AFL Round 4 – Richmond v Collingwood: Ghosts of Hoddle Street in the CityLink era

You glorify the past when the future dries up” U2, God Part II

Friday 11 April 2014. Steady rain of the previous few days is abating. Midday. It’s school holidays and I’m driving down High Street Northcote with Super Bud Ooon and Super Bud Yum. The Lucksmiths are on loud. I love school holidays. The buds are on air guitar and are singing “Victor Trumper” in 7 year old and 8 year old falsetto brilliantly. We’re off to a comedy show at Northcote town hall.

I’ve bought footy tickets for the buds for tonight but general tiredness through the day indicates this late night fixture will be beyond them. We wouldn’t be home from a 7:50pm start til the train /tram drops us after 11pm. Too late.

And so as night falls, I’m joined on the tram by a fellow who’s a dead spit for a 1930 Syd Coventry.

– G’day mate.
– G’day. You look like a 1930 Syd Coventry.
– Well, I AM a 1930 Syd Coventry. Come with me. I want to educate you.
– What? Where are we going?
– April 1919, mate. You know it?
– Well, I know OF it.
– Alright. Well the Allies will soon haul the Deutsch into the Palace of Versailles for a chat and a Treaty-signing, right? That’ll raise proud Deutsche hackles. National pride will be pricked, creating circumstances ripe for someone with enough drive and personal charm and magnetic oratory skills and fierce nationalism to whip the whole population into a storm of indignant anger, fervour, horror.
– Gotcha.
– Right. Louis Armstrong is making his way. Startin’ out.
– Yep.
– And a suburban Melbourne footy rivalry is born. Collingwood plays Richmond in a Grand Final for the first time. 1919. Collingwood wins, though Richmond turns it around the very next year.
– Right.
– And now (whoosh) it’s 1940.
– Now?
– It’s time travel, see?
– Alright.
– Good man. So Germany is at war with the Allies again, only worse.
– Amazin’
– Louis Armstrong is a jazz trumpet singing personality icon. That’s right. And Richmond are again runners-up for the VFL flag, this time to Melbourne.
– Brilliant. But what’s your point, Syd?
– My point is what happens in between.
– In between?
– Let’s have a look now. We have the rise and fall of the Weimar Republic, the subtle and then the overt rise of a Mr A Hitler and the far right in Germany.
– Yeah.
– Louis Armstrong is re-named Satchmo. He pioneers a jazz trumpet revolution, befriends Bing Crosby, associates with Al Capone, outlives the Cotton Club, appears in movies and becomes the first African American to host a national radio show.
– Not bad.
– You’re right. And in the 22 VFL seasons from 1919 to 1940…
– Here we go,
– …either Collingwood or Richmond (or both) PLAYS IN EVERY SINGLE Grand Final except one (when in 1923 Essendon defeated Fitzroy).
– Wowsers.
– That’s right. Wowsers indeed. The inter-war years, the Satchmo jazz years, the Depression years, really should really be known as the Hoddle Street years. That’s right.

– Grand, Syd. But I’m from 2014. None of this matters.
– Alright, wise guy. It’s 2014. And you may think that events 90 years ago do not influence tonight’s match, but you’d be wrong, my friend. Wrong. The context, the history, the narrative matters. After all, what is anything without context, history, narrative? What is your family? Your music? Your country? You? Who are you?
– I dunno.
– No. No one does. We live only in each moment, yes sir, and so not in the past and so not in the future. But also, our history is everything. It’s complicated.

Syd Coventry looks set to leave me.
I’ll be left alone to watch Richmond and Collingwood. Once great titans; now mediocre. Like the naval fleets of Spain and England. Once world leaders; now no one cares outside of themselves. There are new kids in town: Hawthorn, Fremantle, USA, Japan. But that’s enough for tonight.

– Hey Syd, wanna come to the MCG with me?
– Yes, son. I do indeed.
– Grand. Things have no doubt changed since your quadruple premiership captaincy here.
– We’ll see. I’m a good one for asking questions. Now:

  • What are these moving stairs doing at the footy?
  • Why does T Cloke run carrying an invisible sheep under each arm?
  • That L Ball is made of the right stuff by me.
  • Is J White some kind of dancer, or a footballer, or both?
  • Where is all the mud?
  • The mud would slow things down, you know. This game is too fast. Too slippery. Look at that ball. It’s like a slippery pig.
  • Why is nobody staying in position?
  • This T Goldsack looks to be the walking proof that a junkyard dog cannot kick straight.
  • Does Richmond have a captain tonight? if so, who is he?
  • It’s cold here. And it’s night time. What happened to footy in the afternoon?
  • On a Saturday?
  • Is T Vickery trying to pose like Michael Hutchence, or is it an accident of haircut?
  • Where did all the peace and quiet go?
  • Why must I shout to be heard by you just here?
  • Is D Martin any good?
  • If your full forward in his 200th game kicks no goals, is he doing his job?
  • Is goal-kicking as a skill getting worse?
  • Who are all those people on the field? And who let them out there?
  • How many coaches does one team need?
  • In an inherently chaotic, random game, do coaches realise the limits of what can and what cannot be controlled?

I can’t answer him. Captain of Collingwood’s “Team of the Century,” and I can’t answer him.

– Ah, look son. here’s Jack Dyer. Howyeh Jack?
– Syd. Syd this is awful, Syd.
– Ah, don’t worry. It’ll be over soon.
– Haha.
– I like that J Frost, Jack. Runs straight and brave.
– And that B Grundy.
– Is N Maxwell the captain? No, H Lumumba? L Ball?
– No, no. It’s S Pendlebury. In good hands there.
– But D Swan is my favourite. Look at him. Good man.

I’m tired on arrival at home at 11:20pm. The Buds are long asleep.

Syd turns, doffs his hat and leaves. He’s grumpy-happy. Footy and much within and without it has changed since Syd Coventry captained Collingwood to win the four-in-a-row of 1927-28-29-30 (with each of the 1927, 1928 and 1929 victories coming against Richmond; the 1930 win came against Geelong). Yet much remains the same.

This was a Round 4 game, played unconvincingly by both clubs. Collingwood had more who attacked the pill and who made the running tonight. Creativity from half-back (Fasolo), creativity over the ball (Grundy, Pendlebury, Beams, Ball, Swan) and good signs up forward (Elliott, White). Richmond didn’t click (or weren’t allowed to click?); only one goal in each of the first three quarters.

COLLINGWOOD 4.3 7.5 10.10 16.14 (110)
RICHMOND 1.4 2.7 3.10 10.12 (72)
Goals: Collingwood: D Beams 3 J White 3 S Pendlebury 3 D Swan 2 J Elliott 2 J Blair L Ball S Sidebottom.
Richmond: S Lloyd 3 J Riewoldt 2 C Newman D Martin M Arnot M Thomas S Edwards.
BEST Collingwood: Pendlebury, Beams, White, Ball, Maxwell.
Richmond: Lloyd, Astbury
Umpires: Troy Pannell, Robert Findlay, Craig Fleer.
Official Crowd: 62,100 at MCG.

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. 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. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. E. Regnans, That was a very difficult game to watch from the couch. Richmond were very disappointing – poor tactically; worse in the skills area. It was wet, but still.

    More significantly it was poorly umpired. I thought the in-principle stuff was wrong. They needed to set the bar in place with a few defining holding-the-balls. They just didn’t pay any. Hence it was scrimmage after scrimmage.

    Again, Richmond’s talented players let them down. Dustin Martin cannot be in the list of better players. He fumbled numerous times early. He kicked poorly.

    Were I coaching them I’d mention two basics: watch the ball as it is coming to you, and after handballing you must check an opponent. They were asleep last night.

    But the Pies were also OK. I’m preferring White to Tippett at the moment.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Love your imagination OBP and spot on re the mud definitely helps the pig skin not to be slippery . Collingwood had the common sense and guts to draft Grundy not just yet another midfielder he will be the cornerstone of the pies next flag push ( Richmond and others a huge stuff up not drafting him ) I like the line re Vickery and Hutchence
    Is the gap between Vickerys best and worst the biggest in the league ? Watching the game with Duncs ( Port man ) he delighted in a couple of vintage pathetic soft efforts by Chaplin . OBP I do not understand how clubs will practice a ball up situation for ages trying to perfect the mythical situation which might happen once in a blue moon and yet goal kicking with some 1 standing the mark is so infrequenly practiced Idiotic ! Thanks
    Dave , Sid and Jack

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Harmsy as a maggot No No and No it is not the mythical holding the ball invented free kick to clear the scrimmage it is the FIRST free kick which is not being payed the over the shoulder , in the back , too high which are ignored a scrimmage occurs and the poor bastard who has made the ball there sole objective is pinged that is crap
    Personally I love a ball up and a ruckman palming the ball to his player the trouble is there are seemingly , 36 players around the ball up that is a different problem

  4. Nice one ER. Jack would have gone home at half time, and reported the theft of Tigers jumpers to police.
    Syd would have stayed for the Magpie win, but contemplated that Rugby League may be a more skilful game.
    That last quarter was bizarre. I know they had heavy legs – but it looked like the ammos. It looked like no-one cared any more, Sort of like how Dane Swan is for a whole game – going through the motions of being a footballer,

  5. Richmond is just a horrible football side. Hardly a clean user of the ball in the team. And why wouldn’t Corchin give a few back? He just stood and copped it? Puzzled me. Give the tagger as much as he gives – and more.

    Terrible game to watch. Almost as unattractive as last years GF.

  6. David Zampatti says

    Two very average teams. The real disgrace is that the vast majority of pundits had them both, seemingly as a matter of course, in their top eight, even top four, along with (sweet Jesus on the Cross) Carlton. So many of them left Port out of the eight because they “couldn’t fit them in”.

    What? For those blokes?

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    In very good hands with S.Pendlebury as captain. His ball handling in the wet conditions was far superior than any other player on the field last night.
    What a great figure in Collingwoods history is S.Coventry. Like the thought of him still hanging around watching the pies. Can only imagine his brother shaking his head watching today’s players line up for goal.

  8. E.regnans says

    G’day all, interesting to learn of how others thought it such a poor game to watch. I wonder about television’s ability (and that of the commentators) to give us the full picture.
    I thought it a scrappy game, sure, but no worse than many others.
    Footy in 2014 looks to be a game of gut-running, full body contact keepings-off.
    Those who take their chances (exploiting turn overs and kicking accurately at goal) will win most games. But the game as a spectacle is probably not up Syd/Jack’s alley.
    Strangely passionless crowd last night. Observers, rather than bar rackers. Perhaps because it was all over fairly early.

  9. 3 mysteries of football, answers on a postcard please.
    1. How have Richmond & Carlton turned to crap with essentially the same lists that played finals six months ago
    2. Where is true centre half forward. Is it … in our hearts? No seriously where the fk is it?
    3. Tony Shaw couldn’t kick over a jam tin. Billy Brownless could kick over a wheat silo. What is the median object/structure a footballer should be able to clear with a drop punt? [dry ball, decent run up, preferred foot].

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    The bloke on the mark ?

  11. Yes. Pay that.

  12. E.regnans says

    G’day Chris,
    Re Q1: Don’t know if anyone’s turned to crap, but when everyone in the competition is seeking constant improvement, you need to improve just to stand still.
    Looks like Melbourne have improved. Collingwood have improved.
    Perhaps moreso than Carlton and Richmond.
    I wonder why.

  13. Pure footballers like Pendlebury, Swan, Selwood, Hodge would star in any era, but you’d love to have seen them in the 70s. Love Syd and Jack picking their faves. Well played Mr Regnans.

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