How Lucky We Are

I was driving through the back streets of Hobart yesterday, past the North Hobart footy oval. Maybe the most stunning, inviting ground in the world. Small and high, like an old brick tower, centered by the deepest green playing field. An open-doored coliseum – bring your kit bags and elbows, let’s eat the lions.
It is used for everything. A community privilege, shared with many sports and ages.

As I passed there was a mother bringing her boy to play in a school match. He was already out of the car, on the footpath, pretend-running in an arch, as if turning for goal, holding the ball with the grin of imagination and champions. There was no two ways about it – he was kicking the winner in his mind.

His grip was all wrong, the worst, I doubt he could play, but so what? His mum, still getting out of the driver’s seat, was watching him, big, smile pointed at his back. Glad her boy was happy. Proud.

   My God, I thought. Do they realise how lucky they are? Do any of us?

This year I’ve seen things like this constantly, across the country, whenever my bush work allows. A painting of Jezza out marking Richmond in a pub, a view from a West Brunswick grandstand, as a Sunday social game was played under sweeping lightening storms.
A girl talking about footy to woo a boy.

Things as simple as a moment in passing, a kid in love with life and a leather ball. Our everyday. Our culture. That has not been swiped by soccer, as good a game as it is, or replaced by something loud and American, like our movies, food and language constantly are.

Something that is a part of us, as sure and simple as being alive.
I see it in footy cards in children’s hands, in billboards at the airport, in colours worn at parties, and decorations put on pies. In end-to-end kicks between shows at music festivals, and teenagers who can’t help but bounce the ball, even when trapped on traffic islands.

When I stalked and hung out with Malcolm Blight in Far North Queensland last year, I had one of the best chats, with one of the most genuine blokes I’ve met in my life. When I asked him, of all the amazing sports in the world, what makes Aussie Rules so special, he leaned into my personal space like secrets and the most rock solid of facts and said:

“Because it’s ours.”
Those five bouncing steps, that grin, were things of gold.


  1. More than that Blighty; there’s no other game on the planet that comes anywhere near it for an all out contest. How many football games need 7 umpires to keep up with ball movement for example? How many football games don’t have a sin bin? How many football games collide as hard without armour? How many football games leave the fans so exhausted that they couldn’t burn a match, let alone a car, or trash a city. (Okay, Collingwood fans do it, but when they win a Flag)

    And you’re right Harmsie, we’re the luckiest people on the planet. Because, with all its embodiment of ballet, drama, folk lore, courage, athleticism and irreverence, it’s in harmony with the way we go about our lives.

  2. Michael Parker says

    Beautiful stuff Matt. “Because it’s ours” says it all really

  3. Lord Bogan says

    Matt, I love ARF (Australian Rules Football) and have kicked the footy since I could walk.

    Don’t know if it’s necessary to wrap the game (pardon the pun) around some sort of nationalistic ideology. Many Australians can’t stand ARF. Does that make them less Australian? What is an Australian, after all?

  4. Ian Syson says

    It’s not mine Matt. I don’t really get the game and I am unable to perceive its higher qualities.

    I could start a piece talking about South Hobart reserve on washington st, using exactly the same tropes as you but talking about soccer. I could mention the kids, the architecture, the vibe, the game, and how all represented the best sporting experience in Hobart. But I would never conclude that what was a truth for me represented a general truth for all Australians.

    You been there? I guess not. But one thing of which you should be aware, it is full of Aussies, living in Australia, playing the most played game in Australia.

  5. Richard Naco says

    I actually drifted away from the game for a few decades (starting in 1974, after the SANFL Grand Final was moved from the Adelaide Oval to the soul devouring desert of West Lakes), and I drifted aimlessly between many sports and leagues – including some overseas.

    Since about 2002 I have evolved back to our indigenous game, firstly as an increasingly satisfied neutral, but eventually, seduced utterly by the romance and mythology of The Pivot, into the welcoming heart of the Geelong community.

    I have never been as much a fan as I am now, well – at least since 1973, and although my weekend wardrobe is now dominated by the darker cerulean hues, I am imbibing on every possible breath taking moment of every possible breath taking game. I love the thrills, the creativity, the courage and the sense of fans of all denominations collectively worshipping at a common church (albeit, with slightly different hymns).

    I love my one team, sure, but I also respect all of the others, and feel antipathy towards none. I am truly truly blessed.

    Our game! Our magnificent, soul stirring game indeed!

  6. Matt Zurbo says

    Lord Bogan, Ian,

    G’day gents. Always genuinly enjoy your comments. This one puzzled me a bit, though. The piece did not once say you have to like footy to be Australan, or any other such yobbish clap-trap. I would never say that. I don’t believe it. The piece was a celebration. I simply said one of the things that makes footy so good is that it is Australian. And we are lucky for that. My apologies if it read otherwise.

    I admire anyone who plays anything, (as opposed to doing nothing). Soccer is suburb. I am a huge fan.

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Richard! Jeez, mate. You should have written the piece. You said it way better than me!!

    “Victory is knowing your moment in the sun…”

  8. Good read Matt, i agree, you did not say anything like Lord Bogan or Ian are claiming.

    I would suggest it is not Ian’s game, not because he is not Australian (i assume he is ), but because he is not a member of the Aussie rules community, which i might add, does not draw the line at Australians anyway, he fails to make that distinction.

    Nth Freo is an exceptionally beautiful oval, and an amazing 8 teams in the ammos this year.

  9. Ian Syson says

    Browny, all I said about footy was that I failed to fully ‘get’ it. My point was merely to suggest that soccer (and any number of games) were also ours, were also Australian by virtue of the fact that many of us play and love them. Footy is not special in that regard. Of course it is special to those who love it.

  10. Lord Bogan says

    Thanks for the reply Matt.

    I ask the question out of curiosity. Can ARF define Australian identity any more than other sports? Not sure.

    I think part of the whole ANZAC hype can taint the vision. The scoreboard was telling me that it is ‘Australia’s Game’ while the Vets were paraded around in Toyota’s.

    I saw two teenage hipster types wearing (possibly grandads) war medals while lining up for a bratwurst at ‘Kaiser’s Sausages”.

    All my merchandise is made in China, (Sherrin Lyrebird included) and most clubs in the AFL are sponsored by companies that are not Australian.

    Yet, the rhetoric of the game propagates a unique ‘Australianess’, when the sponsors are more diversely multicultural than those playing and administering the game.

    Browny, I was introduced to Harmsy and Daff by Ian Syson in 2006. I think Ian’s main concern is that some who don’t particularly like the game can easily feel excluded/alienated/ostracized if they are not keen Aussie rules fans, especially in Melbourne.

    Maybe I’ve just watched and read too much about sport and have become cynical and somewhat confused. I don’t love the game as much as I used to and I’m finding it harder to have any trust in elite sport generally. Got me thinking Matt and that is (usually) a good thing.

    Cheers Phil

  11. Matt Zurbo says

    Lord Bogan/Phil, you ripper! I totally agree with so much of what you are saying. As the son of a Hungarian war refugee (yes, he came over on a boat) and Jewish mother, I have no idea what it means to be an Australian, other than maybe loving the place. Thanks for the reply. Matt.

  12. Stephanie Holt says

    “Because its ours”.

    Is it too late to pulp Footy Town and reprint it under that title?

    Footy is wonderful in so many ways. But living it and breathing it and rubbing shoulders with it, and even deciding to object it or picking fights with those who seem to love it too much, or enjoying introducing it to strangers or … – we can only do that the way we do because … its ours.

  13. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great Article Matt and after all it is called Australian Rules Football and as some 1 who loves the Game but is rapidly losing interest in the so called Elite level the shafting of Freo being the latest example .Not having a National Reserves Comp etc !
    It is articles like this also JTH article about Aus kick which remind us what is great about the game and Australian culture
    Matt good on you for Playing Footy as long as you possibly can !

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