the final match:
- Final Siren
- Victor's song
- Final Collingwood song
- Class warfare
- Con te partiro
For 107 years, Collingwood had played at Victoria
Park. Even when this working class club was in poor form, visitors
found it difficult to win here, against such a fiercely parochial
crowd. Yet Collingwood supporters understood the vanity of victory.
For many years, the team followed the same script. During the home
and away season, they would play superbly, thrashing the opposition
at home to rise to the top of the ladder. Despite this good start,
Collingwood would inevitably fail when it counted, at the official
finals venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. So predictable was this
phenomenon, that a word has evolved to describe it. As regular as
blossoming jasmine, Melbourne’s spring would bring on the ‘Colliwobbles’.
You could rely on the ‘Magpies’ to flounder when it matters. It
is the story of the underdog—the story of its working class supporters,
traditionally Irish Catholic, with recent injections of rembetika
But not in1999. For the second time in the club’s
history, Collingwood is looking to win the wooden spoon. The team
that would make this happen is its antithesis—Brisbane. The Queensland
capital had no tradition of Australian Rules football. It was colonised
by the Australia Football League for television spectacle, to be
watched by sports potatoes in the southern states. Worse, when a
football neighbour of Collingwood, Fitzroy,
fell into receivership, it was ‘merged’ with Brisbane, which promptly
stopped winning games. They were last year’s wooden spooners, but
this year’s premiership hopefuls. Worse, the man who turned their
fortune around was Lee Matthews, who had previously led Collingwood
to its only premiership in living memory.
In front of its diehard supporters, in its last
home game ever, Collingwood lose badly. It is what they call a ‘lose-lose’
situation, a ‘half-empty Monty’. During the course of the spectacle
that follows, the new millennium spares nothing for the old.
Immediately after the final siren, the ground’s
speakers blast out the Brisbane theme song. It is a version of the
old Fitzroy theme song, which was to the tune of the Marseillaise.
In the ‘original’ version, the call ‘Marchons!’ was neatly replaced
by the chorus ‘Fitzroy!’. While it would have been sensible to substitute
this with the name of the new club, the merger conditions meant
that the title ‘Brisbane Lions!’ had to be used. The result is un-singable,
which is not really the point any more: Brisbane supporters are
more likely to go and make themselves a cup of coffee after their
win, rather than punch the air with the crowd.
Outside the Goodbye Kind World exhibition, Collingwood President,
Eddie Maguire, reflects on the second great loss of the season --
the November 6th referendum. Note the headline.
See also the article
on the closing of Tiger Stadium: The closing of Tiger Stadium wasn't
tragedy, nor travesty, merely sad. For habitués, the place was a
reminder of fathers and grandfathers, of youth and sunlight, and
of communal memories. For remote fans like me and Larry Simon, 46,
of Marlton, New Jersey; Ella Van Nortwick, 74, of Paris, Tennessee;
and Tyrone Parker, 25, of Brooklyn, New York, it was a marker of
the passage of time. These are powerful motivators, but there would
be no repeat of past infamies. Peaceably, fans lined up to pilfer
momentos like beer signs, cupfuls of infield dirt, and, in one bizarre
instance, the econo-sized mustard dispenser from one hot dog stand.
The response is understandably hostile. Moans
of humiliation echo around the crowd and the administrators cut
the song out of pity. In its place, they play a custom-made rock
anthem to appease their disenfranchised supporters. The forced confidence
of ‘The Black & White Army’ only deepens the wound.
after week, day after day,
We live and we breathe the Collingwood way.
We are at every game, day or night,
Waving the flag, our blood’s black and white.
Mother to daughter, father to son,
The choice is here, the tradition lives on.
We’re dyed in the wool, completely one-eyed,
And we say,
We are the black and white army,
We say ‘Go pies!’
… in the wind or rain, win or lose,
We’re still in the members, how about you?
They took us away from Magpie land,
‘cause no one could beat us in front of our stand,
But we don’t care, we’ll go anywhere,
And we’ll say…
filtering tribal loyalties through customer relations, this mock
anthem attempts to sell the exile from Victoria Park as yet another
challenge to the underdog club—Collingwood had to leave because
they were too good. If they believe this, then they’ll happily continue
the fight elsewhere.
crowd at the far end of the ground suspects a swiftie from their
bosses. Behind them is a tiny stand filled with less than a hundred
anonymously suited people. Whether they are sponsors or not, they
are certainly a different class. One diesel-powered voice booms
out to his mates: ‘See up in there, the toffs!’ And then he berates
them directly, ‘One good thing—they’ll be able to pull this down’.
Like an ancient rusty sword, he brandishes class rivalry, ‘Then
you’ll never know what it’s like to be in a real football ground.
You’ll know that all you did was take space from the real supporters.’
As he is scolding the sponsors, the club president starts addressing
the crowd. Eddie McGuire is a double-breasted game show host who
provides the people’s face for the Australian Republican Party.
In many ways, McGuire is what many people will
vote for in November, when Australians will decide whether or not
to cut ties with England and become a republic. ‘McGuire the Messiah’
comes the sarcastic cry. This is too much from the sponsors, who
loosen their ties and scream back ‘Shut up’. Drowning out the president’s
address, the Rabelaisian stream continues ‘I’ll never fucking shut
Flanked by his sponsors, veiled Emirates stewardesses,
McGuire leads the crowd in the final performance of the club theme
song, ‘Good Old Collingwood Forever’. Of those four words, only
‘Collingwood’ rings true. As a further act of crowd appeasement,
the club flag is lowered and given military escort out to McGuire
in the centre of the ground. He promises to raise the flag on the
new ground, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in the ‘new millennium’.
Finally, to cool the crowd down, an electronic
screen suspended in mid air by a crane shows a video of the club’s
proudest moments. To the accompaniment of the schmaltzy ‘Con Te
Partiro’ by Andrea Bocelli
(‘Time to say goodbye’) the crowd watches slow motion footage
of their heroes rise in the air to take spectacular marks. Over
the tenor’s soaring voice, we can hear the roar of the crowd from
Despite the artifice, this for me is the most
moving part of the whole event. The mud at our feet, the flushed
bitter faces of the crowd, the screen glowing in mid air and the
echo of distant triumphs—it circumscribes a mythic theatre I can
imagine nowhere else. It isn’t like a movie, or a rock concert,
or a book. It is like… football at your home ground.
I remembered my own weekly ritual, the Friday
morning reading group when a few eggheads would gather together
to pour over works by a few Germans. One idea that lingered with
me came from Heidegger’s later writings, when he outlines something
he calls the ‘fourfold’, in which mortal, immortal, earth and heaven
come together to constellate a primary moment. While not wanting
to be too German about it, the demise of Victoria Park provided
for me the clearest instance of that fourfold.
What follows is the de rigueur ritual
of any Melbourne home and away football game. The crowd races on
to the grass, freshly ploughed by their hero’s boots. This time,
however, it is different. Whereas usually the crowd falls into small
groups for a frenetic ‘kick to kick’, this time they go straight
to the sacred turf. By the time they leave the ground, most supporters
have tufts of grass in their hands. Here is privatisation in its
raw form: the public body is divvied up by its members in a collective
sparagmos. As Australians partook in the great Telstra share grab
last year, now they devour the very ground of Victoria Park.
While the new millennium had claimed their football
team, the black and white army managed to retrieve their own bit
of the 20th century.