Sometimes you get that old lost feeling…


by Andrew Stafford

IT always feels worse in the morning.

I’ve supported Collingwood all my life. It’s not my fault; Magpies supporters are generally born, not made. I’m a third-generation Collingwood supporter; my grandmother’s best friend was the sister of Frank Tuck. Uncle Frank, as he was known to my mother’s family at that time, captained Collingwood’s premiership winning team in 1958, missing the Grand Final through injury.

When I was two, my mother told me I could barrack for any team I wanted, but if it wasn’t Collingwood I could pack my little bag and toddle out the door. Thanks, mum. Since then I’ve lived through Grand Final losses in 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 2002, 2003 and now, 2011. That’s seven losses for two victories, in 1990 and 2010.

At the beginning of 2011, I really did think it would be a cakewalk. St Kilda were emotionally cooked by last year’s draw, then defeat, and then they had the mother of all off-seasons to boot. Geelong were too old; the rest of the competition were too far behind to worry about. Right on all counts, except Geelong.

So to yesterday. I’ve made Australian Rules football part of my living. I’ve been writing for The Age for six years, mostly covering the fortunes of the Brisbane Lions and now the Gold Coast Suns. But really, for me it’s all about the Pies. Two thirds of the way through the season, with Collingwood sitting prettily on top of the ladder, I asked the sports editor to find me something to do in the Grand Final. All I had to get myself to Melbourne (they’ve got more than enough people on the ground down there).

I was seated high in the Ponsford Stand, in the media spillover area. It was cold and wet, but at least I was genuinely in the crowd, rather than the somewhat sterile confines of the press box. Even better, I found myself next to Martin Flanagan, the great columnist. Flanagan understands the soul of the game and its place as the heartbeat of his home city. While others look at inside-50 and tackle counts, Flanagan sees the totality, the human theatre. All 44 players taking the field have a story to tell.

By the last quarter, the biggest story was Tom Hawkins, the enormous Geelong man-child who arrived at sleepy hollow a prodigy and had spent the next few years trying to shed his puppy fat and live up to his own hype. Once, he looked slow and awkward, a big lump of a kid who could dominate his fellow juniors but was exposed for his lack of agility and football smarts against men.

Now, with his fellow key forward James Podsiadly off the ground with a dislocated shoulder, he began to wrench the ball from the sky and eventually, the premiership cup from Collingwood’s grasp. It was a towering performance. There was also Jimmy Bartel, the Brownlow Medallist in 2008 who somehow still flies under the radar when the best players of the competition are nominated. Bartel bent this match to his will at crucial moments and took away the Norm Smith medal for best afield.

In the stands, as I watched the game slip away from my side in the second half, I was forced to think like this, to suppress my allegiance and my emotions. I had a job to do, and it helped me to pull myself together as the Cats collected their premiership medallions and the fans sang the club song over and over again around me. I confess to holding back a few tears, though.

I went to the winners’ rooms – not an easy place to be, but probably better than visiting the Collingwood rooms, which must have resembled a morgue. I cornered Podsiadly and ruckman Brad Ottens and wrote this yarn.

Geelong were better, simple as that – better on the day, and better throughout the year, beating Collingwood quite convincingly on three occasions. They had the better preparation, the fitter players, the experience, the harder bodies, the greater will. For me, returning to my own feelings as a fan, it’s that same long wait through summer for next year, hoping for a redemption that might not come.

It’s a feeling with which I’m all too familiar.


More of Andrew Stafford’s writing can be found at


  1. Can sympathize in so many ways Andrew. I think you sum up the feelings of many a Collingwood Generation Xer. Looking forward to some new ideas and more direct play under Bucks.

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