There's room for you on Pies bandwagon

Today’s AFL grand final is in many ways an accident. Neither Collingwood nor West Coast was fancied to achieve greatness this season. Along the way, both were ravaged by injuries – statistically, they were the second and fourth worst-hit clubs this year – making their appearance today even more fabulous.

This complicates speculation about a likely winner. Further, each club has been seen in its own way and time as an evil empire – big, strong and detested for it – Collingwood in the old VFL, West Coast in the national competition. This complicates deliberations about a RIGHTFUL winner.

Collingwood fans during the AFL Grand Final Parade in Melbourne, Friday.

Collingwood fans during the AFL Grand Final Parade in Melbourne, Friday.

An ethicist might say that the proper outcome today is the one that does the least harm.

But that was then. Times have changed. As politics in this country grows ever more pugilistic, football becomes more chivalrous.

Reigning premiers Richmond, well-beaten by Collingwood in last week’s preliminary final, made their way to the Magpies’ rooms to offer congratulations and tips.

This gesture underscores an unexpected theme this season and week: the detectable softening of Victorian hearts towards Collingwood.

This is different from the common cause all fans felt with the Bulldogs two years ago and the Tigers last year as they broke decades-long premiership droughts.

It is more to do with a thawing towards Magpie coach Nathan Buckley, who as player and coach has suffered every indignity, up to and including his near sacking last year, and borne it all with equable humour.

It is to do with admired players like captain Scott Pendlebury, Brownlow medal runner-up Steele Sidebottom and winger Travis Varcoe, none of whom could ever be fitted up as a villain.

It is to do with Mason Cox, the towering American college basketballer who somehow finds himself standing at full-forward and carrying the hopes of the biggest club in the biggest game in a sport he was only dimly aware of half-a-dozen years ago. Who could not warm to that story?

If the Magpies win today, Cox will rival the late Jimmy Stynes as the best emigre story in the game’s history.

This new-found tenderness towards Collingwood might be nothing more than Victorian parochialism, the devil we know preferred to the devil we don’t. Assuredly, it is NOT to do with president Eddie McGuire, who cannot seem to shed his divisive tall poppy status in this town. But there’s no show without Punch. At any rate, after an unsettled season, footy needs a rousing finish.

A Collingwood premiership would leave no-one unmoved, that much is certain. Of course, this is footy, not politics. Advocating a win for one team doesn’t make it any more likely. As Sartre said: “In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.”

West Coast in last week’s form would present a major, perhaps insurmountable, complication.

Nonetheless, a mood is upon Melbourne, and so we will allow ourselves to be swept up by it and say, through partly gritted teeth: Go Pies.

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