By: Glenn McFarlane, Herald Sun journalist and Collingwood historian.
On face value, Collingwood and Melbourne wouldn’t appear to have too much in common, other than the sport both teams play.
One was born out of a dark depression in a working-class suburb eager to better itself, and has gone on to become one of the most famous sporting clubs in Australia.
The other was one of the oldest sporting clubs in the world, born at the same time as the game itself, but is still now chasing that elusive 13th VFL-AFL premiership, having not won a flag since beating the Magpies back in 1964.
Incredibly, these two clubs almost merged during the early 1940s when the ravages of the Second World War hit home and the sheer number of players unavailable due to their service meant that each feared they could field a team. As a result, the two clubs spoke briefly about a temporary amalgamation.
Fortunately, it never happened, even if the Magpies struggled on a weekly basis to have enough players to run out at times.
But the one thing that has been a key element of Collingwood’s relationship with Melbourne throughout their sometimes tempestuous relationship is the well-worn path from one club to the other.
Here is a snapshot of some former Magpies and Demons who have changed jumpers over the years, including two Brownlow Medallists, a few captains and, incredibly, a set of siblings who played for both clubs.
THE ABBOTT SIBLINGS
Both achieved that goal, albeit briefly, and independent of each other. Les played one game in 1907 before football wanderlust set in. Clarrie managed two games in 1907.
Incredibly, both would also play for Melbourne.
Let’s start with Les. Recruited from Collingwood Districts, he played his sole game in black and white against Geelong at Corio Oval in round eight, 1904. He had impressed earlier that month in an exhibition match against Castlemaine on a mid-year tour, which prompted his elevation.
He would go on to play for another four VFL clubs – one game for Carlton in 1905, 31 for Richmond in 1910-11, three for Melbourne in 1912, and three more for South Melbourne that same year.
The full-back/defender also represented a further three clubs in the VFA – Brunswick, Port Melbourne and North Melbourne.
He was one of Brunswick’s best players in the club’s 1909 Grand Final win, with the club’s annual report suggesting “special mention should be made of Mr L. Abbott, in whom the club has found an excellent full-back.”
Clarrie, three-and-a-half years younger than Les, was noted as “roving” and featuring “prominently” in his debut for Collingwood in round three, 1907. He played the next week against – of all teams – Melbourne before heading back to the Collingwood district side. Like his brother, he ended up at Melbourne in 1912, and filled in for one senior game after a player withdrew late with sickness.
In all, the Abbott brothers played 42 games of VFL football. But in none of those did they take the field together.
Peter Moore won a Brownlow Medal with both Collingwood and Melbourne.
CHEERS FOR AN EX-MAGPIE
Collingwood has a habit of excommunicating stars who leave the club for rival teams, but it couldn’t quite do that to Percy Wilson. Not even Magpie supporters could hold a grudge against him when he finally took up a second offer to captain-coach Melbourne ahead of the 1921 season.
Wilson had been one of Collingwood’s best players for more than a decade, playing in two premierships (1910 and 1917) and only missing out on more success in 1919 due to a broken arm.
The Magpies had figured that their star rover and forward may have passed his best. So they allowed the 32-year-old to transfer to Melbourne without question, where he would play on for another three years.
The club’s Annual Report suggested: “Mr Percy Wilson has played with us for twelve years … Mr Wilson’s whole heart and soul has been bound up with Collingwood, by recognising he cannot play much longer, finally concluded he would ask for a transfer. Your club has granted him a clearance with willingness, but a lot of regret.”
Better still, the supporters, who could be harsh against former players who departed, gave him a rousing reception on his round two return to Melbourne. The Australasian newspaper said: “A nice compliment was paid by Collingwood supporters to Percy Wilson as he led Melbourne onto the field … they cheered him for some time, a tribute to the esteem in which he is still held by his admirers.”
THE MACHINE MEMBER
Bill Libbis was an integral part of Collingwood’s famed Machine, which won four successive premierships from 1927-30, and a player who held down the No.1 roving slot for much of that time.
The great Harry Collier once said of Libbis: “Somehow I ended up with the name, but Bill Libbis … well, he was the player.”
Libbis had the “dash and dazzle” as a rover, according to Gordon Coventry, and the incredibly durable and dynamic Magpie only missed two games in Collingwood’s 82 matches in those four premiership seasons.
That run ended in 1931 when he had a lengthy suspension and also suffered appendicitis during the season.
Libbis was a reserved, quietly-spoken man, whose nickname ‘Pickles’ came from a jam business he had built up with friends in a backyard operation that grew into something bigger. But he wasn’t afraid to stand up for his rights. That’s what he did in 1933 when Collingwood decided to dock the players’ wages by 10 shillings early that season, due to the worsening economic situation.
He decided to take a stand and said he was not prepared to allow this to happen. Soon after, he was cleared to Melbourne, where he went on to play another 39 games.
It wasn’t the way it was meant to finish for Libbis at Collingwood, but he was a man of principle who was never afraid to stand up for himself, or those around him.
THE ’79 SWITCHEROO
Collingwood’s enigmatic star Phil Carman wanted to leave the club at the end of the 1978 season and the feeling was mutual.
Carman had won a Copeland Trophy in a brilliant debut season in 1975, but he and the club had fallen out of love towards the end of their colourful and controversial four-season association.
He explained in January 1979: “I didn’t want to stay at Collingwood because the last two years have not been wonderful.” He was only 28, and chose Melbourne as his preferred destination, on a new four-year deal.
Carman lasted only one of those four contracted years with Melbourne after a personality clash with captain-coach Carl Ditterich. He later moved to Essendon and North Melbourne.
Dellamarta, a backman who had played 17 games with Collingwood, managed two more games for the Demons in 1979.
Gordon, a wingman in Collingwood’s 1977 Grand Final teams, was more serviceable, playing 34 games over the next three seasons for Melbourne. Tragically, Gordon died, aged only 29, from cancer in 1983.
Brewer had been a five-year-old kid when his brother, Ian, was a member of Collingwood’s 1958 premiership side. Ian had led the VFL goal kicking table that season.
But Ross was zoned to Melbourne and played 121 games for the club from 1972 to 1978, only to be offered up for trade at the end of that season. The move to Collingwood was good for him as he managed 47 games and kicked 85 goals in three seasons in Black and White. The most important of those goals came in the dying minutes of the first semi-final against Fitzroy in 1981, which kept the Magpies’ season alive.
A Brownlow Medal winning Demon in 2000, Shane Woewodin polled three votes in his first game as a Magpie three years later.
MOORE AND MOORE
One of the most anticipated and tense non-finals matches between Collingwood and Melbourne came in round one, 1983, and it was the result of one man.
Peter Moore had won a Brownlow Medal for the Magpies four years earlier, having given his heart and soul to the Black and White jumper, playing in a string of frustrating Grand Final losses in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
But the disastrous 1982 season, which saw the club and the team divided, was the last straw for Moore, and the Magpies’ skipper decided to accept a lucrative offer from Melbourne to relocate.
A few generations earlier, Magpie fans had given a departing club captain (Percy Wilson) a great reception when he ran out against his old side in a Melbourne jumper. But football had changed in the years since that moment. Wilson’s career was thought to be on a downward trajectory when he left. Moore’s wasn’t.
So the big blonde ruckman was confronted with a vocal crowd wanting to let him know that he had done the wrong thing. One banner in the crowd, which was removed, even read: “Moore Filth.”
It was harsh and unfair. But Collingwood did the only thing it could on that day, defeat Melbourne.
Moore won a second Brownlow Medal in 1984. For a time, he kept his distance from Collingwood, but as the years rolled on, he came back into the fold, in part as a mentor to a young Josh Fraser.
Better still, when his young son, Darcy, started showing great promise as a footballer, the link to the Magpies was fully re-engaged. Debuting in 2014, Darcy Moore has carried on the family tradition in his father’s old No.30, but you can bet your bottom dollar that this son of a gun will never play for the Demons.
THE WOEY OPTION
How often does a club get the chance to pick up a Brownlow Medal winner a few years after he puts ‘Charlie’ around his neck?
That’s a rare opportunity, and Collingwood took it over the summer of 2002 when it claimed Melbourne’s Shane Woewodin, surprise winner of the 2000 medal, by giving up the No. 14 selection that the Demons used up on Daniel Bell. At the time, it was the punt that needed to be taken, even if the midfielder never quite lived up to the expectations of the move.
There were instant rewards when he polled three Brownlow votes in his first game with the Magpies – a round one, 2003 clash with Richmond – and it was one of four times that season the umps gave him the maximum votes. He played in all 25 games that season, including the 2003 Grand Final against Brisbane, where he kicked Collingwood’s first goal of the match.
But his impact on the game was minimal as the Magpies copped a thrashing from the Lions.
He was still relatively solid in a difficult year for Collingwood in 2004, playing every game, but his third and final season in Black and White in 2005 saw him lose his impact and some of his speed. Woewodin played in 15 matches for the season, taking his overall games tally to 200, but as the Magpies looked to restructure its playing list, he was a casualty.
That 200th game came in the final round of the season and at least he kicked two goals and had 20 possessions. It was to be his last AFL match.