Life and Death


When Philip Walsh died one of the local newspapers went over the top. The cover was blood red. You’d swear they were getting off on it. It made me sick. When the Hawthorn and Collingwood players made that circle I was in the pub, watching with the volume down, thank Christ. Commentators could only diminish a moment as brilliant, as physical, as that. What was best about it was the lack of organisation. Talls were locking arms with shorts, solids with skinnies. It celebrated a man, while showing what was so great about our game – when left alone – it fits all types.


I avoided most of the media on the weekend. They paw and grope and scratch over every little bit. I’ve seen the 9/11 footage 1000 times and wonder why? I learned what I could about a very sad story, a man who appeared very hard to like, who reinvented himself as someone to admire. Not an easy thing to do. Then died tragically. The rest will come out in time.


I have seen enough tragedy, and don’t need to roll around with earnest glee in someone else’s. I felt for him, for his wife, for all those who’s life he touched. As I do any victim of domestic violence. I didn’t know the man.


The players would be finding it tough. Each one grieves differently. Some brass it out, some put their hearts on their sleeves, some need help. To some people death simply does not have great punch. That’s fine, too. I dunno, I don’t judge.


Come Saturday we were told to make a circle in the middle before the game. Our mob and theirs faced off. There was an awkward moment when it became obvious the centre circle was too big for the two teams to join. Arm-in-arm with my mates, I said to all, “C’m’on. Bring it in…” and both groups did. The chain was linked. We gave it a long minute.


I wondered what the others were thinking? About the game? How they’d smash it? About life? How rare and brilliant it is? I have had three great football friends, mates, two of whom I saw grow from boy to man, die in the past two years. I thought of them, briefly, then of nothing. I just looked at the dirt.


A shoulder helps, but sport is sport, and a life is bigger than that. Right or wrong, I grieve in private. Under that, every match the hurt is still there.


When the silence was done someone said, simply, “Good luck to us all…” and we went out and took marks and laid tackles and revelled in life. We had a ripper win. The beers went down a treat.
Now it’s late Tuesday night. Everything’s silent. I’m thinking of Phil Walsh, and, always, my mates.


The only advice I can give is, the level of sorrow you feel is naught but a gauge of how great a life they lived.


  1. Yvette Wroby says

    Lovely Matt . Perfectly said. Wishing you strength for the loss of your friends.

  2. Lovely words. Matt. Good luck to us all.


  3. Malby Dangles says

    Terrific piece, mate

  4. Love it Zurbs.

  5. One of your best Matty.

    I especially agree with your comments re. the behaviour of “the media” in times of tragedy.

  6. Matt Zurbo says

    Thank y’all.

    22# we think alike.

  7. Earl O'Neill says

    Great work Matt, as always.

  8. matt watson says

    I did the same you did, avoided the media coverage of Phil’s death.
    I reflected on my own relationship with my father and a conversation we had on the morning of Phil’s death.
    Phil’s death by his son just seemed so inconceivable.
    That he was an AFL coach didn’t make it any sadder, from my point of view.
    Great story.

Leave a Comment