The story behind our song
By: Michael Roberts, Collingwood Historian.
The song that has come to define the Collingwood Football Club could hardly have been created in a less ‘Collingwood’ environment. It was written by a player who at that stage had never played a game for the club, during a holiday to Tasmania, using as its base a song written by an American composer during the Spanish American War.
But from that unlikely combination of circumstances emerged what has become one of the most stirring and well known of all Australian football anthems.
The magic happened during Collingwood’s tour of Tasmania in August of 1906 – a two-week sojourn that was mostly R&R but which also featured four exhibition games in eight days against various local opponents. These trips, whether to regional Victorian destinations or interstate, were considered one of the few ‘perks’ of being a footballer in those days. Travel was expensive and leisure time scarce, so a club-funded trip was quite an attraction. They were also great bonding experiences, and useful PR for the club in terms of attracting future players.
Just before they left, the Magpies used the lure of the forthcoming trip to tempt a promising young Yarraville defender called Tom Nelson to join the club. Much to his local club’s chagrin, Nelson agreed, meeting many of his teammates for the first time just before they boarded the Loongana to Launceston on Monday 6 August.
Nelson settled in quickly. Social activities such as music and singing were a central part of club trips, and Nelson was adept at both, having performed concerts and musical theatre around the traps in Yarraville. He was soon being noted for the energy of his musical contributions on board (and also his dancing when they got to Tasmania).
The touring party landed in Launceston on Tuesday, visited the Cliff Grounds and Electric Power Station that afternoon then played a game against Northern Tasmania on Wednesday (which they won by the best part of nine goals). They travelled to Hobart by train on Thursday, preparing for a game against a Southern Tasmanian combination on Saturday.
Saturday 11 August was wet and miserable (Bob Nash would attract attention later in the day for playing in the game while holding an umbrella!), but the party set out and were driven from the Carlton Club Hotel in Hobart to visit the historic Elwick Racecourse, and from there back to the Upper Cricket Ground in Hobart where the game was to be played.
A reporter from the Collingwood Observer newspaper was with the touring party on that fateful trip, and he takes up the story:
“Singing had by this time become a settled part of our trip, and Tom Nelson led Collingwood by introducing one good chorus, and in this respect he emulated the deeds of his worthy namesake of old. His chorus was to the air of “Dolly Gray” and ran as follows:
‘Good old Collingwood for ever, they know how to play the game,
Side by side they stick together, to uphold the Magpies’ name.
Hear the barrackers are shouting, as all barrackers should,
Oh, the premiership’s a cakewalk, for good old Collingwood.’
“The sentiments are very pretty and the Tasmanians were delighted with them,” the journalist continued, “but the ideas are too confident for the writer’s liking.”
And with that, Good Old Collingwood Forever – with all its ‘too confident’ ideas – was born.
Mind you, it could just as easily have been something else. Jack ‘Doogan’ Peppard, a club official who also fancied his vocal talents), introduced his own song that same day. The tune wasn’t recorded but the words were:
“The Collingwood, the Collingwood,
The Magpies famous crew.
Their style of game has won them fame,
They’ve shown what they can do.
On every ground they are renowned,
For system, style and pace.
And take my tip for the Premiership,
They’re sure to take first place.”
Collingwood’s Tasmanian tour concluded the following Friday and the team arrived back in Melbourne via the Coogee on August 18. The players got changed and went straight to Victoria Park for their game against Melbourne, where Tom Nelson made his senior debut. He played two further senior games without attracting much attention before being released back to Yarraville in 1907. But he’d already left an indelible mark on the Collingwood Football Club.
One of the great ironies of the song’s birth is that it took place during one of Collingwood’s unhappiest ever seasons, with unprecedented levels of infighting, including the captain being stood down for poor form and the coach and vice-captain suspended for causing dissension within the team. Yet out of all this mayhem came one of the greatest and most enduring symbols of club unity and success.
* Additional research for this article was provided by Robin Murphy of the Collingwood Archives Committee.