In the early '70s, Peter McKenna was a rockstar in Melbourne.

The hysteria surrounding him was unlike anything the VFL had seen before and few players in the AFL era have generated the same boy band-esque frenzy since.

Women ran across the field to kiss him on the cheek before the first bounce and the club was so inundated with photo requests they printed thousands of pre-signed portraits to meet demand. He even recorded a couple of pop songs to cement his status as a household name.

The two-time All Australian joined Return to the Nest to reflect on his legendary career.

A letter from the Pies

McKenna grew up in Heidelberg and played competitive soccer as a junior before a few seasons with West Heidelberg YCW.

"I was a crazy Essendon fan but everyone in the area was either Collingwood or Fitzroy," he said.

"I had a sister two years older - she died unfortunately when she was 23 - she was crazy Collingwood and in love with Murray Weideman.

"In the summer of '65 I had a letter in the mail from the club to come down to training.

"I played pretty good football in the previous couple of years... Mick Irwin was playing with Collingwood when he was coaching us.

"It looked like 120 young blokes there, all hoping to make it in league football.

McKenna played in the early practice match that summer at centre half forward.

"I had a really good game so the next week they put me in the main practice match," he said.

"I played on the regular centre half back who was short, that gave me confidence to stand alongside someone I was much taller than.

"The sides came out on Thursday night, I didn't know I was going to be named... but there I was to play against St Kilda."

His debut for the Pies wasn't exactly a breakout game.

"I missed a couple of sitters and didn't kick a goal," he said.

"I don't think I was quite ready for it but they must have seen something in me."

McKenna kicked 838 goals for Collingwood in 180 games.

The 12-goal haul

A year later in round one, 1966, the 19-year-old carved out a place for himself in Collingwood folklore when he booted a stunning 12 goals against Hawthorn at Victoria Park.

"I started at centre half forward and at quarter time Bobby Rose put me to full forward," he recalled.

"It was just one of those days - it was a sunny, beautiful day - and everything went right for me.

"I was playing on the state full back actually, a bloke called Phil Hay.

"He was a bit shorter than me which gave me confidence.

"12 goals hadn't been kicked for years so there was all the publicity in the world.

"I was on Melbourne Tonight and in the paper... the next week against Fitzroy I hardly got a kick."

You're a natural

"I think it was '67, I got a phone call from Peter Lucas," McKenna said.

"He said, 'a bloke has pulled out of the seconds Victorian team and the Vic selectors have put you at centre half forward.

"I played for Victoria the next week.

"I started at centre half forward and again went to full forward and kicked five goals.

"Norm Smith was coaching Victoria and he said to me after the game, 'when you get back to Melbourne, tell Bobby to play you at full forward - you're a natural.'"

He went on to kick 98 goals in 1969 and a whopping 143 goals in 1970, but the modest champion attributes his success to his teammates.

"I think experience helped (me find consistency) and we had a brilliant midfield.

"I wouldn't have been anywhere near as good in a side that didn't have great kicks.

"Len Thompson was a terrific ruckman and in the middle we had Tuddy (Des Tuddenham) running around crashing packs, Barry Price was the best kick of the football of all time - no one has kicked the football better than him, ever.

"Wayne Richardson could kick with both feet - brilliantly - and his brother Max was a terrific player and a beautiful kick and Collin Tully would kick booming, 70m kicks.

"My eyes would light up when Barry had the ball, he made it easy."

He described his 100th goal in (year?) as a "fluke".

"I was in the goal square and we were about a metre away from the line," he said.

"The ball somehow came swirling around the back of the pack and I kicked it off the ground... it wasn't an exciting way to kick your 100th goal.

"Then the crowd came out and the whole ground was covered in black and white, it was very similar to what happened with Buddy.

"I wanted to stay on of course but Bobby dragged me off, which was smart.

"It wasn't scary because Collingwood supporters were fantastic to me."

McKenna after kicking his 100th goal in 1970.

Rockstar of the VFL

If social media existed during McKenna's playing career, he could have made a fortune promoting brands on his instagram account. 

He was so adored by VFL supporters they turned out in droves to vote for him in 'popularity contests' and he won a couple of cars as a result - it would have been easy for him to use his fame for money.

Instead, he would spend his free time travelling all over Melbourne (on his own dime) to make an appearance at a birthday party here, a club function there... wanting nothing more than to see smiles on faces.

"I used to get in strife - I'd go to kids birthday parties and fetes, all those type of things," he said.

"I just thought it was part of being an AFL footballer and I couldn't say no to anything, I didn't knock people back.

"I probably should have a few times, but Collingwood supporters were magnificent to me.

"It was a way of repaying them."

"I wanted to play for Collingwood"

A severe kidney injury in 1975 forced him into semi-retirement and after a year in Tasmania playing footy with a protective guard, he looked likely to return to the Pies.

Sadly (for both McKenna and Pies fans), he reluctantly accepted a better offer at Carlton.

"I wanted to play for Collingwood again," McKenna said.

"I played in all the practice matches (in '77) and I was the fittest I'd ever been.

"Collingwood offered me $300 a week to play and if I was dropped it would be $100 a week.

"When I had retired I was on $7000 a year.

"Carlton approached me and I was forced to do it basically... I wanted to play for Collingwood.

"I found it very difficult playing against Collingwood, I had too much Collingwood in me.

"Don't get me wrong, some of the Carlton players are lifelong friends and it was a ripper club... I just found it hard playing against Collingwood, so I told Carlton I was done."

Listen to Peter McKenna on Return to the Nest here: