Dennis Collins 1953-2011: Sayonara Scruff

Last Wednesday former Footscray,Carlton & Richmondwingman Dennis Collins died suddenly of a heart attack in the in rural Western Australian town of Hyden. He was 58 years of age. Collins was recruited by VFL side Footscray from FDFL club Braybrook and made his senior VFL debut in 1972. Collins was in good company following the well worn path from Pennell Reserve to the Western Oval, a road previously trod by champions such as Ted Whitten, George Bissett, Ray Walker and Wally Donald. The brilliant Doug Hawkins and future Brownlow Medallist Brian Wilson would add their names to the illustrious group later that decade.

Collins’ first senior outing for Footscray would come against St Kilda at Moorabbin in Round 3 of the 1972 season. Wearing number 48 and starting the game on the reserve bench, Collins would enter the fray at three quarter time replacing the heavily tattooed Robert “Bones” McGhie. As was the case with their previous seven visits to the Saints’ southern suburban venue Footscray lost, this time by 58 points, despite having led Allan Jeans’ Saints by five goals at half time. Following the annualLinton Streetdebacle the Dogs selection committee swung a sharp axe dropping five players for the following weeks match againstNorth Melbourne. Collins survived the cull, was named amongst his team’s better players and remained in the senior team for the rest of the season. One of eleven Footscray players to make their VFL debut in 1972 Collins’ efforts were easily the most impressive of the new pups, the fleet of foot, hirsute winger playing 20 games in total that year.

He followed his fine debut season with 18 games in 1973 sporting the more fashionable guernsey number 15. The ’73 campaign turned out to be a disappointing one for the Dogs who spent most of the season languishing around the bottom of the league ladder. Footscray rebounded in 1974 making the finals for the first time in thirteen seasons. Collins would be named in the side to represent the Red, White & Blue in their first ever appearance in an Elimination Final. Collingwood ended the Bulldogs season with an emphatic 69 point victory atVFLPark.

Despite indifferent form Collins played 13 games for Footscray that year, a season that would provide a proud moment for the Collins family when younger brother Daryl joined Dennis in the Dogs team for its opening round clash withGeelongat the Western Oval. It would be Daryl’s only VFL appearance, and in doing so he became the third member of the Collins clan to play senior VFL football. Father John “Jack” had represented Fitzroy (1945-49) and Essendon (1950), playing in Essendon’s premiership team in his only season at Windy Hill. Dennis Collins enjoyed a productive season in 1975 with a return of 22 goals from his 19 games. It would be the highest one season goal tally he would enjoy over the course of his nine year VFL career. 11 games in 1976 preceded his final year at the Western Oval. He would average 19 disposals a game in his 20 appearances in 1977. The Round 22 clash withCarltonwas his 100th,and final, game for the Dogs.

Collins exited an imploding kennel the following April. An early season purge resulted in the resignation of coach Billy Goggin with clearances being granted to former captain Laurie Sandilands (Collingwood) and the super talented Bernie Quinlan (Fitzroy). Collins joined a Blues outfit that would soon find itself in a state of flux. His Round 3 debut againstMelbourneatPrincesParkwas the final game in Ian Stewart’s coaching tenure at Royal Parade. He lasted three matches.Carltonlegend Serge Silvagni stepped into the breach for the following three weeks prior to Alex Jesaulenko assuming control leading up to the Round 7 game, and subsequent victory, against arch rival Collingwood at Victoria Park.

The turmoil didn’t affect Collins form of a Saturday afternoon – far from it – and he enjoyed a marvellous year atPrincesPark, his 21 senior games included two finals. He received 12 votes in that seasons Brownlow Medal, the highest single season tally of his career.

1978 provided the moment that many football fans best remember Collins. In the final quarter of the Round 22 clash with St Kilda at Moorabbin, theCarltonwingman found himself on the receiving end of a Robbie Muir “round house”. Debate continues to this day as to the ferocity of the punch delivered by the wild man fromNorth Ballarat. Collins went down, Peter Landy got quite excited in the Channel 7 commentary box, the incident became an automatic selection for any “footy flashbacks” packages.

Nine senior games in 1979 took his total to 30 with the Blues. In 1980 Collins moved to his third VFL team. He joined Richmondshortly after the start of the season, making his Tiger debut during the Round 6 victory over Geelong. After appearing in 16 of the next 17 games for the eventual premiers, his final game of VFL football would be the comfortable 42 point victory over former team Carltonin the Qualifying Final. This game is best remembered for the quarter time scuffle between opposing coaches Tony Jewell & Peter Jones. In Jim Main & Russell Holmesby’s magnificent Encyclopaedia of AFL footballers the entry on Collins suggests that he was overlooked for selection for the 1980 Grand Final due to his failure to keep an appointment with the Tigers club psychologist. Apparently Collins preferred to spend the evening at the cinema with his girlfriend.

Collins’ passing has saddened me in many ways. 58 years of age is far too young an age for anyone to shuffle off this mortal coil. Fortunately he will remain part of my boyhood memories dashing down the wings at the Western Oval, during some good, but more often than not ordinary, winter afternoons of the mid 70’s. His story, that of a local boy making the mile and a bit journey down the road from his junior club to the premier competition in the land, is a rarity in today’s professional football.

At the time of writing there has been no mention of Dennis Collins’ passing on the Western Bulldogs website. Club merchandise is being flogged, messages can be tweeted regarding Saturday’s “blockbuster” with the Dockers and you can book tickets to the B&F. I didn’t attend the game on the weekend so I am unaware if any video tribute to Collins formed part of the pre-game presentation. The current regimes mantra of “looking forward, not backward” seems to have permeated the whole organisation. Would it have been asking too much for the club to pay tribute to a past player who provided marvellous service during his 100 games?

On a brighter note Tony De Bolfo compiled a terrific tribute to Collins on theCarltonwebsite last week. I’ve attached a link below. Some clubs respect their past players, others could care less. I thoroughly recommend Mr De Bolfo’s piece to all footy fans, especially those who reminisce about the fun days of the 1970’s VFL football.

RIP Scruff. 


  1. Young and bearded….the dashing Dennis Collins is a remnant of his age. Sorry he has passed on so young. Great tribute as usual Mic.

  2. John Butler says


    I was at Moorabbin that fateful day he approached Muir.

    It looked a bad idea even from my distance in the outer.


  3. cow shed end says

    great stuff Mic, Collo like many Dogs who preceded him was given a job at one of the pubs in the area (wonder how Juddy and Rebecca would have got on at the Powell?),Daryl also worked there as well and his old man Jack used to drink out the front bar.
    How very sad,used to love watching him,tragic that the club did not give him a fitting tribute.If one of the players pet moggies goes for the big green dream,the club hands out black arm bands like jelly beans

  4. Alovesupreme says

    Thank you for that fine tribute. When I saw the pointer on the home page, I feared that Carlton might have been the offending Club, so I was also grateful that you pointed us to Tony de Bolfo’s excellent offering.
    I remember him at the Blues, as a seriously good footballer, speedy and skilful.
    Gone much too soon, and it seems like he’s left people in many places hurting over the loss. It’s always heartening to hear of a footballer who wins plaudits for good citizenship when his playing days are over.

  5. Crio – Many sportsmen of the 70’s sported the unshaven look – Newc, Aussie Cricket side (remember the Ugly Australians), The Oakland Athletics “Mustache Gang”.

    John – What time did you get into the ground that August afternoon in ’78?. Apart from Rex Hunt’s impersonation of a goal umpire & Robbie’s haymaker, I vividly remember footage of the crowd waiting to get through the gates that day.

    CSE – We’ve been following them FAR too long to be surprised by their failure to recognise Scruff’s passing.

    Alovesupreme – I was chuffed when I read TDB’s piece. Really nice touch. Sounded like Dennis had made quite an impression over in the wild west.

    Thank you for your kind words everyone.


  6. Mic,
    Collins was different to the Aussie cricketers’ mo looks….more akin to David Young (South Adelaide/Collingwood), Dan Fogelberg.

  7. Crio I knew you’d be a Fogelberg fan. “Run for the Roses” no doubt. I’m a “Part of the Plan” man personally. Heavy rotation on the vinyl.
    “I have these moments
    All steady and strong
    I’m feeling so holy and humble
    The next thing I know
    I’m all worried and weak
    And I feel myself
    Starting to crumble.

    The meanings get lost
    And the teachings get tossed
    And you don’t know what you’re
    Going to do next.
    You wait for the sun
    But it never quite comes
    Some kind of message comes
    Through to you.
    Some kind of message comes through.

    And it says to you…

    Love when you can
    Cry when you have to…
    Be who you must
    That’s a part of the plan
    Await your arrival
    With simple survival
    And one day we’ll all understand

    There is no eden or
    Heavenly gates
    That you’re gonna make it to
    One day
    But all of the answers you seek
    Can be found
    In the dreams that you dream
    On the way. ”

    Dan died of prostate cancer aged 56. So he and Dennis share an unkind fate as well as a moustache. Dan’s first wife was Maggie Slaymaker (dancer). His second was Anastasia Savage (nurse and artist). With names like that they probably wore him out by the time the more prosaically named MrsF MK3 arrived. Thanks for the footballing and musical memories.

  8. Mic

    Another wonderful article. I too remember Dennis Collins sprinting down the wings at Western Oval – a fellow Braybrook boy from another time when ability was all you needed to succeed rather than skin fold tests, warm downs, ice baths, processes, scructures and the miriad of other rubbish that goes on today. Very sad that the club couldn’t find the time to acknowledge his fantastic contribution but that’s just shows how pathetic they are. Of course they can find the time to get on radio or tv to whinge about losing current players but not one person could be bothered to thank a very good player from the past. Vale Dennis.

  9. neil rankin says

    I grew up with Dennis Collins family at Maidstone.
    Dennis went to North Footscray P.S. he was coached by John Waddington who was playing for North Melbourne at the time he was a teacher at the school.
    His family were all friends of our family.
    Jack played for Essendon’s 1950 premiership and in 1951 & 1952 he coached at Finley in NSW they won the Premiership in 1952 he coached Alan Jeans at Finley he was only 17 at the time.
    Jack returned to Melbourne after that he played a few games at Footscray 2nds after that he played for Footscray Amateur’s in the Sunday League and Sorrento in the Peninsula League.

  10. Another good article Max. Well researched and written. I recall back in 1972 when Collins won the Inside Football best first year player. There was a photo of him on a motorbke, but i can’t recall if that was the first prize, or just a setting. What peeved me, as a then Geelong supporter, was that David ‘Sparkles’ Barklay had led virtually the whole season, was dropped for the last 3 games and Collins pipped him. Sad to hear about Collins passing, you’d hope there is more recogntion from his original team.

  11. Lovely tribute and equally nice man and footballer. My most vivid memory of Denis (other than the Robert Muir incident) was when he transferred to Richmond and had the permed hair. A beautiful representation of the times.

  12. Ray (Granny) Davis says

    Deepest Sympathy to all the family,Fondest memories of the good times,What was that line again when I asked was everything alright….scruffy would say, go on get out of here,the bars are cruising’ and the cellar’s laughing. See you on the Flip side mate,Granny.

  13. Skip of Skipton says

    Great post and lovely tribute Mic. I knew Dennis was a Footscray man, but I can only remember him playing at Carlton. He had a beard, yeah. My oldest brother knew him from school and around the traps etc back in the day.

  14. i am shocked to hear the passing of denis i my self grew up with denis and daryl in maidstone playing football at scovell cresent from our homes in spurling street one great memorie i have is one saturday night haveing a beer with jack there dad and later that night talking about his time at essendon he got out this wooden box with news paper clippings from the sporting globe and other papers from his time at essendon and rember him telling us about john coleman one of many good times at maidstone one of jacks favorite songs whas a tear by gene macdaniels and myself did have a tear when i heard about denis

  15. Neil Anderson says

    Just read the link about the passing of Dennis Collins. Someone told me he went to the same school as I did (Footscray North Primary School ) and I see it was confirmed by Neil Rankin. George Bisset also went to that school.
    Another player who passed away recently was Bob ‘Tassie’ Johnson, the fullback from Melbourne’s golden era in the fifties and sixties. I hope the Melbourne Footy Club paid due recognition to one of their champions.
    Tassie was married to one of my distant cousins and I met him once in Ringwood during the early 1960’s.

  16. I was at the famous Carlton game where Dennis Collins taunted Robert Muir and pulled his hair in an incident that ended up in melee.
    Did Robert Muir overreact ? Yes, he lost control that day.
    Did Dennis Collins use unfair tactics on Robert Muir ? Yes
    Did Dennis Collins ever speak up or out re Robert Muir ? I do not know, and have not seen anything reported from him.
    Was Dennis Collins a racist or did he use racial slurs to gain advantage ? We do not know.

    Robert Muir lives today, having to live with a football public many of whom are bigots, and are fundamentally racist and think its OK to abuse indigenous players.

    Dennis Collins RIP

  17. Charles David Hense says

    I remember Dennis very well, playing for the Bulldogs which was my team and at Carlton as well. He was magic and I remember an impetuous Dennis Collins at Footscray North primary school where he was a year ahead of me.

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