Vic Park memories burn strong
It doesn’t take long for Collingwood to work its magic. And in the case of UK-born Wayne Robertson, it only took a couple of years living in Melbourne as a kid to turn him into a Magpie fan for life – though he’s had to follow mostly from the other side of the world.
And so strong are those memories, and that pull, that he’s been able to recreate on canvas his childhood recollections of a day at Victoria Park nearly 70 years ago.
It was March of 1954 when a seven-year-old Wayne emigrated to Melbourne from England with his parents. He went to school at Wales Street School in Northcote, and the family lived most of the time in Ivanhoe.
Wayne had an aunt who lived in Melbourne with her Australian husband, Uncle Harry, who as fate would have it turned out to be a huge Collingwood fan. It was Uncle Harry who would introduce both Wayne and his father to what then seemed “the rather mysterious” game of Aussie Rules.
“I fell in love with Aussie Rules as soon as I saw it,” Wayne says today. “And in particular Collingwood. My hero was Thorold Merrett and I used to wear the black and white guernsey to school with No 17 on my back. Uncle Harry also introduced me once to Ron Todd – I still remember his enormous hands!
“I was entranced by the physicality of Aussie Rules … I remember seeing Lou Richards having a punch-up with South Melbourne opponents. I thought was great entertainment!
“We used to get to Victoria Park mid-morning to watch the reserves play and then I would be treated to a ‘four n twenty’ pie for lunch before the first team came on in the afternoon. It was also great fun for me, at age seven, hearing all the swearing from the grandstand – much of it from the ladies! These are very special memories for me.”
Unfortunately for his football-following, Wayne’s parents decided to return to England in August of 1957. So little more than three-and-a-half years after falling in love with Collingwood, he was gone again. And one memory of his farewell still lingers with him.
“I remember we sailed away from Melbourne on the SS Stratheden and my Dad and I took a radio to the back of the ship so we could listen to the commentary of Collingwood playing against Fitzroy. We listened and listened until the commentary slowly crackled and faded away as we moved further away from Melbourne … it almost brings a tear to my eye remembering that.”
Wayne has only been back to Australia once since then (as fate would have it, it was Christmas of 1982, so he got to see Ian Botham’s dismissal of Jeff Thomson to seal a famously dramatic Test win), but his love affair with Collingwood has remained.
That wasn’t always easy, because Australian football was not shown on TV in the UK for many years after his return there. But he watches the games these days, and still has a Collingwood jumper (with No.17 on the back, of course) in his office.
A skilled artist, Wayne decided a few years ago to commit to canvas his memories of the happy days with his father and uncle at Victoria Park in the 1950s. So he identified a game – against Footscray in 1955 – and found a footy record from the game so he could determine who would have been playing. He looked at team photos to decide who would have been wearing short or long sleeves. And he even tried to calculate if the St Patrick’s Cathedral spire would have been visible from Vic Park back then.
All that work paid off, and he has now sent the club a high quality print of his splendidly detailed painting. It’s superb.
“The painting was truly a labour of love,” he says, “and I tried hard to get all the detail right. And if you look at the grandstand … you might just pick out a little boy standing up wearing a black and white guernsey. That is me, flanked by my father and my uncle.
“I am so grateful to have these wonderful memories. Australia and Collingwood will always be in my heart.”