Off Season Odyssey Pt.5: Dreams, and One in 5,000,000.


The trouble with an Off Season Odyssey is you don’t get a real break from footy. A day in Melbourne and I’m over it.

My old mate, Gianpi, lines me up a week on a demolition crew, which is good, then we have a kick, because we’ve had a kick for 30 years, no mater how far my life takes me, then we go looking for grub.

On the way I think about how sweet the kick was. How sweet it is, always. Him and me and a pig-skin. It’s been the one constant in my life. My longest friendship. The three of us.

Even if he does barrack for Collingwood.


The pub we have our counter meal at is in Fitzroy, but has a lot of Richmond on the wall, because, word is, Richo once owned it. There’s a photo of them back in the early 80s, when they were competitive. Gianpi looks at it with melancholy.

“I wish they’d hurry up and get good again,” he says. “I miss hating them.”

I tell him I’m sick of footy for a night. And sick of the same places we go to when I come see him in the city. It all feels like a rut. We feel like a rut. Stagnant and claustrophobic.

We get in my ute and head for the far end of nowhere. Just some suburb with tram lines and kebab shops, and a popular little pub neither of us knew existed. A place we see in passing, in a city of about 5 million, full of groovers and music-heads, by the look of them. Far removed from footy and footy culture.

We walk through the locals’ bar, into the main room and there’s a band playing.

“Go Marsh!” I call.

I was the guitarist’s football coach in the Unders, back in the Otways.


Marshal’s good on is guitar. No, he’s great. I could watch him for hours and hours. Far better on it than he ever was at footy. It’s not his band, or even the main act. I think he’s supporting the lead singer.

“Could he play?” asks Gianpi.

I used to hide him, 6ft 3” and awkward, in the forward pocket.

“Honest,” I reply.

When his band is done, he joins us, mighty grins all over him.

“I fucking love random, man!” he says, giving us beers from his rider.

We talk life, then music, then footy. I ask why he wanted to play? He came from a dirt track, off a dirty track, that lead to a cold, foggy ridge that rarely saw cars or daylight.

“I wanted to be a great ruckman,” he smiles. “My Dad played there, his Dad played there.”

“What was Old Dog like as a coach?” Gianpi asks.

I don’t want to hear it, but listen anyway. Ego.

“The best. We weren’t any good, but all that stuff you talked about,” he smiles at me. “About passion, about if you’re going to do something, no matter what it is, you’ve gotta be passionate about it. You’ve gotta love it and give it everything! And, well, here I am,” he grins, ear-to-ear.

Living the dream, putting in the hard yards. Making a name for himself as a player.

When it comes to coaching, Len Thompson always told me, a third take in what you’re saying, a third listen, a third will never hear a word. Sometimes I know he was right, sometimes I wonder.

I doubt I was that good a coach, but what Marsh just said is the best football compliment I’ve received, ever.

“Anyways, I’ve gotta get back to Colac. It’s a two hour drive and I’ve got a 5am start manually loading 14 kilo pallets at the dairy factory.”

He shakes Gianpi’s hand with a grin, and gives me a real big man hug.

“I’ll say g’day to Kelly and the bub for ya, Matty,” he smiles and is gone.


“He would have to be the nicest bloke ever…!” Gianpi says, still looking at the doorway.



  1. John Butler says

    Enjoy the kick at Brunswick St Matt.

    Roost one for Chicken Smallhorn.

  2. Great way to get out of a rut, Matt. Life has a way of kicking you. Then when you are down, and thinking about whether it is worth getting up, it extends a hand and a smile. “Just wanted to check that you were tough enough.” You are.
    After I have read them, your pieces often make me reflect like little secular homilies. Like St Paul on his travels establishing the early Christian church and then writing back to them from other towns.
    The Apostle Matt’s letters to the Knackers in Corinth??

  3. Thanks tonnes John. Was not a lot there, but you were in spirit. Lobbed one u to (the other) Harms with your name on it.

    Jeez, Pete! Thanks lots, always, but I didn’t even read the comic book version!

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Zurbs, The Retreat always gives a lift. Best live music in Melb

  5. Oh, so it’s a known venue? Good stuff. Looked about just the right size for a Monaros city show, I reckon!

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    Can’t beat the retreat. front bar on saty night is pretty good. country rock/blues.

    Will be down in warrnambool early january. will catch up with Jack for a stroll on the beach no doubt.

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