Greening

Godwin’s Law states that the longer an online discussion goes on, regardless of original topic, the chances that someone will mention the Nazis will eventually reach 1.

On BigFooty, the greatest of all places where our native game is discussed, we have our own version, and this is the one week of the year where it is most visible.

In any football discussion involving Collingwood and St Kilda, the longer the discussion goes on, the chances that the name John Greening will be mentioned will eventually reach 1.

For the uninitiated (and we all fall into this category once upon a time), Greening was leading the Brownlow Medal count in 1972 when Collingwood ventured to Moorabbin to take on St Kilda in a clash between two eventual finalists. Early on in the game Greening kicked the ball deep into the forward line, and never got up. The crowd followed the ball, then glanced back at Greening who was motionless and unconscious on the ground, bleeding from the ears and mouth.

Greening would take weeks to regain conciousness and years to regain his place in the Collingwood side. His return was initially spectacular but eventually brief.

As Jack Ross says in A Few Good Men, these are the facts, and they are undisputed. What is also undisputed is that the damage done to Greening was as a result of contact made by St Kilda backman Jim O’Dea, a police officer.

After that, not much can be definitively said about the incident, though many try. Much has been alleged of O’Dea, St Kilda and their coach Allan Jeans about that day and what occurred. O’Dea was suspended for 10 matches, and has never spoken about the incident, which may indicate guilt or enormous shame.  Whatever the reason for his silence, it has only contributed to the hatred directed at him by many Collingwood supporters. For many of those, mentioning O’Dea’s name to them is akin to mentioning Pol Pot’s name to a Cambodian peasant.

That may seem like hyperbole, but there are Collingwood supporters who lay their 2010 Grand Final replay win at the feet of some karmic redistribution of football success emanating from that day at Linton St 40 years ago. What is conveniently and confusingly ignored is that the 2010 Collingwood side were clearly the best team that year.

The raw feeling that still exists is probably not as much to do with the alleged savagery of the incident itself, but what it robbed the entire football world of, which was Greening’s prime. Greening had not even turned 22 when he career was all but ended at Moorabbin, but he had already played 98 games (he debuted at 17 as a prodigy from Tasmania), kicked 68 goals and had polled 35 Brownlow votes. Only weeks previously he had kicked 10 goals in 2 weeks from a wing. Much like John Coleman, there is a feeling almost impossible to ignore that we never saw the best of him. Greening came back to prove to himself and the footy world that he could, but his career petered out with 9 senior games in 3 seasons. To say he was never the same would be a fair understatement.

It’s that feeling of unjustified loss, almost like being robbed or burgled, that sits uncomfortably in the belly of Collingwood supporters old enough to remember how brilliant Greening was. So that manifests itself into a unhealthy and arguably unjustified hatred of the St Kilda Football Club, and an unarguably unjustified hatred of its supporters.

The worst thing St Kilda supporters like me do is to point out that there really isn’t an eyewitness account of what happened that day. All the accounts I have read describe the crowd following Greening’s kick rather than keeping their focus in Greening himself. O’Dea’s reticence to speak on the topic adds to the lack of definitive information about what actually happened. This only infuriates the Collingwood supporters who keep the flame of hatred alight.

Throwing petrol on to that fire is O’Dea’s time on the St Kilda Football Club’s board. He played for St Kilda until 1980. When the number 14 was given to Jarryn Geary in 2010, it was not the immediate previous owner of the jumper who was mentioned to the crowd at the pre-season intraclub match, but O’Dea. That previous owner of jumper number 14 was Luke Ball, who had left St Kilda for Collingwood.

What almost all St Kilda supporters would like to do is move on. I didn’t grow up hating Collingwood, and still don’t. Many of my most knowledgable mates are Collingwood supporters. For those of us who weren’t born in 1972, we feel like it’s not fair that we have to deal with it. It has nothing to do with us. For a supporter base supporting a club with a less that proud history, it’s another thing we’d prefer to forget.

Then every year, St Kilda plays Collingwood, and it gets brought up again, although in fairness, its your faithful correspondent doing it this time.

Although, at Collingwood’s pre-match function at the MCG on Saturday night, one of the guests of honour is none other than John Greening. Hey, after Saturday, how about we all agree not to bring it up again? Deal?

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