The pain and joy of being a Magpies fan
IN 1977 I was living in Brisbane. Under the remarkable coaching of tea-drinking Tom Hafey, my beloved team Collingwood had come from wooden spooners in 1976 to playing in the grand final.
How I would have loved to have been there (standing room was only two dollars).
For only the second time in VFL history, the premiership battle resulted in a draw.
I can still see ”Twiggy” Dunne at the 32-minute mark of the final quarter standing like an oak in a pack of seven and taking a mark Walter Mitty would have envied.
From 35 metres out, Dunne converted by booting a torpedo and levelling the score 10.16 (76) against North Melbourne’s 9.22 (76). North’s Arnold Briedis had kicked an incredible 0.7.
As this was the first grand final telecast, Channel Seven had a huge bonus with the replay.
Immediately after the second grand final, on 1 October 1977, when Collingwood lost by 27 points, I sat speechless in front of the TV, half-believing there would be an announcement saying, ”There’s been a dreadful mistake.”
It was soon after that terrible defeat, or perhaps in 1980 when his old club Richmond pulverised Collingwood by the biggest grand final margin in history, that a television interviewer asked Hafey: ”What do you find funny about football, Tommy?”
Tommy answered: ‘I don’t find anything funny about football.”
I understand exactly what he meant. Such defeats gut me, utterly.
In 1987, the mighty Magpies hit an all-time low. On Saturday 20 June, playing against North Melbourne, our firsts, reserves and under-19s managed just four goals between them in virtually six hours of football.
Our seniors scored 2.6 – both goals coming in the second quarter courtesy of our steel-eyed full forward, Brian Taylor, who had just returned from suspension.
After such an abysmal performance, I felt hopeless beyond belief. I even blamed myself, as if the sins of my youth meant inescapable retribution.
But then I thought of my father Bill (”Long Tom”) Fitzgerald who, for years played for Collingwood seconds: ”Never forget where you’ve come from,” he would say, and ”You can kick goals when you see them.”
As dad taught me by example, Aussie rules is a metaphor for life. In football things soon change. Hence, a mere three years after our all-time low, in 1990, we won our 14th VFL/AFL premiership by beating Essendon by 48 points.
Then in 2010 the first Collingwood-St Kilda grand final, played before a record crowd of 100,016 spectators, was another draw.
Before the replayed grand final, held at the MCG on October 2, 2010, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire quipped that he had seen more drawn Collingwood grand finals (1977 and 2010) than he had seen premierships!
Fortunately, the next Saturday we Magpie supporters shed tears of joy, when, in the replay, Collingwood trounced St Kilda by 56 points, thereby winning our 15th premiership.
After Collingwood’s gutsy Saturday night 13-point win over West Coast, this Friday the mighty Magpies take on Sydney at ANZ Stadium – a ground which historically has hugely favoured Collingwood. Indeed the Swans would have much preferred to play at the Sydney Cricket Ground – their real home ground – where they would have had a distinct advantage.
Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 35 books, including his memoir, ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’ and the co-edited collection of writings on Australian rules football, ‘The Greatest Game’.
The Canberra Times, September 19, 2012