Sport

Rascally Bob Murphy on finding inspiration for his writing and loving the Bulldogs. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: AFL MEDIA

The captain: Bob Murphy, 32, Australian rules footballer

My footy and my writing are pretty closely aligned. For better or worse. I tend to learn best from mistakes. Underlying all that is just sort of having a go. If there is a philosophy, it is to put it all down, take a bit of a risk, and see what works.

I do get ideas for writing when I’m on the field. Say I’m playing Melbourne at the MCG, and in the warm-up, a pigeon gets hit by the ball and passes away. My first thought, I have to say, is not for the wellbeing of the pigeon. My first thought is, “There’s a column; put that in the back pocket.”

The idea, that is. Not the pigeon. For all we know that pigeon was wondering whether its life had meant anything. Whether there would be any lasting impact. Maybe I should have dedicated my new best-of book [Murphy’s Lore] to the pigeon. In hindsight that was an error.

This is not going to be the most awe-inspiring quote you’ve heard. But this year the Bulldogs are trying to get better in every little way we can. We’ve got a great bunch of young kids coming through. Now every club says that. Particularly at this time of the year. But there’s a group of players who are the real deal, and the Bulldogs are going to be around for a long time.

I’m loving that role as captain. The sky is the limit with the Bulldogs at the moment, I really feel that.

The first thing I did when I got drafted? Watch the documentary the Year of the Dogs. I’d already watched it, but my mum and dad and I went down to the local library. It’s a warts-and-all piece about a club on its knees really. When I told people about getting drafted by the Bulldogs, they’ve said, “Oh God, you must have been horrified.” And I wasn’t. I felt the opposite.

This is great, a footy club, clawing their way back from the ups and downs that everyone has. I’ve loved every second. It does piss me off when people have a hint of “you must wish you’d have gone somewhere else”. And I don’t get pissed off too often. I mean, my writing couldn’t work if it was Collingwood or Hawthorn, could it? Too shiny, too pretty.

Being everyone’s second team can be a double-edged sword. It’s kind of like the pretty girl in school telling you you’re “really, really nice”. That’s like a kick in the balls sometimes. We’re great friends, you’re a really nice guy. She’s not going out with you that girl; leave her be.

People say they like the newspaper column being honest. Most of that comes from desperation. You’ve got a deadline, you get to Wednesday lunchtime and you’ve got four hours to put a column in, and no idea what you’re going to write about. So there’s a desperation with that, and an adrenalin. It would be in those moments I take a leap of faith and write about ducks in the Melbourne rain.

There’s a kind of absurdity to it all. But some people have responded the way it was intended, because the sports pages in the footy season can be pretty gloomy, you know? Who is getting sacked, who hasn’t played well.

I feel a bit stupid even talking about the subject of fame. Maybe if I went to a cafe in Footscray you might bump into some supporters, but apart from that I’ve got a handle on it. I can still do my groceries, put it that way.

People just yell “You rascal” at me. I said it on The Footy Show once. Talk about absurdity. Play the game for 16 years and your legacy is people yelling, “You rascal.” In those moments I think I wish I had been a better player.

At least once a week, I’ll find myself doing something and think, “This is no way for a man of 32 with three kids to behave.” Not so much during a game, which you think is the most important thing since sliced cheese. But perhaps running around the football oval doing dance moves in tights, you’ll think, “What am I doing?” Then you have that second thought, after the moment of embarrassment. “My 10-year-old self would think that this is absolutely unreal.” It’s important to check in with that 10-year-old kid every now and again. Just to realign the GPS.

Now we are getting into third person talk here. Or fourth person. But the important thing is that 10-year-old kid. He would be pretty happy, I reckon.

This week’s highlights…

• Horseracing: The Championships – Day 1

Saturday, 12.10pm (first race) Royal Randwick, Sydney 

• AFL: Sydney Swans v Essendon

Saturday, 4.35pm, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

• NRL: Sydney Roosters v Cronulla Sharks

Sunday, 4pm, Allianz Stadium, Sydney

• Netball: Queensland Firebirds v Adelaide Thunderbirds

Sunday, 12.18pm, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

• AFL: Hawthorn v Geelong Cats

Monday, 3.20pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 4, 2015 as "The captain". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.