Confessions of a football feral


Dane Swan, Collingwood MagpiesOn the eve of the AFL Grand Final, I publicly declare my allegiance to the Collingwood Magpies. Yes, I am a Collingwood supporter, although I've always liked to think I'm not one of those Collingwood supporters: the mythical 'ferals' that give every non-Collingwood supporter slagging rights — no, I'm not one of them.

Recently, I had cause to wonder. During their round 21 match against the Adelaide Crows, the Pies, who had been in red-hot form, played poorly against an unexpectedly competitive opponent, and trailed all night. My wife (a fellow Pies supporter) and I were at the game, sitting directly in front of a flock of Crows.

One of them, a stout, middle-aged woman, was very vocal; justifiably smug about her team's dominance, but also making derogatory comments about Collingwood players and supporters. I stayed silent — we were losing, after all — and stewed.

When Collingwood won — just — through a combination of desperation and dumb luck, my relief in the wake of frustration got the better of me. I turned, leaned close to the woman behind me and screamed 'C'mon Pies!' into her slack, dejected face.

Ungracious. This woman had crossed state lines to watch her beloved team play, only to see them lose after leading all night. To top it off, she had now been savaged by one of those Collingwood ferals, which is what I must have seemed to her.

I felt ashamed, and even tried to apologise, although the effort was not well received. She believed she'd seen my true colours. I wondered if she was right. Perhaps I'd changed.

Barracking for the Pies is a bipolar experience. On the one hand I am part of the largest and most dedicated fan base of any AFL club. On the other, I suffer the vilification that has been meted upon Collingwood supporters throughout time immemorial.

The truism that anyone who doesn't love Collingwood, hates them and their fans, is long-standing and, as far as I can tell, has no basis other than tradition. The nature of the slights — Collingwood supporters are rowdy, toothless, illiterate — suggests that the stereotype has its roots amid the blue-collar communities of Collingwood and Abbotsford a century and a half ago. Whenever my brothers give me schtick about donning the black-and-white, I wink and accuse them of class prejudice.

My support has paid dividends, and not just because the Pies play an entertaining brand of football built on a foundation of guts, belief and hard work. On Friday night, they smashed the Geelong Cats, the reigning premiers and the most dominant team of the past four years, in the Preliminary Final.

That night, the Collingwood faithful finally mastered the spine-tingling slow chant — Col-ling-wo-od — that was just made for moments such as these. Our train carriage on the way home housed a content and collegial community clad in garments of black-and-white. This was footy fandom at its best.

The Magpies enter this week's Grand Final as favourites, but anything can happen on the day. The Pies' recent finals history against their opponents the St Kilda Saints favours the Saints. The St Kilda hopeful look to the last time the two faced off in a Grand Final, in 1966, when the Saints pinched it by a point.

There is a more recent, pertinent portent: in round three this year, the Saints deposed of the Pies comfortably, despite losing their superheroic captain Nick Riewoldt to a hamstring injury early in the game. The team ended up finishing third despite being sans-Riewoldt for most of the year.

This is a team with a lot of spirit, and a hunger for the premiership that is piqued by the fact that last year, they lost it to the Cats.

All of these factors are for me fueling what I can only describe as Grand Final anxiety. I've been sleeping badly. On Sunday night I dreamed of the Magpies scrambling for the ball at ground level inside their forward 50, desperate to kick a game-winning goal in the dying minutes of the match, but flooded by an equally desperate St Kilda defence.

I awoke before the siren sounded, so I have no idea if this nightmare Grand Final had a happy ending.

Or, more to the point, whose happy ending it was. Because disappointment this Saturday for Collingwood fans does of course translate to joy for St Kilda fans. Among them, one regular Eureka Street contributor; a close friend; and most importantly, my younger brother, Andy.

If the Magpies lose, I hope that amid my misery I can harbour some happiness for him. Blood is, after all, thicker and warmer than a mid-strength, plastic-cupped MCG beer.

Maybe I haven't become totally corrupted, after all? 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Collingwood Magpies, Geelong Cats, St Kilda Saints, AFL Grand Final, Adelaide Crows



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Existing comments

Why did you have to pick a footballer with those horrible tattoos? Don't these people realise that they will go out of fashion? You can get rid of a mullet in five minutes (you could even dispose of it) but those things are for life. Ten years from now, the tattooed ones will deserve the same mockery we now give to mullets.

Frank | 23 September 2010  

Tim: I'm sure you've heard the joke about the Collingwood supporter at the Grand Final with the spare seat next to him. And the plebs in the standing room behind him say who is the seat for? And he says my wife, but she died last week. And they say, so why didn't you offer it to a family member or friend? And he says, they have all gone to the funeral.

But seriously, I wish the Maggies well this week. They have been the best team all year. When they thrashed my team the Kangas in Round 7, my son and I agreed they had stepped up a level from previous years.

philip mendes | 23 September 2010  

Go Pies! If you lose I have to make a donation to a certain charity that dare not speak its name. Grandfather was right. Gambling is evil.

Moira Rayner | 23 September 2010  

When Julia Gillard said it was okay to hate Collingwood, during the election campaign, she was tapping into a fact of Australian life she knew would get sympathy from both sides. If you’re not Collingwood you hate Collingwood and if you are Collingwood you get a kick out of being hated. Being myself a Collingwood barracker with a certain philosophical detachment, a favourite consideration is why people hate Collingwood. In my view it goes back to the 1930s when the Magpies secured the record four premierships in a row. The game was tribal, with fierce local allegiances. These allegiances have been passed down through the generations, long after the families moved out of inner Melbourne. Collingwood acts always as though we’re the greatest, even when we’re the wooden-spooner, and this riles everyone. It’s an attitude based on ancient memory, as Collingwood has only won one premiership in the last fifty years. For others, this fact gives rise to huge mirth, of course, because behind this one-eyed fanaticism is an incredible pretension. Indeed, Collingwood is pretentious like no other club. I know a New Testament scholar who said that following Collingwood gives him new insight into the parousia. This is a more worthy, sober realism.

PHILIP HARVEY | 23 September 2010  

Enjoyed your article. Arthur and I are both ex Melbourne. He for the blues and myself for the bombers. Good Luck for Saturday. I will be watching the TV on the Gold Coast.

Barbara Powell | 23 September 2010  

Great piece Tim. We always followed the Cats, and my father was pretty feral, I must say. Full-throated bellows of 'Go home and get your little dog, umpy; open your glass eye' etc. My mother used to die of embarrassment and would often slink away if she could.

Irene | 23 September 2010  

Scene: St Pats E Melb schoolyard (where the Archbishop now parks his car).

Date: March 1951

Boy 1: Who do you barrack for?

Boy 2 (7yo grade 3): What does barrack mean?

Boy 2 spends the next week doing research reading the back page of The Herald.

A week later.

Boy 1: Tell Johnny who you barrack for.

Boy 2: Carlton.

Boy 1: You told me you barracked for Collingwood.

Boy 2: I knew it started with a 'C'.

There but for the Grace of God go I.

Peter Horan | 23 September 2010  

Tim, I enjoyed your article, but dispute your contention that the hostility towards Collingwood and their fans "has no basis other than tradition". In my case, my antipathy towards Collingwood goes back to attending matches at Victoria Park when my team (Carlton) played Collingwood there. To dare to barrack for the opposing side was to take your life in your hands. A friend of mine, a Geelong supporter, once commented that she had been a great believer in universal suffrage until she attended a match at Victoria Park.

Terry O'Neill | 24 September 2010  

I hear you Tim. Today I was torn between Pies and Saints as I now live a few metres from St Kilda footy ground - but earlier loyalties made me barrack for the Pies. But its a draw! So next week, go Saints!

JennyMartin | 25 September 2010  

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