A friend often says to me: “Only Collingwood can kill Collingwood.” They weather every other assault. They survive media condemnation, opposition ridicule, and indignation from their own fans. If they’d hit the same iceberg that sank the Titanic (presuming the Magpies could hit a target), they would’ve been fine. But somewhere, inside, something would be happening. Somebody would be opening a port window to get a look outside, only to let the water in. And, as the fore of the ship submerged, as everybody scurried for the bow and the inevitable became the inevitable, somebody would be assuring us that everything was okay, and to stay with the ship because exciting times lie ahead. Because that’s what Collingwood do: fiddle while it’s coming undone, and then tell us it’s Mozart. After the 2018 grand final loss, you would’ve thought the Pies were entering a great era: finally, this list had come together; finally, enough games had been pumped into the next generation of players that they were starting to assert themselves upon the competition; finally, the coach’s gameplan had clicked and was producing consistency week after week. Finally. How quickly it’s unravelled – they’ve bungled the salary cap, driven players out and got unders, struggled with their on-field identity, and now here’s something much more serious: the report that’s shown the club is guilty of systemic racism (among other things). I understand how parts of society can go on obliviously, claiming everything’s okay. You’ll always have people like that – those who deny an issue’s existence, or try to rationalise it, or offer a reason (read: excuse) for why it’s happened, while assuring us that nothing’s as bad as it seems and we’re getting it wrong. We’re seeing it right now. Check the message forums and social media. Startingly, there remains a lot of pushback. Not least of all from the president, Eddie McGuire, who opened a press conference with: “This is an historic and proud day for the Collingwood Football Club.” It was a terrible way to lead. While some of what McGuire said made perfect sense, he’d already prejudiced everybody against his explanations with his confrontational attitude. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) Jodie Sizer was great. Well done, Jodie. Pity her voice was lost under spin that made Hurricane Katrina look like a gentle northerly. I don’t get how a professional organisation – a business – can remain so obtuse, especially one which has had so many missteps that, if you were watching them closely, you’d be forgiven for mistaking they’re drunkenly attempting the tango. I grew up in the 1980s, hearing racial taunts in the outer. It hadn’t changed in the 1990s. So with this constant storm of conscience battering against the Pies over the decades, how hasn’t anything changed? I appreciate there’ll always be outliers but there have been enough instances now that those within the club should’ve addressed it unequivocally, rather than downgraded or dismissed it or even normalised it as everyday banter. The greater reality is, even without the incidents, how has the collective conscience and the prevailing attitudes of a club remain unchanged while the world outside of their walls tries to evolve? One of the most disappointing aspects is that this has unfolded during a period of stability for the club – over the last 22 years, just three people have occupied the two most powerful positions at the club: president Eddie McGuire (since 1999), and coaches Mick Malthouse (2000-2011) and Nathan Buckley (since 2012). You’d think with that sort of permanence, somebody would’ve produced some insight and attempted to drag the club – kicking and screaming if necessary – into a new era, but it seems longevity has only produced not just a lack of objectivity, but a complete absence of it. I grew up with this club being proud of its working-class roots and relishing being the underdog who fought against the odds to produce improbable outcomes, only to fail too often at the final hurdle. The working-class roots are consigned to the dim past – rightly so, as the game’s become professional, and each club has gravitated from the historical identity of the suburbs that birthed them. I have no problem with the club becoming upmarket as they moved their base of operations, but in doing that, they seemed to have become bereft of forging a genuine identity – neither this nor that, but Collingwood in name, laden with all the conceits and foibles. What do they stand for? They espouse values, but how true are they? How defining? I don’t want to throw out some blanket condemnation, because I’m sure the club has instilled some worthwhile properties – witness how Jeremy Howe had Jaidyn Stephenson confess his betting indiscretion in 2019, when the club could’ve attempted to cover it up. There are undoubtedly great people involved at every level within the club. And I’m sure they do a lot of good things that we don’t hear about, or for which they don’t chase praise. But in the last 20 years – in a new millennium that was meant to usher in a period of reinvention for the club – we’ve simply had more of the same: the racial injustices, the player indiscretions, the presidential gaffes, and the grand final failures. It’s the same stuff I grew up with. Every club has their problems. That’s going to happen when you have so many individuals involved in one organisation. But Collingwood sure do seem to have a lot of them. The club won a flag in 2010. Great. Good on them. Thank you. But what have they built? What are their core values? What identity have they forged that will determine how this club, as well as its employees – from administrators to players to staff – forage into the future? What will endure? Because, right now, we’ve got what we’ve always had. I don’t want to be one of these people who insists that key figures – such as Eddie McGuire – stand down immediately, but 2021 is obviously going to be a season of great upheaval. I would urge them to perform some serious soul-searching and finally grow up. You want to take Collingwood into the future, it’s time to wipe clean who you have been, stop building on everything we’ve known, and cultivate a new identity.
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