Unscripted, after the siren after the stirring win against Port Adelaide, Jack Riewoldt looked into the Fox Footy camera and said this: “First and foremost, it gives our supporters a chance to go to work on Monday with a big smile on their dial and say they’re Richmond supporters, and proud to be Richmond supporters.”
If words could turn a season, in the hearts and minds of us barrackers, then these could be it.
Here was tacit acknowledgement that the game means more than just the playing; it is also about hope and pride and happiness and belonging. Our Jack spoke for us all. He understood our predicament. He gave voice to our plight. And for this, and for his goals, and for his courage on the field, we thank him.
On Sunday night, singing in the rain, farewelling our boys from the MCG and onto bigger deeds in Sydney, there was much to be thankful for. For most of the game, I sat between Peta Newsome and Trout in the cheer squad. Our Tigers, almost a year later, were back “in the eight”.
And by happenstance, after the siren, I found myself beside Verran Fehlberg, from Fitzroy North. He was the man I mentioned last week, who at the Adelaide Oval held-up a handmade sign on the boundary that said, simply: “7-0”.
He made a new sign for Sunday night. It didn’t matter he held it around the wrong way: 0-8. The message was clear. His smile was as wide as the MCG. After the heart-stopping tension of the North game (what was Firrito thinking with his quick play-on and misdirected kick late in the final quarter!?!), our fairy tale continued. 8-0. We haven’t known about loss all this financial year.
May it be 9-0 next week. 10-0 against Port Adelaide. May the dream never die. 11-0 elsewhere. 12-0. May our boys come back to play on the MCG, and may we all pray for a ticket. Dare to dream. 13-0. Imagine that?
Can words help a team win? Can words inspire? Can words give meaning to actions and intent?
Jake Batchelor played his eleventh-straight game for this season (8 wins, 3 losses) on Sunday night, and remains an unheralded contributor to our revival. Against West Coast, it’s hard to believe he had only three disposals. Apart from his career-first goal in the gloom against Fremantle – the fist-pump, being mobbed by his team mates – a highlight of his this year was his gang tackle, with Stevie Morris, of Jack Darling – the three of them sliding over the Subiaco boundary, in the tumbling rain; as a metaphor for all the defensive pressure, the desperation, that helped win us that night and has helped turn our season.
Others get the headlines, while Batch plays his role in getting the job done.
On Sunday night, against St Kilda, playing his 50th game, Jake Batchelor collected 22 possessions and a goal from the back pocket. Yet what lingers most was a bump he made off the ball, knocking his opponent over as the two chased for possession in open play. It was all poise, all balance. With his long left-foot kick, his aggressive tackling, this is what Batch has given these past 11 weeks.
Poise and balance. Another week of it, Batch, in Sydney; another week of us singing your praises.
Anthony Miles, obviously, is our season’s good news story. Discarded by last year’s wooden spoon team, picked by Richmond at No. 27 in the Rookie Draft, elevated mid-season but not selected for the seniors immediately, he has proved so many so wrong. As with Batch, he came into the side after the demoralising Dreamtime loss; and as with Batch he hasn’t looked back. In his 11 consecutive games he’s averaged 24 disposals, kicked four goals, but most importantly, he’s put his head over the ball and burrowed into packs in the hottest part of the ground like few others have.
It is true, Anthony, we do not love you yet as much as we love, say, Dusty or Brandon Ellis or Brett Deledio, but this is only because we have not known you long. When you line up for us in the middle in Round 1 next season, all of us will have you in our hearts. You have earned that. You deserve that. You have found an opportunity, and honoured the chance.
Next Sunday, in the west in Sydney, comes your opportunity for denouement on this fairy tale of yours, and ours. Your hard work and bravery will help win us a finals spot. And it will be the beginning of a whole other story.
Brandon Ellis, I met your parents last year, briefly, on your 20th birthday, at the MCG, after we beat Hawthorn in the rain, and your mother was rightly proud of you, as we all are too. You’re so young; you’ve made so much of yourself. All those expectations we had for you at this season’s start have at last come true. You have delivered. You are a fine footballer.
All us Richmond fans are happy for you after your misstep (what do the French call it, Jacko, a faux pas?) in our Round 3 loss to the Bulldogs, when the oldest man on the field, Dan Giansiracusa, drew a free from you, and played on, and kicked the winning goal. How so much of this season may have been so different if that result had fallen our way.
Confidence is everything in football, and Brandon, I fear your confidence was shaken after that game. It needn’t have been. And it’s all kudos to you that you’ve turned it around, and the longer this season goes the better you’ve gotten, and there should be no reason why your run-and-run-and-run next week in Sydney shouldn’t help win us the game. All of us are behind you Brandon. We’ve got your back. We’re proud of you.
Shane Edwards, so much of our resurrection these past few months, especially in the crunch games against similar foe, has been set-up by you. You are our great creator, our conjurer. You make the play happen. You give the team quick hands and quicker reflexes, and a clearer understanding of how the play may unfold. You give us dash, you give us daring. You’ve also given us 21 goals. And plenty of memorable tackles.
Congratulations on your 150th game, against St Kilda, on Sunday. May your 151st game be full of all the wonder you’ve given us over the years. (I still think of the day your jaw was broken, in the middle, early in the game – was it against the Bulldogs? – and how I wanted to let you know how concerned I was for you). Knock ’em dead on Saturday, Titch. Tie ‘em in knots!
On Sunday night I sat next to Trout, in the cheer squad, behind the Punt Road end goals.
On Sunday night I missed the banner being raised, and Neville Crowe doing a lap, because I was outside the MCG, wearing a gold glitter helmet, trying to spruik our labour of love that is ‘Tiger tiger burning bright’.
Big hugs and thanks to all who’ve bought our fundraising t-shirts and hoodies. It means so much to us. Your contribution to our contribution makes us eternally grateful. We can only hope our contribution – as fans, as storytellers – helps make a contribution to the players, and to the team.
We are, if nothing else, idealistic. We like to believe anything is possible. We value the connection between people. We like the sense of inclusion, of community, that football can engender. We like to share those voices in the crowd that may otherwise never be heard.
We hope it isn’t a misguided ideal.
We still have five ‘tiger’ t-shirts for sale (4 XLs and 1 L, $40), and 10 ‘tiger’ hoodies (7 XLs, 2 L and 1 M, $65). If you’d like to buy one to help us continue TTBB next year, please contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I make deliveries on my bicycle, I make delivers in the post. Thank you.
Alex Rance is going to monster Buddy on Saturday afternoon in Sydney, I know he is. Rance beat him several times when he played for Hawthorn, and on that Friday night at the MCG on the winter equinox – our last loss this season! – he blanketed him, and ran off him when the game was there to be won. Never mind Buddy kicked four goals and was the match-winner. Rance has had the better of him over the years, and Buddy knows this just has much as Alex does.
Jack is going to be on song on Saturday afternoon, I know he is. He played his most perfect game (11 goals, two behinds, and that pass-off to Cotch, from 17 kicks) at Spotless Stadium, in Homebush. Just across the way at ANZ Stadium, I cannot find any reason for it to be any different.
He is fit and uninjured. His hands are clean, his leads are sharp. He has his eye in. His confidence is up. I want Jack to rip apart the Swans on Saturday. The passion he’s shown for this club, this team, and us supporters – I want it to be displayed on Saturday with a ruthless and uncompromising attack on the ball. We haven’t come this far for all this to be meaningless. Jack is going to turn it up on Saturday, I know he is.
Ben Griffiths attacked the contest on Sunday night. Since returning to the fold after Tyrone’s errant swing, he looks a changed man. It seems as if a burden of expectation has lifted. He looks comfortable within himself. If last year it was stooped shoulders and downcast eyes, for now he’s flying for the ball, full of desire. Few other seven-possession games are as memorable as his was on Sunday night. He kicked two goals. This Saturday in Sydney, oh how I want him to do something he’s never done before: kick three.
Dylan Grimes, on Saturday, will delight in all the space of the ground, as we will delight in his athleticism. Nathan Foley, on Saturday, with his selfless team play – always presenting, always making an option – will do something he’s not achieved in 152 games of football: book himself in to play in a final. Ricky Petterd will do as he does most weeks, put his body on the line for his team mates. Sacrificial acts for the greater good of the team, he knows a few.
Troy Chaplin played perhaps his most perfect game of football on Sunday night. There is no reason he couldn’t improve on it on Saturday. Bachar Houli was everywhere with his run and slick skills on Sunday night. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t repeat it on Saturday. Nathan Gordon has set himself a new benchmark these past few weeks, with his games against Essendon and Adelaide. Against his old team, and with space to create, there’s no reason he couldn’t better it.
Our leaders will rise to the occasion on Saturday – Cotch, Lids, Ivan Maric – as cream rises to the top. Remember that dire game against Melbourne after Tommy Hafey’s death? (How could we forget?) Remember Cotch’s run and run and goal in the last quarter to give us a glimmer of hope? That is why we love him so. And Lids? He makes the game look easy. On Saturday, he’s going to make it look as though he’s playing with his own ball.
But these are the players who on Saturday are going to win it for us: Steven Morris, Shaun Grigg and Dusty. I know they will. Each of them has something to prove. Each of them will show what they can do.
On Monday afternoon I sent a tweet: Have been writing an open letter to “our boys” (for their trip to Sydney). All suggestions welcome. #gotiges.
Here’s a selection of replies:
Glen Weidemann @weedo
YELLOW & BLACK @Punt_Rd_End
very short letter DJ. GO HARD, WIN, SEASON OVER IF YA DON’T. Love from ALL @Richmond_FC Supporters
kick it to Jack and Lids
Emily O’Connor @emily_rfc
no matter how the season ends, we’re proud of them for not giving up when it all got tough. Showed they are #strongandbold
Darren Crick @derwoodau
make sure they know we will have a good time watching them and a better one if they win!
Alan Scott @alanrfc56
Just keep on winning, we don’t want the dream to end #gotiges
Cheryl Critchley @CherylCritchley
Channel Richo circa 2004 last time we beat them up there. Richo kicked 7.0 and won the game for us :-)
Liam Kiernan @liammichaelliam
tell them… Win lose or draw I will never not support the tiger and I am proud as of the Richmond football club
Just that we are there with them no matter what… #GoTigers
Chelsey Huber @LifEinColoR96
don’t hold back, keep the dream alive!! #gotiges
Shelly Connors @DameTassiemum
Self belief is everything. This year has proven that. We played the first half with none, the second half with plenty! #gotiges
Paul Ager @PaulTAger
If it is to be it’s up to me – Tom Hafey
Ben De Pedro @BenDepedro
believe in yourselves it’s possible, with belief possibility becomes probability
Before last year’s Elimination Final I wrote that Damien Hardwick ought be both careful and bold in his team selections. I called for the inclusion of Orren Stephenson in the team, to no avail. And I said he should be wary of carrying injured players. Jack was injured going into last year’s final, and Newie was injured, and Jake King was exhausted and spent.
We tried to play tempo footy and got caught out. We got ahead of ourselves. The only blessing was the day’s occasion, and how Nick Vlastuin and Cotch, among others, rose to it.
Saturday afternoon at ANZ Stadium is the first of this season’s two Elimination Finals. It is a time for redemption. It is a time for a new beginning. It is a time for charting a destiny.
Our resurrection, from 3-10 to 11-10, has been one of the football stories of the season. But it should not end here. It is a story that needs to get better, still. Here is an opportunity – to take on the league’s best team, on the eve of finals, in Sydney, on their home ground – that ought not be squandered. Here is an opportunity for this team, for this group of young men, to break our shackles of history.
Casual observers are willing us to win, I know they are. Other supporters understand our fairy tale. They understand it is good for our code of football. Our hope and our passion and our fervour make others happy.
I offer no advice for the game this Saturday. I offer only encouragement. I want every Richmond player to play with a brave heart and a free spirit. Take the game on. Be strong and bold. If ever in doubt, think of all times in your life you’ve overcome adversity. Have no fear. Go into the game with no expectations. Help each other. Do it for each other. Take pleasure in selfless acts. Take on responsibility.
And before the game, think about this. The Sydney players know they have a home final booked, with a double chance. They know we’re playing for everything. Our backs are to the wall. They know we’re going to be harder and lower and more ferocious in the contest; that we are going to hunt them, and maul them, and when we get the ball we are going to run like the wind to open up scoring chances.
They know we are willing to hurt more than they are willing to hurt.
It is what will win us the day.
Tiger tiger burning bright