“When it rains, it pours.”

There’s a lot happening in the life of 32-year-old Tom Wilson – a name that has ever-increasing importance and recognition within the four walls of the AIA Vitality Centre.

Things started in December when he got engaged to long-time partner Ruby, while the pair welcomed twin girls Harriet and Romy into the world just last month in a special time for the now family of four.

He’s been a Collingwood VFL player for 18 months – making the switch at the start of 2023 after 140 games with the Northern Bullants/Blues - but there’s a new reason why he’s one of the most recognised figures within the Club.

And that’s because the school teacher of seven years made a career switch earlier this year, joining Collingwood’s AFLW program as Head of Development and Midfield Assistant Coach.


Fresh faces join Pies’ AFLW Coaching Panel for 2024

Collingwood is pleased to announce a list of fresh faces to its coaching group for the 2024 AFLW season.

Read Full Article

So now, after only ever coming up against the black and white in his more than a decade of time spent within the football system as an opponent, he gets to live and breathe the Collingwood way of life every single day.

“It’s unique, isn’t it,” Wilson said of being a coach at the same Club he also plays football for.

“There's a lot happening and when it rains it pours. Life’s pretty good at the moment.

“Someone's looking over me, so I'm just really grateful for the opportunities that I've been afforded.

“I'm really grateful for what I do have in my personal life and the people that I've got in my personal life and I'm equally as pleased and grateful for the people that I get to stand alongside at work and have daily conversations with.”

When he made that move just a little south from Preston to Olympic Boulevard last year, never did he think it would lead to a career change too.

However, he’s always harboured a passion for education and learning through his expertise as a teacher, and coaching has long been on his radar.

“For the last seven years I've been a teacher, so coaching or that education side has been a passion of mine,” Wilson said.

“I clearly didn't know that coming across as a Collingwood VFL player and doing a development role within the VFL program would lead to this opportunity, but I'm very grateful that it has.

“For me, I just wanted to try and make every post winner and try and maximise the great people and the resources around me to try and show them ‘you've got me, I'm stepping into your environment and I want to give back to the environment’.”

So here, Wilson sits in the midst of AFLW pre-season, ready to embark on a journey as a key cog in the Pies’ new era of its program under Head Coach Sam Wright.

But as he alludes to, things didn’t happen overnight.

Growing up in Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs, Wilson’s earliest memories of football date back to before he even started school and are inherently family orientated.

“I’m an Eastern suburbs boy, grew up there and still live out that way about 30 minutes from Melbourne,” he said.

“I got into footy at the age of five playing for my junior club North Ringwood.

“Me and one of my mates at the time started when we were five and we both played 50 games in Under 9s, both played 100 games, and then in Under 16s we both played 150, so it was pretty cool.

“I was part of a pretty successful junior team. My dad was a coach in my early days and he was extremely passionate about it, so that's probably where the love of footy stemmed from.”

Fast forward to 2024 where Wilson sits on 164 VFL games at the time of writing, and the midfielder has likely played close to 350 games of football in his life to date.

And the majority of them have been of quality too, with Wilson a star for the Eastern Ranges during his late teenage years in the then TAC Cup.

While he’s unsure how close he was to getting drafted to the AFL, football for Wilson has always been about playing at the absolute highest level.

“How long’s a piece of string? I'd like to think at some stage there may have been a possibility, but the answer to that is I never really know,” Wilson said when reflecting on his draft year.

“I think that's probably been more the point, I've always wanted to play at the highest possible level I could, for as long as I could.

“I've really enjoyed playing VFL. It's been really fun, but it's been challenging along the way also through evolving and trying to problem solve and trying to get the best out of myself.

“From a football point of view, it has been really rewarding and then by circumstances, the people that you meet along the way, that's been equally as important.”


It’s an often untold story of the quality of football people like Wilson – who spend years in the VFL without being lured to the riches of local leagues - have played, all while balancing either full-time work or study throughout their playing careers.

Following the retirement of VFL legend Ben Jolley’s after 306 games last season, Wilson is now the most capped active player in the league across his 13 seasons.

And while it can be challenging balancing the myriad priorities in his life – namely now as his new role coincides with becoming a father for the first time – Wilson is someone who likes to embrace the breadth of his schedule.

“Yeah, it can be challenging, but I think I'm also a person that likes to be busy,” he said.

“I like structure, so having training gives me some structure and the reality is when I was at Uni, I was studying alongside part-time work and then going to training, and when you step out of Uni and go into a full time environment, that balance sort of gets substituted.

“Training for me luckily has always been the same nights throughout my whole career so I haven't had to sort of shift or adjust the nights.”

One person who has been crucial throughout his life in football has been Collingwood VFL Senior Coach Josh Fraser.

The pair first began working together in 2016 when Fraser started coaching the Northern Blues in the VFL, with Wilson an emerging star and Big V representative at that point.

Almost a decade later, they’re still in tandem at the Pies, with Wilson emphasising just how crucial the former Collingwood ruckman has been on, not just his career, but in his life.

“I feel as though without over dramatising it, Frase has been unbelievable for me,” Wilson said.

“On a personal level, when we first worked together back in 2016, one of the first things he said to me was, ‘if you've got any concerns, or if you've got any queries or you're struggling with something, just talk and we'll support you’, and he couldn't have been truer to his word.

“The other part of that which resonates with me is that no matter what playing group he's been involved with, the playing groups love him, and they really want to work for him and I think that's really special in a coach.”

And while clearly Fraser was a link to Wilson joining the VFL program last year, things happened quite organically.

Having won five Best & Fairests and captained Northern, Wilson had given his all and wasn’t sure where his next move was.

“I left the Northern Bullants because I felt like I had given everything I possibly could there and I left with no real clarity on what was next,” he said.

“It was more just like a discussion with Frase on a personal level around ‘what are you doing next?’, and then one thing led to another.

 “I ended up having a chat to (VFL Operations Manager) Alex Agrotis at the time and to be fair Frase sort of took a step back and let Alex and I discuss what we needed to discuss.

“There was a coaching element which was appealing to me and one thing led to another and here we are, so it's been unbelievable.”

He’s played 24 games for the Pies now – kicking his 100th career goal earlier in the year – but it’s his new role off-field in the women’s program that’s providing him with a fresh feeling of joy.

“I’ve loved it. It's been really refreshing. Sam Wright and Jess Burger have been unbelievable, not only supporting me inside the four walls, but also my personal life,” Wilson said of his first few weeks in the job.

“I feel really strongly about the people that we've got in the footy club, and I feel really strongly about the coaching group that we've been able to put together.

 “Then we've got wonderful people around that do work behind the scenes that a lot of people probably don't see and without them, the environment and the culture wouldn’t be what it is without them.”

It could be easy for Wilson to take some time to find his bearings, but the Head of Development is clear on what value he can provide for the playing group.

“Essentially what I see my role as is providing our players with the tools that they require to go and execute Sam’s gameplan,” he said.

“There are a few layers to it, but ultimately, my role is to service the players and try to maximise every individual's ability in the best possible way so we can go and succeed within the parameters that Sam is providing.

“One of the things that excited me the most has been the playing group’s thirst for knowledge - they just want to take it all on board.

“For me, it's really motivating because you’ve got athletes that just want to continue to get better and in a small window of time, they've been able to display improvement.

“It's really, really buoyant in terms of where we can take this playing group and where the playing group can lead themselves essentially. The coaching group, the thirst for knowledge, the growth that we've already seen is exciting.”

And now that he’s beginning to settle in, Wilson is just ready to ride the wave.

With a fiancé and two month-old daughters at home, as well as a new job that he barely considers work, life’s pretty good for the ‘Eastern suburbs boy’ who can’t speak highly enough of the Club’s support throughout this period of his life.

“I've mentioned about the special time in my life but the amount of messages, the amount of cards, the willingness for people to go to the extent of getting jumpers made and all that kind of stuff made (is amazing),” he said.

“That's the stuff that’s just part of the culture at this place. In the first six weeks, you walk through the corridors and people ask how the babies are going, so it’s pretty special.

“I’ve kind of said to people it's really hard to describe unless you've lived it yourself, but the moment that Harriet and Romi were born, will be a moment that I'll never ever forget in my life, it was so euphoric.

“It was such instant love and I leave work, which is terrific and it's not really work, I love what I'm doing, but I go home to the best things in my life and that's just so special.

“They’re incredible. Mum's doing an awesome job - she's so supportive, Ruby - and I couldn't be more grateful for the support and love and care that she's given me but also our children.”