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.
- 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)
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 email@example.com). I’m curious about it, for a manuscript I’m working on, about the cultural history of barracking.
Joy was had in being at the game on Sunday night. It was in standing among Melbourne supporters and voicing my passion for Richmond. It was in standing up for my club, for what it might represent, for what I think it is to be a Tiger. I’m not going to go quietly into the night, that isn’t our way. It would prove nothing; achieve nothing.
At half-time a bloke grabbed my arm; his name is Glen, and three years ago, when for a while I had brief access to the change-rooms after a game, I met him among the crowd. Something about him intrigued me. Like me, he was alone, not part of the group. He didn’t look as though he belonged. But each week I talked to him, and came to understand many of the players knew him, and one pre-season he joined the players at their training camp in Cairns, and ran with them. Not much about Glen looked like a footballer.
Three years later we cross paths, and I tell him that when I go on my runs – trying to stay fit, keep lean – I sometimes think of him, a middle-aged bloke like me, trying to keep up with elite young athletes. It doesn’t get any easier.
And I remembered he’s a mechanic by trade, who runs his own business, working on Range Rovers. I joke that all his customers are likely in the crowd. And they wouldn’t be barracking for our boys.
Blue collar grunt, lads, that’s what it is to be a Tiger right now.
During the game I met with Robyn Meggs and her daughter Emily, to take photographs of them, for a fan profile I wrote on Monday, late into the night when our young boys were asleep. Hopefully it will be published on the football club’s website. Read it, if you can. Maybe stories like this can turn a season. Ordinary fans, with extraordinary stories; stories that acknowledge how so many of us may feel.
Late on Monday night Robyn emailed me some photographs that lifted my spirits. They are black and white, and beautiful. They tell of the history of the game, of what it might mean, of how it can involve us all. One is of her father, lined-up in a combined police team, wearing the Richmond colours and led by our very own Captain Blood. The other is of her recently deceased mother and father, at a game in Moorabbin, in 1977, watching Richmond, barracking as both of them did.
All the passion is with her mother.
Commentators, ex-footballers, dismissed it as frustration. It was more than that, it was violent and malicious. Unlike when Tyrone Vickery swung a clenched fist at Dean Cox, the ball was nowhere in the vicinity. At the game, standing among Melbourne supporters, it was embarrassing and unforgiveable. Imagine if someone did that to Jack Riewoldt, imagine how we would feel and react.
Memories in football are long. An unreserved apology is a good start, but much trust needs to be earned, again. There is penance to be paid, purgatory. Forgiveness takes time, and a decency.
In the darkness, beneath trees in Yarra Park, walking alone on the grass on the way home, draped in my hand-knitted scarf, feeling sadness in our crowd, watching as a young woman in Richmond colours was pinned to the ground by four police officers and then put in a prison van, I stopped to send a Tweet:
I cry for our Tigers, I weep for them, a dream is over. It is lost.
At that moment I encounter Mandy Woodward, and her husband Ken, in the inky darkness, each carrying a cheer squad flogger back to Punt Road Oval, like the burden of Atlas with the world on their shoulders. We stopped to talk, to share our misery, our disappointments. It felt good to be with brethren, to be with people who understand.
All we have is each other. A grief shared, is a grief halved. We’re all in this together.
On Tuesday morning, before school, I showed our six-year-old boy footage of the Bulldogs’ Jake Stringer bursting onto a loose ball in the forward line, skittling three Brisbane Lions players, turning and kicking a goal. It is inspirational stuff. Our boy was incredulous. He went off and told his mum, in the shower all about it. Listening to him recount what he had seen – what these football god-warriors of ours are capable of – was delightful.
Later in the day I sent a Tweet to tell others about is, especially Bulldog fans, who deserve all the winning that comes their way. Think we’ve been hard-done by? I have a one answer: 1954. If you think our longing is great, imagine theirs. Two Grand Finals, one premiership. Yes, I cheer for them.
@Bulldogstragic showed footage to Mr 6yo this morning, his response: “wow, he’s got jet packs on!”. Then told mum in shower all about it.
Another Bulldogs fan read the message and thought @JStringer9 may appreciate it.
Later that night I looked at Jake Stringer’s public profile on Twitter. On his page he has a photo of his partner or wife holding their child in a kitchen. In the background is a microwave, with a sign above it that reads: ‘If football’s just a sport then the heart is just an organ”.
Fans like us love this passion, we love watching what young men, fine athletes, can do.
Plans are unconfirmed, but I hope to be at the game on Saturday night. I’ll be standing in the outer, alone, and again standing up for something I believe in.
I don’t want to turn my back; I’m not ready yet to give in.
I want to see leadership, I want to see response to adversity, I want to see responsibility, I want to see teamwork. But most of all I want be there to show an appreciation; for Jack, and Cotch, and Sam Lloyd, and Kamdyn McIntosh, and Bachar, and Dave Astbury, and Dusty, and Titch, and all others selected in the team.
I want them to make us proud, and I want to be there to be part of it.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Postal address: under the railway bridges on Punt Road, in the lowlands.
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.
Friday night, and all of us know these emotions – finding defeat in the most improbable of ways; a dull resignation, the disappointment that takes days to lift. But does it really lift at all? Or is barracking for Richmond an emotional scab that adds new layers with each macabre loss?
Oh Richmond, why is it so often thus?
History books say other clubs have had lesser success, but we all know history is bunkum. No other football team in recent times has perfected failure like Richmond. This is not opinion; it’s fact. Look back over the past 30-odd years. We all know what’s happened.
Because of our shortcomings, for so long Richmond has been a popular “second team”. Other supporters have willed us to do well, if only because easybeats are always easier to like.
But after Friday night, frittering away a win with panic, even other supporters have given up on us. They’ve tired of us, tired of the waiting for us to come good.
Western Bulldogs are now crowd favourites.
This is not analysis; it’s the way it is, the way human nature works. People want their “second team” to at least squeak past Collingwood, when they’re down for the count, on the ropes.
Our Mr Six-year-old finds my phone by the bedside on Saturday morning. He turns it on, looking for the football score, for the result on Friday night. He loves reading out the scores of all the matches played, announcing each venue, and the home team.
“Aww, we lost,” he says, walking down the hallway.
“But only by one point!”
I am pleased he is pleased by such a narrow loss. What he doesn’t know will not hurt him.
Richmond supporters remember well out first wooden spoon in the era of the national draft, a recruiting system designed to equalise the competition. For finishing last we got first pick, a leg-up. The brains trust at our club chose a six-foot-seven-and-a-bit ruckman from Adelaide. Two years later he made his debut, played four games, kicked five goals, the team again finished last and our great hope returned from whence he came, never to be seen again.
His surname, it rhymed with ‘flounder’.
Richmond people know of five-year plans, and false hopes, and what it is to be ninth-best when only eight teams make the finals.
We know how a game can be lost after the siren to a team from the Gold Coast, from the boot of a rugby league player.
We know what it’s like to watch the right leg of the team’s star goal-sneak break in the middle of the Telstra Dome on Friday night television; ending his season, and ours. And how it feels to lose to Carlton, then wake up on a Saturday morning to news one of our key-position forwards, recruited from Fremantle, had run into a tram after the game. He was in hospital, in a coma.
It has been death by a thousand cuts, a long and slow humiliation, and frustration.
“The worst 30 seconds of football,” as Paul Roos, in the commentary booth, dubbed our second loss to Gold Coast, keeps repeating itself.
The loss to Fremantle three seasons ago, playing away, after we got our noses in front. And the loss to the Dockers last year, leading all afternoon at the MCG, then a schoolboy error gave the ball back to them, and they won it on the siren. And then last Friday night, and 40 seconds, and Collingwood, and an oh-so familiar agony.
Our loyalties as fans are true enough, but our belief is loosened, our trust weakened, until proven otherwise.
This is not hearsay; it’s an emotional response to profound disappointment.
Many thanks to all who logged comments on the blog last week. Vince Morton, Laraine, Donnie, Skippygirl in the forward pocket, Alison from Chifley, metasayer, Chris, Tiger Tommo, Kate, Yogi and Andy. It’s like the old team’s back together, back on the park, topped-up with a few fresh new players. Please take some time to find and read their comments. All are valid.
I had hoped to write some gentle and kind words about our football team this week, but after Friday night I’ve not been in the mood. The missus got home from her night out distraught by the result, finding me in bed, reading a fan forum, wondering what went wrong; sort of disbelieving about what I had witnessed. Soon as the game finished, I turned off the TV. Was in no mood to dwell, time was better spent washing up the dishes.
She commented about how magnanimous I seemed about the loss. I told her, on past record, it was not unexpected.
Earlier in the day I had Googled Tatyoon and learned in the latest Census it had a population of 326, and the township has only one notable resident, who plays for Richmond and played well again on Friday night.
Eight weeks to go, and if all goes well, I’m off to see his home team play in the Mininera & District Football League. I’ll probably take our two boys along.
I’ll do anything to find a good news story.
Andy Fuller emailed from Europe, with a brickbat for last weeks’ blog that needs explaining.
“I was a little surprised to see Daniel Rioli criticised in such a manner,” he wrote.
Rioli’s incident stuck out and was obvious to everyone in the stadium as being a mistake. I had initially thought that tiger tiger burning bright could become a viable medium for expressing valid and well-contextualised observations and where warranted, criticism of the team. The players should be respected and not subject to online bullying and harassment, or ridicule (as Hampson has been on Instagram for instance).
I would also be reluctant to name specific players (and thus I didn’t like the specific Rioli reference): but I do think the coaching staff can be criticised if reasonable and based on a pattern of decisions, rather than just one incident.
I replied to Andy immediately, realising the error of my ways.
“I was meaning to add a mitigation to the piece,” I wrote. “But was written in such a hurry, under such duress, in such unusual circumstances, I plain forgot. I did have in parenthesis ‘inexperience’ or ‘exuberance’.”
What should have been added to the piece is that Daniel Rioli is 18 years old, was on debut, is from the Northern Territory, and has a family name remembered fondly by many at Richmond. Whatever errors Dan made in that opening game, they hardly mattered. I really wanted to welcome him to the club. I was playing devil’s advocate.
And as I added in my reply email: “Of course it’s debatable if Rioli’s shot was ‘selfish’. Could rightly argue he was thinking of team rewards above personal glory. Just an error of judgement.”
My ‘no criticism’ policy is based on the assumption all players are trying their hardest. “No one goes into games to make mistakes,” said Nick Riewoldt, interviewed on The Footy Show last Thursday night.
And the policy is because so much of the game is about confidence. Taylor Hunt and two quick turnovers last Friday night was a rude reminder. If only I could boost the self-belief of our players. Our code of football is the most complex of all footballs – with so many players, played on such a large arena, and with no limitations on where players can be on the field – so I wish to emphasise how a short-cut to success in any team sport is selflessness.
Shaun Hampson played one of his better games for the club on Friday night, and looked to lift his effort in the last quarter. More, please. And Bachar was our best, as he often is. And David Astbury and Kamdyn McIntosh were dependable all night. And it’s such a shame Jayden Short’s stellar debut – such a good news story – was overshadowed by the loss.
Defeat is a very cold shoulder.
In email correspondence with Andy Fuller I posed a philosophical question: what is the best way to barrack?
It’s something I’ve been exploring these past few seasons.
By bending words as sweetly as a faultless banana kick, I have wanted to try and help budge my club’s narrative of defeat. In my middling years I cannot sit on my hands, watching mutely, doing nothing about what might pass on the field. I have loved the game and played the game and found meaning in, but for all my adult life my team – our team – has left me mostly empty handed.
Is blind faith the best way to change the fortunes of a club?
Is openness and honesty the best way to budge a narrative, rather than trusting what goes on behind closed doors, between the ‘four walls’?
Is it better to question and inquire, to offer alternate ways, to think of new methods of going about the business of football?
How have the Western Bulldogs, who lost a preliminary final to St Kilda by four goals in 2010, gone about rebuilding their list to play finals last year, and look to be contenders again this year?
The hour is late, self-doubts arise.
All I can do is barrack, with the best of them, and keep looking for all that is good in Richmond.
Tiger tiger burning (not so) bright.
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Artist Kate Birrell, a Richmond fan, sent two watercolour sketches of the night. Fluid interpretations of a game: the grass, goalposts, the cheer squad, the shape of an arena, the players. She added a photograph of her and her son outside the ground in the first quarter (“the ticketek queue!”).
All week, there was heart-warming correspondence. Tiger Tommo emailed from Africa (“the drums have been beating… and people say there are no Tigers in Kenya, only lions”). Boris Kilpatrick from Adelaide, Luke McNiece from Perth, Jess (I’m guessing from Hobart); and an old school friend, Steve M (a Bulldogs fan), from next door to AFL HQ. “Already making its way around the Tiger community at NAB,” he replied, of the return of TTBB.
Good to hear.
Bernadette Ashcroft logged a comment on the website, as did Belinda, and Swish, the upstanding Croweater that he is. “I don’t follow your mob,” he wrote. “But I love coming to this site.”
Football, it’s our common language.
Then this from Rod Thiel: “It’s like I’ve found the missing ingredient to satay sauce,” he wrote. “Great to have you back mate.”
Good to be back, Rod, and even better to have the footy back. Life has returned to normal. Easefulness settles on the city. Friday nights are as they should be.
Wednesday night, at the cheer squad banner-making, I held a microphone and asked questions to Yogi and Trout and Vince and David Ward. Lot of banners woven among that quartet. Lot of games seen. Upstanding servants of the club.
Then I took a photo of Trout’s car parked outside Punt Road Oval, and sent it as a Tweet.
Rest easy Tiger peeps. Trout is at banner-making. Carlton don’t stand a chance.
Thursday night, 7.25pm, the aeroplane lands in Sydney. Been a death in the family. There’s grieving, a gap that cannot be filled. My partner, our two young boys, are happy to be here. Mr Six-year-old knows he can stay up and watch the first quarter. He won the Easter egg hamper at his school raffle (thankfully, gave most of them away). The last day of term. Triple happiness.
It feels right to be watching this game from afar.
Housekeeping: if there are any WA-based Richmond fans travelling to Melbourne and would like me to write a fan profile on them for the club’s website, please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org These interviews need to be done face-to-face for them to work.
Watched a delayed broadcast of the game. Then watched it all again with Mr Six-year-old on Saturday afternoon, with pen and paper.
“Dad, what are you writing?
“Notes, sweetie, notes.”
Kane Lambert is a livewire, all hustle, nothing flash or flamboyant; workmanlike. Reminds me of Nathan Foley. High energy. Love the way he gets back behind his mark quickly, looking to open up as many options for himself. He’s always looking to make something happen. Reckon Dimma – like so many of us fans – admire these footballers who have travelled a longer road to reach the big league. With adversity comes fortitude; nothing is taken for granted.
Big Griff in headgear. Nick Vlastuin looks good with No. 1 on his back, looks meant to be.
A highlight of the night, watching Dan Rioli, Jacob Townsend, Corey Ellis, Connor Menadue and Lambert. All contributed. Young players on centre stage – opening night, a big crowd, nowhere to hide – and none are overawed. A night like this = about 10 games of experience.
Freeze-frame the screen and watch where Menadue makes his run from for our first goal. He’s run at least half the length of the MCG to get on the end of Griff’s kick. “He made a long run from the middle of the ground to get that,” says Richo, never one to waste words.
David Astbury was solid (although big Levi did slip him a few times). Looked composed. Good intercept marks. Make a deal with myself: if he plays 10 consecutive games at the start of this season, if he can stay uninjured and keep his form, I’m finally making that long-promised trip to Tatyoon to write a story about his hometown (it’s not actually a town, looking at Google Maps, more like a windblown farming community). David, such an old-fashioned name. Always good to have a Dave in your team, playing down back.
Dylan Grimes, very good, as were Nick Vlastuin and, of course, our man Rance.
More notes on Lambert: his tackles are bear-hugs, he curls up into his opponent, smothers him, makes him bear his weight. Short steps, but no half-steps.
Townsend was superb in his Richmond debut. Excellent at picking up the ball below his knees. He bends his back, stoops to conquer. When he runs he looks like Dan Jackson. Every team loves an inside bloodnut (Lingy, anyone?). Jacob looks the goods.
Sam Lloyd. Some comments on social media about how he only performed in the last quarter. Not true. He made little contributions all night. It’s just the game wasn’t being played on his terms, early. But what of his tackle on Marc Murphy in the first quarter? Inspiring. Lloyd hadn’t been in the game so he made something happen. He charged off the square at a centre bounce, and crunched their captain in a fair tackle. He got himself involved, lifted all around.
Carlton were very good on Thursday night, but we were just a bit better. That’s all you need to be.
A TTBB ultimatum this season: no criticism of the players for performance, skill errors. The only exception, acts of selfishness. Football, it’s a team game. All in the crowd play their part, as we expect those on the field to do.
So unfortunately Dan Rioli, on debut, gets a rebuke. When Jack has the opportunity for an unimpeded shot at goal from a blunt angle, always let him take the kick.
A football game is a series of acts, swings in momentum, and this error (selfishness or inexperience or exuberance) cost us. Dan took the advantage and missed his shot. Carlton kicks four consecutive goals and took the lead, gaining the ascendancy.
Football is also a confidence game. We let them get their confidence. Corey Ellis’s snap goal late in the third was very important.
Early in the last, I thought we’d blown it. Then up steps Jack and Sam Lloyd, and the crowd are on their feet, roaring for us, and we squeak over the line.
Friday night, Collingwood, licking their wounds, rattled, unsure of themselves. Don’t give them a sniff, Tigers. Jump them, and keep running away with the game. Compound their misery. Then after the final siren, all respectfully shake Adam Treloar’s hand without saying a word. Keep an air of dignity.
Every league footballer has ego, each need be acknowledged. The greatest insult is always a deafening silence, a void for him to think about words he has thrown about.
Cannot be there on Friday night. Babysitting duties. Zora Simic is in town, the missus going out. Two academics, a bar, and their night might go anywhere.
But I know where I’ll be. Glued to the television, with my heart at the G, barracking for our boys.
Come on Richmond, make us proud, make our spirits sing.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
Votes and notes by Dugald.
All eyes saw the game on Thursday night and all eyes see it differently. What can be agreed upon is Kane Lambert was runaway BOG, for us. The spread of contributors was pleasing. An even-handed effort; all pulling the rope as one.
What a privilege, to cast votes for the esteemed Benny! (the creation of writer-blogger-Sydney-based-Tiger-fan Sean Ross, now outsourced to the crowd). This is serious business; never picked best players before. Never singled out the individual (unless, of course, it’s Dusty and those hips of his).
Drum roll, please.
Craig Kane Lambert, for his scurry, for his industriousness, for his courage, for showing all what a journeyman footballer can do with himself, given half a chance. Great stuff; a new benchmark for what he can contribute.
4 votes: Alex Rance, The Rock, ’nuff said. (Did you see the way he confronted Dylan Buckley…?)
3 votes: Jacob Townsend: Bravo, bravo! Bent his back, in-and-under, contributed all night; a fine Tigerish debut.
2 votes: Sam Lloyd, the last-quarter match-winner (two dazzling goals), but watch his game closely and he did much more. Reward for effort. Looks to have slimmed down nicely.
1 vote: Jack Riewoldt. A line-ball between Vlastuin (he looks fine in No. 1), big Dave Astbury (assured in defence, added much composure) and Dusty. But every time Jack gets the ball the heart-rate drops. A smart footballer. Growing in leadership. Fan favourite.
5: Kane Lambert
4: Alex Rance
3: Jacob Townsend
2: Sam Lloyd
1: Jack Riewoldt
Blair Hartley Appreciation Award
3: Jacob Townsend
Anthony Banik Best First Year Player
No votes yet to Broad, Butler, Castagna, Chol, Marcon, McKenzie, Moore, Rioli, Short or Soldo.
Joel Bowden's Golden Left Boot
No votes yet to Batchelor, Chaplin, Grigg, Houli or Corey Ellis – please let us know in comments if we are missing some new lefties from this list.
Greg Tivendale Rookie List Medal
No votes yet to Castagna, Chol, Marcon, Moore, Short or Soldo.
Next week’s votes will come from Father Of The Benny, Sean Ross.
Tuesday morning: drop Mr Six-year-old at school (forget his bag, return for that), catch a train to Richmond. Meeting Gavin Juchnevicius (Mr Digital) at Punt Road Oval, talking about fans. Players are on the oval, training. See a TV camera on a tripod on the platform at Richmond Station; filming surreptitiously? Carlton spies?
Hedgerow of black JEEPs in car park. I push stroller beneath English elms into Yarra Park, Mr Two-year-old sings “yellow and black” and “oh, we’re from Tigerland”.
Makes me smile.
Going up ramp into the offices, he says: “Dad, sing the North Melbourne song.”
An aunt of his has much to answer for.
And so seasons turn, and with it come new hopes and desires. From autumn’s equinox, through to a half-point of spring, we hope to travel on an arc that might be remembered forever.
Young men, a game, a shared belief; and Richmond.
Some things go without saying, but need now be said. These men who pull on the colours of our team and show us bravery, courage and honour, we want only the best for them, in football and in life. We want them to succeed at what they do, because in doing so they take us elsewhere. The narrow upset win that’s better than sex, the run for a premiership that might be better than anything we’ve known in our mortal lives. When “our boys” are on song, working as one, when all goes our way, when the crowd at the Punt Road end of the MCG roars in primordial delight, the football is king and nothing else matters. We float into the night, returning to our everyday lives, our feet unsullied by the mud of winter.
We think about what the players have given us; a pleasure, inspiration, the confidence to try and be who we want to be. The football is everything.
“For some this was a carnival of pleasure,” wrote Manning Clarke, an inveterate Carlton man (boo! hiss!) of the attraction of our code, in his epic saga, A History of Australia. “Two-and-a-half hours of excitement which lived on in the minds for weeks to come.”
This is how it is being a barracker, and how it is being Richmond.
Forget the last three years, and the three before that. On Thursday night it all starts anew. Don’t fear loss. Think only of all the possibilities of winning. Think of the beauty that can be had in the game.
Be proud of who you are, but also humble and magnanimous in victory. There is nothing more boring than a braggart – in the crowd, or on the field.
Think of Anthony Miles, the sort of no-fuss footballer he is, what he contributes to the team and to a cause. Think of Jack, and how he can rouse all around him, inspiring with his passion and courage. Think of Kane Lambert, and the road he’s travelled to share a stage with household names. Think of where each of you has come from, and where you want to go; together, as footballers, as young men, as family.
You share this time in your lives, as we share our time with you. The bond is of mutual benefit.
News from the Tiger tiger burning bright home office: I’m half-way through a non-fiction book manuscript about barracking, and Richmond, and belonging. When I told my brother of this book project, his response: “great, it’ll come ninth on the best-seller list”.
He barracks for Essendon. Pity his year.
Many who have shared their stories with me are part of this book. It is, in many ways, a collaborative project; a group effort, as a game of football must be. On Wednesday I rode my bicycle to the Fitzroy Gardens to meet with historian Geoffrey Blainey (a Cats man) to talk about football. The other month I caught a train to Footscray West and walked to Joffa’s house (Collingwood, of course) for a cuppa tea and more footy talk. It is a broad church, our game. But mostly, I preach Richmond.
I will try this season to write regular short blogs, but no guarantees. We have two young boys, and I need to complete this book manuscript, and blog writing is – sigh – a labour of love. If any benefactors wish to support this project, please let me know. I have approached our football club to see if they might publish a blog – support a writer who supports them – but it’s not in their business plan. I’ve not heard back.
Still, I’ve a handshake agreement to write the fan profiles again – ‘Oh, we’re from Tigerland’ – so that’s good. They pay me for this work. It makes me happy. I hope it makes others happy, too.
I’ve not abandoned my colours, and I’ve certainly not given up on our team. In Nick Vlastuin I have complete faith, and when Dusty or Lids get the ball my heart still skips a beat. And I love seeing how the new blokes go about it; seeing if they can find a way into the team, and then keep that spot.
It’s a ruthless business, football, survival of the fittest.
Close my eyes and I dream of what might happen. It is a long road, but it must be taken. There is no valour in giving up, in opting out. Others have come before you and tried, and the opportunity has come and gone. Chris Newman spoke with tears in his eyes when announcing his retirement. His ache was real and true. Think of Kingy and Jacko and Tucky and Nathan Foley, and how each of them has hurt for the cause, with hearts filled with desire, but how for each the dream fell short. They no longer have the chance. Best they can do now is to join us, in hoping for the best for you.
Our lives are short. Play with a passion and respect for the game; play for each other and in doing so you play for us. Think of the opportunities you have created for yourselves and do not squander them. Make the sacrifices, and all the rewards will come. Put your hand up if you need help. All of us hope for no injuries. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance in the most unlikely places. Seek inspiration not just from the football, but from all around you. Find beauty in the game. Play with an open heart.
And all season long we will be on the other side of the fence, barracking, believing in you.
Close my eyes and I think if each plays his part, if so much goes our way, on our day none can beat us. All of us know this, and think this, and trust in this. We have seen if before, in the rain and the dry, at home and away, under lights and in the lowering of the winter sun.
Now it is time for us – Richmond – to show the whole city what we can do, and then do it in late September.
We would walk to the end of the earth and back again for you, Richmond.
We will get down on our knees for you, Richmond.
On Thursday night you will mean everything to us, Richmond.
Do us proud Tigers, do us proud.
Go forth and vanquish.
Tiger tiger burning bright
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