What Makes Them Tick?



Cameron Ling seems like a top bloke. That counts. In my books, anyway.

He used to surf Joanna Beach, and Castles, where I lived. I’d see him with his mates, up on the ridge, at the tavern, being Cameron. No tags on himself.

I wonder what he thinks before a game? Does he look forward to it? Does he throw up, like Doull used to? Does he fire up, get angry? Focus on that one thing, that one




person, in or out of football,

that one image,

whatever it is, that puts murder in his heart?

I doubt it. He doesn’t seem that sort of bloke.

I try sometimes, but it rarely works. I play best calm. Focusing on the game, the pill. When I cop a whack, of course I play better, angrier. But you can’t fake anger. Or, I can’t.

Even when they’re dogs, as a few teams are dogs, I run out like any other match.

Maybe Lingy simply thinks about the job ahead?


I wonder what he thinks of while playing?

“Fuck, I’m sick of tagging!”

“Don’t let him beat you, don’t let him beat you, don’t let him beat you…”

“Beat him, beat him, beat him…”

Does he get that sinking feeling in his gut when his man gets on top?

Does he feel like dynamite when he’s got the edge?

How far does his mind stray when he’s out of the action? Does it drift to Castle Cove and it’s left banks? Friends, family, girlfriend? I’m talking in those little seconds, like when the ball is being run back to the middle after a goal. Or jogging out after half time.

Or does he study the game, analyse it every second he’s out there?

Does he think of footy while sitting on his board, out back, waiting for the next monster set? Or is surf an escape? Do bad games haunt him, or does he shrug them off?

Are there opponents he dreads? Opponents he hates?


What goes through his head after a match?


What does Eddie Betts think before a game? Does he set goals? Does he plan to be a freak?

AFL players are trained to be modest. If they aren’t, we eat them alive. What does Judd really think after a good match?

Nobody wanted Pike. Three times. Yet, somehow, always, just, he found another life, and retired with four flags. Not as a hanger on, but as a vital part. He is my hero. A battler, who re-invented himself time and again. Who never quit. How many of those Premierships felt like revenge?

Len Thompson was knocked out cold by Big Nick in his second game.

“Why?” Len asked, years later.

“You figured me out,” said Nick.

What did Len think every time he played Nicholls over the next decade? “Hold onto my hat…” or “Charge!”.

Does Scarlett drool over the thought of some opponents? Or treat them all the same? Does he regret not being around in the age of Locket, and Garry Snr.? Does he lie awake wondering what that clash would have been like? Does he compare himself to SOS?


We all know how they played. Their stats. But there’s more to people than that. There’s more to barracking than that. You want to believe in someone. Or, I do.

You see them walking down the street, but that doesn’t mean much.

What makes Cameron Ling tick?




  1. Malby Dangles says

    I’ve always been very interested in this questions you are pondering Matt. I’ve wanted to know how players train and what they go thru when hoping that maybe I’d understand more what it means…and just maybe that would make all the difference.

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    Two of the players you mention, Ling and Scarlett are products of St Joeys in Geelong. First and foremost, they would have believed in themselves as footballers, and believed that they were destined to belong at the highest level. Nick Maxwell is another from St. Joeys. He believed in himself, even when others didn’t.
    On face value, Jimmy Bartel could quite easily have been a good suburban footballer; there is no one stand-out talent visible that suggests he could have tasted the success he has. It is the sum of all parts with him. Again, the St Joeys factor.

    I played against St. Josephs a few times in junior football in the ’80s. It was never pleasant. They just went so much harder than anybody else.

    As for Pike, a real footballers footballer, a good mate of mine in Adelaide (who I met in the Army) knew Pike from school and the local community. Pike Snr may have coached him in the local juniors too, if I recall correctly. He had some funny tales to tell of Pike. Apparently Pikey was always like that. His own man who had total belief in himself and his destiny.

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Yeah, Malby. I wanted it so bad words can’t describe. When I got cut from Fitzroy’s Under 19s, some of the blokes who got cut with me just shrugged like it was no big deal?!?! Some players, I reckon, do make it through sheer want. Some just aren’t good enough, or too slow or whatever. (me!)

    Skip, that was the best reply! Thanks for the insights, mate. Would love to know Pike the bloke, and have played with Pike the footballer. I have heard a few of his stories. Would love to hear what Matthews thought of him. His own man, indeed. I reckon you are right. A culture of a club, or school can lead to success. I came from the total opposite, where Spiro Koukamalous (sp?) strolled in to Carlton off the streets. Thanks again.

  4. johnharms says

    I love that the cure-all fix-it move at Brisbane – a la Ayers to the guts, or Brad Sholl to the guts, or Cooney to full forward – was Pike to centre half forward. Even when Brown was playing and the boys were in a bit of strife.

  5. Skip of Skipton says

    Matt, I knew Paul Meldrum supposedly walked in off the street at Carlton (part urban myth I’m sure) and now Spiro K, too?

    The right school and culture definitely helps. Would Lingy have got to the AFL if he was from the ‘wrong side of the footballing the tracks’ in Geelong so to speak? I’m tempted to say no.

    Some other players of note to come from St. Josephs include Barry Stoneham, Damian Bourke, Tim Darcy, Michael Mansfield and Mark Neeld (future coach of the Dees, I’m tipping). Young Allen Chrstensen and Shaun Higgins at Footscray too, I believe. I know it’s a big school but it has produced a disproportionate amount of footballers. So there’s something in the water there I’m sure.

  6. Skip of Skipton says

    John, the ’03 prelim at Homebush vs. the Swans. The Lions had trouble all night putting a score on the board. The Swans certainly weren’t ‘home’ at 3/4 time, but were in the van. Pike to CHF remedied the situation most promptly that night.

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Jeez you have a great memory, Skip! Pike Swans, CHF, indeed. Molly was a bit urban. he was invited, from very hazy memory (sorry, 14 concussions will do that) word of mouth. Spiro was a year or two older than me. Hung out with the rough boys. That is the way it was told to us. Will look into it. Might have been told wrong.
    A lot of us boys got to try out at VFL clubs by rocking up. We had bugger all training, but heaps of wog front. Bombers, Carlton, Richmond Under 19s. Anywhere we could peddle to! Haha. Not many of us lasted the cut, though.
    Fitzroy invited me, but that’s another story, for another blog. (short version – wasn’t quite good enough).

    As for St. J’s, yeah. Some collages, like Old Scotch, recruit good players/students. That might be a factor. Also, success breads success. South Colac, in my old neck of the woods, that produced Hodge as well as others, had won 7 junior flags in a row in a rural city totally dominated by footy and footy culture. (nine current AFL players from the one place). It got to the stage where, if kids wanted to be seen by the Falcons, they left their clubs and found their way to South. It was self0fullfilling. They got the best players from everywhere.
    Our Junior’s gun was going to go there too. I convinced him winning a flag with them would prove nothing. To help earn one with us would be what football’s about. He stayed and was B.O.G. in a one goal Premiership win.

    Great point on Lingy!

  8. Skip of Skipton says

    Cheers Matt. By the way was Leigh Carlson coaching the Roys thirds then? I went and watched a mate play for the Cats thirds a few times and once it was vs. Fitzroy. Carlson had the foulest mouth and shortest fuse. It was hilarious. Far more compelling than the actual game.

  9. Matt – great sentiments. Don’t get despondent at the Roy Boys giving you the flick. Rocket and I gave you a start to stiffen up the Dogs backline on the weekend. (Check out Atlas Shrugged).
    Boyd, Murphy, Zurbo – unbeatable.
    Big Matty V Big Q – magic (Quinten’s wife is blonde, petite and diminutive – sorry Dips but she really is – but her family owns Celestial Bay winery in Margaret River – better than marrying into a brewery I reckon).

  10. Matt Zurbo says

    Skip, no, it was Bernie Sheen, I think. Now coaching AJAX in the Amatuers? Like most junior coaches in those days, he could snap, but was good to me. He was a big rap for my heart, just didn’t have the pace or skills. So it goes.

    Peter, will do right now. Not sure what the last part of what you said was, but I am slow.

  11. Sorry for being obtuse Matt. I just thought Quinten Lynch would be a good match up for you. Even if he was a bit quick for you these days, I’m sure he’s the sort of bloke to share one of his in-law’s red wines with you after the game. Embley, Cox and Lynch are genuine foodies. Embley and Cox own a restaurant together and Embley has real chef aspirations. Quinten writes good restaurant reviews in the local rag (with a little help from the missus I reckon).
    Good to have some adults as well as kids playing the game still. I thought Chris Dawes sounded very impressive on the Footy Show the other night. Dawes can take over from the greedy Sepp once his playing career is over. Intelligence without ego is a good combination (even in a Magpie).

  12. Matt Zurbo says

    I would have drooled over a Big Q type player! Hell, yeah! Missed Footy Show. We are usually at the clubrooms still, playing cards or drinking lemonade.
    I can so see Embley being a cook! Hell, I could see him playing in a chef’s outfit!
    And, yeah, I love it when the troupers keep on keeping on. Have never lost faith in Cox. Not fast, but like Mark Lee in his day, simply never stops moving. Defense, attack, loves sprinting wide for the switch, back through the corridore, always puts himself within distance of long bombs out of the forward line. It’s not rocket science, or born brilliance. He works.
    Take it from me, less on the interchange this year means more ground time, which means he can work harder. There is a rhythm to such work ethic short spurts does not allow for. It makes you stronger as the game goes on.
    And, mate, he works!
    I have always admired the giant shit! haha.

  13. Alovesupreme says

    Correct about Bernie Sheehy (with the slight spelling adjustment) currently at AJAX. Jackas are flying, and assured of a top 2 finish; unless something completely unexpected happens, they wil be promoted to B Section for 2012.
    Skip was right on both counts about Paul Meldrum. According to the Encyclopedia of VFL/AFL players (not an absolutely reliable guide) he did walk in, but only because he’d mislaid his invitation. An earlier example is Vinnie Catoggio.

  14. Matt Zurbo says


    Thanks mate. You’re onto it. Vinnnnniiiii! As a wog, I loved the way Carlton had so many of me and mine. It was a real cultural thing. A club thing, that made it local, no matter how far the modern game spread. Even if I hated Carlton! Haha!

    Good on Bernie and AJAX! A proud club with a great history.

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