So This is Christmas: Old Dog’s Top 10 of 2014



Let’s take it as a given that being a part of the Knackery is just about the most fun a footy player can have and share some other highlights of a mighty season. Happy Chrissy to all the crew, readers and lovers of life and football!


  1. Levi Casboult. I’m not a Carlton fan, sorry, that’s how I was bred. But shit, to see a big solid unit go for his marks, to watch him clunk them, it gives the game presence, the best weight. When he is having a crack the game is no-longer a skirting, flighty thing. He’s not that spectacular, just, the ball is in the air, then…. CLUNK!


To me the sweetest thing in footy is a pack mark. I would watch a whole game I cared not a cracker about if Levi was playing. He reminds me of battleships.


  1. Seeing my great mate Dean Towers finally play his first game for Sydney and slay it. Watching footy was suddenly exciting and scary. The best is yet to come from him. I have faith, as all mates should. Next year he’ll kill it.


  1. Training on my own, on a random oval in Queensland, a couple of kids asked if they could join in. Shoulder high, they ran around like loons, dodging, baulking, marking, commentating full volume, every mark, every kick, cheering, laughing, doing the crowd roar.

“Oh! He gets it! He dodges! He kicks! It hits his teammate between the eyes!! Rahhhh! Are you okay, mate? Do you need surgery? But no, oh, his teammate gathers the ball. Delivers…”

You had to be there. It was funny. It was timeless.


  1. Port Adelaide. The way they run, the way they take them on. It’s fast, creative, heart-in-mouth modern football at its absolute best. They can score, the opposition can score on the rebound. Everything is work ethic and unpredictability. The very reasons we watch football.


  1. Due to the book I’ve been stuck on the mainland for so much of the year, living in my ute and on couches mostly, I even ended up playing a few for my old team back in the Otway mountains.

One game, in the twos alongside a lot of kids, I remember changing in the old tin Birregurra sheds telling them:

“I’ve retired here twice. I like this oval.”


On Wednesdays though, I’d try and be stuck in the city. There’s a group of blokes who’ve been running around for 4 years now. Sometimes as few as six, sometimes about 18, some can play, many can’t, all ages, all sizes, so unofficial they don’t even have a name. Most don’t play on Saturdays for varying work and study reasons. But to a one they run their guts out doing circle work once a week. No coaches, no rules, no purpose. Just because. They run and kick long and if your under the ball you sprint or shuffle by for the handball. They chip short and get it back and keep doing that until they blow out in just under a lap. They praise everything. Any good kick, any mark, any half decent wobbly thing by a bloke who’s never played before.

There’s no pressure, no consequence, if you’re knackered you suck in air, if you want to take off, you take off. The shitstir flows readily. They asked me to coach one week. I got there late and joined in and marvelled at the freedom of what they do. The simple joy of running and kicking a football.


“Mate,” I said “Why mess with perfection.”


  1. Matt Spangher. What a story! What a top bloke! Honest, friendly, accessible. A genuine cult hero. That run he did down the wing deep in the last minute of the Grand Final, the way the crowd rose as it looked like backman, the bloke who reminded them most of themselves, might kick a goal. The way barflies and young dickheads the world over, in the Outback, on the Gold Coast, in England pubs, bush footy club functions and at suburban Melbourne barbies, rose. Everybody wishing on a fairy tale ending, if only for the humour and beer of it.


Who cares if it didn’t quite come off! That we all moaned and eased back into our seats chuckling as Teddy Richards got a finger on the pass to him. How many blokes can say for ten seconds they united a nation?


That’s good will. Something that goes way beyond playing ability.


  1. Mid winter, stuck in Melbourne on a Monday, I needed a good, hard run, so walked up to this mob dressed in green and gold at the end of an oval. It was raining on and off, dark. Turns out it was the Pakistani National Australian Rules Football Team. I asked if I could join in. Told them I was from Tassie, that I’d played about 570 senior hack games. The coach, a big man with a Muslim beard, looked me up and down all cold and said “…Okay.”


Suddenly I was in warm-up lines, attacking the pill, calling “Osma, Osma, Osma!” and “Kick it Mohammad! Mohammad, Mohammad!” and “Go long Imran!”


Some could play, and obviously did at some level in the burbs. Others were raw. When we split into teams for a scratch match I was with the whites versus the team jumpers. My opponent was a massive wall of a young bloke who was a bricklayer and part time DJ. Much bigger than me. When I out-marked him and played on, chipping to a bloke on the wing, he walked straight up to me, broke into the biggest grin and said: “Mate, that was fucking awesome!”


A half of them were still a bit rough about me, but when the coach yelled “Whites! Whites! Get on your men!” I said “Fair go, I’m the only white here.” And they laughed and all was golden. Like any footy club, they seemed the best blokes ever.


They were training for the International Cup. As we did our two warm-down laps the banter was focused squarely on their archrivals: “India in two weeks, boys!” and “Come-on. We have to beat India!” and “Go harder! What are you going to do, let India beat you?!”


It was Collingwood, it was Carlton. It was Australia.

2. Meeting Drew Petrie. Every question I asked for the book, he waited on, and thought about first, determined to nail it. When it really mattered he stopped looking at me, and turned to an invisible point on the desk, clenched his hands a bit, smiled, and talked with such friendly, mind-numbingly strong conviction. Especially if it involves North Melbourne. A man has never loved his club or footy more, or tougher.

People who think passion is dead in modern football are fools around Drew Petrie.

  1. My Mate Rory. He left Statewide in Tassie to coach a Div One team buried in the bottom half of the ladder, with an ordinary culture, and took them to a Grand Final. He played in the ruck on the day. His mob were never going to win, but he tried his guts out. Not just in the ruck, but when he hit the ground. Using his body in packs, laying tackles, clearing paths for the young blokes.


In a team full of kids he seemed to lead by example. I’m sure he does in coaching, too. Teaches them about work ethic. Values.

I love the AFL, but we play Aussie Rules. My highlight will always be watching or playing alongside someone I know. Spotting the faces in the crowd, the twos players, the ex-teammates, the retired warhorses.


Football on a personal level.


  1. Ben Footner says

    Quality read Matt! Thanks for helping me fill in a few minutes of dreaded Christmas Eve work – the training session with the Paki’s in particular put a smile my face!

  2. Good one Matt. Enjoy Christmas prior to putting in a big pre-season.

  3. Malby Dangles says

    Snippets of a pretty amazing year Matty. Your writing on the game is in my footy highlights of 2014.
    Glad to see you could fit in some positive commentary on a Blue boy :)

  4. Thanks heaps Ben, Tony, and mighty Malby! Season’s greetings to you all. May Santa put a pig skin in your sack

  5. “I’ve retired here twice. I like this oval.”

    One of your best lines yet Matty…

    Keep them coming in 2015!

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Merry x mas old dog , I to love the training run with the , pakis . What I most enjoyed about this piece is the grass roots footy element give it to me any day over the corporate afl world ( you have inspired me to write a article about thus ) thanks
    Old dog

  7. On ya 22! Cheers Rulebook! Always!

  8. Keiran Croker says

    Gold! A great read Matt.

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