As the bus starts to leave, a group of young Pies fans in the back start chanting “Ooooo Jordan De Goey”, people stomp their feet and bang on the windows. Others shout “Carn the Pies” and “Up the Maggies”. This is the Pies Symphony Orchestra.
Mohamed Abdelaal, one of the loudest, says: “Geelong, we’re coming!” He called victory early. If the atmosphere in the bus is favorable, the others agree. They can also make it to the grand final.
There is talk of the Collingwood controversy at the back. The row over the race, with former player Eretiere Lumumba calling Collingwood a “boys club for racist and sexist jokes” in 2017, was notable. At least that bus had the strong support of former club president Eddie McGuire.
“Every club has a ‘Try Harder’ report,” says John Gianni, 59, at the next stop. “It’s not just Collingwood.”
“You mean the ‘Do Better’ report?” I ask.
“Yes, that one.”
Gianni just hopes the club can move on from its past.
5 am: A bus speeds along the Hume Highway between Holbrook and Gundagai. Someone next to me vomits into a bag.
6.30 am: The sunrise invigorates the fans. Cars with Collingwood scarves hanging from their windows wave and honk as they overtake us.
1:00 p.m.: It’s been a rough night, but we’re almost there. We drive through Sydney’s eastern suburbs. The Collingwood chants have been non-stop for the last 20 minutes and as we pass the local playing field and the Moore Park sign someone shouts “Darcy Moore Park now!”
Tired and sleep-deprived Pies fans get off the bus and head to Watson’s EQ pub, which is in the equestrian heartland of the SCG. Some run to the restroom to freshen up, others go straight to the bar. “I’ve never needed more beer in my life,” someone overhears.
Bounce: As the clock ticks down to the first bounce at 4.45pm, Sydney fans descend on the ground in waves. Their presence makes the Pies crowd look tiny, but the Collingwood fans keep singing.
17.33: At the SCG. Lance Franklin scores his first goal. Home advantage shows. I spotted a lone Paise fan cheerfully chanting “Collingwood” behind enemy lines.
19.33: The last siren sounds. The Swans won by a point. It’s a long and lonely bus ride back to Melbourne.
“We were standing there in shock,” says 15-year-old Summer Richardson. “I cried so hard after I saw Jack [Ginnivan] and Nick [Daicos] crying.”
Now there is a dilemma. Earlier this week, passengers negotiated a 11pm departure time, win or lose. But the result made them get home faster. Organizer Mitchell Taleb decides to stick with the plan.
Glenda Wilson, 70, heads to the pub. Swans fans celebrate in large numbers. “We’d all like to just get back on the bus and go home,” she says. “They weren’t enemies anymore, they were just another group of supporters happy to win.”
Going to the pub helped with the loss, says Wilson. “By the time we got on the bus, we were all frustrated, but it helped.”
23:00: They call it a bun on the way home. It’s much less streamlined than the Southern Cross during the part-time hours. I ask a fan how he describes the atmosphere. “There is no atmosphere,” is the answer.
Four people decided they couldn’t face it anymore. They catch a plane home.
Consequences: The loss, as devastating as it was, doesn’t detract from Collingwood’s season. Some with perspective, like Jodie Wilcock, predict future success.
“Normally I would be eviscerated. I’ve been in five grand finals that I’ve lost. I’m not broke. Everyone got up. This year brought everyone back together,” she says.
“I haven’t felt this excited about Collingwood since I was 20 and now I’m 50 … They’ve taken us on a wild ride this season and why would we want to leave?”
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