Collecting for the Salvos at the Footy

Footy is a game of rituals, for fans and players alike, whether it’s the routine of lining up for a set shot, wearing a pair of lucky undies to the game, avoiding the run through banner or saying three Hail Mary’s every time the gangly ruckman has the ball deep in defence.

A ritual which has been added to my repertoire these past few years has been to stand in the cold, shaking the tins for the Salvo’s Footscray Outreach. As a ‘people watcher’ always on the lookout for some ammunition to fuel my theories regarding sets of football fans, this has been a priceless experience. I have mulled, judged and hypothesised, all while politely smiling and thanking people, with endless theories circling my head as fans at first trickle, and then pour into the ground.

But before this hypothesising can begin, you have to start collecting. This is easier said than done. There is no glorious or innocuous way to do this. It looks dodgy, as you take the red bib from your bag along with a tin, and pick your spot in relation to the record boys. You’ve just got to plonk yourself and act natural. However, you can sense people’s thoughts.

“Is he a REAL collector?” I was even asked recently as I took up my position,

“How do I know you’re not just taking the money for yourself?”

I mumbled something about not having to give me money and “I can call someone if you really want…” If you don’t trust collectors then perhaps find a more secure way to give.

Once you are there for a minute or so however, the people gushing by just take you as a part of the furniture; the footy infrastructure. The pie man, the Record kids, the collectors. This is where the people watching begins.

Collecting at the footy has challenged certain stereotypes. My experience has been that Collingwood fans are among, if not the most generous and friendly I have come across. There, I said it. Pies fans are often up for a chat and seem willing to put their hands in their pockets.

Richmond fans are rather similar to their old rival, except there is a more dour, nervous energy as they enter the ground, which is not a conducive mindset to noticing things around you….namely collectors.

Footscray fans always have a bit of a grin and a witty saying on their way past, like they’re just thankful that their little club is allowed to play on the national stage.  Melbourne fans, on the whole, do live up to their blue-collar image, although again there are of course plenty of exceptions.

I am most likely to be questioned about the validity of my collecting by Essendon supporters. I’m not sure exactly what to read into this, but there must say something. That they like to make you feel small? That they’re untrusting? My mother is an Essendon supporter.

Collecting at a Sydney game in Melbourne brings out a lot of old South supporters, and what’s great to see is the multigenerational family groups, with young kids and aging grandparents adorned in red and white alike. This of course means grandparents shoving coins in their grandchildren’s hands, saying “go and give it to the Salvo’s.” Kids seem to get so much joy from giving.

The strangest experience I’ve had collecting was at last year’s final between Collingwood and West Coast. I was stood on the pathway outside the Ponsford End, positioned so that I could hear the Coodabeens live broadcast from outside the ground. The spirit of Timmy from Thomastown, who still rings in to check on Craig Starcevich, and Digger….forever vitriolic about the mistreatment of the Pies, hung in the air. (listen to Timmy and Digger here) These fictional characters are not without their groundings in truth. Now the two sets of fans streaming towards me were chalk and cheese. Pies fans were pale with both anxiety and living in Melbourne. You could sense the one thing on their collective minds….“What if we lose?” was etched upon each face.

Conversely, the West Coast supporters were out to enjoy the day. ENJOY THE DAY?! Now I love the footy, but do I enjoy watching my team play, especially when it really matters? No! I find it excruciating! I can only enjoy it in retrospect or should we be up by enough that I feel ‘safe.’ But the West Coast fans were in holiday mode, I guess plenty of them would have travelled from Perth. This alone filtered out the ‘lower class’ Eagle fans to an extent, as these tanned football watchers waltzed in, care free. Had John Lennon have been performing pre match he could well have reused his line

For those of you in the cheap seats I’d like ya to clap your hands to
this one; the rest of you can just rattle your jewelry
!” to separate the two sets of fans. Once agan, yes, I am generalising. There were plenty of exceptions, but just a general theme that I noticed.

Collecting at the footy means you must be on your toes. A couple hours before game time is fine, as a gentle trickle of fans filter in. Between trains arriving at Jolimont station you can often be stood alone with the possums in the trees of Yarra Park for minutes at a time. Yet things build up quickly. This is when you need to be on your guard.

Mobile phones. People just walk with their head down, lost in a world of instant digital gratification, not sensing you standing there, tin in hand. A gentle tin-shake often alerts them, but I have been completely walked into. Then there’s the kiddies with their flags, a recipe for disaster! Whilst I have been prodded and poked, both my eyes are still intact. It is surely a matter of time however before a little tot, enamoured with the grandeur of the MCG, holding aloft their flag in a dreamy state of football love, brings a tear and some bruising to my face!

You can usually tell when someone is going to drop a coin or two in your tin. They usually make eye contact a few metres before they get to you. Men generally grab some loose coin from their pockets, not missing a step. Women on the other hand, come to a halt, pull out their purses and forage for some shrapnel. I often engage with some short dialogue about the match, they usually say “aren’t you freezing?”

What is awkward however is the person who starts rummaging through their pockets or bag just as they are coming to you, the collector.  I respond by holding out the tin, an expectant smile upon my face, only for it to turn out that they were looking for their ticket or something. What follows is usually a look of disdain, as if you’re trying to suck them dry! Another difficulty is telling the truth. As I wish Carlton supporters who drop in some hard earned a “nice day,” I’m secretly wishing their day be miserable and that they lose by a trillion points!

An interesting look into human nature is that giving begets giving. Often I will stand there for minutes on end without a donation. Suddenly, as one person stops to give some money, others around see this and begin to do the same. This has happened time and again, and is the most obvious with groups of males. If one gives, they often all give in a show of male bravado.

The ‘runners.’ The runners crack me up. You know the feeling when you just can’t get into the ground quick enough? Well, you usually quicken your step. But many a grown man begins to run. As the sirens sound to signify the teams entering the field, some blokes can’t take it any longer! They start running, as if they have no control over their actions, beckoned by the siren, panic in their eyes.

What’s more, it’s mostly males aged between 25 and 40, which makes this phenomenon all the more humorous. Guys in business suits on a Friday night, busting a gut to get into the ground. Others in tracksuit pants who’ve just left their flat for the first time in a few days. The odd father dragging his poor kids along, having a moment he’ll later regret. I myself am a runner at times. But while it sounds like a childish reaction, it’s rarely kids that are running. It is perhaps us males who are still kids at heart when it comes to the football.

Collecting brings up a plethora of things. I’ve been asked for directions, “where’s gate 4?”, where the toilets are, for tickets, who I think will win, and who I follow. People have dropped in foreign coins, guitar picks, lint from their pockets and even mandarin peel. The 50 cent coins are hard to put in so I often have to shove them in myself, which isn’t a good look.

I’ve been called Champ, Son, Mate, Bud, Fella, Man, Tiger, Dude, even Harold, after the Neighbours character! I just love being part of the footy, even if as the action starts, I am packing up my things to head home, blending into the remaining latecomers, which often includes more runners. So come and say hello and feel free to drop a few coins into the tin. But most importantly, if your child has a flag….tell them to be careful!

About John Carr

First and foremost, I'm a Richmondite- 5th generation and dyed in the wool. I love the club, but also have a love for the game itself, and love to explore the cultural and social aspects of Australian Rules football. I am married with 4 kids, and also have a love of music, and run a small recording studio


  1. A vivid piece, John. Walking to the G – either from Jolimont Station during the day or from the Cricketers Arms on Punt road before a night match – is one of my favourite parts of the game. You made me feel like I was there.
    p.s. Those Cats fans, do they dig deep?

  2. craig dodson says

    A big pat on the pack john for sacrificing your time to such a noble task and for writing such an excellent piece

  3. Thanks for that guys. I don’t recall having done a Geelong match…I might have to put in for one now! Will keep you posted!

  4. Great write up Mr. Carr! There is something special about walking to the MCG. I think that those of us that went to the suburban grounds would also remember special details about the approaches to each of those as well.
    I can’t think of anything particularly special about heading to the Docklands!

    Happy also to see that you see not only a cross section of fans, but also generations of supporters going together… Football is so much more than the corporates.

    Must keep my eye out for a rattler that looks like Harold!

  5. I too have had the occasional privilege of collecting for the Salvos outside the”G”, but never with the insight you showed ! A wonderful, entertaining piece of writing Can hardly wait for the next one…….

  6. Wonderful piece JC (is that moniker a coincidence, or did Mum have here eyes heavenward despite her heathen Bombers disposition?)
    Through life I have often noticed that the poorest are the kindest and most generous, while the rich are the most niggardly and condescending (a generalisation but a valid one in my view). I have often wondered about the direction of causation – which is the chicken and which is the egg? I think the meanness and self-focus comes first, and that this is a big part of becoming wealthy. That fits with your take on Magpie/Doggie generousity and Bomber misers.
    I think the Eagles supporters’ happiness at the Final, was just because we started the year with no expectation of making finals. We had nothing to lose. The Magpies had the weight of expectation and a premiership cup weighing them down.
    As for your wonderful Sallies. I mentioned in the intro to my Eagles Saints piece earlier in the week, that we had a spare ticket for the game and I invited Tony. I have known him for a year through a common fellowship, and I knew he was struggling for a quid a bit. On the way to the game I asked him what church he belonged to. He told me the Salvos, and how they helped his family in the past. They give him a community and core beliefs. Through them he gives an amazing amount back in visiting people that are struggling, and manning food service – be it for the bushfire fighters or the homeless. It was a real privilege to spend the time with him, and he said he felt like a kid going to a game again after many years.
    Reading your piece reinforced how those who have the least, give the most.
    Thanks to you both.

  7. Jeff Dowsing says

    Great piece John.

    Most games I drop coins in the Salvos tin – part philanthropic part selfishness. You see whilst I’m an atheist I do believe in karma and I struggle to recall games I’ve given and the Pies haven’t won.

    That said, the lucky undies are just as important!

  8. John – nice piece. I’m guilty of (nearly) walking into a tin rattler – just last week at the G. A collective apology.

  9. Great piece, from a very unusual perspective. We all appreciate the work that you are doing John.

  10. Lovely John and good on you.

    I try to always drop a coin or two in, or give it to the kids to drop in.

    Would love to hear more from people who are part of game day, the added parts to making footy so great, especially the walk from the tram to the G. I’d love to get a game summary or account like yours from someone working at a game, who doesn’t get to see it. Imagine being at a Grand Final working at a chip stand out heh back and not seeing a kick!

    Nice observations about different supporters and I agree with Peter B, usually those that (appear to) have the least at a game give more


  11. Stephanie Holt says

    What a great piece! Trust the Almanac to offer up such unique perspectives! I still have strong memories of the days of finals tickets sold via lottery (the only reason I can remember for my Dad ever buying the Herald instead of the Age) and if we wanted to go to a game we didn’t have tickets for we’d go to the G so Dad could buy us tickets from the Salvos, who seemed to do a steady trade selling the unused tickets they’d been donated.

  12. Richard Naco says

    What a fantastic piece of footy from yet another perspective.

    Thanks John – and JTH: the book of the 2012 season would be even better with this yarn as a sort of foreword?

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