Finals fever: Making a mark – Billy was my hero

The autographs are faded, but they’re still a vivid and enduring reminder of the heroes of my youth. They appear on a white Yakka branded Tommy Sherrin that I “marked” in the maddening MCG crowd at the 1978 Collingwood v Hawthorn Qualifying Final.

On the eve of another high-stakes Collingwood-Hawthorn final, my memory bypasses last year’s Prelim classic and goes back to my big day in 1978 and a year earlier in 77 as games that left indelible marks (pun intended) in my footy memoirs. These games produced very different results and both delivered a rollercoaster of emotions of joy and despair for a desperate and dedicated teenage Pies fanatic.

In the 1977 Second Semi Final, courtesy of a match-winning game by my hero Fabulous Phil Carman, the Mighty Pies won a thriller against the Hawks and direct entry into the Grand Final. The unparalleled jubilation experienced at the siren was shattered shortly after at the realisation that The Fabulous One had been reported for striking.   And as history shows, the Pies, Fab Phil and I were completely shattered (two and) three weeks later.

A year, minus a week, later in 1978, the Pies faced off against the Hawks in the Qualifying Final at the G. Mum, Dad, Big Bro and I had seats at ground level, old Southern Stand, Punt Road end, forward pocket.

The Pies entered the arena to the usual deafening roar and all twenty of Hafey’s Heroes had a white Tommy Sherrin in their hands as they burst through the banner and bounced their way around a warm up lap.

It was one of those moments you never forget.  I was one of 80,000 people, but he only had eyes for me. It was like where your favourite rockstar or supermodel, The Pope or the Queen mixes it with the Joe Publics and makes eye contact with YOU, and only you! But this time not only was there the look, it also came with steak-knives!

Whilst Fab Phil was my numero uno at the time, Billy Picken was also one of the Chosen Ones. He was a bloody star!

He was a spectacular mark, a dasher off the back line, a huge big game finals player and hard as a cats head. He liked a dust up and his legendary “Here comes Billy” calls and other antics were the traits of a showman long gone from our game – he was a loveable larrikin and a froot loop character to boot!  And speaking of boots, another thing of note about his footy was that his boot was not that reliable, which helps make this story even more amazing.

As the Pies players spread to all parts of the MCG Colliseum (sic), with their white Yakka footy gifts, Billy Picken headed straight towards the forward pocket at the Punt Road end.

My eyes are fixed on him, and his eyes are fixed on me.  As he bounces his way towards me, his stare diverts from time to time, but always returns.  As he approaches the boundary, he steadies, takes deliberate aim and lets go a “perfect” torp into the terraces.  From the time the ball left his boot, it was like it was magnetised and as-one with me.

I stood on the old wooden seat amongst a sea of hungry fans. Here I was, a 15 year old boy all of five foot nuthin’ and 7 stone ringing wet. I was a Ronnie Wearmouth-like “in and under” player with a deadly Peter McKenna drop punt, but contested high marking was certainly not my strength.

Billy’s torp was on its way and this was my moment of truth. The ball was speeding and spiralling towards me, but it seemed in slow motion as everything else around me disappeared from focus. I got both the little open dukes up high and a got a good first grab on the ball.

Like a good (but not great) centre half forward it wasn’t a one grab but I bought the ball down to ground (had the recent “arm chop” rule been around in those days, I’d have been given about five free kicks, but there were no white mongrels in the crowd that day so I was on my own). The ball spilled to ground and I held onto it for dear life as I battled a frenzy of arms and hands that resembled a Wallabies/All Black scrum.

After what seemed to be an eternity, the grappling stopped, and the prize was mine!! A bright shiny new white Tommy Sherrin with the famous 70s Yakka brand emblazoned across it. There were celebratory slaps on the back and ruffles of the hair and I thought the footy gods were on my side and this was going to be our day.

But, sadly the day proceeded without my Pies heroes showing the same grit and fight and ended in a depressingly familiar September result. We were pumped by 9 goals with the Hawks going on to win the Flag.

As usual, Billy was a rock at CHB and one of our best. And after cooling his white booted heals on the bench in the first half, Fab Phil provided a second half spark with 3 goals, but it was too little too late. I went home despondent again, despite the earlier jubilation of Billy’s gift.

Over the pre-season I was able to get the footy signed through the old “brother’s mate’s brother’s mate” routine and it took pride of place in the teenage bedroom, alongside Pies (and Pix People cover girl) posters – boys will be boys.

The faded old autographed white footy still has pride of place, now in “the pool room” of the current abode (ie. the dusty old shelf in the corner of the garage), alongside other priceless items including personally signed McKenna and Daics’ photos, a 1990 GF premiership poster and a six pack of 2010 premiership beers.

And so it comes to another Hawks final and I’m hoping that an against-the-odds victory on Friday night is the catalyst for a change of fortune and to add another six pack of 2012 premiership beers to the pool room – aaah the serenity of the thought of it, please don’t tell me I’m dreaming!

Floreat Pica and Go Pies!

About Ramon Dobb

A footy and cricket fanatic. A lifelong passionate one eyed Mighty Magpie fanatic. My writing is unashamedly written with one black & white eye open only - so please don't take offence, it's nothing personal, it's just the black & white way! Also a lifelong player and member of Washington Park Cricket Club, the Mighty Sharks. My 15 minutes of fame includes regular contributions to Hot Pies, the 1999-2004 Fanzine, and regular contributor to the Coodabeen Champions weekly competition from their heady 3RRR days. Go Pies and Floreat Pica.


  1. great memories ramondo! fair effort clunking one of Billy’s mongrel punts!
    remember that game well. gladys moncrieff took us to the cleaners and my hawk supporting brother’s new footy scrap book took a hammering!
    in fact, I think he was onto his 3rd scrapbook before I finished my first one.


  2. But, wait, there’s another Haiku Bro other than Haiku Dave? Or did HD finally see the light?

  3. HP.
    Haiku Pete.
    The black sheep.
    Whose bedroom was decorated
    with Premiership posters.

  4. HP? Sounds saucey!

    Black Sheep? Baaaaaaaaa stard!!

  5. Great memory of the brilliant Billy Picken from 1978 Ramondobb!
    Check out this tribute I put together a few years ago.

    Tribute To Billy Picken A Collingwood Legend

  6. Classic stuff Jez – loved it. I’d forgotten the old “Picken Knows” column, what a ripper, up there with Dyer ‘Ere. That footage just reminded me of why I loved the big galoot so much, god bless him. Pity about the footage around the 12 minute mark that seemed to go off colour into a red and white scheme, but apart from that little blip, brilliant stuff.

  7. Frank Taylor says

    Nice one Ramon, Billy was a real hero to me too.
    Nice work.

Leave a Comment