A Tweet received on Anzac Day from Edstar:
I fear we’re only a loss away from another Chickenpoo episode.
Fan dissent. Mick Molloy offered his home-truths on breakfast radio. All in the outer are disappointed and angry, asking questions, looking for answers as how clubs like Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs, GWS and most others have passed us by. There is no unity in a crowd. There is nothing the club can do about this heartache except, perhaps, to acknowledge it, and embrace it, respect it. Mike Sheahan’s confected breast-beating of the club’s 50 best players in 50 years reads as a hollow exercise. Who cares? There is a bigger picture, and all us fans know it. It’s not looking in the rear-view mirror; it’s confronting the here-and-now. It is being honest and truthful, and treating a shared anguish with respect. The only tonic, of course, is with the winning.
If not that, all we can ask for is courage and bravery, and doing something – anything – to turn this around.
Many at the club, and probably many fans, might be critical of the person who dumped a truckload of chicken manure by the front door of the football club’s offices. I offer a counter argument.
If the passion of Richmond fans is one of the club’s great attributes, then this goes both ways. It was direct action, an expression of frustration by one fan about the performance of the team. Sure, it was a public humiliation; but none were hurt, none harmed, none singled out for abuse.
It’s also become part of the folklore of our football club, and of barracking, and of this city and its home-grown sport. It was a Monday morning, after a loss to Geelong, playing away, when the Cats kicked seven goals in the last quarter. Richmond had slipped to four wins, five losses. The unknown driver edged forward to drop his complaint; what was said to be two cubic metres of chicken shit.
But what happened next was revelatory: Richmond beat Fremantle away, then Carlton and Sydney, and a four-game winning streak turned into a season of wonderment. Never mind the impolite end – a 68-point drubbing in a Preliminary Final in Brisbane, to a team twice as good who went on to win the first of three consecutive premierships – Richmond were alive in late September. We were contenders. For the shortest time, we could believe.
A sullen morning in late May, a querulous fan offloaded his complaint. Attention was taken away from the players. A passion was expressed. And the coach of the day, Danny ‘Spud’ Frawley, the son of a potato grower from Bungaree in central-west Victoria, understood the protests potential. He bagged much of it up for his garden.
If anyone knows anymore about this incident, if they were part of the club at the time, could they please contact me (call me on 0425 005 531 or email@example.com). I’m curious about it, for a manuscript I’m working on, about the cultural history of barracking.
Joy was had in being at the game on Sunday night. It was in standing among Melbourne supporters and voicing my passion for Richmond. It was in standing up for my club, for what it might represent, for what I think it is to be a Tiger. I’m not going to go quietly into the night, that isn’t our way. It would prove nothing; achieve nothing.
At half-time a bloke grabbed my arm; his name is Glen, and three years ago, when for a while I had brief access to the change-rooms after a game, I met him among the crowd. Something about him intrigued me. Like me, he was alone, not part of the group. He didn’t look as though he belonged. But each week I talked to him, and came to understand many of the players knew him, and one pre-season he joined the players at their training camp in Cairns, and ran with them. Not much about Glen looked like a footballer.
Three years later we cross paths, and I tell him that when I go on my runs – trying to stay fit, keep lean – I sometimes think of him, a middle-aged bloke like me, trying to keep up with elite young athletes. It doesn’t get any easier.
And I remembered he’s a mechanic by trade, who runs his own business, working on Range Rovers. I joke that all his customers are likely in the crowd. And they wouldn’t be barracking for our boys.
Blue collar grunt, lads, that’s what it is to be a Tiger right now.
During the game I met with Robyn Meggs and her daughter Emily, to take photographs of them, for a fan profile I wrote on Monday, late into the night when our young boys were asleep. Hopefully it will be published on the football club’s website. Read it, if you can. Maybe stories like this can turn a season. Ordinary fans, with extraordinary stories; stories that acknowledge how so many of us may feel.
Late on Monday night Robyn emailed me some photographs that lifted my spirits. They are black and white, and beautiful. They tell of the history of the game, of what it might mean, of how it can involve us all. One is of her father, lined-up in a combined police team, wearing the Richmond colours and led by our very own Captain Blood. The other is of her recently deceased mother and father, at a game in Moorabbin, in 1977, watching Richmond, barracking as both of them did.
All the passion is with her mother.
Commentators, ex-footballers, dismissed it as frustration. It was more than that, it was violent and malicious. Unlike when Tyrone Vickery swung a clenched fist at Dean Cox, the ball was nowhere in the vicinity. At the game, standing among Melbourne supporters, it was embarrassing and unforgiveable. Imagine if someone did that to Jack Riewoldt, imagine how we would feel and react.
Memories in football are long. An unreserved apology is a good start, but much trust needs to be earned, again. There is penance to be paid, purgatory. Forgiveness takes time, and a decency.
In the darkness, beneath trees in Yarra Park, walking alone on the grass on the way home, draped in my hand-knitted scarf, feeling sadness in our crowd, watching as a young woman in Richmond colours was pinned to the ground by four police officers and then put in a prison van, I stopped to send a Tweet:
I cry for our Tigers, I weep for them, a dream is over. It is lost.
At that moment I encounter Mandy Woodward, and her husband Ken, in the inky darkness, each carrying a cheer squad flogger back to Punt Road Oval, like the burden of Atlas with the world on their shoulders. We stopped to talk, to share our misery, our disappointments. It felt good to be with brethren, to be with people who understand.
All we have is each other. A grief shared, is a grief halved. We’re all in this together.
On Tuesday morning, before school, I showed our six-year-old boy footage of the Bulldogs’ Jake Stringer bursting onto a loose ball in the forward line, skittling three Brisbane Lions players, turning and kicking a goal. It is inspirational stuff. Our boy was incredulous. He went off and told his mum, in the shower all about it. Listening to him recount what he had seen – what these football god-warriors of ours are capable of – was delightful.
Later in the day I sent a Tweet to tell others about is, especially Bulldog fans, who deserve all the winning that comes their way. Think we’ve been hard-done by? I have a one answer: 1954. If you think our longing is great, imagine theirs. Two Grand Finals, one premiership. Yes, I cheer for them.
@Bulldogstragic showed footage to Mr 6yo this morning, his response: “wow, he’s got jet packs on!”. Then told mum in shower all about it.
Another Bulldogs fan read the message and thought @JStringer9 may appreciate it.
Later that night I looked at Jake Stringer’s public profile on Twitter. On his page he has a photo of his partner or wife holding their child in a kitchen. In the background is a microwave, with a sign above it that reads: ‘If football’s just a sport then the heart is just an organ”.
Fans like us love this passion, we love watching what young men, fine athletes, can do.
Plans are unconfirmed, but I hope to be at the game on Saturday night. I’ll be standing in the outer, alone, and again standing up for something I believe in.
I don’t want to turn my back; I’m not ready yet to give in.
I want to see leadership, I want to see response to adversity, I want to see responsibility, I want to see teamwork. But most of all I want be there to show an appreciation; for Jack, and Cotch, and Sam Lloyd, and Kamdyn McIntosh, and Bachar, and Dave Astbury, and Dusty, and Titch, and all others selected in the team.
I want them to make us proud, and I want to be there to be part of it.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Postal address: under the railway bridges on Punt Road, in the lowlands.