‘Changing’ history

‘Changing’ history, and a plan for ’05

by 35forever

Collingwood’s history is well known, and one which should neither be ignored nor dwelt on unduly.
As has been said, we all know about it, some better than others. But while it is a record we are determined to change, it is a record that has made Collingwood, and indeed us, its supporters, who we are today.

But at the risk of upsetting those who’ve read it all before, lets amble back a little further.

Under Jock the great, Collingwood was far & away the top team of the competition with an amazing 11 flags from 12 attempts, including 2 back-to-backs, (one of them pre-Jock) and the legendary four in a row. We’d also made four Grand finals in a row (1917-20), five Grand finals in a row (1935-39), and six Grand Finals in a row (1925-30). Of these amazing runs it was the second (although chronologically the last) which was the most telling. After taking the ’35 & ’36 flags, we lost three times in a row for the first time in our history, and Jock would never again get us into the last game of the year. After 16 Grand finals in a mere 23 years (lets see Brisbane or the Power do THAT!), the great era, like all good things, had come to an end. Some say that Jock had lost his edge, indeed over the next ten years Jock would win just one final, in his penultimate year as our coach.

Others say it was the second world war.
Just a few weeks before Jock’s last Grand Final, Germany invaded Poland, and it was about Grand final time that the effects were starting to be brought home to Australians as young men prepared to depart our shores, never to return. Despite having the services of the newly minted Brownlow medallist (something which hasn’t helped us the last five times its happened), Collingwood was defeated badly in the 1939 Grand final & began the worst period of it’s history.Up until then we had only finished outside the top 4 on 5 occasions since the league began. We would do so for the next five years straight.Our worst finish ever was 7th in Jocks first year as coach. After 1939 we finished 8-5-11-10-10. Our worst drought to that point had been 7 years without a flag (which we ended with the incredible four in a row). After 1936 it would be 17 years before we won another.

Finally, in ’49, Jock retired. Under the stewardship of Phonse Kyne, Collingwood returned to something like it’s rightful place. From ’52 we made 6 grand finals in 10 years, winning two of them despite the domination of Norm Smith’s demons at the time. Smith took over an ailing Melbourne team in ’52, and had them in every Grand final from ’54 to ’60, and were it not for Kynes magpies upsetting them in ’58 they would have won 6 in a row. But it seemed we were back.

In 1960 our first crisis of confidence occurred. After being soundly belted in the Grand Final, (kicking only two goals for the entire match) we failed to make the finals again until 1964. In the 1964 Grand Final we seemed to have bounced back after the great Ray Gabelich put us in front with a Rocca-like 60 metre bomb at the end of the last quarter. Somehow one of their backmen snapped a goal seconds after and we lost by 4 points in what would be the first of a series of incredible failures. In 1966, came the awful 1 point defeat that gave the Saints their first & only flag. If only Tuddy had’ve kept running! How different history might have been.

This appears to be the time at which the dreaded “colliwobbles” were first spoken of. There seemed to be some kind of ‘jinx’ on Collingwood, but it was not considered especially ‘powerful’ until 1970. That ‘insurmountable’ 44 point half-time lead turned out to be the worst thing that ever happened to us. We were chokers. There was no getting away from it now. It was openly spoken about, and for that reason became an added pressure that every Collingwood player had to live with until 1990, and beyond. What if we’d kicked straighter in that first half? We kicked 4.8 followed by 6.5. If the half-time margin were 60 (which it could so very easily have been), no mark could have changed the result, not even if Jezza was standing atop the goal post when he took it!

In ’73 we were clearly the best team, finishing two games clear at the end of the home & away season, yet it seemed our demons had come back to haunt us as we went down to Richmond in the Prelim by a mere 7 points after throwing away another lead. I believe it was about this time that I heard my first ‘Collingwood joke’:” What’s big & green, has two wings, and kills magpies?” Answer: “The MCG.” Very bloody funny.

In ’75 it was Richmond again in the Elimination Final, the margin just 7 points.

And in ’77, as we all know, our first ever wooden spoon the year before caused the greatest upheaval in the 80 year club history. The ‘hard decisions’ were made. We dumped the coach, the captain and a bunch of players, and most incredibly we hired an ‘outside’ coach, in Tom Hafey, for the first time ever.

The gamble could not have come closer to working. No closer at all. I wont even mention the result

But it didn’t work, it simply fixed the idea even more firmly in peoples minds, particularly that of the players, that in a close final we would fade.

Finals affect finals. The 1970 result was undoubtedly in the minds of the guys in ’77, particularly the four who remained from that year. Over 20 points up at 3/4 time, having kept North Melbourne goalless for two quarters, only a lack of confidence could have prevented a Collingwood win. If 1970 had not happened the super efficient team of 1977 would surely have completed football’s greatest fairy tale in going from wooden spoon to flag. Having kicked five to zip in the third, surely the two goals needed to win were a mere formality? And surely after keeping a side to 4 goals in 3 quarters, our backline would never allow the five in a quarter needed to overhaul our 3/4 time score?

It simply couldn’t be done!

But of course it had been done. Both Richardson brothers, along with Len Thompson & Twiggy Dunne knew full well the history of the greatest team on earth. The team with the proudest history, the team with the most fanatical supporters. They knew that failure was not an option. They also knew that their long careers might well be in vain if they faltered. They had so much to lose. They had seen Tuddy, McKenna, Jenkin, Potter, Adamson, John Greening & Terry Waters, among the greatest players of their generation, retire without the premiership medal that was the right of every great Collingwood player. Of course they were only kids themselves then, they knew they’d get another shot…after all, they were Collingwood players!

But in thirty minutes, if things went awry, their last chance might evaporate before their eyes. Suddenly ageing legs felt heavy. The ball became slippery, and the goalposts seemed awfully close together. And then there was that crowd. That vast black & white throng. 108,000 mostly Collingwood fans screaming, yelling, pleading. They were starving for the success that had eluded them for almost 20 years, the longest drought in the teams history. Lose this and they will be calling for your head.

If we hadn’t lost from a 44 point lead in 1970 we wouldn’t have lost in 1977.

There are two reasons for this, but only one, history, is ever mentioned. The other reason, a factor that affects Collingwood far, far more than any other team, (in fact it probably doesn’t really affect any other team much at all) is us, the teams supporters. No club is as affected by its supporters to the extent that Collingwood is.

The result of ’77 was undoubtedly in the minds of the players in ’79, after all there were 10 guys remaining from that year. As it turned out the result was almost the opposite of 1970. We were well behind at three quarter time, but kept Carlton to a single goal in the last, while kicking four ourselves. We all remember how their single goal came about, and what it meant. It shouldn’t have happened. We didn’t fade, we rallied. We were simply very, very unlucky.

In ’80 it was quite different. History meant nothing. We were exhausted having come from from fifth to get into a Grand Final, becoming the first team ever to do so. Richmond on the other hand had cruised into it & thumped us easily. It was another one to add to the list of failures, but in reality we had no business even making that GF. The year should have been considered a success. It wasn’t. Of course it’s well known that one of the Richmond assassins that year was a childhood Collingwood supporter named Malthouse.

In ’81we reverted to type. A horrible return to 1970. 9 points up at 3/4 time and we couldn’t manage a goal in the last. Our confidence destroyed, we remained in the wilderness for the best part of a decade, until we finally shook off the failure mentality, brought in our second ‘imported’ coach, and did the impossible. Somehow, after 32 years, we did it. The main reason we did it was because the last quarter fade out which would almost certainly have happened was nigh on impossible because for the first time in all of those disappointments we were simply too far in front at 3/4 time. The main reason we were that far in front was that our players had something else on their minds besides history & supporters thanks to Terry Daniher’s stupid (but much beloved) downing of Rowdy Brown just before half time. Gavin was one of our favourite sons, and a player whose teammates would have died for him. There wasn’t time to reflect on 1970 in the rooms at half time, and most of the guys, with the exception of Daics & Banksy, were too young anyway. It was them, not us, who were held goalless in the last, and a new era had begun.

But we partied too hearty, and soon after lost another beloved team man in ‘Pants’. Many players, particularly those who were his close friends & shared his pacy lifestyle were affected beyond words & were never the same, either on field or off.

We failed to capitalise on 1990, and lost too many players in too short a time frame to be a force in the 1990s. Certainly mistakes were made, but somehow or other Collingwood would be back. As it was we got Eddie, and we got Bucks, and we got Mick.

In 2002 there can be little doubt that several factors including bad luck, poor umpiring, even poorer goal umpiring ( I know a guy who was DIRECTLY behind that kick – it was a clear goal), and a financial assistance scheme that confuses people to this day, conspired to steal one of the greatest Grand Finals of all time away from us.

But in such a close game, every factor matters.

And WE were one of those factors. The pressure on players (who generally cite the supporters as one of the best things about playing at Collingwood) to win a flag is intense. They know what we’re like. They know about the history. They know that the difference between a one point loss & a one point win is immeasurably vast. They also know that there are among us those who will blame them for every failure, & will abuse them, call for their heads, and make their lives a misery.

But mostly, they know how much we want that flag. They are for the most part made to feel welcome & loved by the supporters, especially the regulars who they see at training every week. They want desperately to give us the flag we want so badly, and they must surely feel a pressure that no other club’s players could possibly understand.

To change Collingwoods history is impossible, unless it is done by making it just that. History. Winning a flag will not do it. Winning several, and being a consistent finals team for a decade or so, with regular success along the way, will put the history of 1939-2004 back into perspective and make that period just another part of our long & glorious history, rather than the latest part of our current history.

How do we start? Firstly, in this age of money, draft picks, salary caps and flooding, we severely underestimate the mental aspect of our great game. If there is anything to be learned by our recent history it is how great a part the mind of the players plays in the success or lack thereof of a football team. Surely 2003 is ample proof of this? We were soundly beaten by a team we had beaten a mere three weeks earlier. We looked second rate.Yet we were far & away the best team of the second half of 2003. How did that happen? It happened because of 2002. It happened when we lost one of our most inspirational players the Tuesday prior. It happened because of history. It happened because of confidence. Our lack of it, and Brisbanes surplus of it.

2004 happened because of 2003. This was a team of kids because of injuries to older players, and mere kids could not hold their heads up after the disastrous showing in the 2003 Grand Final. Collingwood players play on confidence more than any other teams players because of history. Collingwood players hate to let the supporters down, and we in turn, cannot afford to let them believe we are ashamed of them or that we don’t believe in them. We are in fairly good shape this year. We are able, as is any team with enough confidence & self-belief to go all the way.

What would tip the balance? What’s the one thing that all current Collingwood players share? I believe an important one is a mountainous respect for each other, and in particular the one amongst them who is going to be remembered forever as one of the greatest Collingwood players of all time. The guys who make up the current team would do anything for Nathan Buckley. They would happily bleed for him, and they would do anything to give him the premiership medallion he so richly deserves.

So let that be the focus for 2005. Lets make it the year of Bucks. Lets forget about the history which this team of players can never change, and keep in the front of their minds something they CAN change. Rather than US being the thing in their minds when they’re lining up for goal, or about to go at the ball, lets put all our energy & creativity into making that great man the focus of their thoughts. They can never do what is required to make up for all our disappointments, but they can give their Captain that medal, and they’ll do it.

They did it for Rowdy in 1990, they’ll do it for Bucks this year.


By 35forever