Ken Fraser, Lazar, Bourke, Winmar and Ricky

 

The first footy luncheon I ever went to was my book launch a few weeks ago at Percy’s North Fitzroy Arms Hotel. The great man was there, of course, sitting in the corner of the bar, a Tasmanian still in Melbourne. One of the two speakers I invited was the mighty, universally respected, duel Essendon premiership captain, Ken Fraser. For the other speaker, I asked Lazar Vidovic. He brought Nicky Winmar and Ricky Nixon with him. It’s a privilege to call Francis Bourke a friend. He wasn’t driving trucks that day, so he showed up, too.

 

One by one we were introduced. When Francis was mentioned, this room full of hardened footy nuts and all time legends, to a one, seemed to pause, and acknowledge him. A sort of small, casual grunt followed by silence. Something saved for royalty.

 

If that wasn’t enough, in the crowd were my great mate, Essendon premiership player and long time CEO, Barry Capuano, and the legendary Torch McGee!

 

It was magic.

 

Lazar was nervous. He introduced me to Nicky, who has always been a hero of mine.

 

“G’day Cuz,” I said, which he liked.

 

Lazar introduced me to Ricky.

 

Vidovic wanted them both to speak.

 

“Short and sharp,” Ricky said. “One belter of a story and I’ll be off!” Perfect, I thought.

 

But in front of all three, I told Lazar: “Mate, I interviewed 171 legends of the game, I could have asked any of them, yet I asked you. Stop trying to palm it off.”

 

It just seemed obvious to me, because he’s not a premiership captain. Because he is a servant of the best game on this planet. Because he is a passionate, funny bastard, who gave his all and then some. A character with character, larger than life.

 

Because he tells ripper stories.

 

When I first met him at his home in Alton, fresh back from his job on the Docks, he inhaled a six-pack. “How the hell am I going to keep up?” I thought. But we talked, and got drunk, and short, sharp, funny story after story flowed.

 

Nicky gave a brilliant, passionate talk about being Indigenous and footy in general. It was unplanned, and from the heart.
But the counterpoint between Lazar and Ken was perfect.

 

Ken is a man, having talked to him, I have incredible respect for! Not just a gentleman, a firm believer in things. And a great storyteller.

 

After his talk, someone asked him a question. Then, they asked Francis, who stood to reply. To have two such great men standing either side of the room, talking football for all of us to hear was better than a thousand Matthews and Careys and McAvaneys on telly or on stage. It was Heaven. One of the absolute highlights of my footy life.

 

Bourke and Fraser, telling it as they saw it.

 

Just to be in that room.

 

Really, between the five of them, and Percy with his wise cracks made six, you couldn’t get a more diverse bunch.

 

And at the back table was my team. The Footy Almanac crew. Ten years of writing for them, and reading them, and there they were, in the flesh. A family of sorts. People I have known forever, intimately, but never met.

 

Briefly, after the talks and food and the beers, I thought about my work. Normally, at that time of day I would have been in some remote part of Australia, working in the bush, or on the water, freezing my tit off, oyster farming in Southern Tassie.

 

Bourke, Fraser, Lazar, in a back room at Percy’s. My baby running through everybody’s legs, lighting it all up. The Knackers and good cheer. We all need these pockets of Heaven.

 

My wife and I were up by 4.30am the next day to catch the first flight of the morning. I had a match to play back in Tassie. A million miles beneath the standard of these blokes, but, as always, I gave it everything.

 

Game 654 and counting…

 

 

 

Read more about Heart & Soul HERE.

 

To order a copy send an email to Russell Jackson at Geoff Slattery Publishing.

 

Matt Zurbo, along with Elena and Cielo, are the special guests at The Footy Almanac Hobart Lunch today (Aug 23) where he willspeak about Heart & Soul.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Coincidentally Matt, I’m up to the Ken Fraser chapter of Heart and Soul.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Swish! Good one. Enjoying it?

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Yep Old Dog. Yep

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