AFLW Round 1 – Collingwood v West Coast: Waking the ghosts of Collingwood Flat

Hot and humid conditions dominate the Greater Melbourne area on this Sunday at the height of summer. By the Brunswick railway line, a mature eucalypt simply falls over.


Today Collingwood Football Club returns to Victoria Park to play a home game for premiership points. Today is AFLW Round 1; Collingwood v West Coast. I wonder about the ghosts of Victoria Park; the ghosts of the Collingwood Flat. I wonder about the old signs we made out of old bed sheets:



I wonder about Graham Wright and Matty Ryan. I wonder about Micky Gayfer and Ricky Barham and again about Peter Daicos. I remember leaving my PhD write-up to pedal down to the Victoria Park ground in Grand Final Week, 2002. Seeing Mick Malthouse being interviewed for TV by his daughter Christi. I wonder about former students of Victoria Park Primary School; now demolished and replaced with high-density dwellings.


My paternal grandfather went to Victoria Park Primary School. George Wilson was born in 1923 and grew up in Abbotsford. Like his two younger sisters and younger brother, he was schooled at Victoria Park Primary School, directly across Abbott Street from the Collingwood Ground. In the 1940s George played footy for the Collingwood Football Club. His sister Betty Wilson played cricket locally and won selection for Australia.


So today, I am on my bike to what feels like familiar old country. Old family country. I guess this is what a “home ground” really means.


Leaving Brunswick, I aim for the full Elgin Street/Johnston Street experience. I want to feel the suburban differences that underpin this money-generating AFLM behemoth in the year 2020.


Carlton. Down the hill from lofty Carlton and I’m past Percy’s old pub, the former Astor, which is today re-badged “The Green Man’s Arms.” It stands as a proudly vegetarian pub. Around here men wear caps and women wear bangles. A shop in the distance is labelled: “Biscotteria.” Two Mercedes Benz pass me followed by a BMW and then a Porsche.


A young woman stands with an open book and waits for a gap in traffic so she can cross the road. With one eye she scans the road; with the other reads a novel. A roaring motorcycle clatters past, the rider’s leather jacket carries a logo for the “Smith Street Tattoo Club.”


Fitzroy. With Elgin Street morphing to Johnston Street, footpath traffic increases. Johnston Street sits flat here on the Fitzroy Rise, bars and cafés, petrol stations and music venues crowd the street. Everything feels close. Women of enormous hoop earrings and bursting cleavage walk along on raised shoes. Same-sex couples hold hands in the summer sun.


Food delivery bikes zig and zag like starlings across the urban background; a setting of high horizons as apartment blocks take the sky.


Collingwood. At Smith Street, I’m down the hill from Fitzroy and onto the infamous Collingwood Flat. Unusually, today an easterly wind blows across Victoria. It brings with it yet more smoke from the Climate Emergency fires.


Down the hill, the horizon falls. The sky feels bigger. Thickening cloud can be seen to the east. Businesses of scrap metal and industrial products fill the streetscape as I pass The Tote. By Hoddle Street, amidst the electrical contractors, no one eats on the footpath here.


In terms of socio-economics, I shudder to think what today’s price for a small weatherboard house in Abbotsford might be. But I feel that the relative standing of Collingwood in comparison with Fitzroy and then with Carlton might be stable.




And here is Victoria Park.
It’s a good day to bowl.


And there’s a good crowd in.
People collect money for bushfire relief. It would be great if we spent some on prevention.


Suddenly the players are out there, warm-ups complete.
Collingwood will attack to the “Yarra Falls end,” I imagine Peter McKenna say.


West Coast start well. They start fast. These Eagles are full of run and spread. Options open all over the ground. Dana Hooker (#17) snaps a goal for West Coast in front of the Sherrin Stand; a stand of renowned black and white parochialism.


There is no doubt that West Coast has the running. But Collingwood’s ruck Sharni Layton settles the group. She runs long and hard to make position.


I stand on the member’s wing. Just along from me are AFL CEO G McLachlan who stands with Collingwood President E McGuire. A procession of punters ask for selfies with the Club President, who obliges with good humour – every time.


In front of us a contentious free is paid to West Coast.
“Come on umpires for God’s sake!” yells the President. “What about in the back?!?!”


Quarter time
Collingwood   0.0.0
West Coast   1.2.8


Collingwood has the easterly breeze in the second quarter and they use it well.


I’m around to the outer side now (“Come on pick them up!” “Punch from behind!”) where footy clichés rain down from the wise (“Kick it!”).


The West Coast onballers run well into the wind, but fall down across half-forward.


Another contentious free is paid to West Coast (“What about her leg you idiot?”) whose player kicks the free out of bounds on the full. A wave of jeers breaks from the Sherrin stand.


Collingwood’s #2 Chloe Molloy takes a set shot “from 25 metres, on a 45° angle” I imagine the late Drew Morphett saying. “They need this one.”


And she gets it.


Jaimee Lambert (#13) plays as a short full forward. She leads, doubles back, dummies and chases. Her movement creates just enough chaos in the forward line. As one kick comes in, she marks the ball in the goal square; despite being well shorter than her two opponents. She kicks the goal.


Half time
COL 2.2.14
WCE 1.2.8


It seems that members of the Collingwood men’s team are dotted around in the crowd today. During the third quarter on the members’ side I’m stood next to a tall young bloke who is dressed in club gear. He is friendly enough. Scores of people (young and old) line up for selfies with him. I don’t catch his name. Though one bloke certainly does – he presents a leather-bound autograph book for signing.


The third quarter sees West Coast with the wind and Collingwood playing a running game to counter it. Much of the general play is scrambled. This is a hot day in summer and the wind is choppy. Collingwood’s effort to nullify West Coast is huge.


As part of the press, captain Steph Chiocci (#17) snags a goal from general play; the first of the game to the Yarra Falls end.


Three-quarter time
COL 3.4.22
WCE 1.4.10


For the final quarter I move to the outer side, among the ghosts of the R T Rush Stand. Over here everything feels hotter.


It is a humid heat today. Not Perth-baking-in-a-fan-forced-oven-hot nor Darwin-expiring-in-a-bamboo-steamer-hot. But with sun above and radiating concrete below, I feel for the players.


Perhaps West Coast players run out of fuel. Perhaps Collingwood players are just a bit too good today. Whatever, Collingwood finishes all over West Coast. That “big players don’t get smaller,” is a great footy truism. And Collingwood’s ruck, Sharni Layton, dominates right to the end, in my eyes. To cap off a magnificent game, she marks and goals with a kick deep into the famous Sherrin Stand.


Sarah D’Arcy finishes things off with a set shot goal before the final siren rings across the Collingwood Flat.


It must have been an exhausting game to play.


A familiar and happy feeling breaks over the black and white crowd. People turn to one another. High fives are given. Smiles are returned. Good Old Collingwood Forever blares across the bricks and across the eucalypts. The ghosts of Collingwood Flat are alive tonight.


Full Time
COL 5.8.38
WCE 1.5.11


Collingwood: C Molloy J Lambert S Chiocci S D’Arcy S Layton.
West Coast: D Hooker.


Sharni Layton, Chloe Molloy, Steph Chiocci, Jaimme Lambert.


INJURIES Collingwood: B Davey (leg). West Coast: A Hill (knee).




UMPIRES Peter Bailes, Mitch Harris, Jordan Fry.


VENUE Victoria Park.



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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 likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. “Bah Humbug” says Ebenezer Scrooge. Enjoyed this piece to half way (much like my footy team). Ghosts of Christmas Past are best left buried.

  2. Ha.
    Thanks Peter_B.
    Ghosts of Collingwood Flat would probably take all shapes and sizes. Happy to have them dance and sway, wink and slap each other on the back tonight.

    Playing at the old club grounds such a wonderful part of AFLW.

  3. I can see why the old VFL tribalism of grounds like Victoria Park, Princes Park, Western Oval, Moorabin works so well in Melbourne. Having just spent a week there it is the most amazing going out for sport and stuff city. VFLW works. Dunno how much that translates elsewhere for AFLW. The Crows early success galvanised Adelaide. Perth and Sydney remains to be seen. AFLW is sort of like learning to dance in public without your pants on. Be great in a few years once everyone knows the steps.

  4. OBP well played and I admit I will be following closely as the pies are being coached by ex redlegs coach
    Steve Symonds Who I rate v highly as a coach and person.I have done several coaching clinics with,Sharni who is a larger than life character love her honesty with life ( article sent thru to both ) thank you

  5. Thanks OBP. Very kind.
    One thing I noticed yesterday – maybe because I didn’t recognise many individuals on the field – was the brilliant chaos of the game of Australian football. The crazy bounce of our crazy ball.
    Love learning of your personal connections.

  6. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi and thank you for this piece David, you write so beautifully and I remember the pathways you write about on your way to Victoria Park. I didn’t cycle there, walked or drove, but nevertheless, being back at suburban games has had an added bonus for me. Being at Victoria Park for some VFLW games last year actually re-traumatised me from my childhood experience of that cauldron. The experienced teams really shone this weekend, and the stupid conference B looks stacked with top two’s already. It is a tough road for those who didn’t win the first game.
    Loved your imagery. And your take as always.

  7. Nice write-up and enthralling descriptions of the inner-city, e.r.

    I tweeted yesterday that, whilst I despised going to Victoria Park to see North Melbourne play, I was feeling a little surprised to be nostalgic for the place when watching the game on tv.

  8. Footy at Vic Park.

    Love the flats and the city in the background. Now the open southern side makes the terrace houses so visible. And the ticket box is just perfect.

    I wonder whether the history walk at Vic Park still has all those quotes from Almanac writers? Anyone? I must get back there asap.

    I could just see the Eddie McGuire you describe. I heard him give the Bob Rose Lecture a few years ago and he loves Collingwood and he loves it in the way you describe. He has told the story often about getting the train (as a child) from Broady and then out along the Epping line to watch Collingwood and realising his club was so important it had its own railway station. That element of his being sits alongside others. Shakespeare would have been attracted to him – as a subject.

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific piece ER.
    How much those suburbs have changed. Collingwood was grunge before grunge was invented.

  10. Frank Taylor says

    Another lovely piece Tall Man, beautifully written, as always.
    Floreat Pica

  11. Thanks Yvette, Smokie, JTH, P Dimitriadis and Frank.

    Yvette – I was and am so pleased for you to be back at Moorabbin with your Saints. What a mighty supporter of footy and of women’s footy you are.

    Smokie (& Yvette, too) – those Victoria Park memories cannot be accident. Times have changed, I guess. But I felt a murmur of the one-eyed Magpie there on Saturday. (As a young pie, I always felt pretty comfortable there.)

    JTH – I do wonder how the smell of the Flats has changed over the years. Taco van on Sunday.

    P Dimitriadis – that’s a great line. Smells like ‘woods spirit

    F Taylor – very kind. Go well all.

  12. Great work ER. Wish I was there too, would have loved to have taken my daughters to the game. Hope we play their again.

  13. ER, those of us of a certain age have so many personal associations with those suburban grounds. But it’s more than that. I think there’s a more human scale to footy played on these grounds.

    Loved this. You can see a lot from a bicycle.

    Though it makes Vic Park sound more benign than I remember it. May have to take a look myself.

  14. Luke Reynolds says

    I also often wonder about Peter Daicos (again).

    Loved the journey from Brunswick to Victoria Park. Big fan of a walk down Johnstone St. Thinking of all those who have walked it before.

    Some great insights into the game too. I was otherwise occupied on Sunday, looking forward to sitting down and watching it a bit later on tonight. Go Pies.

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