Round 5 – Carlton v Collingwood: The past is a lie, memory has no return

The old man read again from his tattered old book. The daylight was fading. Soon he would need to locate a candle, if not two.
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…”
He was again reading Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Of all the books to have randomly saved.

– What was it like Grandpa?

– What’s that, little Em?

– The olden days. Can you tell me a story of the Boom Years?

It was 2050. May. The crazy days of Anthropocene madness were teetering. Looking back, enlightened and ignorant people both found it inconceivable that as recently as 2015, damaging coal had still been burned to allow outdoor sport to needlessly be played at night.

– Why not in the daylight, Grandpa? – pre-school aged children would ask.

– You tell us to turn off our unnecessary lights. It wrecked the climate.

He lived it. And yet. Explanations are impossible.

How could Grandpa here tell of entire ovals of grass being grown under electrically-powered heat lamps?

How could he begin to explain that fossil fuel energy had once been used to create an electronic version of a white picket fence at a night time football game? He shudders with the memory.

– Grandpa, tell me again about the Boom years.

Look at her. Who knew where her food would come from after the next parcel drop? The Commune had been attacked by Outsiders yesterday. A week’s fruit for 25 people stolen, and razors. They were down to their last month’s perishables.

– Alright.

It was the least he could do.

– Let me tell you about some mighty great fiddling that we were undertaking back in 2015.

– That’s my favourite. The last of the glory years, you call them. When people would still fly in aeroplanes.

– That’s spot on, Em. People used to think nothing of flying from Melbourne to Sydney for a meeting! Can you believe that? Ahh, but I’ll tell you a story of a footy game. That 2015 was the last of the Australian League, of course, before China became interested in our land down here. And before plane travel was banned.

– Tell me, tell me.

– Well Mick Malthouse, as the world hurtled unchecked towards its environmental Armageddon, coached his 715th game this night.

– Ooh I know this one. And this is the year Collingwood won a surprise premiership.

– That’s right.

– And Scott Penicillin won something.

– Good one, Em. Scott Pendlebury won the Brownlow medal for the fairest and best player in the league.

– Tell me about that game, grandpa.

– Get comfortable there. Maybe you’ll drop off to sleep. We can save our candle til tomorrow.

Em rests her head on the pillow, made from an old blanket. She softly closes her eyes.

– It goes like this…
I walked that Melbourne night, towards a rising moon. Traffic was thick in Kings way. Once, there was a king. I passed a function room being fitted out for a formal dinner; tables laid and numbered, at a place called the Aquarium. I wondered whether seafood would be on the menu.
I passed homeless men sleeping under the railway. I heard sirens wail.
The moon rose higher.
As I walked closer, I was joined by others, all walking towards an electric navy blue light. For it was this year that the AFL fell under the same mistaken spell that hypnotises owners of soulless bars the world over, that which assumes many flashing lights and noise equates with atmosphere.
As you and I know, Em, quiet pubs used to be the best.
It’s always best if people make their own noise.
They’re engaged by it. Unlike by hovercrafts and flashing lights. Oh, Em. The misguided foolishness. An old player, David McKay, was introduced and belittled by the flashing lights this night.
But then, Em, the man of the moment arrived on the ground.
Mick Malthouse.
Do you think he was introduced?
Do you think he was given some attention?
Well, no, he wandered on to the background music of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight.
But at least both cheer squads celebrated yer man.

– What about the game, grandpa?

– I remember it, Em. I remember it well. We smashed them. Our young fellas; discovering themselves. Stretching their horizons.

There were plenty of inconsistencies in the play. It’s a wonderfully subjective game, of course; that’s been its appeal for so long.

And I remember, that this was the year before competitions restricted interchange back to substitutes. There were players running all over the park. Sometimes, if you believe me, all 36 players were within one corner of the oval.

– Oh, grandpa!


Em sits up on her mattress, surprised. The sheets are filthy, but water is scarce.

– It’s true, Em. It took people too long to realize that the best part of each game took place straight after a goal. For about 20 seconds then, players were spread over the field. It was easier to move the ball around through an open field, see?

– Right. So goal scoring led to a more open field. Which led to more goal scoring?

– It could, yes.

They both gaze out the glass-less west-facing window. A light breeze shifts the torn curtains. There are no sounds of cars nor engines; the next Stability Control patrol is not due until tomorrow.

– We had some good times that year, though, Em. That Scott Pendlebury. And Dane Swan. The two of them were like the rhythm section for years. So good. And Jamie Elliott revealed himself as a blue heeler in 2015. He had this way of manically attacking the ball like a blue heeler chasing a rubber ball on a wide open beach.

– It sounds like fun, Grandpa.

– Well, yes Em. Watching those fellas at it. Pendlebury and Swan, rhythm section; them prowling around like savanna animals on rhythm guitar made me smile. But it was the young ones that had me beaming, Em. Grundy, Seedsman, Frost; those boys as they were then.

– You’re beaming again now, grandpa.

– I remember a song about those lads, Em. Pass me that old guitar there and I’ll sing it for you.

The old man takes the worn instrument from his granddaughter. Holds it on his knee. He immediately and faultlessly picks out the opening bars of “You’ve got to hide your love away” by the Beatles. And softly sings:

Mickey stands, head in hands
Turns his face to the wall
Now it’s gone, he can’t go on,
Appearing two foot small 

Everywhere, people stare
At Elliott and at Swan
And they see big Brodie
Frost and running Seedsman 

Hey Collingwood that’s the way to play
Hey Collingwood that’s the way to play 

How can Bucks give two (hoots)
He can never win
Hearing him seeing him
In the state they’re in 

Pendlebury, say to me
Love will find a way
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say 

Hey Collingwood that’s the way to play
Hey Collingwood that’s the way to play

Em is glowing, but she’s drowsy. She must be starving. Poor girl. Tomorrow they’d set some traps in the creek.

– It’s good for an old man to share these stories of long ago, my little Em. Snuggle down now.

– Good night grandpa.

– Good night Em. Tomorrow is another day.

The old man strokes the hair of his granddaughter. She shifts, settles, shifts again. He strokes her hair again now, and before long, she sleeps. Carefully, he lights a precious candle with a precious match and watches as the dull light illuminates a barren and forsaken Brunswick room. McHale to Malthouse was, what, 70 years? And what’s next?

He takes up his battered old paperback, thinking of that May night in 2015 and turns to the last page; a passage he knows by heart.

“Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”

– Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude


Carlton         1.1.7, 2.3.15, 5.6.36,  6.9.45

Collingwood 4.4.28, 8.9.57, 14.11.95,  18.12.120

Goals: Collingwood: J Elliott 2, S Pendlebury 2, T Cloke 2, A Oxley, B Grundy, C Gault, D Swan, J Blair, J Crisp, J White, P Karnezis, S Dwyer, T Adams, T Goldsack, T Varcoe. Carlton: C Wood 2, D Armfield, D Ellard, K Simpson, T Bell.

Best: Collingwood: Pendlebury, Frost, Seedsman, Langdon, Elliott. Carlton: Docherty.

Umpires: Shaun Ryan, Brett Rosebury, Brendan Hosking.

Official Crowd: 75,910 at MCG.

3 S Pendlebury

2 J Frost

1 P Seedsman

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. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Just beautiful ER.
    What a wonderfully evocative piece to wake up to in the ‘afterglow’ of the Pies’ big win. One of your best big fella.

  2. Ditto. Well played David, well played ‘Pies.

  3. Dave Nadel says

    Beautiful piece of pre-nostalgia, David.

  4. Peter_B says

    Treasonous. Dunno if Tony Abbott or Gillon McLachlan will have you arrested first.
    But wonderful.

  5. saint66 says


  6. Peter Fuller says

    Fine piece, ER, even if I find the sentiments offensive. However, we the once arrogant ones, have to take our medicine or as the young might say suck it up.

  7. Ace!

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Poignant OBP a enjoyable read , very clever 2 !

  9. Frank Cheeseman says

    Dave – you are delightfully mad.

  10. Mickey Randall says

    Great read David. Thanks for that.

    Agree that Swan and Pendlebury are your rhythm section, but all too often Cloke turns up at the studio with only a tambourine.

  11. John Butler says

    A dystopian vision..

    How very 21st century Carlton of you E Reg.

    “Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”

    GGM got that right.

  12. E.regnans says

    G’day dreamers. Thanks very much. It’s very encouraging.
    That moon is a touch more full tonight. That’s the May full moon; symbol of Buddhists the world over. Dream, accept…
    Phil, JD, Dave, Frank Cheeseman – it’s a fine time for us to drift in a fog of possibility. No doubt bumpy times are ahead. But for now, why not enjoy the ride. That’s probably why we’re here at all.
    Peter_B – Foolishness can be hard to spot at the time. We tend to get caught up in minutiae. Was well worth popping ahead there to 2050 and looking back. Without getting political, I think that’s an old Bob Brown trick.
    Saint66, OBP & Kate – thanks for posting. It does help, as you know.
    Mickey – I reckon T Cloke is just about done in the studio. He’ll probably hang on for a few more live tours, but the versatility of the modern beat may soon find him out. Saying that, he presents and presents and runs and tackles and contests and shepherds and all of the necessary, less glamorous things. I’d think bandmates and band management would be happy to have him (as am I). The new beat is alive, though. It’s on the street. Collingwood will be thinking about that & how to be a part of the new wave.
    JB – I thought of Swan McKay as I read that GGM closing paragraph, forlornly walking to the MCG centre circle in semi-darkness before Friday’s game. Such a wonderful interview between he and JTH on the Almanac ( Odd indeed to see him reduced to an unattended sideshow in a laser-light-dominated ear-splitting farce. All of us, all of this whole wide thing, ephemeral.

  13. Great story Dave.
    I loved the bleak future and fight for survival. It sums up footy.
    I don’t know what else to say.

  14. Luke Reynolds says

    Awesome ER. One of your very best. The year Collingwood won a surprise premiership. Best line I’ve ever read….

  15. Mark Duffett says

    Just realised what was missing from George Turner’s otherwise brilliantly chilling(?) dystopic Melbourne cli-fi ‘The Sea and Summer’ to give it that authentic sense of place: any mention of footy. This would have completed it. Very, very good, sir.

  16. E.regnans says

    G’day all – thanks.
    Peter Fuller – ahh, arrogance is such an unhelpful trait., isn’t it? But it’s always fun to travel to the Land of Make-believe. Anything is possible….
    Ironmike20 – thanks. Sums up life in some ways, too
    Luke – that Blondie song: “dreaming is free”
    Mark – I don’t know that one. I recently read David Mitchell’s “The Bone Clocks.” That was set at various times across human history and also one memorable scene was set in the not-too-distant future (after Net Crash 2.0). Interesting book.

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