Imagination and Footy



Kids books are funny things. Sometimes I write a few on days I get rained out in the bush. It’s all stories. Footy, playing it, is full of experiences, stories. So is going to a game to support. You want to write. Do.

Live life and stories will follow.

Sometimes, even, the inspiration is as worthy as the tale.


I was working in Gipsy Point last year, tree lopping on the coast behind Victoria’s NE coast. Beautiful bush, a good, honest pub. The locals had a soccer team. World game memorabilia all over the main bar wall, looking as proud as any footy club. I asked about it. They just didn’t have enough people for an Aussie Rules team. The soccer only takes eleven people and a ref.

Good on them! What a bunch of champions!

Who cares what the sport is, as long as they get a good puff up. Win or lose and share something. Sport and local pride. A reason to belong.

I bumped into a copper from my old neck of the woods. He’d been stationed there for a few years and had always been fair back home. As good a way to judge anybody, I reckon, cop or otherwise.

Back at his place, I played ‘Make Up A Story’ with his kids between tall tales and lazy beers with their dad.

“Give me a few topics…” I said, when it was my turn. “Make it hard.”

“A bottle and a footy jumper,” the oldest girl said.

From that I told a tale, and back to where I was working the next day, on my lunch break, just a little hungover, wrote it down.

I have a million of them. Kids book stories. Silly little things.

I might find an artist for this one down the line. Or show it to the publishers one day. Watch it get rejected, because publishing is stuffed and most of them only want sure bets. Marketing hooks, old classics or big names. Or maybe my tales aren’t good enough.

Who knows?

But here’s the yarn, just for something different fresh, into 2013. To show, between work and sweat, imagination and footy and all sorts of things can sometimes mix.

Hope it brings a smile to a few faces. Happy New Years, Knackers! One and all…

(P.S. artist prompts in brackets)




by Matt Zurbo. 2012


Sean cane from a small country town. He was on school holidays, (walking on the beach) when he found a large bottle (covered in barnacles) that looked like it had been at sea the longest time.


Yeow! (A crab bit him when he opened it, then ran away.)


“Hm, (inside it was) a football jumper, (full of moth holes and mould) and a note,” Sean said.


The note  read:


To whoever finds this, I am stranded on a deserted island, my ship lost on the rocks. Of all the things I could salvage from it and fit into this bottle, I chose my football jumper, because sport is a thing of life.


Sean (turned the note, to) read the other side.


I have played a lot of football in this jumper, lived many an adventure. Wear it and enjoy life. Keep a bit of me alive.


Sean loved football. He put the jumper on (and looked in the mirror).


(It was huge on him, like a sack.) It made him feel strange. He wondered if the person who wore the jumper was alive or dead? If he ever made it off the island? Or if it was all a joke and there was no island at all?


“I’m going to believe in the note!” Sean decided.


When Sean wore the jumper to school, everybody laughed.

“How come you’re wearing that stupid, baggy old thing?” they roared.

“It’s my lucky charm,” he would tell them.


“Why don’t you tell the other kids the reason you wear that jumper? Is it because you think they won’t believe you?” his Mother asked. “They might stop teasing.”


Sean wasn’t sure why he never explained the bottle and note. Maybe because he thought no-one would believe him. Maybe he wanted to show respect to a stranger trapped on an island.


But he kept it his secret, and let his friends keep laughing.


When Sean trained for the kid’s footy club, he wore his jumper beneath the team jumper, and did okay and got a game one week later.


As the season went on, every time Sean was tired, every time he was hurt, or felt like quitting, he remembered he was probably wearing the jumper of a dead man, and would whisper to himself:


“Try harder…!”


As the years went on, Sean started growing into his jumper. He always trained in it, and kept wearing it under the team colours. He won awards, and did well, but whenever he thought he’d done enough, he would think:


“Live your life as if you’re lucky you are not stranded on an island…!”


“Do it for him…!”


And he would try harder.


Sean became a good junior country footballer. He was no Big League star, but loved life and always tried so hard others followed. He was a leader, the sort you build a team around.


Football was never about how good a player was, not to Sean. It was about trying. About giving everything and being alive!


Sean’s football took him into the mountains, and desert, on football trips and to the city. Even when he wasn’t playing and went on holidays, or fished, dove for crayfish, or rode mountain bikes, he’d wear his jumper.


He even wore it while helping with the bush fires.

“Try harder…” he whispered, (fighting the flames).


Eventually, Sean was the youngest ever Captain of his local football team. They played a hard game (in the mud and rain). He showed great leadership and stood tall.


When the game was over, he took a moment, as he always did, to escape the backslapping and cheer, thank the opposition, and spend a few minutes alone.


This time, however, and old man (with a long, white beard) came up to him.


“It’s the first game of football I’ve seen in many, many years,” the man said.

“Are you a local?” Sean asked. He didn’t remember seeing the man before.

“No, I’ve come from far away,” the man said. “But there is a story, throughout the coast, that you wear a jumper.”

“The whole team has jumpers,” said Sean.

“A special jumper,” said the man.


Sean showed the man his jumper, (worn under the one of his team).

(It brought a tear to the fellow’s eye.)


“Have you enjoyed life?” the man asked.

“Yes,” said Sean.

“Are you glad to be alive?”

“Very much so,” said Sean.


“Yippee!” the man whooped, hugged Sean and cried.


Then, just like that, the man was gone.


Years later, when Sean finally stopped playing football, he went down to the coast with his sons, (and put his old jumper in a bottle with a note, that said:)


“Wherever you are in the world, wear this jumper with pride.”


And he watched, with his boys, as it was taken by the tide.





  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Great story and message there Matt. I hope a publisher picks it up.

  2. Loved it Matt. Always good to start the New Year with a lump in the throat. Reminds us of our humanity and our fallibility. I loved the way your story worked at a lot of levels. Are you the kid on the beach; the man he becomes; the old codger or the father replenishing the cycles?
    I identified with the old codger, but I can remember the other 3. Thanks for your generousity and insight over the journey, Matt.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    Beautiful story, Matt, which reflects how varied are the sources of inspiration for footballers. In local footy, I’ve always admired the player (and it’s rarely the one who is the most talented) who is still plugging away in the final quarter, especially when the cause is lost. It’s players of that sort who you know won’t let you down when the going is at its toughest. The hero of your story sound like he’s cut from that mould.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Story Matt there are a lot of meanings about life in general about communicating , having a red hot go at life and yep the player who makes the most use out of his ability are in th end the most respected I reckon you may qualify on all levels Matt , and that’s just from reading your articles . I love your ability to give a insight in
    Too life
    Thanks Matt

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