A fellow Collingwood supporter, Repoman, suggested this idea to me years ago – to write about my lifelong support of Collingwood, as it would occur in a story. He suggested it could be like Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.
So, after collating tons of notes and lots of false starts, I just thought I’d go ahead with it and see where it takes me. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, well, um, blame Repoman.
I’m also running a parallel Twitter account, which can be found here.
Anyway, here’s the very first instalment. I hope to serialise others throughout the year.
1. Those Damn Misprints.
It’d be great if there was some grand reason for supporting Collingwood, some family tie, or inspirational victory that won my family over.
But there’s nothing. It’s not like we lived in the suburb, or that they won over my family with some amazing premiership win, or that they had some assortment of guns we just had to follow.
Instead, it was an assortment of little things.
My family’s large. It’s not just my three older brothers, but lots of cousins. My brother John, twelve years older than me, is the oldest of the kids, so he’s the one who consigned a lot of us to the black and white path that we followed.
We used to live in Fitzroy, so we had some affiliation to the Fitzroy Football Club. My dad would take John both to Fitzroy games and Collingwood games, although mostly to Fitzroy games. However, Collingwood was doing better than Fitzroy at the time (in the 1960s), so that was a plus in Collingwood’s favour. There was also some girl in Grade Prep who liked Collingwood, so that was another tick for my brother.
My uncle Fred, an Essendon man – and all my mum’s side is Essendon – tried to bribe John to go for Essendon by offering to buy him an Essendon jumper. My brother refused. My uncle Fred succeeded with my cousin Vic, who was originally a Geelong supporter. His brother Paul followed him shortly after. But my brother stayed Collingwood.
When I came along, that’s what I knew. I had a brief sojourn following Geelong, because I liked cats. And I was about five-years-old, and being a kid I was stupid and impulsive. While the stupidity and impulsiveness have lasted my whole life, following the Cats didn’t. It felt wrong to change. So I went back – if I’d ever truly left in the first place.
Other cousins also followed Collingwood. A few had supported other teams (like Melbourne and Footscray) but changed over. Collingwood became ingrained with my dad’s side of the family, all but for two cousins who followed Carlton because they kicked puppies when they were kids. Actually, they followed Carlton because friends did, (although the puppy-kicking thing is yet to be discredited).
But we were Collingwood. Through and through.
One of my brothers had bought a book, The Courage Book of Finals. I read bits and pieces, but being a stupid, impulse kid was more fascinated by the pictures – our players in action. Frozen in time. Feats of champions. There was a mystique about it.
Although over time, it’s seemed Collingwood are always on the opposing ends of feats. If there’s a possible mark of the century, it’s bound to be the Collingwood player who’s the stepladder. If there’s a goal of the century, it’s the Collingwood players looking foolish. Or maybe that’s just the way it seems. I mean, I was aware of Ray Gabelich’s famed run … in a losing grand final. Oh wait. Well, there was Phil Manassa’s famed run, too. Hmmm.
Anyway, at the back of The Courage Book of Finals, there were scores of finals. I looked through them, quarter by quarter, working out the margins. It was always a thrill to see Collingwood win. More often than not, they’d find a way to triumph. It bespoke of an indomnitable spirit, a refusal to surrender, and a desperation to succeed.
Unless it was a grand final.
I’d follow the scores quarter by quarter, calculating the margins, finding so often we were in front. A win had to be inevitable. It just had to be, damnit! But the only real inevitability was the turnaround.
1970, the year of my birth, was a major disappointment. I thought it had to be a misprint. At half-time, we were 6.8 up. Forty-four points. But we lost. How did that happen? How could it happen? It seemed mathematically impossible. I still think it’s a misprint. All the other evidence to the contrary is just a misunderstanding, or some sort of mass hallucination. It’s possible, isn’t it?
1966 was another shocker, because that came with a picture of Darrell Baldock, wearing a Collingwood jumper, holding up the premiership trophy. Unfortunately, the caption identified him as ‘St Kilda captain.’ Surely this had to be another misprint. He’s in our bloody jumper, after all! But my brother Lou explained that at the end of the grand final, they swapped jumpers. When I asked why, he said they just did. Stupid, misleading tradition.
The shattering loss became a common theme. Wherever I checked the scores, there was ultimate failure – usually after seeming to be in a position of certain victory. Disappointment flooded me. How could they lose? I wished I could turn back time and give them that opportunity to try again … although I started to grow fearful of how that would’ve turned out.
Oh, there was 1958. That was against all odds, thwarting rampaging favourite, Melbourne, from tying our unique record of four successive flags. There was glory, even if it was twenty years old at the time I became aware of it.
The only prestige available to me, really, was we led the premiership table, which begged the question: where were our premierships? Where were they being hidden? The truth was that 1953 and 1958 aside, eleven of them had been won by 1936.
Then there was nothing but failures.
That’s the Collingwood I grew up with.
That’s the Collingwood I knew.