Today I am going I dodge the real issues at Richmond. Everyone who reads this will have seen the game or at least be familiar with the score. We have lost four of the last five to teams that no-one would have considered finals material, until they played us. I had a marathon vent on Twitter about that last night and I feel that is out of my system now.
Yesterday was the first time Richmond have played for keeps in my home town of Hobart. I saw them play Hawthorn in Launceston in Buddy’s first season, maybe 2007. We went in hot favourites and were shown up as pretenders. Long drive home.
So I had been looking forward to this since the draw came out last year, and feeling increasingly tense over the last month as our form went flat. If I had gone alone, I would have made an effort to catch up with all the visitors to town that I know through TTBB and Twitter, but it turned into a whole-family event, which of course was fantastic in its own way. There was the usual torrent of pre-game puff as always when the big league comes to town, but for it to feature the Tiges was novel.
I plunged in and bought GA tickets for the 4 of us; Tiges-mad Marcus (13), supportive but exasperated wife Elf (45) and unsupportive and uninterested son Michael (11). Michael is actually a pro at being dragged along to sport events that are meaningless to him; he has a rich inner library of miscellany that he can retreat into at such times.
A surprise selection on an expanded bench was Zhou Ni, who has come to live with us for at least this term. She is from Hubei province, and teaches Chinese at Marcus’s school. We answered an ad in the school newsletter and she moved into our spare room, and is fitting in excellently well. She is interested in everything Australian and was actually keen to come along despite warnings it would be cold and wet and would likely be finished as a contest by the last break.
We set off with two day packs stuffed with things to keep us warm and dry, and a huge bag of snacks because when the going gets tough, the snacks can be all that makes life worth living. The boys and I made it through security but Zhou Ni had a metal water bottle which was not permitted. We think they thought it was an aerosol; there was some confusion and next thing I knew Elf and Zhou Ni were on their way back to the car park some 800m away.
Eventually we reconvened and were there in time to set out a reasonable blanket space near the top of the hill. Good view (of the ground and the snow on the mountain), families around us and the weather was holding together. In fact the sun came out for the first time since Wednesday. It seemed to take forever for the game to get going though. North Melbourne: your sponsored run throughs are a disgrace.
The people next to me I deduced were recent transplants from Melbourne, and here for a nostalgia buzz rather than fans of either side. They discussed among themselves the classic 1980 Blues v Tigers VFL grand final, good old Bruce Doull and how the crowd would yell WOOF when he kicked it. And Ron Barassi. Such a shame he’s dead.
It was not great football but tight and the Tiges had their moments. Edwards, Macintosh, Morris, Houli and Dusty all looked ‘on’. I had warned the family that I would be very focussed on the game and would be giving whinges, dumb questions and irrelevant suggestions about home maintenance priorities VERY SHORT SHRIFT. Maric seemed to be winning the hit outs but we weren’t getting the takeaways. Zhou Ni was on the far side of the blanket and Elf was fielding her questions. I caught up with her at half time and we discussed the scoring system and some rules. She understood the mark, but was confused by the number of them that were not paid, then we cleared up that handpasses didn’t count.
On that subject – I would like Trent Cotchin to just handpass and stop it with the six metre kicks. What in the name of Tony Shaw does he actually think he is doing? He kicks to teammates that are so close he would actually be smelling their aftershave, little dab kicks that shear the heads off daisies and literally burn worms. Best result? Snipper or Bachar or Griggsy takes a slips catch with their face in the dirt, and everyone in the front half who had got into some space is suddenly manned up. Worst result it’s a turnover in the corridor. If we wanted that we would have kept Will Thursfield and converted him to an inside midfielder.
Because North are also no great shakes we were still in touch at half time. The boys and I went to the portaloos which were a kind of cigarette aromatherapy area. I found it actually quite nostalgic, smelt like mostly rollies. For Marcus it just smelt like trouble around the corner during lunch time at school.
Back at the blanket the crowd had built up and we needed to deploy stretched legs tactically to hold our space. I had been afraid it would turn into an everyone-on-their-feet situation with difficulties for short children and visitors from central China. I suppose in a tight finish that might have happened but Richmond took care of that by surrendering six goals on the spin.
Hardwick says those 15 minutes cost us the game. That is to suggest that although behind at the start of that blitz, we would have outscored the Roos in the rest of the game. I don’t know what he had seen in the prior five and a half games to suggest that.
It was our poorest quarter of the year by any measure and I felt bad that it was happening now, in front of long suffering Tassie supporters and so many who had travelled down from Australia. I’d had a fond thought that ‘Hobart’ could be a happy memory after this game, a place that bought to mind a turnaround, the beginning of great things, the day that we really saw the old Jack back, or the day that Griff made a statement that he was here to tear footy apart.
I had a secret that I was saving up my sleeve. Marcus gets pretty wound up about the Tiges fortunes (hello to all other genuine Tiges fans) and I had a surprise for him that actually raised the stakes dangerously high. I had been offered passes to go into the rooms after the game. So if we lost there would be no easy out, slip off to the car, burger and hot chocolate to cheer everyone up, put it behind us. We would be going into the heart of the disappointment. But still – that’s exciting, and you’d be mad to miss it. So as we got close to the final siren I told him we were going to the rooms, and it did lift his spirits, as I’d hoped.
Dugald is writing for richmondfc.com.au this season, and he has been telling everyone there to look at the Virtual Duffle Coat. A lady named Sarah called from the club last week and offered a pass into the rooms. I suppose it’s a boon they can hand out that costs them nothing and I appreciated it very much. I negotiated an extra for Marcus.
On the siren we worked our way around to the players race. I had my yellow Tiger hoodie on so I would be easy for Sarah to spot. She took us down a concrete tunnel like you see on TV, and then we went and stood behind a barrier next to Ricky Petterd for fifteen minutes.
Ricky was in a moon boot and chatting to some small kids who I guessed were blow ins like us. I didn’t want to push in on them so I just talked quietly to Marcus while we waited. Riewoldt stuck his head out, annoyed, shirtless. By then I twigged these boys were Ricky’s nephews. More Richmond people had come in and an older couple were talking pretty familiarly with him, not family but they seemed just more informed and more like they belonged here. We just hugged the wall and whispered.
Hardwick and some serious-faced vaguely familiar footy department people came down the slope and into the rooms. Sarah was apologetic but the doorman was not letting anyone in. As the others were waiting outside for us in the deepening gloom, I said to Sarah we would have to just forget it if we weren’t admitted pretty soon.
Mike Moshcogianis came past. He is both North’s GM of Tasmanian operations, and Marcus’s soccer coach. We had a chat about the boys’ 8-0 win this morning, and Marcus’ near miss when his chip from a distance hit the underside of the bar but stayed out. He’s a fullback and isn’t going to get many chances to get on the scoresheet.
Suddenly there was movement and we followed Sarah into the rooms. I had no idea what to do, so we found a wall to stick to and just observed quietly. Older players were on the floor stretching backs and hips with padded cylinders – Bachar, Cotch, Ivan, Griggs. Dusty was right in front of us, and a diminutive lady in her sixties gave him a hug. Alex Rance walked past shirtless (insert wolf whistle emoticon) and into the showers in a room behind us. Batchelor walked through and got on a table for a rub down.
Everyone was hushed, a few players looked our way pretty much unseeing. We were just the usual people who’ve been let in to gawp, I guess sometimes it’s a celebrity they might recognise or something. None of the visitors were saying anything much and we were just silent and drinking it in. Most of the players were either behind us in the shower or in some other room. No sign of any football department people or Brendon.
Once I felt we had absorbed the experience I thanked Sarah and we found our way out.
Zhou Ni did enjoy the game, and she was impressed with the athleticism and toughness of the players. She enjoyed Chappy’s big Jezza moment as the Nº 25 soared over the pack. I am going to choose to remember the screamers from Chappy, Sheds and Steve Morris as the highlights of the day.
When Josh Pinn interviewed me a few months ago I said I don’t really want to get to know the players. I suppose what I meant is I don’t think a fan really can get to know a current player. They must be surrounded by people who want to be seen with them, and want to be their friend. And the players must treasure the friendships they have that are outside football, with people who treat them just the same if they kicked a bag or had a shocker. I feel like as a fan, I want the players to do a job for me on field, represent the club well off field, and that’s it.
I don’t think I have any insights to offer, and I have never played the game so I am vividly aware that every time I demand someone “put their head over the ball” I am adopting a morally bankrupt position.
It occurred to me down in the concrete corridor that for Sarah or Michael, or the physio or the prop steward, their job has to be essentially the same, win or lose. The guy walking around at half time shooting Mazda t-shirts into the stand out of a cannon, and the girls dressed as the Spirit of Tasmania – they get paid the same regardless. This is the football industry.
As a serious business with dozens of staff and a huge turnover, an AFL club just can’t afford to let their smooth running be hostage to an arbitrary thing like winning or losing. The bus driver and the nutritionist and the graphic designer and the boxing coach and the accounts receivable guy and the video editor and the IT lady and the community engagement officer can’t just hang their head after a loss and go into shutdown mode. They probably can’t ring talkback or go online and vent even if they wanted to. They are trapped in the four walls.
Footy clubs work their people incredibly hard. The footy department is a hungry beast that needs resources; sponsorship comes in and is fed to the beast immediately. Other parts of the club must survive on a thin gruel supplied by voluntary workers and modestly paid staff.
I remember a workplace of mine where unpaid overtime was the norm. The meter stopped at 5pm but you stayed until the work was done, then if the boss or client wasn’t happy you stayed until they were. And this was standard in my industry. This arrangement was a free kick for the employer and they used it ruthlessly. They would promise favours to clients, and unbelievable speedy turnarounds, and extras thrown in to sweeten the deal, and we were then depended on to deliver the goods.
I know that this happens at football clubs too. The goodwill and emotional investment of volunteers is an asset, and that asset is leveraged to the absolute maximum. Because unlike a CEO or a groundsman or a full forward who will walk, that volunteer or club-loyal staff member is there for life. And to free up resources elsewhere, the output of those units in the machine has to be maximised.
I don’t quite know where I am going with this and people with experience within clubs might tell me I have read it wrong. But my gut feeling is that a fan like me desperately wants to see the club win, while for club people that is really secondary to getting these drink bottles to that school, or these soft tissue injuries logged in that spreadsheet, or briefing these journalists on that player’s court case.
I want Trent to stop the little kicks and they want Trent to sign this stack of birthday cards. They get a big tick as they met their KPI for forward 50 entries, while I am tearing my hair out at watching Jack again trying to slot a set shot from the boundary. And I wonder if this is a fundamental difference that is at the heart of Richmond fans falling out of love with Richmond Football Club.