Sixteenth, broke and shizenhousen

In lieu of a Sensational Games precursor to the Magpies – Bulldogs clash, here’s a personal account of a game that for ‘Pie fans was anything but sensational.

They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.

Well by 5pm on 28 August 1999, it was so dark in Collingwood town that to quote Eric Olthwaite describing a particularly black pudding from my favourite Ripping Yarns episode, ‘even the white bits were black’.

The Round 22 clash against the Brisbane Lions was earmarked as a farewell celebration after 107 years at Victoria Park.  Sadly, the Autumn leaves had barely left the trees before it was apparent the final game would be an anti climactic goodbye and good riddance to another season somehow worse than the one before.  In fact it wasn’t until a similarly bleak day in round 8 at the MCG before the Magpies, on the back of some Stephen Patterson(!) and Nathan Buckley heroics, broke their duck for the season.  Against Fremantle.  Wow-wee!

So come the last hurrah and a measly three wins down the track, one more inevitable loss would confirm a second ever wooden spoon.  Whilst some diehards managed to muster a festive outlook, the long walk from a distant car park in Abbotsford to GG182 (my seat) felt more like a funeral march.

   
Before the game;  Price and McKenna – the Magpies’ version of Lillee and Marsh

The temporary stands atop ‘one eyed hill’ squeezed in some extra mourners, and former legends such as Bob Rose, Tuddy, Thommo, The Weed, Daics and BT undertook an obligatory lap around the ground.  Others such as Banksy and ‘Stan the Man’ Magro theatrically re-enacted past glories, notwithstanding their magic moments actually took place elsewhere.  It was a tad kitsch, but the supporters could do with a laugh.

“You can put me in a kero tin, burn me and just put my ashes over the Collingwood football ground – that’s all I want” said long time supporter Rana McGoldrick at the time.  Attempting to encapsulate that kind of emotion in the pre-match was always a tough ask on a shoestring.

And the budget was probably blown on the most technologically advanced innovation ever to hit Victoria Park – a large digital screen dangling from a crane which beamed outgoing coach Tony Shaw’s last pre-match address to the players.  In the spirit of Phonse Kyne and Jock McHale, Shawry called upon the players to make an indelible mark on the proud club’s history (Nathan Buckley actually hated it for being tailored to the crowd rather than the players).

   
Then and now; The R T Rush Stand has gone with the recent redevelopment but the memories remain vivid.

In any case, fighting words were no match for the Lions who were simply too big, too strong and too good for the weak Magpie outfit to avert a 233rd loss at the ground which the club had graced on 910 occasions.  Whilst seven goals wasn’t exactly a pummelling, at 33 points down at the first change, Collingwood never looked like mounting a challenge.  The Magpies didn’t even bother the famously fast scoreboard in the third term.  The only bright spot was a thumping goal by Anthony Rocca from the boundary line.  That 1990 saviour Leigh Matthews and his right hand man ‘Gubby’ Allan were now in the visitors’ box was another twist of the knife.

So shattered by the result and his failed coaching career, Shaw retreated to the cold medieval changerooms under the Ryder Stand and cried.  Many criticised Shaw, but I could empathise.  It was a steep descent from the first year of the decade that saw Shaw depart the MCG brandishing a drought breaking premiership cup.

Meanwhile, captain Nathan Buckley and his abandoned teammates were joined by former greats who gathered in the middle for a rendition of Good Old Collingwood Forever.  They did well to sing with gusto when deep down everyone knew the true state of affairs, as soon to be appointed coach Mick Malthouse bluntly described at the end of his tenure.

Now the old girl has undergone a fabulous makeover and is once again hosting the Magpies, albeit the modern ‘magoos’.  Could Vic Park be reprised like an unfashionable ‘Eighties band for one more game at the top level to make things right?  Or was the bad farewell meant to be, the ripped band aid that made moving onward and upward that bit easier?

 
Britannia was the first recognised team to play at Victoria Park.  This was the last (at AFL level).

Holy muck!

For the most part, Victoria Park boasted one of the finest surfaces in the League.  Especially in the twlight years, when the ground’s calendar saw about as much action as a Buddhist monk holidaying in Greenland.  The last game was played on a heavy track though.  When the siren finally put the game out of its misery and the last rites had been conducted in the middle, a large number of the 24,493 heavy hearts trudged out onto the hallowed turf, only to wander around aimlessly.  I was one of them.

All I could think to do was scoop up a wad of turf.  I carried it carefully back to the car without too much embarrassment. I noticed I wasn’t the only one to claim a sod upon which the ghosts of the Colliers and the Coventrys floated.

My Vic Park memento remains in a jar, but I dare not lift the lid.  Even the stench of that tragic day could not compare to the putrid odour I suspect has been festering in there for 13 years!

  
Side by side we stick together; history in a jam jar; the score couldn’t be expunged quickly enough after the game

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.

Comments

  1. Andrew Fithall says:

    I was there that day – and it was a terrible day. The pre-game broadcast of the coach’s address to the players was not worth the effort. A bit of useless trivia associated with the crane holding aloft the temporary screen. It was from “James Cranes” a Ballarat-based company owned by Barry James, the father-in-law of Danny Frawley, who was an assistant coach at Collingwood at the time. I hope they got a family discount.

  2. ramondobb says:

    Outstanding stuff, Jeff. Did you use Howard Molson’s new shovel to get your wad of turf? Eric’s rain-gauge would have been pretty full on that day. Great to see you fitting in some Ripping Yarns into a ripping yarn.

    I too endured that final day. I still have “the last beer” which is firmly entrenched in “the pool room” – sadly it wasn’t a VB can like the many I sunk during the years, but a plastic Fosters Light stubby which was all they were selling on the day where I was sitting. Through a stroke of luck in ticketing my reserved seat for the game was under the Peter McKenna sign on the outer HFF which is where it all started for me as a wide-eyed little tacker in the late 60s in my footy gear with the almight number 6 on my back.

  3. Jeff,

    big error with the turf. If you had taken it and put it into an isolated patch of fertile soil it would have initially grown and eventually expanded in size through either sexual (seed development and dispersal) or asexual ( rhizomatous or clump division) processes.

    By now you would have an expanse the size of Victoria Park in your back yard and this would open up nostalgic business opportunities (similar to the gangland tours).

    You could build a mock boundary and seats and invite old Collingwood folk around to give them an opportunity to swear and spit over the fence again (for a small tithe) or allow the family and friends of the departed to spread their ashes in your back yard (for a bigger tithe)

    Where is the entrepreneurial spirit these days?

  4. Phantom, there is one problem with your absolutely fantastic idea. I was renting at the time!

    Ramondobb, I could talk Ripping Yarns (and aboot rain fall & Spear & Jackson shoovels) all day long with you!

  5. Just take the bookings on the web, the money and send them round there Jeff. All due care and no responsibility

  6. Jeff Dowsing says:

    Ha, even better Phantom when they find said dwelling in Fairfield boasts a ‘backyard’ consisting of a small slab of concrete & a Hills Hoist!

  7. DBalassone says:

    I was there that day & my two enduring memories of it are:

    1) Peter Moore being heckled by the faithful, and;
    2) Tony Shaw’s laughable pre-match address that was sbroadcast live. I remember thinking at the time, “now I understand why we are on the bottom.” I’m sure he benched the Rocca brothers during the game just for old-times sake.

  8. Dave Nadel says:

    I was there too. Almost all I remember is a feeling of total diappointment. Leaving our home, losing the match,
    the paucity of the accompanying entertainment. The feeling that Eddie wanted to trash the past so that he could be seen as the saviour of the future.

    I do remember the “reenactments” that Jeff referred to, including Phil Manassa reprising his 1977 Grand Final Replay run. The problem was that Phil had put on a lot of weight between 1977 and 1999 and his run reminded me of the quote from Karl Marx that history repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce (The tragedy being that Manassaá run in 1977 wasn’t able to lift the Pies to a win)

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Yes Damo, Shawry’s speech about the clubs’ ‘work efic’ was spellbinding. I didn’t go that day. Too emotional. Although I was at Vic Park on Saturday and watched a great contest against the Zebras. When I explained to my daughter that I the ground could hold 35,000 people she couldn’t comprehend it. Still plenty of turf there Jeff. It all comes from Merri Creek anyway.

  10. Dave Nadel says:

    The record crowd for Vic Park is 47,224. In 1969 Michael Hyde and I went to a Collingwood Carlton game at Victoria Park where we were part of a crowd of 44,000+. It was a bit tight.

  11. Steve Fahey says:

    Great stuff Jeff

    That was a big day for me and my family. Dad had died on 3 April earlier that year, and I went along with mum and sat in the seats that we had held for any number of years F122 and 123. The game was a debacle, but the occasion was an emotional one for me, as I reflected on the significant chunk of my life that I had spent at the ground, nearly always with dad also there, although we were rarely together, as he was engaged in official duties post-1974.

    I thought about the many hours that my siblings and I waited in the big leather chairs of the foyer of the social club as we waited for dad to appear before driving us home, always significantly later thah he had said. This was clearly the pre-breathalyser era, but remarkably we never came to grief on the way home !!

  12. Concrete slab and a Hill’s hoist did you say Jeff?

    Johnny Howard could be your first customer. Charge him double!

  13. Steve,

    my mother used to have a special saying for when my father brought me home from the footy late.

    She would describe it as ‘coming home with his back teeth floating’. The car seemed to know the way.. about 50 years ago.

    While I was waithing I would snip him for small bottle of Fanta and a packet of Samboys. It was sort of extortion but it was an effective symbiotic process.

    Inevitably I would have had so much Fanta and Samboys during one of his protracted ‘President’s meetings’ that I would come home ‘green in the gills’ and could not eat my special Saturday night home made pastie.

    Nostalgic, but we don’t do that sort of thing these days.

  14. Jamie Simmons says:

    I dare say Fitzroy supporters would gladly farewell a ground if it meant still having a team (sigh). One of my few remaining Victoria Park memories came from one such Pies v Fitzroy encounter. Watching on from a doorless toilet cubicle, I heard the clink of a grapple hook on the concrete wall in front of me and sat intrigued as 4 industrious pies supporters appeared triumpantly before me. Can’t do THAT at the MCG, now can you?

  15. Great piece Jeff, I particularly love the then and now shots. Very clever. Love that kind of stuff. Remember watching it on the box and that sections of the crowd were digitally covered with ‘VB’ advertising, something which thankfully never caught on!

    I planted a bit of VFL park turf in my parents backyard and it took well. Was a bit awkward carrying it home on the bus! Could see it for years, but looked late last year and you really can’t see it anymore. however, Vic Park soil a little more valuable the Arctic Parks.

  16. Thanks John.

    I knew I could count on you to notice the photo within the photo. I must come clean and admit I stole the idea off ‘Dear Photograph’. Worth looking up.

    And thanks for sharing your personal anecdotes Steve & Phantom. Vic Park was always so much more than a football ground. And the getting there and getting home was always an important part of the ritual too.

  17. Vic Nicholas says:

    The “dear photograph” pictures work well Jeff. We cannot go back to the Vic Park days. They were great days, but it was a different world then.

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