Votes and Notes from Andy Fuller [@readingsideways]
I walked from Prospect Oval in North Adelaide towards the Adelaide Oval. The quiet, tree-lined streets of sandstone houses and brush-fences turned into a four-laned road heading in and out of town: car dealerships on either side. ‘Finance Me’. ‘Was 53,299; now 51,299’. My phone battery was under the critical 15% mark and I wasn’t getting any signal. Strange behaviour from my phone. I had taken some 50 or so photographs during the day and the battery had been quickly consumed. The phone’s clock was still on Melbourne time; half-an-hour ahead. The road curved and I passed some derelict and empty houses. Some buses passed, but I was happy to be walking; filling in the time to get to the Barrie Robran statue at the Southern End of the Adelaide Oval to meet Uncle Tony et al. From the northern end of O’Connell street, Port fans were parking their cars and making their way to pubs, restaurants and bars for pre-game drinks. I had on my North Adelaide Roosters beanie; not yet ready to engage in AFL-rivalries. ‘Adelaide Oval: walk there; stay here’: so advertised a motel. A mild winter’s evening: still, almost cloudless. And the forecast was for very a cold night. Under 10 degrees! Yet, on the way to the ground, some of the punters were still carrying their coats. While others, had their new-era Port jumpers on as their outer-most garment.
The media reported this as being an important game for Port: it was their chance to assert their credentials as a legitimate top-4/finals team. A retired Port player tried to drum up a rivalry and Richmond fans expressed their indifference via twitter. Despite their high-position on the ladder, they had generally lost against top-eight sides. On the Friday night Channel 7 predictions, even the great Richo predicted the Port to win by virtue of the game being played at Port’s semi-home ground of the renovated Adelaide Oval. During the day, in a pre-game Triple M discussion, I had heard the legendary Wayne Carey blame buffets for teams’ poor travelling records. Thorough analysis: teams lose footy games when they travel interstate due to ill-disciplined eating. I then remembered my own ill-disciplined eating since my arrival in SA: albeit I’m not here to take part in an elite sporting competition.
I have become one of the fans Damien Hardwick mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a press conference: ‘our fans go to games confident that their team is going to give a solid performance’. I paraphrase. This is in contrast to early footy-going anxieties: a fear of the team being utterly humiliated and then having to work out one’s strategy for justifying how going to the game was an enjoyable experience. The players are playing with a greater confidence; there is a stability in the team. Probably this too is reflected in the crowds’ reaction to our agonising defeats (Freo in particular). These defeats have not seen the massive down-turn in crowd-numbers: just intense, short-term disappointment at not having won very winnable games.
So this was a winnable game from the outset: Port were after all, occupying a somewhat flattering position on the ladder. Richmond: about where we (?) should be. There were low expectations of a Richmond win and the pressure was on Port to perform. But, we were without Bachar. The man himself had yet again conducted himself with aplomb – as he always does – this time, in the face of bigoted and prejudiced views. Probably he didn’t even care for their presence. The spewers of hate took Bachar’s act and ran with it: using it to attack him, as if he had intentionally knocked out Jed Lamb. I imagined an alternative circumstance where Houli would be knocked out in similar circumstances and then him being blamed for the knock out for having a glass jaw. So in came Oleg Markov of North Adelaide. I had enjoyed watching him last year; a season in which he admitted to getting games only thanks to Houli’s persistent injuries.
This was my first proper away game for Richmond. I sat with Uncle Tony, Cousin James and Matthew – friend of Tony – in the southern stand, beneath a scoreboard. The halls leading to our seats were lined with SANFL memorabilia in display cases. The legends of SANFL footy on the wall; histories of clubs detailed nearby. Port entered the field to their ridiculous and bouncy song; Richmond’s song was issued from the speakers at minimal volume. Loud enough to be heard; but not loud enough to be enjoyed. Is that the Tiges song, I hear, ol chap? I stood with the Port faithful and sang their INXS chant, regretting not having brought my Richmond scarf with me. My only piece of Richmond gear was my Richmond-Jeep-Bingle black baseball hat. Packing light. I was standing; you were there; two worlds colliding.
#9 won the toss and pointed to the southern end; at least one mistake wasn’t repeated. We were in spectacular seats, thanks to Tony’s fastidious preparation. We looked north to the beautifully manicured ground to the scoreboard and the Moreton bay figs. This stadium was not lacking for scoreboards. Screens are integral part of the contemporary stadium: the crowd must also be a screen audience. Curved Wanganeen and Basheer stands on the right. Our section was crowded but not full: the Port fans in our section were a mix of grumpy oldies and young hipsters bedecked in beards and replica jumpers. And there was a Richmond contingent too, nearby. A moustachioed chap with a 1980s Richmond-baseball style jacket, still in mint condition. A young teenager in a Tiger onesie. Hopefully she was warmer than the rest of us. I was surprised by their exuberant cheering at each of our goals. Best to not goad the cantankerous, methought.
I marked Richmond’s progress by some modest expectations. We were going well if we weren’t getting blown away. The first quarter was promising: one goal and numerous points each. There were moments in the second quarter which were a touch more worrying. But, the groans and growing of frustration of the Port fans suggested they were too were worried about Richmond’s reluctance to meekly rollover in the manner of polite guests. I had a hot-chocolate at half-time and enjoyed the city views on a balcony. I took the slow route back to my seat and consumed some more SANFL history: checking out boots, jumpers, records, trophies, anecdotes. Port fans had taken their angry pills at the break, and were venting at their players, our players and the fellows in grey wielding their whistles. I humoured myself by mocking their displeasure: so easily and so often it could have been us making similar gestures. We had five minutes of brilliance at the end of the ¾ and wrestled the lead after stifling Port’s efforts. The Teal Army were grumpy. I held my emotions and expectations: there were still plenty of opportunities for us to lose it. And in the end we did not. We didn’t even let it become close. So, we didn’t win a close one. Alex, Dylan and David – et al – prevent it from being a debacle.
And so to the votes. I’m giving One to Tyson Stengle. He came in to the side and wasn’t over-awed. He played his role (!) and wanted the ball. He kicked a couple of goals and broke tackles. More please. I’m giving Two to Daniel Butler. Maybe he deserves more. His goal in the second quarter was wonderful. And my Uncle Tony’s mate, Matthew, announced: people coming from rugby league backgrounds don’t appreciate how difficult it is to run at top speed, avoid tackles and bounce the ball. I jumped up and celebrated – mutedly – as it bounced through the goals. I’m giving Three to Kane Lambert. I like how his body shape has subtly changed over the last year. He’s hardened up; he looks tougher and fitter. I’ve barely memorised his gait: he’s the guy who I can’t memorise on the field. Every time I think to myself ‘who has got the ball right now?’ I slowly realise it is him. I asked myself that question quite often. He’s tough; no-nonsense; after-the-ball. I’m giving Four to Alex Rance. He came into the game in the second half and the Port fans were hugely frustrated by his persistent winning of the one-on-one duels and his judgement about when to run-off his man and when to stay put. I can’t help but give Five to Dusty. I guess it is the timing of when he plants his hand into the chest of a would-be tackler that makes his ‘don’t argue’ impenetrable. Great tackle by #19 Matthew White-regardless, he is almost untackleable. ☺ Brilliant goal in our mini-come-back in the ¾.
30: Cotchin, Grigg
9: B. Ellis
7: Conca, Lambert
6: Grimes, Nankervis
4: Rioli, Butler
2: Vlastuin, Prestia, Caddy
Blair Hartley Appreciation Award:for players who have joined Richmond from another club
(Eligible 2017: Caddy, Grigg, Hampson, Houli, Hunt, Nankervis, Maric, Miles, Prestia and Townsend.)
2: Prestia, Caddy
Anthony Banik Best First Year Player:for anyone who was yet to debut before round 1
(Eligible 2017: Shai Bolton, Dan Butler, Ryan Garthwaite, Jack Graham, Ivan Soldo, Tyson Stengle)
1: Bolton, Stengle
Joel Bowden’s Golden Left Boot:for left footers
(Eligible 2017: Batchelor, Chol, Corey Ellis, Grigg, Nankervis and Houli).
Greg Tivendale Rookie List Medal:
upgraded from the rookie list during the current season
Potentially eligible 2017: Castagna, Chol, Moore, Stengle and Soldo.
Maurice Rioli Grip of Death Trophy:
For the Tiges top tackler
Richmond fans roamed the periphery of the Adelaide Oval in groups. An informal cheer squad sang the song. Others were more subdued; talking and smiling amongst themselves. Uncle Tony and I made our way past the newly revealed Malcolm-Blight-in-full-flight statue towards North Adelaide where his vehicle was parked. The revival of the Adelaide Oval as a centrepiece of sports tourism in Adelaide continues apace. And like the MCG, the Adelaide Oval is a focus point of weekly city-based events. The Adelaide City Council is strict on the parking and ‘event parking’ signs are everywhere. Tony shared some anecdotes about various nearby buildings and his career as a radio announcer; hosting a jazz show. Rambling conversations, post-footy; a moderate walk back to the car. I’m liking this Richmond team’s unfancied, unglamorous staying-power more and more each week. The bitter defeats (Dogs, GW$, Freo, Sydney) could have broken them. Steady progress is being made. Go forth, new Tiges.