I have no blue blood. My heart is in the low country, on the river flats, among sewer rats, where we feast on hope and cheer and faith. I am proud. If you scorn me, you scorn an army, you raise the ire of barbarians – all noble in their cause. I am loyal. I have known humility and defeat and heartbreak, yet still I live and burn with life, and my love remains undimmed.
I am Tiger. Back me in a corner at your peril. Do me wrong and beg forgiveness. I will fight against injustice wherever it is found. My life has been condemned – by geography, by circumstance, by opportunity – which makes me hold only dearer the ideas of honour and integrity. I seek truth and fairness.
I am Richmond and never will I go meekly into the night. We are strong, we are bold. For those who believe, we look after our own. One day our time will come. And for all us Tigers who for so long have yearned for so much, never will we know of such redemption and sweet joy.
NEWSFLASH: Tiger Tiger Burning Bright is back and needs your help (see bottom of this report for details).
Before last season I had a dream. It was a vision in yellow and black, fabulous in its clarity – of young men running and jumping on a field before a breathless crowd. The players on my team could do no wrong. The ball bounced into their arms. Marks were taken crisply. Commentators strung together names – Conca, Deledio, Cotchin, Riewoldt – that sounded as poetry. It rained goals in this dream. All were happy.
In this dream my team won the tight games, they won the big games, they won games they had no right to win.
My team never looked back in this dream. It grasped its opportunities, charted its own destiny. Supporters of my team became filled with hope and euphoria. They could see the light and it burned bright with possibilities. They identified with its shared success. They gained meaning and satisfaction from supporting a group of men who all played for each other. It was the season we wanted never to end.
It was a beautiful dream, and almost it came true.
In the hollow disappointment of last season’s finals loss, I received a message from a partner of a star Richmond player. I will not say whom because I do not betray confidences. “We’ve had a very sad week,” she wrote. “[But] enjoying your blog very much. Your writing is wonderful. Soothing, honest.”
(In a moment of darkness, my heart sings).
When I started writing about Richmond last year I did so because I wanted to help my team in the best way I knew how. I wanted to bend words about the unheralded players, about us supporters, and what it means to barrack for Richmond. I wanted my sentences to be a tonic. I wanted to inspire, to include, to entertain, to share voices, to give form to something that is shapeless.
In my mind, how the project would unfold was straightforward.
I would craft considered and careful words about the players and fans, through which the team might better understand themselves, and which in some intangible way may help them perform better. This would lead to an invitation into the coach’s box (to report, to interpret), and Reece Conca and Trent Cotchin and Bachar Houli and others coming to my house where I would poach a (halal) chicken and introduce them to my family and at the dinner table we would share gentle stories about life. They would tell me what it is like to be a professional footballer. I would tell them what it is like to barrack for them. Our stories would become one.
That is, I am like most supporters: delusional. I wanted to be that voice in the crowd to make a difference. I wanted to be that person who helps turn the fortunes of my forsaken club. In my own way, I wanted to contribute.
And yet, and yet… if I open my heart to something I believe in, if I nurture it, if I treat it with care, if I respect it, why couldn’t it return the love?
NEWSFLASH: Tiger Tiger Burning Bright is back and needs your help (see bottom of this report for details).
How the season unfolded was not in the narrative arc, but it mattered not. The club I love kept me at arm’s length. It never fully embraced what I hoped to contribute. For reasons known only to a chosen few of its administrators (all paid employees, all safe in their positions), it chose to treat me with scorn and disdain, and ultimately ridicule. It did not look outside of itself for new ways of doing things. It did not open its heart.
Rewards came elsewhere. Luke McGuane contacted me before he left for home, and I wish him only well in his endeavours. Trent Cotchin gave me a knowing nod of acknowledgement and I hope only that all goes well with Brooke’s pregnancy (and that he becomes the next Richmond premiership captain, and Brownlow Medal recipient, and on his retirement he becomes the country’s Prime Minister, and he changes the national flag to a black ensign with a yellow sash…). Reece Conca’s parents invited me to their family’s pizzeria in Perth (where they invited many of the cheer squad members after our memorable Monday night win away against West Coast last year) and I wish their two boys only happiness in their time in Melbourne.
But my greatest thrill last year was from the fans.
In all my years of being a professional writer (a chancy business, never could I recommend it), never have so many responded, contacting me to share intimate stories of identity. Strangers in the crowd became friends. I felt as if I belonged. Trout took me under his wing. The blog was shared. It helped coin the ‘Conca Cuddle’. It gave voice to fans. Then in the first week of September, in a roundabout way, it put a photograph of the Official Richmond Football Club Cheer Squad on the front page of The Age. Our fans walked in the beautiful sunshine.
Now a new season has begun, and there’s new hope, and I hope all will be different. What else can I do but show my love?
I am Richmond forever, but no longer can I do it alone. Tiger Tiger Burning Bright this season will be a collaboration. Mostly, it’s with Chris Rees – a graphic artist, a Tasmanian Tiger based in Hobart, who like me is the father of two young boys (each of us has a Marcus!). He is one of the many wonderful people I met last season through the blog. Our families visited last December. His bathroom window offers a great view of Cascade Brewery.
Stephen Reade (aka Easy Tiger) will provide weekly (themed) tips. Stephen is a Tiger living by a beach just south of Kingscliff, in northern NSW, who last season provided much weekly mirth when his prognostications arrived in my inbox. He is our mascot, our lucky talisman.
Andy Fuller, a thinking person’s fan, will contribute occasional essays under the banner ‘A Tiger Abroad’ (last season he was somewhere in the old Dutch East Indies, this season he’s in the Netherlands). By way of introduction, last year Andy and I corresponded regularly on themes of sport, writing, fatherhood, football and Richmond. As with others, I very much appreciated our exchange. As with Stephen, I’ve never met Andy but by happenstance I did once meet his mother. She is lovely. She runs an art gallery. It is in the back streets of Richmond.
Regular features this season will include:
- Tiger Tiger match reports: they will be shorter, they will include stories of other fans.
- Tiger-fan-of-the-week: a photo and vox pop of a Richmond fan. (All encouraged to nominate anyone whose story you think is worth sharing.)
- Our Tiger Book of Feuds: a few choice weekly words on the opposition (this week: on Carlton).
- Write home, Tucky!: An irregular series (all input from fans encouraged!) about our musings and the post-football life of any Tiger – but especially our beloved Shane Tuck. This column is to be a bulletin board. Please post your photos and messages on it.
- Other stuff we like: An annotated list of other blogs, websites and fan forums that give us succour (such as The Footy Almanac, Punt Road End, Yellow and Black, The Holy Boot’s Football Emporium, the new AFL Fans Association, etc).
Our project can work only if it is shared. Spread the word, in the hope it will grow into something beautiful and everlasting. Tell a stranger at the football about it. Write down the web address and put it in their pocket. Contribute to it. All of us are barrackers. What we do gives meaning to the game. It makes it what it is.
Our expression of appreciation – for the game, for the players, for our team – can and must make a difference. We all bleed, we all hurt, all of us are swayed by emotions. When the Tiger crowd speaks – when it roars when it is our day and our moment in the sun – it is tribal and visceral and is a force that is not easily deterred.
My dream for this season is for more than success. It is for personal fulfilment – for all Richmond players and coaches, for their partners and families, and for all us fans. My dream is for togetherness. My dream is for our story to be shared, and for it to take on a life of its own that cannot be stopped. My dream is for understanding. My dream is for Nick Vlaustin to become a superstar. For Dusty to be beatified. For Tyrone to forever silence his critics. For Brandon Ellis to invite me along as his “plus one” to the B&F night.
My dream is for my team to find moments of transcendence, in which it plays football so beautiful all else in our everyday lives becomes meaningless – and it to happen in late September.
NEWSFLASH: Tiger Tiger Burning Bright needs your help.
A short explanation: I’m a former newspaper journalist (The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald), who’s been between jobs for the past 15 years. I’ve milked cows, worked in shearing sheds, laboured for builders and bricklayers, ghost written for Donna Hay and once ran a storytelling workshop for the homeless in Kings Cross, among other things. Recently returned to Melbourne, I now find myself mostly – and proudly – a house husband. But my absence of any regular paid work challenges my brittle sense of masculinity. (I know, I know, but it’s the way it is). It also means I cannot justify (to my partner, our family) the cost of a membership or admission price to games. If you have a spare ticket to games, please contact me.
After so many years away, I love getting to the football. I will stand in the outer, or wear a collar in the MCC members, or shout support over the fence from the cheer squad, or display appropriate decorum in a corporate box. I like to meet people in the crowd, I like to find out about their story and write about it. I would like to sit with somebody different each week. My email address can be found on the contacts tab. If you have an upcoming game for which you know you have a spare ticket, please let me know so I can plan ahead.
The proviso: I always wear my yellow ‘Tiger’ T-shirt (home-made, at least a size too small), and bring a notepad and pen, and write about whomever I sit next to. (Unless, of course, my benefactor requires anonymity, or is Megan Gale, or Damien Hardwick’s wife, or…)
Tiger Tiger Burning Bright
or Twitter: @dugaldjellie