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Starting from the bottom

Glenn McFarlane of the Herald Sun  June 6, 2018 12:22 PM

Clinton King tackles Craig Bradley during Collingwood's loss to Carlton in round 21, 1998. - Collingwood,Collingwood Magpies

Clinton King tackles Craig Bradley during Collingwood's loss to Carlton in round 21, 1998.

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.


Bottoming out

Three words - one of them an obscenity - helped to fuel one of the biggest turning points in the history of the Collingwood Football Club.

It came on an otherwise non-descript Sunday afternoon at the MCG as Carlton was careering away from a hapless and helpless Collingwood late in the last quarter. More than 60,000 fans had attended the match, but the stands were thinning by the minute, with one fan summing up the feeling of many as he sulked towards the exit.

"Get f----- Collingwood," the unknown fan yelled at the top of his lungs.

His voice made its way into the Triple M commentary box - their windows opened for full effect - and they validated what one of the commentators already knew.

Something had to change. And fast.

That man behind the microphone was a soon-to-be 34-year-old media presenter who had loved the black and white since the days of Peter McKenna. His name was Eddie McGuire, and he couldn't argue with the sentiment of the supporter who was sick of the Magpies' lamenting position in the late 1990s.

The team was playing without passion. The players looked bereft of hope. The coach was under pressure and without support. Leaks from Victoria Park were rife. The administration was living in the past, unable to capitalise on a brave new world that offered football clubs greater opportunities as they hurtled towards the 21st century.

McGuire pledged from that moment on to make a stand, and to chase the Collingwood presidency in an effort to rebuild the famous club in whatever way he could.

"I felt exactly the same as he did," McGuire would recall. "I could feel the despondency. We always had bragging rights ... the biggest crowds, most premierships, and most members."

"(But) you felt excluded. There were so many factions in the place. And, meanwhile, the other clubs were going past us in a hurry."

Collingwood was in the bottom three on the ladder. Financially, it wasn’t much better. McGuire was energised by the prospect of dragging the club back from the abyss it faced.

The final margin of that round 21 game was 55 points - just another miserable loss in a season that yielded only seven wins. But as that frustrated fan left the ground, mingling with other demoralised Collingwood supporters along the way, they could hardly have imagined this bleak moment would be the catalyst for change that would lead to a very different future.

Only four members of the 1990 flag side - Gavin Brown, Tony Francis, Gavin Crosisca and Graham Wright - played in that game. Nathan Buckley was on his way to another Copeland Trophy with 30 disposals that day. Other prominent names who played in the game included Scott Burns, Chris Tarrant and Saverio Rocca.

But there were a host of other young Magpies whose fleeting careers didn't last much longer, including a debutant, Michael Gardiner, who would manage only seven matches overall.

Speculation had long been rife that McGuire wanted the presidency. But he maintained he only wanted the role if it could be achieved in a bloodless coup, rather than one of the messy transitions of power that so often sowed the seeds of the next ruction.

He spoke at length with the President Kevin Rose, as the pair sought a peaceful solution for the betterment of the club. Part of that was that McGuire campaigned to keep three of the existing board members - including Rose - and he had to persuade two others to relinquish their roles for the sake of harmony.

The Channel Nine Footy Show host assumed the presidency on the night of his 34th birthday, which was realised when more than 1000 members approved alterations to the club's articles of association, allowing for the new ticket to take the helm of a ship that had previously been sinking.

"Tonight is a moment of truth in shaping Collingwood's future in the 21st century," the new President boldly declared that night. "What I can promise you from the bottom of my heart is that every decision made by the Collingwood Football Club will be made for the benefit of the club, and nothing else."

"We will work as hard and as passionately and intelligently as possible to make Collingwood the number one club in the AFL."

It was a bold statement, but one that McGuire intended to keep. He immediately sought and secured some of the biggest sponsorships in the history of the game. He allowed Tony Shaw to coach out the final year of his contract, but in the process secured coaching great Mick Malthouse for the 2000 season.

He also ensured the club would concentrate on building a list that could be competitive again in a relatively short time frame.

It didn't start well, with the Magpies winning the wooden spoon in McGuire's first season as president in 1999, and then the millennium ended with another big loss to Carlton in a ridiculously early pre-season game on New Year's Eve.

But the Magpies and McGuire were on their way. Within four years, the club would make it to a Grand Final. Within 12, the Magpies had won that elusive flag. And the man who was inspired to act after hearing that frustrated Magpie fan’s obscenity in late 1998 is still there to this day.

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.

Turning Points: The practice match that led to a revolution.