‘When we come home after a loss at least
we have 120 people sleeping in a Magpie Nest home
rather than under a tree or on the streets.’
Channel Nine TV presenter, businessman and president of AFL team Collingwood Football Club, Eddie McGuire is known for his fervent love of Aussie Rules and, in particular, for his beloved team, as well as, occasionally, putting his foot in his mouth.
What he’s no so well known for, however, is his close relationship with The Salvation Army.
Sunday 11 September, on the ABC’s cultural and spiritual documentary series Compass*, McGuire opens up to veteran journalist Geraldine Doogue about growing up in Melbourne’s working-class northern suburb of Broadmeadows, his life-changing introduction to the Collingwood Football Club and his ongoing friendship with Salvation Army officer Major Brendan Nottle.
Major Nottle met McGuire in 1999 at the footy. Like McGuire, Major Nottle is a fervent Collingwood supporter and he went on to become the team’s chaplain.
‘I know he’s full-on and all that stuff, but I genuinely like him,’ Major Nottle told Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
‘I feel like he’s got my back in a vocation that can be pretty full-on at times. And the thing I really like is his passion for a fair go. He is inspired by the Collingwood Football Club looking out for people during the Great Depression back in the 1930s. He has a strong sense of social justice.’
In 2012, Major Nottle, who runs Melbourne 614, an outreach centre in Melbourne’s CBD, was becoming increasingly concerned about the number of women who were becoming homeless due to domestic violence. He shared his concerns with McGuire.
McGuire listened intently. The result of that interaction was Magpie Nest Housing.
Run in partnership with The Salvation Army, the social program runs 35 houses across Melbourne and accommodates around 120 people who’d otherwise be sleeping rough or in squalid rooming houses. Holistic in its approach, the program looks at the bigger picture regarding homelessness and employs case workers, psychologists, lawyers and addiction workers.
It’s not just about the club being a benevolent benefactor, either. McGuire encourages the players to get involved with Salvo work, too.
One such player is Brodie Grundy. The 22-year-old volunteers at 614’s Hamadova Cafe and outreach van, and recently oversaw a Salvo street art project.
‘Through volunteering, the players’ view of the world gets broadened and rather than living in this bubble they get caught up in they get access to people who are incredibly vulnerable,’ says Major Nottle.
Adds McGuire: ‘You know when we come home after a loss we can look at each other say, well at least we have some 120 people sleeping in a Magpie Nest home rather than under a tree or on the streets.’
Using football as a lever to bring about real change in the community is one way that McGuire surprises, Doogue tells Warcry. ‘The breadth of the social work underway was frankly gobsmacking,’ she says.
Several months ago, McGuire and his siblings donated their family home in Broadmeadows to Magpie Nest.
‘Yes it is a secretarian football club,’ he says, ‘but it has so much of the goodness of religious experience that comes through, whether it’s the fervour, the dedication, the sticking through hard times. Side-by-side. I’d like to think that’s what the spirit of Collingwood is.’
Raised a Catholic, as a child McGuire prayed regularly, but without any real conviction. Now, he tells Doogue, he finds himself reflecting on his good fortune—and not just materially.
‘I really do believe in what the nuns [at school] said: “To whom much has been given, much is expected.” Square the ledger and maybe get that camel through the eye of the needle after all.’
Doogue believes this episode of Compass will challenge the views of many. ‘Some of them will be annoyed with me not taking him on [McGuire],’ she says. ‘Others will, I think, be forced to consider that he is more than a man of football.
‘Now whether Eddie is doing too much, he has got all these different roles, you sort of feel like saying, “Eddie give up one or two and you still have a huge mission there.” But I think people will be a little stopped in their tracks if they put aside their prejudices.’
Shortly after his interview with Compass Eddie McGuire became embroiled in a controversy that threatened to derail his media career, as well as his tenure at Collingwood.
During his radio show on Melbourne’s Fox FM station McGuire made derogatory comments about sports journalist Caroline Wilson that many construed as bullying, or, worse, promoting domestic violence.
McGuire returned to the Compass set to answer his critics. Playing devil’s advocate, Geraldine Doogue pulled no punches.
‘I wonder what [the incident] left you thinking about you?’ she shot at him. She also queried whether or not he believed any of the controversy had affected Magpie Nest.
Well, did it? Tune into Compass tomorrow night to find out.
*Eddie McGuire and Magpie Nest, Compass, Sunday, 11 September, 6.30 pm on ABC TV, on Monday, 12 September, 11 am (repeat) and on iView.