Collingwood Find Some Form in the Reclink Cup

by Hamish Townsend

There’s a point near the roundabout at Keele St and Gold where the wind changes to gusts. Local inns call with a false warmth and hospitality; The Leinster and The Bendigo either side or retreat to the Curry Family or Robbie Burns and its Spanish restaurant. This point is where the black and white vertical stripes of Victoria Park come into view, footballs Culloden Moor.

Walking slowly along Keele the portal to this old world of gladiators and barbarians beckons like the fantasy scene of an airbrushed panel van. Ghosts swirl and scowl, their souls all the more tormented by divorce from the Valhalla they knew in life. I can literally see Murray Weideman, Dennis Banks, Ronnie Wearmouth and Mick McGuane gnashing for action as though they might one day see some.

I cross Hoddle St and the memories of the utter fear of this journey as a child begins to flood back, the ugly and thrilling walk through the Truro Rd underpass that used to mark the border of life and three hours of utterly uncivilised carnage and passion. For the first time ever, I was walking under the railway lines hoping for a home team win.

Today was the opening round of the Reclink Cup a competition between some Victoria’s most disadvantaged people and a chance to maybe, just maybe, turn some corners. Today’s match was between the Collingwood Knights and the Melbourne Magpies.

Collingwood has been organised largely out of the Innerspace drug safety program in Johnson St, all its team have spent most of their lives on a side of the tracks few of us would like to visit for a day. During the week I spoke to their club secretary and social worker, Mario Borg. He admits preseason form, on and off the field, has been patchy at best.

“This is not about winning, it’s about providing opportunities for feeling good and maybe creating something that might turn into momentum. That’s the hardest part, creating that momentum to get people over a few hurdles”, he says like a true social worker.

“But… Jeez I hope we can get up tomorrow, at least get a positive score up, I don’t know what the rest of the season will be like if we don’t”, he says like a true club secretary.

Out the front of the old social club the private car park lie and they were abandoned, E. Arrocca still pronounced but CEO has become the disabled park.

It blows off the old Sherrin Stand at 12:15 nearly 25 people are suited and booted for the contest. Gleaming black and white guernseys and those new-fangled boots that like look they’re made of plastic.

“Are they screw-ins?” a player asks.

Another runs a perplexed hand across the sole, “I dunno”, he says.

There’s a lot of ink on a lot of shoulders, backs and necks, but not the sculptured kind on show in modern football change rooms. These tell stories and count years mixing their amateur and professional origins.

“Tape up the piercings fellas!” yells a team official. A bloke called Pat has more tape on his face than skin.

Coach Laura Kane gives the team its final rev up and warning on the no biff policy and though it is given a reasonable stretch remains enforced throughout.

A good crowd has turned up and the sun washes over the old ground as the players take the field.

The team even has a WAGS section in the Ross Drew stand and I go over to have a chat.

“Is this the wives and girlfriends section?”

“Yeah I’m fuckin Posh Spice.”

“Who are you following?”

“Jonno in the black and white, whatcha wanna know for?”

“Writing something.”

“Fo’the paper?”

“Yeah maybe.”

“Well fuck off.”

From the first bounce the game is tight, but The Caveman (also the club Chairman) marks and goals early to give some optimism.

Geeks (the local copper) is providing good service from the middle and a bloke known only as “The Burger” is providing solid defence. Solid actually doesn’t go near to the truth. The Burger is shaped like a cannon ball with a shot put on top.

In the great spirit of all community games some people have skills and athleticism and some have long since let it pass, but none shirk a tackle or high-ball, and there are lots of high-balls.

In the last, captain Sheree breaks some tackles and makes some more, inspiring her team forwards, her Dermie green boots now dusted with the rain that has been falling since the third quarter.

With the game on a knife-edge and Caveman off injured The Burger is swung to full forward. Collingwood have made a great fist of the last quarter scoring a number of crucial goals.

The ball is kicked forward and floats over the pack, there awaits The Burger who slots it home on the siren. The Woods have taken the game.

An elated Mario can’t believe it. “That preseason form was just for the bookies: what a fantastic result.”

A huddle forms and for the first time in ages “Good old Collingwood Forever” is bouncing from the tin of the old stands.

I can’t believe I know all the words.

About Hamish Townsend

Hamish Townsend was born and raised in Geelong, supports the Cats and lives in Brisbane.

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