Sometimes too much of a good thing can extend too long a time, and success on and off the field can cloud just when the time has come to move on.
In many ways this is the case of the Collingwood Football Club and in particular the tenure of its president, Eddie McGuire.
Full disclosure before I start. I am a fourth-generation Collingwood supporter whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all born in Collingwood. My father’s uncle Jock was said to have had black and white running in his veins. I grew up with the Colliwobbles and I celebrated my 21st birthday on the day Collingwood broke their 32-year drought with the 1990 grand final victory. So I have a great deal of my life invested in the Collingwood Football Club.
Since his investiture as president back in 1998 Eddie and his fellow board members over that period have done an amazing job reinventing the club and bringing it back to prosperity both on and off the field. Six grand finals (including the drawn 2010 decider) have only brought one premiership but the team has been competitive and there is hope for further success this season.
Eddie’s face and voice within the media, on television and on radio, has been a major part in the revitalisation and growth of the Magpies over the last two decades. His leadership, along with that of the Collingwood board, to bring in sponsors and advertising capital as well as building the enormous membership base the club now enjoys has been a major fillip.
In recent times, however, it has become more obvious that Eddie’s presence across so many platforms is beginning to impinge on the club, and it feels as though it was time that a change was instituted – that the face and voice of the organisation must move with the times and give the club some clean air in the constant debates it is involved in.
When outsiders hear about Collingwood one word consistently raises its ugly head: racism. Unfairly or not, somehow the Magpies seem to be in the centre of the storm. Nicky Winmar’s stance at Victoria Park – to be fair, before Eddie’s time at Collingwood. Heritier Lumumba’s public battle against sections of the club from his playing days. A teenage supporter racially sledging Adam Goodes – though hers would hardly have been the only voice.
That’s just a very short and immediate list of the more visible and audible cases that centre on racism within the club and also the fan-base.
Eddie has hardly held himself perfectly through this discussion. At best he was ‘casually racist’ when it came to linking Goodes to King Kong in one of his radio discussions at the centre of the whole debate of the booing of that player. He has staunchly stood up and defended the club in other instances – certainly in the Lumumba case – made some thoughtless comments on his live radio program that often seem to conflict with any current talking point to further outrage certain groups and communities and just this week felt the need to find a way to lessen the blame on Steele Sidebottom after his brainless escapades.
He becomes overly belligerent when asked tough questions and overly contrite when a major boo-boo occurs. On occasion, it does the club and the debate more harm than good.
Much the same way as I would cringe watching the Australian cricket team verbally abusing their opponents in the months leading up to the sandpaper scandal, it is how I cringe every time a Collingwood player or the club gets dragged into yet another off-field saga. Behaviour that is cultivated over a long period of time sometimes seems like it is too hard to change, and yet Australian cricket under Tim Paine and Justin Langer has shown that it can be done.
Nathan Buckley’s softening attitude over the past two years has given hope that the club can follow suit, but it needs new leadership at the top. Someone who is not inextricably tied to the media, someone who will take a serious look at the club culture and bring about an open and honest discussion on the processes in place without looking for a media spin on it all.
Unless Eddie is not involved, there will always be a doubt in the football public’s mind as to the process involved and the conclusions reached to any problems that crop up within Collingwood.
We can’t ever stop Eddie talking about the Collingwood Football Club. And neither should he. He was a fan long before he was an advocate and the president of the club. His passion within the media will always fuel any debate that goes on that has even the slightest slice of the Magpies involved. But let that be the part he can play, showing his support and love for his club without being the one who is tied up in the decision-making process.
He has done a wonderful job making Collingwood one of our best sporting institutions. Now it is time to let someone else guide it into the future.