When the banner is lifted, when Richmond players run onto the ground, when the crowd roars, Dugald Jellie’s heart skips a beat. He thinks it might be love. Here is his interpretation on a football season. Pre 2015 articles are archived here.
- Benny Round 11 v North Melbourne at Docklands
- On meeting St Francis & other things
- When it rains
- The sweet journey home
- Pick a fight with Dusty
- Maurice Rioli Dreaming - update
- A night to remember (how could we ever forget?)
- Some words about football (as catharsis)
- On loss (again), & chicken poo, and what it is to barrack
- Loss, death, war, and other things
- On the curse of Richmond
- The winning, oh, the winning
- Benny Round 1 v Carlton, MCG
- Longing, desire, a public declaration
- Four 'n' four
- Maurice Rioli dreaming
- What we think about, when we think about football
- On the Tiger Diaries & new beginnings
- A sports lovers’ book club (& reading guide) for Melbourne
- A last goodbye, for a Tiger
- Show us your colours (a long summer read)
At best, it was three degrees. Despite the novelty and the cold winter air, all about the night was forgettable. And yet Facebook tries to remind me, prompting memories with photographs from a year ago. Un-social media.
All who were in Hobart this time last year have cold memories.
Match reports of last Saturday night’s game are glib with the matter – “North had beaten the Tigers seven times in their previous eight meetings,” wrote Rohan Connolly in the Sunday Age – but sports reporters live behind glass, on upholstered seats. They sit not on damp grass on cold earth, sheathed in a blanket, with ski mitts. They are not fans like us. Our memories rarely forget.
This game last year was a low-point in the lowly history Richmond has against North Melbourne since, well, since when Glenn Archer would beat-up on Richo. All knees and elbows, the little knot of aggression hopped-into our long-limbed thoroughbred like a hungry man might hop-into a bowl of hot soup on a cold night. He monstered Richo. North monstered us.
Sure, we beat them last round of 2015, when their team of interns bruised us, mentally, physically, emotionally. A cruel joke. Cheryl Critchley isn’t yet over it.
North Melbourne, a club with less, down by the old abattoirs, that for two generations has given its fans more. A club that fields teams that manage usually to humiliate us. We’re up by seven goals at half-time? No probs, we’ll let them run over us, and ensure a player once one of ours – Robbie Nahas – kicks the goals to put them in front. Salt. Rub. Wound. Richmond.
Saturday night, and all was alright, although we never were quite sure, because this is Richmond and recent history says the margin of error is quite large (although for three games this season it was improbably small). We won! Yay! More relief than overblown excitement.
Our team are gelling better than theirs. And for the first time in 18 seasons, we didn’t have to play against ‘Boomer’ Harvey. Phew.
As fans in the stands, in the outer, we see the game differently, from our partial perspective, bringing to a game all our expectations and hopes and life history and who we are. We are not good judges. Nobody is an expert. We all know as much about the game as the next person, and we all want to wrap Dusty up in a bundle of love, make him happy, fulfilled, enriched, our little project, our warrior leader, indefatigable, we might follow him into a pit of fire, howling against the world, against all its social injustices, against inequalities, phonies, fakes, yes-men, hangers-on, fat cats, those who hardly know the value of a dollar and the truth of a hard day’s work.
See, that’s just me, at the football. Of course it’s more than a game.
It’s what we look forward to all week, our emotional release, seeing the beauty and skill of young and fit men in the prime of their lives doing extraordinary feats of bravery and athleticism. Or is that just Dave Astbury and Alex Rance in the back half?
And a cheerio to them, on their camping trip. Hope they’ve caught some fish, packed warm sleeping bags, enjoyed the fire-side. Anyone know where they are? My guess is the Edwards River, an anabranch of the Murray. Just wanted to use that word. Anabranch. So specific.
Bad analogy. There’s no place in football for Kiwi fruit.
Fans like me judge Dusty and Cotch and Jack and Alex to higher standards because through inherited gifts and dumb luck and hard work, and dedication, they are simply better players. They ought to appreciate this, if only for the betterment of the team. All are not equal on a football field. It is self-evident some are faster or taller or can kick a ball longer or straighter, or can stand-up in a tackle more often than others. But each must pull the other along, together. It is the essence of the word ‘team’; as in a teamster, a team of draft animals, each of them a beast of burden.
Dusty is our bull, but we need more than that. Where would our club be this season, where would this team be, without Toby Nankervis? He’s our lucky break. He was no long-term plan. We didn’t pick him in the draft, identify him as talent, school him. Maybe midway through last year he came onto the club’s radar, or maybe it was later than that. There is much luck in football. Or is it good judgement? Ivan Maric got us out a pickle. So, too, has Nank. But he needs some support.
Reckon we also need a bona fide centre-half-forward. Todd Elton, we are all with you on this (or at least I am). Get that shoulder right, fans like me have not given up. Keep jumping for the ball, flying for it, at least splitting open packs, getting the ball to spill. It’ll come. The ball will stick. So much of the game is also confidence. Look what Dan Butler and Jason Castagna and Dan Rioli are doing, and what Shai Bolton is threatening to become. When your tails are up, anything can happen.
Bachaaaaaar gets my five. Controversial, no. Ramadan, yes. Thirty-one possessions, but who cares about numbers? When he got the ball, he gave us run and carry across the mid-section of the field, he gave us composure, he gave us a get-out and an attacking weapon, he gave us his beautiful, raking left-foot kick. Eighty-nine per cent game time. Only four other players are higher (Rance 100, Riewoldt 93, Astbury 91, Grigg 90), and my guess is none of them covered the territory Houli did. He has been a blessing for our club. I thought his game was marvellous. I would like him to taste my babaganoush.
Brandon Ellis gets my four. No longer “much maligned”, not this season. He’s straightened-up his game this year, is kicking crunch goals at critical moments, is getting in all the right spots, staying on his feet. He’s become more than dependable. He’s become one of our brightest assets. A gauge for all football fans: the heart rate when certain players have the ball. Dusty gets it and my heart skips a beat (knowing he can hit a target 60 metres upfield with a laser bullet). Jack leads and takes a mark and I can at last breathe, knowing the ball is in good hands. Alex takes the ball out of defence, running with all his pomp and confidence, and my confidence rises, too. Brandon Ellis got the ball on Saturday night and good things happened. The ball changed direction, went our way, went to good places, positions of attack, of our advantage. Well done! Been a great year so far, and he deserves it.
Three votes. Dusty. You cannot keep a good man down. He is a good man. I like the way he spoke after the game. A weight seemed lifted. He seemed easeful. He will stay. He is one of us.
Two votes. Cotch. His partner in crime. Been bloody brilliant this year. All leadership (except giving away that free off-the-ball in the centre of the ground that cost us a goal! Bad Cotch!). Good Cotch is a tireless combatant, slick hands, kicking goals again, run-and-carry, dropping his knees in tackles, is everywhere. Would any player be sorer after a game? He is remarkable. He is ours. We love him, we admire him.
One vote to Dion Prestia. Early in the game he fumbled the ball and my thoughts – uh-ho, here we go again – but slowly and methodically he turned it all around and kept getting involved in the contest, again and again (a game-high 11 possessions in the last, along with Cotch and Houli), kept running, contributing. Thought he was excellent. A rites-of-passage game.
Honourable mentions, in no particular order. Kane Lambert. He’s strung together a series of good games of workmanlike footy, that have started catching the eye. He’s put himself back in the picture, through effort and application. Toby Nankervis, our totem. We owe it mostly to him. Outpointed Goldstein (3 marks to 0), carried the load on his shoulders, long may he stay in one piece. Good stuff, big fella. Enjoy the long and hot baths. Dave Astbury and Alex Rance. They’ve become a two-hander, with the odd cameo from Dylan, a yin and yang, sidekicks to each other, both playing with care and confidence. Each make the other a better player. If one doesn’t get you, the other will.
We are proud of our Tigers, and happy for them they’ve gotten to the bye with their character intact, and now enhanced. A string of heartbreak losses, fatal mistakes, and all could have been derailed. But they’ve turned it around, put it behind them.
That’s what good sides do. And good sides keep finding new ways to win. Long may that be the case for this second long act in the season.
The Benny Leaderboard:
9: B. Ellis
6: Grimes, Nankervis
5: Castagna, Astbury
2: Butler, Vlastuin, Prestia
Blair Hartley Appreciation Award:for players who have joined Richmond from another club
(Eligible 2017: Caddy, Grigg, Hampson, Houli, Hunt, Nankervis, Maric, Miles, Prestia and Townsend.)
Anthony Banik Best First Year Player:for anyone who was yet to debut before round 1
(Eligible 2017: Shai Bolton, Dan Butler, Ryan Garthwaite, Jack Graham, Ivan Soldo, Tyson Stengle)
Joel Bowden’s Golden Left Boot:for left footers
(Eligible 2017: Batchelor, Chol, Corey Ellis, Grigg, Nankervis and Houli).
Greg Tivendale Rookie List Medal:
upgraded from the rookie list during the current season
Potentially eligible 2017: Castagna, Chol, Moore, Stengle and Soldo.
Maurice Rioli Grip of Death Trophy:
For the Tiges top tackler
39: Nankervis, Houli
Last Monday morning I rode my bicycle to the front door of Francis Bourke’s house. Had a shave beforehand, out of respect. Looked up his playing stats on AFL Tables. I wore shorts, Richmond socks. Hoped he’d appreciate the touch. He did.
“Like the socks,” he said, on my way out, one cup of tea and almost two hours later.
We had much to talk about. Mostly it was about his father, and his involvement in WW2.
All last week I went looking for a Richmond supporter who had fought in a theatre of war. I wanted to talk to them about military combat, and a fear so few of us would know. I wanted to give them an opportunity to share their story. Inquiries to the RSL in Richmond and the city drew blanks. Several Richmond fans made contact who had been in the army, but none overseas in war zones.
I arranged to interview a former Richmond player whose father fought in Gallipoli, but at the eleventh hour he got cold feet. He said his father didn’t talk much about the war. Kept it all bottled up. He decided he’d feel uncomfortable discussing it.
Last minute, I put a call into St Francis, ask if I can come meet him. He says he’s be happy to help out.
We talk about his father, about the family farm in Nathalia, about a grandfather he never met (“he was gassed on the Western Front, came home and died a shell of a man”), and about looking back and remembering all who have served in war. Then we talk about his newsagency days at Maling Road in Canterbury. Before he bought the business, as a schoolboy I did a morning paper round there.
We talk about Deano, who lived down the bottom of the hill in a weatherboard railwayman’s cottage. Everyone in the area knew Deano.
I stay up late Wednesday night piecing together the Bourke family story. It feels a privilege. Being invited into the private lives of others, entrusted to write their story, give it due respect, the right touch. In putting it together, I learn about Nathalia, and Oxford aircraft, and WW2 training bases, and Bomber Command, then skirt through the history of the Western Front.
My head spins. So much to tell, trying to squeeze it all within a readable length. I email him a draft. He says he is very appreciative I’ve what I’ve done. It makes me feel good. What I can do means something to others.
Francis Bourke was a hero of mine, but truth is, I was looking for someone else.
I wanted a Vietnam Vet, or someone who had fired a shot in Afghanistan. Not because I want to glamorise war, but because I wanted to make sense of first-hand experience. I wanted something raw, something where you might still feel the hurt.
Writing stories about fans has given me as much pleasure as I hope it has given those who I interview, and their families, and all who might read them. I have made wonderful connections and friendships. In my mind, it’s become like a family, all brought together with the common twine of football, and Richmond.
The game, it can do so much good.
How do I find those I interview? It’s an organic process, really. Some are recommendations from others. Some put their own hand up. Some I hear about, read about. Word filters through. There is no set formula.
Sometimes the best stories come from the most unlikely sources. I met a man at Launceston Airport on the Monday morning after the disastrous Friday night game against North in Hobart last year, both of us had been stranded on the ferry overnight, marooned by the floods. Barry Giles is his name. I introduced myself, wrote down his phone number, looked him up, told his story.
I’ve been thinking about Barry Giles all week.
What I wrote about him, I’ve republished it below.
And if anyone know of any Vietnam Vets who barrack for Richmond and might want to share their story, please, do send them my way.
Barry Giles is in the departure lounge at Launceston Airport, the Tuesday after Richmond’s Friday night loss in Hobart, waiting for a flight home. He caught the ferry to Tasmania and like many others his return journey from Devonport was booked for the Monday night.
Then the heavens opened, the Mersey flooded, moorings broke, boats sunk in the harbour, the ferry was cancelled, and a band of Richmond supporters were marooned with their cars on an island.
Adversity, it brings a crowd together. Barry was at the airport, wearing yellow and black, two colours that for people like us open a conversation, and he tells a story of football and being in Vietnam during the war, and I’m all ears, knowing not where it might end.
Every Richmond fan has a story to tell. After a season’s half-time break, what follows is but half the story of a man named Barry Arthur Giles.
Born in Richmond at Bethesda Hospital on 29 September 1949 – the year Jack Dyer played his last VFL game – he was the third child to Ernest and Beryl Giles, who met when working at the Bryant and May match factory on Church Street. “Dad was born into Richmond, too,” says Barry. “It went right through the family. We’re all mad Richmond supporters.”
They lived in Coppin Street and Barry’s older sister regularly visited Jack Dyer’s milk bar for sweets. She recalls games at Punt Road Oval played after the factory whistles stopped on a Saturday afternoon, when it was time for the football.
The family later moved to Springvale, where Barry left school at 14 to work in a firm making boat propellers, embarking on life’s great adventure. “I left home at 17 and went up to Mildura picking grapes,” he says. “I missed the 1967 Grand Final, was up there working for a winery.”
Two years later, two days before his birthday, Richmond won its second premiership in the Hafey era but now he was thankful to be alive.
Barry Giles enlisted in the army when he was nineteen. A war was on and he lost a job in a printing factory in Moorabbin and went to try his luck elsewhere. In June 1969 he was deployed to Vietnam, as part of the 1st Australia Task Force stationed in Phuoc Tuy Province, south of Saigon. An infantryman, his platoon was later led by another Tiger, the then-lieutenant Peter Cosgrove.
On night patrol in a rubber plantation on the eve of the 1969 VFL Grand Final, Barry’s unit was ambushed. “It was the first time I’d been in a fire-fight or had contact with the enemy,” he explains. “We had no idea what was going on, but we stayed and survived.”
Australian armoured corps picked them up in the morning and took them to a makeshift base where Barry found what had been on his mind all night: a radio, and a broadcast of a game. “Richmond were playing back home and all I wanted to do was listen to the grand final.”
After his tour of duty, Barry left the army in 1971 on a medical discharge. Like so many of his fellow soldiers, the war had shaken him about. “I drifted away from the Richmond footy club, from the game, from what was a family.”
After a series of jobs he ended-up at Grassy, at a road’s end on King Island, a place half-way between here and there. He bought a little business selling newspapers; taking time out to find out which way the wind blows.
One morning he drove up to the island’s airport to pick up a bundle of papers and his son, David Giles, was front page news in the Hobart Mercury. A star footballer with Clarence, he was selected by Fitzroy with the second pick of the 1991 mid-year draft.
“He played with Jack Riewoldt’s old man, they called him ‘Cabbage’, and he also played against a young Matty Richardson,” says Barry. “He was a goal-kicker and moved to Melbourne but then my brother rang me one day and said he’s walked out on the club.”
“It’s something I think he’s always regretted.”
For two seasons now Barry – who lives in Inglewood, a town on the Calder Highway north-west of Bendigo – has been back at the football. The return was prompted by his brother’s death, aged 71, from asbestosis. “He was a boilermaker and a mad Richmond supporter like the rest of us,” says Barry. “Near the end of his days we started talking about getting back to football again, the two of us, because Richmond were starting to come good again.”
In his brother’s absence, Barry has made good on a promise. He returned to the fold as a member, joining the club’s inner sanctum coterie group and sponsoring a player.
“I love this club, I loved it when I was younger and I’ve been gone for a while, and it was time to come back, but in a different way,” he says. “I saw that they drafted Daniel Rioli and I remember watching his great uncle play and I saw the footage of Daniel and I reckon he’s got something so I put my hand up to sponsor him.”
And three weeks ago Barry returned to Tasmania for the first time in nine years, to visit his son and daughter and all the grandchildren, and catch up with old friends from King Island, living now at Ulverstone on the north-west coast. And he went to the football.
All Richmond people at the game could never forget what a heartless night it was. But the result has not deterred Barry and his returned love of the club. “I’ve seen the Tigers in their heyday and you can’t forget that,” he says. “I’ve seen some magic games, I followed them all through the 60s, 70s and 80s and there’s no reason they can’t return to the glory times.”
POSTSCRIPT: After the Gold Coast win last Sunday week, Barry booked into a hotel on Spencer Street, caught a bus to the airport in the morning, flew back to Launceston, picked-up his car and drove it to Devonport, where he brought it across Bass Strait on the Monday night ferry, then returned home to Inglewood. And he’ll be back in Melbourne on Saturday to see Richmond play the Lions at the MCG.
Walking from the ground, our seven-year-old boy all chatter, tripping over shoelaces, jumping about, turns to me and says: “Well, that was fun”.
I write it down, his excitement, all that might be going on in that beautiful mind of his.
“Dusty high-fived me!”
“I got high-fives from nine players!”
“Did Trout come to this game?”
“We never went to sit with Trout.”
“I thought West Coast would win this because they were so much better than us last year.”
His mum is overseas on a work trip, so we dropped Mr 3yo off at Grandpa and aunty Sar’s house for the afternoon, caught a tram down Swan Street, bought a footy Record outside the ground, queued for tickets in the sharp sun, he in a
sleeveless footy jumper so I make sure his arms, neck, face are slathered in sunscreen, and we sat near the players’ race, and I hold him in my arms as our players ran onto the ground, both of us waiting on Dusty, and in the second quarter we bumped into a friend of mine, Yeatesy (who I shared a road trip to Adelaide with to see us whumped in that Elimination Final), and I text Big Dave and he’s sitting nearby with his boy, Charlie, and Mr 7yo and he are school friends and at half-time they go outside the ground for a kick, and Charlie gives him seven footy cards, and the second half starts and I buy hot chips (as was negotiated earlier in the day) and the sky darkens, bruised clouds gather, and all in the stadium know a change is coming and it excites us, makes the game somehow even more real, the hard rain coming, and it’s a Saturday afternoon at the G and a great crucible of football awaits, and we are here, among our crowd, lending voice, bearing witness.
Walking through Yarra Park under leaden skies after the game, he asks: “Dad, where are we on the ladder?”
At the end, a denouement.
Brandon Ellis slides on his knees into Chris Masten, clattering into him bravely, courageously, recklessly, knocking the ball loose in our open forward line, and Dan Rioli swoops, his long and dark locks wondrously lank in the wet, and he touches the ball on the sodden grass, and we are on our feet, delirious with joy, a second-year player with the ball in his hand distilling confidence, and all last year’s misery is at once forgotten, and we are in love again, believing it might be true.
Ellis, maligned last year, coupled with all that went wrong, is back to his best these past three games. But his beeline to Masten, hurtling into him, crashing him to jolt the ball free, was better than his best. It was inspiring, inspirational. It is what us Richmond people love. Honest football. Hard-at-it football. Selfless Richmond football.
Improvements are all incremental, but all the increments are going the right way.
Reece Conca is back on the field, back straightening us up. Cotch looks to be enjoying his footy again, looks freer, looks more like the complete player he was, looks like he might come second in a Brownlow again (this time, fingers crossed, to his beloved former lodger). Dan Rioli has been a standout, and looks like he become anything. Dusty is unstoppable. Dave Astbury is back to his best, standing tall, good hands and an even better defensive punch. Jason Castagna and Dan Butler have thrilled us (in the dry, now the wet). Toby Nankervis is the rock upon which it’s all been built. Wrap the big lump of a lad up in cotton wool each week, please. We need him more than we know.
Reading a match report in the Sunday Age, a sentence in the third paragraph irks: As the weather morphed from a sunny, balmy afternoon of 28 degrees into something more akin to an Arctic front after half-time, so the momentum changed in the Tigers’ favour.
They sit in glass boxes. So much about the game on Saturday afternoon was about the weather (Ben Lennon ran out, sensibly, with zinc cream plastered over nose and cheeks), but there was nothing Arctic about it. It was a storm front. There was thunder and lightning, both notable, and drenching rain (which we could smell, then feel and see), but it was not cold. Not nearly Arctic, or Antarctic, or whatever meteorological term the reporter was after.
The change in weather was a significant event of this football game, it made the win so much more memorable – blessed by the rain – so best get it right.
It changed the football, as it changed the crowd. Early in the third term, strangers joined in conversation. Rain’s coming. Seen the rain radar map? Looked a classic, brushing in from the west, a long and narrow band of dramatic yellows and reds. Heavy falls, coming our way.
As we anticipated it, so, too, would the players. They know the game is to change. Plastic bags swirl around the arena, and an urgency descends. A goal now might be worth two, three, four in twenty minutes’ time. It’s going to get physical, bruising, tiring, plodding. Every inch will count. Body behind the ball. Spoils go to whoever wants it more. There are no social niceties playing in the wet. The game gets mongrel, and you want the biggest mongrels on your side.
(Step up in the last quarter, Alex Rance at one end, Jack at the other).
In the stands, the sudden change has a galvanising effect. It’s glorious. Before the rain the stadium’s half-empty, a good
crowd of 42,000, dispersed evenly. Heavens open and it’s like shuffling seats before dessert at a dinner party. It condenses us under the awnings. For the first half, we enjoy an empty seat on either side. After the rain, we all squish-in together, moving up to give room for others, revelling in the company, our crowd, our chants, our guttural celebration of what it is to be Richmond on an afternoon like this.
I remember I left the washing on the line.
For most of the last quarter my boy is on my lap. I hug him around the waist, he bounces about, enthralled by the crowd’s cacophony, by being among so many, by all the cheering and chanting. For him, as with us, every game is different and some lodge squarely in the mind.
“Why on earth are we clapping,” he asks.
Nick Vlastuin’s courage, maybe. Or Dylan Grimes’s fearless attack on the ball. Or Alex Rance throwing himself into contests. Our players halving a contest, doing more of the little things right, playing for each other, which means they’re playing also for us.
It is wet and warm, and we won.
Up the Tiges! texts a friend who goes for the Swans.
Good game! texts another friend sitting on the other side of the stadium, in his West Coast colours.
We catch a different tram home, from a stop on Wellington Parade. My boy commandeers my phone. In his footy colours, he leans his head against my shoulder.
“In the eleventh round we play North,” he says.
“In round twelve we have the bye.”
He’s excited by what’s ahead, as are we. A full tram and the chatter is open-ended. We’ve all been part of something that has given us happiness, belonging. We are proud of our team, our players. Our afternoon was in uncomfortably hot and bright sunshine, it was under heavy-lidded cloud, and it was the best.
Outside the tram window, inching along Bridge Road to the crest of Richmond Hill, I observe all the high Victorian-era flamboyance of the second-storeys of many of the shopfronts, most with peeling paint, with all the layers of history. I think all the football crowds who have walked these pathways after games, of the bells that once tolled from a nearby church on the hill when Richmond last won a premiership. Grown men walk now down the hill, in their colours, with numbers on their backs.
Windscreen wipers swish. Tram tracks glisten. Car headlights catch raindrops.
A question overheard, from the back of the tram.
“How do you spell Vlastuin?’
All of us love the football, when games like that are won.
Waiting on a train at Richmond Station at 10.11pm last Thursday night, I posted a Tweet:
And our crowd walk lightly from the game, with all the conversation, the song, the optimism. We’re believing again, and it feels good.
I’ve heard it said the best time of the week for a professional football is the hour or so after a win, drinking in the heady cocktail of joy and relief, before all the aches and pains creep up, bruises well, joints stiffen, fatigue hits, and the mind wanders to recovery and next week. A fleeting moment of complete insouciance; a job well done, a basking in the glory.
It’s much the same for us fans.
The walk from the floodlit stadium is so much better after a win. Footfalls are lighter. The stars above twinkle brighter. All the talk is of the future. Even the Yarra Park grass seems lusher, and somehow greener in the dark.
None mind too much the bottleneck crowd and shuffling wait at Richmond Station after win. It’s an opportunity to linger, on an experience, in a place, the stadium glowing still through the trees.
On the train, going home, we check our phones. Look at the stats. Who did what. Log onto Facebook, Twitter, the fan forum feeds, see what others are saying, how they saw the game, was there something we missed, needing to consume every little detail. Conversations are overheard. Three elderly women, standing by the carriage door, all Magpies, chat away merrily, philosophical about their loss, and among themselves they talk audibly about our Dusty, and they cannot help themselves. They’re drawn to him, as we are. They find him as beguiling as we do. One of them says she hopes he wins the Brownlow.
Richmond hearts in the carriage gladden.
The train lurches, jolts, trundles over the river, doors open-close at each stop, the crowd thinning the further we go from the game.
Getting off, wearing our colours, there’s a pang of pride. Leaving the group, the bright lights of the carriage, the station platform becomes a stage, a public place for the passing crowd, for the short victory walk into the night. It’s always better after a win. Check for familiar faces. Often, I see dear old Brenda, say hello, have a quick chat. Or there’s George Megalogenis, a voice of reason, a calming influence, rational in his support for this wayward club of ours.
I skip home alone, busting for a wee, hoping my partner might still be up, knowing she’s been watching it on TV, wanting to share the night – the football – with her.
She’s up alright, and buzzing. She loves the start of the footy season when the grounds are dry and the earth warm, and games fast and fluent. And she loves Dusty. (She flew to New Orleans for a history conference this week, but not before showing me a photograph of Dusty in full flight, arms and legs outstretched, about to kick the ball, telling our seven-year-old boy how much he looked like a dancer).
I watch the last quarter again. She sits at the kitchen table doing emails, looking over my shoulder. She wants to hear what Dimma says in the ‘presser’. Probably even more than me.
Friday morning, I ride my bicycle to Richmond to meet an artist and talk about the visual landscape of the suburb. Its built texture. Its colours and shapes, and the Dimmey’s clocktower, and the church spire on the hill.
Later, I ride down Swan Street to a mural he once painted, a public artwork I’ve always admired, to study his streetscape more carefully.
Richmond win a game of football on Thursday night and on Friday morning I’m looking wistfully at the oversized yellow and black hoops on a sock, and boot studs, and a leg floating above the rooftops, painted on a wall near Richmond Station, and it is wonderful.
Richmond is playing better football this year, and it’s pleasing to behold. No more crabbing sideways, going backwards. The rot of last year all began with this fixture. It wasn’t the coughing-up of the lead, but that didn’t help. It was the method. The quizzical sight our captain leaving his man and running twenty metres backward to demand a dinky little handball receive off one of our kickers. Or the vision of our star full-back, late in the last, switching play, kicking the ball deep into a back pocket, compounding the pressure, passing the buck, leading to another goal to them.
Bless us that this counter-productive playbook has been torn up, buried.
Dimma has seen the cliff edge, and a tiger has changed his stripes. No more dour defence at all costs. He’s freed them up. Let them run. Trust their instincts. Carry the ball, park Dusty up forward, kick it long to him, one-on-one, give the crowd something to delight in, a memory to carry home with them into the night.
Too much of football is justified, explained by numbers. Coaches look for logic, game theory, immutable truths in the streams of stats. Inside 50 count, disposal efficiency, contested possessions, etc, etc.
But football clubs are also in the business of hope.
Late on a Monday night I post another tweet:
And I go to bed thinking of Toby Nankervis, our warhorse, how much he’s needed, hoping he can battle-on all year. I’m addicted again.
And I hope for another sweet train ride home this Saturday afternoon, me and our 7-year-old boy, at his season’s first game, basking in the glory of football, in the joy of our team winning.
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Wrangling children, I arrived at the game minutes before the bounce, as the run-through banners were shouldered away, torn crepe paper carted back into the bowels of the MCG. Dennis Armfield kicked a clever, tumbling goal for them, nice roving off the pack, and their supporters found voice, and Mrs TTBB – at the ground early to reserve our seats, watching the early autumn light lower, the stadium fill, both banners raised – commented in protest: “what about his haircut?”.
It was a reference lost on me, until after the game.
I know what Carlton were trying to do.
They’ve seen the rising popularity of the Western Bulldogs’ banners, the handiwork of stand-up comedian Danny McGinlay, who with rhyming couplets and a chisel-sharp wit has reimagined what a run-through banner can do, and say. From a cult following on social media, his bon mots have gone prime-time, on TV and radio, giving him spin-off jobs, and serendipitously following the soaring fortunes of his football team, and club.
For all the old hard-luck Footscray supporters, their banners now rise, and everybody talks about them, and their chests puff in pride (or sometimes bewilderment), because their funny man does what Teddy Whitten once exhorted, he stuck it right up ’em!
And the best bit is, his club have backed him. They’re unafraid to take risks, to flirt with the risqué, knowing with his comedian’s knack for timing they can poke fun at just about anyone.
The Bulldogs play Sydney at the SCG, and he touches the raw nerve of lock-out laws:
WE’LL WIN THIS GAME
AND PARTY TILL LATE
OR AT LEAST TILL ALL
YOUR PUBS CLOSE AT 8.
They play in Perth and his quip is about the end of the mining boom, or the price of coffee in the west. And for a cut-throat finals game at Homebush against the GWS Giants, one of the league’s corporate start-ups, he pairs BLOOD AND BOOTS with AFL FOCUS GROUPS.
My favourite is when the Doggies played Melbourne, a club long-pilloried for its supporters with their trust funds and old school ties, with housing affordability the week’s hot-topic issue, and his response:
AT THE END OF THE MATCH
WE’LL STILL BE CHEERING
YOU’LL STILL BE WORRIED
A few years back I looked up Danny McGinlay, met him in a café in Swan Street, in Tigertown, and he said the trick is to play the room.
“The joke is for the crowd, for the tens of thousands in the stalls, not the twenty-two players.”
But there’s another thing he didn’t say.
He doesn’t play the man.
Much about Carlton’s banner on Thursday night was wrong. The typesetting, for one. It was all over the place, too cramped. And it didn’t rhyme. And mentioning the ‘vision impaired’, a bit awkward. But mostly because it singled out a player from an opposing team for his appearance. It’s a slippery slope, especially when that player has Maori heritage, and much of his culture may be conveyed in visual gestures, as with his tattoos, the haka war cry and dance, and yes, maybe even the way he opts to wear his hair.
Carlton is a club, because of its demography, with a large Jewish supporter base. Would they be comfortable if their run-through banner made a joke of a payot, the Hebrew sidelock?
I don’t care much for those who are cavalier with language, with words, hiding behind the catch-all excuse of ‘political correctness’. They’re usually dullards, white men, middle aged, those who control the pervading culture (politicians, lawyers, the monied) without even knowing it. And none of them can kick a ball like Dusty.
The Carlton banner didn’t work. It wasn’t in the spirit of the game, or the night. It was too pointed, too mean. Ugly. And stones in glass houses? You don’t wag the finger at an opponent’s hairstyle when you’ve got manbuns running around, and whatever Dennis Armfield likes to call his get-up.
An alternative Carlton banner:
WE ARE CARLTON AND WE’RE TRYING TO BE WITTY
WE ARE CARLTON AND OUR TEAM LOOK KINDA SHITTY.
F*ck I love Dusty.
He turns me on. He makes my heart skip. He makes me want to hug him, cast a protective wing over him.
These footballers, they do something to us. They wear the colours of our team and show courage and honour and we want only the best for them, in football and in life. They take us elsewhere. The narrow, upset win that’s better than sex, a premiership that might be better than anything in our mortal lives.
I’ve stood in the outer at the game, shoulder-to-shoulder with the raw cacophony of the ‘Grog Squad’ behind the goals at the Punt Road end of the MCG, and when they sing about Dusty they sing louder than they do for any other player. It’s primal. He is their spiritual totem, their pagan god. He is the one they worship the most.
I’ve sat at the game and seen middle-aged and middle-class woman swoon for Dusty, rise from their seats, raise their arms for him, reaching for the sky. He stirs something within.
We love Jack and Cotch and Alex, and Dan Rioli is fast becoming a new favourite, and this new ruckman of ours – what a sterling lad, big and strong and honest – but it’s Dusty who’s our saviour, our heartbeat. When he gets the ball, and opens his chest and runs forward, we surge with him, alive to all the possibilities he creates.
Did you hear the crowd roar in the third quarter when he offered our season his first fend-off?
He is our man. You cannot touch him. He carries our hopes and attachments on his shoulders. He instils confidence. He can do things most footballers only dream of. He is unbreakable.
He is our tribal warrior.
Rightly or wrongly, each football club in the AFL is of its place. In history, there is belonging.
Richmond, as with Collingwood, have always been clubs from the lowlands, a workingman’s haunt, with the stains and smells of tanneries and breweries, and tomato sauce making, and burning malt. Poverty and prejudice welded its people into a richly human community, its social fate determined by its topography.
And the character of a suburb has come to embody the spirit of a football club, an essentially community organisation that we identify with.
We are not Carlton, the blue-bloods from higher ground, bankrolled with all their money.
We are Richmond, the hard-knuckle boys from old Struggletown, playing as if our very lives might depend on it.
And in Dusty we have our romantic hero. Our beloved outlaw, our hunter, our lone wolf, our rock and anchor, our boy-man who takes us to higher places, who has us believe.
And we are beguiled by him, by his actions, by how he looks, who he is, by his social awkwardness, his fragility. Rarely have we known a footballer who looks so poised and natural on the football field, look so uncomfortable and displaced when put on life’s other stages.
Your vulnerabilities appeal to us because we also have vulnerabilities. Your social anxieties appeal to us because we have also been socially anxious. Your freedom on the football field appeals to us because for those fleeting moments it makes us also free from all of life’s constraints.
For two hours each week, you are our footballer, and you are everything.
And those who judge you on your appearances ought to know this. I’ve always known you as a selfless footballer, looking for a teammate in a better position, and so often winning the ball for others.
And you’ve always been an unscrupulously fair footballer. I’ve never seen you throw a punch, or do something unfair or malicious. I can name so many champions who I couldn’t say that about. Chris Judd, two Brownlow medals. But us fans don’t forget the chicken wing holds, the pressure points, the competitive meanness.
They can’t say that about you Dusty.
You just slay all before you with all your gifts.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Hi, its Chris here. This is just an update on how the Maurice Rioli project is going.
I have sold nearly fifty Maurice items so far. Thank you to everyone who has bought something. They are mostly the Richmond version but a few people have taken advantage of the South Fremantle version.
Up to now I have been donating about 20% of my profits on each sale to the Lowitja Institute’s Career Development Fund, towards the training of indigenous health researchers. So that’s $2 per shirt, $1 per mug or phone skin, $4 per hoodie, $5 per large print etc etc. My plan was to lift the donation to 100% after the first $100 had been raised. So far Maurice has raised $92.50 then hit a plateau – that’s not going to educate many researchers is it?
So starting today, all my profits from the Maurice will go to Lowitja. If I can sell another 50 items that will raise about $460. You can buy t-shirts and a bewildering range of other things here.
Now – here is a recap of Dugald’s article about the project from a year ago.
Abstract: Maurice Rioli was a former footballer; a Richmond champion. Matt Corbett, a beef farmer near Byron Bay, contacted Chris Rees, a graphic artist from Hobart, floating the idea of creating an artwork to acknowledge the feats of Rioli; commemorating his story. The project led to Adelaide, and former SANFL indigenous players Sonny Morey and Wilbur Wilson, then to Perth and Maurice Rioli’s son. Approval was sought for the artwork. Chris Rees will be at the Dreamtime game at the MCG, quite possibly wearing his new Rioli iconography. Dugald Jellie will be at the game with Chris, with a batch of homemade Bachar Houli babaganoush, inviting all TTBB readers to half-time nibbles. This is his story about football, and art, and belonging, and a bloke with a prized bull called Richo.
Football is mostly about the past: about remembering players, games; a single act on an oval that may live on in the mind for weeks or years to come. Anticipation lasts a few days, the game runs two hours, but memories can linger a lifetime.
Maurice Rioli played for Richmond in the 1982 VFL Grand Final. In a losing team, he won the Norm Smith medal for best afield. I was 12 years old and sitting high in the stands. I think of him now and remember his hips, his poise, his balance. Aborigines say if you sleep in the land it talks to you, its spirits sing. To watch Maurice Rioli on the open grass land of a football field was to watch someone on song with the spirits of a game.
As a child growing up in suburban Melbourne, everything about Maurice Rioli was exotic. He was from elsewhere. He was Aboriginal. He was a footballer like few others.
Perhaps it is true that for generations of Australians raised in big cities, a first awareness of our country’s original custodians was through football; through swap cards in the school yard. The Krakouer brothers from Arden Street were a household name. Polly Farmer was from another generation.
We had Maurice Rioli, then Nicky Winmar, Chris Lewis, Gavin Wanganeen, Michael Long, Adam Goodes, Buddy Franklin, and now another Rioli, called Cyril.
Even the name – Rioli – seemed perfectly weighed, balanced; playful. It centres on an ‘o’ – it could be a ball, an oval – steadied by the same vowel and two consonants either side.
He was a centreman; belonging in the oval’s middle, the go-to player, an athlete, delicate skills, and those powerful legs that could roost a ball off a step, or two. Of all Richmond players since, only Dustin Martin has looked to share these two sublime attributes of a footballer: power and grace.
But Maurice was faster, his kicks seemed to spiral further, and he seemed more dangerous. With the ball in his hand, he could do anything.
“I always loved his name,” says Chris Rees, a graphic artist in Hobart who in football sees deeper cultural resonance. “He played with calmness and poise, and no wasted effort.”
Raised in the stiff westerly winds of northern Tasmania, looking at the Victorian Football League from afar, Chris was at high school when Rioli debuted for Richmond. He had moved across the country, a star for South Fremantle in the WAFL, to try his hand in the big city. Chris heard his name on the radio; saw him on The Winners on ABC-TV on Saturday nights.
“I was in Grade 9 that year and Richmond wins were no big deal,” he says. “We won our way through to the finals without a drama and Maurice was the pivot of it all.”
Thirty-three years later, a beef farmer from the back of Byron Bay, Matt Corbett, bought a Bones McGhie T-shirt from Chris and contacted him to suggest he make an artwork for Maurice. Matt is a Tigers man. In his words:
“My prized black Angus bull is called Richo and we have a cocky that sings Tigerland. My 11-year-old is a gun footballer and is considering no other career path than to play for the Tigers. He already has his draft tampering strategy worked out so he lands at Punt Road.”
Chris and Matt exchanged emails about the project, and seeking approval from Maurice’s family for the artwork. It prompted a chain of correspondence, nearly 5000 words. Chris approached former Central Districts Bulldogs player, Sonny Morey, who is the subject of a recent design. Sonny lives in Williamstown, north of Adelaide – he enlisted his fellow-indigenous teammate, Wilbur Wilson, from nearby in Elizabeth Downs. Wilbur eventually located Gavin Rioli in Perth.
What follows are edited extracts of the correspondence.
Chris to Sonny
“I want to ask your advice about a new design I am working on – this time it’s Maurice Rioli. Do you think there is any chance they will approve an image of a relative who has passed away used in this way? What do you think of the design? I am trying to suggest Rioli’s indigenous heritage without using art designs I have no right to use.”
Sonny to Chris
“The design looks great and the idea has merit – it may take some time to contact his family. You are right in what you stated about pictures and any deceased indigenous persons are not viewed in favour as it’s a spiritual significance. I’ll do my best to contact his family.”
Chris to Sonny
“Maurice played for South Fremantle in WA – I will do a version of this design in a red and white South Guernsey, and send it to you shortly.”
Chris to Matt
“Step one is done – the design. Step two is talking to the Rioli family about it. Luckily, one of my recent subjects, Sonny Morey, knew Maurice and has friends and family connections. He is going to show them the design and talk about what I do and why.”
Matt to Chris
“Just in from two weeks in the wilderness living off snapper. Love the design. You’ve captured Maurice’s sublime balance perfectly and I love the black, yellow and red. You should be proud of it. I know a cousin of Maurice’s on Melville – Gordon Pupungamirri – who coordinates the Tiwi arts centre. If you need his contact, let me know.”
Sonny to Chris
“Have contacted a good friend of mine, Wilbur Wilson, who also played for Centrals and knew Maurice’s family very well. I have forwarded your emails to him.”
Matt to Chris
“Maurice’s NT amateur boxing title is one of intense speculation. I’m sure the record keeping of the Golden Gloves in the NT in the late 70s, especially when an Aboriginal man won, was cursory. It’s almost certain he won a state NT amateur title at welterweight.”
Chris to Sonny
“You read everywhere that Maurice won a boxing title in the NT, sometimes it says he won the “Golden Gloves”. I’d like to add that on the shirt to his Simpson medals and Norm Smith.”
Sonny to Chris
“It’s a pleasure to get these details for you. There’s not too many who are recording any of the Indigenous players who graced the grounds in the 70s. There was Michael Graham and Roger Rigney from Sturt Footy Club, Bertie Johnson from West Adelaide, Richie Bray and Wilfred Huddleston from Port Adelaide, and David (Soapy) Kantilla and a few fringe players from South Adelaide.”
Chris to Sonny
“I am not Indigenous myself so I am going forward cautiously, but I do have a passion for footy history. Our original people’s contribution was neglected for a long time, not just in sport but in general. I am working on a Russell Ebert design, maybe my next SANFL shirt should be David Kantilla. A great player and a great nickname.”
Sonny to Chris
“Do you watch the Marngrook Footy Show?”
Chris to Sonny
“Marngrook is the only footy talk show worth watching. My favourite writer on footy is Martin Flanagan, and he has opened my eyes to Aboriginal football in a big way. He has written a lot about footy in the Top End, the Yuendumu Carnival and the visits up north by league clubs. It does sound like another world to Tasmania where I am, not just another country.”
Chris to Matt
“Sonny is a great old fella, turning 70 in 10 days. Related to Gilbert McAdam, he says. He is one of the few old footy players I’ve contacted who is really happy writing email. What I am planning to do with the Rioli design – if it does get a tick to go ahead – is to donate something to an indigenous health-related charity. Once I reach maybe 50 sales I’ll make it 100% for the benefit of the charity, like I have with Robbie Flower stuff for the Aust Cancer Research Fund. It’s all good for the karma.”
Wilbur to Chris
“Sonny Morey asked if I can track down a contact for Maurice’s family. I have been able to get a phone number for Maurice’s son, Gavin Rioli, who lives in Perth.”
Chris to Matt
“I have Maurice’s son, Gavin’s, phone number. How do you feel about making the call? I am actually phone phobic, and calling the players, or for instance calling Sean Millane, always puts me in a cold sweat.”
Matt to Chris
“Made the call to Gavin. Lovely bloke. He said, yeah, dad won a Golden Gloves alright. He said your artwork should be fine. He’s going to talk to his mum and get back to me with a year for the GG and an OK off aunty Rioli for the artwork.”
Chris to Matt
“Just got your last email, wonderful! Bloody wonderful! We are halfway there!”
Matt to Gavin
“Dear Gavin, below are the two images of your late father, in all his balanced glory. The two versions celebrate his remarkable career with both South Fremantle and Richmond. The image will be available for purchase as prints, t-shirts and stickers. Chris Rees, the artist and a mad Tiger, has a collection of great footy related art. After purchasing some of his other footy art, I asked him if he would do an artwork of Maurice. As a 9-year-old in 1980, I was in awe of Maurice’s balance, power and charisma, and subsequently followed closely the careers of many Tiwi footballers. I hope your family approves of this celebration of Maurice’s career. Chris will arrange for some prints of the artwork to be supplied to your family.”
Gavin to Matt
“My eldest boy Izayah is 13 this year and is the Richmond Tigers biggest fan. My second boy is 11 and they are both extremely talented. Both have different playing styles. They play AFL and breathe it, they both also wear dad’s beloved No. 17. My family and I live in Perth. The artwork is magnificent and totally does dad justice.”
Wilbur to Chris
“Glad you have been able to talk to Gavin. I wish you all the best with his acknowledgement project. Maurice was a great man and a very good mate of mine.”
Matt Corbett’s son and Gavin Rioli’s two boys all have their sights set on playing for Richmond and are now pen pals. Matt is sending a poster of the design to Perth, on which Gavin and his boys are going to write on it all the football wisdom Maurice passed down to them. Chris’s design has the approval and blessing of the Rioli family, and is available now through Redbubble.com. Funds raised through the sale of the artwork will be donated to the Lowitja Institute’s Career Development Fund, supporting indigenous health researchers.
Chris plans to attend the Dreamtime Game at the MCG. Dugald Jellie would like to celebrate his attendance by holding a halftime party in the outer, with crackers and a tub of his homemade Bachar Houli babaganoush. Details will be provided on this website next week.
Fond memories of Maurice live on, and through Chris’ artwork hopefully will touch a new crowd of supporters.
Matt’s prized bull, Richo, is doing well.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Main courses were served on Saturday night, the game was done, 10.11pm, and I was told the scores and they were perfect: 100 to 101.
BY A POINT!
Only Richmond, with a score line like that, when none expected it. I didn’t know the drama of the result, the most sensational win for Richmond in living memory.
Here was a night when the story of Richmond – improbable, contradictory, romantic, quixotic – burned brighter than ever. Well after the result, my phone was lit up like a Christmas tree with text messages. Something remarkable had happened. A story had been made.
And I didn’t even know the half of it.
Monday night, and a friend who barracks for the Tigers said how at half-time on Saturday night he went to a pub in Hawthorn to meet friends and watch the second half with others, the TV volume muted, and how a crowd gathered at the bar late in the last quarter, drawn to the game, to the dying minutes, and how the room was breathless as Sam Lloyd kicked for goal, and then erupted as one.
All recognised the miracle. The “bounce of god”. Fortune, it favours the brave.
And then a mixed crowd in a pub in Hawthorn on a Saturday night broke out in song: ‘Oh, we’re from Tigerland’.
Richmond, it defies logic, it’s an emotion that crosses football’s streams, that one day might even make a city whole.
A longstanding friend is having a second child. He’s a Hawks man. Passionate. Never misses a game. I texted him before the Hawthorn game last Friday week, wanting to catch up, but he couldn’t go. He asked instead if we could join them for dinner the following Saturday night. It seemed hardly a dilemma: Richmond v Sydney, or a restaurant meal with dear friends, without the children?
But it wasn’t just the football.
All season I’ve been telling a Swans-supporting friend, a man who knows more about football and footballers (and literature and many other things) than I ever could, that we’d go to the game together. I’ve a soft spot for the Swans. I’ve lived in Sydney for most of my adult life. I like the vibrancy of their colours, their cheerfulness. And South Melbourne’s legacy as a workingman’s club, on the lowlands, is much like Richmond’s.
Saturday night and we put Mr 2yo to bed and left Mr 6yo on the couch watching the game with his aunt, my eldest sister (a mad North Melbourne fan, happy and wearing her colours from her day’s outing), with instructions he go to bed at half-time.
Driving to the restaurant, crossing the Yarra on Punt Road, the lights of the MCG ablaze in the sky, I say to my partner how I hoped Richmond wins if only for the sake of our eldest boy. He loves the football, the idea of Richmond. He’d been wearing his colours all day from AusKick.
He picked Richmond in his tips; he almost always does.
He plays imaginary football around the house and in his narration there’s always Jack and Dusty and Deledio and Alex Rance and Trent. He needed a win more than anyone I know.
A night like that, and I missed it.
Whoops of joy at the restaurant table. For much of night I had asked our companions about their young daughter, their work life. It’s not often you sit at a table with a gastroenterologist and radiologist, and hear stories of their research – both incredibly modest – and how they make a difference in people’s lives. It’s inspiring. I’m happy for them of the life they’re creating together. These two, they are beautiful. If they were Tigers, it would be perfect.
After the win, I tell a story.
It’s about a young man, Sam Westergreen, from Launceston, and his baby daughter. We corresponded a few months ago, and I had arranged to visit him on my way to Hobart – with our two boys and my eldest sister – to see Richmond’s Round 11 match against North Melbourne. Sam had sent photographs of his little girl, born 13 weeks premature, as small as a sparrow, and her whole life so far spent in hospital.
In Melbourne with his partner and their daughter, who last Thursday underwent surgery at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Sam called again last week and we spoke about the perfect distraction of football, the escape, and how his team – our team – despite all the losses, had given him succour.
Richmond won a game on Saturday night and I thought of Sam and his partner Sharni, and their daughter Jazmin, and what the win might mean for them. I texted Sam on Sunday morning, said I was thinking of him. He replied:
I decided we needed a treat so I got two tickets to last night’s game. It was my first game at the G. It was a real treat for us to be able to forget all the stress and worry and just have some fun. GO TIGES!
Tuesday morning, I caught a train and tram to the Children’s Hospital with our two-year-old, to visit strangers, to offer support, and the promise of a story, to let them know others care.
It’s what football is about. It’s what it means to be part of a club.
I’ve only seen the last quarter of last Saturday night’s match, watched in the early hours of Sunday morning, after opening the liquor cabinet and going top shelf. I’ve never known anything like it. With two minutes to go, I couldn’t imagine how they might win, how they might get the ball from their end of the ground to ours.
I cannot remember when last I watched a Richmond game for the first time, knowing the result. Everything about Saturday night was tipped upside down.
At 1.57am, at last in bed but hardly asleep, I sent a Tweet:
Big @bgriffo24 you were amazing tonight. This is a new beginning for you, the start of something else.
From all I know of the game, hazy memories of the last quarter, I’ve equally wanted to tell Nick Vlastuin of a crowd’s shared appreciation (his last kick, hacking it forward as far as he could), and Dylan Grimes’ efforts (his first game back, he must have been exhausted, so heroic), and Lids and Dusty, and Brandon Ellis’ tackle at the death to win a free and keep us in it, and Shaun Hampson (WELCOME TO RICHMOND BIG FELLA, you’ve arrived!), and Shaun Grigg and Corey Ellis and Connor Menadue and their run and run and run, and Jack – of course, always, our spiritual leader – and Shane Edwards back to his best, as with Anthony Miles, and Taylor Hunt and Jayden Short contributing, and those two goals by Dan Rioli, brilliant.
And the maligned Steve Morris, who gave away a clumsy free kick and a goal, but in those frantic last few minutes he did all who could to get the ball and propel it forward, an attacking urgency that ultimately won us the game.
And Sam Lloyd, for this week a household name; for Richmond fans old enough to understand about Saturday night, he’ll never be forgotten.
Sunday afternoon, in a nearby park with Mr 6yo, kicking the footy together, he says, “Dad, did you see Alex Rance kick the ball over his head.”
Did I see it? All is forgiven about what he did late in the game against Melbourne. By our deeds we shall be known, by our actions from this day forward. He was tremendous on Saturday night.
But most of what was gained in a last-gasp win will be lost without following it up with another this Saturday night in the west. All will be watching. Double our efforts, boys, rest up and release an onslaught against Fremantle. The game has changed. Much is still to be played for. The passion is rekindled. Another win and the crowds will return. We all know the scenario.
It’s no time for meekness, Richmond, in the playing of the game, nor at the selection table. Football is a ruthless business. It slows for none. It’s time, again, to be strong and bold. I want Ben Griffiths to play an even bigger role this week. I want him to lead us from the wilderness, the warrior that he is.
Think of Jarryd Roughhead, and how blessed we are.
Life can be so fickle, so fragile. All of us are in it together. And we care, I know we do.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Postal address: for this week, on the top of Richmond Hill.
Last Friday night I went to the football and took a notebook and did something I’ve not done for the three seasons. I wrote nothing in it.
I went to the game, watched and barracked.
I was late, anyway, waylaid by a family dinner. The train carriage was almost empty. I ran from the station, through Yarra Park, and the crowd sounded quiet, muted, and I wondered about the noises of a game. I stood alone and watched the second-half of the second quarter, and was proud of our team – depleted, war weary, lambasted, abandoned – and determined at half time I would find my way to the players race to cheer them off. I wanted to offer praise, encouragement.
And cheer them off I did.
Every player would have heard me, it’s impossible not to. I’ve played football in rough-boned country towns, hard places, where they know how to cheer. This is no time for politeness.
I wanted every Richmond player who walked off that ground at half time to know that this meant something. For all of us. Fuck, I’ll barrack until they carry me from the ground in chains. I’ll barrack until a last breath is whispered. I’ll barrack until there’s no need to barrack anymore. Do not deny me. I will barrack.
I told each and every Richmond player they’re up to their necks in it.
I told them to jog off the ground.
I told them to lift their heads.
I told them this game is alive, it’s wide open, it’s there for the winning.
I told them to get over the line.
In the telling, I may have turned a few heads in the MCC members. They need to know what a bit of raw passion looks like. They need to know what it is to be Richmond.
Saturday afternoon, I promised Brenda I’d fix her front gate. I interviewed her the previous Sunday, after the loss to Port Adelaide, after all of us were bereft, and she made me a cup of tea and offered wise words, and in her hospitality there was comfort. She’s a beaut old bird, Brenda, 84, still going strong; the “oldest checkout chick” in Australia she calls herself, an inspiration for many. I first met her at her daughter’s funeral, at a table with other staff from the supermarket she works at. I’d seen her also, with various friends, getting off the train and walking up the station platform, late at night, in her colours, after a game.
She goes to every one of them in Melbourne, you know. She says she could probably count on one hand the number of games she’s missed in the past forty years.
When I opened her gate on that Sunday morning, it needed to be lifted a little to pass the latch. She said it’d been like that for a while. I said it was annoying. She agreed. She starts work each weekday morning at 6am, walks a few blocks to the supermarket, and I didn’t like the thought of her having to lift her gate every morning.
Sunday afternoon I rode my bicycle to her place, and took the gate off, and drilled through the screws and fiddled about, and rode off to a hardware store, and came back, and tightened new coach screws and the gate was fixed.
She said to me: “When you get to my age things don’t need to last for twenty years”.
I told her, Brenda, this will last for 20 years.
My job has a guarantee on it.
At half-time I caught up with Tommo, all the way from Kenya, and met his daughter Caitlin, living in Hawthorn and studying in the city, and he gave me some yellow-and-black bracelets made by Masai warriors, and he had said in an email that he paid the head medicine man a little extra to put some good ju-ju on them. All week I’d been telling him to bring over some monkey juice as well. The good stuff. From the fighting glands.
Late on Saturday night I gave one of the bracelets to our Mr 6yo, who was spellbound by the colours. We were in the bath, washing his muddied knees from Auskick.
Do you like it?
“Dad, I don’t like it,” he said. “I LOVE it.”
And Skippygirl joined us also at half-time, and she was wearing her ‘TIGER’ tee, and the four of us stood in the concrete lungs of the MCG, behind the Punt Road end goals, all of us with our different life stories, all of us together for this short moment for a thing called Richmond.
Tommo was staying the night in a nearby hotel. I told him, if we won, I’d join him afterwards at a pub in Richmond. I knew a spot at the London Tavern where we could have sat and drank and talked about the win all night.
But if we lost, I was going straight home to bed, to get ready for a job the following morning.
Tommo sent me a text at 10.55pm:
London Tavern… crying in my beer.
I replied: On the train home, dispirited. Would come out but I’m a leading hand at a primary school working bee in the morning. I don’t need a hangover. Good to see you Tiger.
Next time; I hope there’s a next time.
On Friday night I joined John Carr (aka The Holy Boot) and his daughter, Molly, in seats behind the Punt Road end goals for the last quarter. The two star in their own homespun, lo-fi radio show called the Dad & Mog Footy Pod, recorded early on a midweek morning – before family breakfast time, before the whole getting ready for school and work routine – and listened to by fans like us, everywhere. If you’ve not heard it, listen in if only for the opening jingle. It’s gorgeous. And the whole thing is charming – whimsical and plaintive and despairing – in a footy season that has given all us Richmond fans so little joy.
A realisation: I’ve recorded every Richmond game I’ve watched or been to this season. I’m yet to watch one of those recordings back.
Isn’t this usually a secret pleasure of the football season? The Wednesday night there’s not much on the TV so you’ll just watch the second half of the weekend’s game again, for the fourth time. Because surely there’s something remarkable in the play, in what our footballers did, that you’ve missed, and need to freeze frame, to appreciate the wonder and beauty.
Each and every game this year: delete.
So I joined John and Molly thinking my changed seating arrangements might be just the lucky charm that could help us get over the line. If we were to come back in the last quarter, get a run-on, and then run over the top of them, I wanted to be sitting down beside the cheer squad, across the aisle from Trout, near the fence, behind the goals where all the winning would be done.
Monday morning and I phoned Fran Doughton in Sydney, to talk football. I’d met her at Henson Park, in Marrickville, late last year, to ask about her Richmond story. She lives in Marrickville and we were house-minding nearby, around the corner from Henson Park, where I once played one of my best games of football, ever. It’s a beautiful ground. The grass is lovely. It’s protected, with a grandstand on one side and a hill on the other, and incoming aircraft flying low overhead.
I could never forget that Saturday afternoon I played there, centre-half-back, for Sydney University. It was one of those games where everything I did worked, including the miss-kicks. I had the ball on a string. Confidence grew with each touch. I felt as though I could control the game, manipulate the play.
If only it was always so easy.
When I met with Fran on that sultry mid-morning, bruised clouds gathering, a jet airliner with ‘Tiger’ on its fuselage came in low overhead and I thought it a sign; a good luck omen.
On Monday morning, Fran said how she’d been at a work dinner on the Friday, at a weekend conference in Bowral, checking the scores on the phone, as so many of us have done, and she needed to excuse herself at three-quarter time. The game was still up for grabs. We were a chance.
She dashed back to her hotel room, readied herself for a half-hour of glory.
“I feel like I mozzed the whole thing, by turning my television on,” she said. “As soon as I turned it on it all went bad.”
I told her how I’d changed my seating arrangement at three-quarter time. I thought I was the one responsible.
They’re running through our tackles, said John. They’re making it look like a training exercise.
None of us had any answers.
My only solution, with ten minutes to go in the game, and a car wreck worsening, was to flood EVERY Richmond player into our defensive half. The game was lost; try something different. Self-consciously bottle it up. Construct a change, a circuit break. Learn something from the last ten minutes, how the game could be played in a different configuration. Make a statement. Don’t slide into defeat, meekly. Don’t give up. Put Jack at full-back. Throw around the chess pieces. See if something, anything, comes of it.
There’s a lot of talk about the “four walls” at Punt Road, about keeping it all in-house, about turning a back on the crowd.
Maybe it’s time to do the opposite. Maybe it’s time to open up, to try new ways, seek new experiences, to ask others for advice.
What I learned from this week: sometimes it’s nice to go and fix someone’s front gate.
Simple as that.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Postal address: down by the river beside Punt Road, in the low country.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.
Saturday morning, in a fog, after a night like that. Count the ways our football team bruise us. The game is brutal, with no respite in the watching. Is it a failure in recruiting? West Coast footballers look bigger, stronger, faster. They boss us. Hope is torn.
Consolations come from cookery, gardening, in being moderately useful.
Kick the ball in a park with Mr 6yo. He talks about changing teams; “in three weeks”. Why three weeks? What does he know that I don’t?
As parents, we encourage independence, personal responsibility; it’s his life to lead. We want our boys to be happy, fulfilled. But what of the buzz word, ‘resilience’? Nothing’s more resilient than following Richmond.
But Richmond footy cards remain on the first sleeve of his album. He’s still his mother and father’s son. He reads out the names of his favourite players, adding emphasis: Bachar Houli, Jack, Dusty, Trent, Ty, Nick Vlastuin.
The Chris Yarran card looks a cruel joke; a photo-shopped montage.
His favourite non-Richmond players: Nick Nat, Eddie Betts and Nick Riewoldt. Grade 1 schoolyard currency. I’d have them in my team, also.
Monday, after-school kick-to-kick in the backyard – three boys and a ball – and I think of words I want to say to our players, to encourage them. Their confidence is gone, the trust is broken. Fingers are being pointed, names named. There is division, resentments. In the four games this season, I reckon only one player can hold his head high. He had an ill-timed defensive punch in the last 40 seconds of the Collingwood loss; but at least he took the personal responsibility of being there, of putting his hand up, of trying to make a difference.
Too much sideways and backwards passing; moving responsibility elsewhere, putting the pressure on the next player, then adding some.
Sunday night is our crucible, and much needs to change between now and then. All we can ask is that our players play for each other. Block out all the chatter of the football media, the anonymous scorn of the fan sites. Know that we are a club, and all supporters want only the best for you. Take the game on. Be strong, be bold. Fortune favours the brave. It is no time to shirk a contest.
Backs to the wall stuff; we’ve nothing to lose.
Sunday afternoon, after a loss, met with a fan at the Shrine of Remembrance to ask of his Richmond story, then drove to Castlemaine with the family looking for inspiration. Off to see the artworks of Ben Quilty, commissioned by the Australian War Memorial as an Official War Artist to record and interpret the experiences of Australians deployed in Afghanistan.
Three seasons ago when I approached the Richmond Football Club to write for them, in a letter of introduction I mentioned the role of Australia’s official war artist; of interpreting the chaos of battle, giving form to a shapeless pursuit. It was an idea; one I hoped might be of benefit to the players, to the team. I believe in the power of words, in the clear logic of storytelling.
But for whatever reasons, I was never allowed access inside the “four walls”. I remained on the outer, watching with the crowd, lending my voice with all others.
This season, curiously, Richmond do have a writer in their midst – ‘embedded’, in combat speak – as a fly-on-the-wall. He’s documenting a season. His job got harder last weekend; the narrative shifted.
Quilty’s artworks remind of Irish painter Francis Bacon; the imagery is bold, abstract, unsettling, emotionally charged, raw, verging on the grotesque. The most affecting works are figures with blank stares, black splodges that could be exit wounds, contorted male torsos. They seem studies in masculinity, national identity, mortality.
There is brutal honesty in the brushstrokes; no glorification of the horrors of war. It is truth-telling.
My viewing was curtailed by our two young boys, hanging off me, clutching AusKick footballs, wanting to return to the park for kick-to-kick.
Much of our half-day in Castlemaine was spent in Victory Park, the Botanic Gardens, and by goalposts at Western Reserve. Before driving there, I knew this was where Dustin Martin grew up, where he played football. I visited the town’s footy oval, but it was busy with a car swap-meet.
Late in the day, having our last kick before heading home, an older boy joined us from a nearby skate-park, wanting to have shots on goal. A left footer. He hadn’t tied his laces up; his shoe kept coming off.
Asked him who he barracked for. “Richmond,” he said, “and also Collingwood”.
Asked him if he he’d ever met Dusty. He said he played at Campbells Creek, out of town. As he turned and left to join his friends in the skate park, he called out: “And he once asked my sister out”.
A young man, a boast.
A war story.
Many years ago, before children, I travelled with my partner to El Alamein in the Western Desert in Egypt, to visit the last great killing field of Australian men. I wanted to offer respects through telling their story, of a place that since childhood I wondered about, mostly because of a branch line on Melbourne’s rail network.
Also, my partner’s mother was born nearby in Alexandria; her mother was a nurse during the war. She met her husband, a member of the Polish Army fighting with the Allies in North Africa, in a hospital.
Visiting the Commonwealth War Cemetery at El Alamein, wearing boots and football socks, was profoundly moving. Contemplation among all the neat rows of headstones; perpendicular blocks, each engraved with a ‘Rising Sun’ shield and a string of names, ranks, units, ages and fatal dates.
Most were no older than the 44 footballers who’ll take the field this Sunday night.
Australian men, who had travelled so far to fall in such sparse country, now entombed forever in soil the colour of cinnamon. They were buried as they fought: together, in four plots on the western flank, nearest the front line with the Axis forces. Australia’s heroic Ninth Division comprised about 10 per cent of the Eighth Army’s strength, yet accounted for more than one-in-five of its casualties.
Of the 7970 men buried, 1234 are Australian, with a further 655 chiselled in limestone in a cloister honouring Allied servicemen who “died fighting on land or in the air where two continents meet and to whom the fortune of war denied a known and honoured grave”.
Lest we forget? I deplore the idea of war and am often uneasy about its commemoration – too often the remembrance turns into flag-waving nationalism, turns into xenophobia, turns into misguided loyalties – but I can never forget the young men of the Australian “Ninth Div”, buried in such dreadful numbers in shifting sands in a faraway land.
A mood of melancholia has taken hold, again.
Times like these, I need to chop wood.
Or I need our football team to win, letting the spirits sing again.
I’ll be at the game on Sunday night, my first for the season. It shall not be my last.