Love can conquer great obstacles

Only a few months before I started going out with my wife, I was a single man looking for love. As a 27-year-old I felt wise and informed in the ways of the world. On the back of a couple of past relationships, I found myself talking to a friend about the non-negotiables I had in mind for my future love.

‘No Collingwood supporters and no Nickleback on their iPod,’ is what I boldly stated. My friend nodded in empathetic agreement, himself an appreciator of decent music, as well as being ensconced in a long-term relationship with a Collingwood supporter, albeit a relatively benign one.

My hatred of Collingwood runs deep. Growing up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne there was no shortage of Collingwood supporters in the schoolyard, down at the local park, at the local junior footy club, and in the train station car park frantically trying to jemmy open an unattended car’s door. Cohabitating with such a large number of this undesirable breed gradually wore me down. The in-your-face arrogance despite limited on field success, combined with an unmistakable chip on their shoulder derived from being a working class battler multiple generations ago, was enough to make a balanced young man like myself to declare an undying hatred of all things black and white.

To this day, I try to avoid wearing the colours black and white in unison. Derby Day is a difficult time.

The obvious genesis of my hatred for all things Collingwood was undoubtedly the 1990 Grand Final. My team, the mighty Bombers, had made it to the big dance. Too young to remember the halcyon days of 1984 and 1985, this shaped as being my first proper taste from the Premiership chalice.

In the build-up to the big day, I attended my first ever Grand Final Parade. My oldest sister took me in to the big smoke for the day. The towering office blocks and cold city streets were intimidating for an 8-year-old, but I took comfort in the sight of my heroes up on stage in the Bourke Street Mall. I remember spotting Gary O’Donnell, I instantly felt safe.

Game day arrived and there I was in our lounge room at home, bubbling with excitement as the first bounce ricocheted off the turf. The Bombers got off to a pretty good start, I remember the ‘Big Fish’ Paul Salmon kicking a goal and me going mad. At quarter time the brawl erupted. TD decked Gavin Brown and the complexion of the game changed. Things got messy. My brother felt we got a rough deal from the umpires in the second quarter. At one point he was in tears. The sight of my older brother in tears unsettled me. This was a horrible time.

Things went from bad to worse as the Magpies had their way with the Bombers, dominating so thoroughly that our mates from down the road came waltzing down our little court at the start of the final quarter – beginning the taunting before the game was even officially over. They mocked us and danced on our metaphorical graves, it was classic salt in the wounds kind of behaviour. Like a cagey old elephant ruefully rubbing himself against a tree in the Savanna, I never forgot that moment.

Throughout the 1990s that 1990 Premiership was like a stain on my footy conscience. How could we be the ones that the Pies broke their 32-year Premiership against? It hurt. And on the odd occasion that I forgot about that painful day, there was always more than one Collingwood supporter on hand to remind me.

I grabbed at anything to strengthen my case for why Collingwood was the root of all evil. There was the fabled occasion, when I was a little kid, that a drunken Collingwood supporter unleashed a verbal spray on my Geelong supporting mother as she tried to shepherd a tribe of young children to Jolimont Station after a game at the ‘G. Mum was horrified at the man’s cowardice and colourful language, and regularly recounted the story. Henceforth I held the actions of one drunken idiot against an entire collection of people, with not a hint of remorse.

Regardless of my personal experiences, Essendon supporters were automatic sworn enemies to the black and white. The two clubs have one of the fiercest rivalries in the game. A rivalry that existed long before me and will no doubt continue long after I’m gone. The commencement of the now traditional Anzac Day clash in 1995 did little to douse the flames. This game is now touted by many as the second biggest game of the year – behind only the Grand Final. While this is most likely slight hyperbole, there’s no doubt that the introduction of the Anzac Day game has heightened what was already a keen dislike amongst the two clubs.

It is in this climate that I like to lean on the many wonderful Collingwood jokes that did the email rounds a few years ago now. Why wouldn’t you run over a Collingwood supporter when you see them riding a bike? Because it’s probably your bike. Why do Collingwood supporters smell so bad? So blind people can hate them too. What’s got 100 legs and four teeth? The front row of the Collingwood cheer squad. And, my personal favourite… what’s the difference between a Collingwood supporter and a trampoline? You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.

In 2002 and 2003, as my Bombers slowly closed their Premiership window, I cheered harder for the Brisbane Lions against Collingwood on those last Saturdays in September than I had when the Bombers were there themselves in 2000 and 2001. I feared another Collingwood Premiership.

I’m happy to admit that one of the greatest moments in my life was when David Zaharakis, then a plucky young upstart in his first season of AFL, bobbed up on the Essendon half forward line and hurriedly kicked a goal in the dying seconds to give Essendon a last gasp win on Anzac Day 2009. Only minutes earlier the Collingwood fans had been hollering their victory chant into the sacred MCG air, as I stood in the standing room section of the Great Southern Stand, bravely taking my medicine while other Essendon fans headed for the exits, being coarsely taunted as they departed. Two quick goals and then Zaharakis’s spectacular goal later, I was euphoric.

A few months later I started dating a lovely young lady named Kylie. I discovered early on that she was a Collingwood supporter, so proceeded with caution. Then, before I knew it, I was head over heels, threatening any future offspring with a prospect of being raised in a mixed marriage. Not to mentioned the potential that, ahem, one or more of those offspring could become a Collingwood supporter.

Our union commenced at an unfortunate time. The Pies, as their supporters would only so happily tell you, were ‘hot’. Around the time of our one-year anniversary, Collingwood made the 2010 Grand Final. I had a dilemma. If the Pies lost, how could I possibly shield my feelings of unbridled joy and at the same time offer my beloved a shoulder to cry on. Alas, Collingwood won, albeit after drawing on the initial Grand Final day. Oh, if that ball had just bounced into Stevie Milne’s dirty little hands how much better would the world be today?

Despite the disappointing result, a small part of me was happy for Kylie. How could this be? On the morning of the drawn Grand Final, I had been quoted in an article that appeared in the The Australian as saying a Collingwood victory in the big game ‘would be armageddon for the city of Melbourne’. The article was entitled ‘Black and white and hated all over’. Collingwood had won the Premiership, and by the time they attempted to defend their title 12 months later against Geelong, Kylie and I were engaged to be married.

So, as we sit together in the stands on Monday for the annual Anzac Day match, we’ll be living proof that love can conquer great obstacles – even if it cools slightly for a couple of hours.

About Ged McMahon

Ged McMahon has been a Bombers fan for as long as he can remember. With a Grandpa who grew up just a spiralling torpedo punt from Windy Hill he didn't have much choice. When his junior football career resulted in almost as many possessions as games he eventually had to bite the bullet and give up his dream of captaining the Bombers to a Premiership. So his weekly footy fix became confined to the stands. He yearns for the next Premiership.

Comments

  1. Cat from the Country says

    Football mixed mariages are always interesting.
    I am married to a (fair weather) Doggies fan,
    He complains that he knows more Cat players than his Doggies!
    He was happy when his youngest Grandson liked the Doggies, but his farher won him over to Carlton soon after!

    Go Cats

  2. jan courtin says

    The “Collingwood and Them” mentality runs through every supporter’s veins Ged. I remember my very first game, 17 years more than half a century ago, against them. I was just a kid, and and a black and white clad loud-mouthed, angry old woman, sitting in our South’s Members stand, hit me on the head with some sort of stick. I apparently swore back at her, but had no idea what the words “bloody bugger” meant!

    Fortunately the love of my life was ignorant of footy when I met him, so it was an easy red and white learning curve for him.

    Nice story. I’m certainly no lover of red and black, but good luck this weekend!

  3. I can relate to the mixed marriage part of your story & you union with Kylie shows one of you has sense. It’s’s not too late to leave the dark side.

    My wife is an Essendon supporter & we have two adult daughters. One born in 1990 is a Collingwood supporter and my youngest was born in 1993 is an Essendon supporter who lives in Melbourne. My late mother in law once knitted a tea cosy in Essendon colours which I sent back. She then knitted two panels & sewed them together: One side Collingwood and one side Essendon. We still use the tea cosy.

    May the better team win on Anzac day. No bugger that. Go Pies.

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