They were the ‘wonder years’ of my supporting the Magpies. R. T. Rush Stand, GG182. Before that it was R. T. Rush Stand, on a small stool, but in the working class club’s concession to modern day comfort, bench seating was installed in the early ‘Eighties.
No doubt there are tales to be told from all sections of the hallowed ‘Victory Park’, but GG182 was a great spot. Dead centre wing, just far enough back from the fence to get a good view, just close enough to hear the slap of flesh as bodies crashed into each other with great intent.
Games at Victoria Park were always special. Weaving through traffic, the ‘enthusiastic’ driving of my father was the one sign that he too was fired up for the clash. The long trail from the distant parking spot was in itself a cultural walk; imparting the origins of The Club that was born in the depression of the 1890’s and was the shining light for those who lived on ‘Struggle Street’ over the wrong side of the Yarra.
Times change but I still yearn for the days of GG182. The pre-match buzz, the familiar smells, getting there early for the reserves and the lads at the back of the stand with their chants of ‘BT, BT, BT’, ‘Ron-nie, Ron-nie’ (McKeown) and ‘Char-lie, Char-lie’ (Manson). Improbable aftermatches on the ground taking speckies over Molly Meldrum (well my mate did one day and he still revels in the story).
Before the competition served the sanitized ‘football light’, there were characters and heated confrontations every week. Monkhorst v Lockett in front of the social club at half time probably belonged behind the shelter sheds after school, but it was fantastic! Millane and Kelly as menacing as nightclub bouncers, amazing Dakes’ box of tricks…any game was salvageable when the parochial crowd got behind the boys. Games were often beyond the reach of the opposition before they even took the field.
One match against Adelaide in their inaugural year was a case in point. Through what can only be described as a ticketing fiasco, Crows supporters descended on ‘our’ ground, infesting ‘our’ seats. They all had the same smug, pudgy countenance, showing absolutely no respect for where they were. It took a 20 goal thumping to bring them into line. These were the terms upon which interstate teams were supposed to play in the VFL, I mean AFL. When the ‘white maggots’ carried Sydney to victory in the infamous ‘riot game’ of ‘86, it was like they’d kicked over a nest of bull ants.
The passing parade of coaches making their way hastily to and from their box was another feature of being at the end of aisle GG. As coach of Geelong, then Sydney, Tommy Hafey received ovations from the crowd years after he was ignominiously dumped as ‘Pies coach in 1982. Mick Malthouse was offered all kinds of advice back as the despised coach of West Coast. The fanatics of Vic Park were hardcore, they knew their footy. Usually the comments were born of wit, not raw abuse, but a few nasties slipped through. In any case, the head-down entourage usually knew better than to distinguish the Army with a reply.
The essence of GG182 was the regulars that frequented over the 15 years I sat there. Watching Anthony wearing Big Sav’s jumper, engulfed by Mama and Papa Rocca as he grew up and up right in front of me until he was required on the other side of the fence…Shane Kerrison’s mother, who would shoot a glance more fearful than a bump from her son any time a negative comment was directed at him…the quiet couple who would turn up at 1.55pm every week with their newspapers and jam donuts and read until the opening bounce…the man with the cockney accent from WA that was all Collingwood, who loved to call the umpire a ‘toe rag’. The media and opposition supporters may like to portray a stereotypical Collingwood fan, but in reality the only common denominator is their passion; Victoria Park was a social and cultural melting pot.