Australian Football Celebrating the history of the great Australian game


Key Facts

Full name
John Greening

Known as
John Greening

20 December 1950 (age 71)

Place of birth
Burnie, TAS (7320)

Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 17y 143d
Last game: 25y 154d

Height and weight
Height: 185 cm
Weight: 83 kg

Senior clubs

Jumper numbers
Collingwood: 22

State of origin

John Greening

ClubLeagueCareer spanGamesGoalsAvgWin %AKIAHBAMKBV
CollingwoodV/AFL1968-1972, 1974-1976107700.6564%15.364.274.2235
Total1968-1972, 1974-1976107700.6564%15.364.274.2235

AFL: 8,032nd player to appear, 2,190th most games played, 1,528th most goals kickedCollingwood: 691st player to appear, 169th most games played, 122nd most goals kicked

Despite being arguably one of the most sublimely gifted footballers of his generation, John Greening tends to be remembered today more for being on the receiving end of one of the most callous and cowardly on-field assaults in the game's history. The attack took place during the opening moments of Collingwood's round fourteen clash with St Kilda at Moorabbin in 1972. Greening had just taken the first mark of the match, and had kicked the ball long towards the Collingwood goal square. While most people's attention was focused on the goal mouth scramble ensuing from Greening's kick, Greening himself was lying prostrate on the turf, having been unceremoniously decked seconds after getting rid of the ball. The perpetrator, Jim O'Dea, was not reported at the time, but was later identified after the VFL implemented an enquiry in response to an official complaint from the Magpies. That complaint arose after the full extent of the injuries sustained by Greening became clear. Comatose for a full 24 hours, Greening did not regain full consciousness for several days. He was diagnosed as suffering from cerebral concussion, and doctors fully expected him to be permanently disabled. Indeed, for a time, his life was in real danger. That he not only recovered, but returned to the football field, was little short of miraculous.

Meanwhile, Greening's assailant was suspended by the VFL tribunal for 10 matches, a sentence which many football lovers, and not just Collingwood fans, considered grossly inadequate. Some football supporters even ceased to follow the game in disgust.

Born in Burnie on 20th December 1950, John Greening was wooed to the mainland by Collingwood in early 1967, not long after his sixteenth birthday, and having played just a handful of senior games for Cooee. After half a dozen games for the Magpies' under nineteens he was promoted to the reserves, where he impressed to the extent of being selected for a VFL reserves combination that defeated New South Wales. He made his senior debut the following year against Hawthorn, and from then until the fateful clash with St Kilda he was a virtual ever present. Supremely balanced, agile and abundantly skilled, there seemed no limit to what he might have achieved. Reflecting on his injury almost two decades later, Greening ruefully declared, "If it hadn't happened I reckon I'd still be playing and would have pushed Michael Tuck aside (for most VFL games)".

As it was, Greening did return to football less than two years after the incident that came to bear his name, but after an adrenalin-fuelled comeback game in which he amassed 24 possessions to be close to best afield, his form deteriorated. Before long, he came to realise that he no longer had the intense inner hunger to succeed that was so essential at the game's highest level. His Collingwood career came to an end in 1976 after 107 VFL games and 70 goals, and although he rediscovered elements of his best form during subsequent stints with Port Melbourne, Penguin and East Devonport there can be little doubt that both John Greening, and the sport of football itself, sustained inordinate damage on the afternoon of Saturday 8th July 1972.

Author - John Devaney


Full Points Footy's Tasmanian Football Companion


* Behinds calculated from the 1965 season on.
+ Score at the end of extra time.