Leather Soul: A Half-Back Flanker’s Rhythm and Blues by Bob Murphy

In this year’s Herald Sun popularity poll for most popular AFL player, Adelaide’s indigenous, buzzing goal-sneak, Eddie Betts, was the clear and expected winner. He is a ‘character’ in what some (not me) claim is becoming a characterless robotic game. It’s hard not being drawn to Eddie’s big smile, the passion with which he plays and his delight in scoring a major. But, for several years on the trot, the Sun’s accolade went to a Western Bulldog’s player. Just as the Doggies were most people’s second favourite team, so Bob Murphy was the player all and sundry admired – me included. He was always second on my list behind Luke Hodge, just above Cyril.

He was rated highly for his loyalty to his guernsey for a team that had a long history of occasionally challenging for, but never making, the big dance – that is, until the fairy tale that was 2016. Mostly, though, they were cellar dwellers. Their previous premiership was way back in the fifties. They were the team from the oft struggle towns that formed the western suburbs. And arguably the heart and soul of the ‘Sons of the West’ was Captain Bob. But he has another string to his bow that earns equal kudos from me. He can write.
Mentored by Martin Flanagan and other doyens at the Age, he developed his own voice and style. Fingers crossed, he looks set to take on Flanagan’s mantle. So, unlike most from the world of footy,

bobRobert Daniel Murphy would need no ghost writer for the saga of his career. He has hung up his boots, involved himself in the media, is more often than not sporting a flannie and now has ‘Leather Soul – a Half-back Flanker’s Rhythm and Blues’ on his CV. He has written with great aplomb to produce a page-turner. There’s candour, tales to tickle the funny bone and poignancy. What we sense from it all is Bob’s love of team, history, family, humanity and Aussie Rules. I urge all footy-lovers to purchase a copy, kick back and enjoy, as I did.Reading ‘Leather Soul’ I found that I had a couple of very tenuous connections to the great Bulldog, nonetheless of which is the fact that a few weeks ago my Hawks-loving daughter actually got to meet him at a book signing. But there were also other cases of the two degrees of separation thing. Back in the eighties I was teaching in the north-western Tasmanian town of Wynyard. I was reasonably able in the classroom and had a handle on most aspects of the art of teaching. But, over the years, there was one skill I never mastered – the ability to tell identical twins apart. My colleagues always managed to do it, carefully explaining their subtle differences, but it was beyond me. So when the Atkins twins came along during those years I was all at sea – and they knew it. They milked my hopelessness for all they were worth too. Their talent lay more outside of the classroom though – revolving around the leather ball. Both, the experts predicted, would make the big league and soon after leaving school both Paul and Simon headed to VFL central – Melbourne. In the end only one climbed the mountain to the top.

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Simon Atkins appears on page 47 of the book, but by the time he met the scrawny young lad turning out for Werribee, his own playing days at the pinnacle were over. The team was coached by Alistair Clarkson and Simon’s job was to make sure the young buck made it to training on time. My ex-pupil later became a runner for Footscray after contributing 127 games to their cause. He has a spot in the folklore of another team as well. He kicked the last goal for the Fitzroy Football Club. These days he manages a firm supplying cranes to construction sites.

The other link comes much later on in the memoir when the author relates a tale, in turn told to him by another ex-Taswegian in Butch Gale. It starred legendary bush coach, Frog Newman, who once used a dead (or alive depending on who’s telling) possum in an address to lacklustre players to spur them on to use more guts. Need I say more? Anyway, for a long time I taught in a school in a little village in the hills behind Wynyard and had the pleasure of instructing Frog’s two offspring in my classes – and lovely kids they were too.

Simon Atkins’ nickname, in his football days, was Axe and a highlight of this publication is Murphy’s list of the best monikers given out to often unwilling recipients during his time in the game. You’ll have to make a transaction of money to find out why certain identities were labeled ‘Lacka’, ‘Harvey Norman’ ‘The Mailman’, ‘The Lantern’ and best of all, ‘Clock’.

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Bob’s adoration of his last coach Luke Beveridge resonates throughout the volume. LB is a bit of an eccentric in his own right, but certainly no Frog Newman. And the wordsmith also dishes out quite a deal of love to his teammates, particularly Matty Boyd and Ben (the Beard) Hudson. He fails to mention another noted eccentric, Brian Lake – perhaps because of his defection to my team – and is scathing with his assessment of Jason Akermanis. The latter seemed to have managed, during his time with the team, to get everyone completely offside.

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Like Murphy himself as a footballing wizard, this is a lithe and immensely likeable read. The hero was known for his ‘…astounding performances on and off the field’ according to Beveridge. To my mind, in his action, Bob was a ‘glider’. He always seems to have eons of time on his side, despite the commotion going on around him, to glide away from packs, scanning upfield for options, hitting leading forwards with pinpoint accuracy.
And I glided through this product in print in a couple of sittings and I relished doing so. The writer now has his own show on Fox but it is my hope that the future will lead him to concentrate on his writing for, as Martin Flanagan tells us, ‘…there is only one Bob Murphy’.

Book details here =https://www.blackincbooks.com.au/books/leather-soul

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