Walking from the ground, our seven-year-old boy all chatter, tripping over shoelaces, jumping about, turns to me and says: “Well, that was fun”.
I write it down, his excitement, all that might be going on in that beautiful mind of his.
“Dusty high-fived me!”
“I got high-fives from nine players!”
“Did Trout come to this game?”
“We never went to sit with Trout.”
“I thought West Coast would win this because they were so much better than us last year.”
His mum is overseas on a work trip, so we dropped Mr 3yo off at Grandpa and aunty Sar’s house for the afternoon, caught a tram down Swan Street, bought a footy Record outside the ground, queued for tickets in the sharp sun, he in a
sleeveless footy jumper so I make sure his arms, neck, face are slathered in sunscreen, and we sat near the players’ race, and I hold him in my arms as our players ran onto the ground, both of us waiting on Dusty, and in the second quarter we bumped into a friend of mine, Yeatesy (who I shared a road trip to Adelaide with to see us whumped in that Elimination Final), and I text Big Dave and he’s sitting nearby with his boy, Charlie, and Mr 7yo and he are school friends and at half-time they go outside the ground for a kick, and Charlie gives him seven footy cards, and the second half starts and I buy hot chips (as was negotiated earlier in the day) and the sky darkens, bruised clouds gather, and all in the stadium know a change is coming and it excites us, makes the game somehow even more real, the hard rain coming, and it’s a Saturday afternoon at the G and a great crucible of football awaits, and we are here, among our crowd, lending voice, bearing witness.
Walking through Yarra Park under leaden skies after the game, he asks: “Dad, where are we on the ladder?”
At the end, a denouement.
Brandon Ellis slides on his knees into Chris Masten, clattering into him bravely, courageously, recklessly, knocking the ball loose in our open forward line, and Dan Rioli swoops, his long and dark locks wondrously lank in the wet, and he touches the ball on the sodden grass, and we are on our feet, delirious with joy, a second-year player with the ball in his hand distilling confidence, and all last year’s misery is at once forgotten, and we are in love again, believing it might be true.
Ellis, maligned last year, coupled with all that went wrong, is back to his best these past three games. But his beeline to Masten, hurtling into him, crashing him to jolt the ball free, was better than his best. It was inspiring, inspirational. It is what us Richmond people love. Honest football. Hard-at-it football. Selfless Richmond football.
Improvements are all incremental, but all the increments are going the right way.
Reece Conca is back on the field, back straightening us up. Cotch looks to be enjoying his footy again, looks freer, looks more like the complete player he was, looks like he might come second in a Brownlow again (this time, fingers crossed, to his beloved former lodger). Dan Rioli has been a standout, and looks like he become anything. Dusty is unstoppable. Dave Astbury is back to his best, standing tall, good hands and an even better defensive punch. Jason Castagna and Dan Butler have thrilled us (in the dry, now the wet). Toby Nankervis is the rock upon which it’s all been built. Wrap the big lump of a lad up in cotton wool each week, please. We need him more than we know.
Reading a match report in the Sunday Age, a sentence in the third paragraph irks: As the weather morphed from a sunny, balmy afternoon of 28 degrees into something more akin to an Arctic front after half-time, so the momentum changed in the Tigers’ favour.
They sit in glass boxes. So much about the game on Saturday afternoon was about the weather (Ben Lennon ran out, sensibly, with zinc cream plastered over nose and cheeks), but there was nothing Arctic about it. It was a storm front. There was thunder and lightning, both notable, and drenching rain (which we could smell, then feel and see), but it was not cold. Not nearly Arctic, or Antarctic, or whatever meteorological term the reporter was after.
The change in weather was a significant event of this football game, it made the win so much more memorable – blessed by the rain – so best get it right.
It changed the football, as it changed the crowd. Early in the third term, strangers joined in conversation. Rain’s coming. Seen the rain radar map? Looked a classic, brushing in from the west, a long and narrow band of dramatic yellows and reds. Heavy falls, coming our way.
As we anticipated it, so, too, would the players. They know the game is to change. Plastic bags swirl around the arena, and an urgency descends. A goal now might be worth two, three, four in twenty minutes’ time. It’s going to get physical, bruising, tiring, plodding. Every inch will count. Body behind the ball. Spoils go to whoever wants it more. There are no social niceties playing in the wet. The game gets mongrel, and you want the biggest mongrels on your side.
(Step up in the last quarter, Alex Rance at one end, Jack at the other).
In the stands, the sudden change has a galvanising effect. It’s glorious. Before the rain the stadium’s half-empty, a good
crowd of 42,000, dispersed evenly. Heavens open and it’s like shuffling seats before dessert at a dinner party. It condenses us under the awnings. For the first half, we enjoy an empty seat on either side. After the rain, we all squish-in together, moving up to give room for others, revelling in the company, our crowd, our chants, our guttural celebration of what it is to be Richmond on an afternoon like this.
I remember I left the washing on the line.
For most of the last quarter my boy is on my lap. I hug him around the waist, he bounces about, enthralled by the crowd’s cacophony, by being among so many, by all the cheering and chanting. For him, as with us, every game is different and some lodge squarely in the mind.
“Why on earth are we clapping,” he asks.
Nick Vlastuin’s courage, maybe. Or Dylan Grimes’s fearless attack on the ball. Or Alex Rance throwing himself into contests. Our players halving a contest, doing more of the little things right, playing for each other, which means they’re playing also for us.
It is wet and warm, and we won.
Up the Tiges! texts a friend who goes for the Swans.
Good game! texts another friend sitting on the other side of the stadium, in his West Coast colours.
We catch a different tram home, from a stop on Wellington Parade. My boy commandeers my phone. In his footy colours, he leans his head against my shoulder.
“In the eleventh round we play North,” he says.
“In round twelve we have the bye.”
He’s excited by what’s ahead, as are we. A full tram and the chatter is open-ended. We’ve all been part of something that has given us happiness, belonging. We are proud of our team, our players. Our afternoon was in uncomfortably hot and bright sunshine, it was under heavy-lidded cloud, and it was the best.
Outside the tram window, inching along Bridge Road to the crest of Richmond Hill, I observe all the high Victorian-era flamboyance of the second-storeys of many of the shopfronts, most with peeling paint, with all the layers of history. I think all the football crowds who have walked these pathways after games, of the bells that once tolled from a nearby church on the hill when Richmond last won a premiership. Grown men walk now down the hill, in their colours, with numbers on their backs.
Windscreen wipers swish. Tram tracks glisten. Car headlights catch raindrops.
A question overheard, from the back of the tram.
“How do you spell Vlastuin?’
All of us love the football, when games like that are won.