Characters II. The Local Variety.



The first character I ever saw in footy was at my first club. Andy had long, thin hair, a mo, three stops on each boot, as many teeth and played on the wing. If the niggle was up, and he gave away a free, he’d stand the mark, the ball between his legs. When his opponent bent down to pick it up, Andy would double over, letting out a loud yell of pain, as if jabbed in the balls. If the kick was then reversed, he’d go back, wind up, and do the biggest torp right into the man on the mark’s head.

There were lots of fights around Andy. He didn’t mind. He did it in ways he’d never get reported for, and, hey, had no teeth to knock in.


Hoffy was larger than life. An over-weight big donk full-forward. Could play. When he walked into the club rooms on a Thursday night, everybody cheered “Hooofffffffyyy!”

“Get stuffed, the lot of ya!” he’d grin.

He never showered after a game, or even changed, because he said the smell of sweat made his Missus hot for him. He would leave and return, all clean and relaxed, in a few hours.


Sammy Harriott was as good a country footballer as I’ve seen. Incredibly tough. Amazing reflexes. Always using his chest and shoulders to smack into packs. He could hurt you, bad, off three steps. By the time he was 28, his body was a battered mess.

One day, the rain was coming down so hard, the ground so muddy, it became easy to read. Watching the pack on the wing, he would stroll back through a gap in the fence, to stand beside the ‘Bay 13’ supporters (local piss-heads), warming himself on they oil drum fire under the eucalypt trees. They would give him a smoke, a sip of beer. He opponent would shrug his shoulders and join him, staying warm and on his man. When the slow moving, heavy as lead ball would finally cross into the forward line, Sammy would sprint out, through the crowd, the gap in the fence and the goal square for the ball, his opponent in tow.

If it got cut off at half forward, and sent away again, Sammy would once more stroll backwards, towards the fire.

Somebody filmed it. We were sure we’d make a million sending it into the Footy Show. But, of course, being Otway dickheads, we got so drunk celebrating our sure fire windfall, that somebody spilt beer on the camera and killed it.

It was a good night, though.


Anyways, that was Sammy.


Rory Harrington is no great gun, no amazing wit, or clown. He’s a top bloke. Who happens to be a rock solid character just by being Rory!

You know the sort.


Pipes Balboni has skills galore. The snappy, freakish sort. One game, the ball came at him, fast, at waist height, as he charged at it, two opponents hot on his arse. He was about 35 meters out and threw his hands in the air in celebration as he did this bizarre, top pace, karate kick that sent the ball through for a goal at post height.

I mean, he was celebrating, laughing to himself, before it had hit his boot!

Pipes had come back to the club after time away, only to discover somebody had taken his beloved No. 1 jumper. So he wore No. 99.

After the game, Dallas O’Brien, the opposition’s character, as drunk as ten men, said to him, all wobbly:

“Oi, Pipes, what’s with the number? You get tipped on your head somebody’s gunna say: Hey, look! 66 is in trouble!”

At one shed piss up, Pipes spent an hour riding around on a plastic children’s tricycle, giggling like a balloon.

He was in his late 30s when I last saw him. I always said his saddest day will be when his kids are old enough to tell him to grow up!

You could not meet a nicer bloke.


Dovie had a twitching disorder, but so damn what. He’d wink and snort and iron anybody out. He was tough, sometimes mean. Smart and a sharp, witty kind of funny he often ruled a room, yet somehow, always, just, knew where the line was. He had character and was a character. In spades. Insanely proud on and off the ground. If he gave you respect, it was because you’d earned respect.

Not tall, but a giant, I thought.

He once drifted into the backline, shirt-fronted their Dovie, knocking him out, then strolled back forward, mumbling, like small change. “I got what I wanted.” and got on with kicking goals.

Even if we were beaten in finals, he always played his tough man heart out.


Arnie was from AJAX in the Amateurs. He did things his own way. A borderline senior player, he wanted to take that next step, so came to training every Tuesday for 6 weeks with a tennis ball strapped to the spot on his right foot, where he kicks, forcing him to use his left. Everybody took the piss.

Within four weeks he could kick either side and never looked back.

I’ll never forget that.


O.K. was a stoner. Him and his long haired mates would play good, hard footy in the Twos, then cram into a VW Beatle on the boundary and disappear in a sea of smoke. You could not see them through the window, and they could not see out.

I once asked him why he played?

He said: “Matty, because nothing, nothing, beats a bong after a good hard match…”


Vines, in Tassie, was incredibly tough. A strong personality. A good bloke. One of those people who is and looks mean enough to wear what he wants. He always dressed cooler than us. He always played harder. Wimps dodged and weaved. Small, big chested, and with a mean, mean glare, he’d run straight at the weak, of body or heart, at raging bull pace, leaving stop marks fair down their chest.

You build Premierships around blokes like that.


Harry played for the other mob. I only ever saw him once. I was 18 and had come back, on the bye, to see my old mob in the tatts and knuckles league that had characters all over the damn place.

As I got there he was leaping into our ruckman, planting his feet on his shoulders, from which he pushed a further foot or two into the air above his head.

“There goes Harry again…” one or two of their supporters drawled, like no big thing.


Budgie, along with Tachell, was the toughest player I’ve had the bloody privilege to play along side. A cruiser, maybe a stoner, he was a cook who would burn a packet of ten minute pasta.

When he lost his licence he would ride the five kms to work in Apollo Bay, cars swerving and ducking everywhere, on a motorised scooter, sunnies and old school bubble helmet on, put-putting along in his chef’s pants. He just didn’t care about danger or what people thought.

Off field he was so damn smiling and laconic, yet, when their big donk hit one of our kids and the melee started, everybody pushing and shoving, I looked over my shoulder to see Budge, five feet off the ground, sailing through the air, over the people in the way, fist cocked above his head, eyes wide, staring hard at a point on the donk’s jaw.

The bloke must have been a foot taller than him. Budgie didn’t give a rat’s.

He never did. His desperation for the ball was unbelievable. He played at four clubs and they won four flags.


Scotty Gainger was a rubber man. Small, skinny, with a depression era haircut, and big teeth, he’d smack, snap, and crackle into packs, whizzing and turning until he was flattened or he got a kick out.


Best of all, though, for me, was ‘Spider’. A lanky ruckman, a match winner. Fearless, always putting his body on the line, non-violent. He never fought, and was never, ever intimidated. He just loved life. Everybody liked him. Us, the opposition, the cops who were arresting him for this or that.  He was my best mate for the longest time.


Hell, the Coodabeen Champions on ABC radio don’t even get a kick, and they’re as much a part of this great game as anyone. Richo, Coves, Champs, Billy, they cover the game in character. They should be made life members. Even if I have no idea of what!

Maybe the Characters Club.

To me, they’re the forward pocket to the gun full forward, and the resting, hard working rover. Manned by the honest backman.

I remember playing own in the Carlile Valley once. Two old-school farmers were chatting through their ute windows. They beckoned me by raising their chins. Suddenly, all chat of rotary blades, a feed quality stopped.

“What’s up, blokes?” I said.

“Heard you got a mention on the Coodabeens,” they said.

And I was in the bearded, leather-skinned farmers club. Just like that.


The Coodabeens don’t preform. They talk. In ways, that if you were half that funny, you’d talk. The audience, and football, are always in on the act.

Dicky Dawes was a big, barrel-chested President who ran the local store at Gellibrand and made sure the best player each week got a free sack of spuds.


Tracy acted like a martyr while cooking us dinner for ten years. Always stroppy, always insisting we eat more.

Franko was all busted nose, hard eyes and jiggered teeth. A ruckman and a pair of fists. He was the sword by which you tested yourself and your love of the game.


Jack was a cheeky prick of a wingman. When there was a fight, he pulled off the opposition thug’s top, twirled and threw it, laughing, into the crowd. Fast, he ran off cackling, always just out of the bare-chested man’s reach. He also dacked players in packs.

One year, when his team narrowly lost the Prelim, rumour has it he snuck onto the Grand Final oval the night before and cut down the goal posts out of sheer spite.

The next day, with 6,000 people there, waiting for the goals to be fixed, he was in the front row, drinking, laughing like a drain, giving the crane operators shit.

He’s called Hacksaw to this day. Whether he was the one who did it or not, the name suits.


I dunno. There’s no beginning or end to this one. The list is endless. More often than not, you’ll find them running into each other. On and off the oval. Not all characters are nice, but we need ‘em.

All of ‘em.

There’s a comments box bellow. Tell us about some local footy characters. Share some stories.


Make the game complete.




  1. Malby Dangles says

    Awesome Matt. Great characters amazing stories!

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks, Malby. Are there many people who are NOT characters in Black and White footy?

  3. nicko longabaugh says

    “There were a lot of fights around Andy.” No shit, Sherlock?

    Zurbo, your Greatest Team Ever would know their way around an end-of-season trip. Imagine all these blokes in the one room.

  4. Great read. Footy club environments are a totally unique experience in every way.

  5. Malby Dangles says

    Haha Matty yeah plenty of characters in the Blacks vs Whites matches. Lots of Greeks and Italians who are always dead keen for this yearly match and who complain about EVERY umpiring decision. Get a few guys who play their first ever match of Aussie Rules and are normally pretty good. We’ve had some terrific footballer musos over the years but these guys have stopped coming since the Melbourne Pub league has started up. We also get a motley bunch of skaters and trippers who all have a bit of fun.

    One of my favourite memories was watching one of my best mates Ryan who is totally hopeless at footy. He’s a well dressed bohemian muso and during the match that he played he wore skin tight black jeans and fluro blue converse. Ryan bloke couldn’t do a thing with the footy but he had an uncanny knack of being wherever the ball was. I think he would have touched the ball about 20 times but would have disposed of it correctly once. He had a great time.

    My son has turned up a couple of times and he’s a character too, mainly in the sense that he would scream all match as he wanted to join in the fun whilst watching his old man get 4 possessions for the match.

    I could go on…I enjoy the annual Blacks vs Whites footy matches.

  6. Awesome stuff, Matt.

  7. Sam Harriott wore number 15. he hit the body harder than anyone i have ever seen. still in my top 5 favourite country footballers…

    I think Pipes only coached that year so he could get his #1 guernsey back? – great coach – great for the kids (probably because he has the mind of a child?), leading by example. Tommy Sutherland and I often recall the pre-game speech he made at Simpson – it was emotional stuff – and we went out and won the bloody game! – not something we did often that year…

    I dont think Scotty Gainger could play without long sleeves?. a pure wingman. i suppose he is still playing for the demons??

    …and how did Dovie’s take all those marks with his eyes closed most of the time? – a champ – a great man to have on your side… not such a great man to drink rum with… ha ha ha

  8. Hey Matt thats a great read mate, so many great chartacter getting around in this story its really worth a read keep it up!!!!!

  9. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks people. #22 I remember you! The number is a giveaway! Haha. Your post will come.

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