Round 9 – Collingwood v North Melbourne: A pinch

“Some conjurers say that number three is the magic number, and some say number seven. It’s neither my friend, neither. It’s number one. (Fagin)”
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.


Today the gypsy pirate magical escape crew of the Sidebyside of Collingwood vanquished the over-sized merchant marauders of North Melbourne.
‘Twas a pulsing, beating, writhing beast of a game. This mob of kangaroos had jumped well clear by half time, and yet…
Without hope, there is only despair.
Like an organized troop of Dickensian pick-pockets, the pirates of Collingwood ran and tackled and assisted and blocked and diverted and intercepted and spoiled and thieved their way back, back, back and even taking the lead during the third quarter. Nine goals to none.
The last quarter stood apart, offering its own vicissitudes, taking no prisoners, asking no questions, telling no lies.
D Swan.
J Elliott.
This was a Harry Houdini special. It was a heist.
And it’s had me searching for the collective noun for a group of pickpockets.

It’s a bleak forecast. #Winteriscoming to Victoria today. Showers, strong wind, hail and snow down to 500 metres. We meet across from Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills, whose own shared story is a grand example of truth being oftentimes stranger than fiction (the dig tree!). Arriving from his Darwin life last night, DM, North supporter, has brought his beanie.
– Mate, beautiful day for it.
We talk Indigenous Round, Adam Goodes, the Riolis, Michael Long (– I see him at NTFL games, you know. Played for St. Mary’s). The whole fraught nature of opinions, debate. Colonialism, sympathy, hatred, ignorance. The world is a mess.
After a quick lunch in town (– that’s a pretty good burger) we follow the route of the Michael Long walk to the G. It’s showery and grey. We’re both keen for a win today. The Woods haven’t really beaten anyone yet at 5-3 and North are looking a little flakey at 4-4. It’s the classic 8-point game, though neither of us is fanatical. Really, what we’re each hoping for a good game.
Into the Olympic stand with our reserved seat tickets. Navigating nervously closer, ever closer, to the rain-drenched seats at ground level. Stopped by the last usher (– where are you fellas headed?), we ask the obvious (– can you tell us row EE is undercover?). Indeed it is.
Having forewarned DM of the diabolical state of AFL contrived match day experiences, we’re each pleasantly surprised today by the low volume of audio intrusion. And I’m further surprised to see the undiminished foot skills of N Buckley, passing the footy with precision pre-game. A song wafts over the audio system approaching game time (Springsteen: “Born to Run”).

I had that resigned feeling of helplessness last week when starting the car. Nnnnn-pppppfffff. Nnnnn-pppppfffff. Born to run? Flat battery. Kaput.

North are out of the blocks.
Collingwood swamped. Unable to even start.
– Look at this forward line, would you?
– Big blokes. Look at them: Waite, Petrie, Brown.
– Goldsack is too small for Waite.
– They’re enormous.

Collingwood 1.2.8
North Melbourne 4.4.28
Indeed, with R Nahas floating around as well, North look very dangerous.

Not to mention the ruckwork of T Goldstein. Jeepers, it’s looking like a flat day.
– Jeez. Mate, North are on fire.
– Oh no, a quick six goals here and we’ll be right back in it.
– A quick six? Is that all?
– Alright, maybe seven.
– Well it’s very kind of you to roll over like this. I’ve come a long way for this game. Good of you to let us win.
– A quick six or seven, I tell ya.
Collingwood 4.3.27
North Melbourne 10.6.66
So I rang for a battery check.
– Yes mate, your battery is stuffed.
– Can’t it be recharged?
– Nup. Usually these only last 5 years or so. Yours is 7 years old. You’ve been lucky.
Third quarter.
A quick six goals and Collingwood are right back in it. (– You’ve gotta be kidding.)
It’s the hurrying and harrying and waving and pressing of the pick-pocket collective.
What is the collective noun for pick-pockets?
This is the gypsy troupe alive on the high wire.
It’s the fire-twirler catching flaming torches behind her back.
On a unicycle.
It’s hard.
It’s sustained. (– You blokes aren’t missing the goals).
It’s the pirate ship bearing down upon the listing merchants. It’s cutlasses in the teeth and swinging from the rigging. Another three goals and the Collingwood gyspy magpie pirate pickpocket magicians take the lead into the break. (– Unbelievable).

The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody’s out on the run tonight
But there’s no place left to hide
It’s been done by the flailing and swarming and running of Collingwood at its best. J Elliott, D Swan, J Blair, P Seedsman, S Pendlebury… and on.
All while T Goldstein rucks superbly for the Merchant Kangaroos.

Collingwood 13.5.83
North Melbourne 10.9.69
Last quarter. (– It’s all set up now)
Momentum and runs-of-play and tides turning and effort, unbounded effort see North re-take the lead in driving winter rain (– Gee, I love sport).
But the black and white army come again and again and again and there’s the ball (– it’s a cake of soap) and the ball sits up from J Elliott’s boot and it’s spinning end over end and it’s glistening in the rain and under the lights and it’s a high kick deep into the forward line and in conditions under which only a true footballer would mark it, not an athlete, but a footballer, and one with a footballer’s nous and a footballer’s timing for the nudge on his man, and a footballer’s canny wet weather marking knowhow and him taking it in outstretched hands, palms flattened just so, and the man under the pill for the gypsy magpie pirates is and had to be D Swan.
Re-take the lead. And hold it.
Game Over.
Collingwood 17.10.112
North Melbourne 14.11.95
Walking back to Collins Street in the dark and drizzle, there’s a buzz and a thrum in the air.
– Ahh, in a way I’m sorry to have stolen from you DM.
– Ahh well, we saw a good game today.
That we did. And with it, hope rings again. Where will this all end? (Answer: nobody knows). And the collective noun for pickpockets: a pinch.

COLLINGWOOD 1.2 4.3 13.5 17.10 (112)
NORTH MELBOURNE 4.4 10.6 10.9 14.11 (95)
Goals: Collingwood: J Elliott 5 A Fasolo 2 D Swan 2 B Grundy J Blair J Crisp J White J Witts S Pendlebury S Sidebottom T Cloke. North Melbourne: J Waite 3 R Nahas 3 D Petrie 2 J MacMillan L Thomas R Bastinac S Gibson S Higgins T Goldstein.
BEST: Collingwood: Elliott, Pendlebury, Swan, Sidebottom. North Melbourne: Goldstein, Nahas.
Umpires: Justin Schmitt, Mathew Nicholls, Andrew Mitchell.
Official Crowd: 43,452 at MCG.


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. Gold, me old hearty. Gold.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great stuff OBP must admit thought,Clarrie was going to make a appearance or
    Oliver you want more goals ? Thanks OBP

  3. T’was a pinch. I watched the last half enthralled. The Roos are very soft. The Pies started to believe and ran amok. Grand work ER.

  4. Your pickpocket metaphor gave me a real sense of a game that had me scratching my head from afar.
    A ‘pinch’ is a good term, but I somehow feel disappointed. Pick pockets and back pockets seem to have much in common. Remember when we had back pockets not just a range of small defenders?
    Back pockets were often midfielders who’d lost a yard of pace.
    Sheedy has the face, and palaver and cunning of a Fagin. A Sheedy of pickpockets. Why not a Malthousefull?

  5. Frank Cheeseman says

    More buried treasure, Tall Man – a real diamond this time.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great work ER. We pinched it twice. This was the first AFL game I attended this year and at half-time I was thinking of ways to convince my daughter to head home at 3 qtr time. Enter Billy, Crisp and Swannie and a shrewd move by Bucks to bring on De Goey. By the end of the game I was like a child lost in the wonder of it all.

  7. E.regnans says

    G’day; cheers.
    Cookie, OBP, Dips: Strange and entertaining spectacle.

    PB: I missed a trick there with the collective noun. I truly googled to find “pinch” of pickpockets. Sheedy and Malthouse names far more meaningful. A real opportunity there for such things.

    Phil – the unexpected is always better, isn’t it? As DM, with admirable philosophical detachment pointed out, we each saw a good game.

    Also- seeing DM just now he recalled that M Long played not for the Buffs but for St Mary’s in Darwin. Text altered above.
    Thanks. Go pies.

  8. E.regnans says

    And thanks Frank.
    Floreat pica.

  9. matt watson says

    I love a good literary story.
    Of course, it would’ve been better if North won…

  10. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Love collective nouns. And love these pieces, Mountain Ash. Have you read Karl Ove Knausgaard? 4th Q is just like it. And wonderful. If only you weren’t a Collingwood supporter …

    I watched it post bush walk, in-between the whites on a too cold Sydney indoor line, the vacuuming, the dredging of school bag and the prep of dinner. Excellent in snatches. Perfect Sunday stuff.

  11. Andrew Starkie says

    Eliott was your artful dodger, for sure.

  12. Luke Reynolds says

    The weather at the ‘G on Sunday must have been torture for DM.
    Can you spill the beans on where the good pre-game burger was? Always looking to add to my MDE….

  13. E.regnans says

    Thanks all.
    Mathilde – no I don’t know K.O.K. Will check it out. Excellent prospect.

    Artful dodger. That’s a good call A Starkie.

    Luke – Beer DeLuxe in Flinders St/Fed Square. A few of us popped in to escape torrential rain ahead of a gig at the Forum recently (Colin Hay). Burger that night good enough for a repeat dose on Sunday. Priced accordingly, though.

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