“Football is a heart and soul game,” AFL Legend Ron Barassi once told Matt Zurbo. Taking that observation as his cue, Zurbo travelled across Australia interviewing players great and good, from the famous to the journeymen. In doing so, Zurbo—himself a veteran of 650 amateur games and counting—has recorded the footy stories of some of the game’s characters, from Rene Kink and Graham Cornes to Joe Misiti and Robert ‘Bones’ McGhie. The result is the players’ oral history of footy through seven decades, in their own words.
In Heart and Soul: Footy stories by those who played the game, Zurbo has skilfully revived memories of the classic games, the torturous training sessions, and the premiership hijinks, taking us back into smoke-filled social clubs and the suburban fortresses at which myths and legends were born. For every marquee name like Barassi, from whom familiar and fantastical tales spill, there is an Ian Paton, Russell Renfrey or a Mark Zanotti—characters whose outsized tales of lives spent chasing a Sherrin never got quite the same airtime as the superstars of the game. Their stories are just as revealing. Footy fans with an abiding concern for the game—not only the results of matches, but of the moral health of the organisations who control them—often lament the intrusion of commercial forces on our native football code, a game for so long enmeshed in the lives of ordinary Australians.
Yet just as he has been so many other times down the years, Barassi is right: it is and always will be a heart and soul game. Playing the role of itinerant preacher, Matt Zurbo has deftly preserved the football stories of those who cherish footy every bit as much as he does.
Matt Zurbo is a forest worker and writer who has played over 650 games of footy, in mountains, coasts and cities across three states of Australia. He spent three years tracking down and sharing stories with the legends and characters of the game who comprise Heart & Soul