Collingwood v GWS – Preview: A footy love triangle



by Nick Johnston


Like most kids who grew up in Melbourne, footy was in my blood from an early age. My Mum came from a family of Collingwood supporters and on my sixth birthday I received my first jumper.


There was something about the simplicity of those black and white stripes that I fell in love with. Like most kids I proudly wore my footy jumper everywhere and I’ve been hooked on the game ever since.


The 1970s were a great time to follow the Pies. Barring the catastrophe that was their first wooden spoon in 1976, they played finals most years and while ultimate premiership glory eluded them, the ride was more than worth any September heartbreak. And there was a lot of heartbreak – four grand final losses in five years.


The second of those losses – 1979 – was also my first grand final. I was 11 years-old and didn’t really care the Pies were beaten by Carlton by five points. I was just thrilled to be at the MCG there among 100,000 other people. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to 17 grand finals since and have never lost that childlike sense of excitement as the big day approaches.


In 1990 the Pies finally ended a 32-year premiership drought. By this time I was a young sports reporter on The Age and was lucky enough to find myself standing in the middle of the MCG as Tony Shaw and Leigh Matthews lifted the cup. Apart from actually holding up the cup myself, this was as close to living out a childhood fantasy as it gets.


The next decade or so was a bit bleak for the Pies but I never lost faith or my love of the game. Sure enough the good times rolled around again and by 2010 the Pies were again holding the cup aloft.  By this time I was working at the AFL and this time I found myself not only in the middle of the MCG as the cup was presented but riding with the players in the team bus back to Collingwood after the game.


At the end of 2011 I was asked by the AFL to go to Sydney and help set up GWS.  As I became immersed in the club and its people, inevitably I found myself barracking for a new team. Or rather, a second team. I explained to my Collingwood family and friends that supporting the Giants was all part of the job but they just thought I was a traitor.


I still remember the first time the Giants played Collingwood. It was also the first time I ever wanted the Pies to lose. They won by 121 points. Still, it was an improvement on a few weeks earlier when Hawthorn beat us by 162 points.


But like everybody at the club, with every loss we only became more hungry for success. In 2013 Collingwood President Eddie McGuire publicly (and wrongly) accused me of being behind a story about Dane Swan being traded. To her credit, Caroline Wilson denied I was the source of the story but the damage was done. I was angry and felt let down by the club that had captured my heart as a six year-old.


Ironically, 12 months before Eddie McGuire had called and asked if I was interested in becoming Collingwood’s media manager. I’d only been at the Giants six months and didn’t feel I could leave. What strikes me looking back now was just how easily I turned him down. If there was a moment I became a Giant, then I guess that was it.


As I turned, so did my family. My son, who was five when Collingwood won the 2010 premiership, converted to the Giants and even my Collingwood mad Mum bought a membership and started going to games. My daughter, who was just three when we moved to Sydney, also started following the Giants and still does to this day.


As I moved around Sydney I realised we weren’t alone. There were many AFL fans who’d grown up following other teams and had now adopted the Giants. Until then they’d only had the option of following the Swans. For whatever reason many of them felt they couldn’t connect with the Swans and quickly embraced the Giants.


In 2015 I left the Giants. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about footy (by this stage I was working in motorsport). If the truth be known I probably lost some interest in the game for a while. The following year I was visiting Melbourne with my son when he said he’d like a Collingwood jumper for his birthday. So we went down to the club and bought one. I asked him if he’d like a number and he said number seven. Another irony as this worn by Adam Treloar who previously played for the Giants (and is now my favourite Collingwood player too).


Gradually I found my way back to the Giants and joined one of its coterie groups, the Captains Club. It was the best thing I ever did. I soon found a bunch of like-minded football tragics in Sydney who’d also grown up barracking for other teams but now supported the Giants.


And herein lies the magic of the Giants. As a new club, fans have had the chance to be a part of its journey from the start. And the club has embraced the fans. It may not be the size of a Collingwood or Richmond but it’s a real club with real fans and anybody who says otherwise simply wouldn’t know.


For me, the Giants encapsulate everything I love about footy. They are a broad church which celebrates diversity and inclusion. As somebody who was at the club in its infancy it’s given me a tremendous sense of pride to move around Sydney and see fans wearing their orange caps and supporting the team. That means we’ve connected and good clubs are all about connection.


Since moving back to Melbourne last year it was only natural that I would also drift back to the Pies. Like most Collingwood supporters I’ve become more engrossed this season as they climbed back up the ladder, whilst also keeping a keen eye on the Giants.


So who will I be supporting this Saturday? To be honest I’ve been dreading this day for some time. Naturally I barracked hard for both teams last week in the hope that they would win but so they could also avoid this clash. I looked at different finals scenarios where they wouldn’t play each other till the Grand Final but that only filled me with more dread.


I’m not sure I’ll even know how I’ll feel till the game starts. Even then I’ll probably feel terribly conflicted, not quite knowing who to cheer for. Either way I guess I can’t really lose and there’s not many supporters who can say that.


If I had to describe my allegiances it would be that Collingwood is my team but GWS is my club. I’ve been fortunate enough to see my team win two premierships. I’d now desperately love to to see my club win one.


So I guess I’ll be barracking for the Giants on Saturday. Sorry Pies but I think you’ll have plenty of fans at the MCG. And it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. This week I just love the Giants a bit more.


Nick Johnston was General Manager Corporate Affairs and Communications at the GWS Giants from 2011-15. He is now General Manager Media and Communications for the National Basketball League.





  1. Well played Nick. Terrific to learn of your story.

    I imagine that trying to rationalise these things is rarely easy.
    I wonder how you’ll fare on the night – what will happen emotion starts to dominate…?


  2. Nick; I suppose your journey is like giving up your birthright for citizenship. As an ex Pie supporter you would have wanted Heater Shaw’s experience in the team right now. Either way, you will still have a team to follow next weekend.

  3. Rocket Singers says

    “And herein lies the magic of the Giants. As a new club, fans have had the chance to be a part of its journey from the start. And the club has embraced the fans. It may not be the size of a Collingwood or Richmond but it’s a real club with real fans and anybody who says otherwise simply wouldn’t know”.

    Hear, hear!

  4. Nick yep smaller can mean a actual real connection with a club unlike the multi million dollar corporations enjoyable read

  5. Earl O'Neill says

    Nick, “the magic of the” Monaros – tho I hate the nickname – and they didn’t give me the landscaping gig five years ago – you caught it. The chance to follow a new team and watch them develop caught me and I love the journey. Reckon we’ll be a bit too fast for Collingwood this weekend. MCG space won’t bother us, Manuka is a wider ground.
    Thanks for this wonderful insight.

  6. Such a well written summary,well done! Really a win win situation for you on Saturday night & most of your family except for Zac your nephew who loyally began following the Giants when you worked for them , he just wants the Giants to win & will be there to cheer them on Go PIES & Go GIANTS ! The prize for success will to try to conquer the tigers the next week!

  7. Peter Crossing says

    Thanks for the excellent insight Nick, and for your efforts in the growth of the fledgling club. I have enjoyed observing the evolving Giants, on and off the field. Together with other ‘ex-pat’ fans in Canberra I adopted GWS as a ‘second’ club because they brought AFL to town. They played exciting footy and Manuka was a great place to watch it. Sheedy was a passionate advocate and the ultimate salesman. Leon Cameron, Phil Davis and Callum Ward have been great leaders. Davis also impresses in interviews, whether it be talking tactics to counter Buddy or about the growth of the club and its future. The experience of Heath Shaw and the grunt of Shane Mumford have also been important. The club seems to be on track with both its list management and development in the area. I attended a pre-season practice match at the Bankstown Sportspark on a Friday afternoon a few years back. The crowd was mostly made up of several hundred local schoolchildren who munched their way through the free sausage sizzle and shouted “Giants, Giants” at significant decibel levels. Rather them watching AFL than a Rugby League or Soccer promotion. Long may it continue.

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