HAVE Collingwood fans and media critics been unfair in blaming coach Nathan Buckley and president Eddie McGuire for the current miserable state of the Magpies? Has there been a conspiracy against the famous club? COLIN DUCK takes a look at this rather unusual suggestion:
THE COLUMN drew little if any comment from across the busy airwaves of football commentary over the weekend, but there it was on Saturday morning in black and white.
Australia’s most famous football club, Collingwood, had been targeted by the AFL Commission since 2010 in a concerted bid to prevent it from winning a premiership! The plot extended to making changes to playing rules and recruiting, along with a tax to penalise Collingwood’s financial success.
Patrick Smith, the acerbic columnist of The Australian, aired the Crush Collingwood Conspiracy Claim. While Smith was not actually propounding the theory, he was presenting it without the usual scepticism and cynicism that accompanies his highly-opinionated reporting.
The words themselves he attributed to Collingwood president Eddie McGuire the man currently occupying two of the hottest seats in town. As if Eddie didn’t have enough on his plate with the Magpies current run of woes (13th on the ladder with seven wins, 10 losses and one draw, no finals appearance since 2013) he is also devoting himself to his newest challenge trying to resurrect the waning ratings of The Footy Show.
Here is the relevant extract from Smith’s column:
“It was the 2010 preliminary final and Eddie McGuire’s team was on its way to a 41-point win over Geelong and a place in two grand finals.
“They drew the following week with St Kilda but won the premiership in the replay the following week. Collingwo-od. It was a unique – unforgettable – moment in AFL football.
“McGuire, the president of Collingwood, looked about the league and club officials, the politicians and hoi polloi who surrounded him. They had devoured their lunch and drunk the wine. Many smiled, some signalled congratulations.
“’But I can remember seeing hate in the eyes of some,’ McGuire told the Weekend Australian yesterday.
“’They saw a club that had become so big and successful that they feared it might be unstoppable.’
“At that moment, McGuire knew that his club had no friends in the AFL. The league commission would immediately set about nobbling the bellowing beast.
“McGuire points to a modification in interchange practice that helped corrupt Mick Malthouse’s crushing press; it would be four years before Sydney lost its cost-of-living allowance that allowed the Swans to be more aggressive in wooing players; academies would replace cost of living in Sydney, GWS, Brisbane and Gold Coast. A golden harvest of likely stars. Most clubs had their salary cap fully paid by the AFL; not Collingwood and a couple of other perceived heavyweights. Next a soft cap on football department spending and an unfriendly tax on clubs like Collingwood that could turn a dollar.”
So how successful has been the purported plot against Collingwood? In simple terms, the Magpies have slipped from Premiers in 2010 to their current position in a rapid descent marked by the departure of Malthouse as coach and his replacement by Nathan Buckley in what was meant to be a smooth transition carefully scripted by McGuire. Far from smooth, it ended bitterly when Malthouse, effectively ousted after leading the team into two grand finals, decided to walk away from the club instead of taking up a coaching mentor’s role.
One measure of the success or otherwise of the “commission conspiracy” is to count wins and losses since the 2010 Grand Final. In the seven years since that match the Magpies have won 87 matches with the chance to win a couple more in the last few rounds this season. In the seven years before 2010 they won 82, so they have been more successful on the field since the odds were supposedly stacked against them.
Buckley has taken the team into four finals, losing three of them. They have not made the finals since 2013 and their win/loss record has deteriorated every year (2014 11-11, 2015 10-12, 2016 9-13, 2017 7-10 and a draw). His success rate is 51.5 per cent.
Malthouse coached Collingwood in 264 games, winning 150 (one draw) for a success rate of 57 per cent. Where he stands far ahead of his successor is in the climb to the top. The Magpies were last in 1999, the season before he was appointed, and he gradually restored their fortunes, claiming the flag in 2010 and losing the Grand Final to Geelong the following year.
The question that Smith might have asked McGuire is why would Collingwood be singled out for special attention from the commission? When they won the flag in 2010 they were hardly in a dominant phase in the competition. That was their first flag in 20 years and their second in 57 years!
If Collingwood began losing, the AFL crowds would drop sharply. How could that be in the interests of the game?
Patrick Smith says that after winning the premiership, Malthouse became affected by McGuire’s succession plan – “the thought of handing over in another 12 months ate away at him. He was distracted and agitated.”
Smith ended his column with an enthusiastic endorsement of embattled Eddie. “He appears rejuvenated. He is at his best when loaded with work. He is on radio, he does a TV quiz show, he runs the Collingwood club, he is on more boards than Bill Posters and now he is back in the chair running The Footy Show. McGuire is back in the game.”
Try telling that to the Magpie fans. Two of my close friends are passionate Collingwood supporters who moved to Melbourne from Sydney, at least in part to be closer to the “mighty Pies”. This year they stopped going to matches and one has even abandoned watching them on TV. They say they hate what they are seeing on the ground, the negative game style, backwards passes, criss-crossing the field and a reluctance to race the ball forward.
By Monday night the Smith story had been duly noted and Caroline Wilson gave Eddie a blast on Footy Classified. SEN breakfast hosts Garry Lyon and Tim Watson were left pondering if Patrick Smith had been writing satire.
Colin Duck was the last Editor of The Sun before it merged with The Herald. Before that he was Editor of the Sunday Press and Deputy Editor of The Herald. After the Herald Sun merger Duck moved into newspaper and magazine management.