185cm 83kg. Career 1968-1972, 1974-1976 (107 games, 70 goals)
J J Joyce Trophy 1970, 1972
One of the most gifted human beings to have ever kicked a footy.
In an era when Manchester United had Georgie Best and Brazil had Pele, the Collingwood Football Club had John Greening.
In July 1972, John Greening had the football world at his feet. In his four years in the VFL, Greening had come to be regarded as one of the most brilliant footballers ever to have emerged from Tasmania. John was just hitting his peak. In the centre or ruck roving he had become one of the stars of the Collingwood side. After 13 rounds of the season he led many media awards, was polling well in the Brownlow and the Copeland, and was heading inexorably towards the greatness his prodigious talent had always suggested was inevitable. All this and he was still only 21.
July 8th, 1972. Round 14. The Pies travel to Moorabbin Oval...
John takes the first mark of the day on the wing and kicks Collingwood into attack, team mate Len Thompson is nearby and turns to follow the ball down field when suddenly his attention was drawn back to John...
"Whatever happened - and I didn't see it - I think part of what did happen is he hit the ground and his head hit the cricket pitch... I looked down at Johnny and it gave me a dreadful fright. It was a horrific sight... he was severely hurt." Len Thompson1
John lays motionless on Moorabbin oval
Just two minutes into the round 14 clash with St Kilda it all had come to a sickening end. Greening lay prostrate and unconscious on the Moorabbin turf, the victim of a behind-the-play incident that shocked the football world and all but ended the League career of a player who could have become one of the all-time greats.
The opening few seconds of the team's July 8 clash with St Kilda conformed to a now familiar pattern. He took the first mark of the game and kicked the ball long to the goalsquare. But while all eyes were on the resultant goalmouth scramble Greening was decked. Most observers only became aware of it later, when they noticed the crumpled motionless figure of the pies youngster prostrate on the turf at centre half foward.
John is carried from the ground and rushed to hospital
As Greening was carried off on a stretcher, blood trickling from his nose and mouth, Collingwood fans were already searching for the perpetrator of the act. The St Kilda supporters showed no regard for John's obviously perilous situation and actually jeered and laughed at the unconcious boy as he was carried off the ground. No player was reported, but the Magpies laid an official complaint. The League inquiry that followed led to a striking charge being brought against St Kilda's thug Jim O'Dea and the tribunal suspended him for 10 weeks. Allegations were made that Jim O'Dea, a member of the Victorian Police, under instructions from his coach, Allan Jeans, also a member of the Victorian Police, was to fix up John Greening early and get him out of the game.
A writ for alleged assault was also filed with the supreme court but later withdrawn. The football world was outraged by the incident. Greening was a scrupulously fair ball player brought down by a cowardly act of physical violence, and many lovers of the game could not contain their anger. If someone had suggested it, a lynching party for O'Dea could have been organised at Victoria Park at a moment's notice. As it was, magpie fans vented their anger at O'Dea every time the two sides met until his retirement. The incident was a serious blot on the game itself, and some supporters have not been to a football match since.
Greening's injuries were probably the most serious ever suffered by any footballer during a game. Doctor's feared for his life: he was comatose for 24 hours, and it was days before he regained full consciousness. He suffered cerebal concussion and was initially expected to be permanently incapacitiated.
Remarkably, in less than two years, he was back on the field again.Greening's comeback game in the VFL, against Richmond in round nine of 1974, was one of the most stirring and emotional sporting events of the year and probably of all time. He recieved dozens of telegrams, was besieged by well-wishers and before the game spent some time with six blind boys who had been brought to the dressing rooms to draw inspiration from a man who had overcome an enormous hurdle of his own. He led the team out that day against the reigning premiers in front of a crowd of 67,000 and booted a goal with his first kick. He finished with 24 possessions and seven marks (one of them a trademark beauty) being one of the days best players. To top it off, the pies trounced the highly favoured tigers by 69 points. No Collingwood fan who saw that game will ever forget it.
But in a strange twist, that comeback game was the beginning of the end for Greening. Ever since the incident, he had been forced to live with the stigma of being 'brain damaged'. He was so determined to prove to everyone that he was 'normal' that the brain damage had not been permanent, that he probably rushed his return. John's courage and determination had once again come to the fore. He proved that not only could he play, he was still amongst the finest to have ever kicked a Sherrin.
John Greening 2011 Hall of Fame tribute
John Greening's 2011 Hall fo Fame induction speach
John Greening accepts his life membership award at the 2011 AGM
John Greening tribute featuring good friend Len Thompson
John Greening highlights
1. Michael Gleeson, (9 Jul 2006), 'Sour end to what might have been', The Age, accessed on 1 Sep 2007