Off Season Odyssey – Part 9: The Bandidos


After a few big days in the bush, spraying in the gullies, and clearing fireweed, I come down from the hills to have a surf not far off sunset – the good, stupid, lazy kind that hurts no-one. Not the kids on boogie boards I can’t dodge, not me or the water.

Jumping in washes off the chemicals, the sweat and blood I’m covered in from the leaches. Suddenly, I’m not in the bush, just like that. I’m one of the punters. It always feels brilliant and awkward.


After dark, I can just make out the bar from where I’m standing in the bottle shop. I played alongside and/or against about 4 of the 5 bar staff. Jenny’s the exception.

The worst nickname ever, Horags, pronounced ‘Whore-Rags’, sees me.

“Old Dog!!”

I played with him at Otway. And about six of his Ballarat University mates. A group package. They loved it, mountain footy. It was an adventure. The line-up changed a bit each year, they weren’t always the same six, but there was a core of them.

The Ballarat boys fleshed our club out brilliantly. I don’t know where any of them were raised, or, after, went to, yet we shared 60-odd games together, and that one final. Each match would have been a four-hour round trip for them, passing club after club, town after town, oval after oval, horizons and landscapes that they could have played at.

“We’re getting on it tomorrow night, mate,” he says, like fact.

“I dunno,” I say.

“I’ll tell him where you’re hiding,” I hear Cruddy crack wise behind him. I played about 100 games with Cruddy at the Bay. He was all Michael Tuck. A wiry, tough ratbag, still running marathons into his 40s.

“Done,” says Horags.

Those blokes were good crew. The Ballarat boys. Davo, Louie, Cooper, the mighty, mighty Stuffer, Derby, Dallas, so on. They came from all over the state, from different backgrounds, had nothing in common except the same university and, in that, Tommy Sutherland. A personality-filled, relentlessly persistent, 6ft3”, barrel-chested student, and former Otway boy, who knew we were short of numbers.

When they graduated and re-spread throughout Victoria and NSW, they moved on from our club, but stayed as a group as best they could. Three of them won back-to-back flags at Stanhope in the Kyabram & District League along the Murray region. A handful of them slogged it out in a mid-range team in Geelong.

They would drive from one rural city to the other, Echuca to wherever and so on, three times a week, just to be in the same team, to keep the adventure going. Two or three of them in a car at any one time, over the long miles, listening to good music, visualising the match in front of them. Without realising it, using footy to explore the country, and, more-so, it’s people.

After one club function, word was, they came across some mountain magic baked into their biscuits and woke up spread all over Colac. On roofs, under couches, and in car-parks.

Money was never the thing. Boys like that wouldn’t have had a chance to mix with the logging crews and dairy farmers and people like Sammy Harriott and the Perkins brothers.

That’s what footy’s about, surely. Friendships. Experiences. Just seeing one or two of them makes me believe it all over again.

They were like some fucking gang of bandidos, roaming Vico. Playing at dot towns, and in cities, partying on the coast, and at music and ute festivals.

That’s how I saw them.


As bandidos.


This year, their best footballer, The Cornel, is having one last crack at a higher standard, in the Goulburn Valley. The rest are spread, getting married. They’re holding out, but sooner or later there’ll be kids, responsibilities.

One of them, Maggot, is coaching reserves in the bush somewhere up the other end of the state. No doubt he’s working his phone, trying his hardest over summer, pulling all the mates-strings, pushing the humour buttons, whatever it takes, once more, to get the band back together…





  1. Andrew Starkie says


    caught up with Jack R in Wbool last week. Sends his regards.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Told me he saw you. Stay tuned for upcoming post!

  3. awesome read matty – the balance between the banditos you speak of and the local legends made for a serious footy team – the respect was 2-way and the players played for each other – can’t ask for much more than that!??!

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