AFL Round 15 – Carlton v Collingwood: Awakening under the stars

The fire had burned to coals and he lay looking up at the stars in their places and the hot belt of matter that ran the chord of the dark vault overhead and he put his hands on the ground at either side of him and pressed them against the earth and in that coldly burning canopy of black he slowly turned dead centre to the world, all of it taut and trembling and moving enormous and alive under his hands.” – Ch 2, p119, All the pretty horses, Cormac McCarthy.

The morning is cold and bleak and tightly spaced isobars on the nephanalysis chart suggesting a howling wind and the wind howling accordingly have each dropped away overnight and it’s Friday morning and the papers are trumpeting further stories of even further nefarious goings-on at Essendon FC and I’m flicking through R.Stemski’s Kill for Collingwood and I’m wondering again about the idea of winning at all costs. I’m reacquainting myself with the logic behind a seemingly blind abhorrence of Carlton FC and it’s a special kind of revulsion though similar words with subtly different meanings could be applied to any of Richmond, Melbourne, Essendon. And I re-gather that the Collingwood-as-working-class-underdogs identity works best with another club to play Tall Poppy and the Tall Poppy role being filled with aplomb over many decades by both Melbourne FC and Carlton FC. And that the early identity of the Collingwood Football Club, in which no individual was bigger than the team and no team was bigger than the Club, was based on ideas of shared hardship and fanatical teamwork and I note having to swallow a wheelbarrow of salt in portraying modern day Collingwood as the battler’s club as I consider the floodlit entrance foyer to the Moneybags Centre on Swan Street, Richmond.

Game day and the news ain’t good with HarryO out with an ankle/opinion and Murphy and Carrazzo both back for the Blues but the whisper around town also has Krakouer back for the Woods after having a field day in the Magoos last week.

Bloody Carlton.

It’s closing in on dusk and there’ll be no moon above tonight and I’m contemplating the folly of a walk from Spencer Street to the G. And I’m outside now and I’m collecting a burrito with steak, spicy sauce, jalepinos, cheese, sour cream and I’m thinking what a great occasion this is and that it seems best to saddle up a horse now and ride languidly along a dusty trail, tortilla in hand, to a site of Olde Worlde combat and score-settling. This is exactly the kind of wild night and wild conditions and unfavourable circumstances under which Collingwood teams of yore would stand up and play as a mad pack of crazy highway bandits, tackling with white-hot intensity and smothering all opposition.

And so I take my imaginary horse Harry Collier who I name after Harry Collier for a walk to the river where flashes of artificial light are almost everywhere and rounding the aquarium I’m wondering whether the will of the Woods will be switched on as a collective on this night. We ride slowly past the Banana Alley karate school and the smell of deep heat wafts through the doorway and I’m a bit jumpy in the shadows and quite thankful to be a man riding Harry Collier here in the darkness rather than a woman aback Harry Collier and feeling awful that that should be the case in Melbourne Town on a Friday evening. Floating rubbish-collecting frames on the Yarra are choked with litter. Two black swans glide past in the darkness at Princes Bridge.

Harry Collier and I are walking towards the light. The venue for this showdown, this duel, dominating the eastern sky. We are joined by more and more football followers now and now we are caught up on the conveyor belt of commercialization and enterprise walking slowly along the river bank and we pass several lone musicians belting out theme songs of each club (“Would you look at that? That’s Elmo playing a trumpet. Mick! Give him money) and just when my neighbours are thinking that Elmo playing a trumpet is special there’s Cookie Monster playing the bagpipes and I’m thinking that yes, this is looking like a crazy Collingwood kind of night.

Harry Collier and I slowly come down off the William Barak bridge now past Circus Oz and past three young men competitively selling Records and then our eyes cannot help but be drawn to the magnificent silhouette of the great D K Lillee in delivery. Awesome. We’re here.

Round the members and I lash imaginary Harry Collier to an imaginary railing and he looks me in the eye and nods slowly. And now I’ve locked eyes with LE, rarely spotted since kick-to-kick back in high school days but it’s a firm handshake he’s got and his phone is out before you can say “smile” and he’s showing me a photo of his little one alongside Daisy Thomas (“that was Tuesday. Harry O’Brien wasn’t available”).

Waiting at Gate 3. Many, many, many hundreds of people carry their stories past here on the concourse and a man takes two cigarettes in his mouth to light them simultaneously and a disproportionately large number of people are wearing baseball caps given that it’s dark. Inside and it’s top deck and it’s Row Y and the music is offensively loud and drowns all verbal communication and it ceases abruptly when the ball is bounced and the crowd is consequently subdued for the opening, rather than in a fever of natural noise and excitement. But the duel is on.

Whack and the duel is on and Bloody Carlton are three goals to zip and they are playing a very open forward line very efficiently and then Krakouer stab passes to Cloke for a Collingwood goal and then a school holiday high school tour group fills the aisle dazed and confused with “Falls Creek Ski Trip 2013” written on the front of their identical windcheaters (“They’re lost!”) and “Kalamunda” (“Isn’t that in Western Australia?”) emblazoned on the back going some way to explaining the rabbit-in-headlights expressions and Fremantle scarves over here at longitude 145 degrees East.

We’ve seen five torpedo punts off half back for the quarter from Carlton and then Ben Reid does an under 10s by switching from full back to full forward. He kicks two. And it’s Quarter time. Collingwood are somehow right in this, having had 7 straight kicked rapidly against them. The erstwhile reflective lull and opportunity for quiet conversation at a quarter time break is comprehensively smashed to oblivion by Billy Ocean’s “When the going gets tough” played at Volume 11. Bloody Carlton home game.

Second quarter and the Collingwood Collective are switched on. Krakouer to Pendlebury for a goal and I’m thinking if Mark Waugh had played football he would have played like Scott Pendlebury and then with the ball in Carlton’s goal square Heath Shaw fluffs the mark and Carlton embarrassingly goals and then Brock McLean is beautifully tackled in the Carlton forward line and the whistle goes but instead of holding the ball, the ump has plucked a push in the back to McLean. He hits the post (“there’s gotta be some justice”). The crazy Collingwood one-in all-in approach has thrown made it 6 goals to 1 for the quarter and the black&white are out to a handy lead and going away.

Second half and Krakouer picks up the pill like it’s a cheezel at a 6-year-old party and Swan juggles and Ben Reid keeps leading like a natural and it’s all going supremely well and it’s all built on a fanatical crash-tackle crazy-eyes-for-the-ball abandon that has always worked best for Collingwood. Lachie Henderson goals for Bloody Carlton and he’s playing a good game and Swan (“he’s everywhere”) misses a dribble at goal and I wonder if that miss will be the catalyst for a mighty Carlton revival and suddenly Yarran sells the dummy and gives off to Kreuzer (another who has played well) but he misses. And then Sam Dwyer produces a Daicos special at the Punt Road end, running towards the right forward pocket boundary and flicking it onto his foot and watching as the arc of the oval ball across the turf splits the tall posts. And Krakouer (“he won’t miss”) slots a set shot and it’s all over. Bloody Carlton are beaten.

The last quarter too starts in a vacuum of silence caused by the sudden switching off of insulting music. It’s so quiet that we all clearly hear Pendlebury’s call (“Heater! Heater!”) to Heath Shaw on the half back line. From the top deck, row Y. The game has ended as a contest now and Ben Reid really does look good as a forward and perhaps this is because his arms are just that little bit longer than they should be.

Siren and exit and milling hordes of footy folk and Harry Collier is a little flighty but we are both knowingly content among the throng. It’s a double dose of contentment knowing that a good brand of footy has been played by some young ones and with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, a drowsy Club has awakened under the dark vault overhead.  


CARLTON     7.0      8.1                  9.3          12.5 (77)

COLLINGWOOD    5.3      11.7        15.14          17.16 (118)


Carlton: Garlett 2, Kreuzer 2, McInnes, McLean, Yarran, Betts, Cachia, Lucas, Casboult, Henderson.

Collingwood: Cloke 5, Reid 4, Witts 2, Krakouer, Macaffer, Thomas, Seedsman, Dwyer, Pendlebury.

Votes: Swan 3, Pendlebury 2, Reid 1.

UMPIRES Meredith, Chamberlain, Nicholls.

CROWD 78,224 at MCG.


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. John Butler says

    Lovely piece of work e.reg

    Beg to differ on one matter. Very partisan call blaming the Blues for the PA assault. Have you not been to any other games this season?

    Otherwise, it was a night that told a few tales, unpleasant as they may be.

  2. There was an article in The Age earlier this year about the bloody intrusive offensive totally superfluous cacophany from the p.a. at games these days. No good result forthcoming , however. Watching on Fox , David , Tony Shaw said Ben Reid played forward as a junior , prompting more talk about “swingmen” as if there had never been a Peter Knights , Stephen Silvagni ,and many others no doubt. When Ryan Schoenmakers (CHB who was also a forward as a kid) comes back next year after his knee reco. Hawthorn could use him to replace Buddy Franklinmint. So Ben Reid “leading like a natural” could be because he is one. Very nice story David ; thanks.

  3. David Wilson says

    Thanks John Butler & daniel. Yes this swing man idea is not new, but I like seeing it for the when you see it, you can at least recognise that someone is Thinking.
    The coach rolling the dice, having a crack, considering new possibilities; are all heartening. Sure, they will backfire from time to time, but creative responses to any problem are worth applauding.
    A win for ideas over orthodoxy. Bada boom.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Brilliant David. Was it a hard choice of which Collier to name your horse after? Albert not a horsey enough name?

    Loved the Pendles/Mark Waugh analogy, though unlike the junior Waugh, at least Pendles is the best player in his family!

  5. David Wilson says

    Thanks Luke. Harry Collier was simply the right fit for the imaginary horse that presented himself. I reckon it could have been brother Albert, or even Jock McHale himself on another night. Looking forward to further trips with Harry Collier, though.
    As for Mark Waugh, who says he wasn’t the best cricketer in his family..?!

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