Late Saturday night I received a phone call from Richard, a young policeman working night shift at Port Augusta in South Australia, who needed to talk. His family, who live in Adelaide and barrack for Richmond, were at the game. On nights like these we need share in the joy. We hug each other. We embrace. We text, we tweet, we post on Facebook, we call and talk. We cannot quite believe what has happened and it’s as if it is only real if shared.
It’s moments like these I love being a Tiger, I am proud to be a Tiger, and I believe that what we have is a deeper kindred spirit than most of us truly acknowledge.
On Monday morning, another Richard – Richard Byrne – a native Sydneysider and whose path in life seems always to cross mine (most recently through TTBB) sent a poem:
Sing the song of Richmond
a rocket full of pie
2 and 20 black birds
sent out to try
to dine upon the tigers.
what happened next, of course?
Yellow pastry full of crow
with nice tomato sauce.
It’s times like these – incredulous times – we become creative with our barracking, letting it take new shape, and a life of its own. Our spirits are singing. We are heady with delight. We believe anything’s possible. Our team have forgotten how to lose.
What they’ve done since last playing St Kilda – in stringing together seven victories, in finding new ways to win – has given more joy than all of last year. After the Melbourne loss, after the loss to Essendon in the Dreamtime game, I couldn’t imagine what has happened. The sky had fallen and our Tigers had left us bereft for this season and, presumably, for many more to come.
Now we hope to smell the grass of the MCG in the sweet balm of spring. We hope this is another season to remember. We hope this fairy tale knows no end.
Now we dare to dream; that these players truly have forgotten how to lose, and this winning is contagious and it is all that we will know for the rest of the season.
Imagine that? Imagine if this group of young men pulled off such a feat? They would become immortal. They would be spoken about in reverential breath for generations to come. They would rewrite the record books. The whole city would fall to its knees in respect and admiration. They would never have to kick a football again and they would be talked-about with such fondness for the rest of their lives.
All us Tiger fans would block the gates to the MCG and carry each of them on our shoulders, in victory, beneath the flowering elms of Yarra Park to Punt Road Oval, where for a full week – maybe more – we would celebrate their deeds and honour their achievements.
Our boys, our boys, our boys.
Please, on that journey could I help carry Dusty?
Thanks to all who’ve placed orders, and have paid, for the inaugural TTBB fund-raising t-shirts. We’ve had 20 tees and 20 hoodies made-up, and all proceeds will go to keeping our little project solvent for next year (mostly ISP hosting fees, domain name, boring stuff like that – with any extra to fund a TTBB budget trip to Tatyoon to recount the Dave Astbury story, on behalf of the Dave Astbury Appreciation Society). The hoodies are now on sale! They’re a gold fleece hoodie with a black ‘Tiger’ on the back. They’re cheerful, creative, and full of Tiger pride.
They could be collector’s items. We’ve made only 20. Bottom line is that each hoodie has cost us $43.45 to make, and we’re selling them for $65. I’m happy to accept any pleas for discounts (from students, disability pensioners, etc). We are not trying to profiteer; we’re just trying to find a way to cover our expenses for this year, and next.
For orders, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange payment/delivery. Also, anyone who’s put an order in for a Tiger tee, please confirm payment by this weekend to secure your order.
I’ll be at the game on Sunday from 3.30pm selling the t-shirts and hoodies (all confirmed orders can also be picked up). Find me at Gate 5, at the Punt Road end, by light tower 3. I’ll wear my gold-glitter helmet so you can’t miss me. Even if you don’t want to buy one, come and say hello. But for a general warning, please see the second-last item on this blog.
Truth is, if we win these last two games I don’t really care if we make finals or not. The joy is in the winning, and how the team are playing, and witnessing this – and not so much on the construct of finals. The pleasure is in the reversal of fortunes. In learning how to win when confronted with adversity. In seeing the players mob each other after Saturday night’s game – a knot of exuberance and care for each other, in the ground’s heart.
It is true, when the players come together as one, so too, do us fans.
The pleasure is in seeing a fan on the TV telecast hold up a home-made yellow-and-black sign on the boundary line that says, simply: 7-0. In those two numbers, so much is known. All us Richmond supporters understand the significance of those numbers. 7-0. We are willing it to be 8-0, to be…
The pleasure is in seeing Big Ivan, a heartbeat of our team, our recruit who seems to understand us fans more than we understand ourselves – so carefully spoken, so gentle, so supportive of our efforts – embrace this fan and his 7-0 sign and share in his celebration. Such a small gesture, that causes so much pleasure for so many on our side of the fence.
We want to be part of the winning, we want to contribute.
Midway through the last quarter when everything was running against us – the goals, the umpiring decisions, the bounce of the ball, the scoreboard, the clock, then more of the umpiring calls – hands up who thought it was over? Who thought our shared dream was to end? Hands up who had started to apportion blame for the season? Who called for the sub to be made? Who was cursing ‘Newy’ and his ill-advised kick-in in the third quarter (all of us knew the smart play, the percentage play, the wet-weather play, was to go long and wide)? Who had that awful pit of melancholia, of familiar disappointment, of sadness for what may have been? Hands up who thought our Sunday morning would be full of longing?
Hands up who jumped from the floor, the couch, their seat, when Dusty kicked the goal that would seal the win? Hands up who ran around the room, clenching their fist, pumping their fists, incredulous with joy, not wanting to wake up sleeping children, trying to contain such relief and pleasure (oh, that was just me?)…
I would love to see a compilation of footage of how our fans reacted to that win, to that Dusty goal, to the team singing the song.
For the longest time, I’ve not known a win like it. On a Saturday night, under lights, away, broadcast for all to see, and our boys came up trumps! They made us so proud. They made us want to hug them. They made us fall in love, all over again.
So there are several things I need to do, that I said I would. I owe Nick Vlastuin’s brother $35 as a pledge for walking the Kokoda Track. I will pay him. I have said I will visit Tatyoon to write about David Astbury’s home town. I will visit Tatyoon before the year’s out. Last week I said I would write an open letter to Bachar Houli. I will write this letter, but not right now.
Right now I need to praise Troy Chaplin. It has been a pleasure to see him defy his early-season form when he looked bereft of confidence and touch. Since the Port Adelaide game – and those goals, and that celebration that delighted us all – he has been a wonder. He has been as he was last year: dependable, sturdy, solid, reliable; a calming influence on the back six.
Twice in the last quarter he single-handedly kept our dream alive. When he stripped James Podsiadly of the ball – at the top of the goals, as he turned to shoot and bury us – it was a single act that saved our skin. Our season was on the line, and Chappy restored a heartbeat. Alex Rance applied the pressure, and Troy Chaplin saved the night. How lucky are we to have these two?
And when Chappy took a sliding, defensive mark late in the quarter to win back possession, to repel an attack, to hold the ball, I jumped from the floor and clapped. I needed to applaud. I needed to acknowledge his deed. I needed to let him know how appreciative I was of that mark. My partner told me to stop. She said I’d wake the baby.
Right now I need to praise Big Ben Griffiths. On Saturday night he arrived as a footballer. On Saturday night, his hair wet and slicked-down, he looked like the sort of old-fashioned, no-frills footballer so many of us admire. He’s always been a fan favourite, with his beautiful, long kicks and the way he flies for the ball. On Saturday night, these attributes helped win us the game. He kicked a goal in the wet from outside 50. His ruck contributions were more than handy, and helped create Cotch’s brilliant rove and snapped goal. He sent the ball long and over the lines and into the teeth of goals, that helped set-up Nathan Gordon’s match-winning snap. And in the dying minutes he won valuable possessions that gave us composure.
When Big Ben gets his hands on the ball, our team are in good hands. His long kick is such an asset. It clears the ball from defence when the screws are on, and it lengthens our forward line. He can gain possession from near the outside of the 50m arc, and he’s still a realistic scoring chance. And his ruck work is a bonus. And his marking is a bonus. It would be lovely to one day see him kick a bagful.
And right now I need praise Nathan Foley. For his selfless acts, for his professionalism, for what he has given our club for so long, for how he has responded to the profound disappointment of last year and being dropped for the elimination final. If we were to make the finals this year, Dimma would not make the same mistake twice. We would not let him.
Nathan Foley, especially early on Saturday night, did what he always does best: create. With quicks hands, with his run, with getting to contests, with extracting the ball, with finding a team mate. It pleases me so much how he has extracted so much from his body, from his abilities, to give back to the team.
I need to praise also Shane Edwards and Brandon Ellis and Dusty and Cotch and Lids, and others, but not right now.
I don’t wish to dwell on the negatives, but for the whole night – crossed as it was by a spooked black cat – there were only three moments of disappointment with our players. Sure, Sam Jacobs gave our Big Ivan the run-around, but you couldn’t admonish Ivan for his efforts. That’d be churlish.
There was Chris Newman’s aforementioned short kick-in that cost us a goal and turned momentum their way. There was Dusty turning-over possession twice in succession, resulting in an Adelaide goal against the run of play (but could anyone hold a grudge against Dusty?). And there was the ball bouncing off Ben Lennon’s chest late in last quarter that nearly was the catalyst for our season’s end.
But I couldn’t have blamed Ben. He came on so late in the game when the stakes were so high, it’s a tough ask for him to straight away pick-up the tempo. His was the most thankless job in football on Saturday night. I’m glad for him he had the kick that set-up Dusty’s last goal. He needs to hold on to this contribution. He needs to keep backing himself. All of us want to believe that he will belong in this team, that he will become a player.
Next week, if we win on Sunday afternoon against St Kilda, I will write an open letter to all Richmond players. I hope to express how we think of them. I hope to tell them how we care. I want to tell them what they mean to us.
I want words – and our support – to help carry them to Sydney. I want this fairy tale never to end.
Before the game on Saturday I checked myself into a hospital’s emergency ward. When away in Tasmania last week I had a vicious cold, and a night of fever, and something strange happened. I had numbness in my lips and on the left side of my forehead. On Saturday morning I went for a run with a friend, and did jobs around the house, and was on the floor playing Lego with one of our children, when I was struck by dizziness and nausea.
I had no idea what was going on. I was frightened. The left side of my face was numb and tingling and burning. I thought about stroke, or brain tumour. I thought mostly about our children, my partner.
The doctor’s diagnosis, while alarming, is a huge relief. For a while, my life has changed, markedly. I have contracted Bell’s palsy. In short, it’s a relatively rare paralysis on one side of the face that in about 90 per cent of cases resolves itself within a few months. Scientist remain unsure how it is caused, but know if effects men and women equally, is less common before age 15 or after age 60, and it disproportionately attacks people who have diabetes or upper respiratory ailments such as the flu or a cold.
It is not hereditary, it is not contagious. I mention this only for anyone I might meet at the football on Sunday. The left side of my face has, inexplicably, and temporarily, slumped. I’m calling myself “ol’ slopey side-face”. I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to anyone with a permanent disfigurement. Mine is a humbling experience. My lips are numb, my speech is slurred, my self-esteem is bruised.
I have a deeper understanding of empathy.
It thrills me no end that on Sunday, Trout has saved me a seat in the cheer squad. I’m wearing my gold-glitter helmet. I need to cheer myself up. I need to barrack. And I really hope it’s not the last time we do so in Melbourne, this year.
Another thing that has cheered me up this year is collaborating with Chris Rees on this football-community TTBB thing of ours (especially his Virtual Duffle Coat, to which this week I nominated a badge for ‘Skippygirl’, a Tommy Hafey Club committee member who makes our club a better place for her involvement). His account of watching the game on Saturday night is a must-read.
Also, I’ve really been enjoying compiling our fan-of-the-week. Last week, while doing this, there was a wonderful serendipity. I had been thinking while away in Tasmania of a fan I met in Canberra, Cassandra Hall, and wanting to write about her, and was chuffed that of all days, I called her on her birthday. It was meant to be. This week I’ll profile one of the stalwarts of the cheer squad, and a man who I’ll always appreciate because last year he accepted me into the fold.
No, it’s not Trout.
It’s somebody else who understands that football, and our Tigers, they’re family.
Tiger tiger burning bright