Bush Footy: Ground Level 2017

Ground Level 2017


It’s been a hell of a year, 2017. A hell of a season!


Up in the heavens powerhouses clubs clash, causing thunder. God shifts his furniture, Hawthorn slips, Hodge retires. Tigers rumble and rise. The world hates Tigers’ supporters because they’re winning, nobody cares anymore about the Pies. Martin and his tatts form a new constellation. PR giants wage war with Reality, and Dangerfield falls. Buddy causes the coliseums to roar. Then, in the Semis, tides crash and both their sees saw. Howe keeps showing us how angles were meant to fly.


My only window through the lightning-lit cracks, Towers and Nankervis, have their first full years, and show what I always knew; they belong.


Down on Earth, where fat dogs walk slow to club canteens, I fell in love with a Venezuelan woman of exquisite heart and soul, conceived a child, and, as it grew in her belly, took her way down south of Tassie, to a remote job on the coastal cliffs and their often sideways rain. A place of raw beauty summer will never understand.


Dodges Ferry was the nearest complete club. If my work mate and I knocked off a bit early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it took an hour-plus of gut-busting up and over a mountain, then running down to get to the ute, 15 minutes driving along gravel to an hour more along some of the most spectacular coves, dens, bays, beaches and river mouths in the world. Sweetly falling, winding, wet empty roads. Nothing to do but dodge wallabies and wombats while doing 95.


It was never a chore, not once. It was a journey. An adventure. It was Dodges. Red jumpers, with a blue and yellow V.


The Sharks!


Dodges Ferry is one of those clubs where everybody grew up together. Everybody! Even the few coin recruits they get are former champions coming back home. That stuff forms a bond you can breath, is a thing to behold. Everything about the club felt good, the moment we walked through the doors. Some teams are like that. They make everybody belong.


When I was a kid, coaches taught me to always call my name when going for the ball. Now that I’ve been the “Old Dog” for so long, I call “Dog’s ball!” Or, simply “Dog’s!” The Ressies coach heard that and started calling me “Dogs.”


So Old Dogs it was. I became plural. A pack!


“But there’s only one of me.”


“Shut up, Dogs!” with a grin.


He was, simply, a ripper bloke. Listened, as well as barked. Worked in well with the senior coach – a family man of great love of the club and pride. My coach studied the opposition, knew their stats, their left foot and right, goals kicked. Lived it, breathed it. Took the piss.


“Need a good one from you this week, Dogs. You’re up against a solid bloke. Kicked 90 in seniors. Solid, likes to wait, then shove. He’s kicked 42 so far. The top forward in the comp.”


“You said last week’s bloke was the best!”


“The goal kicking’s close.”


“And the week before!”


“Shut up Dogs!”


I’d look it up. He was always right, and knew I loved a challenge. The responsibility of it. And, yeah, I tried to rise to the task every minute of every game.


Faith repaid.


In the end, no-one kicked more than two on me all year, and I won the Ressies B&F at 50. I know a lot of it was the better players were being called up, but you take it.


I got to see some great men, some givers, get their reward. In the one year, there was a 250 game milestone, and two 200s. For the one club. It’s a place people stay.


There were local brothers, wags, ripper twos battlers who only got a game every second week yet never quit. A Tassie rep player who remained accessible to all. Fill in name here ……… You know the sorts. But at Dodges, it seemed they were everywhere.


And kids!


Kids at training, the coach’s boys, on game day, knocking into each other, in the rooms when we were playing, giving the tackle bag the ol’ Bruce Lees, out on the oval between quarters, ferretting after the pill. Kids! The noise of a community.


Damn, the year flew!


All the while, my partner’s belly grew.



Meanwhile, by season’s end my job had run over, its finish date pushed back to when the baby’s due. We now can’t leave before the birth and set up on the mainland, in the Grampians, where it continues. We can’t leave when it’s done, because he baby will be too young. In the middle of this, our lease, on this fully furnished place, expires. We need to find new work, another house, buy everything to fit into a new, empty home.


When word got out, if Dodges Ferry Sharks Football Club was a person, it would have leapt to its feet.


   “Piece of piss!”


I had four job offers thrown at me. Some blokes looked for a house for us, another offered his rental property closer to the city and hospital, yet still in the bush. One of them took my partner’s resume to two city firms his company works through. Baby gear fell at us like Mount Wellington snow. The coach offered a tray-load of furniture and baby kit, like the car capsule, wash basin, and more. All like it was no big deal.


But it was. Overwhelmingly so.


Really, it’s not the end of the earth. A bum fall of the dice, you work harder. But it’s not easy on her. I have no idea where we’ll end up, yet thanks to a brilliant small coastal town footy club, there is this mighty, mighty net under our feet. Options – everywhere! Such generosity means the world to me, because it means the world to her. The woman I love, the mother of our future child.


This is bush footy.




Dodges Ferry opened up and gave me all any club has to offer. An over-the-hill reserves player with no guarantees of being around next year.


And it will, forever, have my heart in return.


Up in the heavens, I hope Toby Nankervis got to bash his way into the Grand Final. He took the long path, worked the impossibly hard yards – and deserve mythology.


Down here, if my partner and I do stay, and I play for Dodges Ferry again next year, I’ll know my kid, my family, will have a home.


And my opponents will see gratitude shaped like fire!



  1. Brilliant Old Dog and couldn’t agree more I reckon a lot of country clubs really just get it ! Good luck !

  2. How can I STOP all these AFL stories…. I only have interest in Rugby League

  3. This is not just an Aust Football story Bob. This is about the place of a sporting club in the broader community.

    Would love to read a rugby league equivalent because it applies just as much.

  4. Great story Matt, enjoy your time down here

  5. Love it – footy community at its finest. Not to mention the good looking guernsey!

  6. This is a cracking read, Old Dog. Real sense of community and belonging. Sounds like a lovely place to start a family.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    All the best for the three of you. Good to see the footy karma bus has arrived at your place “Dogs”

  8. Yvette Wroby says

    Wonderful stuff Matt, so happy for you, your family and your community. Big hugs to all

  9. Sheryl Mahoney says

    Good read Matt, country footy clubs are the best of the best, can’t wait to meet Jnr turbo

  10. One of your best Matt. Love to read about such community spirit. Hope everything goes well for the three of you. Look forward to reading more from you.

  11. Incredible. Everything.

  12. Awesome story Matt-
    The trip that we did down south to Lilydale a few years back was a trip that I’ll never forget!
    The people in country communities are so warm,open and appreciating !
    It doesn’t help that your such a likeable prick also!! Ha ha!
    Woof woof!!

  13. Onya Nick, everyone. Thanks you heaps! (Even Rugby man!)

  14. Now there’s a tale they won’t believe.
    It’s like a Mick Thomas song. Or a Henry Lawson story.
    Except it’s real life and it’s lived and breathed by Matt Zurbo.
    Best wishes to you & your lot.

  15. Easy Reading!!!

  16. So happy for you matt sounds like a great club with some super people….we are heading to tassie dec will look you up if your still around…. fiona vk

  17. You are freak of nature, Old Dog!
    Still having a kick at 50, bloody hell.
    Good luck to you and Mrs Old Dog – hope it all goes well.

  18. Wonderful story Matt.
    Love the sense of community.
    Love the photo. I remember kissing my ex’s belly when she carried our boys…

  19. On ya everyone! Yeah, Matt, the kid gets a kiss every day!

    22# you crack me up!

  20. Malby Dangles says

    So happy to read of your terrific year of footy and the great community that you have become part of. Congratulations!!

  21. Matt the bounce of the ball like life … love ot

  22. Rahni Buchanan says

    Congratulation old dog

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