OF ALL the tributes paid to the late Collingwood centre half-back Bill Picken - and there have been many - Mark Maclure’s is perhaps the most paradoxical, but no less endearing.

In Picken, few would be better placed than ‘Sellers’ to vouch for a more committed adversary or steadfast friend in equal parts.

Maclure and Picken broke into League football in the same year, 1974. Maclure took to the field for the first time against Geelong in Round 14 – half a season after Picken fronted for game No.1, as fate would have it, against Carlton in Round 5 at Victoria Park. John Nicholls broke EJ Whitten’s League games record of 321 that day, and Picken recounted the moment to this reporter some years later.

“I remember forming the guard of honour as this giant blue blur passed before my eyes,” Picken said, “and I remember thinking ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’.”

Collingwood players - including Picken, fourth from the right - stage a guard of honour for John Nicholls.

In an era when Carlton and Collingwood contests were top billing, the Maclure-Picken match-ups doubled as the rivalries within the rivalry – but only until the final bell. To quote Maclure, the 243-game three-time premiership forward: “Bill was a great player, but a better bloke”.

In addressing The Carltonians at Sunday’s luncheon prior to the Carlton-GWS contest, Maclure admitted emotions got the better of him after news filtered through of Picken’s untimely death at age 66.

But amid the grief came the laughter, with Maclure confirming his old adversary’s penchant for on-field commentary whenever the Sherrin neared the vicinity.

“All that stuff about him saying ‘Here comes Billy’ was true, but I’d just tell him to bugger off and we both laughed at that,” Maclure said.

Picken against Maclure, circa 1981.

“We had enormous battles, it was all about winning games and it was no fault of his that they lost: and they lost plenty.

“But back then it was also about fun. We’d go to war for two-and-a-half hours, then at 10 o’clock at night we’d both be staggering home.”

Season 1986 would see both of the old on-field combatants out - ‘Billy’ in the Round 18 match against Melbourne at Victoria Park; ‘Sellers’ on Grand Final day at the mighty MCG, in what was also the last hurrah for Des English and the great Bruce Doull. 

So it was that their careers had ended as they had begun. Together.

In reflecting on his unique relationship with Picken, Maclure recounted the long-gone after-match function when players from both teams gathered in a quiet nook of the ground over a convivial ale.

“Today’s blokes miss out on the after-match, but this was where friendships were often forged. You could learn a lot from players there in terms of how they dressed, how they carried themselves and whether they were humble or mugs.

“Bill was definitely humble, and you know what? The game doesn’t put up with mugs. I had enormous respect for him, he was a ripping guy and they don’t make them like that anymore.”