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The story of Murphy’s Lore

Western Bulldogs skipper Bob Murphy has done hundreds of signing sessions during his 15-year AFL career, but none quite like the one that took place at Whitten Oval last Friday.

Rather than signing footy jumpers for the Bulldogs faithful, the 32-year-old – now a published author – was signing copies of his new book, Murphy’s Lore. The book, published by Penguin Books Australia, is a collection of the best pieces Murphy has penned for The Age over the last eight years.

“When I started the column, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Murphy told last week.

“That was kind of the charm, if it had any. I sort of learnt on the job, but quickly fell in love with it. It gave me a good balance to the madness of AFL. It quickly became part of my routine and something I love doing.”

Regular readers of Murphy’s column will know it as a series of thoughtful and often nostalgic reflections on football and life. Though topics vary from one piece to the next, Murphy’s writing has a distinct tone and style. That unique perspective has been the catalyst for the column’s success, but the 32-year-old says he has hundreds of others to thank for providing inspiration.

“I’ve kind of stolen from everyone I know,” Murphy said.

“I like listening to stories as much as I like telling them. My friends and people I’ve played footy with, and all the people in my world, have influenced just about every column I’ve ever written.

“I like listening to stories as much as I like telling them. My friends and people I’ve played footy with, and all the people in my world, have influenced just about every column I’ve ever written” – Bob Murphy

“I hope they didn’t mind – it’s a bit late if they did, because it’s a book now, but I’m influenced by all the people that are close to me.”

Murphy has long been one of the Bulldogs’ most creative and constructive players. His approach to writing is no different.

“I would often set out with a plan [when I started writing a piece], but most of the time I’d start with one thought and it could change,” Murphy explained.

“I’d kind of pick up on something and follow it. I’m pretty instinctive.”

This soon becomes evident when speaking with Murphy. Prompted by one question, he hops to answer another instead – one that wasn’t asked, but that lends itself to a more interesting answer.

Many of Murphy’s columns have focused on the game’s great characters – he described his column “about getting beaten by Stevie J” as his most popular to date in August last year – but asked which player he’d be most interested in writing a longer-form piece about, Murphy takes the question in a different direction.

“I don’t know if I’d want to write a biography or anything like that – it’s a different style that I haven’t really attempted… But Brent Crosswell is a bit of a hero to me.”

The Age’s Martin Flanagan described Crosswell – who played 222 games for Carlton, North Melbourne and Melbourne between 1968 and 1982 – as “an intellectual and a footballer at a time when Australian culture didn’t recognise you could be both.”

“When I started writing, I knew of him as a player but not as a writer,” Murphy explained.

“Peter Hanlon [Murphy’s “confidant” at The Age] was kind enough to print out the 16 columns he wrote a long time ago. They were kind of inspiring and kind of deflating as well, because I saw how good he was. I’d love to read his autobiography, put it that way.”

Murphy has never been one to pump up his own tyres, and whilst he insists he still doesn’t know what he’s doing, he says he’s been well served by knowing what he likes.

“When it feels good, I just keep following that. You get mixed results at times but when it comes off, the ones that I’m happy with are ones that I’m proud of.

“I think I’ve got something, and have definitely improved. The main thing is that I want to get better at it. It’s something that I started doing not really knowing where it would go and now it’s a real burning passion for me.”

While Murphy’s weekly column in The Age will be put on hold for 2015 – though he admits he “might do the odd cameo” – there’s no doubt he’ll continue to follow that passion, even after his playing days are over.

“I just want to keep writing about footy. I’d like to explore that a bit more. I feel like I’ve written from inside the game and maybe when I stop playing, there’ll be a different angle that could be just as interesting.”

Murphy’s Lore is currently on sale at the Bulldogs Shop at Whitten Oval, and will be available at all good bookstores from March 25.