Time for a proper match report. I have been to more Carlton Richmond games at the MCG than all my other AFL games put together. Out of about 8 matches I have only seen the Tigers win (and sung the beautiful club song) ONCE. Spoiler alert – this record still stands.The one win was round 22, 1999, the night the scoreboard caught fire.
I was in Melbourne primarily for Presentation Night but took the opportunity to gather together my group of originally-Tasmanian mates who all barrack for Carlton, and get along to see Richmond go into a game as favourites for once.As a sentimentalist I insisted we meet under the clocks at Flinders Street – John and Michael were there but Alex was coming from the south so he insisted on meeting us at the G rather than sailing past it on the train. It was a beautiful day, and we got pints of proper beer on board by the Yarra before taking the new (to me) walkway over to the coliseum, where mid-strength beer is now the rule.We gathered by the statue of Ponsford and waited for Alex. And waited. The other boys went in, I said I would wait for him but was overruled. I had his ticket, was trying to call him, getting nowhere, didn’t want to miss the bounce, ran in and out through the turnstiles three times, did miss the bounce, and almost missed the first goal. Between that and second goal I finally located the man whose nickname is Tardy [Surname Suppressed] for good reason. I finally settled into my seat in 2nd tier above the right back pocket, and drank it all in. What a magnificent sight it is – like a huge banquet laid out in front of a starving man.
Back to the first goal – what was Malthouse thinking starting promising under 13s player Josh Bootsma on dual Coleman Medallist, Jack Riewoldt? That’s tanking, that is. The first time the ball came their way Riewoldt just unbalanced Bootsy who slid to the ground, while the high-stepping show pony dawdled into goal and hoisted the ball over the cheer squad into the top tier. Which set the tone for the first quarter.We were down the other end and I had not brought the binoculars, so I had only a distant view of our eight first-quarter goals. I saw Jacko nail one, and Vickery, and they just kept coming. I had decided to watch Alex Rance’s work behind the play on Lachie Henderson, and actually picked a bad quarter to do it because my study kept being interrupted by goals. I did see one pretty weak effort by David Astbury when he was beaten for agility by 9-foot Blues ruckman Warnock. I was already halfway to wearing out my voice, and barracking like the hopeless once-a-year man-in-the-outer that I am. “MATTY MATTY MATTY MATTEEEEEEEEEEE” I yelled as various smaller players who were not Matt White (late withdrawal) kicked goals or executed snappy give-and-gos. “BURY IT TROY!!!!” as Tyrone Vickery lined up the big sticks. After that I just called him a different Irish county every time he got the ball. “MAYO!!” “WATERFORD!!!!” Yes, the beer was working wonders and I’m sure rows BB and AA were regretting it.
I had planned to tweet through the match and keep in touch with various Blues and Tigers around the ground and around the country by text, but had creatively left my phone in the car when Elf dropped me at the airport. I had a replacement phone but without all the numbers it was a bit useless. So I focused on the boofheads I was with. They had been gloomy about their chances, and at five goals down by 2 o’clock they were feeling pretty dire.
But the 2nd quarter was all Carlton, six goals to 2, so again all the action seemed to be miles away. McLean kicked three and the general impression around us was that this was an admirable but doomed fightback from an undermanned team who would never be able to sustain it. Our skipper Cotchin was very quiet though, and in the back of my mind I started to go over all those other losses to the Blues. Alex is late, I forget or mislay something important and Richmond lose – its usually like clockwork.
At halftime I found Joe from Launceston over in the other pocket. He had his mind made up – we were going to lose. I said that we had just let them back in it as we need to generate a finals-like atmosphere in the second half to practice for the weeks ahead. The Tigs are guaranteed finals participants for only the 3rd time since 1982.
I think in the 2nd half, that fact – guaranteed finals – eroded some of our competitive spirit. Maric was trying hard, Grigg and Conca and Ellis were pretty busy, Deledio must have had 12 or 14 running bounces for the game. But the goals wouldn’t come. Had a close-up look at Eddie Betts having kittens about taking a set shot. I’ve never seen anything like it – if modern-day Wayne Harms had suddenly appeared behind him I think Eddie would have dished off a handball, even though he was only 20 metres out on a 30 degree angle. Grimes was not very effective in his first game for months, and subbed for Tucky.
The mood was strange. On the scoreboard we could see that the Suns were touching up the Power (ugh to expansion club nicknames, UGH) and that gave the Blues fans a bit of a whiff of finals themselves. The Richmond crowd were, like the players, cushioned from the usual misery of fluffing a winnable game by the very UNusual thought – we’ll be back here in a final in 3 weeks, win, lose or draw today.
And so it went. There were signs of a late rally, and if there had been another 5 minutes the Tigs may have pulled it out of the fire, but … siren went with Carlton 10 points up and my delirious so-called friends reminding me that they are the old dark navy blues. Actually they were very kind, and said they wished the Tigs had actually won since I had come such a long way. Again, like so many times before, I reflected that I had really enjoyed their company, the big occasion and the quality of the game, but was really disappointed with how Richmond fell away conceding 13.8 to 6.10 after quarter time. It was just complacency and a few players deciding to coast.
My plan had been to leave the old dark navy blues and have a few drinks at the Cricketers Arms with the boys from Launceston before finding a cab to Tullamarine to fly home. This was always a dangerous plan, and with the unexpected bereavement of a loss I felt at liberty to change it. I said goodbye to Alex and Michael and walked back to Flinders Street with John. On the way through the parkland we passed a few kick-to-kicks, and one bit of old fashioned man-on-man scragging with no ball in sight. A bloke in a Richmond guernsey upended his mate in a Carlton guernsey on the grass in a textbook tackle, pinning the arms. In a yelling mood and 5 or 6 mid-strengths to the good, I called “He hasn’t got it umpeee! He hasn’t goddddddddddddddit! He didn’t bring it!!! IT’S AT HOME ON THE COFFEE TABLE UMPEEEEEEEE.”
Old mates and beer are the keys to unlocking a much wider emotional range than I usually have. John and I slipped into another Yarra-side bar for a last pint together, then he got on his train and I went up to Little Bourke St to find solace in dumplings. You had to order them with an iPad.