As published by The Footy Almanac, 30 April 2012
They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.
Well by 5pm on 28 August 1999, it was so dark in Collingwood town that to quote Eric Olthwaite describing a particularly black pudding from my favourite Ripping Yarns episode, ‘even the white bits were black’.
The Round 22 clash against the Brisbane Lions was earmarked as a farewell celebration after 107 years at Victoria Park. Sadly, the Autumn leaves had barely left the trees before it was apparent the final game would be an anti climactic goodbye and good riddance to another season somehow worse than the one before. In fact it wasn’t until a similarly bleak day in round 8 at the MCG before the Magpies, on the back of some Stephen Patterson(!) and Nathan Buckley heroics, broke their duck for the season. Against Fremantle. Wow-wee!
So come the last hurrah and a measly three wins down the track, one more inevitable loss would confirm a second ever wooden spoon. Whilst some diehards managed to muster a festive outlook, the long walk from a distant car park in Abbotsford to GG182 (my seat) felt more like a funeral march.
Before the game; Price and McKenna – the Magpies’ version of Lillee & Marsh
The temporary stands atop ‘one eyed hill’ squeezed in some extra mourners, and former legends such as Bob Rose, Tuddy, Thommo, The Weed, Daics and BT undertook an obligatory lap around the ground. Others such as Banksy and ‘Stan the Man’ Magro theatrically re-enacted past glories, notwithstanding their magic moments actually took place elsewhere. It was a tad kitsch, but the supporters could do with a laugh.
“You can put me in a kero tin, burn me and just put my ashes over the Collingwood football ground – that’s all I want” said long time supporter Rana McGoldrick at the time. Attempting to encapsulate that kind of emotion in the pre-match was always a tough ask on a shoestring.
And the budget was probably blown on the most technologically advanced innovation ever to hit Victoria Park – a large digital screen dangling from a crane which beamed outgoing coach Tony Shaw’s last pre-match address to the players. In the spirit of Phonse Kyne and Jock McHale, Shawry called upon the players to make an indelible mark on the proud club’s history (Nathan Buckley actually hated it for being tailored to the crowd rather than the players).
Then and now; The R T Rush Stand has gone with the recent redevelopment but the memories remain vivid.
In any case, fighting words were no match for the Lions who were simply too big, too strong and too good for the weak Magpie outfit to avert a 233rd loss at the ground which the club had graced on 910 occasions. Whilst seven goals wasn’t exactly a pummelling, at 33 points down at the first change, Collingwood never looked like mounting a challenge. The Magpies didn’t even bother the lightening fast scoreboard in the third term. The only bright spot was a thumping goal by Anthony Rocca from the boundary line. That the ‘Pies’ 1990 hero Leigh Matthews and his right hand man ‘Gubby’ Allan were performing the same roles at Brisbane was another twist of the knife.
So shattered by the result and his failed coaching career, Shaw retreated to the cold medieval changerooms under the Ryder Stand and cried. Many criticised Shaw, but I could empathise. It was a steep descent from the first year of the decade that saw Shaw depart the MCG brandishing a drought breaking premiership cup.
Meanwhile, captain Nathan Buckley and his abandoned teammates were joined by former greats who gathered in the middle for a rendition of Good Old Collingwood Forever. They did well to sing with gusto when deep down everyone knew the true state of affairs, as soon to be appointed coach Mick Malthouse bluntly described at the end of his tenure.
Now the old girl has undergone a fabulous makeover and is once again hosting the Magpies, albeit the modern ‘magoos’. Could Vic Park be reprised like an unfashionable ‘Eighties band for one more game at the top level to make things right? Or was the bad farewell meant to be, the ripped band aid that made moving onward and upward that bit easier?
Britannia was the first recognised team to play at Victoria Park. This was the last (at AFL level).
For the most part, Victoria Park boasted one of the finest surfaces in the League. Especially in the twlight years, when the ground’s calendar saw about as much action as a Buddhist monk holidaying in Greenland. The last game was played on a heavy track though. When the siren finally put the game out of its misery and the last rites had been conducted in the middle, a large number of the 24,493 heavy hearts trudged out onto the hallowed turf, only to wander around aimlessly. I was one of them.
All I could think to do was scoop up a wad of turf. I carried it carefully back to the car without too much embarrassment. I noticed I wasn’t the only one to claim a sod upon which the ghosts of the Colliers and the Coventrys floated.
My Vic Park memento remains in a jar, but I dare not lift the lid. Even the stench of that tragic day could not compare to the putrid odour I suspect has been festering in there for 13 years!
Side by side we stick together; history in a jam jar; the score couldn’t be expunged quickly enough after the game