Shark attack: a tale

The tribunal Chairman was lost. At first he was angry, but this case had moved well beyond that. Fifteen years as a tough, no-fuss player, five as a reserves coach, fifteen more on committees, three years running boundaries for the kids. Anything to give back. His role on the tribunal was meant to be his swansong. Something to feel important about while fading into the background.

Now, thanks to what happened last Saturday, he’d forever be remembered for things other than football.


Joey Loveless was a jet. Well seasoned, well decorated at several city clubs. The local mob paid top bush dollar for what he had. Raffle tickets were sold by biddy old ladies all summer long, firewood was cut and auctioned by disgruntled local players, young local talent were paid nothing or less. Joey knew the pressure was on.

“Dot towns,” he mumbled to himself, while being yelled at down the phone.

“It’s not just any game!” the President boomed.

“I know,” Joey told him.

“You can’t, not really,” the President insisted. “They’re our cross river rivals. Have been since time began.”

“You’ve told me,” Joey sighed.

“They have money from all the wheat farmers.”

“I get it.”

“They piss in the river when we’re doing recovery!” the President boomed.

A part-time rural real estate agent, the footy club was his one place to shine. To show the world he was a passionate man. It was hard for the gun recruit to take him seriously.

“You don’t have to say what you’re dancing around,” Joey told him. “I’m playing.”

“And well!” the President commanded.

Joey knew the money wasn’t a lot to city folk, but relative to the harshness of lives out here, it meant the world. Hope. That one top-up player to get others on board. To show others they meant business. Yet his form had been crook. Niggly injuries, then the flu. Just enough trips and stumbles to miss the odd game and stop him playing at his best.

He had thought coming here would be a windfall, that he would snatch some good money and be a hero to some small town. That it would be an adventure he could brag to his city mates about. But his lack of form had put a wedge between him and the locals. He could feel the knives, hear the whispers.

Joey was determined to play a corker. A corker!! Show them what’s what. How the recruits do it.


Loveless sat in his ute taking in the juniors. Most of them were all young and hopeless. Soft. Watching them fumble about, pull out of packs and take it all so serious, always relaxed him before a game.

Today, though, they were just getting on his nerves. Giving thumbs up to him across the boundary, yelling stuff about beating their arch rivals. Oblivious to the extra pressure they were putting on.

Goals and points were scored as he slowly taped up his broken finger, then started pushing out the knot in his quad. Injuries were no longer excuses. There were no more excuses. He didn’t want any. Not even the torn stomach muscles he’d carried for most of the year. The pain from them was something else.

He chewed a few raspberry snakes, washed down two anti-inflams, then swallowed three, no, four, painkillers.

“No excuses,” he spat between clenched teeth, then stepped out into the cold air.


“Dog,” the opposition players baited him as he walked past their change rooms.




There was a lot to not like about them.

“We pissed in your water.”

“Yeah, pissed in it.”

“It felt good.”

The Coach listened to them without saying a word. It had been twelve years since his mob had beaten theirs. Soon, he’d be flying in and out, working in the WA mines. This was his Grand Final. His last shot at them. It meant everything.

“Are you keen,” he asked.

“Funky keen,” Joey said.

‘What does that mean?’ the Coach thought.


‘Funky keen? What does that mean?’ Joey thought, as he stripped down.

But he did feel funky. There was no other word for it. He shrugged and got on with putting on his shorts, socks, boots.

  ‘Real funky,’ he thought by the time he made the rubdown table. So cocky it hurt. One part of him in particular.

The Trainer was old, like all trainers were old. Overweight and acting like it was all a burden, even though he loved it. Being the cranky old man. Being needed, once a week, surrounded by chaos and noise and players sucking up to him because they thought he was over them.

“Yer hammies are done, Joe. Roll over, I’ll do your quads,” he said, while puffing on a rollie that never left his lips.

“I can’t,” Joey told him.

“Waddo you mean you-“

“I fucking can’t!” Joey snapped.

The Trainer stepped back, to get a better look from side on. Loveless’ arse was a few inches higher than it should be.

The Trainer’s jaw dropped, rollie falling to the ground.

“I hope I didn’t fucking cause that!” he squawked.

“No. NO! I just… Get the Coach,” Joey asked.

The Trainer left and came back with the Coach, who took one look at Joey and boomed: “Right! Everybody out!”

“Out?” asked the Captain.

He was 23 and desperate to beat the cross-river mob. Loveless shit him. All that money, all those excuses. He assumed the Coach didn’t want anyone around when he finally let rip at the prick.

“OUT!” the Coach thundered, not taking his eyes off Joey.

“Okay boys, let’s hit the oval for a warm up,” the Captain said.

The Coach waited for them all to go, then turned to his gun recruit.

“Is it true?” he said.

Joey lifted his towel. The Trainer, Coach and him all stared down on the biggest erection they’d ever seen.

“I’m colour blind. Can’t tell blue from yellow,” Joey said.

“Blue from…?”

“I was focussing on today’s game. Thought they were painkillers.”

“I don’t…?” the Coach stuttered.

“Viagra,” the Trainer said. He was old. He’d used them a lot.

“Vi…? Wha…?!” the Coach yelped. “Why would you even-“

“Mix them with some blow and you get this inhuman confidence and can go forever. In the sack,” Joey said, sheepishly. “So I’m told. My mate gave them to me. It’s my birthday.”

“It’s true,” the Trainer raised his eyebrows sagely.


The Captain took his boys for a few stride-throughs, then settled into some lane-work. All the latest info suggested you had to warm up good and proper before you stretched anything.

At lot of the boys resisted his changes. 100 years of routine was genetic, a hard thing to shift. He was determined, though. Would eat right, stretch right, warm down right. The one night he’d had off through injury he watched as the boys went straight back to old routines. Two lazy laps then groin lunges. Not backs. Back muscles were the key to everything. It made him furious. Bush footy didn’t have to be backwater. Blokes could still give a shit. He had pride, it was why they gave him the job. He’d keep doing it right until genetics shifted, even if he had to stay Captain into his 60s.

“Check it,” the rover said.

The Captain followed his teammate’s gaze to the opposition change rooms, where a handful of the cross-river mob were milling around the door, watching, laughing while making pissing motions.

“Scrotum, Ballsy, Nustsack, bring it in!” he called. It was weird. The team also had a Dicko and a Rubber Chicken. Everything but a ‘Testies’.

The team gathered. The Captain let rip about how important this game was. How it was Everything!

He could hear the Coach in the background, going off at Loveless. It made him grin. If a good old fashioned rocket got the city boy up and firing for once, they were an outside chance of winning.


“How many?!” the Coach yelled.

“Three of four.”

“Jesus H Christ!”

The Trainer was a religious man, if only because his wife was.

“Leave the Lord’s son out of this!” he snapped.

“Holy Shit!”

The Trainer gave the Coach the dirtiest look.

“Three or four!? Do something!” the Coach raged. “Jerk off! Anything!”

“Won’t work,” the trainer said. A part of his wife’s religion involved denying him sex. It made her feel more worthy somehow. He needed the blues to help re-find his mojo. And the blow, without her knowing, to convince her it was worth finding.

“So what are we going to…?” the Coach paced. “I mean…” he flubbered. “THEY’RE THE CROSS RIVER MOB!”

“I know!” Joey shouted.

“I’m calling the President!” the Coach said, pulling out his phone.


“Tape it up!” the President raged.

“Not for money or China!” the Trainer insisted.


“It would be easier to break an arm,” the Trainer added.

“Well… SHIT!” the President threw his hands in the air. “THEY’RE THE CROSS RIVER MOB!”

“He knows.”

“I know,” Joey said.

“How… How about…” the President searched for ideas. “…Betty Bobbit!”

“The team bike?” the Coach asked.

“Bike? Now wait a-“ the Trainer protested.

“She is. Nobody’s complaining. Not even her. She’s proud of it.”

“You can’t just-“ the Trainer started.

Every club, he thought, had a Betty. A girl who wasn’t that pretty, but had brass. Who used sex to steal the limelight from the stunners. Who stayed small town and had it all.

Betty was a boy in girls clothing. Deep down, most of the team knew it. Nobody thought less of her for what she did. If not for Betty half of them would still be virgins. There were straight girlfriends and wives and champion netballers. It took all sorts to make a club.

Secretly, the Trainer had a crush on her. Nothing real, just an old man’s imagination. She was someone to quietly look out for.

“Not Betty,” he said.

“C’m’on!” the Coach urged. “She’d-”

“No. No way,” Joey put an end to it.

He wasn’t sure why. Maybe because

1. Nobody deserves to be used like that.

2. He thought he could do better.

3. With his lack of form, he thought she would think she could do better.

4. It wouldn’t work.

No matter what he did, he’d be hard for days.

“Fwwwaaarrrrkkk!” Joey thrashed in frustration.

All of them stood there, watching it, wincing as it throbbed. Four tablets. The thing looked like it would last longer than the pyramids.

“Coach, we gotta start,” the Captain poked his head in.

The President slouched onto the warm-up bench.

“They’ll piss in the river again,” he mumbled, in despair.

Loveless watched the President in his misery. This game really meant the world to the man. Local footy, it was his everything. Joey then turned to the Coach, watching him fret, then get angry, then fret in turn. He looked like a caged lion. So much passion, so much earth in the love of the team he was in charge of.

“Bugger it!”  Loveless said.

Bugger his pride, bugger the laughter. Maybe it was the Viagra talking, but this town had put its heart on the line for him! He grabbed some tape, the solid sort, talking as he wrapped it around his waist as best he could.

“How much does my wage come to?” he grunted. The tape hurt.

“If you play every game? Ten grand,” said the Prez.

“Use nine-and-a-half of it to buy every kid at the local school between the ages of 7 and 11 pair of boots and new footy. The girls, too. Don’t tell ‘em where it came from. If people are gunna like me, it’ll be because of how I fucking play footy,” he winced, then ran out on the siren, hunched as if prowling like a cat.

“Screw this mob,” he said. “They piss in our water…”


Come next Tuesday the tribunal hearing was like nothing anyone had ever seen. The Press, public and protesting Christians formed a seething wall of flesh, pushing and shoving against the doors of the bolted-shut hearing.

Their constant murmur made the silence within the room all the more deafening.

The tribunal Chairman read the rap sheet to himself again and again, until he had no choice but to say something. Honesty, he decided, was the only policy.

“What am I meant to do? I mean, I have no idea,” he confessed. “I’m a family man, goddamn it. I can’t even read out the charges.”

“Sir-“ the President started.

“No. Shut up. You, Loveless. Do you know what you’ve done?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Joey.

“Why did you do it?”

“The whole thing was an accident, Sir. The taping snapped as I went to tackle…”

“We can skip that bit.”

“Then, in the ensuing brawl, somebody pushed me into…”

“We can skip that bit, especially.”

   A family man, he thought to himself.

“Your Honour, it’s not that big a-“ the Coach started.

“Not that big a…? The player is suing. The brawl that resulted led to the game being called off. The press has gone loopie! We’re an international hit, Mr Loveless. This is a nightmare.”


The Chairman turned to Loveless.

“Pervert Joe, the Press are calling you. Or… or… in that other paper! Have you seen it? Front page. You’re going for a mark, fully stretched. They called you ‘The Shark’. It’s pulling your shorts so tight, it looks like a fin, damn it!”

Joey just glared at him. Maybe the fact it was now Tuesday, and he was still erect, or maybe it was that day in the change rooms, but something had clicked over in him. He was furious.

“I played well, Sir,” he insisted. “At the football.”

“I’m surprised you could run at all with so little blood where it was meant to be!” the Chairman protested.

Loveless had had just about enough.

“Sir, I-“

“Shut it!”

Joey grimaced, then tried one more time.

“Sir, how is the player I-“

   “Still in hospital!”

“Oh,” he mumbled.


Family values can make a man achieve strange things. Somehow the trial ran its course without once mentioning Viagra, erections or the things they might snag on while playing football. Joey let it all wash over him. Talking was useless. He’d had his epiphany on the oval, but no-one was listening.

Finally, the Chairman gave Loveless the floor.

“Anything to say before we sentence you?”

“Yes,” said Joey.

Everybody fell silent. You could have heard a butterfly fart. This was his moment. He could feel the fire in him.

“Since this happened I’ve been offered to go on the Footy Show, $20,000 to tell all to a weekly, porn roles and lucrative Erectile Dysfunction commercials. All I know is two things…” He spoke with such steel, even the stenographer stopped typing to better listen. “One: This will all blow over. Two: Before the tape snapped off I hit them hard. As hard and fair as I could, every time. I didn’t play with my mind, but my flesh and bone, I went for the ball with my heart, not my fingers.”

He turned to the President.

“I finally get bush footy,” Joey told him. “I hit them hard, mate. For you and the Coach. So did the rest of the team. Next time we play the cross river mob,” Joey said, with the hardest eyes ever, “they aren’t going to piss in our water.”

A few people clapped. The Chairman was still lost. A statement had to be made. He was a family man. This was history.

“I’m cancelling your playing licence forever.”


Five years later, young Tommy Tuckers, fresh up from the Under 18s, was running onto a ball at training.

True to his word, the old Coach had stood down. His message was spent, his family needed the money. The new Coach had been at it for four years, now. An out-of-towner, he’d moved in, got a job, coaching for free, affording young locals like Tommy two bob. Had hooked in with Betty, making honest whackers out of both of them.

This was Fun Night, speckies and goals and stupid races. The team was 1st, they’d worked damn hard and had earned the right to blow off steam a little.

A senior player came at Tommy with the tackle bag, causing him to fumble rather than gather the ball cleanly.

“Tommy…” the Coach started.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, Shark: ‘Go for the ball with your heart, not your fingers’,” Tommy smiled, re-gathering the ball, running past Joey.

“Even when mucking around. Good habits,” Loveless insisted.


  1. matt watson says

    Very good story. I laughed out loud.
    And I remembered an incident from the Wandal Bulls Football Club, when I played footy in Rockhampton.
    I’m gonna write about it…

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Good one, Matt. I could use a laugh right now. Is great to know I’ve provided one. Let me know when you’ve written. I am doing huge days and can’t read every Almanac post. What a ripper sight it is these days! Always busy.

  3. Another great read Matty. Two thumbs-up!

  4. Brilliant Matt, very very funny

    Poignant too ,which is strange considering the subject matter

    Nice line, “Go for the ball with your heart”. Love it


  5. One of your best Matt. Loved it

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Bewdy Matt

    I think every club in Australia would have a version of ‘The Trainer’

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Cheers Gang. Yeah, Swish, the best characters are the ones you instinctively know.

  8. Malby Dangles says

    Great story Matt! This is a very funny tale.
    I enjoy the ‘fleshing out’ of the characters in and around the team as well.
    Hope you are well mate!

  9. Loved it, Matt.
    I was there.
    Brilliant characters and characterisation.
    What a great idea.
    Cheers, e.r.

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