One night without stripes
By: Glenn McFarlane of the Herald Sun
Of all the indignities arising out of a fractured, frustrating 1982 season, one night out at VFL Park in a meaningless game against an unfamiliar rival and in an unrecognisable jumper summed up Collingwood’s plight.
The Magpies were already struggling before their Escort Cup game against WA team Swan Districts on a Tuesday night on April 20 – three days after a 32-point loss to Richmond at the same venue.
Tom Hafey‘s team had played off in the Grand Final the previous year, but the 1982 side had been wracked by infighting, inconsistency and an injury list longer than the club had seen for some time.
For those unfamiliar with the “night competition”, it was run in a similar vein to the old knockout pre-season competition. The only difference was that this “night competition” – played under various sponsor names across the years – took part in the season proper, not the pre-season. If it seems incredulous now that players often had to back up playing just a few days after regular season games, well that’s precisely what used to happen.
And this clash with Swan Districts could hardly have come at a more inopportune time for Hafey as he had to call on players from the reserves to complete a team that had 20 injuries across the board.
For a period, the Escort Cup saw a handful of clubs from senior competitions in Western Australia and South Australia play off for the chance to be included in the competition.
Swan Districts, coached by John Todd, and packed with a number of players who would later go onto strong VFL careers, won their way through to take on the Magpies by beating Glenelg in a preliminary game.
That complicated things because Todd’s team wore black and white stripes, just as Collingwood did, and even in this era before jumper clashes, that was never going to be good enough.
So after much debate, it was decided there would be a coin toss to see which team got to wear their traditional colours, and which team had to switch.
For Collingwood, so proud of its black and white stripes, it was a big issue. But Swan Districts felt the same, and when the coin came down, it was in favour of the Western Australian side.
So that meant the most famous club in Australian football had to come up with an alternative jumper – in this case, it was white with black V on the front, and black and white hooped socks.
The Age said: “For the first time in modern memory, (Collingwood) played in a foreign guernsey.” It was a confronting sight for many traditional Magpie fans, and it would only get worse as the night wore on.
However, the issue that worried Hafey more than jumpers was the fact that he barely had a team to choose from for the game.
Still, no one expected the one-time VFL powerhouses to have too much trouble with one of the more powerful WA sides, even if Hafey was hunting around for replacements in the early part of the football week.
Rene Kink could not be considered. He had been suspended for three weeks the night before, having been found guilty by the VFL tribunal for striking Barry Rowlings.
On the morning of the match, The Age noted the injury crisis at Collingwood, and how the injured big men Peter Moore and Stuart Atkin, and the rested Graham Teasdale (in his first season at the club but dealing with a chronic knee injury) meant that Hafey was going to have to blood 21-year-old Wes Fellowes, who had played one senior game the previous season.
Collingwood administrator John Birt said Fellowes had “built himself up over the summer months and (was) much more capable … it’s a good opportunity to play Fellowes because we need another ruckman.”
The team selected still had some well-established Magpies. The backline included Bill Picken, Peter McCormack, Ian Cooper and Ray Byrne. Mark Williams was a lock in the centre, while youngsters Chris Dalkin and Geoff Miles were listed on the wing, and the onballers included John Annear and Graeme Allan. And some of those selected in attack were Craig Davis, Craig Stewart, Michael Taylor, Noel Lovell and an ever-improving Tony Shaw.
Shaw would laugh years later at a comment made by Channel Seven’s Lou Richards, who suggested to Bob Skilton during the course of the game: “I don’t know about you but they all look pretty fat to me, Collingwood.” The future 1990 premiership skipper would later say with a smile: “White’s no good unless you’ve got a good body shape.”
The Swan Districts side started the game brilliantly. Casting an eye at the side more than three decades later, you can see why when looking at the depth in the side.
North Melbourne premiership player Graham Melrose was skipper of the side that included the likes of helmeted young indigenous player in Phil Narkle, 17-year-old forward Peter Sartori, big man Alan Sidebottom, a former Victorian turned Sandgroper in Leon Baker, and an exciting blonde forward/midfielder called Mike Richardson, who had already attracted the attention of Collingwood recruiting scouts before this game.
Leading journalist Trevor Grant gave Collingwood fans some comfort in his match report in the following day’s paper when he wrote: “Ironically, one of the most prolific kick winners was Mike Richardson, a ruck-rover the Magpies hope will be at Victoria Park next year.”
Swan Districts kicked three goals in the first term to Collingwood’s nil. Two came from the teenage Sartori, who managed to slip away from Cooper. Twice Sartori out-marked his more seasoned opponent, who was 11 years his senior, and on the other occasion Cooper “mishandled the ball to allow rover Leon Barker to pounce for Swan Districts’ fourth goal.”
Those watching on Channel Seven, and those 6000 supporters who made the trek out to Waverley, thought Collingwood would come good. It seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the tide turned.
It wasn’t until the six minute of the second term that the Victorian Magpies finally scored a major. It came from Craig Davis, who was assisted by some “smart play” from Lovell.
It was the start of four goals for Collingwood in the second term, but Swan Districts still kicked three themselves and held gamely onto an 11-point lead at the main break.
If the young Collingwood players thought Hafey would be accepting of their second quarter comeback, they would be sorely wrong. From the moment they retreated to the bowels of the Waverley Park dressing rooms, the coach was furious – and in their faces.
Grant said Hafey “berated his players (at half-time) for merely going through the motions, but that was really a compliment. The Magpies had, in fact, looked slow and cumbersome in the first half.”
With the coach’s words ringing in their ears, the players went out to try and turn things around. And, for a time, it worked. Collingwood kicked five goals to three in the third quarter and by the last change they had pegged back the lead. The difference at three-quarter-time was two points.
Part of the changes that Hafey made at half-time had made a difference. Regular defender Peter McCormack went forward and he would end the game with four goals – one more than his best effort in VFL football.
But just when everyone figured Collingwood was about to kick away in the final term, the exact opposite happened.
Swan Districts came again, and their “fierce tackling” and “overwhelming commitment” was stark in comparison to their oppositions. And with four goals to two in the final term, the visitors secured one of the great football shocks by beating the previous year’s VFL Grand Finalist by 10 points.
It was precisely what Collingwood – and Hafey – didn’t need, putting more attention on a club already under the microscope.
Hafey’s relationship with the media was tenuous at this stage. He had placed a ban on journalists a few weeks earlier, and stood firm when approached by Grant and others eager to quiz him about the upset loss.
He gave the players “a tongue lashing” for 35 minutes after the game. And he refused to speak to the press, other than offering: “There’s no worries, I’ve just finished with all that”, referring to his newspaper ban.
The talking was left to Collingwood President John Hickey, who admitted the loss “deepened cause for concern” at the club. But he added: “The day games are more important to Collingwood, we would have liked to have won but we weren’t good enough. It’s as simple as that.”
Swan Districts advanced to the next stage, but more controversy would follow. After the quarter-final clash with Richmond was pushed back on a few separate occasions, Todd and his club fumed at how they had been treated and the coach sent over a team of reserves and (under 18s) colts to take on the Tigers.
The result was embarrassing as they lost to Richmond by 186 points. The Australian Football Commission would ban them from the 1985 Escort Cup as a result.
But that didn’t worry Todd, as his team went on to win the 1982 WAFL premiership, the start of three successive flags.
Collingwood’s season wasn’t anywhere near as productive. In fact, their descent continued after the loss to Swan Districts, and after a Round 10 loss to Melbourne -an eighth successive defeat (well, 10 if you include the Escort Cup loss), Hickey and his board sacked Hafey. By season’s end, Hickey had also been voted out of office, with the New Magpies sweeping to power promising change.
It was one of the most tumultuous years in Collingwood’s history, and few Magpies fans who can recall it, will ever forget the night the club was not allowed to wear black and white stripes
Swan Districts 3.1 6.4 9.6 13.9 (87)
Collingwood 0.4 4.5 9.8 11.11 (77)
GOALS – Swan Districts: Baker 3, Sartori 3, Richardson 2, Nowotny 2, Narkle 2, Holmes.
Collingwood: McCormack 4, Davis 2, Annear, Lovell, T Shaw, D Shaw, Lovett.
BEST – Swan Districts: Melrose, A Cransberg, Richardson, Fogarty, Shine, Sartori, Baker, Narkle.
Collingwood: T Shaw, Williams, McCormack, Picken, Annear, Lovell.
UMPIRES: Sawers, Rich.