Almanac Football: Collingwood’s darkest day sums up a horror off-season

Cameras clicked away; a frenzy of shutters uncorked following minutes of nervous chatter. As the photos were taken and the noise filtered through the room, Eddie McGuire shuffled his way to a long rectangular table. Settled on the table in front of a brown-panelled wall that refused any suggestion of a black and white sponsorship banner, McGuire’s forehead glistened with a sheen of sweat. In many decades of handling pressure and controversy, this was one of McGuire’s toughest challenges yet.

 

“This is a proud and historic day for the Collingwood Football Club,” he boldly declared.

 

As he drew breath and launched into a lengthy spiel about how great his club was for being found to be systematically racist, hearts around Australia sunk. Just as Collingwood seemed to have sharply dropped to a quiet trough, the mine continued to collapse. Instead of calming the storm of the ‘Do Better’ report, Eddie McGuire had reached into the clouds and brought down a whole new cyclone.

 

It was a press conference that summed up a horror off-season, as well as the backwards attitude that Australian sport still struggles to shrug off.

 

At the forefront of this issue is the Collingwood Football Club. It started on just another day at Victoria Park in 1993. Back then, it was the hostile heartland of working-class Collingwood, and the nightmare of every travelling VFL/ AFL player. But when Nicky Winmar lifted his St Kilda up to the heavens to defy the baying crowd, Collingwood’s home supporters went from being quietly discriminatory to officially racist to Indigenous Australians.  In response to the controversy, Collingwood President Allan McAlister told Winmar and his Indigenous teammate Gilbert McAdam that they would be treated with respect “as long as they conducted themselves like white people on and off the field”. It was the first instance of Collingwood blatantly refusing to take ownership for their own issues. It set them on a path that culminated in yesterday’s naïve stance that they were ahead of the trend for being forced into administering a report that found them guilty of discrimination.

 

The trend continued just four years before McGuire took office. In the inaugural Anzac Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon, Bombers star Michael Long accused Pies’ ruckman Damien Monkhorst of a racial slur during the game. It should have marred a spectacular drawn game. Instead, it fizzled into an AFL-organised mediation session that left Long bitterly disappointed.

 

As McGuire took over the presidency of Collingwood, all controversies were placed on the backburner as the Pies renewed themselves both on and off the field. Like all sports, on-field success has the ability to mask any off-field misdemeanours. It would take until 2013 for racism to overtly display itself in a black and white jumper.

 

In this case, it came in the form of a 13-year-old girl in the bowels of the MCG’s Great Southern Stand, taunting Adam Goodes in the final moments of a one-sided defeat to the Swans. In the same year, McGuire racially vilified Goodes on radio. Press conferences ended in apologies and pledges to improve. All fragments of wrongdoing were swept under the lumpy black and white rug.

 

But February 1, 2021 will remain one of the darker days in Australian football and its ongoing battle with racism; racism that has been deeply woven into the sport’s fabric due to the historical timeframe it evolved in. Collingwood’s theme song clearly states “all barrackers should” be shouting, and the VFL/ AFL has grown in popularity off the back of its passionate supporters actively involving themselves in the game. It took until 2013’s incidents for the league to begin realising how out of touch their approach was. Even then, Goodes received no formal apology for his years of crippling treatment until documentaries exposed the injustice just last year. Yesterday was a massive slap to the face of the Australian community; a reminder that lessons are yet to sink in. When one of the AFL’s biggest clubs grin and joke their way through serious allegations of racism, it’s gut-wrenching to realise there’s a long way to go before equality can be considered in Australia’s game.

 

Yesterday’s press conference also doubles up as a crescendo to a Collingwood off-season marred with off-field issues. The handling of Adam Treloar, Tom Phillips and Jaidyn Stephenson’s departures created a whirlwind in itself; rumours surrounding harsh criticisms thrown down phone lines and sexist excuses used to explain their rash trading failed to cover up the root of Collingwood’s recruiting woes – money.

 

Money. The same reason why Collingwood told Adam Treloar they traded him due to the uncertain circumstances surrounding his wife Kim Ravaillion’s Suncorp Super Netball League contract post-pregnancy. An excuse offered to cover up their poor salary cap management; an excuse to save their own skin instead of treating a loyal player with the dignity he and his family deserved. It’s the same reason why McGuire sweated his way through a 45-minute press conference where he used the word ‘proud’ more than he did the word ‘sorry’. It’s also the same reason why no sponsors’ banners adorned the blank wooden wall behind him as he spoke, and it was why McGuire overlooked apologising to the millions of people he hurt with his remarks and instead dropped his sponsors into fumbling excuses for his club’s ‘systemic racism’. It’s why Collingwood lauded themselves as ‘brave’ for trying to cover up the Do Better report’s findings, instead of accepting the blame and reforming their own crisis. This response immediately shows they refuse to take the findings of the report seriously; just hours after the public heard of the suggestions needed to solve their culture problems, the club already put a strike through multiple.

 

The problem is, Eddie McGuire forged a legacy as Collingwood’s saviour in the early 2000s due to his financial success governing over the Pies. As he reigned, the Pies went from struggling to fund themselves to joining Richmond and West Coast in the upper echelon of clubs in terms of off-field profits. But 20 years later, his money-first mentality has created a club culture that prefers vilifying others instead of admitting their own salary cap breaches. It’s the same club that fronts up to a press conference and labels a day where they were found to be systematically racist as ‘proud and historic’. It’s a culture that constantly looks to improve by going forward because they refuse to turn back and acknowledge their lack of progression. It’s a culture that has stagnated in a backwards time to a place where they refuse to accept they are a racist club, despite being forced into commissioning a thorough investigation that proved their intrinsic racism.

 

The Collingwood Football Club is far from a perfect institution. Too much has happened in its winding past to just shrug off and not address. The black and white legacy may never be a haven for historical justice, but by looking back and addressing all wrongdoings, that is when they can then switch their eyes back to the future and improve every single day. Until they do that, any remarks on pride mean nothing.

 

2021 is the biggest year in the history of the Collingwood Football Club. Following two major controversies to end 2020 and welcome in the new year, an AFL powerhouse must grapple with their own identity. The moral fibre of Collingwood’s inner walls now come into question. For the first time in their long history, Collingwood’s off-field performances now mean more than their on-field efforts.

 

This piece is from Sean’s personal sports writing website ‘Stuck on the Bench’, which can be found HERE.

 

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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Comments

  1. george smith says

    Not even close. Collingwood has had worse crises than this one, yes, nearly all self inflicted.

  2. The Pies, along with most other Victorian clubs, (can’t speak for clubs in other states) lost their souls years ago when they abandoned their suburban roots to chase the franchise dollar. This latest debacle isn’t, therefore, the loss of their soul, but the (potential) loss of their sponsorships.

    I can see what Eddie was trying to do. Come out on the front foot, argue that the Pies have identified the issue and now must tackle it. In that sense, if executed properly, he stood half a chance. But his words and manner were all wrong. He’s like Smaug defending the gold and treasure. Its hard to warm to that approach.

    The issue has been put firmly on the magpie table. On all our tables. But for Collingwood’s sake is Eddie the one to help right the wrongs? Probably not.

    Before we reach reconciliation, before we confront and rectify the pain of the racist past, we need to have a clear vision as to what the solution looks like. An apology won’t cut it anymore.

  3. Your points about McGuire’s tin ear for communication are well made. Yesterday’s man as the world moves beyond macho Ch9 and radio antics.
    I also like how you link it into the $ ethos and the Treloar trade shambles.
    What I am less certain about is whether Collingwood is more internally racist than any other AFL Club (or big $ public institution for that matter). Sure there is a long history of Collingwood being a repeat offender in public from Winmar to Goodes and in between. But the crux of the Lumumba allegations seemed to be that it is not a nurturing environment for young men of colour (or other difference) at a day to day level.
    Which to me is altogether more troubling as it speaks to an ongoing culture of casual discrimination. The death of a thousand cuts.
    Which is why the report’s leaking and handling is especially troubling. What is unsaid more than said.
    Would love to hear what Wellingham, Krakouer, Varcoe and Davis etc make of Collingwood as a place of work and growth compared to the other clubs they were part of.

  4. Eddie simply cannot be an agent of change at Collingwood.
    For he is part of what they are trying to change.

  5. george smith says

    Well, I went over to Nicks Collingwood Website to see if there was any sensible discussion on this topic, and any way we could rebuild the club from this merde of a situation. And sure enough, there was the usual complaints about political correctness and the Andrews government, personal attacks on Heritier Lumumba, personal attacks on posters who took the report seriously.

    And this gem:
    “Today there was a report that the government is considering if you pray for someone who you want to convert from being a homosexual then you could go to prison.
    Fancy that, a prison term for praying.” (Nicks Collingwood Bulletin Board 2.2.21)

    Thank God I left that hotbed of “real blokes” for my own sanity. All I would be doing over there would be trading insults with them.

    Bill Maher said it best: “Conservatives are like fourteen year olds – too young for sex, too old for their favorite blanky…”

  6. Thanks for addressing this Sean.
    It is yet another low point.

    I am so sorry for the racist actions and inactions of Collingwood FC.
    I am so sorry for the hurt inflicted on players and families and others.
    I am so sorry for the racist history of Collingwood FC.

    I write here on Wednesday morning. For the past two days my phone has pinged with people telling me:
    “I don’t think I can support Collingwood any more.”
    and
    “I have given up on the pies.”

    And I get that.
    These are break-up stories.
    Shame is a difficult feeling to carry in the world.
    And I have felt shame about Collingwood’s history and about the President’s comments across so many issues over so many years.
    Today I know that I don’t need to carry that shame.
    It is not mine.
    I can put that shame aside.
    I can do that if I remove myself from a toxic relationship.
    If my relationship with Collingwood causes me shame, I can end the relationship.

    On the other hand, do I have a responsibility to be a role model for change?
    Change does not happen when people who believe in change walk away.
    That’s what I’m weighing up today.

    I am so sorry for the wrongs of the Collingwood FC over all those years and sorry for those affected.

  7. We all know Ed suffers from chronic foot in mouth disease. For that the club has suffered time and again. Bad situations made worse and good intentions obscured by the crap falling from boof-Ed’s gob.

    That said, I question the point of this exercise and the substance of the report when the very situation that instigated it could not be investigated or dissected due to the complainant seemingly more interested in a pay day than being a helpful agent of change.

    Instead we had well known historical incidents cited to connect a line of dots occurring between 1970 and 2013. What does Travis Varcoe think? What has been going on the past 3 years? I’d be interested to know. What’s going on behind change room doors and being said by staff around the office water cooler?

    Is Collingwood a racist club? I dunno, there’s definitely some racist supporters as there are racists in every walk of life. And club. Will Ed leaving sooner rather than later be a cure-all? It would help, but it’s it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

  8. An interesting letter to the editor in today’s Adelaide Advertisers. The writer, an avid Crows’ supporter, claimed that whenever Collingwood played Port Power, he hoped both would lose. After the on going Collingwood kerfuffle, he wrote that in future “Pies v Power clashes, he would, with gritted teeth, be forced to barrack for the Power.

  9. Peter B. Throws a bullseye ,and follows up will double bullseye.
    Harry O’Brien is and will always be that dashing fav of pies supporters and afl fans alike.
    It’s troubling and disappointing that he enjoyed great success as a youngster and then as pro athlete
    In afl to retire with so so many great times and memories to be totally disgruntled
    With Collingwood Teammates that discrimination against him in while in the black and white.
    The Collingwood FClub I believe is not actually responsible for these allegations yet individuals
    Possibly once good mates have overstepped Harry’s feelings.
    As Peter B writes shouldn’t we here from more Collingwood iIndigenous ex players how they were treated.
    Harry was apparently a character so Throw away jibes come and go with no ill feeling directed intelligently
    To hurt ,
    Fact ,on many occasions in the 80’s while I played footy in Alice Springs I was racially abused and intimidated many times smacked and hit from behind and the White umpire called play on as he also felt intimidated not to give a free. I loved the game and sucked it up!

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