I’m as shocked as anyone that our opponents will be the Giants. There’s a kind of relief – at least we won’t lose to Collingwood. But an even worse kind of dread – what if we lose to the Giants? What if we were the team that let this pampered corporate confection win their first flag?
Relief too that tickets will be easier to get than if it had been the Pies. But I miss out on the ballot on Monday, 22 years of membership counting for nothing. I go to the Giants’ website and learn that everyone in their ballot got a ticket and now they’re giving their members a second go. Outrageous. But all is fair in love and Grand Final ticketing and so I try to buy a couple of Giants’ memberships. I might not be the only one with this bright idea though and their website doesn’t seem to work.
Later I get a message from Richmond telling me that the Giants still haven’t sold all their tickets and I might get another chance on Tuesday. And sure enough, not long after 11 the next morning I’ve snagged a standing room ticket to the big game. The news gets better. Still more tickets remain and my daughter, a 7-9-year member, gets a chance and just after 2pm I get her a ticket too. Calling her to give the good news is one of the best things I’ve done. She can’t believe we’re both going.
A bit later, a TTBB reader offers yet another ticket and I’m wondering, at this rate, will the ground be only half full?
The standing room tickets for my daughter and me are in different bays. But based on the 2017 experience, this won’t matter at all. In 2017 we were told we had to stick to our bays but nobody checked and instead of standing in my terrible spot at M5 I went behind the goals at M3 and there was no checking.
The week goes quickly. Everything in the news is about the Giants’ “physical” game, the “clumsiness “of Mumford and the menace of Greene. Personally, I’m a bit terrified. What really counts in finals is recent form and theirs has been good. Clearly it doesn’t bother them anymore to play in front of a hostile crowd and why would it? They play in front of one every other week. Their form reminds me too much of ours in 2017, coming good at just the right time.
At work I’m busy after Tuesday which has been a bit of a write-off. There was a farewell lunch and then afternoon tea and time spent buying tickets and telling the world I’d been successful. What a healing journey this will be – my daughter couldn’t get a ticket in 2017 and it broke her heart.
I put in a big day on Thursday and colleagues wish me well for the weekend. Everyone hates the Giants and hopes Richmond win, even the Collingwood supporters. But everyone is a bit afraid too, although maybe not as much as I am.
On Friday we leave the house on our bikes at about 6.30 and catch the 6.49 from Thornbury. Just as we did in 2017, we alight at West Richmond for a little walk down to Punt Road. There are only a few hundred in the queue on the northern side. In 2017 we went in on the other side and there had been 2000 in the queue, even at 7.30. Are Richmond members becoming complacent? Or have many more thousands got lucky with tickets and so don’t feel the need to get to training to see their boys one last time?
But by the time we get in at 8.30 a decent crowd has built up. We sit in the stand this time and the man next to me gets me to do a live interview for 2SM in Sydney. The world looks beautiful from up here and we say we’ll come and watch some VFL and some women’s games next year.
Eventually our boys run out and do some impressive drills and stretches. I’m not thrilled with how Cotch looks, but I don’t say anything. I never seem to see him running and I wonder what injury he might be carrying. Everyone else looks pretty good though.
After half an hour they depart and so do we. In Yarra Park there are thousands of people and we find some food, but no coffee. After we eat, we go for coffee at a place on Wellington Parade which is under siege from the Yellow and Black and the odd Orange and Grey. We wait a good while for a coffee but everyone is patient.
In 2017, after the last training session, we made a big mistake and sought food in the city. By the time we got out the crowds lining the parade route were ten people deep and we couldn’t see a thing. This time we find a good spot on the corner of the Fitzroy Gardens. It suddenly hits me what a wonderful public holiday this is. The road is empty of traffic and all that remains is people in their teeming thousands, enjoying each other’s company.
Eventually the parade comes along and it’s the most beautiful, daggy thing I’ve ever seen. First come some coppers on push-bikes – not in fancy dress or anything, just riding their bikes, as is their job. Then a magnificent pipe band – I would go anywhere to listen to the bagpipes. And a brass band playing their theme song and ours (and the Giants do have a good song, credit where it’s due) and people on stilts in fat suits and people in fat footy suits, one of which has deflated and hangs about him like a misshapen cape.
And finally, the utes, emblazoned with Toyota mottos – even this commercialism is low-key – and the umps come first and then our players, two in each ute, many with kids on laps. And we clap and cheer as they go by. The Giants come next and the Richmond people around us are so taken with the happy atmosphere that they even clap these evil bastards. “They’ve done well, they’ve made a Grand Final,” one yellow-and-black clad woman says as she claps them.
We train and bike home and get the washing in before it rains. Then I go out again to the Preston Market. It’s only five days since I last went and it’s surprising how much stuff we need. Ray and Pat greet me warmly at their stall. They barrack for Carlton but have known Presti’s family for years and feel a bit invested in Richmond. They are thrilled that my daughter and I have tickets. Like everyone else they wish me well but think it will be a tough, hard game.
Nobody can believe they’ve picked Pickett for his first game. I assume they know what they’re doing, but really? Is this a good idea? When you could have picked premiership players like MacIntosh or Townsend? The man at the organic stall says it’s a good decision. “It’s good coaching. It’s telling them all, this is just a game of footy, just go out there and play.” I suppose there’s a logic to that.
And underneath my fear and dread there’s a faint spark of hope – if they’ve picked him for his first game, he must be more than good, they must think he’s a bit special. Maybe he is.
I get everything we need and the evening goes by in a rush. I make a double batch of Anzacs to put in my 1974 Premiers bickie tin, make a couple of rolls for lunch, make sure the water bottles are handy, check and check again – wallet, keys, hat, tickets. I tumble into bed after 11 and jump up with the alarm before five.
My daughter hates getting up in the morning but she’s up by six on the Friday for training and today for the game itself. I have offered to go in early and save her a spot in standing room but she won’t hear of it. “I want to be there early too, I want to be a part of it.” And, as it turns out, it’s lucky that she is.
We’re out of the house by 6.25. I don’t stop and check my pack on the way, because I did so just before we left – bickies, rolls, hats, wallet, keys, phones, tickets – and we’re at Thornbury a few minutes before the train comes. At Jolimont the Members’ queue is impressive but not quite as long, I think, as in 2017. At our gates – 6 and 7 – nobody is waiting, so we’re first in line. I need the toilet and soon I want a coffee but neither thing is convenient. It’s cold and I do some lunges and stair climbing to keep warm and we do the quiz in the record and don’t go too badly. We tackle a cryptic crossword and solve a few clues but I’m too nervous to concentrate for long.
My daughter tries to teach me a clapping game and that fills in some time. We begin to worry about our tickets, which have different gate numbers on them. Mine says 6 and hers is 7. My bay is M23 and hers is M26. But I’ve been thinking all along that we’ll ignore them altogether and head down to the Punt Road End. I do some reconnaissance and learn that M23 is a disaster. It’s one of those standing room “bays” that isn’t a bay at all. It’s just a section of concourse that has a barrier in front of it. Unless you are right at the front, or very tall, you won’t see a thing. Worse, there’s nowhere to sit but flush on the floor in the five hours from when you get in to when the game starts.
M26 is more promising – it’s an actual bay with steps. A better view for everyone and a step to sit on in those long hours. So we decide to move up to gate 7, where there are still only a few in the queue, and head to M26. And my daughter chooses to take the bag and be in the bag-checking line while I go in the fast lane for those without bags.
This plan work well, at first. In I go and head to M26. I accidentally land in M25, which is fine and I think it will suit us. However, a staff member is onto me straight away – “Can I see your ticket? You’re not meant to be here. This is M25.” I go one bay over, by which time my daughter has arrived and more trouble awaits us. They are being completely hard-arsed about standing room this year. They are not letting you into a bay without a wrist-band and not giving you a wrist-band unless you have a ticket for that bay. The staff won’t move on this.
Somehow, I get into the bay anyway and we park our pack and claim our spot and try to negotiate. I explain that we’ve waited two hours to get in, we were first in line and we simply have to stand together. They say they appreciate this but they can’t give me a wrist-band if I don’t have a ticket for this bay. I ask to see their supervisor but they can’t find him. Eventually the man called Luke says, “I can’t give you a wrist-band. You’ll have to try and swap your ticket for someone who’s on their own and doesn’t mind standing in M23.” This seems like an unlikely event. But in the meantime, I can stay with my daughter and they’ll even let me out and back in again when I need to go to the toilet. Which is right now.
I can’t believe the bloody-mindedness of it and I’m almost crushed by the unfairness. In front of us are the AFL members, generally a bit more nicely-dressed than us, thousands of whom don’t even barrack for Richmond, all in their very good seats. And my daughter and I can’t even stand together? And I don’t even get a step to stand on?
But there’s no point dwelling on it. What counts is survival. And I can see what the staff have done – they’ve covered themselves while letting me stay. And my daughter and I begin to relax.
Five hours goes by quickly. A couple of coffees, a few trips to the toilet, an Anzac or two, some VCE Philosophy, a phone call to Mum whom I was meant to visit this weekend. I had planned to write pages and I barely jot a line or two.
At 1.30 when I make my last toilet trip the bay has filled up. I’m still allowed back in and I think I’m right for the game now. We are right at the front and our view is magnificent, near the pocket at the City End. There is some awful pre-match entertainment, including an attempt at the “World Record Crowd Noise” (brought to you by the people who have killed crowd noise). We don’t take part and the attempt fails. And even worse than this, “Kiss Cam” where the camera pans the crowd and zooms in on couples – or people sitting next to each other who might, possibly, be couples – and the spruiker who should be in prison urges them to kiss. What kind of sexual harassment shit is this?
Then the live music starts, which isn’t great, except for Paul Kelly who is. Then Up There Cazaly which goes a lot better than Williamson singing Waltzing Mathilda and then the banners go up and ours is distressingly bad – something like “add another to the collection.” A bland and complacent banner if ever we saw one. Then the anthem and then the game.
Our nerves are totally stuffed by now. We’re tired as hell and close to losing it. A good close game of footy is the last thing we want.