Under an entirely blue sky, last Friday morning I caught a train to Punt Road Oval. It was my first training session of the year. I wanted to show support for my team, joining others at the fence in glorious sunshine. I wanted to know if our attendance – our enthusiasm – couldn’t yet help right this season from its confusion.
Trout was there. Lyn was there. Shelly was there. I met a woman visiting from Darwin for the Dreamtime game, now with her daughter and her four-month-old grandson. His name was Joel. I asked if he was named after Joel Bowden.
“Selwood,” said mum. “His dad’s Geelong.”
I went because there is an attraction in seeing the players – professional athletes – up close. I tell it how it is: they are beautiful. Young and immensely fit men in a physical prime of their life, in their bodies is a dream of what life once was, of what it could be, of how it may have been. They have unproblematic good looks. They are pharaoh boy-gods. They are what so many of us wanted to be.
And up close – away from the prism of television, the detachment of a stadium – they also become human. They are no longer names and numbers, lists on a stats sheet, “cattle” to be bought and sold at season’s end, appraised by all. Up close they again become young men. Young men with partners, wives, some with young children. Young men with ambitions and vulnerabilities, with pride and fear. Young men earning a precarious living, probably never feeling entirely secure in their job – despite a contract – knowing all the ways it could go wrong.
Brendon Gale walks the boundary in a crisp white business shirt. Dimma is in a black tracksuit, looking relaxed. I ask for a photograph and he obliges. I miss my opportunity to ask for a coffee catch-up.
On Friday morning I felt uncomfortable for having recently criticised the performance of some players. I owe Shaun Hampson, Troy Chaplin, Steve Morris – possibly others – an apology. What I see on Friday morning is that all players are trying in their own way, as hard as they can. Their mistakes are not deliberate. Their errors are not wilful.
I come to understand that from distance – watching from the stands, or through television glass – my heart has hardened. I’ve turned into a critic, and I do not want to be that person. Down that road leads only bitterness.
On Saturday night I was reliant on others for the score, and to interpret the game. I was elsewhere; at a wedding, in Church Street, Richmond. It was a crowd mostly of medicos – all specialists – and at times I felt awkward. What have I done with my life? It was an evening of fine champagne, and introspection. None were probably too interested in football, despite the groom’s predilection for Hawthorn, mentioned in speeches.
Before the game, Skippygirl (@SatchSkippygirl) said she’d send quarter-time tweets. In her four messages is a summary of a night:
OK Dons 28-1 but maybe Tigers will get it together for 2nd quarter.
OK enjoy the wedding it aint pretty here
Enjoy the wedding :(
Oh dear, enjoy the dancing.
A tweet came also from Darren Crick, from Canberra:
its not good mate… don’t look!
Chris Rees (the better half of TTBB) sent a text:
Wish I was at a wedding too. Just terrible. 0-26.
And a text came from a mate, Dave:
Sitting in a bar in Lombok watching game – beer in my hand. Got a great souvenir to take home – 9 stitches in face.
What happened, you OK? I replied.
Got hit by an Essendon surfboard.
Then early on Sunday morning, Dave sent this:
“Am listening to a call to prayer from local mosque… considering going down. Go tigs!
I’ve not seen the game and am not sure I will. Advice via Twitter after midnight on Saturday seemed unequivocal.
Don’t watch the replay, no no no no no
do not watch the replay. It will be painful. #holidayinSeptember”
I’ve already deleted the recording.
At least it was easy to create a few hours free space on the DVD hard drive… #brutal #brokenrecord #hugme
don’t watch it. We’ve seen it all before, too often.
that’s 120 minutes you’ll never get back – I wouldn’t bother
Monday morning and in the letters-to-the editor section in The Age newspaper, between commentary about federal politics and capital punishment, Tom Pagonis (from Richmond) adds three words to the issues of the day: Vale Damien Hardwick.
It is surely a brutal business being the coach of one of the big teams in Melbourne, when the tide’s running against you. The losses are so public, the humiliation so complete. There is nowhere to hide, no way to air-brush the hard truth. The bottom line in football is that it’s all about results, and the only result that matters is winning. I feel for Dimma, I do, I do, I do.
Wednesday night is Presentation Night at the Corner Hotel, featuring Cameron Ling and Paul Dempsey, lead singer and guitarist of rock group, Something for Kate. I hope to be there. August last year, when Richmond was winning and the love was being shared, I went to Presentation Night #2. What follows was my interpretation:
It was a night of beautiful nostalgia. Last Thursday at the Corner Hotel, in the bowels of Richmond, they were together at last: Matthew Richardson on stage with Tim Rogers, in a salon of football and music – two forms of creative expression Melbourne does best – hosted by a saint known as Francis, adept at bridging this cultural divide.
It was Presentation Night #2, the creation of music impresario and Pies fan, Andy Kelly, in collaboration with the latter-day ABC Grandstand commentator, Francis Leach. Earlier this season they had assembled player-writer Bob Murphy and musician-poet Paul Kelly together on the same stage, for magical results.
Now it’s standing-room only and the pairing of a Tiger legend with the You Am I front-man – a rackety shinboner – for a long conversation about playing days, and performance, the spotlight, greatness, and the very meaning of life itself. For people like me, who love their football, music and this city, it promised a night of pleasure.
Some confessions. In 1994 I was a cub reporter working at The Age newspaper, living with a flatmate on the top floor of an apartment block on the brow of Lennox Street in Richmond (the ‘Loft on Lennox’, we called it), playing sport, drinking with the boys, partying on weekends, often playing a round-robin of squash with two mates on a weeknight, then the three of us running laps of the ’tan’ after midnight. We wanted to push our limits, hold onto the moment.
We fell asleep on summer nights under a glow of neon. We could see the whole city from our living room. It was a time when we thought anything could happen.
I was 24-years-old in 1994, and restless, and often between girlfriends, and unsettled, and was listening to an album called Sound as Ever released by a band called You Am I, with a lead singer called Tim Rogers whose life looked to have the creativity and freedom I desired. He was wild, unhinged, intoxicating. His lyrics had a yearning (“And anyone who’s looking out/Just waiting for tall guys to fall”) that resonated. He could put on a show. He could travel the world.
Instead, I wrote little stories for the newspaper. I was good at my job, but never fully at ease. Office life was a chore. I never felt part of the crowd. Looking back now, I think I had bouts of depression that I masked with bravado. I often felt vulnerable. I found happiness in bending words as best I could. I wanted to excel at my craft. In my own way – fearful, unknowing, sometimes reckless – I was careful with what I had.
One of my fondest memories of being at The Age was playing football. One of our games, in the annual media cup against News Limited, was on a Sunday morning at Punt Road Oval. I was young and tall and fit, playing centre-half-back. Rohan Connolly was coach. We wore the Richmond sash.
I’d played sport the day before, been out until the early morning, and had slept in a bed elsewhere. I threw-up in the change rooms before the game, and at half-time. I still have a photograph of me playing that day – all unruly hair and sideburns – lifting up a Herald-Sun player, readying to thump him into the ground. This is how I played football. I was angry. I had no time for pleasantries.
After the game, a colleague, Stewart Oldfield, gave me a lift home to his unit in Northcote where we watched Withnail and I, and I fell asleep on his lounge room floor. Next morning, my name was in the sport section of the paper. I was named a best player.
“They’re resilient and loyal, Richmond supporters,” says Richo, up on stage last Thursday night, before an adoring crowd, in a room that hung off almost his every word. He looked a natural performer; tall and handsome, and with an easeful and disarming manner. In a recent profile interview, Greg Baum wrote that Matthew Richardson looks “as if he expects something good is about to happen”, and this is how he is on Presentation Night #2. He tells his story about “getting off the boat” from Davenport with his new Melways – a wide-eyed boy coming to the big city – and all of us want to share in his success.
He is also funny, open, and self-deprecating. “I did like to express my body-language on the ground,” he says, wryly. Memorable anecdotes include the phone call he received from Leigh Matthews trying to coax him from Tasmania to Victoria Park; the day he wore the “map of Tassie” on his jumper in a representative game (“we disgraced the Apple Isle,” lambasted the coach, Robert Shaw); and the afternoon he had tea and biscuits at Denis Pagan’s house in Moonee Ponds, seeing if he might defect to Carlton.
Stories were told about playing against Glenn Archer (an “angry man”, “psychotic on the ground”, all “sharp elbows”, and “once you marked it he fell on top of you”); the fearlessness of the Kellaway boys, especially Duncan running back into the path of Tony Lockett and Gary Ablett (“those guys didn’t miss you if you were in the way”); and the crowd participation behind the Punt Road end goals, most notably from the so-called Grog Squad.
In 1994, when Sound as Ever hit the charts, Richmond put together a decent team, and I saw Tim Rogers play an acoustic set in a pub in Fitzroy, a 19-year-old Matthew Richardson was in his second-year of AFL football, had found his feet, and showed all what he could do, while promising more. He kicked 56 goals that season.
I watched him play often, sometimes with ‘Yeatsey’, or with other friends who were MCC members, who wangled me in to the old Members’ stand. We walked across from Richmond Hill, stood in front of the stand, drank beer, called out to the players – and all the time I wondered what it would be like running around out there. If I were put on the field, and the ball came to me in space, could I hold my own?
This wondering, I think, must enthral many able-bodied men of an age when they could be a footballer, a contender.
Yeatsey also lived in Richmond, buying a house in Cotter Street, on the flatlands, where our bunch of friends often would end up on Saturday night. He was also a You Am I fan, and through a mutual friend who did occasional night-shifts on 3RRR, got tickets to see them play a prized gig at a club on Jazz Lane. A young Matthew Richardson was also there.
Richmond finished 9th in 1994, missing out of finals by percentage, from Melbourne and Collingwood. In the second-last home-and-away game I went with Yeatsey to see them play Carlton at Princes Park on a Saturday afternoon. We stood in the outer, on a warm day, among a crowd of 32,486 people. It was the Tigers’ last roll of the dice. We needed one win to get in the finals, but were to play Geelong in the last round. We could never beat Geelong.
I had been to a party the night before and had not slept a wink since the Thursday night. Our Tigers got flogged by 114 points. I went home to bed, and slept for two days.
I could have stood all night, listening to Tim Rogers talk about football, his childhood growing up in Adelaide, his love for North Melbourne, and the day at the Sacred Heart Mission’s Community Cup, playing for the Espy Rockdogs against the 3RRR/PBS Megahertz, when he took an overhead mark and went back and kicked a goal, in front of his child and several thousand spectators.
I had most recently seen Tim Rogers on stage at the Regal Ballroom in Northcote, performing an evening of musical bohemia during last year’s football finals, and it left me flat. Not so last Thursday at the Corner Hotel. At Presentation Night #2 he was at his engaging and compelling best. He told stories about his father who on weekends was a field umpire; about being a teenager in the Sturt Football Club cheer squad (with Paul Bagshaw’s number on his duffle coat); and about life as a North supporter.
He sang a song about the Paragon Café in Goulburn – a Greek institution where I stop regularly on drives up-and-down the Hume, usually after a booth and lambs’ fry on the menu.
And showman that he is, Rogers provided the night’s two enduring memories. The first was an achingly raw monologue about life in Adelaide as a young man with an ongoing mental illness, and how for him salvation could be found in being passionate about something. “Live a life with heart,” he implored.
And the second came with the night’s final curtain. He picked up a guitar, sat on a stool front-of-stage, the lights dimmed, and he played Berlin Chair. I was 24 all-over again, and I didn’t want the night to end.
His annotated caption: “Rome, January 2014. TOOK THIS WITH YOU AND THE BLOG AND THE TIGER DIARY AND RFC IN GENERAL ALL IN MIND. I OF COURSE TOOK IT AS A (GOOD) OMEN.”
Early last month, Richard emailed again with other tidings I’d like to share. “Been disappointing times for us tiges, battling on with both injuries and a hostile draw against us. None of us thought we’d be sitting 2-5 after Rd7, did we? What a great time for a bye, though…”
This present season… you can see us with a mope,
hanging from a rope
if we’re behind then we don’t mind
we’ll fight and fight and…….. hope…….
So where to from here?
Where is our mythically powerful team?
Who are the characters – The Captain Bloods, The Rolls Royce King of Harts’ ? The Winners?
Who can pull the sword from this terrible stone?
Where are the merry men to lead us out of this dark forest, and who in turn shall lead them?
We need a man who has shed blood on the battlefield. Shows loyalty, follows orders, and leads only by example.
He wears the handsome, scarring near-death glory of a shuddering jousting head clash.
He risks head and skin and draws swoon and envy and respect and admiration at every turn.
Who is this Ace in our deck?
ARISE SIR RANCELOT !
and with him rise the cast of this fabled fairytale forward.
Sir Ivan of Mullet, David of Astbury, The Jack of Riewolts, The Bacchus of Houli and arise too The Chaplin of Troy.
Arise Edwards The First
Arise Edwards The Second.
Arise the Two Blond Bombshells, Morris and Ellis, the Three Scarlet Pimpernels, Jackson, Vlastuin and Conca, the Four Scotch Guards, McDonough, McBean and McIntosh and Nathan@39Gordon and Nathan @42Foley
Arise The Cotchin of Trent, Sir Tyrone, Shaun of the Grigg, The Noble Batchelor, Doubtless Thomas, Grimes, Big Ben, Biggles, Lucky Pets, T42with SamLloyd, Chris the Elder, Flip Delidio, Service Hampson, The Martin Lad,
Intoducing Ben-John Lennon, Todd Elton-John, Bro’Hanlon, The Bigger O and the Matts Dea and Arnot,
Arise(please) Chris The Knight of Knights Knee.
But arise and go quickly good men of Richmond,
for constant and confusing dangers are alurk.
Awrys things may go, you know, when the Jester is the Jake is the King.
Richard contributes to a blog (thebackpocket.blogspot.com.au) run by Mathilde de Hauteclocque, known well-enough to many Football Almanac readers. His sporadic contributions are filed under ‘The Tiger Diary’ which, he says, are a “slightly loopy look at the riches and routs of Richmond.”
In these strange days, maybe loopiness is what we all need.
Tiger tiger, burning (not at all) bright