Here’s a corker story. About passion.
About football, kids, farming, the internet and Eddie.
When my footy season ended with a busted leg and a loss in the Second Semi, I landed a job clearing the gullies of a cattle farm under the mountain I live on. Long days of spraying and slashing a sea of blackberries, dropping wattle trees, making burn piles, planting Myrtle Beech, encouraging fern growth.
The farm owner’s name is Mike. He is fifth generation dairy and does IT, too, from his small office in the attic of the sturdy old horse shed. It’s a beaut little thing, a real crow’s nest, off a track, off a small, bumpy road, in a valley, somewhere within nowhere NE Tasmania.
A strange location to find the birthplace of Nick’s Collingwood Page. A fan site that has had, to date, 1.4 million posts, and, in the off season alone, over 4,000 registered users.
And a great history.
It has shaped several aspects of our modern game. Given it colour. Even Joffa’s gold jacket.
And, like all good stories, the site’s history is a journey.
Mike is a very likeable person. Amiable. The sort you’re glad to know the second you met him. A true Tassie man, he has no tags on himself in a way that makes you believe in people.
Yet, by Christ, he supports Collingwood.
Why? I ask, baffled.
“When I was 8yrs old we moved to Melb, where I quickly discovered you have to barrack for someone. Anyone. I chose the Magpies. I’m not sure why. Now I’ve spent half my life at Victoria Park. Collingwood does that.“
Outside the cows drift by, crows crow, pissing and moaning about nothing.
“Years later, I moved back to Tassie, where a web page for Pie supporters was started by my son, Nick, who was only ten years old. Amazing.”
Mike shows me the site’s first incarnation. There was
The title – Nick’s Collingwood Page.
A photo of Damien Monkhurst,
and a list of every web sight you might have read something about the Pies on. That was it.
“Footy had seen nothing like it,” Mike tells me. “It was a pretty new medium. I had to learn it for work. Nick’s page helped me do that. It’s become Collingwood’s biggest unofficial sight. In fact, I think it may be busier than the official one.”
Why? I ask.
“It’s more flexible,” he says. “More fan-friendly. The official sites have walls. Rules, regulations. There are all sorts of control issues. Our site is purely about a love of Collingwood and football.”
Outside the wind is picking up. Hot and northerly. There’ll be no spraying for a while, so we keep talking.
“Collingwood had three cheer squads at the time. The Official. The Unofficial. And the Outer… and they all hated each other!” Mike laughs.
I try to picture it. Collingwood – a place built on working class foundations, with its own class structures. It must have been like venom. Bad for the club on so many levels.
‘Then somebody from the club posted on Nick’s site that there would be a meeting to try get the squads to put their differences aside and work together. Joffa, who had recently discovered the site and was posting on the forum frequently, was dubious. I told him he had the passion and the leadership to make it happen. To join rival groups into best cheer squad in the country. And he did.”
To be honest, I have always imagined Joffa as one of those loud extroverts. Wears a bit off colour, acts the clown, thinks it’s all about him. I love these stories. They tip me right on my head. Make me shallow.
The story of Joffa is a rich thing, it seems. With lots of behind-the-scenes work for the things he believes in: Collingwood. Its fans. Barracking.
Mike further tells me what’s left of the man’s boundless energy goes to the Salvation Army where he works to improve the lot of homeless men, and to the Epilepsy Foundation.
“Yes, Joffa had that wig, and one day Eddie came on the footy show with this golden jacket. Joffa rang me and said how good it would be to use that jacket at the games. I encouraged him to approach Eddie, who he didn’t know well at that time, and ask him if he could use it. Next thing we know a courier appears on Joffa’s doorstep.”
So you’ve met him? I ask.
“Eddie McGuire? Yes, several times. That’s what’s so amazing about the internet. Through it my son, a kid from the Tassie bush, can be associated with someone like Eddie McGuire.”
I ask about the man.
“He’s what you’d expect,” Mike says. “Very approachable. Agreeable. But focused.”
Clipped, I ask?
By the age of 14 Nick had lost interest in footy. He’d found another passion. Music. He and his brother released their first Heavy Metal EP. Mike plays it for me. It’s a corker. Some kids, it seems, you can spot early. Be it footy or music or whatever. They are do-ers. A further ten yeas later and Nick’s buried in Melbourne’s suburbs somewhere. Still making a living from his music, while his web page crashes and bashes on without him.
Mike was left running his son’s site, which just kept getting bigger and better. And, more and more, seemed to run with the history of Collingwood.
“For the next five years the cheer squad ran perfectly. There were a few difficult sorts in there, true, but most were great people.”
“The club took over. Sacked the whole squad, made everybody reapply. They vetted out the troublemakers, which was important, but lost something, too. A sense of by the fans. There was that control thing again. A loss of freedom.”
The day’s getting on. There are bits of the gully that are steep enough to avoid the wind, but if the cows aren’t rushed, be buggered if I’m going to be.
“Something else the club did was, again, down to Joffa. He posted on Nick’s Collingwood Page that the Premiership coach should win the Jock McHale Medal. Eddie read it, and ran with it, as only Eddie could. Made it happen.”
I can’t picture two more different people than McGuire and Joffa, but they seem to share a rock solid passion, genuine and deep, for their club and football. And a web page to communicate through.
Even though it’s an unofficial site, I suspect Eddie must do what all good leaders do, uses it to get out of the lofty glass towers, the boardrooms. To keep tabs on what the punters are thinking.
I suspect he reads it often.
“None of the players, do, but,” Mike adds. “Or they do, but don’t comment. There can be some pretty stupid stuff posted. A few make the effort when they’re starting, before they’ve cracked the team and stuff. But it never lasts.”
Mike laughs a beaut laugh. Smiles a beaut smile.
“There was one bloke early on…” he tells me. “Let’s say the name he used when posting was Anon. He used to argue the point real passionately, about all sorts of stuff. He really cared about the club, almost to the point, at times, I wondered if he was a troublemaker. Then, one day Eddie introduces me to Nathan Buckley. ‘Hi, Mike,’ he said. ‘I’m Anon.’. It took a second or two for it to register.”
Then Mike smiles again. Let’s it sink in.
The current Collingwood coach gives a damn, and always has. Even when people didn’t know it was him. Even unnoticed.
Either that, or he’s an obsessive.
A good story gives you the option of what to believe in. I never thought too much of Buckley either way. But now I have faith in him.
“Eventually the Nick’s Collingwood Page got too big for me. I tried to shut it down, but the community wouldn’t let it die. They brought it back to life and took it over. I still host if for them, though,” Mike says.
Like any good player, he’s run his laps, held onto the spinning wheel as long as he possibly could, then handed it over.
I wipe my hands free of work and check out the site on Mike’s computer. It is a brilliant thing. Links to this and that, info, comments, bulletins, photos, player info, stats, a history of the site written by a fan. Everything written by fans.
Nothing official. Nothing Approved.
“The community,” Mike said. Damn straight.
But, most of all, I’m impressed by the design. The graphics. The site looks so good. So crisp. Everything is bold. Black and white. The magpies, the emblems, the type and background. No greys. So strong. The only colour at all is the splash of blue and red on the Australian flag, flying next to the Pies one.
Black and white.
It’s almost easy to see why a no-fuss, 8yr old Tassie kid, away from home, all those years ago, might choose Collingwood.
When I grew up the world was simple. Its rules were simple. You either loved or hated Collingwood. So I hated them. In a fun way. A healthy way. Mike’s too likeable. It’s doing my head in.
“To work,” I announce, and am out of there.
As I push through the paddock I look back at his shed, so discretely lost in the backwaters of Tasmania. A pile of faded wood and rust, housing motorbikes and possums. A place where something very worthy was birthed by a ten year old boy with a love of footy.
Football is a brilliant thing. A home. A place to house out passion.
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