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The practice match that led to a revolution

Glenn McFarlane of the Herald Sun  May 31, 2018 9:16 AM

Phonse Kyne, standing between Lou Richards and Syd Coventry, was at the centre of a Collingwood coaching storm in 1950. - Collingwood,Collingwood Magpies

Phonse Kyne, standing between Lou Richards and Syd Coventry, was at the centre of a Collingwood coaching storm in 1950.

Every match that Collingwood plays feels like it's the most important game in the world.

But the truth is that some games matter more than others. And some have impacts that last for decades, even if that significance isn't always apparent at the time.

So here is a trawl through the history books to come up with the most significant games in Magpie history. These aren't just the biggest wins or the most memorable days, but the games that had a significant influence on the club's history.

We've excluded all finals, simply because otherwise the list would almost be completely taken up with premierships and a few painful Grand Final losses. But the home-and-away games covered in this series have had a huge impact on the club – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. They've led to club turmoil, coaches being sacked, major changes in the game or sometimes set us on the path to a flag.

Whatever the outcome, these games represent major turning points in our club's story. And they're worth recalling.

The 1950 revolution

Saturday 15 April 1950 produced one of the most divisive matches in the history of the Collingwood Football Club.

The irony was that the game played at Victoria Park that day was not against a bitter foe, but a practice match involving seasoned Magpies as well as a host of young hopefuls trying to prove their worth. And the angst normally reserved for the on-field action actually took place on the other side of the fence this time around.

This was a day like no other. It was the closest thing to a civil war Collingwood had ever experienced, and led to a revolution.

The seeds of it were sown months earlier when the longest serving coach in the history of the game, the legendary Jock McHale, watched helplessly as the Magpies lost by 82 points to Essendon in the 1949 First Semi-Final. He didn't make it public at the time, but after 38 seasons, he doubted he would coach the club the following year.

Despite increasing speculation McHale would retire during the preseason, the Collingwood committee ratified the 67-year-old's appointment once more on 1 March. But less than two weeks later, just as the Magpies' preparations for the 1950 season were taking shape, McHale dropped a football bombshell.

He quit after more than 14,000 days in the role.

In that extraordinary, unprecedented time for Collingwood - long considered one of the most stable, organised clubs in the land - it seems incongruous that McHale's replacement lasted less than a week. What happened on that long-forgotten Saturday afternoon played a key role in this occurrence.

The natural successor to McHale was thought to have been club great and inspirational captain Phonse Kyne. The players wanted him; the supporters adored him and expected it to happen.

But the Collingwood committee, most notably its President Harry Curtis, had other ideas. Curtis wanted another former player Bervin Woods, who had also been the club's reserves coach, to take on the role, with some later suggesting he had been promised the job on a club trip to Perth four years earlier.

The final decision - or so it seemed - came when Curtis cast his deciding vote for Woods to give him the position. There would be allegations of double voting and vote-twisting, with harsh words shouted across the table, and with divisions on the board that altered changed friendships forever.

The football world was shocked by the decision, none more so than the army of black and white supporters. Kyne was shattered to miss out on the role.

This power-keg of emotion was always going to spill over at some stage. The Sporting Globe detailed this at the time: "In recent years when St Kilda and other teams had internal strife, Collingwood always near the top of the list, smiled complacently and said 'It couldn't happen here'. But in 1950 it has. And with a vengeance."

"There had to be an explosion sooner or later, as all keen Collingwood football supporters knew."

The big bang came on that final practice match ahead of the 1950 season when Magpie fans took out their frustration on the club's committee on a day which threatened to slide out of control, and when fisticuffs were only narrowly avoided.

The match was of little consequence as it turned out. Neil Mann suffered a broken nose in the on-field action; the club received a very bloody nose off it.

The Age called it "a sensational afternoon of demonstrations ... Collingwood football members gave their committee a hostile reaction."

Crowds of angry supporters stood around the committee enclosure shouting and hurling abuse throughout the game, most of it aimed squarely on the committee members who had voted for Woods ahead of fan favourite Kyne.

One irate fan even tore his Collingwood membership ticket in half, and threw it at a committeeman, yelling: "Take it, you are ruining the best club in Australia."

"A serious altercation between an indignant supporter and the son of one of the club administrators was narrowly averted," The Age detailed. "Later, blows were threatened between two members of the committee, and a fight almost developed within the official enclosure.

"One man, a former star player, had to jump the fence into the area to escape the trouble. Things were quiet as play in the main practice match began, but at half-time supporters again gathered round and a further demonstration began."

Sadly, Woods was the subject of unwarranted abuse, given the drama was not of his making. But he surely couldn't have missed the enormous reaction that came when his rival Kyne was afforded "one of the greatest welcomes ever accorded a player by football followers."

Kyne was mobbed by more than 3000 fans and was carried "shoulder high for 50 yards".

Woods knew from that moment on that he couldn't coach Collingwood into the 1950s. The fans wanted someone else, so he made the self-sacrificing gesture of giving up his football dream for the sake of the club he loved, but which hadn't loved him as much back.

No one recalls which of the Collingwood teams won that practice match, nor even who starred, or who missed their chance. But what happened in the crowd, and the hostile reaction that followed, meant Woods had no option but to relinquish the position on the Sunday afternoon.

He had coached Collingwood only once - in that practice match - but never in an official game.

Woods' letter of resignation said much about him, and his character. He wrote: "In view of the situation which has arisen, I feel, after careful consideration, that I cannot accept the invitation to become non-playing coach of Collingwood."

"It is quite obvious that I cannot expect the united support of all, which is so necessary for the success of the club. I have taken this action in the hope of restoring the unity and good feeling which have always prevailed at Collingwood.

"Whatever decision the committee may now reach, the coach appointed is assured of my loyalty and support."

Kyne was appointed coach on the Wednesday after one of the turbulent weeks in the club's history. He would go on to become a two-time Collingwood premiership coach, with the first of those flags coming only three years later.

But the anger against those who had made the original decision did not subside. Some of the club's long-serving servants in Curtis, Frank Wraith, Bob Rush and those who had backed Woods' appointment were ousted as Collingwood’s 1950 revolution changed the club.

Turning Points
Written by Glenn McFarlane and Michael Roberts

Turning Points: A game of belief.

Turning Points: The first game.

Turning Points: History's ugly repeat.

Turning Points: Honouring the greater good.

Turning Points: A turning point for football.

Turning Points: How we landed McHale.

Turning Points: Ending the Cat empire.