In the shadows

by Matt Zurbo

Four anti-inflams, three pain killers and some good padding on the ribs and I run out in town for my 499th game. The oval is strange. Wide enough, but an outline of a thing. The ground either side of it is railway-yard-flat. There are no slopes, no trees, no back fences or creeks behind the goals.

“Look at them. They don’t want it,” one of their players said, when we ran out onto the oval. I’ve heard it every game of every one of my 28 football seasons.
“They don’t want it.”
Every time a player fumbles, or hesitates, or is tackled or bumped off the ball.
The agro teams, with their fat, knuckle-headed Presidents, always shout it twice.
“They don’t want it! They don’t want it!”
“Soft! Soft!” and “Hurt them! Hurt them!”

This club is in the shadow of an AFL stadium. It looms over the forward pocket. We play, hesitating every three or four minutes while next door, speaker clusters bigger than our utes blare out their own sirens.
We do it easy, which surprises me. You assume all town teams will be good, but this lot aren’t. Sometimes the talent spreads thin. There are just too many other clubs around.
Frankie tells me: “Who’d want to play in the shadow of bigger clubs? Have your oval be a car park for the AFL circus, and real circuses, and music festivals?”
“We all find our levels,” I tell him.
We aren’t playing next door, either. We’re all Division Two reserves.
The drizzle doesn’t let up, and we do it easy for a change. I keep picturing band tents on the forward flank, car parking attendants across the middle. Chip stands either side of the boundary.

The opposition have one player who just doesn’t give a shit about the scores. He goes hard, he gets the ball. He kicks about 4 of their six goals. I do my best to make him earn every kick even though he’s not my man, and, between thundering sirens that shake our teeth, and the sound of real crowds next door, I’m glad to be playing against the bloke.
His kicking is Twos football, but so what? He radiates pride.


  1. No comment on who, what, when or where Matt, though I do get the picture.

    Good to see you have weathered the storm and are back at it.

    When the going gets tough……………

    Cheers, Phantom.

  2. Mulcaster says

    There is a story that Artie Fadden once described John Curtin as the player on the other team that you wish was on your side. That pride that radiates from a man you have never met is unmistakable. It resonates in his acts and deeds. Congratulations on 499 games.

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks Mul.

    Cheers Phantom. 5 games left in our year. Get down for one of them.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says

    Playing that many games is an amazing feat Matt. What a lot of bumps and bruises! Sounds like you’ve savoured every one of them too. Good on you. Will look forward to reading about your 500th.

  5. Alovesupreme says

    Good luck this week, Matt; 500 games is an amazing achievement. Like Mulcaster, I loved your tribute to the goer from your opposition team. It says a lot about your attitude to the game (and all of it good).

  6. Phantom – like you I wonder sometimes about where/who Matt plays for. I vaguely remember some mention of Tassie in one of his pieces, so I was guessing he was playing in Launceston near Aurora. But I know he has also written about living in the Otways. I actually don’t want to know. The mystery is part of the allure. Like glimpse of stocking.
    Cloudstreet is my favourite Australian novel, and like many Winton tragics I have spent hours putting together half remembered fragments about railway embankments and the Swan River to imagine where the author’s imagination placed the Pickles/Lamb family home. Fermat’s theorem; the Loch Ness monster and the Eagles 2011 improvement are all the better for having no plausible explanation.
    Matt – hope you enjoy your 500th as much as I enjoy your reflections.

  7. Damo Balassone says

    Congratulations on notching up 500 games Matt. A monumental effort. As a hack who played maybe 50 to 100 games in his teens, I have nothing but envy. By the by, enjoying your pieces more and more every week. Love your voice. Clarity. I can almost smell the grass of the footy grounds of the Otways districts. Wish it was me out there.

  8. Mick Jeffrey says

    Congrats on the 500 games, it’s something that I know I won’t achieve myself (I’m up to just over 150) so I do this with a spot of envy..

  9. Matt Zurbo says

    Hey, thanks everyone for the kind wishes on my 500th.(it may have been more, but was 500 at the least- see this weeks post)

    It came, I tried my guts out. It went. Life is good.

  10. Andrew Else says

    As another 150-odder who lives on anti-inflams and physio, I can’t imagine what 500 would be like. If you can have a leisurely kick-to-kick without a 15 minute warm up, I’d be even more impressed

  11. Matt Zurbo says

    Andrew, Yeah, a couple of local kids run out onto the oval with me for an extra kick on Mondays and start with a shot from the 45, which makes me as jealous as all hell. Then they get impatient waiting for me to get loose enough to join in. Ha. Good stuff.

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