Harms on the intriguing Zurbo situation

From John Harms (this all happened last night, as Andy Murray was falling apart, before any knowledge of The Age publishing an excerpt of Matt Zurbo’s piece):


I have removed Matt Zurbo’s piece ‘Grass Roots Hype’ from this site. I regret that I felt I had to do that. However, the piece was also  posted on Facebook by one of its most vociferous critics. If it hadn’t been read closely by some on this site, it was certainly read with less comprehension by a few on that site. As a result, there were instances where the piece, Matt, and the footyalmanac were not being fairly treated.

This has been a crazy couple of days – too much time has been lost – but a rather thought-provoking couple of days.

An enterprising academic could deliver a very interesting lecture on this case study, because it has shone a spotlight on elements of contemporary life. That academic could use structured thinking, spend time defining terms, and be satisfied that intellectual rigour was an end in itself.

Equally, it provides tremendous material for a short story writer or essayist who uses risky literary devices and hopes there might be a flash of insight in the words.


Ultimately I removed the piece to protect the spirit of this site: humility, fraternity, good will.

I am reminded of a simple poem:

Twinkle, twinkle little star

How I wonder what you are

Up above the world so high

Like a diamond in the sky

Twinkle, twinkle little star

How I wonder what you are.


About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Mark Doyle says

    John, I think it unfortunate that you felt the need to remove Matt’s article and subsequent comments. I was intrigued by the whole robust nature of the exercise and did not find any of it to be controversial or offensive. I believe the underlying sentiment is an intangible feeling that people in Melbourne have become alienated from their football club and community. I believe our society has become more individualistic and less egalitarian in the last 30 years. I often hear people use the excuse of being time poor for not being actively involved in their footy, cricket or golf club or other organisations such as their their local church or union. We have also developed a culture of ‘one way’ communication with computers – email, websites etc – and mobile phones. These forms of communication have resulted in poor listening skills. Most radio and TV presenters/interviewers provide a bad example of being poor communicators – they are generally not good listeners and are poorly informed. The best media presenters/interviewers are all on ABC Radio National and include people such as Phillip Adams, Ramona Koval, Andrew Ford, Michael Cathcart, Rachael Cohn, Robyn Williams, Lucky Oceans, Natasha Mitchell and Alan Saunders. Most of our sports journalists are poor interviewers and their questions are generally ‘loaded’ so that they get a cheap headline. With respect to footy culture in Melbourne, I believe that most Melbourne people have never excepted that the elite level aussie rules comp. is no longer a Melbourne suburban comp. We should be grateful that we have the AFL as the most fair, equal and affordable football competition in the world.

  2. Adam Muyt says

    I’m disappointed that the piece was removed. Not because I agreed with it – I didn’t – but because I now fear that everytime some heat is generated by a posting, it’ll be removed. I’m all for celebrating footy here but an occasional controversial position and debate can equally serve the cause. How? By making people reassess their postions, perspectives and attitudes. In the end, every web forum has the potential to degenerate but was Matt’s piece and the debate that followed, THAT BAD? It was certainly a losuy analyisis by Matt, but bad enough to pull it off the site? A huge over-reaction. And now it’s gone on to be reproduced in today’s Age! Defeats the purpose of removing it, John.

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says

    “Ultimately I removed the piece to protect the spirit of this site: humility, fraternity, good will.”

    Harmsy, this is a noble sentiment. However, I must say that I find the idea of censorship of this kind disconcerting. Like it or not, Matt’s piece has stirred up emotion and confronted readers with the question of what it means to be a fan? Isn’t that the idea of provocative writing?

    Matt had me shaking my head in disbelief and nodding in agreement with various parts of his piece. It made me uncomfortable and that is also the reason why I enjoyed it. A good writer divides his audience to open debate and get them to confront their own conditioned responses and frail grasps on what they perceive as truth.

    If Matt’s piece has ruffled certain political and cultural sensibilities so be it. Censorship assumes that we are not mature enough to have a dialogue about issues we disagree with. I find this offensive personally and feel that I deserve better as a reader and contributor to this site.

    Anger and disdain only festers and becomes even more insidious if swept under the carpet. Please reconsider JTH.

  4. johnharms says

    Thanks for your comments. I am also disappointed this piece has come down. But it has for valid reasons in my view. (Hence I did it).

    Apart from the reasons I mentioned, which I was stewing over, Matt asked that I take it down. I asked him to re-consider.

    I am responsible for this call and I made it – in a spirit of good will and fraternity as I suggested; in this case, to a respected colleague.

    I would remove a piece at the request of any writer.

    Indeed I have honoured other writers wishes in this respect – it’s just that their pieces weren’t controversial.

    You can turn this into a free speech debate, and set the parameters firm. I understand that.

    That is part of it, but I obviously see other elements in it. We could also debate the issue by allowing other parameters to take precedence: human relationships for example. For example, does the bluster which has occurred over this sloppy piece of writing (which is not mind-altering or overly severe) warrant its potential to affect relationships. That’s another contentious point, but my point is that is another lens through which we might view the whole scenario.

    I invite an essay from anyone on what has happened over the last few days, and then let’s debate the issues in that way. It’s worth plenty of words for the very reasons you guys mention. And we can add lots of other parameters.

    Matt has written an apology, which I take on face value.

    If people are offended (and some have cause to be, given some of the comments flying around on this site, and on Facebook) then they can deal with Matt’s apology as they choose.

  5. Twinkle twinkle little Matt,
    Monckton says the footy’s flat,
    No says Garnaut – always round,
    Nothing left we can agree…..
    But oval’s shape of footy ground.

    Rumble spreads to Melbourne Age,
    Over West on different page,
    Victoria markets all gone green,
    Perth in thrall of mining dream.

    Whose to say which team to love,
    Your fierce tackle – my free kick shove,
    The siren sounds – the game decided,
    Opponent beaten – just not derided.

    Editor folds like finals Cats,
    Too much talk in ranks from rats,
    I just yearn for Zurbo jest,
    Busted ribs in golden chest.

  6. johnharms says

    Twinkle twinkle is also the theme of What A Wonderful World.

    I think I am going mad.

    I like your ditty, PB. It made me laugh.

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Love it Peter B. That made me chuckle.

    How about an Almanac bill of rights and responsibilities or an Almanac constitution in beginning to set the parameters?

  8. Ah Phil. Good thought but….
    Footy mimics life mimics art mimics politics.
    Like the Bill of Rights debate – in seeking to define our rights do we only end up limiting them? In my opinion yes, but that’s just my opinion.
    Lots of good intent has unintended results.
    Good taste like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is why we should endlessly debate it, just not legislate it.
    Vive la difference – as the French say on the first day of la Tour.
    Simon Barnes article reprinted in today’s weekend Oz about bad behaviour in sport is a beauty. Much rather have his articles than 2 pages of form guide. That’s a recovering punt drunk talking now.
    Where you stand on an issue, depends on where you sit. Time changes you, if you refuse to change.

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I agree on principle Peter, but I also think that footy would be chaotic without a boundary line and some basic rules to keep the game fair.

  10. Mulcaster says

    Did I miss something?

  11. The most disappointing thing I take from this episode is that Matt has felt the need to apologise.

    There are many writers and bloggers who I disagree with and who disagree with me. Others would no doubt be in the same situation.

    There have been a plethora of strong comments amongst the jousting that goes on but that is the price we pay for democracy.

    I believe that the current direction that footy is being lead by the ‘Pious Prophet’ sucks and this site and the extension it provides gives me some solace.

    We must all play the ball.

    We are all knackers.

    I may throw baits out and about and sometimes get the desired response but that is why I play and have just decided that I will continue to play John.

    I luv youse all.

    They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom,
    For trying to change the system from with in,
    I’m coming now I’m coming to reward them
    First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.
    (Leonard Cohen)

  12. Andrew Starkie says

    I definitely did

  13. Mulcaster says

    Oh Ghost Who Walks
    check this out”*


    * Jungle saying for younger Bandar

  14. John Butler says


    For what it’s worth…

    One of the many things I admire about the Almanac is that I can have faith that what I write will be published in its entirety, in context, for better or worse.

    Given the highly selective way The Age chose to excerpt the piece in question today, that’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

    It would be nice if we could all now move on to something more socially useful. Like bagging Collingwood.

  15. Hadn’t heard that one Mulcaster but I remain faithfull to Jenifer Warnes on Famous Blue Raincoat.

  16. It is merely a rite of passage JB.

    We will move on now.

  17. Mulcaster says


    “Í guess that I miss ya,
    I guess i forgive ya
    I’m glad the you stood in my way””

    Sensational lyrics and apt for so many occassions.
    I thought JW’s version of “The famous Blue raincoat”suffered a little because of the gender difficulty, but She delivers a sweet and unforgettable version of a legendary song. Needless to say I would give anything to be able to do justice to L. Cohen.

  18. smokie88 says

    If Matt requested that the piece be removed, then so be it.
    I am still attempting to figure out “the Age’s” motives.

  19. Smokie,

    jealousy’s a curse. I would imagine that from a time a long way away when the Age was the guardian of truth and justice they would have an arrangement with a few more of the contributors.

    Now many of their scribes are just drones doing what they have to to appease those who make them walk the trapese. They neither have the intelligence, education or intestinal fortitude of we of the free media.

    Dolly Drop Draws and the unholy Saints are not selling currently so they need to parisite another body to keep their jobs.

    Totalitarian systems have fed a lot of people over the centuiries. Once in the system it’s hard to get out. Many journos are fighting to survive and they are forced to take short cuts.

    The Knackery, at least if they stand tall and look the devil in the eye, will be a leader. I suppose you can’t blame the Ovis aries of the journalistic fraternity taking short cuts for they write to live. Knackers live to write.

    There’s no way out of here
    When you come in you’re in for good
    There was no promise made
    The price you paid, the chance you took

    (David Gilmore)

  20. Mulcaster,

    Like a baby stilborn
    Like a beast with his horn
    I have torn every one
    who reached out for me

  21. JB,

    For what it’s worth.

    There’s something happening here
    What it is ain’t exactly clear
    There’s a man with a gun over there
    Telling me I got to beware
    I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down
    There’s battle lines being drawn
    Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
    Young people speaking their minds
    Getting so much resistance from behind
    I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down
    What a field-day for the heat
    A thousand people in the street
    Singing songs and carrying signs
    Mostly say, hooray for our side
    It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down
    Paranoia strikes deep
    Into your life it will creep
    It starts when you’re always afraid
    You step out of line, the man come and take you away
    We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down
    Stop, hey, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down
    Stop, now, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down
    Stop, children, what’s that sound
    Everybody look what’s going down

  22. Dave Nadel says

    The debate seems to have moved on to the writings of L Cohen and S Stills but I have some questions for JTH about the implications of The Age and (I gather) the West Australian republishing Matt’s piece.

    John. Did Matt give The Age and The West Aus permission to republish his piece?
    Did you give the papers permission to republish Matt’s piece?
    Was Matt paid by The Age or The West?
    Was the Almanac paid?

    I an really pleased when The Almanac posts things I have written but I don’t imagine that I am also writing for other publications. I would not expect to be paid for anything I posted on The Almanac but I probably would want to be paid for material republished in The Age. I have never really thought about the copyright implications of the Website but the republication of Matt’s article makes me wonder who holds the copyright for articles posted, the author?, the Website? or is it public domain?


  23. Phil Dimitriadis says

    While on the subject of St.Leonard I think that these lyrics may mirror the feelings of some fans.

    “Baby I have been here before
    I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
    I used to live alone before I knew you.
    I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
    Love is not a victory march
    It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”

    The lot of the footy fan.

  24. John Butler says


    I claim no expertise in the finer points of copyright, but when a small excerpt of an Almanac piece I wrote was republished on the Sports Bytes page I received no notification, communication or payment. I only found out about it by accident. I presume Matt is in the same boat.

    Personally, I wouldn’t really have expected it for that page, which is essentially a scoop up of content from the Internet that week. I doubt anyone gets paid for that page except the compilers. It’s essentially a page of free content for The Age, which serves to provide some publicity for other media sources.

    I was just happy for my two paras to get a run. Matt may have different thoughts considering the way his words were portrayed. That’s for him to decide.

    The copyright of anything posted on The Almanac remains with the writer. I am sure JTH wouldn’t be giving authorisation for reuse. That decision remains with the writer as far as The Almanac is concerned.

    JTH is the best one to answer some of the more complicated aspects of your questions.

  25. As I noted in a rare state of post Cat loss last night, its lazy journalism.

    The leech that compiled it was in a low scoop hiatus and instead of being out and about as they would in days of olde.

    The copy is collected from the comfort of the sweat shop call centre like work station or the dark haze of the home computer room.

    Or else there is a mole in the Knackery.

    The saga could be taken as a back handed compliment. When a once well respected daily oracle has to pilfer the front window of the footy proletariat to survive the Knackery must be up and about as a legitimate media vector.

    We have even come of age, manifested through the pulling of content.

  26. smokie88 says

    As I said in my earlier post, I was still attempting to work out
    the Age’s motives. And the fact that they had chosen that particular
    piece had the antennae aroused.

    Well said, Phanto. The Knackery is at the vanguard at present.

  27. Andrew Else says

    On face value, The whole point of the ‘Sports Bytes’ is to direct people to articles or other web material for readers to find themselves and devour. The link, website and author are clearly stated, there is no suggestion on the page that any of the pieces are Age produced. This can only be a good thing for The Almanac as new people can come to the site, enjoy it (or not) and contribute. By contributing to a website, you have to accept that anyone in the world can read it, so if a paper wants to direct their readers to it, so be it. As soon as it’s on the web, you’ve given it away for free. I agree it’s a shame that Matt felt the need to have it removed and to apologize. It was a passionate piece.

    Yes I work for The Age. No I’m not ‘the mole’.

    Go Bombers.

  28. I found the whole saga rather fascinating. How the terms “Howardesque” and the name “Andrew Bolt” could ever have entered this discussion intrigues me. Sensibilites were obviously pricked.

    Phantom you are spot on. A rite of passage for the Knackery.

  29. Cheers Andrew,

    but if you are anything like the extended queue of Bombers supporters currently seeking the pleasure of social intercourse with me after many years of invisible torpor you are wores than a ‘mole.’

  30. Andrew Else says

    Rest assured Dips, at about 3:30 last night I was pretty flexible about who I engaged in social intercourse with.

  31. Andrew Else says

    Sorry. Phantom

  32. Adam Muyt says

    JTH, now understand you had no choice but to remove the piece as Matt asked for that.

    As for there being some problem with The Age reproducing the piece, aren’t we being a bit precious here? Once in the public domain, pieces are free to grab and use. That’s the new world of e-media. Copyright issues don’t come into it as the author and source is acknowledged. If it had been a less controversial piece then we’d probably all be singing The Age’s praises for promoting the Nac website.

  33. John Butler says


    I think it’s important to underline to contributors that their words remain their own. That includes taking them down if you so request. It is an act of faith when somebody provides their work for the site. We try our best to respect that.

    As for The Age reproducing a piece? I can only speak personally. I don’t have a problem with it. You’re right, it’s good publicity.

    However, in the case of Matt’s piece, if you read the original, then read what The Age put in, and what they left out, you might be wondering about the motivation.

  34. Adam Muyt says


    Agree that if a contributor requests a posting to be removed then it should be, out of respect. That’s what I said to JTH above.

    I’m sure The Age is only going to go for interesting, topical or controversial pieces from other sources – it’s readership would expect no less. This piece is topical and possibly controversial, a stir to much its inner city readership. Certainly their editing of the piece only heightens that impression.

    I stand by the statement that once something is put into e-world, its there to be grabbed by anyone, for whatever purpose. For example, I’ll grab images off the web all the time for use in all sorts of contexts, documents, etc. We may not like how something is used or interpreted but we can’t do much about it except perhaps write a response…or tweet one, if that’s your thing.

  35. David Downer says

    Will this whole episode be remembered as the moment the Almanac “jumped the shark?”

  36. John Butler says

    Jumped the shark into what DD? :)

  37. David Downer says

    When the Fonz jumped the shark in his leather jacket I recall him being greeted back on the beach by bikini-clad beauties and a shirtless Ralph Malph and Potsy. Richie C was driving the boat.


    Make of it what you will with regards to the “intriguing Zurbo situtation” here.

    Footnote: Er, upon further research of the term, I think I’ve actually used it in the wrong context as to which I intended!

    Please ignore my obscure irrelevance folks, but enjoy a trip down Happy Days memory lane if it pleases.

  38. DBalassone says

    I think ‘jump the shark’ is a TV industry term for a show that has gone as far as it can go – from then onwards the show can only get worse.

    Around the time of that ‘shark’ episode Happy Days was flying and the Fonz was an American hero, but too many similar plot lines where the Fonz won the day meant the show was starting to become stale e.g. the episode where the Fonz rode over 13 trash cans in front of Arnolds was also around the same time.

    Personally as a kid growing up in the 70s & 80s I never questioned the greatness of the Fonz and never thought the show was becoming stale, but industry/marketing people come up with buzz words like ‘jump the shark’ to justify their decisions.

  39. Chalkdog says

    I found the article on Sports Bytes and in my view couldnt find much to be worried about. But if Matt thought it worth taking down then so be it.

    If the articles original message has been altered by some selective editing, then taking it down makes “the copy” more valid.

    I think the comment stream above reflects the nature of the Almanac audience. Starts out as a commentary about free speech and human rights, evolves into a Leonard Cohen introspection then ends up with Happy Days. Ahh diversity…

  40. Mulcaster says


    I have found a copy of the article and cannot for the life of me see what the problem is.
    I suspect that Matt has taken it all rather badly and hope he will continue contributing to the Almanac. If I seem indifferent by posting about L Cohen I am not. Matt writes well and I like his style. Seriously, anyone who is going to go tourettes over an article on the almanac has too much time on their hands.I remember Paul Keating once describing someone as a shiver looking for a spine to run down, could well have been describig the people giving Matt a hard time.

  41. Stainless says

    Tend to agree with you Mulcaster. I enjoyed the article and thought it presented a nice balance between the worthy objectives of the Community Cup and the self-indulgent behaviour that usually happens when lots of “identities” congregate at a popular event.

    However, the furore that’s been generated does underline the point that we as writers should all be mindful of: in this age of instant communication, once you hit the “submit” button, your views are out there, so you better be pretty sure of what you mean to say, as you can easily be misunderstood.

    To give an example of this, last week I put up a post that basically argued that Saturday afternoon games at the “G” have been neglected by the AFL. I proposed that this is short-changing fans, particularly those that have to travel long distances to get to games. I expected that this might provoke a few “hear hear” comments from a few traditionally-minded Almanackers. Instead, I was somewhat surprised that the sole response was an accusation of being a middle class dilettante for encouraging “theatregoers” – precisely the opposite point I was trying to make.

    No big deal, but it’ll certainly make me re-check future posts to make sure I’m saying what I mean to say.

  42. Ian Syson says

    Mulcaster, as one of those who were critical of Matt’s piece, I had my reasons and I disagree with your benign interpretation of the piece. I don’t think this is reason enough to accuse me of being spineless.

    Matt’s apology was however a terrific piece of writing that got his point across well without resorting to the bad stereotypes of the original.


    Anyway, must rush, I’m writing a piece about how the footy played by rural bogans and bush-whingers subsistiing on government largesse that is a residual product of Black Jack McEwan and Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s bible-bashing bush socialism is not real footy — unlike when Phil Dimitriadis and I go for a kick down at Fitzroy cricket ground. That’s real footy.

    In the future I’ll be working on pieces about why blackfella footy is not real footy before going on to plead the case that sheila footy is not real footy. Surely they should be playing soccer with the wogs, who also don’t play real footy (unless a la Pasquareli, they have de-wogged themselves). At the moment I’m researching these bloody boat people coming here to steal our footy but my findings are preliminary as yet — though I think I know what I’m going to say already.

  43. I missed the article…it sounds like a must read!! Can anyone link me to it??

  44. Rick Kane says



    I’m not sure if you’ve read the eulogy Bruce delivered to The Big Man so I have attached this link. Sorry to all, if I have assisted in reducing grown men to tears.

    I reckon Bruce’s eulogy fits into the fiery discussion on the Almanac site re grass roots footy. Ultimately, what both factions of that debate seem to be arguing is the ideal of integrity, which is always a fascinating subject.

    The story of Springsteen (with all its connotations) is a story of integrity, including the attempt to maintain a ‘grass roots’ feel and relationship to the original (authentic) narrative, while the narrative, sparked by the success of the first few chapters, has taken the Springsteen story far beyond its initial premise. Clarence’s role in that narrative, as captured in Bruce’s eulogy, shows how any attempt to restrain and control a narrative, particularly as it metasizes (if that is a word) is nigh on impossible. Clarence blow’s Bruce’s simple home-spun (Twain/Whitman/Emerson … Gutherie/Williams/Dylan) story outa the water. And, like Bruce, we should be grateful for that. We should at the very least be circumspect in welding the ideal of intergrity to one way of being. It is as multifaceted as can be.


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