General Footy Writing: A Father’s Day reflection

By Steve Fahey

One of the many things I am grateful to my parents for is my passion for the black and white.
Dad’s passion for the Pies was life-long – he was raised in Langridge Street,  Collingwood, upstairs from the fruit shop that my grandparents ran. Collingwood in the early 1930s was a struggling, working-class suburb populated by some of the great characters of Melbourne.  These included John Wren, who built his fortune on illegal gambling at the infamous Collingwood Tote and was a long-term benefactor of the Pies, and the gangster Squizzy Taylor.  These legends (and many of their contemporaries) were immortalised in Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory, which became an ABC mini-series in the 1970s.
In the months leading up to Dad’s death in 1999, we sometimes talked about those early days.  He recalled that no-one had anything much, but that all that was talked about was football – this was a halcyon era for the Pies, who won the record four in a row from 1927-1930, and followed up with back-to-back in 1935-36.  Dad remembered that there was incredible pride in the achievements of the club, and that for many the footy club was the bright spot in otherwise difficult lives.
Mum’s attachment to the Pies came about through a combination of partner choice and wealth acquisition.  She began working for the same insurance company as Dad in the early 1950s, they began dating and were married in 1956.  VFL “High-Low” cards were popular fundraisers/sweeps in the 1950s, and indeed until the late 1970s in my memory. The cards involved being allocated a combination of two teams each round, one nominated to kick the highest score of the round, the other the lowest.  If your teams fitted the bill you won.  Early in her employment Mum was a winner, winning an amount greater than her weekly wage.  As Collingwood was the “highest” on her winning card, she developed some affection for the Pies.  Marrying Dad did the rest.
I could write a book about Dad and Collingwood (and immodestly reckon that it would be a good read!).  Today I’ll focus on two stories involving games with very different outcomes that highlight his depth of feeling for the club.
The first relates to the 1973 Preliminary Final.  After the trauma of 1970, the Pies had finished fourth in both 1971 and 1972 and been short of the mark in both years.  Bob Rose had gone to Footscray to coach the Dogs in 1972, with his long-term deputy Neil Mann taking the reins at the Pies.   The Pies were the dominant team of the 1973 home and away season, winning 19 of their 22 games and finishing top of the ladder.  The final five system, which had commenced the previous year, gave the top team an enormous advantage.

The Pies were beaten by 20 points at Waverley in the Second Semi by the Blues, and faced the Tigers in the Preliminary.  Both sides faced selection dilemmas involving star players.  The Sharpshooter (Peter McKenna) had received a minor injury in the Second Semi. The Pies pulled a huge shock when they omitted The Sharpshooter, despite him declaring himself fit, and including 16 year-old Rene Kink, who had made his debut in Round 19.  The Tigers included Royce Hart as 19th man (this was before the introduction of the interchange system) despite his lengthy absence through injury.
The Pies controlled the first half and led by six goals at half-time.  It looked like how far.  Royce Hart came on at half-time and the Tigers fought their way back into the game.  KB was running riot for the Tiges, expertly exploiting the holding the man rule (which was changed in the late 1970s).
The last quarter was tense as the Pies held on to a narrow lead.  The Tigers hit the front by a point late in the quarter.  As the clock ticked deep into time-on it was still anybody’s game.  The Tigers attacked and scored the decisive goal.  I turned around to see Dad bury his face in his hands and lean forward.  The siren sounded a few seconds later, and it was tears again for the Pies in a game eerily reminiscent of the 1970 Grand Final.  Dad sat in a bowed position with his face buried in his hands for what seemed like an eternity.  It was probably about ten minutes before he removed himself from the position. We departed in gloomy silence and made our way into the funereal atmosphere of the Collingwood dressing rooms.    I had turned eleven a few days earlier, and remember my realisation that, to Dad (and many others), this was more than a game.  I had been there in 1970 but was thankfully too young to understand it all.
Anzac Day 1984 was also a cliffhanger and involved another great memory of Dad.  The Pies’ wins in the first two weeks of the season had then been followed by successive losses.  As we headed to Waverley to play arch-rivals the Blues, the stakes were high. I remember little about the game other than the desperate closing stages.  The Pies led by six points late in the last quarter.  In these days Dad was on the Players’ Welfare Committee.  Duties included taking injured players to hospital and attending to post-match transport needs for injured players.  If you were on duty and lucky enough to not have to take someone to hospital during the game, you were required to be in the rooms as the players came off the ground, which meant missing the last minute or two of the game.
Dad was on duty this day.  He left his seat in the stand to begin the charge to the dressing-room.  He had just reached the bottom step when Carlton Full-Forward Warren Ralph marked about 30 metres from goal on about a 45 degree angle.   The siren sounded as Ralph prepared to kick.  Dad lingered on the bottom step of the stairway to watch the shot.  Being a tall man, he blocked the view of some Carlton supporters in the front couple of rows, who yelled at him to, “Sit down, mate !!”  Dad disappeared out of view as he moved down a step onto the landing.  Ralph kicked – it was close, but the goal umpire signalled a point, and the Pies had snuck home by five points.

As we began celebrating, Dad’s triumphant face appeared as he stepped back up onto to the first step, faced the crowd and gave a double-fisted victory salute, especially in the direction of the Carlton supporters who had given him the call to sit down.  He then charged down the stairs to get into the dressing-rooms, leaving us (Stork, Mark, the Big Man and myself from memory) absolutely wetting ourselves laughing !

There are many other memories of Dad and the Pies.  In very poor health in March 1999, he was invited by then coach Tony Shaw to speak to the Collingwood players, board members and staff at the official guernsey presentation at the Athenaeum Club on what Collingwood meant to him.  Somehow, with enormous willpower and substantial support and assistance from Mum, he made it there and spoke.  Dad was thrilled to be among his second family again and gave a stirring speech to rapturous applause.

I organised for Mum to tape his speech that night – she had a few problems with the handheld tape recorder, but a journo named Eddie Maguire, who had just become President, assisted her, and we have a CD recording of the speech.  One year Dad might be our posthumous pre-dinner speaker at the Horsburgh Medal function.
He died seventeen days after this speech.  A couple of days before he died, he was lying in hospital, lapsing in and out of awareness, if not consciousness, when Tony Shaw and Danny Frawley arrived to see him.  Mum said to him, “Kevin, Tony and Danny are here to see you”.  He struggled to sit up, sat up, welcomed them and said firmly, “Talk to me about football”.  He loved his club and he loved his footy, definitely in that order.

Dad’s contribution to the Club was recognised by the wearing of black armbands and by all senior players (except Bucks, who broke his jaw in the match against the arch enemy a couple of days before) and officials attending his funeral.
I remember him often, most often about footy.  This year the Pies start their finals’ campaign on Fathers’ Day against the Saints – it’s exactly how he would have wanted Fathers’ Day to be.

Go Pies !

Comments

  1. Superb, Steve.

    You really should write that book.

  2. Wonderful stuff Steve.

    I look forward to hearing your Dad’s speech one day.

    Rob.

  3. Peter Flynn says:

    Brilliant Steve.
    I echo HB and Daff’s remarks.
    Great to see the term ‘sharpshooter’ used again.

  4. Great report Steve. Enjoyed the read. I still have fond memories of your dad as a friend of my dad who was also a big Collingwood fan. My dad passed away just on 3 years ago, however in the Vic Park days would be down at the club Thursday nights,training nights, catching up with Kev and a large group of Collingwood tragics, telling my mother that if he didn’t train he wouldn’t get a game!! Lets hope the Pies can have a win Sunday.
    Go Pies!

  5. Steve

    Super piece Steve.

    Would love to have met your Dad – at any time in his life.

    Great to know there are people like you and your FPS who really know the essence of footy. It is an alchemy of the elements of existence: family, place, culture, memory, history.

    From a writing persective you really set your piece up beautifully wiht mention of the old Collingwood and Power Without Glory. Like Daff, I reckon you should write that book. Malarkey Publications would come knocking on your door. (And a subtle reminder that Eddie really is a people person as well.)

    Thanks for the piece
    JTH

  6. Sounds just like my father!!!

    Very well written Stephen – I was too young for the 73 memory and couldn’t go the the 84 game as I had training at Fitzroy under 19s of all places, but can remember listening to the game on the way there in the Astoria taxi and cheering through that last point!

    The scary, but nice, thing about our Collingwood childhood is that I feel that I channel Kev when I take my boys to the footyin many ways, especially being a lot less tolerant of their behaviour after an opposition goal!!

    Many, many stories of Kev and many, many happy memories of a Collingwood upbringing that I hope to pass on to my boys….just with a few more premierships!!!!

    PF
    (Stehen’s brother!!)

  7. Paul Harkin says:

    Wonderful read, Steve. I was old enough to remember all those losses from 1960 onwards and know how your dad felt. Don’t play your dad’s speech at this year’s PFS dinner as I won’t be there. It’s people like your dad and your good self that make Collingwood worth following, even during the hard times.

  8. Kevin Ramsdale says:

    Wonderfully written Steve, it brought back a lot of memories of my own father who sadly is also no longer with us, they might not be here but their passion lives on. Would love to hear that CD one day…and read the book!

    Go Pies
    Kevin

  9. Steve Fahey says:

    Thanks for all the generous remarks. It is great to share some of these memories and to hear that others were prompted to recall their own fathers and/or other loved ones.

    I love John’s quote “footy…It is an alchemy of the elements of existence: family, place, culture, memory, history.” Beautifully put.

    I will also add re “The Sharpshooter.” I played in a Thursday night cards school for many years. One of the regulars was the son of one of Dad’s lifelong friends from his Collingwood days. Whenever we played Pontoon/Blackjack and he was on 15 he would call ,loudly, for The Sharpshooter (the number 6). Indeed when he was on an 8 and a 7 after the deal he would physically separate them to allow The Sharpshooter to split the posts and make 21 !!

  10. Kevin Fahey Jnr says:

    Certainly brought back the memories, Stephen. Well written. I remember watching a match from Sydney at one time when Kev was the interchange steward. The Sharpshooter mentioned Kev on air and said to his co-commentator that Kev claimed that he’d taught The Sharpshooter everything he knew about football. The quick reply was that it mustn’t have taken Kev long!

    Another great memory is of Kev sometimes having to drive home The Sharpshooter’s Age Player of the Year (or some title like that where you cut the coupons from the paper and sent them in) car from Victoria Park. He was more than happy to accept the waves and accolades that came his way as he motored around in the highly recognisable vehicle.

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