Football’s Not Everything



Murder was a talented kid, and trouble. A ratbag, a thief. Chockers with personality. I wasn’t wide-eyed, but I liked him a lot, anyway. Maybe because when I was a kid I was a bit of trouble.

Maybe just because.


There doesn’t always have to be a reason.


He could play a bit, too. I was coaching him in the Under 17s in the mountains of Victoria. He came up to me after training one night and said:

“I don’t want to play any more, my heart’s not in it.”


I’ve coached kids nine of the last eleven years, and every year there’s a Murder. Someone who loves their footy, but not enough. Maybe they don’t like my message of work and reward. I give them respect. I train them hard. Maybe they’re lazy. Maybe I’m wrong and they just don’t like football.

I try not to judge.

I always tell the group, be it teams in the mountains, on the coast, or in nowhere Tassie, two or three times a year:

“I don’t want anyone playing with us who doesn’t want to. Football is not everything. It’s my everything. But just because it bites me on the arse doesn’t mean it will bite you. If you don’t want to play, then don’t.

“But tell me what you’re replacing it with.

“I don’t care if it’s motor-cross, or music, or ballet, but have a passion. Something you can pursue.

“Tell me what you’re doing instead of football, and you’ve got my absolute blessing! I’ll do everything I can to help you.

“Don’t replace something with nothing.”

A lot of kids who just wanted to drop out, kept on playing. And enjoyed it, maybe now knowing it wasn’t a forced thing. I’d always be stoked. Stoked! They were practising communication, participation, work ethic, seeing things through, even if it was only a football season.

Many of them took my advice after juniors. Many of them were always going to give it up no matter what I said.

Sid O’Neil was always going to be a musician. He formed Vasco Era, a popular indi outfit, with his brother and Michael Fitzgerald, who I also coached. Michael was brilliant. A player built solely around work ethic and honesty. The Falcons saw it and put him in their squad ahead of two kids at our club who polled more than him. He shifted those traits into learning music, and studied to become one of the country’s best drummers.

I always go to the Vasco Era shows when I can. Just to say “Good on them” to myself, and “Thank you.” And, simply, because they’re great people.

Marshal Edwards was just a player, but damn he tried hard. When him and the boys formed a band, all of them 15 years old, I put them on my radio comedy show. It was a little X-rated, they didn’t quite know what was going on, but had a ball, and played lots of good, raw, music that I recorded for them. When we had a club function, I insisted they be the band.

These days, Marshal is a jet on the Ax, and shows no signs of stopping. I travel across state boarders to support and listen to him.

Matt Henry grew up in a fantastic alternative family down in the lower Gellibrand River Valley. He’d never seen a game of footy. He didn’t know the rules. His only contact with the game was a video of Gary Ablett Snr. highlights. He thought it was all about plucking it from the ruck for a goal and tacking speccies. Didn’t even know there were things called backmen.

But, damn, he trained hard, but hell, once he came down he wanted to do well! When it was finally his time for ground time, he stood on the edge of the boundary, looking confused and flustered.

“What’s up, Matty?” I asked.

“Ohhhh, Arrrr,” he fretted.

He didn’t know which way to kick it and didn’t want to disappoint me.

His first love was equestrian, and I never begrudged him the games he missed for it, or his other love karate, even when we really needed him, because he was doing something.

Now he is at a competing level with his martial arts. Gets up at 5am to train before working all day as a concreter. I can’t wait to go to the mainland and cheer him on.

Jacob joined the army, and is climbing the ranks already. Tom, the farmer’s son, is kicking arse in the co-orperate world. I’ve already stopped in on him on the Gold Coast. Steve owns greyhounds. They don’t win a lot, but so damn what? He has a dream. That’s all that matters.

I brought one of Rick’s photos at his art exhibition, then thought “Now what am I going to do with it?”

I ended up getting Ted a job at a mate’s bar in the inner city. He passed it onto his girlfriend, after which another kid I coached worked there and used it as a bolt hole into the city. Jordy WILL be a rock promoter!

Marchie is living, with European girlfriend and child, in Belgium. No-one ever through he’d leave Apollo Bay, even for a weekend. You couldn’t meet a better person.

Dave gave up footy in the bush to study journalism and is now making documentaries. I drove four hours to play in a social match to raise money for his first small movie, dressed as my comedy character, the wrestler. Most of that batch of boys were about 19/21 by then. I gave Ted, who was my opponent for the day, a shiny suit to wear. He put it on, wondering why, and every time he tried to lead I grabbed his tie and strangled him.

Jordy and Sid O’Neil had been partying for two days and nights. Opponents, they propped against each other and slept off their hangovers in the forward pocket. We all donated all we had to Dave’s film, every cent, and it was a ripper. But would not have cared if it was terrible.

He was doing something.

Rock became a miner in W.A. No small achievement to get out of the Otways. Word is, he’s good at it. We stay in contact. He’s gone from being a kid I coached, to a mate, which is flattering, and golden.

Chris was born with the work gene. He became a dairy farmer young. An adult young. Like his old man did. He was always going to be a dairy farmer. The job’s not easy, a hard life, but he’s great at it. He still plays footy, heart on sleeve, giving everything. Damn, I’m proud to know him!

I am in love with doers.


When Murder wanted to quit, I told him:

“Football is not everything. It’s my everything. But just because it bites me on the arse doesn’t mean it will bite you. If you don’t want to play, then don’t.

“But tell me what you’re replacing it with.

“I don’t care if it’s motor-cross, or music, or ballet, but have a passion.”

He played out the year. There was nothing else in the mountains for him to do. We won a flag, to which he was vital.

Over the following summer, his long-gone Dad found him. The man had been working carnies, and now owned one based in Queensland. Murder went to work for him, and found he loved it.

Murder was the laziest of the lot when I first took the boys on, but I wouldn’t let him slide. Towards the end of the year he was just about our best trainer. He would flog the track until hurting. He always looked me in the eye. I always did him. I loved the compliment.

I can’t wait to see him next time I’m up North. I’m taking my girlfriend, work ute and dog at the end of the footy season. Stopping in on mates and ex-footballers and former Juniors across the nation.


The carnie life. Imagine it! Murder’s living it. I’m told he’s a real good worker these days.



  1. johnharms says

    MZ, I have shared a classroom with some rippers. And many have gone on to pursue their passions. I love hearing what they are up to.

  2. There are plenty of ‘doers’ in those mountains, Turbo – you couldn’t survive there if you weren’t a ‘doer’… really enjoyed the read – great message… i’ll stay tuned for the next installment with interest…

  3. This is gold fella! Dave could make a doc out of it. You have a real knack for making people and stories familiar and real.

  4. Great stuff. Thanks Matt.

  5. Great read Matt, love the people who you go through life with, your attitude is refreshing and I look forward to future tales about your boys. There are “gonners” and there are “doers” and I’m happy to be in the world of the latter.


  6. Andrew Starkie says

    ‘Don’t replace something with nothing’.


  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks everyone. More on those ex-juniors later.

    Some of you received a strange post that was actually from me. Sorry, a friend is staying and somehow overrode my access stuff. Mystery! Matt.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Really enjoyable read and also as a coach of youngsters over the years totally understand your article loved the way you handled , Murder . I too love catching up with
    kids and finding out there profession in too adulthood . In the words of the immortal ,
    John Kennedy DO SOMETHING ! Thanks Matt

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