A Home of Passion

 

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 youve 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?

“Of purpose.”

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.”

What happened?

“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.”

Never?

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.

 

The supporters.

 

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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Comments

  1. Lord Bogan says:

    Great story Matt. Not all Pie fans are tarred with the same brush, thankfully.

  2. Beautifully written Matt

  3. Thanks for that history Matt. I have been a contributor on NIck’s since 2007 and knew some of the story about Mike and Nick but you have given it much more detail.

    Andrew Stafford advertised the Almanac on Nick’s in the early days and I think there are a few other Knackers who are also Nicksters. There are several Collingwood fansites but Nick’s is by far the best.

  4. jordy falla says:

    Thanks Zurbs,
    Being a collingwood supporter and coping it all the time left me a little anxious when i started this, but of course it made me smile. your legend mate xxx

  5. Fantastic yarn. Thanks Zurbs. The people and the passion are whats important. And the ability for social media to connect and ennonble is really amazing. Collingwood (like all footy clubs) are just a means to an end.

  6. Dave, Ha, I was wondering if any Nickers would read it. Or Eddie/Bucks?!

    JordY Fella is a legend, worthy of a book!

  7. Jeff Dowsing says:

    Great piece Matt, and I love that anecdote about Bucks posting. Fans often speculate whether any players look/post on these unofficial sites. The media certainly like trawling through them for scraps. Occasionally you do pick up some inside info posted by ‘deep throat’ club insiders.

    I don’t get on Nicks very often – I post on a site which I guess is the ‘people’s elbow’ equivalent. It’s original incarnation was started up by a few IT whizzes. It was better than any official sites and in fact Collingwood headhunted the main guy. Unfortunately the club kind of shafted him when all the sites (bar Essendon) went to Telstra. ‘From the Outer’ re-ermerged as a very basic message board ‘Lulie Street Dash’ (at the beginning of 2002 one of the popular members threatened to run down Lulie St/Vic Park naked if CFC won the flag, which they almost did). In 2010 there was indeed a ceremonial dash!

    These underground sites really strengthen the bond between supporters and clubs. LSD and Nicks even played a couple games against eachother at Vic Park some time ago. It was a fantastic experience (my highlight was taking a specky on Joffa!).

  8. Malby Dangles says:

    Great post Matt. Interesting to get an insight into the modern Pies and about the love that went and still goes into that website. It terrific when a shared passion can manifest itself into something that can reach so many people.
    I once posted a few things on arguably the best ‘historical’ footy related site, The Blueseum. This was started by a few very passionate Blues fans with some IT skills who decided that it was time that there was an excellent online reference point for Carlton fans to read about players and games both old and new. I think the club runs it now but there are still many contributors who keep adding data.
    My contribution was the 2002 season game reviews as I went to nearly every game in Melbourne that year except 2 (out of the 3) of the games we won. At least I got to see us beat Collingwood that year :)

  9. Matt Zurbo says:

    Jeff, one web fan site taking on another agt Vic Park is as good as it gets, I reckon!!! The ghists of the outer would have been roaring!

  10. One of my all-time favourite memories of Nicks was when I did a ‘live call’ of a match from my apartment in The Hague. It was back in 2002-2003, in the early days of live radio streaming. But back then, not everyone could get the radio call, so some of us desperados would log into Nicks match day chat room (which still exists today) where someone volunteered each week to provide text commentary of the game. So there I was at 6am, on the other side of the globe, in my reg grundies, with a roaring hangover, listening to a dodgy stream of Rex’s indecipherable mumblings and providing text commentary for some poor bastard in Bogota or PNG whose internet connection died every 5 minutes. It was the internet at its best!

  11. Fantastic read, as a Nickster since 2003, it gave me a sense of pride reading this piece, and a feeling of gratitude toward Mike and Nick for getting it going and keeping it alive. Thanks Matt.

  12. Haiku, I suspect you know exactly what life is about!!!!
    Thanks Pa! The site seems to have a heart, and that can only come from people with one.

  13. Thanks for that Matt, great read. I’ve been posting on Nick’s for 13 years and wasn’t aware of the Buckley stuff, cheers.

  14. London Dave says:

    Nice story Matt, I’ve been posting (mostly rubbish) on Nicks since the last millenium, the place kind of reattached me to Collingwood after being overseas for years. H Bob, I well remember the 5am Saturday morning starts for games, though the image of you in your Y-fronts is not a pretty sight! I think something (a sense of community?) was lost now we can get games streamed with live video, … those chat room ‘calls’ were great fun.. shared joy and pain!… all good memories.

  15. Another great yarn, Matt – love ya work and how it transcends across all of footy (even those clubs that you “footy hate”) and provides such a raw and vivid picture. I’ve been a regular reader of Nicks and my other fave Pies site, Extreme Black & White. They are both great forums for the Magpie Family to keep in touch. They were my lifeline during my four year stint in Rugby League land on the Sunny Coast (thankfully not in my budgie smugglers, HB, boardies were the fashion order of the day up there). The diversity of information and banter on these boards is a trul wonderful thing for us footy and Pies fanatics. And a big thanks to Mike for putting it all together, well done mate. Go Pies.

  16. Great story, and a great website, Mike has done fantastic work on it, and now it’s in more great hands. I’ve been a posted almost 10 years down, started my footy journalism with Nick’s and now looking to move more into radio.

    Been some interesting times over the years, I remember when Nick’s was being shut down and then re-opened it’s great that Nick’s has stood the test of time and hope to see it make it’s 20th anniversary.

  17. Brilliant Matt. Loved the story!! Otway would be proud of you!!

  18. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great Story of a Fanatical Sullorter well told as always and a lesson in how powerful this whole Medium is in so many different ways Thanks Mike Nick and Matt !

  19. Peter Fuller says:

    Malcolm,
    I love your function on the site as some kind of random archivist of the Almanac. You seem to draw us back to interesting threads from way back when.
    I saw this tale and some of the comments when it was first published; however I hadn’t seen (or remembered) Jeff Dowsing’s contribution, which prompted a recollection of my own.
    I was a very occasional poster on an unofficial Carlton site (CSC). We linked up with the more popular Talking Carlton to organise some matches against other club websites. Unsurprisingly I was roped in as umpire for matches against Hawthorn and St. Kilda supporters at Glenferrie (against the Saints we lost a ball kicked into the old swimming pool at the Glenferrie Road end).
    I also umpired a match against a Collingwood website (no idea if it was Nicks) at their training ground in Swan Street. Happily, all these matches were played in good spirit – perhaps because of the (ahem) impeccable standard of the umpiring.

  20. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Thanks Peter attempting to make up for Lost Time still new to the web etc and as a fellow umpire aka Magot social matches in general are fine to umpire but all you need is
    1 guy to either be a clown or be two intense and they can errupt
    I am giving Matt a hand locating guys for his book looking 4wd to meeting Old Dog

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