AFL Round 2 – Collingwood v Carlton: On grace and gratitude

THE YEAR IS 1981. My team Collingwood has just lost the VFL Grand Final to Carlton. I am walking home from school dejected. On the other side of the road two of my classmates are wearing Carlton jumpers and broad smiles. They start singing that awful theme song- da da da da da da  . . . I am eight years old. I hate Carlton.

Fast forward thirty-two years later. Carlton has now employed our former coach and Chief Executive Officer, while our club champion Gavin Brown has also crossed over to the dark side. If I am really honest I hate Carlton more than ever. The problem with this is that I am employed as a Baptist minister. Somewhere in my job description it says that I am meant to love everyone- even Carlton supporters.

This morning at church I am preaching about grace- the concept that regardless of how we are treated we should try and show kindness in return. This kind of radical grace is willing to give others limitless chances. I am not sure if I will find much unexpected kindness at the football this afternoon. All week the football writers in the mass media have been hyping this game as the contest between Mick Malthouse and Nathan Buckley. Sadly much of their so-called commentary is really the work of the gossip columnist.

I meet cousin Steve at his apartment in Collingwood and we walk to the game. Steve and I have been going to Collingwood games for fourteen years. In recent days Steve’s commitment has wavered due to his new girlfriend Nicole, who is incredibly intelligent and looks like Meryl Streep. These are qualities that are hard to compete with.

Our seats are high among the rafters in the Southern Stand. We are sitting at the Carlton end of the ground. As the game begins the noise washes backwards and forwards between the two ends. It is like listening to two giant cathedrals chanting at one another. Andrew Walker kicks three early goals for the Blues. Towards the end of the quarter Collingwood find a way to claw back into the game. We have a three-point lead at quarter time.

In the second quarter the rain falls heavily and the game becomes a defensive slog. Both teams pride themselves on sticking to their structures. The biggest moment of the match happens when Collingwood ruckman Darren Jolly is taken from the ground with suspected cracked ribs. This means that new recruit Quentin Lynch will have to play in the ruck. The Blues lead by ten points at half time.

The game opens up in the third quarter. Collingwood’s goals all seem to sneak in under great pressure. Buckley throws the team around with Heath Shaw playing at full-forward and Maxwell taking the ruck.

At three-quarter time I have nearly given up. Carlton lead by ten points. Football is graceless. It seems to be the harshest of environments. In 1995 we removed Leigh Matthews as coach and he went on to win three premierships for Brisbane, two against Collingwood. Now Mick has left and he is already turning the Blues into a great team. I can hear those voices singing that awful Carlton song back in 1981. This is turning into a nightmare.

In the last quarter something unexpected happens.

Despite a four-day shorter break than Carlton, Collingwood somehow finish the game full of running. Heath Shaw is heroic, Sam Dwyer a revelation and Jamie Elliott kicks two crucial goals. One is a brilliant set shot from the pocket. By this stage I have put the pen down. For the first three quarters I was writing feverishly but now the game has consumed me. The ball rockets from end to end and players dive into every contest, they run until it hurts.

With less than a minute left and the lead only eleven points Scott Pendlebury gathers an errant handpass from Andrew Carazzo and steadies himself. Sitting high in the Southern Stand you just know that he will kick the goal because Scott Pendlebury has class. That morning an article of his appeared in the Herald Sun extolling the virtues of both Mick Malthouse and Nathan Buckley as coaches. It is a fine, considered piece of writing. The man has grace. He takes another step, sizes up the situation and kicks the goal from fifty metres out. The sound is deafening. It is a barbaric yawp.

And in this moment I think not of grace but of gratitude. While much of the modern football media moves from one calamity to another- seemingly rejoicing in the setbacks of others- for me football is really just about one emotion. Gratitude. As we sing for Dolly Grey and walk from the MCG I am filled with happiness. Steve sends a text to Nicole and I am grateful for all the good things of life.

COLLINGWOOD    3.3   5.5   10.10   17.15 (117)

CARLTON               3.0   7.3   12.8    15.10 (100)


Collingwood: Elliot 5; Sinclair, Blair, Pendlebury 2; Dwyer, Clarke, Shaw, Goldsack, Swan, Sidebottom.

Carlton: Walker, Yarran, Garlett 3; Simpson, Bell, Rowe, Murphy, Lucas, Henderson.


Collingwood: Elliot, Lynch, Clarke, Shaw, Dwyer, O’Brien, Pendlebury.

Carlton: Murphy, Kreuzer, Yarran, Garlett, Judd, Gibbs.

Umpires: Meredith, Jeffery, McInerney

Official crowd: 84,247 at the MCG

Our Votes:    Elliott (Coll) 3, Lynch (Coll) 2, Garlett (Carl) 1.


  1. ramondobb says

    What a divine account of a great day, thanks David. One of the great things of our great game, that us folks from all walks of life can have the same passion and that the big fella upstairs allows us all the opportunity to dislike our traditional rival.

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