Almanac (Family) Footy: It’s tough being a Dee.


Art: Kate Birrell



By Damien Collins



My family have for generations barracked for Essendon. After the war my father played a couple of reserve matches for his beloved Bombers. He lived in Flemington and Coleman was only a few years younger at St Monica’s. Most of his scant stories of the Railway involved either Catholics or Bomber supporters.


At six, I was a reluctant altar boy and lapsed Bomber. There was talk I maybe wouldn’t even heed the call up to the Priesthood. Then again my Flemington rellos thought I’d be a good jockey.


We didn’t have much in the way of dinner-table conversation. Beef or Lamb. Chicken was fancy in the 60s. It was church, tennis, football and the DLP.


My parents were both Essendon.


My son isn’t interested. I’m on me Pat. I cared then, not now.


With my mother’s family up in the bush it was either Essendon or Melbourne. My mum’s eldest brother inherited the farm so his (framed) yet unanswered letter to join Fitzroy while playing Riddell League seniors from 15, was a mere dream as he was first up for milking from 1935 until 2001. Born, lived and died there. He was a footy legend locally and he barracked for the Dees. My cousins sold the cows – probably before his wake.


My three strains of cousins were all great footballers but paedophile coaches fucked up my closest cousin’s life. He would have made a draft. His whole life changed suddenly at 15 and I didn’t find out why, until we were both 50.


Staying out Romsey way where the farms were, at four or five I learnt to read the revered 1961-67 Superman comics that cost 2 shillings and were 100 pages long. They were revered as were the small paperback lyric books that would have top 40 hits from the early to mid-60s.


The comics were all DC based and plain black and white. They only sold in Australia, and were amalgamated from 32 page US comics. But Superman was on the colour cover and the first couple of stories were all about him. Other stories included Batman The Atom and Blackhawk who seemed to still be fighting Nazis.


I spent a lot of time up there and I had closer contact with these bushies who called me ‘rastus’, or a ‘Yarra’ when my city slip was showing and they predominantly went for Melbourne.


Superman had an outfit that looked like a Melbourne uniform, plus a cape! In 1961 at the age of five, I was hooked. Johnny Townsend, Barassi, Hassa and Tassie were on the old radio every Saturday afternoon when we would go to Wallen, Macedon or Romsey for Riddell League footy. Even then you’d find an EH with a Diamond Dot radio listening to 3DB.


My old man was Treasurer of the Prisoner of War society under Weary Dunlop and after caddying for him on a Saturday, he would sometimes take me into the G if the Bombers were playing. We would go into this empty sliver of a section near the point post, Punt Road end on the Members side which was set apart for the Totally and Partially Injured veterans. This area had some seats but a big area for wheelchairs and beds for veterans to watch the footy.


He would talk to the men. I thought he got in free because of his wounds and had to pay his dues. Now i realise I was tough on him.


Some other kids were press-ganged into this strange area but we could try to mark the ball if coming in on an angle as there was clear but sloped ground. But guys in beds would get hit occasionally and say it was good luck. This would have been 1965-1968.Then hardly anyone was left so that section became normal seats.


1965 was a bad year in many ways. Not least was Essendon coming on. The old man would go on about what a captain should be. “Look at that No.1 Jack Clarke! Not a traitor like that Ron Barassi bloke.” I had missed the 1964 flag because we just did something else. No one cared, me included as I wasn’t with my cousins.


It all came to a head out Burwood way because in Grade 2 in that outpost you had your last chance to pick/change your team. I can look at my Holy Communion photo of that year and all I knew of these little kids was their team.


Many of them were Richmond and Hawthorn supporters. Michael Green, three flags at Tigers was a parishioner and his sister, Miss Green, was my teacher and could have been Miss Australia. Right up there with Princess Panda. That got votes.


No one had been through the effort of being a Demon that I had, and by seven, no one asked me if I wanted to change, they knew it was picking a fight. This year is the first in my memory where the journey has been so good that the next couple of weeks can’t worry me that much. Clarry is fading Alan Johnson, Allen Jakovic and closing in on Robbie as the best footballer we have had.


It’s not easy being a Dee.


The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE


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  1. What an amazing story Damien. Thank you!!!

  2. This is great stuff. Damien, your September form is up there with Maxy’s.

  3. I concur with the others. Tremendous piece. No doubt you are on top of the world today.

  4. Mark Poustie says

    Great personal story Damien. Well done. I suspect its got a bit easier being a Dee in the last couple of days.

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