Life of Bucks (or the curious business of how an AFL “reporter” can fill air time, column inches in the absence of news)

My suffering left me sad and gloomy.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi, Chapter 1


Collingwood was out.

The AFL finals had 3 weekends to play.

Collingwood was out.

Finished the home and away rounds in fifth spot.

Eliminated in one match. Sunk.


The elements allowed me to go on living. The lifeboat did not sink. Richard Parker kept out of sight. The sharks prowled but did not lunge. The waves splashed me but did not pull me off.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi, Chapter 41


All week I’d wondered about Port Adelaide and what it was that creates belief.

All week I’d taken in the rapturous Fremantle.

All week I’d nodded along to the gloating of Hawks.

All week I’d choked on the fact that Carlton were alive. Spare me. Grumpy Mick wins a final, to take him past Jock McHale as the coach to have won more finals than any other, coaching Carlton. Coaching a Carlton that finished ninth.


I began to wait. My thoughts swung wildly. I was either fixed on practical details of immediate survival or transfixed by pain, weeping silently, my mouth open and my hands at my head.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi, Chapter 41


Perhaps the Tigers were emotionally cooked by the time of the opening bounce. Perhaps the Swannies had gone to the well of collective suffering too often, now. Perhaps the Cats would successfully navigate their peculiar blend of furious defensiveness and dreaminess in time.

But Collingwood…?

Reporters were diving in. The morning papers. Social media was diving in. The evening news. Jolly gone. Didak gone. Krakouer gone. There was talk of player unrest.


There were sharks every day, mainly makos and blue sharks, but also oceanic whitetips, and once a tiger shark straight from the blackest of nightmares. Dawn and dusk were their favourite times. They never seriously troubled us.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi, Chapter 79.


I knew it would only last a few days. Until the next big story came along. There were two more finals this weekend. But the breathless coverage of non-stories by mainstream media was reminding me of federal election coverage. A non-story, repeated again and again, in the absence of critical thought, became the truth in the eye of Joe Public. It became the common understanding.

I knew if the truth was dull, journos would invent a story. If your job depended on there being a story, you would report one. Hell, you would even report the absence of one.

The good ship Collingwood played some good footy at times during 2013. Stirring, impressive, unstoppable, exciting, tough footy. The same good ship Collingwood also played some error-riddled, even confused footy. Worthy finalists, perhaps a spot between 5&8 was fair enough.

How would the AFL media, of exorbitant proportions, insatiable appetite, report Collingwood’s end?

[Collingwood riven by social animal politics and animal team disharmony]

[Collingwood not good enough, consistently enough. That’s it.]



‘You can’t prove which story is true and which is not. You must take my word for it.’

‘I guess so.’

‘In both stories the ship sinks, my entire family dies, and I suffer.’

‘Yes, that’s true.’

‘So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with the animals or the story without the animals?’

Mr. Okamoto: ‘That’s an interesting question…’

Mr. Chiba: ‘The story with the animals.’

Mr. Okimoto: ‘YES. The story with the animals is the better story.’

Pi Patel: ‘Thank you. And so it goes with God.’


Mr. Okimoto: ‘Thank you.’ 

Yann Martel, Life of Pi, Chapter 99


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. We’re still a few weeks away from ‘peak non-story’ – wait til October.

    To phonetically quote Mark Robinson, it’ll be “mainy-ackle” (maniacal).

  2. As indeed will Mark…

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Grumpy Mick winning a final hurts so much more when we get knocked out ourselves. It’s going to be a long off season for us Pies fans.

  4. Nicely done, Dave.

    There are some other nice media parallels with Collingwood and the ALP bowing out on the same night.

    Conservative commentators line up to tell the ALP how they need to reform (which they do) for the “good of their members and the country”. Disingenuous clap-trap of course, as they have no desire to see the ALP flourish as a strong opposition.

    Similarly, some media and many more opposition fans jump on Collingwood’s exit to suggest there’s in-fighting and problems with our list. They offer gratuitous advice about what we should do. It happens every time we make the finals but don’t win the Premiership. For the record, that’s seven times in the last eight straight seasons.

    Eight years in the finals, one Premiership, two grand finals, five preliminary finals.

    It was a frustrating end to 2013, but we blooded a number of good young players, beat Carlton twice, Geelong in our only encounter, and Sydney in Sydney when the whips were cracking.

    And we’ll be back in the thick of it in 2014.

  5. Can’t believe we were beaten twice by the side that finished 8th… how embarrassing!

  6. Litza,

    Yes & both were very sweet victories indeed! It is always a mini goal each year to beat the Bradbury Blues twice so a small tick there……

    Would we swap these two important victories in exchange for a final this week v Geelong? My word we would.

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Good contribution, but in order to increase your desolation, you have promoted the Pies’ end of home & away position. You finished 6th not 5th.
    I like MOC’s comment as well, that’s a considered assessment of both Collingwood’s and Labor’s situation.
    I had a conversation with a Magpie fan in the train on the way home, and told him that I was satisfied that Carlton were still alive when Collingwood had been eliminated. However, I offered him the consolation that we would be out within 24 hours, which was an accurate reflection of my expectations at the time.

    As for MM (master coach ?), I really think comparisons of finals’ victories should take into account that contemporary coaches get an opportunity to play four weeks, rather than a maximum of three (or fewer) prior to 1972. Even allowing for the increased number of teams since 1987, making finals as 8 of 18 is easier than 4 of 12, as it was for most of VFL history.

  8. Nice piece David. MOC the hullabaloo over Collingwood is merely the Hun trying to sell more papers to their moronic readership. The rest of us have no interest as it’s the finals. Welcome to the pre-season.

  9. Yeah Litza, peak off-season is ahead of us all. MattyQ, it’s on. Looking forward to some razor sharp analysis.
    But I’m with you, Luke; It’s been a long off-season already.
    MOC, Bakes. Will be good to get back amongst it.
    PF, yes, I sit corrected. My dismay, previously felt, was evidently overstated. Why yes, we only finished sixth. There’s a strong argument to be mounted that says a team finishing sixth should not even grace the finals. Ahem.

    The beauty of this Pi Patel scenario is that it can be applied almost everywhere. To the notion of a God, of course, as in Yann Mantel’s book. But also to any idea, reported upon, but unable to be conclusively (dis)proven.

    Collingwood is imploding?
    Geelong aren’t really that strong at Kardinia Park?
    Fremantle would have won anyway, without Ross Lyon taking over?
    Mark Neeld was harshly treated by an incompetent hierarchy?
    Which is the better story?
    Who is the better story-teller? becomes important
    Whose stories get the biggest market share (Mr Murdoch)? becomes important
    The story and the truth maybe the same, but may be not.
    It’s a powerful question: which story do you prefer?
    From it we all construct out own reality.
    Carna pies.

  10. The police who patrol AFL games in Victoria aren’t usually rostered on. They volunteer to do the games. It’s overtime. Next time you’re at the footy, ask any officer which games they prefer to work.
    A cop once told me any game involving Collingwood is a hard overtime shift. ‘The worst games to work are when Collingwood plays Carlton,’ he said.

    That doesn’t that make Collingwood worse than Carlton. But the cop focused on Collingwood, as his most non-preferred side.

    Perhaps he hated Collingwood, like a lot of people do. His prejudice might’ve had nothing to do with the crowd he was working or his job as a cop. Maybe it was just simple hate, for Collingwood.

    If Dane Swan spits on the footpath in Flinders Street it becomes a story.
    That’s what its like, playing and supporting Collingwood.

    The epilogue for 2013 should be the truth, Collingwood lost the elimination final to Port Adelaide.

    Instead, routine delistings, that happen at every club, become prologue for next year, because Collingwood surely would’ve won the 2014 grand final had they held on to Jolly, Didak and Krakouer…

    Welcome to Collingwood, where you can’t deny you breathe, and no one will believe you if you say you do breathe occasionally.

    Because, of course, breathing at Collingwood is done differently to every other club.

    And I’m not a Collingwood fan. I just don’t understand why everyone hates them, and why the media uses them as a plank to sell advertising.

  11. Love the philosophical bent, ER. Any sign of a Meerkat Island ahead for your boys? Heath Shaw has that meerkat look about him.
    Could be worse – you could be among The Long Suffering Richard Parker Faithful.

  12. Matt,

    Terrific summary! We put up with this bullshit media drama year after year.

    I remember back in 2009 when we were slaughtered by Geelong in the Prelim. All & sundry wrote us off. Wallsy wrote his annual sweeping piece highlighting all of our deficiencies and pointing out how far away we were. 26 glorious games later we had won one of the best GF’s playing scintillating footy all year.

    Buckley is not perfect & I thought that he coached just so so v Port. I think he thought that it would just eventually happen as it threatened to on a number of occasions during the match. But Port had other ideas and were just too good on the night. He will learn from this.

    The delisted senior players have been great servants for the Pies over varying periods of time but none of them are in our best 25 now. It’s perfectly natural attrition but it’s Collingwood and so it goes…….

    I prefer to focus on the positives from a very up & down year – kids like Brodie Grundy, Josh Thomas, Marley Williams, Paul Seedsman, Jamie Elliott, Lauchie Keefe, Ben Kennedy…….. none of them are stars but all are pretty talented & stood up in big games throughout the year. McCaffer scalped many of the stars as our tagger and Reid was good up forward when moved late in the year (apart from his stinker in the Elim Final but the delivery was appalling). O’Brien onto a wing was also a good move. Trav was excellent but wayward – he should have won the Coleman by 10-15 goals. Beams & Ball missed plenty of footy, we didn’t see Daisy & lost the heart & soul Toovey who fell on Anzac Day.

    We finished where we belong but had some top wins along the way & have blooded a lot of the next generation. A climb up a rung or two should be the goal for 2014.

  13. I remember clearly the old days of the Saturday night replay on 7, when three matches would be slated for replay, and you knew if your mob won one game and Collingwood lost one of the others your match was good for 10 or 15 minutes more footage than usual.

    In the early 90s at the LMPFSP (AKA Herald Sun – it stands for Little Melbourne Paper For Stupid People) there were three prominent Melbourne personalities who WERE NOT under ANY circumstances to be written about in ANY tone that was not embarrassingly obsequious – and they were, in ascending order, Dean Jones, Jeff Kennett and Allan McAllister.

    There has never been any complaints from Eddie loud enough for me to hear about Collingwood being over-publicised when it’s been Dorothy Dix stuff about who’s going to the Alabama high-altitude camp – that’s all just more grist for the mill of their collective ego.

    Something about the rough and the smooth….

  14. E Reg, I like your style, if not your choice of team.

    Like most Pies supporters, I presume your allegiance is either born of family or a hostage situation. Often the difference is hard to discern.

    The Pies live by the hype, nay encourage it (78,000 members – lets have a count-back on that one shall we?), so can hardly complain about the inevitable flip side.

    Good for football, as they say. :)

  15. Some excellent insights here.
    The Collingwood example in this case was merely an example. A different example may have been the continuing reporting of a ruinous culture at the Saints. Or the self-fulfilling reporting of Mark Neeld’s final weeks at Melbourne.

    This style of frenzy-reporting feeds an end in itself.
    Never mind that there’s not much basis to the original story, we see a sensationalised article printed in the morning, talkback and callers debating the substance of the article through the day (the story now has a life of its own, as people with vested interests distill opinions into “facts”), perhaps a TV interview for the evening news denying/commenting on the story, and a panel show at night dissecting the empty carcass using nought but blunt-ended egos. And there’s the cycle. Perhaps a follow-up in the morning papers. And around we all go again. [Insert iconic beachside carousel music here].
    Opinion becomes fact. Much like religion. Or climate change science.

  16. Bakes, it never stops amazing me how many people get all territorial and bitter and outraged and ‘how-dare-you’ and assume the AB teapot stance and Axminster the Glomesh and throw the rattle out of the pram and go even more apeshit than usual on TwitFace because Robert Walls said some nasty rude things about their team, when as a Carlton supporter I pick up the Age and turn to the sports pages with dread that the team Walls has chosen to cook this week is whoever Carlton is playing….which it seems to be a disproportionate amount of the time but that’s probably just my biased perception.

    Whatever poison Wallsy puts in his pen, should be on the WADA list..

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