In Bob we trust

Bob Murphy lives around the corner. I see him walking the streets of Carlton North with his family, Justine, Frankie Jarvis and his dog, Arthur. I guess it’s the lot of an AFL footballer living in Melbourne but it’s weird knowing so much about a person you’ve never met, let alone talked to. We know a lot more about Bob because of the weekly column in The Age. We’ve read about the first pair of football boots he owned, his friendships with Gia and the people’s Beard and his love of the kennel.

Bob writes a good piece, he has humility and an eye for detail that you don’t often see. Bob’s musings on life, mateship and the joys and pressures of football provide a unique perspective on what is an increasingly sanitised industry. His writing is reminiscent of the Brent Croswell pieces I’ve read.

Other than our geographic proximity there is bit of common ground between Bob and I. We seem to share a taste for flannel and the music of Tom Waits, Tex Perkins, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and You Am I. We also both grew up in Gippsland. I’m pretty sure I shared a ground with him once or twice while playing junior footy, him for Warragul, me for Wonthaggi. Any similarities didn’t carry through to the playing field. Bob’s a creative flanker, a quality footballer. I was an ankle kicking struggler.

Because of these associations I’ve followed Bob’s career more closely than others. Not only is he an astute sports writer he’s also a joy to watch on the field. He’s quick of both mind and foot and rarely wastes it. Good footballers bring their teammates into the game and that’s one of Bob’s strengths. His creativity allows his teammates to shine. What I like most about Bob is his unabashed love for his club. It’s righteously old fashioned and wonderful to see.

In Bob we trustBeing the off season I’ve noticed Bob around the neighbourhood a bit more often over the past month, having dinner at the Great Northern, grabbing a coffee on Rathdowne Street, going for a run around the streets of Carlton North.

I have probably paid a little more attention given all of the press around the Bullies. He seemed to cut a forlorn figure amongst the Carlton crowd. I couldn’t help but wonder what he made of the Griffen, Cooney and Higgins departures or how he felt about Brendan McCartney’s resignation and now Luke Beveridge’s appointment. Bob ducked out of the kennel for a couple weeks and has returned to a different looking family.

I was glad to see Bob named captain. He’ll be a ripper. He looks the man to build a bridge between old dogs and new pups. He’ll insist on a respect for tradition and share his love of the club and it’s people. I reckon things will be all right out at the kennel. All this recent turmoil will be quickly forgotten. I’ll still see Bob around the neighbourhood now and then but I won’t be wasting my time wondering whether the pups of the west are in capable hands.

Originally published at footyalmanac.com.au on November 25, 2014.

All Saints Day from the Nicholson Street TAB

TAB sign

It’s no coincidence that the best card in Australian racing fell on All Saints day. The canonized associates of the lord presided over fields of the highest order. More than 90,000 people graced Flemington’s lawns, marquees and carparks but for me it was the no-nonsense surrounds of the Nicholson Street TAB. For the regular Carlton North crew (and their peers that frequent countless other TABs across this great land) Saturday racing is a ritual equal to any Christian observance.

I know the Nicholson Street TAB well. It was the first agency I worked in, I did my Sellers ticket there. Dad is a horse breaker and farrier so I’d been around the gee-gees all my life but it wasn’t until that point that I discovered the complexity and intrigue of parimutuel betting. It’s been a passion ever since, and that I’ve ended up living less than five minutes walk from the place is both a blessing and a curse.

Not much has changed in the 15 years since I worked there. It’s not the classiest joint from which to experience the sport of kings. Men in dapper suits and women in heels and cocktail dresses are a world away. The place smells of sweat and stale cigarette smoke. There’s hardy a soul aged under sixty; well dressed gentlemen with their slacks, shirts and sensible shoes and those in two strip tracksuit pants and runners. The TAB might be bleeding market share to the newer, sexier sports betting agencies but there’s still a place for it. TABs have a rhythm of their own: punters moving from board to board, the rush and hustle at the windows and the quality of the banter. There’s also the fact that form reads better when pinned to a corkboard.

It was a good day of racing; neck and neck finishes with a bit of value to be found. The Carlton locals seemed to start well, half the room called Kermadec home and while heads were starched when Thunder Lady saluted in the Wakefield, Hucklebuck provided atonement.

At one point a woman walked in with her fella – necks craned and pacemakers stalled but the excitement quickly abated. Eyes returned to the form or the screens.

A few in the crowd applauded Joao Moreira’s double, more for the fact that he steered Signoff into a Cup berth. Some even celebrated with focaccia from Milato Café across the road. They returned with a couple of sneaky Fat Yak stubbies in time to see Happy Trails get the nod.

The highlight of the day came when Preferment nosed out Bondeiger. The bloke next to me looked to his mate and said, “Good win. Oliver?”

His mate nodded, “Waller too.”

“Pricks,” said the first bloke. They shook their heads knowingly and chuckled.

I had to smile too, two Group 1s for Ollie and three winners for Waller, it’s a fair day at the office.

The Myer Classic saw Bonaria add some much needed value to the multiples and as the 96 tram continued to rattle back and forth between East Brunswick and St Kilda those still alive in the Quaddie discussed the chances of Deep Fields. $1.60 is pretty skinny but he still proved to be a popular winner.

For me and most others, that saw another Saturday done. For the blokes still with a taste for it there were a couple left at Ascot then the dogs at The Meadows. The Nicholson Street TAB might not have the gravitas of Flemington but it’s still provides a good day of racing.

This article was originally published in the Footy Almanac on 3 November 2014.