I am unmarried and childless. As such, it makes sense that one of my best memories is singing Lionel Richie’s Dancing On The Ceiling with an army of Collingwood supporters after winning the grand final 13 years ago.
I was 14, and remember it like it was yesterday, possibly as I was too young to drink at the time. Richie had performed at the MCG prior to the game, and quickly became a sort of gospel figure to ecstatic Pies fans. We were, metaphorically, dancing on the ceiling (oh, what a feeling), all the way down Richmond’s Swan Street.
During the match, I prayed to god for goals. I screamed. I cried. My teenage brain propelled itself through the whole spectrum of human emotions. Then, when we lost the 2018 grand final to West Coast by five points after leading by five goals, I had the same experience in reverse.
After that game, I immediately got an Uber to Dan Murphy’s, bought a bottle of rosé and popped it on the walk to my house. My housemates at the time had been having a grand final party and everyone was in a decidedly jovial mood. I glowered in the corner like a bad smell as people apologised to me uncomfortably. “They don’t get it,” I remember thinking. “Nobody understands the pain I am suffering.”
This time around, I am older, wiser and more seasoned by disappointment.
My ties to the club date back to 1955. My dad, then five, and his brother, Megsie, had become separated from their parents while shopping in the Victorian town of Wangaratta. Eventually, the pair were found outside a sports store in tears, being comforted by the owner.
“Do you know who that is?” Pa asked my dad of the man who had been comforting them. “That’s Bob Rose.”
Rose was Collingwood’s best and fairest, and had recently left the club to coach the Wangaratta Rovers in the local league. From that day on, dad became a Collingwood supporter. And because of that chance meeting 68 years ago, so did I.
For years, being a Collingwood supporter brought with it a sense of shame and inner conflict. We failed on race, failed past players and failed when it came to leadership. But since the Do Better report in 2020 found systemic racism at the club, Collingwood has taken action to address cultural issues, launching its own truth-telling process, increasing diverse representation and introducing cultural awareness training. Now, with our Ted Lasso-esque glow up, I’ve learned to love our club again.
We just have to address the other elephant in the room: our penchant for losing. In the words of my brother, a lifelong fan, “it’s at the point that we just need to win one”.
My dad, 73, has attended 14 grand finals to see the club win two. My brother, 42, has attended seven for two wins. Since 2002, the age at which I became vaguely aware of AFL, Collingwood has made a preliminary final in 52% of seasons (11 times) to win a single premiership.
The statistics don’t stop there. Those unlucky enough to have lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s will remember the Pies lost a harrowing nine grand finals between two wins in 1958 and 1990, including giving up a 44-point lead in 1970.
In the entire history of the AFL/VFL, Collingwood have been runners up a whopping 27 times and won 15. Essendon and Carlton, tied for the most premierships at 16 each, have been runners up 14 and 13 times respectively. In short, Collingwood is a hugely successful team. We know how to make grand finals. We are just not as good at winning them.
So, as I don my Collingwood scarf and march into yet another September showdown, armed with tissues, mid-strength beers and a heart full of hope, will I once again end the evening with cheap wine and regret? Despite our incredible performance this year, are we about to throw it all away with another case of the dreaded “collywobbles”?
In reality, it doesn’t matter. I am a mere pawn in the complex workings of history and destiny. And as my dad found, perhaps what it all comes down to is a stroke of luck, the stars aligning, some strange twist of fate – and we could be dancing on the ceiling once more.