A flow. From the food you eat to how you shit. Even if it’s Div Two Reserves. It becomes the way you move through a week.

But I went home, because I’ve been looking forward to this game all year. In the Valley of Pain, they call it, up in the central highland plains, snow-capped peeks everywhere. A real bush club. A real bush town, built for and fed by coal mines and wood. On the way to nowhere, no city for hours. No tourists to be pretty for.
Not much is new in those places. They have their own culture. Own weather. Their own air. I live in a town like that, yet, somehow, am always jealous of it somewhere else. Of the people who make it what it is.
My opponent, if our first encounter repeated, would be the toughest bloke I’ve played on this season, full of rust and splinters. Nothing flash, Just solid, like his home. An old dog, from an old school, full of old school spit. His whole team has that beef about them.
We’d had dry weather for 9 or ten days at home, even on the mountain, yet the forecast said it had been raining up there for a week.

The bus trip was the sweetest thing. The highway, a truck stop, more highway, then a turn, and a narrow road that ebbed and flowed up forever, until, between ranges, the blue sky of home crumbled as we disappeared into a sea of fog.
The boys around me wouldn’t shut up.
“Dream team points.”
“If we win…”
“If they win…”
“Last time we played…”
“Oh, man, the trip back…”
“Gunna sneak on the girl’s bus…”
I barely said a word.
I had a bottle of Turkey for the trip back, in with my footy boots, sports drinks and recovery food, which everyone takes the piss out of me for. But it had to be earned. Fuck wasting top dollar on a wake.
I hoped the kids realised that. They are what it’s about. Being young, strong. Free. Giving the lot. I wondered how many of them know it? That it’s got to be earned.

On the tier everything was cold mist and spud fields peppered with dead trees. The occasional tired weatherboard farmhouse. Mountains drifting in and out of the thick, white haze.
It looked haunted, in the best way. All of it.
Even if the sun burnt its way through, the oval would be covered in water, ice and mud. The opposition, miners and harvesters, no less solid. A spot in the finals was on the line.
Staring out a bus window as it rolled through fog, everything felt right.
I. Could. Not. Wait!

All that was left to do, as a ruckman, was to shake hands and brace for the opening bounce.



  1. Malby Dangles says

    Love it Matty. Is there a part 2 to the story? If not I’ll be happy to enjoy this pre-game…sometimes the journey is better than the destination

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks, Malby! “Malby Dangles” Great tag! Yeah, Pt. 2. to come.

  3. Pamela Sherpa says

    Love reading your articles Matt. I feel like I’m being transported into the places you describe.

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks, Pamela. That sort of stuff makes it worth writing the, fur sure.

  5. nice one Matt

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