The Underdog


Tom Goodwin. Photo by Cameron Grimes.


The Underdog


Let’s talk about pride. Let’s talk about winning.
Let’s talk about champions and the meaning of football.


I first met Tom Goodwin four years ago, while interviewing his dad for my footy book. Andy Goodwin came to footy late, no history in or skill of the game, but was determined, mean. When he did something, he wanted.

Ninety-odd games later for Richmond and Melbourne, he’d earned a ton of respect both on and off the oval. And left a bit of controversy. Fast for a big man, more skills than given credit for, his coaches loved him. Any task – fair, foul, twice his size – no complaints. Any injury ignored. He was a hard man. Andy then went on to play into his 40s. Pain never bothered him, so ageing didn’t. He was born for the contest. The old warrior. In the end, his 22nd broken nose put a halt to things.

All the while he never gave up life in the rural hills outside Lilydale, or his job as a plumber.

He and his son Tom picked me up from the train station in their F100, of course. Even their ute was massive.

Back at their homestead, Andy and I went up to the wood cutting pile, surrounded by dogs and cow-filled valleys and shared six packs and pizza that he had shouted, trading stories, before he and his wife insisted I take the spare room for the night. A stranger from Tassie.
From that moment I admired him.

Tom was young. Maybe 20-21, playing in the SANFL, trying to get into the AFL system. Tall, strong like his dad, a plumber like his dad, it had taken him a year or two to figure out just what it take to get to the top level. An entire life commitment.

Outsiders just don’t realise this. Boarding school kids are far more likely to make it, because their life is built on structures already. In their teens they have no hard yakka day jobs. Bush superstars get sucked into the system whether they’re ready or not. For the rest of us it takes relentlessness, the single biggest weapon any player can have – hunger. Self-motivation. Desire. Call it what you will. You have to make a conscious decision to shift everything! To stop drinking at 4am on a Saturday so you can be running 10k by 6am. To get home from work and work. To be obsessed with what you eat, when. To plan your holidays around fitness, not enjoyment. To decide to be a young man in a kid’s body.

Tom made the commitment.

We went for a kick one day, out there, in summer. Just because. Running around some small, bone-dry oval next to a stagnant willow creek, he never once stopped pushing when I kept putting it a good stretch in front of him.

Tom found his way to Coburg, the next step. It was a perfect marriage. A working class bloke for a working class club. No AFL affiliation, no money. Just pride and history. Taking on AFL giants.

I flew over when my mob had the bye one week, to hang out with Andy and watch Tom as Coburg played Richmond. Coburg supporters were outnumbered 20 to 1, which I suspect reflected in their revenue. The teams played befitting their status. Richmond were organised. Coburg were young, getting the ball, running like loons, stuffing up, getting it again. Tom spent the day bashing into and sharing splinters with Ivan Maric. The old and the new and the same. It was no bullshit brilliant.

Tom held his own, Richmond won easy.

Last year was Tom’s season to be drafted as a mature recruit. He kept me informed the whole way through. A tough, ready-made ruckman with huge work ethic. Freo and Essendon showed signs they were going to take him. He trained with both of them. In the running drills he kept up with the midfielders.

When he was asked by one of the coaches to give one last pitch on why he should be drafted by the Dockers, a little bird told me Tom glared into the bloke’s eyes and growled; “Mate, no disrespect, at all, but I’ll work harder than any other c*** out there…”

I loved it. Work, fire, pride. But the Dockers and Bombers were presented with other options they weren’t expecting. When you’re starting from so far back there’s not much wriggle room. The draft fell against him.

Essendon offered for Tom to play in their VFL side. Yet, by that stage Tom had fallen in love with Coburg. If he wasn’t going to make it at AFL he wasn’t going to leave the have nots for the haves. No matter the advantages.

“Are you kidding? Thanks heaps, but Round 6, Coburg/Essendon, I’ll come at ya. 100 miles ah hour!”

He was loyal. Coburg are stupidly young. He was in his mid-20s by now. They needed leadership. Upwards, yes. Sideways, no. He was staying.

For that pride alone, if I was an AFL club I’d recruit him.

Coburg saw the bleeding obvious and made him captain. He’s played some blinders this year, and won a Big V jumper, despite Coburg being on the bottom of the ladder. Scores always bother Tom. He hates losing! Hates! But they never stop him.

Sometimes, after our respective games, in respective states, at respective levels, we text each other.

   How’d ya go ol’ China?

Round ten, he was wrapped, and called me.

“Stoked mate! We’d lost the first 9. You could feel the pressure. We just beat a side with 19 AFL listed players! Us! We have none! Stuff ‘em!”

The phone glowed hot with earned victory. You could feel it. My ear was burning. It was a dead set ripper feeling that carried my weekend, and has carried my year.



My team had played in the bush, in some valley. When my partner and I got back to Hobart we stopped at the first pub we saw and I asked a barwoman to take a photo of us raising a beer to Coburg.

And Tom Goodwin.

If no AFL team drafts Tom as a mature recruit this year they’re mad! He has what they need. Or, at the very least, should gamble on.

No, it’s not the AFL, Coburg are 1 and 10, the team he said ‘no’ to have won 8, yet Tom Goodwin is still playing great footy! Being a role model. Radiating blue collar passion.

He is what I think of when I think of Champions.


Special thanks to Cameron Grimes Photography for the ripper photo.



  1. Dave Brown says

    Saw Coburg (and Tom) play once last year, Matt. He stands out, literally and figuratively. I’m a member of Coburg this year – so much money and energy flows into the AFL while it leeches off the state leagues simply to give its reserves somewhere to play. The haves and have nots is pretty apparent when you sit in half a grandstand at Piranha Park and watch them play teams with players on huge pay packets. Those of us who can have an obligation to support standalone clubs like Coburg. Go well Tom.

  2. Superb Old Dog the passion radiates,4 am stop drinking to go for a run at 6 am yes I am a lunatic and have done that a long time ago.Alk the best Tom Goodwin !

  3. Malby Dangles says

    Best of luck to him in his career. Sounds like a great guy to be on a team with.
    Great piece as usual, mate

  4. Classic prose from Matt Zurbo!

  5. Love it, M Zurbo.
    The things that matter.
    Wonderful writing, wonderful idea for the writing.
    Well played T Goodwin.

  6. Great stuff, old Dog.
    And bravo to the Goodwins.
    I wouldn’t mind North Melbourne drafting him later this year…

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks all!

    Absolutely Dave! On ya mate.

    It would be so well deserved if Tom got drafted! Either way, he is what footy’s about, I reckon.

  8. Peter Fuller says

    This is a superb piece, and your recounting of your conversations with Andy were among the most memorable of your brilliant book. Tom seems to embody that line which Wayne Bennett used as the title for his book and which seems to have originated with Oliver Wendell Holmes “Don’t die with the music inside you.” It’s pretty safe to conclude that Tom has achieved everything that he could have done, even if he doesn’t make the next step, which in any case is beyond his control. It will be great if he does get his deserved chance at the higher level, and there seems little doubt that he will vindicate any list manager who takes the punt on him.

  9. Matt,
    I thouroughly enjoyed reading this piece, well done!
    As an Elite sponsor of the Coburg footy club from the day they went standalone, it’s players like Tom that keeps us part of this club.
    The passion and heart that they have chasing a dream not money is a beautiful thing.

  10. Matt Zurbo says

    God on you Peter, and thank you for the rap, mate! Yeah, fingers crossed.

    Daza, on ya mate! Just made my night! Thank you and your mob for pumping blood into the real deal. It keeps footy alive.

  11. Love this article. Need more sports writing of this quality, with a commitment to our working class players.

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