Book Review: Tortured Tales of a Collingwood Tragic

Tortured Tales of a Collingwood Tragic

James Gilchrist

Connor Court Publishing

 Paperback  $30


Your choice of football team can affect so much.

This presumes, of course, that familial loyalties allow for the luxury of choice. For many, this is not an option. Food, shelter and clothing can be at stake.

Even if you are free to choose your own path, it is usually done when you are very young, and for reasons that can seem quite intangible with hindsight.

Yet this decision can often affect who you become. Significantly. Your sense of fairness in the universe can hinge on the fortunes of your chosen team. Do St Kilda and Carlton supporters really view the world with a shared optimism?

We so often invest our hopes and desires in the vagaries of an oval ball and men with whistles. This is but one of the gloriously ridiculous aspects to being a footy fan. It is also why those not afflicted by the bug often just shake their heads uncomprehendingly.

James Gilchrist understands this disease. He’s not just a sufferer, he’s a carrier. As the hilarious prologue of this book attests, he fully intends that his children will be similarly afflicted.

Fellow sufferers well know, it can be a beautiful affliction. Even for Collingwood supporters.

I was free to fall under the spell of a certain Jesaulenko chap when I was young. This made me one of the Navy Blue tribe. As such, my attitudes to James’ Pies were preordained. We didn’t like them. They hated us. Each time we beat them in a Grand Final they hated us more. It made perfect sense.

Collingwood people tend to accuse Carlton of many things. James’ book is hardly immune from the syndrome. This is also perfectly understandable. But the uncomfortable fact for Magpie folk is that our ‘disgusting sense of entitlement’ is owed in large part to the black and white. So many key elements of the Carlton iconography involve moments against Collingwood: Jezza’s ‘godforsaken mark’, 1970, Harmes.

That’s just a small sample. No club has been more generous to Carlton than its great rival.

The irony, of course, is that so much of the rivalry is based upon like-mindedness. The world views of both clubs mean that this town will never be big enough for both of us. Only one can be on top in any given season. And that’s where both clubs believe they belong. It’s why neither attracts the affection of others.

Given my ‘religious’ persuasion, I fully acknowledge that this book often had me laughing in places the author intended me to cry, but that’s no slight on Gilchrist’s ability. Rather, the beauty of this book is that I can empathise with so much of it; just from the obverse perspective.

Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch would seem to serve as an obvious inspiration, but James Gilchrist understands the very different social contexts of Australian football. He’s lived many of them: city and country, schoolyard and beyond.  The Collingwood context is one well worth recounting, no matter your opinion of them. Forty-three grand final appearances is a remarkable achievement by any judgement, especially from a club born of a suburb’s social disadvantage.

And yet, there’s the matter of those twenty-six losses.

Twenty-six! If two is careless, what on earth do you call twenty-six?

Manfully, Gilchrist attempts to enlighten, or at least explain within his living experience. Along the way, he introduces a lively supporting cast. Two, Thug and Bugle, threaten to steal the show for me. I reckon I’ve encountered a few Thugs and Bugles in my spectating career. After the initial shudder of recognition, the sheer bloody-mindedness and monomania of these two is highly amusing. On the page that is. In the flesh may be a different matter.

This is a very Collingwood tale. It could almost be said to humanise and humorize an often abrasive tribe (perish the thought). You might think the Collingwood club itself could see the value in that.

But this is more than just a Collingwood story. Anyone who has ever bled for a team, agonised over a game, worshipped a player, or questioned their own sanity for all of the above behaviours, will understand what Gilchrist is on about. Even if they experience his pain or joy differently, they’ll understand its nature.

And they might just be reminded why it’s all worth it.



About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Well written John. Now I have to buy the book and read it, and get one for a Collingwood tragic friend as a thank you gift.

    Saints supporters still remember every loss, 28 is quite an achievement. The other side is that they were good enough to get to the grand final that many times. We Sainters wish……


  2. John Butler says

    Cheers Yvette

    The book is available through the Almanac if you so desire. :)

    And yes, everyone’s pain is relative. Is it better to not have made it to the GF? Or to lose it?

  3. Nice work JB. Having grown up in Montmorency, an area that was abundantly Catholic and Collingwood (not necessarily in that order) I saw first hand the magpie pain. Sunday morning mass after the Pies had lost a Grand Final was a very sombre affair. I just kept my head down and wished that the Cats would get close to the finals one day.

  4. …………………..definitely better to make it and lose than not make it at all.

  5. John Butler says


    I have to say I prefer the Carlton method.

    Make the GF and win it.


  6. Agonising over games, worshipping players and doubting your own sanity apparently shows ‘a lack of intellectual appreciation’ according to one of our esteemed bloggers JB.

    It is a very good thing that we knackers aren’t like that and only always look objectively at all aspects of the game. None of this emotive laughable stuff with us.

    Speaking of lack of intellectual appreciation I was taken to task the other day by a few of your lot when I naively noted that I thought that the three higher profile indigenous players at GFC were better than those at CFC.

  7. John Butler says


    By nature I would have thought we Knackers were irrational, emotive & completely subjective.

    May it ever remain thus.

    As for our respective players, we could argue about comparative abilities. What really matters is that your lads have played in premierships.

  8. That’s what I was trying to say as two tomato and onion sandwiches and a profiterole were rammed down my throat.

    Very hard to digest.

  9. John Butler says


    I think you’re meant to eat them one at a time. :)

  10. If only we were smart enough to cheat and rort the system like the Blooze our record might be more like 26-15. Or been granted a country zone in the pre-draft VFL days which provided more than tumbleweeds flitting across the western deserts of Victoria.

    Anyway, be that as it may, nice review.

  11. John Butler says

    Cheers Jeff

    I was wondering when I’d hear from the Magpie contingent. :)

  12. JB

    Pretty good review for a Bluebagger. From one who devoured the book shortly after it’s release, I think you’ve done it justice.

    As for the ledger, I’d be happy with just one GF win over the Blues as compensation. Perhaps if you lot are still “coming” or “cooking”, we could make it 2012.

  13. John Butler says


    It’s been a long while since we met at the business end of a season.

    Could be a psychologically crucial moment next time we do.

  14. JB, you will send sales sky rocketing with that review. There’s no way I would have gone near it beforehand, now I’m keen to get my hands on a copy. Love your take on laughing in places the author would have intended you to cry. A review worthy of publication.

  15. John Butler says

    Cheers Cookie

    Hopefully this will help James sell a few copies. I think the book deserves to.

    If you’re interested, email [email protected] and we can supply you with a copy.

    We’ll also have books for sale at the Cup lunch and the Almanac launch.

    Official plug now over. :)

  16. David Downer says

    Great reading JB, very well written.

  17. John Butler says

    Cheers DD

    How’s tricks?

    Nags treating you well?

  18. Excellent JB,

    I’m glad you wrote the review because the perspective of a fellow Collingwood tragic would’ve skewed things.

    I was lucky enough to attend the launch and sat next to the great Kevin Hall. He told me that the players from both sides were great mates and that they’d often catch up together for drinks and dinner in Lygon st after games. The conversation showed me just how much of the rivalry is fan based.

    The thing I love about James’ book is the humour. Mythical references interceding with 70s Boganvillia, the maternal influence and the delightful irrationality of being a fan really shine through. It’s a great read for fans of any team and sits comfortably alongside Harmsy’s ‘Loose Men’ and Matthew Hardy’s ‘Saturday Afternoon Fever’ in the emerging pantheon of Australian fan autobiographies.

  19. John Butler says

    Thanks Phil

    The rivalry is also good for business, both club and League.

    What struck me was how funny some of those fan conversations/arguments/diatribes read when on the page. In full florid person they can have quite a different effect.

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