VFL – Collingwood v Northern Blues: PC sledging and a ripper game at Cramer Street

After Collingwood’s tumultuous, humiliating week, not even victory over old nemesis Brisbane on Friday night could restore my faith in footy as one of life’s more pleasurable distractions.

Put simply, it was laborious, painful viewing.  Thankfully the thunder and rain drowned out the commentary, notwithstanding the Benny Hill soundtrack would have suited the visual.  The game’s only redeeming feature was the performances of the Magpies’ vertically challenged younguns Kyle Martin, Ben Kennedy, Jamie Elliott and relative giant Paul Seedsman.

So I tuned into the ABC broadcast of the Collingwood v Northern Blues game at Preston City Oval on Saturday hoping for something, anything, to ‘stoke the stove’ (as per Jock McHale’s favourite expression).

Three observations immediately warmed my heart.  The big glue pot in the middle, the Northern ‘Blues’ donning the red and white to honor their Bullant legends, and the People’s Beard taking his place for the ‘Pies, as if a time traveler from a distant star called VFA 1976.

Actually, there were four things that held my interest.  Peter Donegan is surely one of the most underrated commentators going round, as anyone who can recall his classy call of Sally Pearson’s Olympic triumph would attest.

Sadly the umpires were determined to ruin the contest.  I can only deduce they’re paid by the free kick in the VFL (double rates for 50m penalties, if ya don’t mind).  Seriously, the flouro orange uniforms should attract enough attention to preserve vital ego levels.  If I was the umpires director I’d have sent them over to Preston Market to buy oranges for ¾ time (only 99 cents a kilo) and given the old birds from the deli their whistles.

Be that as it may, the see sawing contest was enough to compel me to shed my couch potato state at half time, slip on the Asics and run on down to breathe in the vintage footy atmosphere.  I wasn’t to be disappointed either.  A fair gathering filled the grandstand, the City of Darebin notoriously populated by many a ‘Pie and Bluebagger.

The game opened up enough in the third quarter, although it was tough going in the pack stalemates in which the umpires viewed with a forensic eye before finally whistling relief.  The Magpies clicked into gear with Jackson Paine putting in another solid application for a ones gig whilst man mountain Jarrod Witts stunned everyone with a deftly executed banana goal from the fence.  Despite a long one after the siren to give the Woods a psychological seven point edge, the Blues (or more aptly the muddy ‘Browns’) appeared dangerously capable of overrunning the inexperienced black and whites.

3  6
Coach Dale Tapping ‘stokes the stove’ at 3/4 time and Witts rises to the occasion.

Is it wrong to judge a man by his hair cut?

After recent events it would take a spectacularly stupid spectator to vilify a player by their race, though one’s girth, if not their perceived sexual proclivity, is still kosher according to Harry O.  With swearing also on the way out, there’s not much left in the serial sledger’s armory.

One raspy voiced Magpie stereotype found a loophole in the third quarter, targeting Blues full back Matthew Watson’s haircut.  To Watson’s credit, he didn’t turn around once, though conceding a couple goals didn’t help his cause.

So to the all-important last term and Sledger, clutching his VB, followed his mark to the other end of the ground.

Sure enough, Witts kicked another one.  Then a spill from a contest near the goal square precipitated another.  The ‘Pies looked home.

“Nothing but a haircut Watson.  Your goal haircut.  Nice haircut goal Watson.  You’re useless Watto.”

Still Watson refused to bite, though a teammate defended his right to a fabulous ‘do.

As I feared, the Northern Blues came back and quickly wiped a 20 point deficit to hit the lead.

“C’mon ‘Pies, don’t make me look like a dill now!” cried Sledger.  By now even the security guard was wetting himself.

Via a slick chain of handballs, amid the gloom and gloop, Collingwood made one last foray in the direction of Witts and ‘the haircut’.  Witts showed fine agility in scooping up a low mark and even better composure nailing the 40m shot to give the ‘Pies the lead, and the follicly fascinated fan more ammunition.

The siren sounded and over the PA a generous BBQ fire sale was offered.  My faith in football, at least at a more down home level, was restored.  I ran home with a spring in my step.

Haircut sledger



‘Sledger’ brings a smile to the security guy’s face.




Northern Blues         4.5       9.7       12.7       17.9 (111)
Collingwood               3.4       7.8       13.8     17.12 (114)

Northern Blues: Laidler 3 Dorman 2 Lincoln 2 Dale 2 Wilson 2 Totevski 2 Temay 2 Bransgrove Meese
Collingwood: Paine 4 Witts 3 Allan 2 Corr 2 Broomhead Hellier Oxley Ferguson Heagney-Steart Yagmoor

Northern Blues: Lambert Lincoln Davies Wilson Laidler Duigan
Collingwood: Hudson Witts Allan Broomhead Yagmoor Mangoni

Umpires: Larry, Mo, Curly
Ray Shaw Medal: 3: Ben Hudson   2: Jarrod Witts   1: Sledger
Unofficial Crowd: 2000



About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Loved the words and pictures Jeff. Geez I miss the VFA

  2. robin grow says

    You could have added another observation to the list, Jeff – the quality of the production team, which consistently gets the balance between close-up of the action and shots from further away just about tight. Compare their efforts to those of Foxtel/7, where much of the action appears to be shot from a light tower, with occasional close-ups of the action. This seems particularly prevalent in games from Brisbane. As in so many spheres, the ABC wins hands-down.

  3. Yep, can’t argue with that Robin. Apart from the couple times when the close-up camera lost the ball, the production was far more logical and pleasurable to follow. I guess it goes back to the old KISS theory and working smarter with less whiz bangery. The 7 & Foxtel producers must get mesmerized by all the buttons and screens in front of them. The angles I hate are the extended down-the-ground view and the prolonged super close up where you lose any concept of where the ball is on the field.

    Sometimes the AFL coverage is like watching a freaking Baz Luhrman movie, especially in Brisbane and Sydney. Makes me want to hurl my shoe at the TV George Bush style.

  4. Lord Bogan says

    Great stuff JD.

    The thunder and lightening were the only things keeping me awake in the second half.

    AFL footy is rapidly turning to shit. Greed has its price and the AFL face its Stalingrad in GWS and Gold Coast. Serves them right, but why should we suffer?

    Been going to the VFL more regularly since 2011 and finding that crowds are getting bigger each time. Authentic footy feel, sounds,smells, kick with daughter on the park. Not bombarded by propaganda and white noise. Connected and meaningful.

  5. Indeed Phil, GWS & GC have been my tipping point.

    So much to like about the VFL, I foresee this is the start of something big. Hopefully the AFL keeps its dirty money hungry paws off it.

  6. I miss the old VFA more and more with each passing year.

  7. Rick Kane says

    Dear Mr JD

    A well observed piece highlighting the many joys of watching the ‘Reserves’.

    I wasn’t at PCO for Saturday’s game but I was there for another excellent game on Sunday. My son plays with the Preston Bullants Under 11s.

    Before his game the Tackers played out a good game. They celebrated the game by first shaking hands and then all and sundry jumped into “the big glue pot in the middle” to quote your wonderful expression.

    Bullants Under 11s won their game by 65 points, given a little bit of a head start courtesy of 3 goals in a five minute burst in the first quarter by a kid called Jackson Kane.

    By the way, I trust you got your Asics from the best little shoe store in Melbourne, on Gilbert St.


  8. Cheers Rick. Jackson Kane / Jackson Paine both in the goals at Cramer Street on the weekend. That’s quite an effort to even score 65 points on that ground in U/11s in those conditions, let alone win by such a margin. At least being a home game there was no having deal with irretrievably blackened white shorts.

    And yes, been buying my runners from Leo Russell for at least 10 years. Never paid more than $120 (cash only) – can’t go wrong!

  9. Love your observations JD.

    Agree on P Donegan – and I reckon he has found many supporters on this site before. Strong across many sports. Terrific sense of perspective. Very good on footy.

    On the AFL, they have to be very careful. You cannot toy with things that are meaningful to people else resentment bubbles (after a while). They’re putting their faith in the uncritical mind. Dangerous.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Great work Jeff, enjoyed watching this game on TV and following your Twitter posts both watching TV then at the ground.

    Peter Donegan is a brilliant caller, only behind G.Whateley in my opinion. Doesn’t matter what the sport, whether it’s Olympic athletics, VFL Football, Stawell Gift etc. he does it well. It’s a mystery to me why he hasn’t been picked up for a more prominent role on AFL TV or Radio broadcasts.

    Liked Jackson Paine in his few AFL games last year, time to give him another crack.

  11. Mic Rees says

    Giday Jeff, terrific piece.

    Do you think the Pies should’ve joined forces with Preston in 2001 rather than aligning with Williamstown? I reckon it would’ve worked well. Strong links between the two clubs in the 70’s./80’s plenty of traffic between Cramer St & Victoria Park (Shaw, Warren, Marshall, Towan, Gonsalves, Wight). Lots of Pies supporters had a soft spot for the Ants.


  12. Peter Fuller says

    I’m going to suggest (tongue in cheek) that we (NBs) wuz robbed by the absence of equal opportunity sledging. The committed Blues’ fans were likely at Etihad, whereas you Pies had a free weekend – and aren’t they are always best when one’s team has had a convincing win interstate on a Friday night.
    Had the roles been reversed, I might have trekked to Cramer Street myself, where I’ve spent many enjoyable afternoons (and even played a match). As it was umpiring in Hampton followed by the second half of Carlton-Giants absorbed my afternoon.

  13. Thanks Mic – yes, I am one of many Collingwood fans who grew up with Preston as their VFA club of choice owing to the player traffic going either way and the geographical alignment. Williamstown was an odd match but I guess there must have been compelling reasons, no doubt financial being the foremost. So the Northern Blues kind of rankles a bit, as it does for many Bullant fans who weren’t too happy with the takeover.

    Ha Peter, I reckon Sledger was the difference – hence I gave him a vote!

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