Former Collingwood captain, 1958 Premiership hero and all-round Magpie legend Murray Weideman has died, aged 85.
“The Weed”, as he was widely known, remains one of the most celebrated larger-than-life characters Collingwood has ever produced.
He dominated the pages of Melbourne’s newspapers throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. He played in a Premiership team at 17, inspired Collingwood's greatest Premiership triumph as captain at 22, was a regular target of death threats and abuse, married a beauty queen and even wrestled professionally while still playing. Later, when he returned as coach, he would become embroiled in a bitter public feud with the club president and lead the Pies to their first wooden spoon.
Nothing was ever mundane where the Weed was concerned. And that's just the way he liked it.
Murray Charles Weideman was born in Ballarat during the depression times of the 1930s, and the downturn forced his parents to sell their potato farm and move to Melbourne when Murray was only two. They bought a shop in Fairfield, and from that moment Weideman became a Magpie. “I was Collingwood-mad,” he said years later. “I just lived and died for Collingwood. I watched the games, hero-worshipped the players — it was all just black and white.”
Weideman attended Fairfield State School and Westgarth Central School and left school at 14 to work in his family’s grocery store. He played football with Rivoli under-16s (he also made a Victorian schoolboys side in 1949) but was impatient for his beloved Collingwood to notice him, so asked to trial with the thirds during the 1952 pre-season – only to be rejected for being too skinny. He returned to Rivoli with hopes crushed, but after a string of dominant local performances was invited back to Victoria Park a few months later. He kicked six goals from full-forward in his second game for the under-19s, and the Pies knew they had a player.
The next year he completed the rare feat of being elevated through all three grades in one year, starting off in the under-19s, spending the next 12 weeks with the reserves (where he did well enough to win the best-and-fairest) and finally playing a handful of games – including the Premiership – with the seniors.
Within a few years Weideman was an established star of the game. He worked hard to develop his strength and fitness and, as he turned from boy to man, his physique filled out beautifully.
It is often forgotten amidst the emphasis on the 'Enforcer' side of his game that would come later, but in the mid-to-late 1950s he was a wonderful footballer – an agile, high-marking, ball-playing key forward/follower. He was also a good kick and an accurate shot for goal, usually with flat punts. He won his first Copeland Trophy at just 21 (two more would follow later), by which time he'd already played for Victoria twice. The Weed could really play.
But he was also a natural leader, something his teammates recognised when he was made vice-captain in 1958, aged just 22. And as he assumed greater responsibilities, his game changed. He made a conscious effort to provide greater 'presence' – busting up packs, doing the shepherding and generally throwing his weight around, often to the detriment of his own game.
"Even as a young man you could see he had something special," former teammate Bill Twomey Jnr once said. "He was never going to be an ordinary footballer. And he was a leader almost from the start."
"He was an inspiring leader and a great protector of his teammates," said Thorold Merrett. "That dulled a lot of his own brilliant play but he was prepared to give up his own game to do it … we all benefited from it, but Murray suffered."
Nowhere was that role more crucial than on grand final day in 1958. Filling in for injured regular skipper Frank Tuck, Weideman and his colleagues famously roughed up the more talented Melbourne players and put them off their game, leading to what became known as 'The Miracle of '58' – the greatest upset in grand final history.
That was Weideman's career-defining performance, and he justifiably dined out on it for decades. But the short-term effects were less pleasant: he was subjected to an unprecedented campaign of threats and abuse from opposition fans. There were threatening letters and phone calls, bullets fired through his shop window, bricks thrown through his daughter’s bedroom window and bullets received through the post. In 1959 he needed police escorts to a game after threats on his life.
Far from being cowed, Weideman seemed to grow larger amidst all the focus. But by the early 1960s he had already begun to look beyond his playing career (hence dabbling with well-paid professional wrestling, competing in nine bouts as 'Wild Man Weideman'). He also began to struggle with injuries. The result was that he retired at the end of 1963 — aged just 27. He was accorded a remarkable farewell, with thousands of children joining him in a lap of honour before each of his last two games.
He had a brief stint commentating for Channel 9, captain-coached at Albury, then spent four years at West Adelaide before returning to Collingwood as senior coach in 1975. It was not a happy term, however, blighted by controversy and poor performances, and he lasted just two seasons. The Weideman name lived on briefly at Victoria Park through Murray’s son Mark, who was a sensation as a youngster, but whose senior career was badly affected by injuries. In later years, the Weed would be inducted into both the AFL and Collingwood Halls of Fame.
Murray Weideman will always be a giant figure in Collingwood history. Even those who never saw him play know much of his legend. The Weed, with his supersized personality, would get a kick out of that.
Murray died on Wednesday, the day after his 85th birthday, after battling illness in recent years. He is survived by his wife Victoria, brother Graeme, son Mark, daughters Tracey and Mia and their families.
The Board, management, staff, coaches and players of the Collingwood Football Club acknowledge Murray’s outstanding contributions to our footy club, both on and off the field. Our thoughts are with his family, and all his friends both from Collingwood and beyond.
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