The Grand Stands
The Collingwood Football Club has enjoyed overwhelming support from it's very first game on May 7th 1892 when an estimated 16,000 patrons watched Collingwood play Carlton at Victoria Park. At that point in time there were no structures for viewing the game as the planned £600 first grand stand was under construction and would not be ready until mid June. A further £600 was spent to raise up grassed embankments to help spectators get a good view of the action and one particular emabnakment would remain and is still a feature of the ground. "One-Eyed Hill" as it was dubbed, is at the Yarra Falls End along Trenerry Crescent at the eastern most end of the stadium. For 108 seasons, from 1892 to 1999, Collingwood fans stood on that embankment and cheered on their beloved players and tormented the opposition. Despite Victoria Park becoming increasingly built up with facilities over the decades, One-Eyed Hill still managed to maintain its link to the very earliest parochial days of the Collingwood Football Club. The only significant change to One-Eyed Hill in 108 seaons occured in 1982 when the McDonald administration blamed the fact that Victoria Park was a few yards shorter than the MCG and so they cut into One-Eyed Hill to extend the oval to match the MCG's dimensions.
The view from "One-Eyed Hill" - 1980
The Lady's Stand was next to be constructed on the trun of the century, shortly followed by a new Members' Stand in 1909 that required the old original wooden stand to be moved further South to the corner of Turner and Lulie Streets. The Ladies Stand was removed to make way for the new Jack Ryder Stand that was opened in September of 1929 when The Machine Team was at the absolute height of their powers. They had just completed the home and away season undefeated and were steam rolling towards a third consecutive premiership, which would then go on to become an unequaled four in row in 1930. No other team has gone through an entire season undefeated and no other team has won fouur premierships in a row.
Almost thirty years would pass before any further major development would take place at Victoria Park. A lack of council cooperation and a Club that was heavily restricted in what it could do at the ground resulted in the existing structures deteriorating to a very unsafe state. The acquisition of a long term "major improvements" 40 year leashold on the ground in 1956 by Club secretary Gordon Carlyon, gave the Collingwood Football Club the long awaited opportunity to finally bring the ground's facilities up to date. The Members' Stand was refurbished and repainted several times and not replaced until 1969 when the first third of the Sherrin Stand was constructed. Collingwood's redeveloment plans were in full swing once the 40 year lease was in place. Over £200,000 pounds were spent on a new Social Club Building were the old tennis courts and press boxes once were. Opened in 1969 by Sir Dallas Brooks and named the the Syd Coventry Pavilion it was a massive acheivement for the club and reflected a booming membership following a stunning, against all odds, premiership victories in 1953 and 1958.
Just seven years later in 1965 a new sweeping covered grand stand gave patrons in 'the outer' on the Turner Street (South) side of the ground the best viewing facilities of they time at any suburban sports ground. The R T Rush Stand was named in honour of club legend Bob Rush. Only major arenas, such as the MCG and SCG, boasted such facilities. Three years later and the first two thirds of the Sherrin Stand were built and replaced the sixty year old Members Stand. Victoria Park was now by far the best place to view a footy match outside the MCG. The last third of the Sherrin Stand was completed in 1978 and grand stands now ringed more than 80% of the ground with One-Eyed Hill the only grassed embankment left.
In 1989 the thirty year old Social Club building received a major face lift with floors were added and the interior completely redesigned. A new glazed canterlevered viewing area was constructed into the second floor overhanging the member's standing room in front of the Social Club and named after one the Club's greatest champions, Bob Rose.
In the early 1980's club president John Hickey had ambitious plans to construct a new stand on One-Eyed Hill and duplex the Ryder and part of the Rush stand. The council and residents opposed the plans and when John's administration was thrown out by the 'New Magpies' in 1982 the plans were forgotten. Alan McAlister tried to revive the idea of redeveloping the ground and creating what he called "Magpie World" but financially things had gone past the point of no return at the Club. The VFL's failed attempt to create a suburban football Mecca out at Waverley had doomed all suburban home grounds to an early death. The ground rationalisation policy of the league was resisted by Collingwood for as long as they could hold out, but by 1996 just three games were being played at Victoria Park and they were against lowly interstate sides like Fremantle, the Camry Crows and the Brisbane Bears.
In 1999, with the club on the verge of falling to only its second ever VFL/AFL wooden spoon, the Magpies played their last game at Victoria Park. August 28th, 1999 and the recently merge Fitzroy Lions and Brisbane Bears came to Abbotsford and humbled a dissinterested and woeful Collingwood outfit. It was as though the club had given up completely. It was all too hard a task for those following in the giant footsteps of McHale, Coventry, Collier, Pannam, Proudfoot, Lee, Whelan, Rose, Mann, Tuck and Weideman. The legacy was truely a burden for a team that, for decades, had sort external excuses for poor performances. The need for "the best facilities" had become both Victoria Park's and the Collingwood Football Club's downfall. Since 1958 the once mighty Magpies have only managed two premierships. The Club that once had potential young players queueing up at the Lulie Street gates begging to get a game was now having to mortgage it's own soul to secure 'franchise' players that inevitably underperformed and failed to deliver.
Collingwood legend Len Thompson sitting in the members
The Club drifted on at Victoria Park while the Collingwood FC board of directors made plans for a big break away. Eddie McGuire said "the place is rat infested". Something you would expect from the baffoonish mouth of a Carlton supporter, not a true Collingwood supporter. The council was impossible to deal with as they were beholden to short-term thinking local greedy land lords looking to make a quick dollar by buying properties around Victoria Park and then pressuring the council to open and even demolish Victoria Park so they could get a quick value boost to their recent aquisition. It was thought that the ground could never truly be Collingwood's while a covenant existed requiring the ground to be open and free for use by all Collingwood people. This could not be further from the truth. Victoria Park was used by a significantly greater number of Collingwood people as a league venue than it would ever have been used if it were just open parkland. The Collingwood Football Club, when it was a club and not a business, was the best fit to satisfy the 1892 covenant on the transfer of land. Now Victoria Park has been handed to the dogs of Yarra City as most people are too afraid to walk on the oval for fear of stepping in dog exrement left by selfish local residents.
Upon leaving the football club had a quick fire sale to raise some funds. Basically stripping the place bare and selling everything, even if it was bolted down. The council whinged about that too, despite the fact that everything sold was bought/made and paid for by the Collingwood Football Club and they had the gaul to demanded "their share" of the funds raised. The council have never acknowledged that the vast majority of the stadium was funded by the members of the football club and if it were not for the Collingwood Football Club the stadium would not exist. If it were not for the Collingwood Football Club and Victoria Park the entire municipality would still be getto slum.