Real footy: kicking game

Kicking Game.

Real Footy.

I met Christiano at his home after work. He was covered in dust and stank of sweat. Another day like every other in twenty years on the demolition crew. He hit Billy and hit it and hit it and hit it and hit it and okay, he was ready to leave the house for a while.

   We took the footy to the servo, but the valve was tricky and the tire pump wouldn’t fill the ball up. Still, it had just enough air in it for a kick.

   We warmed up, just kicking and leading, like the sweetest thing. No pressure, not care. No need to stretch. My season was over, we’d finished 3rd, we could tear anything we wanted. All it would fuck up was work.

   Eventually, we hovered about 35 to 40 meters from each other. and I let the first one go. I cocked my heal to my ear and let rip the highest, tumbling punt ever seen. At least as high as every other one when we play.

   Christiano marked it, running back. It was important to get him running. When you kicked it high but right to a person, they had a chance to brace, and mark it through their full balance and weight. He rocked his heal back and drilled a dropping, forward spiraling, thug of a ball at my face, which I managed to stop and make stick. I fired a torp at his head, he roosted one a good 50 meters up and spinning sideways. Finally, five minutes in, he dropped one. Just got his fingers to it, which was enough. A touch was a drop.

   One point.

   Three points and you lose.

   We’ve been playing the game for twenty-five years.

   At two-all I sent a mongrel punt 40 meters high and bending away from him. It slipped out of his fingers an inch from the ground.

   3:2. One game to me.

   We changed ends like tennis players and started again.

   I dropped the first one. A sitter. Just wasn’t concentrating. Christiano laughed like tradition and gave me shit.

   One point.

   Before long, as always, we developed a rhythm. Kicking, marking, clapping each other, shit stirring, giving little cheers and jeers when a mark was dropped. A rhythm of small human noises, but, mostly, just the running into and around the wind as the day turned to night, in silence broken only by the thud of ball on boot.

   Soon it was dark, six games to four, my favour. Marking always was my thing. I’ve had fourteen concussions from playing footy across the country, most of them running back into packs, Often still holding the mark. Games like this always help.

   Christiano was determined to beat me, so kept wanting another game.

   ” Sure, ” I’d say, and not give a shit. I wasn’t pulling any pins. We’re both 40, yet pride is still, and always has been, the tastiest, easiest, meanest thing.

   Mugs away, he roosted one up. I couldn’t see him now, so I listened for where he was, and watched the skyline for when the ball broke into it, then ran under the falling, wobbling ball, using the city’s reflection on the clouds as a backdrop. You’d be surprised how much of marking is fingers and feel. Reading the line of the ball. Instinct. It dropped into the dark beneath the skyline again. I held it. Christiano did his. I held mine. Christiano did his. I spiraled one in at him, as hard as I could. A screaming torpedo stab pass, that never rose above the into the clouds and their semi-light, so he wouldn’t see coming.

   I heard the slap of it hitting his hands, then his voice call out from the dark.

   ” Yeah, ” he said. ” I dropped it. ”

   One point.

   It was, and always is, a thing of honesty. Our friendship is a thing of honesty. We always stretch as hard as we can for every mark, even if we know it means we will only get a finger to it, and in that lose a point. We run hard, we reach will all we’ve got. We’re competitive and best mates. If either of us jogged for fitness, we would run into a post out of boredom and break a nose. If either of us swam laps, we’d drown.

   Surfing’s okay. Surfing gets you scared. But the coast is miles away, and we have to push at still air. Work is still air. Home is still air. Squash is still air, bowls is still air. Cricket takes place in nets.

   White collar people did their thing around us, as they always do. They jogged and walked their dogs and pushed their prams and shook off their indoor jobs. It felt wrong kicking the ball on the old Fitzroy oval, once home of mud and Gorillas. It always does. But it’s the suburb that’s changed, not us.

   As we finally called it a day, a woman walking her sausage dog asked if we were training for finals.

   ” No, ” we said.

   ” Oh. Are you on of those AFL players? ” she asked me.

   We laughed. I was a nobody country footballer, back in my old stomping ground, catching up with a mate. Christiano had been retired for 22 years and had to get back to his billy. I had maybe one more year in me, at best, but I’d been thinking that for a lot of years. We just love kicking the pigskin. Love it!


   It’s how we talk.

   ” No, I play real footy, ” I said.


  1. Good one Matt. This reminded me of the kick to kick and footy games I had with my brothers when we were growing up (I have 5 brothers). We played on the road till after dark, down the local park, down the side of the house on our “cricket pitch” to practice our precision kicking by aiming at gum tree trunks, on the back veranda when it rained, even in our bedroom (which was more like a bloody dormitory) with rolled up socks. The bedroom games were particularly difficult because, of course, there were the beds to negotiate, and the goals at one end were the four paneled windows. The rule was no stabbibg goals at that end of the ground. I don’t think kids do that anymore.

  2. that’s “no stabbing goals” – second last sentence. Must be tired. I’m off.

  3. No problem there Dips, I read it as stabbing and had to re-read it to believe there was an error.

    Matt, my brother-in-law is a physio on the Sunshine Coast. Monday consultations often go like this:

    “How did you get this?”
    “Playing footy”
    “What kind?”
    “Real footy!”

    Doesn’t matter if it is Union, League, Aussie Rules. They all play real footy. (But I knew exactly what you meant).

  4. Excellent finish, Matt. Real footy. Fair dinkum footy. True footy. How we talk, indeed. And how we dance too.

    Not unlike my Sunday mornings with a few mates. Can anyone top 112 consecutive marks between four old blokes doing very gentle circle work? (Not that I’m competitive.)


  5. matt zurbo says

    Yeah, Gus, in 28 years of senior footy, physios have learned to bend to my concepts of injury and ‘can’ and ‘cannot’, rather than what they learned in school.

    Love ta have a kick with ya one day, Vin. How old’s old?

    Dip, give me five brothers, I’ll give you at least one really good footballer. If it’s the youngest, he’ll be tough as all hell, too.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Matt,

    how about getting together an Almanacker kick to kick say on a Sunday afternoon at Brunswick St Oval. I’d definitely be in.

    And Dips, if we run out of footies we can always use our socks!! Love it, used to kick the sock indoors on rainy days with my brother and cousins. Still do occasionally, with my daughter…when her mum is not around.

  7. #6 – I’ll be in a kick to kick session. One of the young Almanackers suggested we put together a Knacker footy team. We could take on GWS in a practice match.

    Sign up for the Knackers footy team here:

    What colour(s) will our jumper be?

  8. Matt,

    How old’s old? Our humble Sunday morning group of half a dozen in Williamstown averages about 50 years old. No warm-ups, no laps, no processes. Plenty of torps and drop-kicks. Almanackers most welcome to swell the ranks (after the long weekend.)

    And maybe I can get a few of the Willi boys over to Brunswick St oval one Sunday afternoon.

    Eventually we may be able to have numbers comparable to Brian Nankervis’s long-running twice-weekly twenty-bloke sessions in St Kilda and Elwood.

  9. matt zurbo says

    Well, boys, I’m 43 and still playing in Tassie. Keeps me mean and loving it and young. Grew up in Newport, where my old man still lives, and moved not far off Brunswick Street oval, where I fell in love with doomed Fitzroy.

    Having said that, I don’t care if ya on the moon. I’ll get there this year. We’ll kick and talk footy shit. And take someone on. maybe the Age, or one of the pub teams, like the Tote.

    Load that ship full of damned, proud fools and charge.
    Aim it at anything.
    See if we punch through or sink.
    Who cares?
    Play, and let stories be made, and let stories be told.

    All else is being old.

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