Best thing about Friday night: I don’t have to kiss Trout.
Early in the afternoon I sent a Tweet:
'If we win tonight I will…'
Replies were revealing.
''Not sleep all night' said Sarah.
'Be singing the song with 60 thousand other members' said Jacob Schonafinger.
'Breathe a sigh of relief' said Adrian Moy.
'I will not be surprised said' Mick P.
'Forgive them for the near heart attack at 1am last week (watching online in Canada)' said Sarah Rose.
'Sleep well for the first time in 2 weeks' said Duncan Waterman.
'I will enjoy the ride home with mum who is a pies supporter' said Jessica Hansen.
'Be happily surprised (and down a tip)' said Rory Gibson.
'Watch the replay over and over again and fall asleep on the couch with the dog' said Bree McAullay.
'Let the @Richmond_FC theme song blaze out of the car down Punt Road' said Mr T.
'Get the club badge tattooed on my person' said Louise.
'Buy my dog a club membership' said Ando.
'Me too and I haven’t even got a dog' said Slade Alive.
Emboldened, I said if we won, I’d kiss Trout.
'Nothin’ but the lips' demanded Glen Weidemann (the man who coined the ‘Conca Cudddle’).
'If we win by ten goals, it’s all lips!'
Truly, if we had beaten Collingwood by ten goals on Friday night I’d have happily gotten a hotel room with Trout. The missus is away. I have no shame. All through Richmond, it would have been a Tiger love-in.
Best thing about Friday night was Sam Lloyd. On debut, he kicked our first two goals – our only goals for half-a-game of football – and ended with three majors, and 22 possessions, and five tackles, and on the wide expanses of the MCG, under lights, he looked to belong.
Lloyd is a Deniliquin boy. Each Easter of my childhood, our family camped with others on a sandy bank of the Edward River upstream of ‘Deni’. Dad listened to the footy on his transistor radio; us kids floated down the muddy river, and saw local hero Simon O’Donnell play in the town’s annual grass tennis tournament, and caught carp, and built cubbyhouses among river red gums. On the way home, we always stopped at Echuca and bought a box of tomatoes. Dad cooked them up for his annual batch of tomato sauce.
Four years ago, Sam Lloyd kicked 105 goals for the Deniliquin Rams. He continued playing for his hometown’s team while living and studying in Melbourne. Two years ago he moved to Mt Eliza, playing in the Mornington Peninsula Football League, from which he was enlisted into games for Bendigo Gold, Essendon’s VFL feeder team. Last year he played 17 games for Frankston in the VFL, kicking 38 goals.
He is 24 years old. He has travelled further than most to find a game in the AFL. The Richmond Football Club gave him an opportunity, and on Friday night he never let himself down.
Best thing about Friday night was Dave Astbury. He kept Travis Cloke goalless. He beat his man, who in this game last year beat us comfortably. He attacked the ball with his fist. He held his feet. He made himself an outlet. He looked composed. His game wasn’t faultless – a kick across goal to Dylan Grimes could have been more to the recipient’s advantage – but he stood tall when so many around him lost their way.
JD tweeted on Saturday: “Dave has been fantastic and on top of that he’s a ripping bloke, very happy to see him playing well.”
Cruelled in past seasons by injury, here is a young man whose moment has arrived. He looks a polite footballer – a fair footballer – but he looks also a footballer who realises now is his chance. There is no looking over his shoulder, no turning back. He knows he must attack each contest as if it were his last; to release burdens, and to show all what he knows he’s capable of.
Dave is our man this year. Already the Dave Astbury Appreciation Society (#daas) has been formed, and fund-raising activities will soon be announced. All proceeds will go towards a study trip to Tatyoon. We need to find out about where he grew up, and his old footy team, and local farming practices, and talk wool prices, and learn of which way the wind blows.
It is only by looking back that we can truly know of how far he’s come.
Best thing about Friday night was our Stonewall Jackson. He was good all last year, he was good in his return last week, and he was good again on Friday. He speaks French. He gets power in his kicks off a step or two. He has mongrel in him, a commodity that this season looks to be lacking in many of his teammates. Dusty has mongrel, and that’s why we love him. Thomas has mongrel, and that’s why he’s earned our respect so quickly despite his limitations. Morris has mongrel, and that’s why we fear for him. Biscuits has mongrel, and that’s why we were thrilled for him when he came on and in the last quarter made his own goal.
Dan Jackson, without fuss, wracks up contested possessions each week. Throughout his stellar football career, he can mostly always walk off the field with his head held high.
▰▰▰▰▰▰▰Best thing about Friday night was that it didn’t rain, and the air was warm, and I sat beside Caroline Mallet who generously had given me a ticket – and who was sitting beside her work colleague Lisa, who barracks for Collingwood. Caroline came to the football full of passion for her team – at least 10 badges were pinned on her scarf – and kind words for her players. “Go Dusty, c’mon darlin’… That’s rude, that’s really rude, that wasn’t called for… Dusty was standing there with nothing to do… C’mon, be nice boys.”
In a break in play, she tells me she’s barracked for the Tiges since she was five years old. “The rule in our house was you picked a team at five,” she says. “Dad’s Collingwood, mum’s the Cats, but I’ve always like tigers so I went for the Tigers.”
At quarter time we talk about her old duffel coat, and Michael Roach, and games she went to as a young woman, and the many years she spent abroad with her partner – a material physicist – in the UK and America, and returning to Melbourne in time for ‘Richo’s’ last season. “I love the game, it’s always been there,” she says.
Caroline works in education at the Melbourne Museum, in charge of the 560 volunteers who assist visitors. They do a sterling job. I know because I was at the museum last Wednesday, sheltering from incessant rain and entertaining three young boys on school holidays. They made masks, they rolled hoops in the playground, they looked at dinosaur bones, they loved playing on the rollercoaster carriage.
I told Caroline how upstairs near Phar Lap, I had found a small display of Australian Rules football memorabilia. Behind glass there was a duffel coat, with Jim Jess and Mark Lee on its front, and name plates for David Cloke and Greg Strachan on its chest. “This young Tiger fan was obviously an admirer of tough, tenacious wingman Bryan Wood to whom he [sic] gave prime position on the back,” said an information panel. It was from the early 1980s. A distant dream.
If you have blind faith as a Richmond supporter, read no further. If you’re a fan who runs only one way, please close this page and log-on to the club’s website and see how to sugar coat a loss like this on a night like that. Last week I wrote that the season looks long and filled with shadows. After Friday night, this winter looks only longer, and the shadows colder and darker still.
“C’mon Richmond, be consistent, a goal a quarter,” goaded a Collingwood supporter late in the third, and we had no retort.
On a night when a corporate money-lender had offered $1000 to breast cancer research for each Richmond goal kicked, it looked an equation offering maximum publicity to the donor for minimum return for the recipient. To their eternal credit, they later doubled their benevolence.
For now, perhaps it’s time our football club forget about the pre-match jungle drums at the MCG and forget about the half-time ‘Cuddle Cam’ (I feel partly responsible), and get on with the hard-nosed business of playing football. It is a novel idea, but winning matches is mostly what excites us. Failing that, it’s the idea of offering robust competition, of succumbing gallantly, of having a fair dinkum go.
Fans like us generally don’t mind the losing – my goodness, it’s become part of our story this past 30 years – but we want to be proud about the losses. We want to walk from the ground with dignity and hope – never mind that it’s the hope that kills you.
For most of Friday night, we fans at the MCG had nothing to barrack for, nothing to give us voice, nothing to bring us together, no reason really for being there. Moments of sublime football from our players were so few, and so fleeting, they became meaningless in the game’s context. Chris Newman’s tackle on Luke Ball. Sam Lloyd’s first two goals, and Matt Arnot’s snap. A Dylan Grimes punch in the last quarter, a couplet of Steve Morris tackles in the back pocket, a long-range strike from Jack, Matt Thomas’s first goal for his second club.
I do not doubt the effort and courage and commitment of our players, but this group needs a circuit-break. Maybe they should join me on a sightseeing trip to Tatyoon? Maybe they need to spend a day cutting firewood and offering it to us fans, as a gesture they really do want to warm our hearts? Maybe their trip to Brisbane cannot come soon enough?
I think it a good thing they’re playing far away from us on Thursday night, and they spend as much time together as possible. In the dying minutes of the game – in a comical moment that encapsulated our night – Matt Arnot and Nathan Gordon collided with each other, in space, unopposed.
The ball spilled free. Neither could gain clean possession.
In the game’s first two minutes, there was a whispered chorus around the ground. The word on everyone’s lips was ‘slippery’. The Collingwood supporter sitting to my right had also a few other words to bark out. “Mark it you goose… Is that friggin’ Cloke who dropped a sitter… Look like a footballer, Jack… Mark it you idiot… This is as boring as bat shit… This game is the worst game of football I’ve ever seen… What’s this rubbish… Why didn’tya make a lead, Cloke!”
For an entire night he was the most boorish of accidental companions, yelling into my right ear. The only consolation: at the football you pay your money at the gate, and within reason, you’re able to say whatever you like, and to whomever you want.
Turns out he was from Perth, was once in the Navy (he drank like a sailor), and had come over to Melbourne for the weekend, for the football. His wife sat beside him, quietly in Richmond colours. She grasped a white cane between her legs. She was blind to what was going on.
Seven minutes into the game and we had three goals kicked against us and the contest looked as good as dead. A whole week’s work from the club’s football department – opposition analysis, team plans and objectives, those hackneyed ‘structures’ – had all unravelled and turned to nought.
On night’s like these – after three days of unbroken rain – a team unwilling to put its body on the line gets found wanting. And on Friday night we were found wanting.
“Easy Richmond, slow it down, slow it down, ice the clock,” baited a nearby Collingwood supporter, early in the last quarter.
We had had our chances, but mostly we botched them. Troy Chaplin let Jesse White skip around him too easily for a goal. Shaun Grigg’s ill-advised shot for goal stifled momentum after Cotch had won a free kick. Tyrone struggled in every marking contest, and looks as if his shoulders are giving him grief. The output of at least a half dozen of our players is considerably down on last year, and this is telling.
We had no run off the half-back line – the most creative space in football. We’re static. We look tired, slow, unsure; low on confidence. We were embarrassed around the stoppages. Their players moved the ball quicker, got boot-to-ball quicker, found a team mate quicker. Collingwood played with more passion than us, they had more pride, and that is the most damning of all of it.
Mostly, I believe in Damien Hardwick, and I believe in individual players, but in the past three weeks I am losing belief in this team. They are not playing selfless footy. Some are doubting others. There looks to be discord. There is nothing pretty about it.
If only I could get into the rooms I could tell them the story of Richmond fan Philip Jupp, and the sacrifices he makes in getting to the football with his son, and what it means for them both, and what hardship really is. Sometimes we have to look deep inside ourselves – and at the sacrifices of others – to better who we are.
Caroline Mallett sent me a long and heartfelt email early last spring, in the week before the elimination final. “I have an extra ticket for Sunday that I would like to give you,” she wrote. “Your writing this year has been wonderful and reintroduced me to the fans of RFC.”
I remember her email most distinctly because of a particular story. In her words:
I became a member when I was 21 then a couple of years later met the man of my dreams and we moved overseas for what felt like a millennia. I missed most of my fave Tigers career, that being ‘Richo’. One of the last games I saw before going o’seas was 1994 at Princes Park or whatever they call it, against Carlton. I saw the many supporters leave before the siren, we lost by I think 120 pts – can’t remember the exact score but it was devastating. I waited for the boys after the game. I don’t do autographs, I just wanted them to know I was there. Many didn’t want to talk which was fair enough but I got to give Matthew Rogers a kiss on the cheek, he was so sweet.
After that game I despised Richmond supporters, I swore I would never leave before the team left, I would never put or bring down a player. I was never going to be a typical football supporter. Reading your stuff this year has changed my mind… You have introduced some great characters and stories scarily of which I can relate too. There are people way more loyal to the club than I am, that is for sure, which sometimes I feel guilty as I missed most of the shocking years of the 90’s – only got what news I could from mum or friends, which none really cared about footy let alone my Tigers.
I remember this story because I, too, was at that game at Princes Park (and wrote recently about it in Our Book of Feuds # 2, on Carlton). We lost by 113 points. I was one of those who left early.
But dear Caroline, there are extenuating circumstances!
I was a young man in 1994, working as a journalist at The Age, confronted with the stresses of public scrutiny and daily deadlines, and on the Friday before that game I’d gone out with friends after work and simply forgotten to go home. When the game started I hadn’t slept for about 33 hours. I was exhausted. Leaving the ground during the last quarter, I encountered a domestic dispute between two Richmond supporters. It was a day of ugliness.
Monday morning, and I received an email with an attached photograph from Paul ‘Tommo’ Thompson. He’s a Richmond supporter, and proud member, based in Nairobi, in Kenya.
He attached notes to the photograph. “There is still room and time for the car to make a sharp right and head back on the road to the 2014 finals,” he wrote. “[But] it will need some brilliance though.
“I am still hurting from Friday’s loss. Had the game live, knocked off work early and ended up turning it off at ¾ time. I have never turned a game off early and never have I left a game early. I suppose there is a first for everything.”
Tiger tiger burning (not so) bright