Book Review: Heart and Soul — Zurbo captures the spirit of footy
It would not be possible to play 650 games of Australian Rules football without a very strong level of commitment and single-mindedness. Matt Zurbo is man who possesses such drive, and it has pervaded all aspects of his life. When he decides to do something, he not only does it, but he does it to the absolute limits of his abilities.
The same commitment that enables Zurbo to play an almost unfathomable number of games also took him the length and breadth of the country over a period of several years to speak to 170 footballers who have played the game at the highest level, documenting their reflections and views of the sport that has captured the hearts of so many.
To say Zurbo merely "spoke to footballers" is to do him a disservice. Rather, he spoke with them, usually for an hour or two, sometimes even longer. Zurbo did not simply approach these players with a set of pro forma questions and dutifully record their answers, he shared a beer or a coffee or a meal with each of them and had a good old fashion natter. And he was able to do so as an equal. Zurbo may not have matched his subjects in terms of elite playing ability (although one senses that he might well have had he chosen to make that his focus), he is undoubtedly their equal when it comes to understanding the spirit, passion and camaraderie that sport — particularly footy — brings out in us.
The result of these chats with the game's superstars and lesser lights as equals is Heart & Soul, a selection of thoughts of 26 of the 170 players that Zurbo chatted to on his remarkable tour. Heart & Soul is not the first product of Zurbo's travelling odyssey. An earlier tome, titled Champions All, grouped the thoughts of Zurbo's interviewees by topic. And while the book stands as an important document of those topics through the eyes of the players, it is loses flow as a collection of 'soundbites'.
Slattery Media's senior editor Russell Jackson has revisited the transcripts of hundreds of hours of Zurbo's interview and distilled them into a far more digestible form, producing a book that is less than half the size of Champions All, yet still captures the essence of footy as it has been played over the last 70 years. Each of the 26 chapters focusses on one player, and the result is 26 wonderful individual stories that 'hang together' nicely in an easily readable chronological format.
The great strength of Zurbo's work is that it not only tells the story of footy at the elite level over a period of more than seven decades, it also provides an insight into the minds of the games 'lesser lights', those who are no longer household names, or perhaps never were. Heart & Soul captures the words of icons of the game — Barassi, Flower, Knights and Cornes to name a few — but the book gains a much greater depth by including the thoughts of Billy Williams (124 games for South Melbourne), Brian Brushfield (15 games for Geelong), Denis Munari (54 games for Carlton) and Andy Goodwin (73 games for Richmond and Melbourne).
As enjoyable as it is to hear from the game's superstars, it's easy to forget that less than five per cent of those who have played V/AFL football have played 200 games. The stories of the other 95% tell the real tale of elite footy, but they're ones we don't often hear. Heart & Soul thankfully addresses that imbalance in a small way.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Heart & Soul is that, outside of a short preface, not one word of it is actually written by Zurbo himself. And yet, once you meet Zurbo and have a natter with him yourself over a beer or two (as I have done a couple of times), you grasp very quickly that Zurbo's fingerprints are on every page. His ability to open himself up to his subjects and chat with them as equals with a couple of pots between them has been a key to creating a document of footy stories full of heart and soul, as the title suggests, and also great warmth.
Heart & Soul by Matt Zurbo is published by Slattery Media and is available through the Slattery media bookstore via the following link: