Heroes of Footy

All I want for a New Year’s resolution is for the Otway Districts Footy/Netball club to have an Under 18s team again. Then, they will have a stronger reserves again. Then they will have a stronger seniors again. Then they will have parents coming to games, helping out, joining committees, fleshing out functions, spending money at the tucker shop, working at the tucker shop.

Then, we will be able to afford an extra recruit or two. And spend money on guest coaches and ex-AFL jets to come down for a night. All I want is for the club I love to be competitive, proud. Like the people of the Otways are hard working and proud. Like the community is hard working and proud. Tucked away from the tourist routes. A small population compared to the town and coastal based clubs. Otway, whose players come from everywhere. Farms, plantation crews, dairy factories, Colac, Princetown, the Great Ocean Road, even Geelong.

A club that inspires loyalty. One reserves player even used to drive for an hour to the airport, fly down from work in Central Queensland, then drive three hours, to play, then return by Sunday night. Each week! Bush footy reserves!

If you have no interest because it’s not AFL, you’re wrong. This is exactly where the AFL starts. We produced Dean Towers, we play against and push the clubs that produced Luke Hodge, Nathan Foley, Henderson, Peter Foster, Aamon Buchanon, Tim Pekin, Steve Baker, Parker, Melbourne premiership players from the 50s. The list is endless. Our better players go to play at Colac, or Cobden or Geelong, to test their mettle, and push footballers and future AFL players there. We are the grist on which the AFL builds its glory.

All I want for the New Year is for the club’s two new coaches to thrive.

Stewie. The one, tough standout player of the past decade and a half. Who grew up on the dairy just down the road and never sold out, never quit, never chased the money of flags. The fun loving cheeky bugger who grew into leadership. Who played, and still plays, a very Ross Lyon sort of game. Not the most stats, but doing everything with passion, hitting games and packs hard. Who revels in mud and fighting bad odds.

All I want is for the heroes of the world to be acknowledged.

The club is struggling. Farm family after farm family moving to towns, their homes bought by weekenders. Diminishing populations, smaller playing pools. A story repeated across the world.

Stewie’s 34, trying to build a house, with a baby and another on the way. No time to scratch, let alone play footy. Yet, when we couldn’t find a coach and were bleeding players after a year of Covid, it was his wonderful wife, Emma, one of our netballers, who told him: “It’s up to you.”

Imagine the pressure release of that.

Imagine it.

For him, the club, the community. For Stewie to be free to help those things he loves.

Despite the weight it might put on them.

She knows her partner. How much the club means to him, how much it helped form him, make him who he is.

I coached Stewart as a kid for years, yet he is one of the most straight shooting adults I’ve ever had the privilege to call a mate. Publicly, privately, he’s put me in my place more than once. A line, a comment, front foot forward. Never a word wasted, never a hint at aggression. Just honest, and fearless.

Each time he was right.

And Sean Maxwell, a bloke overflowing with positive energy. Strong and caring. A thinker, as much as Stewart is a natural leader.

Another man with a young family, already too much on the plate, who refused to let something he loves fall away. Another wife who supported a big call.

Two football brains, both with a bigger picture in mind, always.

Modern, smart, good communicators, you would not get better co-coaches, at any level. But first the club has to get to the starting line.

Then there’s the president, Champ, who’s wife, Candy, was a champion netballer both of the entire Colac district, and the club.

This is country footy and netball, at its most country. The help, especially without Under 18s, drifts at the edges. Champ is first there on Saturdays, at dawn, last to leave, well into dark. He is there, or on the phone, hour after hour, almost every other day. He is the duck feet, working tirelessly, despite having two kids and another on the way.

He’s done his four years – the burn out limit of any good president. But no-one else was putting their hand up, so, with the backing of a small, determined committee, after lengthy discussions with his wife, he’s going again. It must have been a very hard call. One made by a family.

A loving family. A strong family.


I can’t thank her enough.

This is not a bloke’s world, not anymore. Boys and men play, but there is netball, there are families involved. Where there are the numbers, women’s footy is GLORIOUS! A world of its own. I cannot wait for my little girl, if she wants, to get involved!

There is a playpen in the clubrooms, where beer was once drunk and kids now run amoc, having the time of their lives.

These are parents, mothers, wives. People with every reason, every justification to be selfish, but saw a bigger picture, too. That each saw the father of their children for what they are. Passionate. Proud. People who believe in things bigger than football, that football lets them express.

That saw the good they can do in shaping lives.

Young blokes and women gear up, nervous, and go out and play on Saturdays, during winter, when everything else shuts down. They learn about commitment to task, character, they revel in the world.

They hook up at functions and fall in love.

Little kids, so small, run around being entertained, waddling through the feet of giants, chasing each other through a circus of familiar faces, gloriously happy, safe to roam. Neighbours catch up, the grind of farm and plantation work left behind, dust is raised, blood and fresh air is pumped through our lives.

Every Saturday, down at the Gellibrand recreation reserve, or playing away. Every Thursday at a clubroom packed as if it were Heaven

This is how we live.

This is Aussie Rules – how the AFL is born.

You need a strong sense of self if you want to have something to give your children. As well as a strong sense of family. All six people discussed here are heroes of mine.

By Matt Zurbo