Back to my old drawing bored

As published by The Footy Almanac, 14 April 2013

One of my earliest footy memories is at my 1970’s style laminex kitchen bench perched on a matching orange stool listening to the ‘Captain and The Major’ call the Magpies on 3KZ.  If I wasn’t tracking the progress with my Lego made scoreboard, there was a good chance I was drawing Billy Picken flying above a human pyramid, taking the specky to end all speckies!  As soon as my father and two (considerably) older brothers returned from far-flung suburban battlefields, for some reason I’d always ask ‘what was on the banner’ and ‘who won the Little League?’  At six I’d experienced the odd game in the flesh at VFL Park so I guess those were the missing pieces of my afternoon’s imaginings.

As a little tacker there was little choice but to amuse myself most of the time, and when I grew bored with (somewhat tragic) self-invented ‘me v me’ games I’d crack out the coloured pencils.  Footy was obviously an obsession, and drawing tributes to my heroes was an enjoyable distraction until Looney Tunes or The Goodies came on.  Around the 1987-89 period my final burst of attempted footy artistry honored favourites such as Daicos, Millane, Brown and BT.  Often they would be enacting a key moment I’d witnessed, but as much as I loved drawing the players, I enjoyed recreating the unique vistas of the various grounds – even the sponsors logos on the hoardings.  I considered copying off photographs cheating, but now in retrospect, perhaps I was cheating myself from acquiring the skill to better represent the human athletic form.  And ultimately I probably just grew tired of eking out the tedious crowds!

Now my little boy is developing an attachment to Collingwood, and interestingly, drawing.  I’d barely sketched anything of note for 20 years, until recent secondments by Mr Six to depict all manner of animals, dinosaurs, cars, motorbikes etc.  I manage to impress him and Miss Four, if no one else.  “You’re really good at drawing Daddy”.  ‘Yeah, thanks mate, not really’ I respond, disappointed at failing to even match my childhood efforts.  Alas, whilst I can handle a camera and compose decent photographs, I find it frustrating not to reasonably transfer an image in my brain down my arm, into my hands and fingers and onto the page!  Although my mother and sister are talented artists, words are my stronger suit.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what I managed to salvage from a yellowing old scrap book I feared lost.

With thanks to John Carr (@TheHolyBoot) for prompting this piece.  It’s nice to know I’m not the only footy tragic whose misspent youth compelled them to while away the hours in such a manner.

1984 (or These Here are Crazy Times Pt II)

As published by The Footy Almanac, 6 July 2012

The earliest VFL season I can recall in much detail was 1984.  As you can see in the photo, duffle coats were clinging to fashion by their last thread.  As for big brother #2 and his girlfriend in matching gloweave Advance Australia sweaters…  well, even Daryl Somers almost made them cool in 1984!  At least they had their day – less can be said for the cap which had me looking like the Elephant Kid.  Meanwhile, the only uncool thing about my father is the Viscount cigarette which he’s ironically sucking the life out of.

The photo was actually taken at Victoria Park by a Mr Johnson, the kind Essendon supporter seated in front of us.  He sent the pic to us by snail mail with this letter.  It’s the only image I have of us, or me as a kid, at the footy.  He’d have no idea how much I appreciate his trouble now (even less if he’s passed on too).  People just don’t do stuff like that anymore.

At VFL Park on ANZAC Day we held on to beat the Blues by 5 points in an epic struggle. When the siren sounded a Collingwood larrikan jubilantly hoisted me high in the air as the rain tumbled down. These are the ties that bind – for that one moment in time the notion of family extended to anyone within hugging distance wearing black and white.   With today’s sensibilities, people just aren’t like that anymore.

There was no such rejoicing when my patriotic brother and his Footscray supporting girlfriend took me across town to the Western Oval.  As it does now, the traffic along Cemetery Road and through Royal Park moved at glacial speed.  It was a memorable year for music too, and I’m pretty certain the radio made the journey seem shorter pumping out the likes of The Models, Queen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Tears for Fears and Feargul Sharkey.  Having spent a couple years balancing on a small stool at Vic Park, I had no qualms about the Western Oval outer.  As if it was yesterday I can see a horizontal Denis Banks taking mark of the year, and the ‘Pies grimly holding on as the timekeeper shifted in his seat.  Alas, Gubby Allen pinpointed Simon Beasley with an across goal pass meant for Greg Phillips (if only Gubby had Frankie in his head telling him ‘Relax, don’t do it…’).

For some reason I can easily access random memories of 1984.  Such as Darren Millane bursting onto the scene via the ressies at the MCG, subsequently providing a dynamic presence in the ones.. Daics averting an upset loss to the Dees by roosting a torpedo goal about 60m out from the boundary, despite his stumpy injury prone legs..  Much later, armed with porn moustache and blonde rinse, my hero busted the Blues with 7 in a Semi Final at a sunny Waverley.  I even managed a few goes myself on the other side of the fence for the Tiger Littlies, including a Moorabbin mud heap and on the ‘G when Collingwood eliminated Fitzroy.  A tumultuous season ended at the hands of the Bombers by a margin I can’t even bring myself to type.

During those ‘wonder years’ when my grip on the game firmed by the week, there was rarely a compelling reason or distraction preventing us making the effort. The rudimentary facilities barely entered the equation; we went to the footy on autopilot.

The game was at a crossroads though in 1984.  I had no idea my club was so close to being shut down by the bank. TV rights were given away to Seven for little more than a Patra OJ and a Ballantyne Entertainment Mint.  No more baby steps towards a national competition, things had to progress, pronto.  The masses were slow to warm, but apart from some collateral damage along the way, for a good period the national competition struck a fine balance, affording football goers and TV viewers the best of both worlds.

Getting to games in the 2010’s isn’t such a drag for inner city Gillon McLachlan types, and others who don’t know any better might be happy at home on the couch, but as suggested last week, it appears the rest of us are being weened off the real life experience.  I don’t see this as progress – or a solid long term strategy.   That a world of other entertainment is just a click away doesn’t seem to concern the bean counters who forget the communal outlet, and feeling part of something on a grand scale, is the game’s greatest hook.  I don’t get any of that consuming footy on the teev, no matter how wide my screen.

As I leave for the footy now, usually in the remains of the day, I sense a guilt trip ahead.  My boy asked to come for the first time a few weeks ago and I struggled to provide a 5yo-friendly answer.  For now he’s happy enough with Spiderman, but it won’t get any easier methinks.  But taking the kids to the footy on even a semi regular basis the way the game is heading…  people just won’t be able to do that kind of stuff anymore.

Unlike the players, coaches, umpires and media though, no supporter association or lobby group has been mobilised.  Just lone voices like mine struggling to be heard above Jaimee and the rest of the white noise.  I shudder to think what learnings Andy D will bring back from his Olympics junket broadcasting reconnaissance mission.


Victoria Park’s retro reno

As published by The Footy Almanac, 4 May 2012

It’s ironic something that once united and defined Collingwood supporters has become a source of angst and division.  Especially at a time which could be considered the club’s high noon.

Funded by the Yarra City Council and the Australian Government, the $7.2m Victoria Park renovation completed in December last year has certainly won many plaudits.  Despite a combative past, the council and the football club sought to achieve a result satisfying rather different expectations and requirements.

Of course well before the last ‘social club free kick’ was paid, Victoria Park had fallen into a state of disrepair.  Quite simply, the club did not have the means or the will to wind back the effects of time on its weatherbeaten old structures.  And to do so for the sake of three or four games a year was not sustainable, particularly when bad investments had put the club on a financial precipice.  Whilst Vic Park never purported to the aesthetic charm of the Brunswick Street Oval, the ground belonging to supposedly the most famous club in Australia was barely safe for human habitation.  Embarrassing stuff.

After Collingwood left Victoria Park holis bolis in 2004 (a final act including the stripping and selling of social club and various other fixtures, signs and bric-a-brac), the ground’s decline hastened as the council mulled over the options.  Even conducting scratch matches and training became problematic.  What a waste.  And this was prime land within a few Trav Cloke roosts of the city.

Whilst Collingwood supporters in general had become used to the MCG and the allure of regular blockbuster games, a small but dedicated group lobbied the club and council to address the neglect.  There were valid fears Victoria Park would be sold off to private developers.  The Victoria Park Heritage Committee at least scored a few wins, Heritage Victoria protecting elements of the Park from what one member labelled ‘Yarra City’s destructive master plan’.

Yet the group remains embittered, particularly over the removal of the R T Rush Stand and the old scoreboard they believed was to be saved.

A sometimes nasty intraclub debate continues, mostly played out across the interweb.   It’s not unlike the hand wringing over Fitzroy, which like Victoria Park still exists, albeit in a minor key.   Romantic idealists v Pragmatic realists – I tend to  find myself barracking for both.

Though to be honest, given the almighty dollar rules most aspects of modern life, my opinion is what has transpired is as fair and satisfactory as one could reasonably hope.  Consider the 1882 edict;

Victoria Park is given to the City of Collingwood for the resort and recreation of the people of Collingwood and must never be sold to any individuals.” 

The VPHC may never be satisfied, but they should be proud of their part in ensuring a black and white past has been preserved in true life colour.  I certainly don’t begrudge the wider community being provided far better access to a much improved recreation facility.  I say ‘so what’ if people walk their dogs on the sacred turf.   It’s a small price to pay when I can take my boy to watch and learn about the Magpies at Victoria Park on a Saturday afternoon – a notion that would not have been entertained five years ago.  Yes, a rudimentary old grandstand that housed many great memories is gone, but it wasn’t there in 1965 either.

In context, other Melbourne based clubs face far more pressing concerns.  To my mind Victoria Park actually serves as a template for other unloved scenes of a much loved era of football and Melbourne culture, so eloquently recounted by Barry Dickens.

One that is for better or worse gone, but via respectful projects such as this, not forgotten.

Sixteenth, broke and shithouse

As published by The Footy Almanac, 30 April 2012

They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.

Well by 5pm on 28 August 1999, it was so dark in Collingwood town that to quote Eric Olthwaite describing a particularly black pudding from my favourite Ripping Yarns episode, ‘even the white bits were black’.

The Round 22 clash against the Brisbane Lions was earmarked as a farewell celebration after 107 years at Victoria Park.  Sadly, the Autumn leaves had barely left the trees before it was apparent the final game would be an anti climactic goodbye and good riddance to another season somehow worse than the one before.  In fact it wasn’t until a similarly bleak day in round 8 at the MCG before the Magpies, on the back of some Stephen Patterson(!) and Nathan Buckley heroics, broke their duck for the season.  Against Fremantle.  Wow-wee!

So come the last hurrah and a measly three wins down the track, one more inevitable loss would confirm a second ever wooden spoon.  Whilst some diehards managed to muster a festive outlook, the long walk from a distant car park in Abbotsford to GG182 (my seat) felt more like a funeral march.

Before the game;  Price and McKenna – the Magpies’ version of Lillee & Marsh

The temporary stands atop ‘one eyed hill’ squeezed in some extra mourners, and former legends such as Bob Rose, Tuddy, Thommo, The Weed, Daics and BT undertook an obligatory lap around the ground.  Others such as Banksy and ‘Stan the Man’ Magro theatrically re-enacted past glories, notwithstanding their magic moments actually took place elsewhere.  It was a tad kitsch, but the supporters could do with a laugh.

“You can put me in a kero tin, burn me and just put my ashes over the Collingwood football ground – that’s all I want” said long time supporter Rana McGoldrick at the time.  Attempting to encapsulate that kind of emotion in the pre-match was always a tough ask on a shoestring.

And the budget was probably blown on the most technologically advanced innovation ever to hit Victoria Park – a large digital screen dangling from a crane which beamed outgoing coach Tony Shaw’s last pre-match address to the players.  In the spirit of Phonse Kyne and Jock McHale, Shawry called upon the players to make an indelible mark on the proud club’s history (Nathan Buckley actually hated it for being tailored to the crowd rather than the players).

Then and now; The R T Rush Stand has gone with the recent redevelopment but the memories remain vivid.

In any case, fighting words were no match for the Lions who were simply too big, too strong and too good for the weak Magpie outfit to avert a 233rd loss at the ground which the club had graced on 910 occasions.  Whilst seven goals wasn’t exactly a pummelling, at 33 points down at the first change, Collingwood never looked like mounting a challenge.  The Magpies didn’t even bother the lightening fast scoreboard in the third term.  The only bright spot was a thumping goal by Anthony Rocca from the boundary line.  That the ‘Pies’ 1990 hero Leigh Matthews and his right hand man ‘Gubby’ Allan were performing the same roles at Brisbane was another twist of the knife.

So shattered by the result and his failed coaching career, Shaw retreated to the cold medieval changerooms under the Ryder Stand and cried.  Many criticised Shaw, but I could empathise.  It was a steep descent from the first year of the decade that saw Shaw depart the MCG brandishing a drought breaking premiership cup.

Meanwhile, captain Nathan Buckley and his abandoned teammates were joined by former greats who gathered in the middle for a rendition of Good Old Collingwood Forever.  They did well to sing with gusto when deep down everyone knew the true state of affairs, as soon to be appointed coach Mick Malthouse bluntly described at the end of his tenure.

Now the old girl has undergone a fabulous makeover and is once again hosting the Magpies, albeit the modern ‘magoos’.  Could Vic Park be reprised like an unfashionable ‘Eighties band for one more game at the top level to make things right?  Or was the bad farewell meant to be, the ripped band aid that made moving onward and upward that bit easier?

Britannia was the first recognised team to play at Victoria Park.  This was the last (at AFL level).

Holy muck!

For the most part, Victoria Park boasted one of the finest surfaces in the League.  Especially in the twlight years, when the ground’s calendar saw about as much action as a Buddhist monk holidaying in Greenland.  The last game was played on a heavy track though.  When the siren finally put the game out of its misery and the last rites had been conducted in the middle, a large number of the 24,493 heavy hearts trudged out onto the hallowed turf, only to wander around aimlessly.  I was one of them.

All I could think to do was scoop up a wad of turf.  I carried it carefully back to the car without too much embarrassment. I noticed I wasn’t the only one to claim a sod upon which the ghosts of the Colliers and the Coventrys floated.

My Vic Park memento remains in a jar, but I dare not lift the lid.  Even the stench of that tragic day could not compare to the putrid odour I suspect has been festering in there for 13 years!

Side by side we stick together; history in a jam jar; the score couldn’t be expunged quickly enough after the game


As published in ‘The Barrackers are Shouting’ compiled by Michael Roberts (2006)

They were the ‘wonder years’ of my supporting the Magpies.   R. T. Rush Stand, GG182. Before that it was R. T. Rush Stand, on a small stool, but in the working class club’s concession to modern day comfort, bench seating was installed in the early ‘Eighties.

No doubt there are tales to be told from all sections of the hallowed ‘VictoryPark’, but GG182 was a great spot.   Dead centre wing, just far enough back from the fence to get a good view, just close enough to hear the slap of flesh as bodies crashed into each other with great intent.

Games at Victoria Park were always special.  Weaving through traffic, the ‘enthusiastic’ driving of my father was the one sign that he too was fired up for the clash.   The long trail from the distant parking spot was in itself a cultural walk; imparting the origins of The Club that was born in the depression of the 1890’s and was the shining light for those who lived on ‘Struggle Street’ over the wrong side of the Yarra.

Times change but I still yearn for the days of GG182.  The pre-match buzz, the familiar smells, getting there early for the reserves and the lads at the back of the stand with their chants of ‘BT, BT, BT’, ‘Ron-nie, Ron-nie’ (McKeown) and ‘Char-lie, Char-lie’ (Manson).  Improbable aftermatches on the ground taking speckies over Molly Meldrum (well my mate did one day and he still revels in the story). 

Before the competition served the sanitized ‘football light’, there were characters and heated confrontations every week.  Monkhorst v Lockett in front of the social club at half time probably belonged behind the shelter sheds after school, but it was fantastic!  Millane and Kelly as menacing as nightclub bouncers, amazing Dakes’ box of tricks…any game was salvageable when the parochial crowd got behind the boys.  Games were often beyond the reach of the opposition before they even took the field. 

One match againstAdelaidein their inaugural year was a case in point.  Through what can only be described as a ticketing fiasco, Crows supporters descended on ‘our’ ground, infesting ‘our’ seats.  They all had the same smug, pudgy countenance, showing absolutely no respect for where they were.  It took a 20 goal thumping to bring them into line.  These were the terms upon which interstate teams were supposed to play in the VFL, I mean AFL.  When the ‘white maggots’ carriedSydneyto victory in the infamous ‘riot game’ of ‘86, it was like they’d kicked over a nest of bull ants.

The passing parade of coaches making their way hastily to and from their box was another feature of being at the end of aisle GG.  As coach ofGeelong, thenSydney, Tommy Hafey received ovations from the crowd years after he was ignominiously dumped as ‘Pies coach in 1982.  Mick Malthouse was offered all kinds of advice back as the despised coach of West Coast.  The fanatics of Vic Park were hardcore, they knew their footy.  Usually the comments were born of wit, not raw abuse, but a few nasties slipped through.   In any case, the head-down entourage usually knew better than to distinguish the Army with a reply.

The essence of GG182 was the regulars that frequented over the 15 years I sat there.  Watching Anthony wearing Big Sav’s jumper, engulfed by Mama and Papa Rocca as he grew up and up right in front of me until he was required on the other side of the fence… Shane Kerrison’s mother, who would shoot a glance more fearful than a bump from her son any time a negative comment was directed at him… the quiet couple who would turn up at 1.55pm every week with their newspapers and jam donuts and read until the opening bounce… the man with the cockney accent from WA that was all Collingwood, who loved to call the umpire a ‘toe rag’.  The media and opposition supporters may like to portray a stereotypical Collingwood fan, but in reality the only common denominator is their passion; Victoria Park was a social and cultural melting pot.

Unfortunately as the ‘Nineties rolled on and the heroes of 1990 gradually departed, the number of games dwindled and so did the victories.  Every effort was made to say goodbye in style against Brisbane in 1999, but the weather was as bleak as the game’s outcome.  As I regularly go past the old girl on the train, at the back of my mind I wonder ‘what if we could have one last game there, and make it right’.   But like that cherished holiday spot, it probably wouldn’t feel the same again. 

The moment has passed and I only hope that for many years to come, the Magpies’ Collingwood Ground will deliver the same kind of memories for future generations, and success that we all crave.