The Punt Road end of the ground level of the Southern Stand was as good as silent. The ball came down our end five times in half an hour. At the game’s beginning, Jack had won the toss and elected to kick to the city end, meaning we’d be kicking to the Punt Road End in the last. When the Cats drew within 12 points and the impending doom already on the horizon, Jack gave a small gesture to the cheer squad: come on, fire-up, he motioned with his hands. And respond they did with a chant of Richmond, Richmond. But the rest of the pro-Richmond crowd was already aflutter and the chanting was drowned out by general shouting and exhortations. The crowd was a rabble, just as the Team was. I was stuck numb to my seat. I wanted to shout. I wanted to be active: but this defeat was like watching a train crash in slow-motion. Slooowwwww mmoooottttiiioooonnnnn.
Apparently during the last quarter the ball was in Geelong’s forward half 77% of the time; a measly 23% in our forward half. Another damning statistic is that seven players had one or fewer possessions. Let’s not name them. Just don’t say our leaders didn’t stand up – no, that is a great taboo. Just say: we have too few leaders. Just say: we have ‘leaders’ because we’ve got so many ‘followers’.
How do we categorise this loss? Walking home with my friend, an Essendon supporter, I said to him this Club can invent new ways to lose like you wouldn’t believe. I had in mind the Gold Coast loss (aka ‘the worst 47seconds of football in the history of the game) and the Collingwood loss of Round Two. I said to him: this is what is unique about our Club. In Dimma-speak: ‘the one thing about our club…’. We can lose when winning seems absolutely completely inevitable. We can lose when it seems it is harder to lose than to win. We can deliver victory into the awaiting embrace of the Opposition even when they seem reluctant and embarrassed about accepting such a victory. We can lose a game of footy like no other. And management runs the club in the belief that: ‘Our fans are loyal. Our fans are patient. Our fans are passionate. Our fans have given their money and time. Our fans love our players.’ So, in the seventh year of this current re-building of a team, this loss sticks jarringly in our collective craw.
Our team has not mastered winning. But, losing, we’re pretty good at that. Some of the specialties are:
Implosion. The above described defeat. Games which we have had in the bag. Games in which Collingwood fans have been already at the train station waiting to go home when they’ve found out they have won. The Original Implosion of the Dimma Era was the Gold Coast game.
My favourite of the Wallace Era was the draw against the Dogs at Docklands. So, now we can safely add the loss against Geelong on 14th August 2016.
We’re Not Really Here.* The kind of defeat in which defeat is conceded before the game starts. I’m thinking of the recent one against GWS. Think also defeats against Adelaide, Hawthorn, West Coast, Melbourne. The list is pretty long. No effort. No fight. No mongrel. No hunger. In some cases, the team may as well have forfeited the game and saved money on the plane tickets.*This is a song sung by Manchester City fans in the Olden Days when they didn’t win. Methinks we should also sing it as our faux-anthem. A means to get us through a dreary loss.
We’ve Turned the Corner. Also known as the ‘honorable loss’. The loss in which the team played well but still lost. For example, the game against the Dogs, in which we only lost by ten points but most experts expected us to lose by ten goals. This kind of loss says more about the opposition and that they’re taking us lightly, rather than being a result of our own good skills. We usually get belted the week after proving that we hadn’t really turned the corner.
Too-Hard Basket. When the season is on the line and scores are still close going into the final quarter. I’m thinking here of the game against Port Adelaide of this season. The game was well-and-truly in reach at ¾ time. So, what did the Tiges do? Ah, scored one point in the last quarter. That’ll do it, won’t it? Port are not a good team and we proved to be even worse. The purpose of the loss was to only give Port a false sense of finals-worthiness. At least bowing out this early in the season meant the players could save themselves from the ignominy of losing another elimination final.
The Win that Feels Like a Loss. That rare moment when we play a team crapper than us. I’m thinking of virtually every win this year. But against Carlton, Essendon, Brisbane in particular. (The victory against Sydney surely is match-fixing in its purest form.) The win that makes losing seem more like the honest and more desirable trade. The kind of win when we don’t even have the zest for life to sing our Club Song with gusto. The kind of win when we’re not even bothered to dangle our scarves out the car window on the long and silent drive home.
Each loss, each defeat is its own story and the categories are endless. How the Team can endlessly author such defeats is nothing if not an art. The players and the Club we are told ‘do not ride the emotional rollercoaster’. And that is why we never see the players sitting dejectedly in the changerooms at the end of yet another heartbreaking loss. And it is why we never see them jumping on top of each other at the end of a miraculous win (against Sydney). It is why we never see them singing Our Song, arm in arm, lungs-bursting while the shower a new player with Gatorade. No, nothing emotional at all about playing footy. It’s just business.