Local Footy and Mighty Wallpaper



I’ve got a new woman, which is nice. Not like a new car, or stubby holder new. A partner. Someone to hang out around and do naughty things with. To share stuff. She barracks for Hawthorn, but you can’t help bad luck.

Her sister does too. It’s how I met them. They came to Tassie for a game. First good thing the piss and poo have ever done for me.

Her and her sister are big on theories. They love trout-mouthing Buddy “Because he stuffs up so much.” I shit you not. Hawk supporters. They heckle him.

“Yeah, he can kick a good goal on the run, but he does such stupid things. He’s hopeless.”



It’s a strange world.


She came with me cutting wood on Friday. We got to the pub, then bowls club, past sunset, same as always. Had a beer, sold the wood. It’s piss-easy in winter, just pull up. The smokers go outside, they come back in with offers. It’s all pretty casual.

Collingwood were on the telly, being spanked by Carlton. Just as I settled in for it, the footy boys arrived. It felt like half my bloody team was there, doing their Friday we-shouldn’t-be-doing-this thing.

But if they had discipline half of them would be playing at a higher level. They’re young, and I have no easy answers.

“Old Dog!” they say, as they enter.


“Doggy Dog!”

“Two Dogs,” as one of them calls me.

“The Doggggg…”

So on.

It’s nice, always. They laugh and talk shit and order beers and block my view of the telly.

From what I can still see, Carlton are moving the ball too quickly for Collingwood to set up their stoppages structures that make them such a weapon. Judd is back in form. They’re doing okay where it all starts, in the ruck.

A few of the old salts are distracting my lady, wide-eyed, stoked there’s an actual, real, live woman in there for a change. She’s happy to talk to them.

It seems, if Hawthorn aren’t playing, she has no real interest in the AFL. That footy is mostly a social thing shared with her family. Which is fantastic, but I keep watching. When a relationship’s all new, the things you do send signals. They lay ground rules.

It would be a lie to pretend I’m not addicted to footy.

Any footy.

Soon me and the boys are talking local stuff, our coaches, farming, wood cutting. The ins and outs of our two teams, the game tomorrow. We always do. Carlton have it, anyway.

The whole weekend passes like that. The ute winds forever through a brilliant, never-ending inland valley, where we play a bunch of tough mountain old dogs and hard spreading kids who bowl us, taking our third spot on the ladder. I shower and change, gutted. North and West Coast are on in the clubrooms. After the seniors, we watch a bit, comment on this player or that, how goddamn plucky North are, talk a lot about the game we just played and with our opponents. About their careers, lives, turn them into people. Then we hit the road. Under the most brilliant, open, shifting grey skies we drive, the sun setting through snow capped peeks and already dark gullies and rivers.

My woman and I play music in the ute, but at the end of each CD catch up on the footy. Pockets of compromise. The Tigers beat Melbourne by just enough to suggest they are exactly where they deserve to be on the ladder. That the Richmond supporters have fallen for it again: a string of wins, a bit of luck, and false promises.

That they will keep falling for it, keep having glorious faith forever.

We pub-crawl on the way back without meaning to. It’s a long, winding drive that bush footy is made of. At each stop we run into half the team doing the same. The girls, who hired a bus, and have been rotten since 10am. We hear them as we approach, whooping it up, squealing, laughing. When we step in they’re dancing on the bar, stripping a local ghost ship as he tries to sip his beer. Swapping clothes with him.

Cranking the jukebox.

Between arms and waving jackets and two old school 19 year old farm boys in flannel shirts who have no idea what’s going on and look like they want to hit someone, Essendon run out into a pumped up St.Kilda. I vaguely make out Milne’s doing well, which makes no-one happy, which is funny. There seems to be a genuine hate for him.

But goals are goals and he’s having a pearler.

Next pub, I catch a glimpse of a ball-up. Dal Santo is playing on Watson. God, I love that shit! I don’t have to see it, just know it’s happening. Good on Jones, a battler with pretty-boy blond hair, he is old school St.Kilda, and needed. But to see a jet on a jet is golden. What big time footy should be about.

A roll of the dice. Egos on the line, barracking rights, reputations. Big hitters on big hitters.

Most of the players have left the sponsor’s pub by the time we get there. New romance distractions. We get given a meal anyway.

Up on the dining room wall, Milne does a mis-kick that lands early, yet, somehow, slips right through the fingers of a stunned Essendon defender. Impossibly, he doesn’t touch it. You’d swear David Copperfield, or Indian match-fixers had something to do with it! It’s a miracle goal, that just should not have happened. There is skill involved, there is arse, there is comedy. There is force of personality.

Very Milne. Also very St.Kilda.

St.Nick seems to be going from strength to strength, beyond that, really, I have no idea why Saints won, but will read about it in the morning.

We blow through at a few birthday parties on the way home. The coach’s 30th, an ex-player’s 25th. See highlights of the day on tellies on clubroom walls, in crowded lounges. Ryan O’Keefe taking a great hanger. The Swans beating my favourite player, Ben Hudson, and the team he’s attached to. Sydney still have that Paul Roos culture about them. No flashy superstars other than the down-to-earth Goodes. No Buddy, no Mitchell.

Yabby Jeans always said: “Every team in the finals has five or six great footballers. The team that will win the big one has the best bottom six players.”

I think of that every time I see Sydney.

We’ve done out bit for footy, for the night, so head into the high mountains, up through the rainforest, to where everything is falling rocks, snow and shifting mist. I tried my guts out today. We lost. Time to get over it for a night.

We drink in the clouds, play music on the deck and be merry enough.

I think about the AFL on the way home. It is some people’s lives. For us, the local bush team, it’s the backdrop that wallpapers our weekends, that steps into and out of and all around them, just the way those in charge wanted.

There’s not right or wrong. Everybody is winning or losing. Everybody is happy or determined.

It takes an hour’s drive, sometime between midnight and dawn to get to the track that leads to home. We cruise up the mountain, a full moon splitting the windshield in two.


Tomorrow there’ll be radio updates on Hawthorne and GWS while we cruise down to the coast, a beer or two in an empty winter pub with a warm wood fire and Gold Coast and Geelong on the telly. To me that would be heaven. I’d stay for the game, and even post match summary, but she’ll want to move on, see sights. If only the Hawks were on the telly. Instead, we’ll get glimpses of Ablett and Bartel before heading on again, to lagoons and empty winter beaches and whatever, depending entirely on which direction the ute is pointing.

Maybe, if we find another pub stop this far from anywhere, highlights of Pavlich and his backing singers versus what’s left of the Doggies.

Or not.

Either way, work will be hard on Monday.


Almanac Books: Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words – Part 1


  1. Your best yet, Old Dog. An absolute pleasure to read. Thanks

  2. Matt,
    One of your best ever lines: “Pockets of compromise”.
    That really nailed it.

  3. Matt – really enjoyed the piece. Laughed a lot.

    As a young man about town (many years ago now) I never realised that taking a girl wood cutting was a winner.

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks gents! Fortunately, Dips, a young man I no longer am!

  5. Your lady and Mary, the Avenging Eagle, have much in common. Early on I was trying to interest Mary in a Hird Carey classic. She advised “you follow the footy but I follow the Eagles,” and kept reading the paper.
    Sounds like a hard life, but a good one. Admire your élan.
    And your writing.

  6. Mathilde says

    What a gorgeous piece! Your lady is very lucky to ride in that ute and see the world anew though the view from your particular windscreen. I too loved the ‘pockets of compromise’. Long may they endure!

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