On the way, the highway was garlanded in our colours. At Ararat, Horsham, Nhill – and at towns in-between – all the balloons, streamers and goodwill were yellow and black. At Stawell, an electronic traffic sign blinked “GO TIGER FANS”. By a grain silo on the flatlands west of Dimboola, a Richmond scarf draped by a large board with a spray-painted message: “Eat ‘em Alive.”
We were driving over – two, three, four, five to a car – some hiring mini-buses, others in coaches, approaching on three highways, with scarves hanging from windows or placed on parcel shelfs – acknowledging our identity – changing clocks at the border, headed toward a shared dream and the setting sun.
We were Richmond. We were arriving. We were joining as one.
There was unspoken camaraderie in this sense of purpose and belonging. On the road we were strangers to each other, but in two simple colours all was understood. It didn’t matter what car we drove, where we were coming from, all of us were Richmond. All of us were on this journey. All of us believed.
We mapped our passion in a distance travelled. We talked about the game, about all the possibilities. We shared conversations wherever we stopped. We wore our colours. We arrived at Bordertown to be greeted by a sign that made us smile: “Port Power road kill next 260km”.
Everybody wanted to be part of our journey, part of our fairy tale.
The stadium was beautiful: light and open and airy like the Mediterranean climate we found ourselves in. All had walked there, as a tribal gathering. The roofs on the stands looked as delicate as eggshells. A row of Port Jackson figs behind the grassed hill area added to the day’s festive air. It was like a carnival. I’ve never known the start of a football game to feel anything like it.
Here was a crowd about half the size of that in attendance at last year’s elimination final, but making almost twice the noise. The atmosphere was more exuberant, more expressive. There was greater fervour and passion in the voices and dress and mannerisms of both supporters. We had travelled so far. They have a deep taproot of pride.
“It’s been like a pilgrimage to be here,” said Adrian, who I sat beside, with two of his three young children. “I spoke to one of my Tiger mates before and told him he’d be tearing up if he was here.”
Adding to a sense of delirium was the weather. It was unfamiliar. Adelaide weather: hot and dry, with a wind that bunted from our backs. Many on the hill behind drank beer, but otherwise the day had not a drop of moisture. It was parching weather.
We opted to kick against the wind and into the sun, and it didn’t feel a good omen. One, two, three, four goals down and we slunk into our seats, rendered mute, realising the calamity. We had come all this way. We had hung our hopes on a dream. The ending we had willed for ourselves was not going to be.
At quarter time I texted two words to my partner, watching at home in Melbourne with others on the television: “Feeling sick”. Eight hours of driving had all been undone in 10 minutes of football.
From Friday morning, I sent out a series of tweets I hoped would be good Richmond omens for Sunday’s game. It was my way of trying to quell my anxiety, tension, excitement. Each of us has our own superstitions about football. I wanted all the luck to be on our side.
On Friday, riding my bicycle through Richmond, dropping-off a TTBB fundraising t-shirt to Sue in the city, I received a one-sentence email from Bill Barbagiannis that made my day. “Just want to let you know that your website is brilliant and it means everything to us Richmond supporters.”
Thank you, Bill, for sharing the love. Thank you.
We stopped at Tailem Bend Hotel for a steak and chips on the way over and met a builder, Darren, who’s just driven down from Alice Springs. A compelling game of football – the third quarter of North Melbourne versus Essendon – was on the television. Darren told us he works mostly on public infrastructure projects in remote indigenous communities.
“I fell in love with the indigenous people,” he says. “The culture is totally different. It’s all about family and sharing what you have with your community. It’s a different way of thinking.”
Our conversation was about Hermannsburg in western Aranda country, and the work of the Lutheran church in central Australia, and games of football in Alice Springs, and the raw athleticism of some of the bush players Darren has seen.
We arrived in Adelaide at about 10.04pm, and found ourselves in Hindley Street, among Saturday night revellers, looking for my travelling companion’s friend who had for us a spare key. We spotted Jake King and Dusty’s dad in the crowd. We found a pub. Dale Weightman was there, among the Richmond throng. Our song was sung with boozy gusto.
A tall bloke sidled over and struck up footy talk. He’d arrived in Adelaide early that evening, coming by public transport. He had caught a train into Melbourne, then the 8.36 train to Bendigo, where he swapped transport again. “Fucking bus to Adelaide,” he said. “Never thought it would end.”
On the way over, passing sheep country, crops of canola shimmering yellow in the sun (a sign!) and grain silos strung along the railway line in a land that turned sparser as the shadows lengthened, Yeatsey told stories about his family trips to Adelaide. They went every Christmas to visit relatives, and stayed in a van at the West Beach Caravan Park.
Both Yeatsey’s parents were born in Adelaide. His father, Ron, who I knew well before his untimely death, was transferred to Melbourne in the mid 1960s, to take up a job as chief accountant at Rosella Foods in Richmond. “He didn’t have a team when he arrived, but back then if you worked in Richmond you barracked for Richmond. End of story.”
A half-century later, and on a whim and a dream, Yeatsey last week decided to drive to Adelaide on Saturday afternoon, then home again straight after the game. He had a spare lift going. The two of us could measure our love of football and Richmond by the lengths we would travel. We believed in fairy tales.
Thanks you to all who bought our inaugural TTBB fundraising t-shirts and hoodies. Both Chris and I are very appreciative of the support. We’ve still got five XL hoodies ($65) remaining unsold. Please contact me (email address at bottom of this blog post) if you’d like to purchase one.
And if you’d like your name added to TTBB’s email list (to alert whenever blog posts are published), please contact me also. All emails are sent out as a BCC, so email addresses are not shared with others. That is, it is a confidential mail out.
Eight hours of contemplation, of mulling over disappointments, awaited us on the long drive home. Yeatsey and I met after the game and filled up the petrol tank, heading for the Adelaide hills. A road sign read: Melbourne 735km. “Next traffic light’s Horsham.”
At our first driver swap at a petrol station at Bordertown I bumped into David Ward and Mandy and Ken Woodward, and others from the cheer squad, queuing up for coffees and takeaway food. Hugs and commiserations were shared. It was good to see them – familiar faces on the road, also returning to Melbourne that night – to let them know of my appreciation for their banner.
Did you see it? It was beautiful. Large and billowing in the hot Adelaide air, with gothic script of fairy tales on one side and a simple ‘Dare to dream’ on the other. Spine tingling stuff. Well done. Many Richmond people are proud of your efforts.
A ribbon of red tail lights lit up the Western Highway on Sunday night. Us Richmond people were going home. We were leaving alone, but also together. All of us were sharing an experience; of loss, and travel, and what it means to be Richmond. We were saddened, but still proud of what we had done, and the efforts we’d made to be there.
We had been part of something. We had flooded Adelaide in yellow and black. We had contributed to the greatest interstate exodus of Richmond supporters from Melbourne our club has ever known. We may well have been part of the greatest influx of foreign supporters Adelaide has ever known.
For the two hours of the football we were not given the opportunity to show how we can celebrate, how we can support our boys. That was a shame. But either side of the game, for the most part, we showed how deep our passion could be. We showed we were just as committed to the cause of our team as the home crowd were committed to their cause.
On the long drive home there was quiet solidarity wherever we stopped; at all-night service stations, rest stops, the 24 hour McDonald’s in Horsham. In a convoy of cars, all going east, occupants just a little crestfallen and hollow, there were countless conversations about causes for the day’s great undoing and list management, and anything to keep us alert on the road.
Each of us was alone, but we were not alone.
At 2.04am, leaving a petrol station near Ballarat, after our last driver swap, I sent a last tweet:
A full moon driving night. In our colours. Our hearts heavy with burden. Home soon. #gotiges.
And so a season ends.
Tiger tiger burning (forever) bright