Pies Fans

by John Harms

Whenever I sit in the vicinity of the Collingwood Cheer Squad, I am reminded of the Sermon on the Mount. I look at the array in black and white around me, and I see lives lived tough. “Blessed are the Collingwood fans,” I think to myself. Only I’m not sure what they will inherit.

And if I’m not wondering what Christ would have said to Joffa, and how Mark or John would have recorded it in their Gospels, I think of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” I find myself admitting that while the world has the United States of America, and the rhetoric of freedom, here in Australia we have the Collingwood Football Club. And the rhetoric of oppression.

There is a bit of Collingwood in all of us: that sense that the world is against us. But while the elements are mixed adequately in most, Nature was rather heavy-handed with Pies supporters. They believe the world really is against them. Always.

So much so that those who love the Collingwood Football Club are like a people in exile – in their own city. Like they know no justice. Only law. And that law, they feel, is dished out to Collingwood people differently.

This has left them feeling angry (although not necessarily realizing they’re angry or knowing why they’re angry), and clinging to each other, and loyal (ish) to the end, believing you can never know what it means to be a Collingwood fan unless you are a Collingwood fan.

That sense the world is against them runs deep. It’s not a poetic sense, like Geelong fans have. It’s more in the grab-you-by-the-collar, lift-you-up, and tell-you-the-world-is-against-you sense. And their best explanation: “Because it is.”

It is ANZAC Day. The Pies are favourites to beat Essendon although the Bombers have surprised many with their start to the season. I take my place behind the Official Collingwood Cheer Squad behind the goals at the Ponsford Stand end. I know it is the Official Collingwood Cheer Squad because that is what it says on their T-shirts.

I am waiting. When I sit among Collingwood people I always feel like some bloke (he could be 14, he could be 48) is about to lean over and give me a dead-arm. Like it’s Grade 9 and we’re in a bus going to the school swimming carnival.

Behind us is the Magpie Army, recruits still arriving until, by the time of the ceremony they stand shoulder to shoulder. John Schumann sings “I Was Only Nineteen”, a classic critique of war, yet you get the feeling that if Captain Mainwaring set up a table in the goal-square and Jones put an “Enlist Here” sign on it, most of the Pies would join up.

They “boooo” loudly as the umpires make their way on to the ground, and cheer wildly as the players from both sides run through a single banner. Craig ‘Shhh’ Willis, the Master of Ceremonies, tells us that it has been constructed by the two cheer squads working together. I’m disappointed I didn’t see that collaboration in progress.

The Pies fans honour the ceremony with perfect silence. It is a solemn moment. And for a moment they are not exiles; they are part of this.

The Magpie Army start their chants. They are the same chants as the Tiger Army with Tiger changed to Magpie. More significantly they are borrowed from the Barmy Army. To ‘You Are My Sunshine’ they sing “We are the Army/The Magpie Army/And we are mental/And we are mad”. Or to ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’: ‘You Wish you had Paul Medhurst, on your football team’. Derivative. Lacking soul.

Many Bombers fans have gathered in the next section and are just arm’s length away across the aisle. They look mortified when David Hille goes down with what looks like a serious knee injury. Ruthless Pies cheer.

Collingwood score the first couple of goals. In an instant they are happy. I have drifted into a dispassionate frame of mind. I feel like an observer. Thinking slightly odd things: like how good the Collingwood jumper looks with No 6 on the back. Probably because it reminds me of Peter McKenna and being a kid.

The Bombers don’t take their opportunities. They rise as shots head towards goal, but when they drift off course the Magpie Army chant “Sit down, shut up, go home.” Whenever Travis Cloke has the footy they sing (to the tune of The Village People’s ‘Go West’) “You’re Dad was a champion, You’re Dad was a champion.” Whenever Andrew Lovett has the footy the abuse comes from all quarters, “You bash your wife.”

Now I find my eye attracted to Courtenay Dempsey. He can be anything. His vertical leap is ridiculous. And so is Patty Ryder’s, who is in the ruck.

The Pies get on top. Presti is finessin’, showing the ball like he’s Nigel Lappin, and turning on a zack. Shannon Cox is in and out. He has an awful five minutes, throughout which the Pies fans show their disgust, but then follows it up with forays that appear risky but actually show a skilful man who is confident in his ability.

The Pies are in front but their fans still aren’t happy. Josh Fraser is labeled a squib. Leon Davis has turned one bloke so angry he makes David Parkin look like the Dalai Lama. The young fellow shakes with rage as he stands and points. He is danger of injuring his shoulder. His anger is sustained and he rains a barrage of magnificent profanities on the umpires. Two policeman come and stand near him.

Closer to the fence the Ralph and Sam abuse is being hurled back and forth. When the Pies score again a bloke with a wispy red beard – surely a descendant of Albert Steptoe – delivers a spray (and the two-hand bird) to his Essendon counterparts. They are out of their seats in response. And in my dispassionate frame of my mind I find myself wondering when is it the abuser decides he’s had enough and sits back down to start watching again.

The Bombers sneak ahead during the third quarter. It is, at best, good fortune, according to the Pies around me (“How lucky”) and more likely to be a carefully orchestrated conspiracy (“Fucken cheating umpires”). Yet when Medhurst throws himself forward with his hands in the air there is general outrage.

The eight year old next to me is bored. He starts hitting me with his flogger. I know this is not incidental contact as he has to lean across three seats to reach me. But I don’t give him the attention he believes he deserves, and he gets bored with that as well. So his mother pulls out a full sleeping bag from under the seat, he climbs into it, is zipped up, and goes to sleep.

The Bombers have a handy lead at three quarter time. Yet I’m very confident the Pies will finish over the top of them. They’ve had two more days rest.

They start brilliantly. A sixty-something couple, both in leather pants, return to their seats in front of me. They look like they’re office bearers in the Victoria Park swingers’ group.

The love-hate sine curve which has been the reaction to Leon Davis is tracking up with love. Neon is full of energy, and could be the difference. The Pies hit the front and then kick away and their backline is resilient. Marty Clark takes on the responsibility, gathering the footy, and straightening the attack. Jaxson Barham is resolute, showing more determination than some of his older team-mates.

Every attack repelled is met with enthusiastic applause. The woman next to me who may just remember John Wren handing out veges during the Depression has moved from occasional-squealer, to intermittent-squealer, to regular-squealer, and is now just squealing in joy, delight and fear.

Spetoe’s son is just about in the face of the Essendon fans who, deep-down, know he has a point when he implores them to look at the scoreboard. Now they are getting angry. They feel inadequate. And they respond the only way they know how: by lashing out.

The rain starts coming down. I am wearing a black jumper and people around think I’m a Collingwood fan (clearly I have been laughing in the right places) so when I go to get up, with Collingwood 14 points up, one bloke says, “Aren’t you staying? That’s weak. That’s fucken weak.”

I stay for a moment and then when all pandemonium breaks out because Rocca has kicked the sealer I slink off to a seat a few rows back under cover. Many people, mainly Bombers fans, fill the aisles.

But wait? No goal. Free kick to Essendon. To Fletcher. (“That’s bull-shit. Fucken umpires. Don’t know the fucken rules. Cheats.”) Now there is a sea of black and white anger.

Still I am strangely dispassionate. Amused that it doesn’t really matter. Not that it doesn’t matter in the way that it’s only a game of footy, but in a way that there is no time left anyway. The Pies are home. You’re home. The anger is all a total waste of time. Joffa agrees. He’s got the gold jacket on.

Then it starts to happen. Lovett runs the footy through the centre and Jetta goals. Dyson slices one through and there is officially panic in the cheer squad. The Bombers fans have no idea how to react. They have had such success as a club, and they so believe in themselves, that a few goals at the end will be no consolation. But they can win this.

They should have won it twice. How they didn’t score when Jetta (I think?) fumbled, I don’t know. And just when they think the opportunity is lost, another arrives, and Zaharakis feels one hundred years of the Essendon culture surge through his veins, and slots home the winner.

The noise is incredible. Essendon euphoria. Anguished cries of disbelief from the Pies. I’m chuckling. It’s a textbook case for the anthropologist and I’m busily taking field notes.

The final siren and Bombers fans are giving it to the black and white. More anger spills from the Pies. Some make a personal statement by storming out. Some sit, oppressed. Where is the justice? Bloody umpires. Cheated again. Others start to looking to blame. Rabble.

Mick Malthouse also storms off. No-one is game to talk to him. He looks angry. I’m not sure that is the right response. Perhaps he is the natural leader of the Collingwood faithful after all.

The terrace is blaming him. (“What was Mick doing?”) New players. (“We need a ruckman”). Collingwood is Collingwood again.

Blessed are the Collingwood fans for they will inherit the dud decision.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo9, Anna7, Evie6. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Harmsy,

    why couldn’t this version be in the Age? It is much more honest. You capture the anger perfectly. The chants piss me off too. Try hard and contributes nothing to the atmosphere.

    I reckon the anger is being directed more at the players and Malthouse now. It is well deserved. They have developed a habit of dropping close games in the last two years to unheralded opposition. I can relate to why people want them to lose. So much misplaced arrogance in this legion of insecure bogans. After fifty years of mediocrity you’d think we’d/they’d know better!

  2. Pamela Sherpa says:

    “A little bit of Collingwood in all of us: that sense that the world is against us” MOST DEFINATELY NOT! I have never felt like that as an Essendon fan. We’ve had good bad and otherwise years. I am most grateful to have experienced some fabulous and successful years in my lifetime and feel for those that haven’t .
    ‘Zaharakis feels one hundred years of Essendon culture surge through his veins ” Spot on. A brilliant desperate win. What I like most about our team is that they really look like they are enjoying their footy. Go Matty Knights.
    ‘Anger,blame,rabble’ apt words to describe the Collingwood attitude after a defeat.

  3. Damian O'Donnell says:

    I’d love to know, for maybe just 5 minutes, what it feels like to barrack for Collingwood. Just 5 minutes. Sort of like living in your nightmare.(So long as escape from the nightmare is guaranteed). And why would anyone CHOOSE to barrack for Collingwood? Has anyone done a Phd on this topic?

  4. chad woodbine says:

    The problem for me is that I see two collingwood supporters. There are the rabid mongrel bogan supporters who are the stereotype, then there are my mates who seem to have a balanced opinion and good mind for watching footy. I didn’t go to games with collingwood supporters though for fear the full moon would be out and I would be watching “Black and White Warewolf in Telstra Dome”…

  5. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Dips, I beg you , please don’t do it – the 5 min Collingwood thing that is. You might never be quite the same again.

  6. haiku bob says:

    I’ve had a chip on my shoulder since about 1976, when our first wooden spoon was quickly followed by the onset of the Colliwobbles – both sources of great hilarity for the rest of the football community. Growing up knowing everyone hates you drastically increases your chances of developing an inferiority complex!

    I had a choice. My first game was Collingwood and South Melbourne at Viccy Park. I was 5. My Dad didn’t follow anyone at the time. The Pies won by 15 goals. What was I supposed to do? Most of my family went on to barrack for Hawthorn. How lucky were they.

  7. Clearly any aspect of Collingwood generates comment and counter-comment. To confirm this one need only check how big the “Collingwood” tag is, compared to all others in the “tag cloud” (see the right side-bar). I’d like to see the number of Collingwood articles on this site increase exponentially, making the Collingwood tag so large that it disappears off the page…

  8. haiku bob says:

    see what I mean?

  9. danielle says:

    …okay i know this was posted ages ago but i just read it now. Firstly im not going to lash out or cry myself a river over the comments made. But i will mention that you CAN get different types of Collingwood supporters, yes that right there are NORMAL Collingwood suporters out there. For example, ME!
    The girl who cried not when the final post played but when the siren went. The girl who would change her religion before changing her football team! ill admit that i had a diva tantrum when the free was given against Rocca but think about this, if it was you team wouldnt you feel the same?

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