Luke Ball: Zen and the art of footylife maintenance

“It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.”
– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values


At the November 2009 ARIA Awards ceremony Empire of the Sun won album of the year for Walking on a Dream. They cleaned up. Album of the year, Single of the year, Best group, Best pop release, Producer of the year, Best video, Best cover art. Walking on a Dream.

At the November 2009 AFL National Draft, Luke Ball left St Kilda Football Club, putting himself into the mix seeking a future at Collingwood. Walking on a dream.



It’s getting late. Marcus Aurelius (121-180), one time magnanimous and popular Emperor of Rome (161-180), author of “The Meditations,” is standing by the river. He’s talking to a Saint.

– So, Saint, what traits should we look for in another?

– What’s that?

– Traits. You know, common behaviours; indicators of a person.

The Saint lobs a stone into the quietly running water.

– Hmm. Desirable traits, Marcus Aurelius, are easily named.

Marcus Aurelius raises his eyebrows with interest. But before the Saint can continue, a Magpie lands on a low Eucalyptus branch, turns and speaks.

– A desirable person is a nugget, Marcus Aurelius. A nugget of gold, a thinker, an advocate, a friend; honest and dependable, seeking self-improvement, improving others, aware of themselves and those around them.

– Ahh, hello Magpie. Those traits sound reasonable. What do you think, Saint?

– I think that Magpie stole my thunder. If not interrupted, I would have said that a desirable person would be labelled: selfless, courageous and inspirational.



Luke Ball word associations: Hard, Tough, Fair, Nugget, Passionate, Hard, Responsible, Charactered, Hard, Thoughtful, Reflective, Aware, Hard, Selfless, Courageous, Inspirational, …



There’s a famous old work of fiction by Robert Pirsig called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’ve never finished it. One day. But from what I know, the story involves the tension that invariably exists between two types of personalities: Romantic and Classical. Romantics are the big-picture dreamers, also the ones who seek to stay “in the moment.” Classicals are rational and thrive on details, planning, logic. Pirsig suggests that those with a combination of the two approaches in life are capable of reaching a higher state of being.



A man ambles over to the river now, having overheard Marcus Aurelius talking with a Magpie and Saint. It is Karl Marx (1818-1883), German philosopher and revolutionary, who joins in:

– I would agree with all of that, Marcus Aurelius. But to it I would add the trait of stoicism.


Both Saint and Magpie look to Karl Marx, who in turn looks to Marcus Aurelius, one of the great philosophers of Stoicism, which flourished for about 480 years among the Greeks and Romans.

– Look, that’s great. But can any of you name someone stoic?

Saint and Magpie and Karl Marx look at one another, each nodding just slightly.



Walking on a dream
How can I explain
Talking to myself
Will I see again
We are always running for the thrill of it thrill of it
Always pushing up the hill searching for the thrill of it
On and on and on we are calling out and out again
Never looking down I’m just in awe of what’s in front of me.

– Empire of the Sun, Walking on a dream.



Luke Ball must have reached a higher state of being by the end of 2009. His decision to leave St Kilda, following years of toil and a Grand Final defeat seemed to some to defy logic. Classical thinkers were shocked. Romantics less so, but still a little perturbed.

Yet with the Zen-like clarity, into free fall he stepped, after a trade could not be engineered in Trade Week, opting for the National Draft. Hard decision; made.



Saint goes first, speaking low, reverentially.

– I nominate Luke Ball; St Kilda on-baller (2003-09), won a lot of games. He won a best and fairest and all-Australian selection in 2005 (age 20). As a young fella, with Nick Riewoldt and Lenny Hayes, he captained St Kilda Football Club at times through 2006-07. His 142nd and last game for the Saints was the 2009 Grand Final. Those are the facts, and yet he provided so much more. He brought people together. He had the knack of raising the standards of those around him. He was loved. He is loved.


Magpie nods and takes her turn to nominate a Stoic.

– I nominate Luke Ball; Collingwood on-baller (2010-14), won a lot of games. He played in the 2010 (both) and 2011 Grand Finals and won the Gavin Brown Award in each of those years. He is a Collingwood premiership player. His 81st and last game for the Magpies was the last round of 2014. He is a Life Member of the Collingwood Football Club. Those are the facts, and yet he provided so much more. He brought people together. He had the happy knack of raising the standards of those around him. He was loved. He is loved.

Marcus Aurelius lifts his gaze from the river; looks out to the mountainous northern backdrop, chest swelling.

– You’ve each named the same person. Do you have anything on this Luke Ball, Karl Marx?

– Well yes, as it happens, I do. Luke Ball served his colleagues as their advocate in the AFL Player’s Association. He served as President during a time of difficult negotiations with the employer, and played a major part in establishing the present Collective Bargaining Agreement, which includes a retirement scheme, emphasis on player health and welfare, personal development and an increase in total player payments. Those are the facts, and yet he provided so much more. He brought people together. He had the happy knack of raising the standards of those around him. He was loved. He is loved.



Walking on a dream, Luke Ball, footballer, thinker, advocate, nugget, finished his working life as a footballer in 2014. Through it, he carved notable legacies both on field and off. He tackled hard. He kicked hard. He listened hard. He’s made hard decisions.

It’s not too much to say that the game is better for the way he played it and better for the way he advocated for it.



“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”
– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values


Luke Ball is the special guest at the Almanac lunch on May 29, at the Royal Melbourne Hotel, 629 Bourke St, Melbourne. 12.30 for 1pm. $50 for two courses and one comp drink. Bookings essential [email protected]

Luke Ball tribute from AFL Player’s Association


Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream

School of Life – Stoicism

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Haiku Bob says

    Lovely stuff David.



  2. David- yet again you’ve drawn many threads together into a provocative whole. He went alright didn’t he?

    BTW- I prefer The Sleepy Jackson over Empire of the Sun. “Miniskirt” is a great, fun song.

    I reckon Dane Swan’s post playing life might be fascinating too.


  3. ramondobb says

    Yep, nailed it again in your inimitable style, David.

    Not enough words to describe our Luke Ball. One of the very few universally respected at the highest level. His reaction to the glorious 2010 GF victory was so symbolic of his selflessness – clearly showing emotion for his former mates in defeat and respectfully celebrating his contribution with his new teammates.

    He, along with his fellow recruit Darren Jolly, were the icing and cherry on top of the Pies cake in 2010. Ironically, one left with dignity and universal respect, and the other somewhat the opposite (but hopefully time will heal those wounds).

    Go Pies and thank you Luke Ball!!

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff ER. Luke Ball is a man of many layers, much like your article. I do sense a drift towards post-modernity and that’s ok as the parts are often much more interesting than the whole… if there is one. Patterns in the conga line of ephemera in sport? Not sure, but Luke is a rare gem as an intellect and as a player.

  5. Steve Fahey says

    Educational and entertaining as always, David.

    A class act on and off the field, Luke Ball, I agree whole-heartedly with David and Ramon.

  6. Read this a couple of times, ER. A pleasure.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Agree with all the above comments ER. Superb.
    Really looking forward to the lunch on the 29th.

  8. E.regnans says

    G’day all,
    That clears that up, then.
    Yep, well played L Ball.

    Thanks for taking the time &effort to put forward your thoughts.

  9. George Habib says

    Great piece David. Including the stoics made me think of that wonderful work by Aristophanes who spoke of of man and woman being one, then divided destined to look for each other, perhaps ball and jolly could be seen as joining to create the perfect union called collingwood in 2010.

    What I loved about ball apart from how he played the game, was his work for the players union, so many players of the future will benefit from his advocacy.

    Enjoy the 29th.


  10. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Enjoyable read OBP a man who like Nick Maxwell is enormously respected with in the footy industry and interesting that he left a club still in the premiership window.Campaigns for what he believes in as is doer not a gunna ( love that )

  11. As others have said, terrific at many levels. it teases out the layers within all of us.
    I particularly liked the repetition of ‘hard’. Particularly Ball’s ability to make hard choices.
    Many of us see the train coming, but remain stuck on the tracks and lack the courage to jump. Ball has in many aspects of his life.
    Well played that man.

  12. E.regnans says

    G’day all –
    Mickey – Empire of the Sun never grabbed me strongly, either. Though the kids were all over their song “Alive” a couple of years ago (subsequent to the Walking on a dream album). I was even hearing it my sleep for a while there. Spectacular film clip to that one. Sleepy Jackson passed me by. I’ll have to catch up there. Thanks.
    H.Bob, Ramon, Phil, Steve, Luke, George – Some strong Collingwood memories/ thoughts there. L Ball has indeed left a mark.
    OBP – Yer man L Ball does seem to be an action man. And the actions are well thought-out and are of consequence. That reputation you speak of is easy to spot from outside the industry.
    Cookie, PB – very kind.

  13. Frank Cheeseman says

    Well done again tall man, E. Regnans.
    A joy

  14. Goodonya ER.
    Memorable piece on an admirable man.

  15. Matt Watson says

    I never understood why Ross Lyon stopped rating Luke Ball.
    It must be one of Lyon’s regrets that he left Ball on the bench do much in the 2009 grand final.
    Was great to see Ball get a premiership at Collingwood.

  16. E.regnans says

    Cheers Frank, Don.
    Matt – a interesting one, isn’t it? I guess in contemporary Australian Rules, the coach makes the call and is answerable to that call.
    And saying that, we’ll probably never really know the motivations/ pressures on another.
    There must be many reasons for R Lyon making that call on that September afternoon.
    Was spite one of them? Who knows?
    Whatever they were – they probably contributed to L Ball making his decision of November.

  17. A lot of different threads here, ER.
    Read it a second time to take it all in.
    Well played!

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