Bob Murphy is one of the AFL’s most loved characters – he is charming, poetic and one-of-a-kind. Bob, the son of a former priest and a former nun, was not destined to fit into the short-back-and-sides of the blokey football world. He has challenged its foundations with his alternative and soulful disposition. Since retiring last year from his 312-game career as skipper and half-back flanker for the Western Bulldogs, Bob has moved seamlessly into the media, hosting his own show on Foxtel Bob and co-hosting the Freedom In A Cage podcast with filmmaker Adrian Brown. Chatting to Bob is like speaking with an old friend, he is warm, funny and generous. His book Leather Soul is out now.
Martin Flanagan said ‘athletes die twice’ have you been resurrected as a story-teller?
(Laughs) The first time you hear that, it’s a pretty memorable sort of line, you’re filled with the dread of ‘geez that doesn’t sound good’. After having then retired, there may be a bit of poetic licence in that, I suppose you get born again and it does feel a little like that and the thing that surprised me about writing the book is that it’s my story, it’s a bit of a weight off my back and now I’m much more interested in listening to other stories and telling those. I feel good, it’s like shedding a skin.
Would you have been a writer or a musician or a story-teller of sorts if you weren’t a footballer?
All of my family are teachers so maybe I would have just done that, I’m not sure. I’m just glad I have ended up here, I’m kind of relieved. I was a pretty naïve kid, I didn’t try very hard at school and I regret that, so I’m lucky that I have landed here and I have a creative outlet and that makes me feel good.
A standout theme in Leather Soul is your humility, you say that you’re not a champion of the game yet you have played over 300 games, you were all- Australian captain and a much loved character. Do you still feel like an underdog?
I don’t know if I feel like an underdog but we are pretty hard on ourselves by nature, athletes. When I think about my footy career I mark it against someone like Corey Enright, for a half-back flanker he had the career you would have most coveted and I didn’t get close to that. It’s not false modesty and I know I could play a bit and I played for a long time. I don’t throw the word champion around lightly and I don’t put myself in that category.
You wrote that Wayne Campbell said to you that showing vulnerability shows leadership, did that conversation change you?
Yeah I think it did, often when these things happen in retrospect you think ‘that was a big moment’ but even at the time I remember thinking ‘that’s it’. I think I wrote that it was like a door opening. I just found that the football landscape at that time was very conservative, very orthodox, it was all about ‘lead by example’ and ‘lead from the front’ and it didn’t really speak to me and I found it very uninspiring. Vulnerability in terms of honesty and having honest conversations about ‘this is what I have struggled with’ and ‘this is what we are struggling with as a group’, let’s help each other fix that, that’s what he meant and that’s the truth in it and I found it quite helpful.
You’re a role model in how you are able to show emotion in the macho, male dominated world that is football. You show men that you can be a blokey-bloke while also expressing vulnerability. How can men be there for each other?
With men there is a big difference with ‘How are ya?’ and asking ‘How are you?’. Sometimes we skim a little with ‘How are ya?’, but do we even really listen? You have to dig a little bit deeper sometimes. We all observe one another, there are little clues along the way, we aren’t the best poker players, that’s not how most of us live our lives, there’s little clues in our routines, the tone of our voice sometimes and even sad eyes, if you notice something like that just ask them!
What advice would you give your younger self?
I don’t like giving advice but maybe, ‘she’ll be right’.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Apart from lefty-loosey righty-tighty, a very good friend of mine, he gave me a quote and I know some people turn their nose up at quotes because they are a bit wanky or a bit corny or whatever, I love them! I can’t remember whose quote it was ‘life is full of froth and bubble but two things stand like stone, kindness in another’s troubles and courage in your own’ and I think that captures a fair bit.
It’s probably not a book that tells you anything about who I am but I buy Peter Temple’s Broken Shore, I always have a copy of that in the house so I can give it to someone who hasn’t read it, it’s a good one, I love it.
When push comes to shove it’s the Rolling Stones if I’m being honest, they are such a big band. You Am I are one of my favourite bands. One of the attractions of You Am I is that they can still feel like your band, sometimes when a band gets too big they can feel like everybody’s band, you could have loved You Am I for 20 years and they still feel like your band, there is something about that.
You said rock n rollers want to be footballers and footballers want to be rock n rollers, if you were in a band which instrument would you take on?
It would be an acoustic guitar with a bit of harmonica, it’d be a bit of part time acoustic and a bit of harmonica, a Ryan Adams vibe, sing a couple of songs and not be the front man. That’d be me and a few hand claps and I could definitely do a bit of tambourine.
Buy Bob’s book ‘Leather Soul’ here