"Without you, we'd have nowhere else to go.
Can't get much closer.
Can't get much closer than this."
- 'When I Change My Name', The Smith Street Band


Microbreweries and French patisseries on one side; boutiques and barbers asking an arm and a leg on the other, Smith Street is where Melbourne's best, brightest, dimmest and darkest all merge like a zip.

Dubbed 'Smack Street' in the 90s thanks to the stream of Heroin travelling up and down the 86 tram line, these days, the south-to-north strip acts as a catwalk for the uber-trendy, each desperate to one-up the next in reviving fashion faux pas.

Wind the clock hands back, past the toothless Y2K bug, back another century, and the odds of landing an almond latte or an IPA along Smith come in at slimmer than none.

An umbrella wrapped around your noggin? That could quite easily be arranged, though.

Since 1851, Smith Street has acted as the arrow-straight boundary between the suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood, dividing a class and chorus of people that, at heart, were once near identical.

Down on the flat from Carlton and Fitzroy, sits Collingwood, once soaked in the sewerage that flowed downhill, and fueled by disdain, readily shot back up it.

Cloaked in the collective stench of the breweries, tanneries, mills and dye works, Collingwood came with a calloused hand, but from their pulpit up the hill, Fitzrovians looked down their nose, watching their waste flow with it.

24 Nov 1999: Collingwood players run laps past a "hard yakka" sign at a Collingwood Pre Season training session, held at Victoria Park, Melbourne, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dadswell/ALLSPORT

Black and white, or maroon and gold, come winter, the division became even clearer, with each suburb's footy team battling tooth and nail since 1892. Roy or Pie, you stayed on your side of the street, only ever crossing to go the knuckle.

However, beneath the scarves, streamers and rosette pins, these were the same people: working-class, salt of the earth, with families of seven, eight and nine shoehorned into the same terrace homes and worker's cottages, now home to ravers, dreamers and hipsters.

Ah, gentrification. You'd now have to own the boot factory to bid confidently on one of those cottages.

Throughout the opening decade of on-field salvos, both Collingwood and Fitzroy would flex their factory-hardened muscles, with the latter claiming a trifecta of flags between 1892 and 1899.

After the arrival of the 20th century, the Woods would take ownership, winning back-to-back premierships in 1902 and 1903 - the latter over their bitter rivals across the road - only for the Roys to return serve, flying pennants in 1904 and 1905.

War was waged beyond the boundary line, too, with stones, bottles and parasols all acting as weapons. 

Following their Round 6 win at Victoria Park in June of 1899, the entire Fitzroy team required a police escort up Johnston Street and back to safety across Smith, as missiles thrown by the black and white throng rained down.

Collingwood fans have long had a reputation for anti-social behaviour. CREDIT: The Horsham Times - Tuesday, June 13, 1899

While the four points would remain the Roys', then en route to a second flag, champion half-back Pat Hickey would pull up worse for wear, the victim of a woman's umbrella to the dome, dealt out by an incensed Magpie.

The stereotypical Pies fan may be toothless but make no mistake, their bite has always matched their bark.

Smith Street remained the epicentre of premiership celebrations on a further 13 occasions before the end of World War II, the vast majority shaded by black and white, including four straight between 1927 and 1930.

Fitzroy's 1916 flag proved an oddity, claimed after George Holden's men finished the four-team competition in fourth, seeing them take home the wooden spoon and the rarest of quinellas.

At Victoria Park, winning was the ticket, and while the Colliwobbles would set in throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, the directive never once wavered, even when the premiership race proved no cakewalk.

Across the tram-stamped strip, the side aimed to take in the morning sun, the flags would dry up entirely after 1944, with the Lions left ambling and aimless after leaving their Brunswick Street home in 1966.

Yet while the Roys would shift base to Princes Park before crossing town and setting up at the Junction Oval, their soul stayed behind, watching on and working to keep its side of the street kempt.

Fitzroy's 1916 premiership team CREDIT: Wiki Commons

Under the watch of Messrs Stephen, Slocum, Donaldson, Collingwood's own Kevin Rose and Brayden Maynard's grandfather, Graham Campbell, Fitzroy may not have given the premiership race much of a run, but in taking losses with good grace, the Roy Boys cemented themselves as everybody's second-favourite team.

Excluding those whose hearts pump black-and-white blood, naturally.

The stars almost aligned under David Parkin and Brownlow medallist Bernie Quinlan in '81, as the Lions cobbled together a 14-8 record, only to be bounced by the Woodsmen in the semis, 133 to 132. Five goals from the late Matthew Rendell were not enough to eliminate his future employer.

Sadly, this would be the final time that every chip was pushed into the centre of the table and all of the marbles were up for grabs. At least in these guises, anyway.

As those around them - namely a shared enemy in navy - cavorted, toasting flag after flag, the Lions and Magpies became the strangest of bedfellows after the Roys unpacked their bindle at Victoria Park ahead of the 1985 season.

But while league manuals and footy records would proffer that the Pies and Roys shared the sacred blades on Lulie Street, the latter was a tenant in name only, as those Roys - the ones who once looked down their pinched nose - had become unwanted guests, made to train up the road at Northcote instead.


As quick as they had set up shop, the league's nomads were gone again, traipsing back to Princes Park and then onto the Western Oval before being sent north for a shotgun wedding with the Bears.

After 104 years, it was all over. Only one-half of Route 86 would have a team to call their own.

And by 2004, the Magpies had flown the nest, too, forsaking their name for a future filled with cryogenic chambers and plunge pools.

Still maroon, still blue and still gold, the Lions would return south in the depths of '99 to help farewell Vic Park. On a soggy September afternoon, Lethal Leigh's pride would send a foreshadowed message as they relegated the Pies to rock bottom, with Collingwood claiming only their second wooden spoon in club history.

Still, it's a tough task keeping Magpie eyes off all that glitters, and with Matthews' men requiring a rival to help re-write history's page, why not line up a real one?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 9: Players gather around the Michael Voss #3 for the Lions and Nathan Buckley #5 for the Magpies contest the ball during the round 19 AFL match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Brisbane Lions at the MCG August 9, 2003 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

If the 2001 premiership helped mend old wounds, the '02 and '03 flags were the long overdue daggers, lunged and twisted by old-timers old enough to have worn generations of insults.

Now two decades on from the intergenerational foes' last meeting this late in the season, Lachie Neale's second Brownlow win gave shades of Simon Black's in 2002, both dialling in via video stream as Collingwood's tuxed-up stars sat watching on the ballroom floor, sipping waters puritanically.

These two rivals are different now. The times, they have a-changed. One has a year-round tan now; the other has more money than God. And though both are millions of metaphoric miles away from the days of yore - days wedged between factory walls - there is still overlap.

In Craig McRae and his decorated assistant Justin Leppitsch, there are ties that bind between eras.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Justin Leppitsch, Craig McRae and Michael Voss of the Brisbane Lions sample a can of beer which commemorates their triple AFL Premiership Victory at the Carlton United Breweries September 30 on the Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Jonathan Wood/Getty Images)

As of yet, 'Fly' is yet to knock off his old mob, currently 0-3 since taking the reins two seasons ago. Sure, the triple-premiership player will be desperate to put things right on a stage owned by his Woods, but a part of him - one that shrinks every single day - won't be weeping if the Lions can toast a fourth post-merger flag.

"If we don't win it, I hope you do," McRae offered at Brisbane's Hall of Fame ceremony during the pre-finals bye, no doubt incensing the same sorts that see umbrellas as arms for the arsenal.

But despite Brisbane's sun kisses and Collingwood's deep pockets, if you open family albums in Melbourne's inner north, turning back history's page to step into the past, these warring factions - still at each other's throats - were once the same.

If not, of course, for two sets of tram tracks.