Dugald (aka Tiger, Tiger) was photographed before last season with his left arm slung around Captain Cotch (aka Our Saviour), and he’s yet to wash that limb. Last year he wrote a blog about Richmond and its fans. Some call him a fanatic. Some call him one-eyed. His partner calls him misguided. Either way, come game-day, he answers only to ‘Tiger, Tiger’.
- Like father and son (or mother and daughter, or…)
- On visiting Adelaide, & the long drive home
- Some notes, for Sunday (for “our boys”)
- An open letter to “our boys” (for their trip to Sydney)
- On fairy tales, and may they know no end
- On the joy of winning
- The business of hope, & of selling our TIGER t-shirts.
- Looking for the sublime (& random acts of generosity)
- A win! At last! (One for the true believers)
- Not happy, Benny! (On the role of dissent)
- The night Richo was inducted into the Hall of Fame
- Voices in the crowd: Jayden & Phil, my sister & I
- On training at Punt Road & an unknowable match & Presentation Night #3
- A capital day with Jack & co at the football
- A lament for Richmond (& how the club broke my heart)
- Round 7: On playing Geelong, and other things.
- R6 v Hawthorn: A long day’s journey into night
- R5 v Lions: Faces in the crowd (selfie night)
- R4 v Collingwood: On not having to kiss Trout, and other disappointments.
- R3 v Western Bulldogs: A lament, for us Tigers
- R2 v Carlton: We won! (a football love story, starring Big Griff and D. Astbury)
- I am Tiger (we are Tiger)
This morning I dropped our eldest boy at kindergarten wearing an Adelaide Crows football top. It wasn’t meant to be like this. They’re having a football-dress-up last day and we had discussed teams and what he might like to wear. I had said I would make him a little Richmond jumper with a black top, some yellow fabric, and pins, needle and thread.
In the sewing, I had hoped he might come to understand.
We visited an op shop, looking for a black top and found instead a Carlton guernsey. It was the right size. He wanted it. I was in an ethical bind.
I told him it was too expensive. I told him the colours wouldn’t suit his complexion. I negotiated as best I could. I said we’d visit another op shop looking for a black top, and if none were to be had we’d return for the Carlton outfit.
Never has a grown man been in such dire need of a size 4 black top.
We didn’t find a black top, but chanced instead on an Adelaide Crows Auskick garment. It cost two dollars, which I thought was probably two dollars too much. Now he wanted this top. This was to be his team for the footy dress-up day. There was no persuading him otherwise.
So our boy, for this day at least, went to kindergarten as a little crow. I told him all about the coach being sacked, and what a surprise it was, but he didn’t seem to mind. He liked the colours. And sometimes, at his age, that is all that matters.
Two weeks ago, when Richmond played Port Adelaide, I had a piece published in the op-ed pages of the Sunday Age on this vexed topic. For TTBB readers, here is a full copy of what I wrote:
“When children are born in Victoria they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots, having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.”
Fitzroy-born poet, Bruce Dawe, seasoned at a time when inner-suburban grounds were like churches, in the opening line of Life Cycle begins the narrative arc of the football follower. Our fate, for many, comes pegged already to a ladder. We’re born into allegiance. Our ancestry has a song. Barracking is our birthright.
It’s a peculiar Melbourne inheritance, steeped in a city divided long ago among twelve clubs, each representing a suburb, a recruiting zone, a mentality, a sense of belonging. Love is blind, but for all born on the flats of Collingwood, it could also only be black and white.
Seven weeks ago, I took our eldest child, a four-year-old boy, to his first game of football and faced a philosophical dilemma. What is it to raise a child? As a father, I want to impart values of trust, respect and fairness. But is it reasonable to also give them a team? Should they know how to spell Riewoldt? Is it ethical to make them barrack for Richmond?
Our first game together was Port Adelaide versus my team, the Tigers. On a Sunday, I dressed our son in yellow and black and we caught a train – crossing the Yarra, rounding the broken clock on the silo, the blistered paint on the ‘Rosella’ sign – and it felt a Melbourne rite of passage. His bag was packed with snacks and colouring pencils. Mine was filled with hope and pride.
“I want to see them kick goals and I want your team to win,” he had said, over breakfast. “Dad, do you want your team to win?”
But at the game, I had no clear answers for his inquiries; I couldn’t resolve whether it’s enough for him to simply follow his father’s choices. This social responsibility could determine a lifetime of happiness. Resilience is a current catchcry in child-raising, but with my team back then in twelfth spot on the ladder and with uncertain prospects, it seemed hardly fair to crush his spirit before it’s yet fully formed.
“Carn, they cry, Carn,” wrote Dawe in his revered verse about Melbourne’s dual fealties of family and football. “Parents playfully tussle with them for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are…)”
At the game, I was flooded with sentimentality. The day’s activity linked generations. I thought of my father, and our afternoons long ago together at the football, and our easy conversations about the game, and how our lives slowly part. He goes for the Bombers. He allowed me to choose my own team. Is this the guide to follow?
At the game, at Etihad Stadium and sitting above Port Adelaide’s cheer squad, our boy mimicked opposition chants. “Power! Power! Power!” Richmond supporters looked bemused. “Go Port Adelaide!” I didn’t have the heart to instruct him otherwise.
“Why do they need grass on the ground and not mud,” he asks, his mind pliable and for now maybe swayed by the children’s television cartoon, Peppa Pig. My team, unexpectedly, were in front and playing well and here was an opportunity for subtle persuasion. I plant the idea of Richmond. “Dad, do you know I barrack for all the teams,” he retorts. “When are the Swans playing against the Cats?”
This Sunday afternoon – father’s day – my team again play Port Adelaide and for now I again tiptoe about the subject. I follow my father’s lead. An old friend (two of his three sons are Tigers, the eldest switched to Fremantle in defiance,) is picking me up and together we’re driving to Adelaide. For eight hours we’ll probably talk about life and families and football. For eight hours driving back into the night I hope only to talk of football.
I know I cannot prescribe a team for our eldest son, but I’m not sure he has much choice. My father allowed me free will, but my father didn’t write a blog about the meaning of football (collaborating with a graphic designer football-dad in Hobart, and a researcher football-dad based in the Netherlands), and my father did not hand-stitch clothes and banners in his team’s colours to wear to the game. That is, my father was relatively normal.
I am open-minded about these things. It is his life to live. Our little boy can choose his own team – so long as it isn’t Carlton, or Essendon (my fondness for them having waned these past two years). As with all football followers, I live with hope. Richmond will win on father’s day and our son, he’ll make a perfectly considered decision to be a little Tiger.
Of course Richmond didn’t win on that Sunday and there is no assurance our boy will be a little Tiger, and I cannot force the issue.
What I do know is that one of the most enjoyable pieces I’ve read on TTBB this year was written by Chris Rees about taking his son, Marcus, to the game in Sydney. It was a weekend away – sitting in the cheer squad, Marcus on the ground and helping raise the banner – those two may remember for the rest of their lives.
It is only an idea, but I like it: of having lifelong memories with either of our two boys, together at the football, if that is what they want. But I know right now, this is never going to happen if he turns out to be a little Crow.
Tiger tiger burning bright
On the way, the highway was garlanded in our colours. At Ararat, Horsham, Nhill – and at towns in-between – all the balloons, streamers and goodwill were yellow and black. At Stawell, an electronic traffic sign blinked “GO TIGER FANS”. By a grain silo on the flatlands west of Dimboola, a Richmond scarf draped by a large board with a spray-painted message: “Eat ‘em Alive.”
We were driving over – two, three, four, five to a car – some hiring mini-buses, others in coaches, approaching on three highways, with scarves hanging from windows or placed on parcel shelfs – acknowledging our identity – changing clocks at the border, headed toward a shared dream and the setting sun.
We were Richmond. We were arriving. We were joining as one.
There was unspoken camaraderie in this sense of purpose and belonging. On the road we were strangers to each other, but in two simple colours all was understood. It didn’t matter what car we drove, where we were coming from, all of us were Richmond. All of us were on this journey. All of us believed.
We mapped our passion in a distance travelled. We talked about the game, about all the possibilities. We shared conversations wherever we stopped. We wore our colours. We arrived at Bordertown to be greeted by a sign that made us smile: “Port Power road kill next 260km”.
Everybody wanted to be part of our journey, part of our fairy tale.
The stadium was beautiful: light and open and airy like the Mediterranean climate we found ourselves in. All had walked there, as a tribal gathering. The roofs on the stands looked as delicate as eggshells. A row of Port Jackson figs behind the grassed hill area added to the day’s festive air. It was like a carnival. I’ve never known the start of a football game to feel anything like it.
Here was a crowd about half the size of that in attendance at last year’s elimination final, but making almost twice the noise. The atmosphere was more exuberant, more expressive. There was greater fervour and passion in the voices and dress and mannerisms of both supporters. We had travelled so far. They have a deep taproot of pride.
“It’s been like a pilgrimage to be here,” said Adrian, who I sat beside, with two of his three young children. “I spoke to one of my Tiger mates before and told him he’d be tearing up if he was here.”
Adding to a sense of delirium was the weather. It was unfamiliar. Adelaide weather: hot and dry, with a wind that bunted from our backs. Many on the hill behind drank beer, but otherwise the day had not a drop of moisture. It was parching weather.
We opted to kick against the wind and into the sun, and it didn’t feel a good omen. One, two, three, four goals down and we slunk into our seats, rendered mute, realising the calamity. We had come all this way. We had hung our hopes on a dream. The ending we had willed for ourselves was not going to be.
At quarter time I texted two words to my partner, watching at home in Melbourne with others on the television: “Feeling sick”. Eight hours of driving had all been undone in 10 minutes of football.
From Friday morning, I sent out a series of tweets I hoped would be good Richmond omens for Sunday’s game. It was my way of trying to quell my anxiety, tension, excitement. Each of us has our own superstitions about football. I wanted all the luck to be on our side.
On Friday, riding my bicycle through Richmond, dropping-off a TTBB fundraising t-shirt to Sue in the city, I received a one-sentence email from Bill Barbagiannis that made my day. “Just want to let you know that your website is brilliant and it means everything to us Richmond supporters.”
Thank you, Bill, for sharing the love. Thank you.
We stopped at Tailem Bend Hotel for a steak and chips on the way over and met a builder, Darren, who’s just driven down from Alice Springs. A compelling game of football – the third quarter of North Melbourne versus Essendon – was on the television. Darren told us he works mostly on public infrastructure projects in remote indigenous communities.
“I fell in love with the indigenous people,” he says. “The culture is totally different. It’s all about family and sharing what you have with your community. It’s a different way of thinking.”
Our conversation was about Hermannsburg in western Aranda country, and the work of the Lutheran church in central Australia, and games of football in Alice Springs, and the raw athleticism of some of the bush players Darren has seen.
We arrived in Adelaide at about 10.04pm, and found ourselves in Hindley Street, among Saturday night revellers, looking for my travelling companion’s friend who had for us a spare key. We spotted Jake King and Dusty’s dad in the crowd. We found a pub. Dale Weightman was there, among the Richmond throng. Our song was sung with boozy gusto.
A tall bloke sidled over and struck up footy talk. He’d arrived in Adelaide early that evening, coming by public transport. He had caught a train into Melbourne, then the 8.36 train to Bendigo, where he swapped transport again. “Fucking bus to Adelaide,” he said. “Never thought it would end.”
On the way over, passing sheep country, crops of canola shimmering yellow in the sun (a sign!) and grain silos strung along the railway line in a land that turned sparser as the shadows lengthened, Yeatsey told stories about his family trips to Adelaide. They went every Christmas to visit relatives, and stayed in a van at the West Beach Caravan Park.
Both Yeatsey’s parents were born in Adelaide. His father, Ron, who I knew well before his untimely death, was transferred to Melbourne in the mid 1960s, to take up a job as chief accountant at Rosella Foods in Richmond. “He didn’t have a team when he arrived, but back then if you worked in Richmond you barracked for Richmond. End of story.”
A half-century later, and on a whim and a dream, Yeatsey last week decided to drive to Adelaide on Saturday afternoon, then home again straight after the game. He had a spare lift going. The two of us could measure our love of football and Richmond by the lengths we would travel. We believed in fairy tales.
Thanks you to all who bought our inaugural TTBB fundraising t-shirts and hoodies. Both Chris and I are very appreciative of the support. We’ve still got five XL hoodies ($65) remaining unsold. Please contact me (email address at bottom of this blog post) if you’d like to purchase one.
And if you’d like your name added to TTBB’s email list (to alert whenever blog posts are published), please contact me also. All emails are sent out as a BCC, so email addresses are not shared with others. That is, it is a confidential mail out.
Eight hours of contemplation, of mulling over disappointments, awaited us on the long drive home. Yeatsey and I met after the game and filled up the petrol tank, heading for the Adelaide hills. A road sign read: Melbourne 735km. “Next traffic light’s Horsham.”
At our first driver swap at a petrol station at Bordertown I bumped into David Ward and Mandy and Ken Woodward, and others from the cheer squad, queuing up for coffees and takeaway food. Hugs and commiserations were shared. It was good to see them – familiar faces on the road, also returning to Melbourne that night – to let them know of my appreciation for their banner.
Did you see it? It was beautiful. Large and billowing in the hot Adelaide air, with gothic script of fairy tales on one side and a simple ‘Dare to dream’ on the other. Spine tingling stuff. Well done. Many Richmond people are proud of your efforts.
A ribbon of red tail lights lit up the Western Highway on Sunday night. Us Richmond people were going home. We were leaving alone, but also together. All of us were sharing an experience; of loss, and travel, and what it means to be Richmond. We were saddened, but still proud of what we had done, and the efforts we’d made to be there.
We had been part of something. We had flooded Adelaide in yellow and black. We had contributed to the greatest interstate exodus of Richmond supporters from Melbourne our club has ever known. We may well have been part of the greatest influx of foreign supporters Adelaide has ever known.
For the two hours of the football we were not given the opportunity to show how we can celebrate, how we can support our boys. That was a shame. But either side of the game, for the most part, we showed how deep our passion could be. We showed we were just as committed to the cause of our team as the home crowd were committed to their cause.
On the long drive home there was quiet solidarity wherever we stopped; at all-night service stations, rest stops, the 24 hour McDonald’s in Horsham. In a convoy of cars, all going east, occupants just a little crestfallen and hollow, there were countless conversations about causes for the day’s great undoing and list management, and anything to keep us alert on the road.
Each of us was alone, but we were not alone.
At 2.04am, leaving a petrol station near Ballarat, after our last driver swap, I sent a last tweet:
A full moon driving night. In our colours. Our hearts heavy with burden. Home soon. #gotiges.
And so a season ends.
Tiger tiger burning (forever) bright
“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
Unscripted, after the siren after the stirring win against Port Adelaide, Jack Riewoldt looked into the Fox Footy camera and said this: “First and foremost, it gives our supporters a chance to go to work on Monday with a big smile on their dial and say they’re Richmond supporters, and proud to be Richmond supporters.”
If words could turn a season, in the hearts and minds of us barrackers, then these could be it.
Here was tacit acknowledgement that the game means more than just the playing; it is also about hope and pride and happiness and belonging. Our Jack spoke for us all. He understood our predicament. He gave voice to our plight. And for this, and for his goals, and for his courage on the field, we thank him.
On Sunday night, singing in the rain, farewelling our boys from the MCG and onto bigger deeds in Sydney, there was much to be thankful for. For most of the game, I sat between Peta Newsome and Trout in the cheer squad. Our Tigers, almost a year later, were back “in the eight”.
And by happenstance, after the siren, I found myself beside Verran Fehlberg, from Fitzroy North. He was the man I mentioned last week, who at the Adelaide Oval held-up a handmade sign on the boundary that said, simply: “7-0”.
He made a new sign for Sunday night. It didn’t matter he held it around the wrong way: 0-8. The message was clear. His smile was as wide as the MCG. After the heart-stopping tension of the North game (what was Firrito thinking with his quick play-on and misdirected kick late in the final quarter!?!), our fairy tale continued. 8-0. We haven’t known about loss all this financial year.
May it be 9-0 next week. 10-0 against Port Adelaide. May the dream never die. 11-0 elsewhere. 12-0. May our boys come back to play on the MCG, and may we all pray for a ticket. Dare to dream. 13-0. Imagine that?
Can words help a team win? Can words inspire? Can words give meaning to actions and intent?
Jake Batchelor played his eleventh-straight game for this season (8 wins, 3 losses) on Sunday night, and remains an unheralded contributor to our revival. Against West Coast, it’s hard to believe he had only three disposals. Apart from his career-first goal in the gloom against Fremantle – the fist-pump, being mobbed by his team mates – a highlight of his this year was his gang tackle, with Stevie Morris, of Jack Darling – the three of them sliding over the Subiaco boundary, in the tumbling rain; as a metaphor for all the defensive pressure, the desperation, that helped win us that night and has helped turn our season.
Others get the headlines, while Batch plays his role in getting the job done.
On Sunday night, against St Kilda, playing his 50th game, Jake Batchelor collected 22 possessions and a goal from the back pocket. Yet what lingers most was a bump he made off the ball, knocking his opponent over as the two chased for possession in open play. It was all poise, all balance. With his long left-foot kick, his aggressive tackling, this is what Batch has given these past 11 weeks.
Poise and balance. Another week of it, Batch, in Sydney; another week of us singing your praises.
Anthony Miles, obviously, is our season’s good news story. Discarded by last year’s wooden spoon team, picked by Richmond at No. 27 in the Rookie Draft, elevated mid-season but not selected for the seniors immediately, he has proved so many so wrong. As with Batch, he came into the side after the demoralising Dreamtime loss; and as with Batch he hasn’t looked back. In his 11 consecutive games he’s averaged 24 disposals, kicked four goals, but most importantly, he’s put his head over the ball and burrowed into packs in the hottest part of the ground like few others have.
It is true, Anthony, we do not love you yet as much as we love, say, Dusty or Brandon Ellis or Brett Deledio, but this is only because we have not known you long. When you line up for us in the middle in Round 1 next season, all of us will have you in our hearts. You have earned that. You deserve that. You have found an opportunity, and honoured the chance.
Next Sunday, in the west in Sydney, comes your opportunity for denouement on this fairy tale of yours, and ours. Your hard work and bravery will help win us a finals spot. And it will be the beginning of a whole other story.
Brandon Ellis, I met your parents last year, briefly, on your 20th birthday, at the MCG, after we beat Hawthorn in the rain, and your mother was rightly proud of you, as we all are too. You’re so young; you’ve made so much of yourself. All those expectations we had for you at this season’s start have at last come true. You have delivered. You are a fine footballer.
All us Richmond fans are happy for you after your misstep (what do the French call it, Jacko, a faux pas?) in our Round 3 loss to the Bulldogs, when the oldest man on the field, Dan Giansiracusa, drew a free from you, and played on, and kicked the winning goal. How so much of this season may have been so different if that result had fallen our way.
Confidence is everything in football, and Brandon, I fear your confidence was shaken after that game. It needn’t have been. And it’s all kudos to you that you’ve turned it around, and the longer this season goes the better you’ve gotten, and there should be no reason why your run-and-run-and-run next week in Sydney shouldn’t help win us the game. All of us are behind you Brandon. We’ve got your back. We’re proud of you.
Shane Edwards, so much of our resurrection these past few months, especially in the crunch games against similar foe, has been set-up by you. You are our great creator, our conjurer. You make the play happen. You give the team quick hands and quicker reflexes, and a clearer understanding of how the play may unfold. You give us dash, you give us daring. You’ve also given us 21 goals. And plenty of memorable tackles.
Congratulations on your 150th game, against St Kilda, on Sunday. May your 151st game be full of all the wonder you’ve given us over the years. (I still think of the day your jaw was broken, in the middle, early in the game – was it against the Bulldogs? – and how I wanted to let you know how concerned I was for you). Knock ’em dead on Saturday, Titch. Tie ‘em in knots!
On Sunday night I sat next to Trout, in the cheer squad, behind the Punt Road end goals.
On Sunday night I missed the banner being raised, and Neville Crowe doing a lap, because I was outside the MCG, wearing a gold glitter helmet, trying to spruik our labour of love that is ‘Tiger tiger burning bright’.
Big hugs and thanks to all who’ve bought our fundraising t-shirts and hoodies. It means so much to us. Your contribution to our contribution makes us eternally grateful. We can only hope our contribution – as fans, as storytellers – helps make a contribution to the players, and to the team.
We are, if nothing else, idealistic. We like to believe anything is possible. We value the connection between people. We like the sense of inclusion, of community, that football can engender. We like to share those voices in the crowd that may otherwise never be heard.
We hope it isn’t a misguided ideal.
We still have five ‘tiger’ t-shirts for sale (4 XLs and 1 L, $40), and 10 ‘tiger’ hoodies (7 XLs, 2 L and 1 M, $65). If you’d like to buy one to help us continue TTBB next year, please contact me via email (email@example.com). I make deliveries on my bicycle, I make delivers in the post. Thank you.
Alex Rance is going to monster Buddy on Saturday afternoon in Sydney, I know he is. Rance beat him several times when he played for Hawthorn, and on that Friday night at the MCG on the winter equinox – our last loss this season! – he blanketed him, and ran off him when the game was there to be won. Never mind Buddy kicked four goals and was the match-winner. Rance has had the better of him over the years, and Buddy knows this just has much as Alex does.
Jack is going to be on song on Saturday afternoon, I know he is. He played his most perfect game (11 goals, two behinds, and that pass-off to Cotch, from 17 kicks) at Spotless Stadium, in Homebush. Just across the way at ANZ Stadium, I cannot find any reason for it to be any different.
He is fit and uninjured. His hands are clean, his leads are sharp. He has his eye in. His confidence is up. I want Jack to rip apart the Swans on Saturday. The passion he’s shown for this club, this team, and us supporters – I want it to be displayed on Saturday with a ruthless and uncompromising attack on the ball. We haven’t come this far for all this to be meaningless. Jack is going to turn it up on Saturday, I know he is.
Ben Griffiths attacked the contest on Sunday night. Since returning to the fold after Tyrone’s errant swing, he looks a changed man. It seems as if a burden of expectation has lifted. He looks comfortable within himself. If last year it was stooped shoulders and downcast eyes, for now he’s flying for the ball, full of desire. Few other seven-possession games are as memorable as his was on Sunday night. He kicked two goals. This Saturday in Sydney, oh how I want him to do something he’s never done before: kick three.
Dylan Grimes, on Saturday, will delight in all the space of the ground, as we will delight in his athleticism. Nathan Foley, on Saturday, with his selfless team play – always presenting, always making an option – will do something he’s not achieved in 152 games of football: book himself in to play in a final. Ricky Petterd will do as he does most weeks, put his body on the line for his team mates. Sacrificial acts for the greater good of the team, he knows a few.
Troy Chaplin played perhaps his most perfect game of football on Sunday night. There is no reason he couldn’t improve on it on Saturday. Bachar Houli was everywhere with his run and slick skills on Sunday night. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t repeat it on Saturday. Nathan Gordon has set himself a new benchmark these past few weeks, with his games against Essendon and Adelaide. Against his old team, and with space to create, there’s no reason he couldn’t better it.
Our leaders will rise to the occasion on Saturday – Cotch, Lids, Ivan Maric – as cream rises to the top. Remember that dire game against Melbourne after Tommy Hafey’s death? (How could we forget?) Remember Cotch’s run and run and goal in the last quarter to give us a glimmer of hope? That is why we love him so. And Lids? He makes the game look easy. On Saturday, he’s going to make it look as though he’s playing with his own ball.
But these are the players who on Saturday are going to win it for us: Steven Morris, Shaun Grigg and Dusty. I know they will. Each of them has something to prove. Each of them will show what they can do.
On Monday afternoon I sent a tweet: Have been writing an open letter to “our boys” (for their trip to Sydney). All suggestions welcome. #gotiges.
Here’s a selection of replies:
Glen Weidemann @weedo
YELLOW & BLACK @Punt_Rd_End
very short letter DJ. GO HARD, WIN, SEASON OVER IF YA DON’T. Love from ALL @Richmond_FC Supporters
kick it to Jack and Lids
Emily O’Connor @emily_rfc
no matter how the season ends, we’re proud of them for not giving up when it all got tough. Showed they are #strongandbold
Darren Crick @derwoodau
make sure they know we will have a good time watching them and a better one if they win!
Alan Scott @alanrfc56
Just keep on winning, we don’t want the dream to end #gotiges
Cheryl Critchley @CherylCritchley
Channel Richo circa 2004 last time we beat them up there. Richo kicked 7.0 and won the game for us :-)
Liam Kiernan @liammichaelliam
tell them… Win lose or draw I will never not support the tiger and I am proud as of the Richmond football club
Just that we are there with them no matter what… #GoTigers
Chelsey Huber @LifEinColoR96
don’t hold back, keep the dream alive!! #gotiges
Shelly Connors @DameTassiemum
Self belief is everything. This year has proven that. We played the first half with none, the second half with plenty! #gotiges
Paul Ager @PaulTAger
If it is to be it’s up to me – Tom Hafey
Ben De Pedro @BenDepedro
believe in yourselves it’s possible, with belief possibility becomes probability
Before last year’s Elimination Final I wrote that Damien Hardwick ought be both careful and bold in his team selections. I called for the inclusion of Orren Stephenson in the team, to no avail. And I said he should be wary of carrying injured players. Jack was injured going into last year’s final, and Newie was injured, and Jake King was exhausted and spent.
We tried to play tempo footy and got caught out. We got ahead of ourselves. The only blessing was the day’s occasion, and how Nick Vlastuin and Cotch, among others, rose to it.
Saturday afternoon at ANZ Stadium is the first of this season’s two Elimination Finals. It is a time for redemption. It is a time for a new beginning. It is a time for charting a destiny.
Our resurrection, from 3-10 to 11-10, has been one of the football stories of the season. But it should not end here. It is a story that needs to get better, still. Here is an opportunity – to take on the league’s best team, on the eve of finals, in Sydney, on their home ground – that ought not be squandered. Here is an opportunity for this team, for this group of young men, to break our shackles of history.
Casual observers are willing us to win, I know they are. Other supporters understand our fairy tale. They understand it is good for our code of football. Our hope and our passion and our fervour make others happy.
I offer no advice for the game this Saturday. I offer only encouragement. I want every Richmond player to play with a brave heart and a free spirit. Take the game on. Be strong and bold. If ever in doubt, think of all times in your life you’ve overcome adversity. Have no fear. Go into the game with no expectations. Help each other. Do it for each other. Take pleasure in selfless acts. Take on responsibility.
And before the game, think about this. The Sydney players know they have a home final booked, with a double chance. They know we’re playing for everything. Our backs are to the wall. They know we’re going to be harder and lower and more ferocious in the contest; that we are going to hunt them, and maul them, and when we get the ball we are going to run like the wind to open up scoring chances.
They know we are willing to hurt more than they are willing to hurt.
It is what will win us the day.
Tiger tiger burning bright
Late Saturday night I received a phone call from Richard, a young policeman working night shift at Port Augusta in South Australia, who needed to talk. His family, who live in Adelaide and barrack for Richmond, were at the game. On nights like these we need share in the joy. We hug each other. We embrace. We text, we tweet, we post on Facebook, we call and talk. We cannot quite believe what has happened and it’s as if it is only real if shared.
It’s moments like these I love being a Tiger, I am proud to be a Tiger, and I believe that what we have is a deeper kindred spirit than most of us truly acknowledge.
On Monday morning, another Richard – Richard Byrne – a native Sydneysider and whose path in life seems always to cross mine (most recently through TTBB) sent a poem:
Sing the song of Richmond
a rocket full of pie
2 and 20 black birds
sent out to try
to dine upon the tigers.
what happened next, of course?
Yellow pastry full of crow
with nice tomato sauce.
It’s times like these – incredulous times – we become creative with our barracking, letting it take new shape, and a life of its own. Our spirits are singing. We are heady with delight. We believe anything’s possible. Our team have forgotten how to lose.
What they’ve done since last playing St Kilda – in stringing together seven victories, in finding new ways to win – has given more joy than all of last year. After the Melbourne loss, after the loss to Essendon in the Dreamtime game, I couldn’t imagine what has happened. The sky had fallen and our Tigers had left us bereft for this season and, presumably, for many more to come.
Now we hope to smell the grass of the MCG in the sweet balm of spring. We hope this is another season to remember. We hope this fairy tale knows no end.
Now we dare to dream; that these players truly have forgotten how to lose, and this winning is contagious and it is all that we will know for the rest of the season.
Imagine that? Imagine if this group of young men pulled off such a feat? They would become immortal. They would be spoken about in reverential breath for generations to come. They would rewrite the record books. The whole city would fall to its knees in respect and admiration. They would never have to kick a football again and they would be talked-about with such fondness for the rest of their lives.
All us Tiger fans would block the gates to the MCG and carry each of them on our shoulders, in victory, beneath the flowering elms of Yarra Park to Punt Road Oval, where for a full week – maybe more – we would celebrate their deeds and honour their achievements.
Our boys, our boys, our boys.
Please, on that journey could I help carry Dusty?
Thanks to all who’ve placed orders, and have paid, for the inaugural TTBB fund-raising t-shirts. We’ve had 20 tees and 20 hoodies made-up, and all proceeds will go to keeping our little project solvent for next year (mostly ISP hosting fees, domain name, boring stuff like that – with any extra to fund a TTBB budget trip to Tatyoon to recount the Dave Astbury story, on behalf of the Dave Astbury Appreciation Society). The hoodies are now on sale! They’re a gold fleece hoodie with a black ‘Tiger’ on the back. They’re cheerful, creative, and full of Tiger pride.
They could be collector’s items. We’ve made only 20. Bottom line is that each hoodie has cost us $43.45 to make, and we’re selling them for $65. I’m happy to accept any pleas for discounts (from students, disability pensioners, etc). We are not trying to profiteer; we’re just trying to find a way to cover our expenses for this year, and next.
For orders, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange payment/delivery. Also, anyone who’s put an order in for a Tiger tee, please confirm payment by this weekend to secure your order.
I’ll be at the game on Sunday from 3.30pm selling the t-shirts and hoodies (all confirmed orders can also be picked up). Find me at Gate 5, at the Punt Road end, by light tower 3. I’ll wear my gold-glitter helmet so you can’t miss me. Even if you don’t want to buy one, come and say hello. But for a general warning, please see the second-last item on this blog.
Truth is, if we win these last two games I don’t really care if we make finals or not. The joy is in the winning, and how the team are playing, and witnessing this – and not so much on the construct of finals. The pleasure is in the reversal of fortunes. In learning how to win when confronted with adversity. In seeing the players mob each other after Saturday night’s game – a knot of exuberance and care for each other, in the ground’s heart.
It is true, when the players come together as one, so too, do us fans.
The pleasure is in seeing a fan on the TV telecast hold up a home-made yellow-and-black sign on the boundary line that says, simply: 7-0. In those two numbers, so much is known. All us Richmond supporters understand the significance of those numbers. 7-0. We are willing it to be 8-0, to be…
The pleasure is in seeing Big Ivan, a heartbeat of our team, our recruit who seems to understand us fans more than we understand ourselves – so carefully spoken, so gentle, so supportive of our efforts – embrace this fan and his 7-0 sign and share in his celebration. Such a small gesture, that causes so much pleasure for so many on our side of the fence.
We want to be part of the winning, we want to contribute.
Midway through the last quarter when everything was running against us – the goals, the umpiring decisions, the bounce of the ball, the scoreboard, the clock, then more of the umpiring calls – hands up who thought it was over? Who thought our shared dream was to end? Hands up who had started to apportion blame for the season? Who called for the sub to be made? Who was cursing ‘Newy’ and his ill-advised kick-in in the third quarter (all of us knew the smart play, the percentage play, the wet-weather play, was to go long and wide)? Who had that awful pit of melancholia, of familiar disappointment, of sadness for what may have been? Hands up who thought our Sunday morning would be full of longing?
Hands up who jumped from the floor, the couch, their seat, when Dusty kicked the goal that would seal the win? Hands up who ran around the room, clenching their fist, pumping their fists, incredulous with joy, not wanting to wake up sleeping children, trying to contain such relief and pleasure (oh, that was just me?)…
I would love to see a compilation of footage of how our fans reacted to that win, to that Dusty goal, to the team singing the song.
For the longest time, I’ve not known a win like it. On a Saturday night, under lights, away, broadcast for all to see, and our boys came up trumps! They made us so proud. They made us want to hug them. They made us fall in love, all over again.
So there are several things I need to do, that I said I would. I owe Nick Vlastuin’s brother $35 as a pledge for walking the Kokoda Track. I will pay him. I have said I will visit Tatyoon to write about David Astbury’s home town. I will visit Tatyoon before the year’s out. Last week I said I would write an open letter to Bachar Houli. I will write this letter, but not right now.
Right now I need to praise Troy Chaplin. It has been a pleasure to see him defy his early-season form when he looked bereft of confidence and touch. Since the Port Adelaide game – and those goals, and that celebration that delighted us all – he has been a wonder. He has been as he was last year: dependable, sturdy, solid, reliable; a calming influence on the back six.
Twice in the last quarter he single-handedly kept our dream alive. When he stripped James Podsiadly of the ball – at the top of the goals, as he turned to shoot and bury us – it was a single act that saved our skin. Our season was on the line, and Chappy restored a heartbeat. Alex Rance applied the pressure, and Troy Chaplin saved the night. How lucky are we to have these two?
And when Chappy took a sliding, defensive mark late in the quarter to win back possession, to repel an attack, to hold the ball, I jumped from the floor and clapped. I needed to applaud. I needed to acknowledge his deed. I needed to let him know how appreciative I was of that mark. My partner told me to stop. She said I’d wake the baby.
Right now I need to praise Big Ben Griffiths. On Saturday night he arrived as a footballer. On Saturday night, his hair wet and slicked-down, he looked like the sort of old-fashioned, no-frills footballer so many of us admire. He’s always been a fan favourite, with his beautiful, long kicks and the way he flies for the ball. On Saturday night, these attributes helped win us the game. He kicked a goal in the wet from outside 50. His ruck contributions were more than handy, and helped create Cotch’s brilliant rove and snapped goal. He sent the ball long and over the lines and into the teeth of goals, that helped set-up Nathan Gordon’s match-winning snap. And in the dying minutes he won valuable possessions that gave us composure.
When Big Ben gets his hands on the ball, our team are in good hands. His long kick is such an asset. It clears the ball from defence when the screws are on, and it lengthens our forward line. He can gain possession from near the outside of the 50m arc, and he’s still a realistic scoring chance. And his ruck work is a bonus. And his marking is a bonus. It would be lovely to one day see him kick a bagful.
And right now I need praise Nathan Foley. For his selfless acts, for his professionalism, for what he has given our club for so long, for how he has responded to the profound disappointment of last year and being dropped for the elimination final. If we were to make the finals this year, Dimma would not make the same mistake twice. We would not let him.
Nathan Foley, especially early on Saturday night, did what he always does best: create. With quicks hands, with his run, with getting to contests, with extracting the ball, with finding a team mate. It pleases me so much how he has extracted so much from his body, from his abilities, to give back to the team.
I need to praise also Shane Edwards and Brandon Ellis and Dusty and Cotch and Lids, and others, but not right now.
I don’t wish to dwell on the negatives, but for the whole night – crossed as it was by a spooked black cat – there were only three moments of disappointment with our players. Sure, Sam Jacobs gave our Big Ivan the run-around, but you couldn’t admonish Ivan for his efforts. That’d be churlish.
There was Chris Newman’s aforementioned short kick-in that cost us a goal and turned momentum their way. There was Dusty turning-over possession twice in succession, resulting in an Adelaide goal against the run of play (but could anyone hold a grudge against Dusty?). And there was the ball bouncing off Ben Lennon’s chest late in last quarter that nearly was the catalyst for our season’s end.
But I couldn’t have blamed Ben. He came on so late in the game when the stakes were so high, it’s a tough ask for him to straight away pick-up the tempo. His was the most thankless job in football on Saturday night. I’m glad for him he had the kick that set-up Dusty’s last goal. He needs to hold on to this contribution. He needs to keep backing himself. All of us want to believe that he will belong in this team, that he will become a player.
Next week, if we win on Sunday afternoon against St Kilda, I will write an open letter to all Richmond players. I hope to express how we think of them. I hope to tell them how we care. I want to tell them what they mean to us.
I want words – and our support – to help carry them to Sydney. I want this fairy tale never to end.
Before the game on Saturday I checked myself into a hospital’s emergency ward. When away in Tasmania last week I had a vicious cold, and a night of fever, and something strange happened. I had numbness in my lips and on the left side of my forehead. On Saturday morning I went for a run with a friend, and did jobs around the house, and was on the floor playing Lego with one of our children, when I was struck by dizziness and nausea.
I had no idea what was going on. I was frightened. The left side of my face was numb and tingling and burning. I thought about stroke, or brain tumour. I thought mostly about our children, my partner.
The doctor’s diagnosis, while alarming, is a huge relief. For a while, my life has changed, markedly. I have contracted Bell’s palsy. In short, it’s a relatively rare paralysis on one side of the face that in about 90 per cent of cases resolves itself within a few months. Scientist remain unsure how it is caused, but know if effects men and women equally, is less common before age 15 or after age 60, and it disproportionately attacks people who have diabetes or upper respiratory ailments such as the flu or a cold.
It is not hereditary, it is not contagious. I mention this only for anyone I might meet at the football on Sunday. The left side of my face has, inexplicably, and temporarily, slumped. I’m calling myself “ol’ slopey side-face”. I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to anyone with a permanent disfigurement. Mine is a humbling experience. My lips are numb, my speech is slurred, my self-esteem is bruised.
I have a deeper understanding of empathy.
It thrills me no end that on Sunday, Trout has saved me a seat in the cheer squad. I’m wearing my gold-glitter helmet. I need to cheer myself up. I need to barrack. And I really hope it’s not the last time we do so in Melbourne, this year.
Another thing that has cheered me up this year is collaborating with Chris Rees on this football-community TTBB thing of ours (especially his Virtual Duffle Coat, to which this week I nominated a badge for ‘Skippygirl’, a Tommy Hafey Club committee member who makes our club a better place for her involvement). His account of watching the game on Saturday night is a must-read.
Also, I’ve really been enjoying compiling our fan-of-the-week. Last week, while doing this, there was a wonderful serendipity. I had been thinking while away in Tasmania of a fan I met in Canberra, Cassandra Hall, and wanting to write about her, and was chuffed that of all days, I called her on her birthday. It was meant to be. This week I’ll profile one of the stalwarts of the cheer squad, and a man who I’ll always appreciate because last year he accepted me into the fold.
No, it’s not Trout.
It’s somebody else who understands that football, and our Tigers, they’re family.
Tiger tiger burning bright
If this is fool’s gold, then let us all be fools.
For another week, let us rejoice in what it means to be Richmond when the Tiger roars. Let them all be jealous of what we have. We may not be champions, but we have again found our pride, and this is all we ask for, all we need.
May this run of victories never end, may this fairy tale never cease. May the whole city know of what a tease our team is; how it can break our heart then just as easily piece it together again.
It’s not easy, being a Tiger, but it is true and it is raw and it is real and it is the only way we know how.
If any of us doubted, then forgive us. We believe, again. The love, it’s returned.
I stepped from the snows, from seven days in Tasmania looking for its mythical tiger, and heard the news.
I had walked into the wilderness not knowing the fate of Reece Conca. I returned, full of doubt, soothed by the sweetest victory of them all. The Tigers by 18! We won! We beat Essendon! On a Friday night, at the MCG!
Oh, how I would have loved to have been there, to hear the roar, to see the scenes, to sing the song.
Still, as with the Dreamtime game against Essendon, I have not seen the replay. I want this win to live long in the imagination. I want this game to hold on to its wondering. I want to shape this victory, fashion it like a dream.
In my mind, Troy Chaplin, who started the season so wretchedly, continues his resurgent form (how good was he in the wet, mopping up at the back, against West Coast?). In my mind, Shane Edwards sparkles with his livewire touches; Big Griff takes telling grabs and breaks lines with his long kicking; Jake Batchelor rag dolls opponents with his tackles; Anthony Miles racks up contested possessions; and Brett Deledio lights up the night sky, as only he can.
In my mind, Jack is imperious, and Brandon Ellis is fearless, and Alex Rance is brave and Dusty is unstoppable.
In my mind, it is a win that becomes a benchmark; for what is possible, for what can be achieved, for what the future holds.
So I stepped from the wilds, from long days of walking in snow, to be reunited with my mobile phone, and found this message from my partner:
“Oh, the tigers. My love. I can’t believe you missed it. Such a great game. I can’t believe they won, there were so many moments when momentum swung the other way and every tigers supporter expected the pulverisation to follow. Credit to Hardwick — he had Vlastuin as the sub, which was a brilliant idea — he came on just as Thomas really needed to go off (or perhaps Morris, who’d made one really terrible error) — and brought his solid form through the middle where it was needed. Especially valuable in the fourth when Essendon stacked things up forward in the hope of scoring whenever they moved it down their end. Everything just kind of worked – Griffiths had one spectacular quarter, and a good game; Gordon was wonderful; Edwards got two important goals. Jack was able to break away from his defender, finally, in the fourth, and do what he does best. Maric was terrific. Lids too. I can’t wait to watch it again. When I woke this morning, it was one of those foggy starts when you can’t even remember what day it is, and consciousness slowly came with the reminder that yesterday was Friday, I’d ended the day watching the footy and my team had won, and this reassuring sense of well being enveloped me. Now I get it, after all these years together. On that, I realise I haven’t read any of the commentary yet. I’m off! Might even watch Dimma’s presser.”
On returning to Launceston, to mobile reception, I sent a tweet, three days after the fact: “WE WON!!!! You beauty, Tiges!” In the replies, there is all I need to know about the game. I want to see it through the eyes of others. I want to savour in the beauty of it all.
@loumur81 (Lou Murray): It was awesome. I almost cried with happiness!
@Harris_Chas (Andy): The passion was back at the final siren!! Bloody ripper. Done a bit of trekking thru Tassie myself, too.
@sb1193 (Sarah Black): Best was when Ivan was kicking after the final siren and a trainer was alone in the middle throwing bottles of powerade in the air
@sb1193 (Sarah Black): Showed the real human element of a steadily more corporatized and poker face, cliché-driven industry
@Sarah_C_Rae (Sarah Rae): such a satisfying win over the dons (finally!) – at 2 mins to go I started inexplicably thumping the arm of our couch lol
@Sarah_C_Rae (Sarah Rae): loved seeing Dimma’s joy as he reached the players on the ground after the siren too. Much deserved.
In Launceston, on Tuesday, I called my father. He is a Bombers man and was at the game, as he always is. It was his birthday. I had thought about him on the walk. Dad goes to every Essendon game he can get to, and is an ardent member also of Melbourne Storm. His ideal dinner party companions would be Paddy Ryder, and Billy Slater.
Dad told me recently how, with his loyal football companion, Les, they had gone to a members’ function for the Melbourne Storm armed with letters. The two of them had thought they are too old for autographs. What they did instead was write a letter to their favourite players, and hand it to them.
This is what I would like to do, also.
Next week I will write an open letter to Bachar Houli. It will be on everything about Bachar that I have liked and admired. If any readers have any photos or comments they would like to add, please email them to me.
Thanks to all who’ve contacted me about TTBB’s ‘Tiger’ fundraising t-shirts. I will reply to emails later this week, and arrange payment/delivery details. Both Chris and I appreciate the support. A box of ‘Tiger’ hoodies has arrived. I will post details next week. Please keep spreading the word, we’ve a few more tees that need selling, and then I need to offload 20 ‘Tiger’ hoodies!
My last word on last Friday night’s game goes to Andy Fuller, who in his Tiger Abroad column on TTBB wrote this:
“But my moment of the match came a few seconds after Ivan had marked Ben’s long kick into the forward line during the game’s dying moments. Ivan lined up; the siren sounded –the crowd roared, roared, roared. And Ivan – did not blink. No smile, no relief, no nothing. The man was looking in between the goals: that is where I shall send the ball. And goal he did. No concentration lost by that booming projection announcing the Tiges as victors. Ivan the Maric. And the team swamped him. This was a win for the Believers. Ivan believed in the Tiges when he no doubt told the Team that they could be better. Ivan believed that the Team could respond to criticism; to take it on board and then improve and improve some more. Ivan leads by example and the Team follows. This was the Beautiful Game.”
Now it’s time to go watch this game.
Tiger tiger burning bright
A football club is an enterprise in hope. And for another week, at least, our hope remains solvent.
I want to believe anything is possible. I want to believe this run of wins knows no end. I want to believe in fairy tales, in myth-making. Why shouldn’t our football team string together more wins than any of us have known for the longest time?
If our football club wants to win a premiership, it needs to start breaking records. Why not start from now?
It is a curious state of affairs. After such crushing despair – compounding losses to Melbourne, Essendon, North Melbourne, and all the others – I can’t help but look at the games remaining, and hope we might keep winning, and hope results go our way, and hope that on the last weekend in winter there is value for all us Richmond fans in getting ourselves to Sydney.
Anthony Miles has given us hope, and thrown up all sorts of questions with his every game played. Why did GWS delist him? Plaudits to our recruiting staff for putting him on our rookie list, but when upgraded, why did it take so long for him to get a chance?
Jake Batchelor has given us hope. He looks the footballer he once promised to be. A dour defender, as defenders ought to be. Upright, upstanding, and floating up the field to kick the odd goal. Feathers in his cap. Good luck to the man; he’s a likeable fellow.
Nick Vlastuin is all about hope. Since his first game, in a pre-season that offered such tease, he danced among men, always with his head over the ball, with such perfect balance that all who witnessed knew here was a boy-man ready to play. He is a leader, before his time. As long as the Richmond Football Club has young men like Nick Vlastuin on its list, it’s in capable hands.
Dusty is our hope. He is our one true love. Oh, those hips, tell me about those hips, show me what his hips can do.
NEWSFLASH: The first batch of Tiger Tiger Burning Bright merchandise has arrived, and is now on sale. They’re ‘TIGER’ tees, cost $40, and all proceeds will help fund this blog for this season and next; then hopefully the one after that. Details below. Please share this news on social media, messenger pigeon, with Chinese whispers, or however you can.
Early last year I hoped to write about my football team and make of it a job, but it wasn’t to be. Never mind. I tried, and sometimes that’s enough. Rewards came elsewhere; in the experience, in the shared stories, in knowing that I contributed and for a while may have made others happy.
And at the end of last season, in the first days of spring, something wonderful happened.
Through contacts at The Age newspaper, where long ago I worked when there was good business to be had in such things, I was asked to write a story about what it meant to be a Richmond supporter on the eve of finals. The brief was open, the page blank: I had a day to fill it with words.
I wrote about 75-year-old Gwen Harris from Morwell, who has a Tiger logo tattooed on her bottom; and about Graeme Upton, 73, whose father used to go duck shooting with Jack Dyer; and about Jess Pannam, 24, from Mount Macedon, who I had met one night at the MCG in the “grog squad” and who told me that in football she found family.
I wrote words that in the morning ended up curled in plastic, on front lawns everywhere, inked on the front page of The Age. It was a thrill.
But what pleased me more was this: when I filed the story on a Wednesday afternoon I contacted the newspaper’s picture editor, telling him about the cheer squad and its banner making exploits that night in a little hall in Coppin Street. When I awoke the next morning, the Richmond Football Club’s cheer squad was one the front page of one of the city’s daily papers. They were the news, and I’d helped make it.
I was paid $600 for my work, and for that fleeting moment I could call myself a professional sports writer. I had joined the ranks. I had gotten paid for something that had given me great joy. I had hoped it might be the beginning of other opportunities, but nothing was to come of it.
The dream was short lived; then it was over.
For a heartbeat, this season began with such promise. Remember the pre-season win at Punt Road against Essendon? Remember our season’s first goal, up at the Gold Coast, with Bachar Houli cartwheeling and Nick Vlastuin overlapping to finish off a delightful string of possessions? For a moment, we were champions-in-waiting; the top-four beckoned.
Before the season I contacted Chris Rees in Hobart, and asked if he would like to collaborate in this thing we call Tiger Tiger Burning Bright. He is a Richmond man. He has a gentle demeanor, and a fine eye for creativity. I was chuffed when he said yes. The possibilities seemed endless.
All along, for us, and Andy Fuller who writes from The Netherlands, it has been a labour of love. Here is our place in the hierarchy of the football media: in the outer, as voices in the crowd. We are but barrackers.
I would like to write more about the football, more about Richmond, more about the recent wins, more about Jack and Cotch and our memories of Kingy, who so delighted us and made us smile with his showmanship on Saturday, skolling a beer in the cheer squad. It will go down as the stuff of legend. Those around him will never forget. His was a gesture of togetherness. It was a last hurrah; an acknowledgement that he’s now one of us, sitting on our side of the fence.
Good on ya Kingy! All hail the King!
I would like to write more about Tyrone and his intemperate swing in Perth, more about Troy’s goals against his old side, more about Whitey’s run-and-goal, more about the folly of Hampson, more about the dependability of Alex Rance, more about the great-white-hope of Brandon Ellis, more about the quick hands and quick-step of Titch, more about the pleasures of Bachar Houli’s left foot, more about the opportunity opened-up for Big Griff; more about the value of Nathan Foley, more about where our club has lost its way.
But for now, I have no time.
I have needed, again, to find work; I have needed to fulfill my commitments to family.
It is a true story that the other week the newspaper called and they want to send me to an end of the world, so I may write about what it is like.
When I am not following football, these are things I’ve done. I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, then higher mountains still, to write about it. I’ve skied into the back country, with tent and map, gone for days on end, to write about it. I’ve walked the highlands, to find solace in the wilderness.
So this week I’ll find myself at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, with snow shoes and pack, gone for eight days, walking the Overland Track. I will have no mobile phone. I will have no contact with the outside world. When Richmond’s crucible comes this Friday night – 7.50pm, at the MCG, against Essendon – I will be blissfully unaware.
On Monday morning I step out of the wild; I hope only for good news.
So this is unfortunate timing. I have a box of freshly-minted ‘Tiger’ t-shirts under my desk, and would like to sell them to good readers of TTBB. It is a fund-raising effort: to pay for the cost of hosting this blog, and to help keep it going for next year. Trust me, what Chris and I and Andy have done is no profit-making exercise. In fact, as with Richmond for the best part of this past generation, it’s very much a loss-making enterprise.
Each of us does it because we enjoy it; because, like others, we want to contribute to the social capital of what it means to be Richmond.
The t-shirts are an original design that I crafted at my kitchen table. Results from clinical tests await, but it’s believed that wearing these ‘Tiger’ t-shirts makes you 32 per cent better-looking, appear 19 per cent slimmer, and at least 64 per cent more accomplished in bed. I wear mine nightly. I sleep the sleep of the innocent.
As a matter of public disclosure, all proceeds from the sale of the t-shirts will be reinvested into the upkeep of the blog. I hope also to raise funds for my long-awaited trip to Tatyoon, to visit the birthplace of Dave Astbury, and for a trip to Mildura to join the Sunraysia Tigers Supporters Club on their road trip to Adelaide to see Richmond play.
Available sizes are S, M, L, XL and 2XL. Cost: $40, which includes postage within Australia (if you live overseas please contact me and we can work out the postage rate).
And please note, when I get back from my little walk in the snow and ice, his-and-her HOODIES should be ready (they have the ‘TIGER’ on the back). Price yet to be determined.
I’m afraid this is a very organic fundraiser. At this stage, if you’re interested in a t-shirt you’ll need to contact me directly (via email, email@example.com), and we can arrange delivery and payment, etc. As it’s a fundraiser, I’d be happy to acknowledge all benefactors on the blog – or if you wish to remain anonymous, that’s fine, too.
Remember, wear the ‘TIGER’ tee under your daily wear and it gives you inner strength.
And remember my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you get no reply for a week you know it’s because I’ve gone for a long walk. In the snow. To think about life, and fatherhood, and football.
I have a crisis of confidence. I cannot sleep. It is 4.01am and I went to the game yesterday, and we won, but I could not get excited about this. Sure, it was nice to sing the song, and the walk to the train station felt lighter, but I left the ground feeling tired; feeling an emptiness. It might have been melancholia.
I watched most of the game from the Ponsford end with my partner’s aunt and cousin. They are family. I think their belief and commitment runs deeper than mine. They travel to the games from Ballarat, they go to the club’s membership cocktail parties, they have a dog they call ‘Richo’.
In the first quarter yesterday, the ball at one stage was kicked aimlessly forward, into clear space on a flank occupied by a flock of pigeons, and I watched those pigeons scatter, take flight, and it felt comical. What was I doing here? What is it all about? Does any of it make sense?
In the third quarter, talking about our team and our players and our club, ‘auntie’ Donnie confided that something about Richmond this year was NQR. Not quite right.
I missed the game’s first two goals. “Tyrone’s kicked two,” said a mother on the train, to her intellectually disabled son. I spent most of the first quarter standing in the outer, among the smell of beer and bourbon, listening to ridicule directed toward our players, measuring a sadness, or disappointment, or frustration. Then Jack took a beaut pack mark at the top of the square down our end, and the Punt Road crowd erupted.
“Makes it all worthwhile”
The other week, two Richmond Football Club membership cards arrived in my letter box. Another fan, based in South Australia, offered also to post his over. Both had come from supporters who for various reasons had considered my need greater than theirs. I thank them for their generosity, for their benevolence.
One of these benefactors requested anonymity.
Hers was a three-game Gold membership she had bought for her teenage son. “He hasn’t been to a game for about eight years,” she wrote. “He got sick of watching defeats as a little tacker then completely lost interest. My second son struggles to go along with me unless I can guarantee him a win – this, obviously, is difficult. We wait and we wait…”
The other membership was sent by Rod Miller, 52, who doesn’t mind if I share part of his story. “Went to Tommy’s game last week but my health is not great, so that’s it for me,” he wrote. “I struggle a bit with depression and anxiety, so panic a bit in big crowds. Ironic, as I’ve seen five Tiger premierships at a packed MCG!”
I’ve contacted Rod and he has an open offer to join me at the football, and I told him about times in my life when I’ve endured acute anxiety and depression and panic, so he has an understanding companion. He said he has sent a photograph to TTBB’s co-creator, Chris Rees, of his great uncle, Ray Martin, with Jack Dyer and Percy Bentley. As they say, Chris has sent it straight to the Virtual Duffel Coat.
“Ray won two B&Fs, in 1934 and 1935, and his prize was a suit,” writes Rod. “I wonder if you could write a small piece on Ray, he’s a forgotten champion at Richmond and was a champion ballroom dancer also.” [Rod, it’ll be an off-season project].
I have stories from Sean Nestor, and ‘Thommo’ in Nairobi, that I need to share; but not this week, not right now.
Then after yesterday’s game, beside a bronze statue of cricketing all-rounder Keith Miller outside Gate 5, I met with Paul Allen (whom I know better as YELLOW & BLACK with the Twitter handle @Punt_Rd_End) and his son Jack, on crutches and his ankle in a cast from a football injury. Paul had offered me tickets to the 3121 membership section. What I didn’t realise, is he wanted to hand me his own pair of Gold member passes.
Here was an act of complete trust. I’d never met Paul before, and he knows nothing about me. But here he was – a Tiger man in his classic wool knit Richmond guernsey (envy writ across my face) – trusting me with his tickets to the football for next week.
Football; it is about trust and loyalty, passion and friendships, and maybe it’s also about generosity and big-heartedness.
I’ve decided to use Paul’s premium tickets to take our eldest son – a four-and-a-half-year-old – to his first game of football. It feels a rite-of-passage. It feels like a seminal moment in my parenting; taking our little boy to the football. I think about it, and think I might cry.
Father and son, off to the football. Thank you, Paul.
There were purple goal umpiring flags at the game yesterday, and I’ve never before seen so much purple in the crowd. The game was played under lights and a leaden sky, although when Brisbane kicked their second goal in the third term to close the gap to two points, the sun broke through and bathed the Southern Stand in sharp light and I thought it the most dreadful of omens.
I was looking for beauty in the game – I wanted to be uplifted – but found little. There was a Brandon Ellis chip kick off the ground – an inside 50 entry – that teed-up a goal. Jack’s mark, as an exclamation to the first quarter. Matty Dea took an acrobatic two-grab mark. Alex Rance, again, was accomplished down back. Ivan Maric was manful around the ground. Tyrone kicked goals, and was sharp with his hands when handing one off to Jack. And I was pleased for Jake Batchelor to crib forward and kick his second goal in the AFL (this one a snap, in open play).
But it says something about the quality of the game, and our season of lost opportunities that the game’s highlight was a piece of play in which not much happened at all. Dusty (oh, how we love him) took possession of the ball deep in the members’ pocket, with an empty 50 metre arc before him. Here is the moment we cherish in elite footballers. It is an exercise in problem solving; a public spectacle before an adoring gaze.
In those few seconds he need size up the situation and consider what he can do, what he is capable of. We all know that with ball in hand it’s unlikely he can out-run his opponent. And judging from his actions, he knows this too. He has no option to kick it forward to a team mate, or in the path of a team mate, because none occupy the ground ahead.
What he has is the ball in hand and the goals far ahead, and an empty paddock.
He can turn back and try and set up a play with a team mate, or he can look at the goal square and go for it!
And here is why we love Dusty – he goes for it! He considers his best option, from deep in a pocket, is to land the ball near the goal square and curl it through. He thumps the ball on his boot. It arcs toward the goals. It bounces, and curls, and… the crowd in front stand with excitement, and all I can see is the movement of the goal umpire, his exaggerated mannerisms, his chest puffing out in the moment of decision-making, and it is the perfect drama and theatre at the football.
From all around me I thought it had gone through, and turn to Donnie and marvel at what Dusty can do. Then everyone sighs, and sits down, and smile and laugh, and share in the improbability of what happens. Looking at a replay on a TV monitor affixed above section M35 of the Ponsford Stand, the ball had curled toward the goal line, then abruptly bounced back, and bounced sideways, then this way and that, and then decided for a little rest on the plush MCG grass.
It was a moment of the sublime. It was quintessentially Richmond. And in our hearts, it is why we will always love them.
At half-time, I went looking for people to meet in the crowd. I wandered down to the Brisbane Lions cheer squad because I am curious, and because I knew old Fitzroy people would be there with stories to tell. It did not disappoint. I met Norma Burnie, 81, from Roxburgh Park, who’s been a Roy supporter since 1946, and was a long-time member of their Ladies Auxiliary. She still remembers the date – 4 July, 1996 – when the merger with Brisbane was announced. She was there at Fitzroy’s last game in Melbourne – against us, at the MCG – and watched their last game, away against Fremantle, with her brethren at the Albion Charles Hotel in the Royboy heartland.
She reels-off some of her favourite Fitzroy players over the years – Tony Ongarello, Harvey Merrigan, “the Serafini boys”, ‘Butch’ Gale – and their names sound now as if they could be matinee movie stars. We talk about the merger, and Martin Pike, and how many Fitzroy players moved up to Brisbane, and I am glad for her and her family that they are pleased with what happened.
“The other option was North Melbourne and we would have got nothing,” she says. “We still have our song, we have our colours, we have our Lions, and Brisbane lost all of that.”
Walking back up to my seat I stop and introduce myself to a woman sitting alone with a fluffy Tiger on her knees. Her name is Mary Sanders, and she tells me she barracks for Richmond because her father did. He was a Tasmanian, from the north of the isle, and was related to Brendon Gale. “When Brendon was born my dad wrote a letter to his mum and said I hope he barracks for Richmond.”
It’s amazing, the connections of the crowd, the stories you can find.
Play is about to resume and I need to find my seat and my little Tiger family. Mary turns to me as I say goodbye. “He used to follow Carlton when he grew up, you know.”
Tiger tiger burning bright
On Friday afternoon I found myself in Young & Jacksons. I’d caught a train to the city to meet Boris under the clocks at Flinders Street station, but he had a better idea. With a friend from Adelaide – a Crows supporter, who knows not of what is good for him – he waited across the road, with a spare pint ready on the table.
Boris Kilpatrick is 49 years old and was born in Glenelg in Adelaide and has lived most of his life in Glenelg and has only ever barracked for two football teams: Glenelg and Richmond.
As he tells it: “I used to go to the footy every week with my old man and watch ‘The Bays’ (Glenelg Tigers) and we’d get home and mum would toast crumpets and we’d put The Winners on TV and watch the VFL Tigers.”
So at a bar in the heart of Melbourne on Friday afternoon I learn about football elsewhere, and ‘The Bays’ and their rollcall of distinguished VFL/AFL players (Stephen Kernahan, Chris McDermott, Tony McGuinness, John Nicholls, Mark Williams, Brad Ottens, among others), and about Graham Cornes and a mark he took for Glenelg in the dying minutes of the 1973 SANFL Grand Final against North Adelaide that’s etched in South Australian folklore.
In the shared language of football, these were stories unknown, but readily understood.
And in 1973, for an eight-year-old Boris Kilpatrick, it was as if the stars aligned. Glenelg won a famed premiership in the SANFL and Richmond won its eighth premiership in the VFL and the two teams played before 34,194 spectators at the Adelaide Oval in a high-scoring semi-final on 6 October in the Championship of Australia.
Boris sat on his father’s shoulders, on that day in Adelaide when Glenleg wore plain yellow guernseys as a “clash strip”.
“I created the bandwagon,” he laughs now, of his support for a club in a distant city that for him was like a dream. “I was the bandwagon. People jumped on me. And now I’m the only one in Adelaide holding the reins.”
The Adelaide Crows formed in 1991 and two former Glenelg Tigers – Graham Cornes was coach, Chris McDermott captain – were in charge, and all through South Australia football loyalties were reconsidered. But not for Boris. “You can’t change who you barrack for,” he says. “I grew up watching ‘Disco’ Roach, and Lee and Weightman, and Jimmy Jess and I loved it. The Crows were not my team. The Tigers are my team.”
A few weeks ago, Boris contacted me and said he was coming to Melbourne with a friend, Jamie, and their wives, for a weekend of shopping (the girls) and football (the boys), and he wanted to buy me a ticket to the St Kilda game. It was a generous offer that I accepted, but then reneged on. A wedding invitation arrived late, from a friend who’s a musician. He booked a midday wedding, on a Saturday, in winter, in Melbourne. He’s no interest, obviously, in football.
The least I could do was to meet Boris in the city and buy him a beer. But he’s too generous for that. He bought me a beer. He gave me a t-shirt. And he furnished me with football stories from Adelaide.
Saturday’s game beckoned and mostly all I felt was ambivalence. It shouldn’t be like this. Maybe it’s because I knew I wasn’t going, and wasn’t watching, and wasn’t to be involved in the day’s drama, whatever it would bring. Mostly what I thought about was seeing Richmond play St Kilda on a Friday night at Etihad two winters’ ago, and standing with a cold wind at my back, but warmed by the game’s spectacle and its prospect, and a mark by Jack Riewoldt and all his goals, and at a critical moment in the last quarter a tackle by Addam Maric on Brendon Goddard that was the play of the night, and won us the day.
St Kilda were seventh on the ladder and we were 12th and we hadn’t beaten them for the longest time, and 49,337 turned up, and none of us wearing yellow and black could have gone home disappointed.
Now two years later, how the gloss has tarnished. Goddard is at Essendon. Addam Maric plays for the Werribee Tigers. And before the bounce on Saturday, both these teams could hardly be any further away from September.
But then the game arrives and I get edgy, and from upstairs in a pub in Port Melbourne – after the vows and before the lusty drinking – I sent a text:
Can Tiger peeps please lemme know the score/highlights. At wedding. Wrangling children. #gotiges.
What follows is an edited critique of the game, and of the day.
@loumur81: Who gets married during footy season? #pooreffort
@eddie1007: playing with some ferocity. 6pts up. JR8 being fed very well. Lining up for his first......and a goal.
@SatchSkippygirl: Tiges OK so far!
@eddie1007: Cotch having a picnic - 4 goals, 14 touches. Tiges by 31
@eddie1007: Grimes kicks his very first AFL goal.
@eddie1007: JR8 doing Vickerys job, being accountable. Meanwhile, Vickery - 3 touches and missed a sitter. #enoughsaid @dugaldjellie #aflSaintsTigers
@eddie1007: 2nd half not too pretty but alright.
@eddie1007: Tiggies up by 26. Cotch with 5. Career high.
@eddie1007: @brandonjellis needs a mention, 27 touches so far @dugaldjellie !!
@eddie1007: There's some biffo. There's some feeling now. #AFLSaintsTigers Up by 24 points 3qtr time.
@eddie1007: 10mins to go. 25 points in it. Ellis 33 touches, @snippermiles25 going beautifully with 24 touches. Cotch up for number 6...
@eddie1007: …and a behind.
@eddie1007: Tross superb and just gets better with age. #grangehermitage
@eddie1007: a narrow 44pt win. @brandonjellis 35 touches. #welldoneboys #AFLSaintsTigers
@eddie1007: make that 36 touches.
@oldcoady34: is 9th still in play?
@murdriggs: who won the wedding?
I was drunk on love on Saturday night, whatever that might mean. I made a Mietta O’Donnell chocolate cake on Saturday night, for our youngest son’s first birthday party. I put it in the oven and poured myself a chaser, and put a log on the fire and sat down with the pure delight of watching a recorded game in which you know your team has won. There are few things in this world that can give such simple pleasure.
Mostly, when I record a game I impose a media blackout – to preserve the contest’s tension – but there’s nothing about this season that is ‘mostly’. I recorded the Dreamtime game and still haven’t watched it, and probably never will.
But a win is a win is a win. And Dylan Grimes kicks his first goal! And how many goals did Cotch kick, again? And how did he come to kick so many goals? And I know to look out for Brandon Ellis, and Alex Rance, and…
…and I give thanks to Edstar (@eddie1007), who last I checked was watching from somewhere in Sydney, who interpreted the game, and offered a thread, and through all those flutes of champagne – through a glorious drunkenness – told a story that I read by the water’s edge in Melbourne and could see ended happily-ever-after.
Boris sent a text:
Frustratingly beautiful win. Cotchin, Martin, Rance. Hope the wedding went well.
Watching the game, what I think about mostly is how brave and courageous the players are. Nick Vlastuin runs back with the flight of the ball into a contest and I wince, concerned about his welfare. Anthony Miles gets crunched in another contest and I wonder how he can get back to his feet, how he’ll go walking in the morning. Each time there’s body contact on Chris Newman, I think mostly of soreness.
I would like to write about Dylan Grimes’ first goal, or Jake Batchelor’s first goal the other week and his renaissance as a footballer, or what the efforts of Anthony Miles might say about others at our club (the selection committee, for one), or the good form of Dustin Martin, or Jack Riewoldt’s gesticulations of dissent on Saturday, or how my man-crush on Nick Vlastuin only deepens, or my sigh of happiness when Reece Conca at last kicks his seasons’ first goal, or about the value of Ivan Maric’s marks around the ground.
I would like to write about it all, but do not have time. Besides, others can judge for themselves. We all watch a game of football; we all look at it in different ways, and for different things.
Besides, I’m distracted. Melanie Castleman, who last week was TTBB’s fan-of-the-week, sent through a pic of a new banner she had made. It is yellow and black and red. It has a love heart on it! All through the game when Richmond kicks goals and the camera cuts to the cheer squad for its response of approval, all I see is Melanie’s banner. There is love in this game and she holds up her heart! It’s impossible not to see. There is love, there is love, there is love.
I love it that the Richmond cheer squad has Trout and his luminous yellow ‘wig’ that I’m sure can be seen from the moon (even with the Etihad roof closed), and I love it that the cheer squad has Melanie and her home-made banners, and on the newest of which she holds up high her love-heart for her ‘Newy’.
Spread the news, share the love.
All I knew about Glenelg before I met Boris was that it was an Adelaide suburb, and the longest Australian toponymic palindrome I know of. I knew of the Claremont Football Club in Perth, and of their colours, but ‘the Bays’ and their long list of champion players was for me a blind spot. Now I want to visit Adelaide. I want to see the Tigers play at Adelaide Oval. I want to see Glenelg play in the SANFL, and write about it.
My time with Boris was short (TTBB’s other half, Chris Rees, was in Melbourne for a flying visit from Hobart, and coffee awaited in Lygon Street), and we talk about Craig Bradley, and John Platten, and Kernahan, and Boris’s days playing in the forward pocket at school (“I loved the game and kept playing until probably I was going to be killed”), and Richmond’s disappointing season (“I wasn’t buying into top-four, but this has been painful, it’s been horrible”), and his other great sporting true-love: baseball.
Boris knows more about baseball than anyone I’ve ever met. We talk about the game, and Wrigley Field in Chicago, and the difference between its two leagues in the US. Boris still plays the game (for ‘the Bays’), and writes a blog about baseball in Australia (see www.ablbuzz.com.au). We share notes about our labours of love. He gives me a T-shirt that he’s had made to promote his blog. I tell him about my ‘Tiger’ t-shirts and hoodies soon to hit the shelves of the TTBB superstore.
Boris is a generous man, he is a Tiger man. He offered to buy me a ticket to the football. He has never lived in Melbourne. He barracks for our team because of its colours, because of his loyalty to another. There is much that is unique about him as a fan.
Before I leave I ask for a photograph. He pulls out his Richmond top from a bag. Nothing is as you would expect. Whose number and name does he have on his back? What player has he chosen to wear? Riewoldt, Deledio, Cotch, Martin, King, Ellis?
Nup. He’s gone for No. 32, Brad Helbig.
Go Tigers! Go ‘the Bays’! Go Brad! Go Boris!
Tiger tiger burning bright
'Boo, hiss! Poor form pushing gambling on Twitter, anywhere. A family club? Apparently not' , was my recent reply to a tweet from the Richmond Football Club.
Another follower replied to my reply.
'You seem to have a lot of anger towards the club lately'. And in this brief exchange, there’s an essay about all the ambiguities of supporter loyalty.
Two days before this season’s first game, our CEO, Brendon Gale, said in a press release:
“We are excited about the partnership with Sportbet.com.au [sic], which is another important announcement as we continue to build, on and off the field.”
Never mind that in an orchestrated media announcement – on the eve of the opening game, when all were looking elsewhere – the club would misspell the name of a business it had entered into a two-year deal with. Our football club chose money over responsible citizenry. It sold its membership to a betting agency. It has become complicit in gambling. It has traded in all its history and honour – its great community goodwill – for the quick fix of a bet.
Buggered if I’m going to be silent on this.
The Tigers were terrific on Friday night; they were dreadful. Matty Dea stood under a high ball and took a courageous mark, and spontaneous handclapping rung out around our end of the ground; he spilled a mark near the top of the square and the Swans goaled. Alex Rance was at his imperious best on Friday night, blanketing his opponent and running off him when the game was there to be won; Buddy Franklin kicked four goals and was the match-winner. There are so many ways to look at a football club; there are so many ways to look at a game of football.
Seventeen minutes into the second quarter, when Brett Deledio kicked a running goal, grown men in the stands hugged each other. A belief that’s been missing all season was back. At this darkest hour, on the eve of winter’s equinox, our team at last was here to warm our hearts. There was beauty in the spectacle.
“Smash ’em, Richmond!”
Richmond would kick only one more goal for the game, and this night’s and season’s despair was complete. The glow-in-the-dark boots worn by Jack and Cotch were of no succour. Still we could not see the light. It didn’t matter that Shaun Hampson kicked his first goal in yellow and black and was mobbed by his team mates; voices in outer still derided his efforts. All that was gained was again lost. The final statistic condemned us: another loss.
“Stem the flow, Tigers!”
“Stand up, Richmond!”
“Do something, Tigers!”
About a month ago, in a blog post titled A lament for Richmond (& how the club broke my heart), I offered considered criticism of the club I hold dear. It may have been misconstrued as anger. It wasn’t. Mostly, it was disappointment; generally about how I thought I’d been treated by Simon Matthews, the club’s general manager of media and stakeholder relations, and specifically about seeing my name on a whiteboard within the club, alongside the word “flog”.
I thank all TTBB readers who posted comments about that story, and who contacted me directly, and “Daffy” who posted about it on the Punt Road End fan forum under the title Shameful treatment of a devoted fan. I also thank the mediator of Punt Road End, Rosy23, for following-up on the issue and managing the debate. Again, in this thread there’s a lively discussion about ideas of loyalty.
In this piece, I wrote about the death of Tommy Hafey, and trust and belief, and about Benny Gale’s tilt for the AFL top job. I wasn’t disappointed in him pitching for the job – most of us have personal ambition, a virtuous trait in football as in life – but was disappointed for all those Richmond fans who hold unconditional trust in his leadership.
In “the Chief” there is an aura of strength and stability, of strong guidance, of a steady hand. In the Chief there is belief and hope. He’s a big man. All of us look up to him.
What had his interview for the top AFL job said about his duty to Richmond, I asked.
“For us outsiders, it can be read only as duplicity. He is Richmond, until a better offer presents. Rightly or wrongly, it is a signal that percolates down. And in a time of crisis, his wavering of trust resonates beyond its circumstances. If his heart is tempted by another offer, why should ours remain true?”
Last week, Brendon Gale was in the news again. At issue was a trip to the Soccer World Cup in Brazil, arranged for by Chrysler whose subsidiary, Jeep, are a major club sponsor. In an article by Greg Denham in The Australian newspaper, Simon Matthews said he had no problem with Gale’s trip or its timing.
“He left on Wednesday and he’s away for a week,” he said. “Brendon’s gone with our major partner, they are a big part of our business, and he’s gone with our blessing.”
Last week I tapped the words “maritime law” and “abandon ship” into Google. So much about football is about perception. The most damning accusation to be levelled at a player is that he is not trying. Or more truthfully, that he looks not to be trying. How a player appears on the field – the way he mans a mark, attacks a contest, runs off the ball – is everything, just as how a club and its leaders might look off the field.
Last week I set an alarm and got up in the mid of night and in a cold living room in Melbourne watched the Socceroos play the Netherlands in Porto Alegre in Brazil, and marvelled at Tim Cahill’s left boot, and thought of Brendon Gale and wondered if he were there.
I think his going to Brazil was ill-advised. Those within the club will, of course, say it was about business networking, which in part is true. But as with all these things, how much was work, and how much was personal pleasure? With Australia 3-2 down late in the second half, my head swirled with the fever of the occasion and the hour of the night, and SBS commentator Craig Foster asked: “How much do you love football?”
The point is this: all of us, if offered, would have jumped at the opportunity of an all-expenses trip to Brazil to watch two games of the World Cup. It’s a no-brainer. But all of us aren’t the head of an organisation with a $44.8 million turnover last year that now faces a crisis. The Richmond Football Club is in trouble, no matter all the calming words. Its on-field woes have the very real possibility of tilting off-field stability.
There is no harm in acknowledging this.
Last season, for instance, of all AFL clubs, only Collingwood pulled more barrackers through the turnstiles than Richmond, and it didn’t sell one if its home games to the tropics. Already this season, the crowd’s voted with its feet. Two weeks ago, for instance, the home crowd at the MCG against Fremantle was about half of what it was for the corresponding fixture on an unseasonably cold day last year. The more we lose, the worse it’ll get.
Both on and off the field, this season’s poor form has dire ramifications for next year, and maybe years beyond. It is not unreasonable to say there will be job losses, and belt tightening, and new ways will need to be found for doing things.
If a crisis is a time of immense difficulty or danger, then this feels a crisis for our club and us fans. And now in this time of crisis we hear that our CEO went to Rio, and it looks a folly. If the trip was about brand partnership with Jeep, then surely Brendon Gale’s most prudent course of action would be to stay home, remaining behind the wheel.
If Jeep wants commercial leverage from the Richmond Football Club, the club need uphold its end of the bargain. It needs to draw crowds. It needs to ensure prime-time exposure. It needs traffic to its website. It needs to pull an audience to be sold to its sponsors. In short, it needs to win games of football.
When Brendon Gale presented to the AFL board for its top job, it was a matter of self-interest. When Brendon Gale boarded the pointy-end of a plane for Brazil it was, in part, a matter of self-interest. As Caroline Wilson, an ardent Richmond person is wont to say, it “wasn’t a good look”.
If this is a misguided interpretation, consider an alternative scenario. Brendon Gale is approached by the AFL to pitch for its top job and he respectfully declines, citing his ongoing role at Richmond. And Brendon Gale accepts a sponsored trip to Brazil but later pulls out, citing urgent matters at hand, namely that he cannot vacate his office due to pressing and unforeseen problems on the home front.
Footy, it’s a game of perceptions.
I stood in the outer on Friday night with Michael Green and others. No, not that Michael Green. This Michael Green is a freelance investigative journalist, and a Richmond man, who looks a likely half-back flanker. Our crowd was in full voice, and good humour, and wasn’t afraid to speak its mind.
“Ya sold your soul, Buddy! Ya sold your soul!”
At game’s end, I left my night’s companions – a Tiger and a Swan – to jump the MCC fence and scuttle around to see the players leave the ground. Richmond were in no mood for lingering. There is little to celebrate when you’re at the bottom of the ladder and expected so much more. Even our home games must for now seem so foreign to the players.
Swans players, conversely, were in no hurry to leave the rapturous adulation of their crowd. The aesthetics of the game mean nothing when you win. Their crowd and its colours looked so joyous, so cheerful, so happy with the night. It is as it should be: their team had just won its ninth consecutive game.
Imagine that? Nine games in a row. It’s been 34 years since Richmond last won nine games in a row. That’s a generation of support. And how it feels as if it could be another 34 years until we do it again.
Early last year I wrote and sent a letter to Brendon Gale.
“My name is Dugald Jellie and I am an ardent Richmond supporter. I am also a writer. I was a journalist at The Age newspaper, before moving to Sydney in 1997 for a job as a features writer for the Sydney Morning Herald. I have played football, mostly for country teams, and once ran into Greg Dear’s elbow at a game in Lakes Entrance while playing centre-half-forward for the Snowy Rovers. For this I received a free-kick.”
I don’t think he read it.
After last year’s heartbreaking loss to Carlton in the Elimination Final, I had a long telephone conversation with Brendon Gale. I found him inquisitive and fair-minded man; knowledgeable, open and considered.
What I know about Brendon Gale is all on the public record. He’s a family man, a graduate from Marist College in Burnie, was a champion Richmond footballer (244 games, 209 goals), studied law at Monash, was on the Board of the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and before taking the top job at Richmond was CEO of the AFL Players’ Association.
His faith is Catholic and his political leaning – gleaned from Martin Flanagan’s book Richo – is to the left. Every way I look at Brendon Gale, I like the man. He is that heady mix – the thinking-man footballer – that so excites respect and admiration among the crowd.
Our phone conversation was about my perceived grievances. What was unsaid is that both of us knew he was always going to back one of his senior managers – any of his employees – over a complaint from a fan who writes a blog. But he listened, he heard me out. A simple conversation, he placated resentments.
Textbook dispute resolution.
At conversation’s end, Gale confided in trade talks with a Richmond player. He said it was off-the-record. He trusted me, and knew that he could.
When once asked for advice for students at his former secondary college, Gale offered two tips. “Don’t limit your potential and be a doer not a knocker.”
Does my written criticism of the club, and of his recent absence in Brazil, fall into the category of ‘doer’ or ‘knocker’? Are my concerns – my voiced disapproval – of our club pushing the product of a betting agency, those of a ‘doer’ or a ‘knocker’?
Brendon Gale is 10 centimetres taller than I but I know I can look him in the eye. I am passionate about Richmond, I am loyal to Richmond, I want the best for Richmond, as so many of us do.
But this loyalty does not preclude me from dissent. Loyalty cannot silence the crowd from fair-minded criticism. And if the club is blind or deaf to those who disagree with some of its ideas, then surely it will never truly grow and prosper as an organisation. Three wins and 10 losses is the bottom line, as it stands, for this season. The house of cards has fallen. Our disappointments cannot be denied. The time is nigh for Richmond to consider new ways of doing business; to consider new ways of being a football club.
Tiger tiger burning (loyal and) bright.