No Skills Required

No Skills Required


(with thanks to Ray Wilson)


With the footy book I’ve been researching and writing dragging me to the mainland so much, I played out my year with my old club, up in the South-West Victorian mountains. My first game back was at one of the inland teams that has produced a few crack AFL players over the years. It felt good stripping down again.

“I like this oval,” I said to one of the kids next to me. “I’ve retired twice here.”


The first time I retired I made a point of going to Cuba during the pre-season. A bit drastic, I know, but there were other reasons, and, hey, it was just far enough to keep me from temptation.

No telly, no internet, no contact with home, but in that no Collingwood. A fair trade-off.

I lost track of both time and myself over there, not making it back until about round three. The moment I arrived someone threw a pair of boots at me. We were playing a farming hills mob. A proud, tough team full of solid spud scratchers and dairymen. The oval was huge, windswept, I was unfit, rain was coming in sideways, the juniors had chopped up the surface. All thoughts of beautiful dark women and Caribbean rum quickly faded.

I know all the reasons I still play at 40. To keep fit. To give back. The twos have a lot of kids in them, it’s always great to give advice, share knowledge, stay out and help some of the younger players after each training run. My work in the bush is solitary. Footy helps me belong.

But Jesus wept! What a shit day to get back from the equator!


I was going through my pre-game depression, which plagues me every game, but now multiplied

“You’re too old.”

“Give it up.”

“They’ll laugh at you.”

“You’re unfit.”

“You were never much to begin with.”

as we ran out into the rain, now sleet, water and mud. We got into our four groups for lane-work x2. The coach looked around, then, called out: “Shit, somebody forgot the warm-up footies! Um… Fake it!”

A few of us blustered and grumbled until Scratcher said “Fuck it” because his hands were turning blue and took off toward the shivering group opposite, holding an invisible footy, lobbing a 40 meter handball into the wind that would do Polly proud. I was at the other end, and took it with a waterlogged sneer, doing a stab pass that Whinny took easy out front, with a cocky grin, and we were away.

Chubs did a drop kick, and told everyone in case they didn’t notice. I stopped and did a torrie off one foot, watching it rise through the air. Johnno marked it, one hand, out to the side.

“Great skills!” the calls came.


“Mark behind your back. Nice!”

“Ohh, I liked that one!”

Grunter decided we were being lairs. With or without a ball, it was reserves bush footy in the rain. When Big Don kicked the invisible pill to him, he reached for a half volley, then looked back behind himself, as if it got through.

“Come-on, boys!” he growled. “Keep ‘em up!”

Good one Grunter.

The rain was so hard we could barely see the blokes at the other end. Over-all, though, but for one small fact, it was the most skilful warm-up ever. Suddenly, all doubts were gone. I was in love with football again, and happy for my place in it.

We laughed it up, stretched up, geed-up, lined up, and got absolutely smashed by the dairy farmer boys.


  1. Nice one Matt.
    There is an old cricket yarn about Freddie Truman playing in a charity game. The opener is an old school type in his late 40’s.
    The first ball rips past the off stump, and the batsman doesn’t move a muscle. No acknowledgement, no “well bowled”, nothing.
    Freddie reckons the batsmen is a snob who is taking the piss out of him, so second ball he sends a searing bouncer just over the batsman’s head. Same thing. Batsman doesn’t move a muscle.
    Now Freddie is really angry, so he tears in and oversteps the crease by half a yard, letting go a searing short one that whizzes past the batsman’s nose, just as the umpire extends his arm and screams “no ball”.
    For the first time the batsman loosens up and backs away from his stance, confiding to the wicket keeper “I knew there wasn’t one all along.”

  2. When the team in Abu Dhabi started, we didnt have a training venue until one of the blokes wife mentioned that the Abu Dhabi rep Netball team trained at a school where the there was a small field beside the netball courts. Despite it being an all girls exclusive school, we were allowed in because we were chaperoning the netball girls and protecting them from fraternising with strange men. At one of the first training sessions for the Falcons, the bloke who had THE ball didn’t turn up on time. Running around in 40 odd degree heat didn’t appeal, so we trained with the Abu Dhabi rep Netball team. Turned out the girls were more than capable of looking after themselves. Fortunately the bloke with the ball turned up after about 30 minutes of being towelled up. Some of those Kiwi girls thought they were trying out for the All Blacks.

    Would have enjoyed a ball free simulated session more…

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Pete, that’s a terrible joke! Haha! Probably true, too!

    Gus, I miss your middle east stories a lot. I miss the thought of playing there.

  4. Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood says

    Thanks Matt I can see this warm up becoming a part of the Adelaide Uni scum team

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