There is a flat line, on which most people expect you to live your life. I have no idea why. I don’t tell them how to live theirs. But there it is. Avoid pain. Start when they do, finish when they do. Watch sport on telly. Live through others. That’s the trick.

I broke my ribs two weeks ago. We were copping a flogging in the twos, against the top team. They had three big donks in the forward line. All could play. All were tough and kicked straight. I was as jealous as all hell.

It’s hard to run back and fill the hole when the ball is moving one way so quickly, but I did my best. And, deep in the third, one of them got me. A few of my mates were dirty on it, but I didn’t blame the bloke. Not at all. I didn’t blame anybody.

That’s footy.

I was pushing back at pace, knew he was coming. He had to get me out of the way. Hell, it worked. The ball was in my fingers, but his raised knee, backed by 6ft3” of solid meat and bone, pushed me forward. He was paid the mark.

“Shit, ribs. I heard them crack. Sorry, Old Dog,” big Bourkie said, as I clawed at the grass.

I was slotted to play ones, too!

We had no-one left on the bench, so I chose to play the game out in the forward line. It didn’t come down much. We had ten or so out, they were on song and kicked fifteen in the last. I’ve never, in 31 years of senior footy, seen anything like it. Feeling helpless, at one stage I pushed up to the wing to help, but was kidding myself.

Shit.   Have enough injuries and you can feel the difference between bone and muscle damage. Bones are sharper. Muscles and tendons and ligaments ache more. I knew Bourkie was right, but come Monday went to hospital because my piss was a bit red, too. More so, though, to figure out where I stood. What was the best avenue of recovery to take?

The conversation went like this.

Doctor: “Broken rib, blood in urine.”
Old Dog: “How long until I can return.”
Doctor: “Retire.”
Old Dog grabs his stethoscope, says into it: “You. Are. Not. Listening.”
Doctor: “Four to six weeks.”
Old Dog: “Thank you.”

Later, he told me again, as if he knew things. As if I should be like him. He’d never tasted the blood I had. He’d never played contact sport.

I grunted and left. Could not be bothered arguing. 

Yes, I’m old for footy, and did my rib, my 21st broken bone. Plus ten or so concussions, nine surgeries. So what? I’m not complaining, or bragging. There are lots of blokes who cop it. Hell, it’s my fault half the time. Slow, won’t budge. Injuries are a part of the fibre of doing. A four wheel drive with no dents in it has never been driven. Fuck flat lines!

Without risk there’s no bravery. Without pain there is no effort. To love, you have to chance breaking your heart. If pain was his reasoning, when should have I retired? After I broke my first ankle?

I was 17.

The second broken bone, the third? What about all the amazing things I got to experience in between?

I did not get the injury because I am old for footy, I got it because I stood my ground. Because of footy.

This thing that has given me stories, and friends, and victories and losses, highs and lows, adventures. That has opened up communities to me. A country. That has given me effort, pride, loyalty, grit.

That has kept me fit and kept me young.

Work in the bush won’t be easy for a few weeks, but bones heal. I’ll get through and get by.

There’s footy to be played. Victories to have. Four to six? I’m aiming for three. If you don’t have goals you’ve got nothing.

Each person is different. I will not let comfort rule my life. I will not let a bit of pissy pain get in the way of my heart. My knees still work.

I have no reason to retire.



  1. Peter Fuller says

    You’re amazing, Matt, and you deserve the fulfilment that comes from continuing to test yourself, body and spirit, against younger opponents.
    More power to you mate, and good luck with a quick healing process.

  2. 3 weeks sounds ambitious Matty!?

    footy injury is a great topic for discussion.

    what do you think about the players (both pros and bushleaguers)

    some, like yourself damage bone and muscle on a regular basis, while others roll through their career with barely a scratch!?

    With regards to the latter (the scratchless): do you think they are smarter / more aware of their surroundings?? or do they rely on their teammaters to take the hits for them?

    some of the bravest players in the afl at the moment have managed to avoid major injury…


  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Cheers, Peter! Very appreciated.

    22# you are a genuis. Where as most of us spout stuff, you ask questions, and damn good ones.
    Yeah, I dunno. I could never jump. Most of my concussions came from backing into packs, so I guess it was my fault. I think protecting yourself is a skill. Even some of the toughest blokes know how to do that. Greg Burns, St.Kilda champion was telling me how he tackled, shirtfronted and wore tackles so he wouldn’t get injured. He was fearless, but not dumb.
    Some of the AFV/VFL’s longest serving players were hard ball getters. Some of it is luck, too. I do believe the faster your reflexes, the less you get injured.

    Maybe its a combination of all of the above. Corker Q.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    More Power to you for having the want and desire to keep Playing as some 1 who gave Playing up because of crook Knees and has been a maggot blowing the Whistle for years any 1 who says anything remotely compares to Playing Footy is either a fraud or a bullshit artist
    Great Question 22# and I reckon Matt answered it V well I reckon combination reflexes
    Genetics Luck and yes some Guys at all levels are soft and certainly will never get inj thru Physical contact
    Matt I admire your persistence and want to push thru the Pain barrier I remember when I cracked ribs when you were terrified re having to cough or sneeze it was shit house
    All the best Matt

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks again, Mal! Hope to see you when the Power finally get back to me!

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