The Collingwood and Richmond trade war

It was a war that should never have happened. A war that saw one club bankrupt and the other on the brink of extinction.

Collingwood and Richmond have never gotten along.The cross-town rivals have shared a history that dates back to the 1920s, when the Tigers claimed their first premiership in the 1920 grand final.

Collingwood sought their revenge by trouncing the Tigers in three successive grand finals between1927 to 1929.

Tensions between the clubs were so fierce that Richmond immortal Jack Dyer confessed he could not watch black and white television because of his hatred for the Magpies.

But for all of their history, nothing would prepare the clubs for the bitter trade wars of the early 1980’s.

Richmond and Collingwood began the decade by squaring off in the 1980 Grand Final. In front of 113,461 fans, the Tigers defeated the Magpies by 81 points to win their 10th VFL premiership.

With a side full of youth, the Tigers were expected to dominate the decade and be become one of the most successful teams in VFL history.

However, the Tigers failed to make the finals in 1981 and sacked coach Tony Jewell.

Former player Francis Bourke was appointed coach in 1982 and guided the Tigers to the Grand Final. But in wet conditions the Tigers were no match for Carlton, who ran away with an 18-point victory.

While Richmond was mourning the Grand Final defeat, Collingwood were in the midst of an evolution.

For the first time in six years the Magpies failed to make the finals. The Collingwood board were criticised for being conservative and the lack of improvement saw rebel groups challenge the board for power of the club.

One of these rebel groups was the ‘New Magpies’, who were led by well know media identity and businessman Ranald McDonald.

McDonald and the‘New Magpies’ promised fans if elected onto the board they would embark on one of the biggest recruiting campaigns ever seen in VFL history.

Ranald McDonald

An election was called and the ‘New Magpies’ gained power of the club.

Collingwood historian Michael Roberts recalls the ‘New Magpies’ early promises.

“They [the ‘New Magpies’] went out to spend big money and buy a premiership. It was a charged environment under that regime and that mean’t they were spending big money and that mean’t clubs who were poached by Collingwood got a bit more pissed off.”

Richmond was one of the clubs annoyed by the Collingwood recruiting strategy.

In the wake of the grand final defeat, club legends David Cloke and Geoff Raines asked for pay increases to compliment their service to the Tigers.

According to former player Dale Weigtman in his book ‘Saving our skins and other tiger tales’, the duo had requested pay increases after discovering 20-year-old forward Brian Taylor was on a larger salary.

Livid by the perceived lack of respect shown towards the club, Richmond secretary Graeme Richmond did not accept the request.

“Graeme Richmond had this attitude that you don’t tell us what you are worth, we tell you,” Richmond historian Bill Meaklim said.

Graeme Richmond

News of the player unrest reached Collingwood and the Magpies offered the pair the money they were seeking.

Losing the well-loved players to their fiercest rival infuriated Richmond, who began plotting their revenge.

“Guys like Cloke and Raines were royalty at Richmond and Richmond were understandably pissed off,” said Roberts.

David Cloke and Geoff Raines

The Tigers tried signing Collingwood icon Peter Daicos, but a conversation with his father persuaded Daicos to stay at the Magpies.

With Daicos rejecting a move, the Tigers set their sights on Phil Walsh and John Annear.

Walsh was named Collingwood’s best first year player in 1983 and the move hurt Magpie fans.

“He [Walsh] was a very popular player,” Roberts said.

“The fans loved him and from that moment it was a realisation that this was a war.”

Collingwood hit back by securing Brian Taylor in 1985, while Richmond poached Wally Lovett, Neil Peart and Craig Stewart.

But the effects of the war were beginning to take its toll. While Collingwood were getting the best out of their recruits, Richmond’s signings failed to impress.

“What we did was dopey,” Meaklim said.

“While Collingwood were get- ting hundreds of games from Cloke, Raines and Taylor, we got ordinary players who played under 50 games.”

“The money we spent on transfers would have been enough to pay Cloke and Raines what they wanted.”

Collingwood returned to the finals in 1984, while Richmond struggled in the lower half of the ladder.

Over a four-year period, the ‘New Magpies’ spent $1.8 million on player acquisitions.

In 1986, the Magpies were on the verge bankruptcy, but found enough money to pay off their debts.

“We got a stay of execution of a couple of weeks and that gave us the time we needed to settle things down a bit,” Roberts said.

Richmond were not so lucky. Disappointing on-field results saw the club sack four coaches in a five-year period. In 1990 Richmond declared they needed to raise $1 million by October 31 or face extinction.

The Save Our Skins campaign was established and saw the club rattle tins for survival.

“Tins were taken everywhere to raise the money. A legend match was planned at Windy Hill and it got a crowd of over 23,000,” recalls Meaklim.

Amongst the many who donated to the cause was the Collingwood Football Club.

It is unclear why the Magpies donated to the Richmond fund. But what is clear is no matter how strained the relationship became, both clubs needed each other for survival.

Promising career cut short by savage assault

July 8 1972 will always be remembered as the day football lost one of its most promising careers. Aged 21, Collingwood’s John Greening was one of the best players in the VFL.

In his fourth year of senior football, Greening averaged 26 disposals a game and had an unforgettable fortnight between rounds 9 and 10, when he accumulated 91 disposals and kicked 10 goals.

Greening was a favourite for the Brownlow Medal, before his season and career was cut short by a savage incident.

Greening started the round 14 clash against St Kilda at Moorabbin in fine fashion, taking the first mark of the game.

Greening leaping above the pack.

The midfielder kicked the ball into the Magpies attack and as fans and the television cameras followed the flight of the ball, St Kilda tough man, Jim O’Dea, viciously hit Greening.

The Magpie was left unconscious and bloodied by the fleeing O’Dea, when Collingwood trainers came to his aid.

Magpie’s teammate Len Thompson recalled the incident prior to his death in 2007.

“I looked down at Johnny and it gave me a dreadful fright. It was a horrific sight, he was severely hurt.”

“Whatever happened, and I didn’t see it, I think part of what did happen is he hit the ground and his head hit the cricket pitch.”

The incident left Greening in a coma for 24 hours and in intensive care for 12 days.

Doctor’s feared Greening would not survive and considered brain damage as the best-case scenario.

As Greening lay fighting for his life, the VFL acted quickly and sanctioned O’Dea with a 10-week ban.

O’Dea escaped legal action for the incident, even though there were reports St Kilda coach Allan Jeans instructed O’Dea to ‘fix up’ Greening.

St Kilda fans taunted Greening, as he lay unconscious on the stretcher, infuriating Magpie fans and beginning a fierce rivalry between the clubs.

Following the incident, Magpie fans adorned boundary fences with a banner bearing Greening’s name, when the two sides met.

Some Magpie fans were so appalled by the incident that they never attended another game.

Spectacularly, Greening returned to football in round 9, 1974.

Against reigning premiers Richmond, Greening booted a goal with his first kick and helped the Magpies to a 69-point win.

But Greening would never again reach the heights of his comeback game.

In his own words Greening said his aim was to return for one game and prove to the doubters that he could still play at the top level.

A lack of motivation saw Greening play only eight more games before announcing his retirement in 1976.

Greening may only have played 107 games, but Magpie fans will always remember him as one of the
most prestigious talents to wear the famous black and white guernsey.

Pies flag tainted by off-field misdemeanour’s

Drugs, assault and betting.

No we are not talking about the West Coast Eagles, we are talking about the 2010 Collingwood premiership team.

Last week Scott Pendlebury suggested the Magpies suffered a premiership hangover in 2011, because players over celebrated the 2010 flag.

It is difficult to support Pendlebury’s claims given the Magpies lost only two games for the home and away season and were trailing Geelong by only seven points at three quarter time in the Grand Final.

But what Pendlebury’s accusations raise is a discussion about the teams off-field antics during the early part of the decade.

The 2006 West Coast premiership is blemished because of the off field antics of it’s players.

There is no evidence to suggest party drugs can be performance enhancing, but nonetheless the misdemeanours of the West Coast players have left many, including veteran AFL journalist Mike Sheahan questioning the feats of the Eagles.

“The longer it goes the more convinced I am that there’s a taint attached to West Coast in 2006,” Sheahan said on 1116 SEN.

“Wallsy (Robert Walls) said immediately after that premiership win that he thought it was tainted, I taunted him at the time and said it was ungracious, but I’m now in Wallsy’s corner.

“I think the evidence suggests that there was a drug culture that was rife at West Coast at that time.”

In October 2016, former Collingwood player Dane Swan admitted to experimenting with illicit drugs.

“I have experimented with what some people call recreational drugs, but have never taken performance-enhancing drugs or what you might call ‘heavy’ drugs.”

Swan also went on to say that only a small contingent of teammates have also used drugs.

It was not revealed when Swan used the drugs but in 2012, Collingwood CEO Gary Pert said the “volcanic behaviour” of players during the off-season and the use of drugs was the biggest issue in the AFL.

Like Ben Cousins, Swan was the biggest name in the Magpies side.

Cousins was said to have had an influence on the younger players at the club, including Chad Fletcher and Daniel Kerr.

At Collingwood Swan was part of the ‘Rat Pack’, a group of rebel teammates, which included Ben Johnson, Alan Didak, Heath Shaw and Dale Thomas.

A 2013 report by the Australian Government showed eight million Australian’s over the age of 14 had consumed illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime

It is not right to accuse individuals of using drugs but if a well renowned player like Swan has experimented with drugs, it could influence teammates to experiment as well.

Drugs were not the only issue the Magpies faced during the 2010 period.

Two days after the premiership two players were accused of sexually assaulting a woman, while in 2011 Heath Shaw was suspended for eight matches for placing a bet on captain Nick Maxwell to kick the first goal in a Round 9 clash against Adelaide.

Off field behaviour should not dampen the on-field success of a team, unless the off-field incidents are proven to be performance enhancing.

West Coast’s problems were not found to have enhanced player performances, yet still people question the teams success.

Yet no one argues the party culture at Collingwood during the 2010 premiership season is anymore than ‘boys having fun’.

If the Eagles success is questioned then so too should Collingwood’s, or we should just accept the players made mistakes off field but on-field they achieved undeniable success.

The mistakes of the bad boy Eagles has overshadowed the success of the unimpeachable Chris Judd, Dean Cox and Andrew Embley.

The same goes for Collingwood, where the party boys have prevented the likes of Scott Pendlebury, Nick Maxwell and Steel Sidebottom from winning a second flag.

Dane Swan – The unexpected superstar

“With pick 58 the Collingwood Football Club select, Dane Swan from Calder Cannons.”

The year was 2001, Swan was still celebrating schoolies on the Gold Coast and Collingwood had just unknowingly discovered a diamond in the rough.

Swan quickly acquainted himself with the media and newspapers, although unfortunately for Collingwood he often found himself on the front page, rather than the back.

After refusing to leave schoolies to visit his new club, Swan floated through his first few years according to his father, Billy Swan.

Had it not been for his father’s memorable 300 game career with Port Melbourne, Swan may have never earned his place on an AFL list.

Yet the young larrikin almost threw his short career away on one eventful evening in December 2003.

With his cousin, Aaron Ramsey and Kade Carey, Swan was caught in an altercation with a local cleaner in Federation Square.

Mick Malthouse and the club decided to give Swan one last chance, a chance that Swan has turned into a phenomenal career.

Swan himself acknowledges that it was after the 2003 brawl that the “penny dropped” and he decided “playing AFL was something he wanted to do”.

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By 2006 Swan had cemented his place in Collingwood’s best 22, as the late bloomer finished sixth in the Copeland trophy.

With his trademark waddle and laid-back charisma, Swan quite literally stumbled into the spotlight.

As interchange rotations reached an all-time high, Swan’s burst style of play was proving unstoppable.

The “untaggable” machine went from strength to strength and won his first Copeland Trophy in 2008, an award that he would hold for three consecutive years.

The 2010 and 2011 seasons proved a golden period for the Magpies and Swan, who added a Premiership and Brownlow medal to his bulging trophy cabinet.

Despite the nonchalant façade, Swan has unashamedly proclaimed it’s the 2010 premiership he is proudest of.

As for the Brownlow, well its “stuffed away in the cupboard” with his numerous All-Australian trophies.

After a self-confessed “putrid” 2014 season, Swan responded the following year in stunning fashion. He silenced the critics, averaging 29 disposals and finishing runner-up in the 2015 Copeland trophy.

Tragically, his 2016 season and career was ended in a matter of seconds in the opening round.

As the tattooed champion lay helpless on the SCG turf, football lost a superstar and personality the league will likely never see again.

Swan has always done things his way, never content to simply tow the party line. While it has landed him in hot water over the years, it’s also the very fabric of the legacy he leaves behind.

With his trademark humour, unforgettable waddle, endless tattoos and most importantly, his serious case of leather poisoning, Swan has undeniably left his mark on the football world.

And for that, every Collingwood fan, and football fan for that matter, is forever grateful.