“I just hope everyone out there’s proud of what we’ve done,” said Jack Riewoldt, in a candid moment after the game – exhausted, relieved, excited – when interviewed in the rooms.
Proud was the word for the night. We were proud-proud-proud.
Proud of what our team has done – proud of the winning – but proud also of the competing, the commitment, the courage, the desire, the hunger, the hurt. We are proud of what “our boys” have made of themselves. We are proud of their passion. We are proud of their feats, of those who wear the jumper, who share with us their ovals of dreams.
We are proud of Sir Alex Rance.
We are proud of Troy Chaplin.
We’re proud also of those who play their role, contributing to the cause. In all the crucial games in this winning streak – against Port Adelaide, West Coast, Essendon, Adelaide – enough players have stood up for long enough when needed, to get a job done.
On Saturday, a Shane Edwards squared kick, a Brandon Ellis tackle, a Nick Vlastuin smother; and Anthony Miles putting his head over the ball – his body on the line – all afternoon and into the night.
Then there was Dusty.
In a moment, in a contest, he made us as one. He turned his man inside out again – gave him the slip – pirouetted with those beautiful hips, kicked a match-winning goal, then arced toward all other 35 players on the field, the umpires, those on the benches, baring his arms in joy. All of us were in his thrall.
Oh Dusty, how we love you.
And now we’ve come to this: another elimination final. But this is different. Changed is the venue, the opponent, the circumstances. Now we’ve got Ben Griffiths. Now we’ve got Batch. Now we’ve got Nathan Gordon. Now we’ve got Anthony Miles. Now we’ve got Reece. Now Nathan Foley will play. Now we have nothing to lose.
Rule a line under Saturday night. All that matters is to find a way to win a game of football this Sunday afternoon.
Rest up, boys, rest. Stay light on your toes. Swim. Play games among each other. Throw the ball around. Tell each other how much you care about this and about each other. We’ve come this far – you’ve worked so hard – we might as well get this thing done. What has begun must now be finished. We need to make this an ending of our choosing. It’s our fairy tale. We write the script.
I believe in the power of words; to motivate, to float ideas, to change preconceptions, to acknowledge unspoken thoughts. I believe words can help. I believe words can give meaning to something as shapeless as courage and fear, as shapeless as euphoria and anxiety, as shapeless as a tangle of bodies on a football field.
Tyrone Vickery will help win us the game on Sunday, I know he will. He will be our wild card. He will seek personal redemption – for his reckless swing at Dean Cox – finding it in all the ways he can contribute. His season of disappointment will turn in four quarters, on nothing more than ferocious effort.
He is a thoughtful man, Tyrone, gentle and considered, and he knows how he has helped get us to where we are. And like all who’ve played football, he knows about the fear of the contest. It is a brutal game. He knows about masking fear with bravado. He knows also when the gifts of his body are on song, he is unstoppable.
Stand tall, Tyrone, be our colossus. Fly for your marks, shoot out those long handballs, attacks the ball, lead deep and hard, keep your head down and emotions in check, lift all around you. Now is your time. Our forwards need a big man to bear a burden on Sunday afternoon; here is your opportunity, it comes with our blessing.
You are one of us, make us proud.
Jack Riewoldt, we admire you. I think of Port Adelaide and I think of a goal you kicked in the first quarter against them last year. It was tight on the boundary, on your left. Never did it waver. Your first shot on goal on Saturday, never did it waver. When the ball is in your hands, it gives us confidence just as it gives your teammates confidence.
Robert Walls wrote a piece last year that was published before the Port game. You responded to the criticism, just as you responded to the public rebuke before the GWS game. When you play best your emotions are within. When you play best you make something out of nothing. When you play best you lead your opponents on a merry dance. Play your best on Sunday, Jack, and we will be talking your name on cars and buses and planes and trains all the way home, and we will wake up on Monday with you still on our lips.
While other heads might be swirling, caught in the occasion, yours must be on one task only, Jack: playing a game of football of internal rage.
You are one of us, Jack, make us proud.
Nathan Gordon, this is your game. With big Griff in fine touch and flying into the contest, and if Tyrone is back, your efforts need be redoubled. You are critical. You can win us the game. With your sprightly leads, your stamina, your finishing touches, your quick hands, but now more than ever by locking the ball in. There can be no easy out on Sunday, Nathan. This is your task and you are going to shine, I know it.
You are one of us, make us proud.
It is true, Nick Vlastuin, I met your parents early last year at the MCG, before you had even played a game, and they are delightful people. They seem caring; gentle, warm, thoughtful. They seem like people who put this whole game in perspective, like they know much of the outside world, and what truly matters in life.
This understanding is what makes you such a fine player. In the heat of the first quarter, when the clashes are hardest, it is you who we find in the middle. You marshal the packs. You organise the defence. You put your strong body over the ball.
All game long, you shoulder responsibility. Where Lids and Bachar run off packs, you create the space. And when the ball runs the other way, it’s you we find plugging the holes, filling the gaps. Yours was the last kick on Saturday night, and this was fitting. I have no doubt you will play as you played in last year’s final, that you will take all this in your stride. (And I still owe your brother $35).
You are one of us, Nick, make us proud.
Anthony Miles, my goodness we respect you. More than any other player, it’s your courage that’s helped turn the fortunes of this football club. This is of no burden to you. You have led by example. You have been fearless. You deserve every plaudit that comes your way.
Now you’ve shown your wares, a challenge is set. This job is not done. It is no time to quit. There will be time for rest, time for reflection. Once more to the wheel, Anthony, once more to the well. Make us talk about you for years to come. Lead them, Anthony, carry them, show them what you’ve got.
Make us proud, Anthony, make us proud.
Your elation was our elation after the game last Saturday. It was a win that brought us together, sharing success.
After the game, Richard Miles phoned from Adelaide. Texts pinged. Emails and tweets arrived. I was asked by Francis Leach to talk on radio about what it means to be Richmond.
On Sunday morning, a TTBB reader, Sean Nestor, 25, from Clyde North, sent an email. After our loss to Melbourne, Sean had sent a letter about his heartbreak of being a Tiger that I had hoped to share. His hurt was raw, his feelings true.
On Sunday morning, he emailed this: “This morning after a long night of celebrating I re-read what I wrote you. Seems like forever ago, cannot believe the way we have dug our heels in!! Sitting in a hotel room in Sydney totally unable to sleep, thinking that was a night I will remember forever, topped off by a midnight call from grandma singing the song!”
On Sunday morning, Alison Neil from the Capital Tigers emailed. “Did it really happen, was I really there? That was without doubt the best Richmond win I’ve ever been at. I’m very, very happy.”
Darren Crick, also from Canberra, emailed: “What a day, mate, what a day. That was my best experience at a Tigers game.. WOW!”
Paul Thompson emailed from Nairobi, where he listened to the game on digital radio in a sports bar called Yibba Yabba. “When Dusty nailed it I thought we were in,” he wrote. “Then the Swannies got one back and my heart sank. What can you do from the stands, what can you do from Kenya? You can yell as loud and as hard as you can for the Tigers, so that’s what I did.”
And Michael Nichols (who’s bought one of our fundraising t-shirts!) sent this: “My daughter is five and struggles with our current enthusiasm for Richmond. She indulged us patiently while we went nuts at the All Nations in Lennox Street. This is her depiction of the strain and struggle at about the 20-minute mark of the second quarter as the Swans started to reel us back.”
I love being a Tiger. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Last Saturday is dead to me now. It means nothing.
We can hold onto memories, but what does that prove? Ask Dan Connors what it’s like to have an opportunity and squander it. Ask Dave Astbury what it’s like to have an opportunity and be felled by injury. Nothing is fair in football. It is not just.
My pleasure from the game on Saturday came mostly from seeing our knot of defenders embracing after the siren – a brotherhood of “our boys” – proud of their achievements, relieved it was over, and acknowledging what they had done, together.
Last Thursday, a TTBB reader, James Taylor, who’s “followed the Tiges for mumblety-mumble years” (he’s seen six premierships), posted a comment that included a quote from Len Smith, to whom he attributed much of Richmond’s success in Hafey’s halcyon days. “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together means success.”
Oh how our boys worked together on Saturday, and now they must do it again. There is another game to be won. This fairy tale needs completing. This story has not yet found its end.
Nathan Foley (did I tell you my father’s a Colac boy, was a champion ruckman for the Colac Tigers, turned down offers from Essendon and Collingwood to remain a local hero?) is going to be in everything on Sunday, yes he is. Bachar Houli (oh how I would love your family to come and meet my family) is going to run-run-run and create everything from the back on Sunday, yes he is. Dylan Grimes (do you know how your defensive punch is like a perfect sonnet?) will be all poise and balance on Sunday, I know he is.
Ben Griffiths on Sunday will fly for his marks in the warm Adelaide air, floating across packs. His damaging long kick will have Port boys scattering. He is our weapon on Sunday. He will play two or three cameos that will turn the game. We will talk about him all the way home, getting all misty eyed with what he has made of himself. Our little football world is all yours right now, Big Griff; it is your oyster. Do with it what you like.
Jake Batchelor is the other of our feel-good stories from these past nine weeks. He has returned, and we’ve not looked back. He plays as his coach once did: hard, tough, direct, and with an air of aloofness. Don’t us Tigers love it! Never mind you dropped a mark on Saturday, Batch, we watched the ferocity with which you reclaimed the ball. This is all that matters.
And all of us knew it was you under that ball in the last meaningful play of the night. Alex Rance helped out, but you won the contest with Gary Rohan and did not flinch as Adam Goodes hurtled toward you. You kept control of the ball, Batch, you won us the day. But it’s not over yet, big fella, it’s not over yet.
Your courage on Sunday will be a tipping point. You are a difference between this year and last. Go about your business. Make the contests. Back yourself. Be the one who puts his hand up, who inspires others.
Shaun Grigg, I have met your parents also, and they are reserved and respectful and proud people, as are you. I could say there is nothing boastful about them, nothing brash, and this is what I like. They are good people, fair people. And I could see in them a deep passion for what you do. They embrace your dreams. It makes them happy.
Us fans are happy for you also because you are part of our journey. At times, this season, I am sure you’ve been wracked with doubt; and credit to you for not showing it. You have the trust of the coach, and you have our trust also. You are our tagger. This is your place. And it is a role that in a game like this, could win us the day.
It does not matter if few might notice. We see you in the packs, we see you dishing out handballs. On Sunday you are our poacher. Our secret agent. Our sneakthief on the Adelaide Oval. They won’t ever see it coming.
I do not walk under ladders. Last time we played in Adelaide, a black cat ran onto the field. I want to cross every finger to keep this streak alive.
Last Friday, I texted Andy Nguyen, a Sydney-based Richmond fan I met at the GWS game and wanted to make TTBB’s fan-of-the-week. He had been in my mind. “I am thinking you are our good luck charm,” I wrote. He texted back after the game: “Go the tiges!!!”
Last week I interviewed Cassandra Hall, a Tiger from Canberra, for a story I wrote about us Richmond fans published in Saturday’s Age newspaper. I met Cassandra on a bus with other Capital Tigers, going to the GWS game. She gave off an aura of openness, kindness. And last week she said something that still sings in my ears. “It’s like a pilgrimage. We should have shrines along the way to the ground, and when we get off we could light a candle. I’m praying to the football gods. We all are. Please let them win.”
She had me thinking about our patron saint of football, who could only be Dusty.
Maybe one more miracle tomorrow for canonisation #saintDusty, tweeted @KerrynIJ, in response to this musing.
And last week I posted three TTBB fundraising t-shirts to readers in Sydney, two of which I know were at the ground. I take this as a sign. I’ve written this blog for two seasons, our football team has been in the finals for two seasons.
Of course it is not about me, or us fans, but it also is. Football is meaningless, football means everything. Everybody who watches the game on Sunday afternoon – all who travel to Adelaide Oval to be there – hope our barracking makes a contribution.
All the ‘tiger’ tees have sold out, but we still have one M and five XL hoodies to move ($65). All proceeds will cover costs for producing this labour of love for next year. I will be travelling to Adelaide by road, with a friend, so can deliver hoodies before the game. They are my good luck omen.
This would make my night: if our winning players on Sunday each chip in $2.95 to buy an XL ‘tiger’ hoodie, that they could present to one of the players at season’s end. For the player with the worst fashion sense? Or maybe Benny Gale or Mick Molloy look good in yellow. Who knows? For all orders, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your contribution helps our contribution. On Friday I will post another fan-of-the-week, chosen carefully. They will be our lucky charm.
Now is time to win another game of football. There is unfinished business. This story has not yet found its end.
Our leaders on the field will again stand tall on Sunday. No words need be written about Ivan Maric, Lids, Alex Rance, Chappy and Cotch. Their deeds do the talking. They will inspire us on Sunday; with their fearless run, their control of the game, their bravery. Cometh the hour, cometh this quintet. Our destiny is in their hands; all of us are happy to fall into their arms.
Brandon Ellis will be our knight on Sunday, he will be our saviour, I know he will. Steve Morris and Chris Newman and Ricky Petterd, if he is to play, will all play compact and disciplined games, doing the little tasks well, and letting all else fall into place. They will be unobtrusive, they may go unrecognised, but their attack on the ball will not go unacknowledged.
After we win on Sunday I will write a love letter to Reece Conca and his beard, and plead my case for a sponsored flight to Perth (if we are to play there) to eat at his family’s pizzeria. I wish him the best of luck on Sunday. Now is his time to ply his craft, to show the wits of the Conca boys, to show us what he can do.
You are one of us Reece, make us proud.
Kingy took his top off, selling the shirt from his back. A ghost was looking over us, our guardian angel, Jimmy Jess. By all accounts, the pre-game function arranged by the Sydney Richmond Tigers Supporters Group was a big success. A squiz at Jake’s torso was worth the price of admission. Fran Doughton, one of the organisers, said almost 500 fans attended, with their events getting bigger each year.
And a shout-out for the Geelong Tigers Supporter Group. Their president, Tamara Doheney, has organised a family-friendly afternoon at Buckley’s Entertainment Centre in Breakwater. All Tigers in the Bellarine region are encouraged to attend and watch the game on the big screen. For lunch bookings, call the venue on (03) 5248 4866. TTBB hopes our Geelong Tigers, and all other supporter groups having functions, have a day to remember.
Sunday is a beginning. It is a statement. It is a demonstration that the men who play for this football club and for our football team can no longer be dismissed. Sunday is a day for atonement. Sunday is when we will walk in the sun.
We will play beautiful football on Sunday. We will play with hunger and aggression, with toughness, with bravery. None will be left wondering, after Sunday. We will find a new way to win. We will control the game, quell their crowd, make them doubt, break them down.
We will be humble on Sunday, we will be respectful, but when the ball is in dispute, when the contest is there to be had – my goodness, they will not know what’s been brought over us. They will not have known of such tenacity. They will fear us, they will loathe us, they will come to admire us.
Before this game, forget about distractions. About what Travis Boak may have said, about the colour of jumpers, about last year, about the crowd. Do not be anxious, that is our job. Let us retch for you, have a dry throat for you, a pit in the stomach for you. Transfer all that stress of anticipation to us, that is our burden to shoulder.
Gather strength from one another. Help each other. If mistakes are made, have trust that others will lend a hand. Shoulder responsibility. Enjoy the game. Don’t be afraid to take it on, to roll the dice when a risk need be taken. The game, it’s there to be won.
Be strong. Be bold.
And always remember this.
You are our gladiators. Each of us admire you because we see beauty in you. Yours is the gift of youth and athleticism. Your opportunity is our opportunity, to make of this two hours on a Sunday afternoon in Adelaide something many will remember for the rest of our lives. We come from everywhere on Sunday, we come by plane and bus and in a convoy of cars.
We come to the game because for us it is like a shrine. We come to the game, because for us you are like gods. Proud of you? My goodness, you don’t even know the half of it.
And if you have doubt on Sunday, remember they have doubt also. They may have won more games and they may have finished higher on the ladder, but all it means is they have more to lose. All is not equal on Sunday. It is their home ground, but you will see our numbers at the ground. You will see how far we’ve come to watch you play. You will see how we can measure our passion in a distance travelled. These Port people, they’ll never have known anything like it.
You beat them seven weeks ago, at Etihad stadium. You beat them in Adelaide last year, when they had not lost before.
When the game breaks, when it’s there to be won, in your minds you know you can beat them just as they know they can be beaten by you. Their fear is greater than your fear. Just as your hunger on Sunday will be greater than their hunger.
And it is this hunger that will win us the day.
You are all one of us, make us proud.
Tiger tiger burning bright