“It’s a passion, and being part of something bigger than you,” says Ryan Seecull, 29, a Department of Finance policy analyst fresh from work on the Federal Budget, but for now a Tigers’ fan on his way to the game. “Singing the song after a big win, really there’s nothing better you could do.”
At 9.32am on Saturday, I caught a bus from Canberra – the country’s political heart – travelling north on the Federal Highway to a game held in the swing seats of western Sydney , and never before have I met such a disparate group of supporters made as one by the game and our club. As with the capital itself, here was an intriguing commingling of ideas, passion and life histories, joined for a single issue, and a cause all of us believe in.
From Northbourne Avenue, passing Lake George, Collector, Goulburn, Marulan, Mittagong, Campbelltown, on our way to Homebush Bay, all on board were stuck on Richmond.
“I flew down for Tommy Hafey last week,” says Seecull, who grew up in San Remo, near Phillip Island, and at school at nearby Newhaven College remembers when Hafey spoke to Year 10 students. “Maybe my support is a sort of homesickness. It’s a desire to belong to something that’s always been a part of my life.”
On the bus on Saturday morning I joined with the Capital Tigers Supporter group, a band of displaced barrackers in a city with no team, and never before have I been among a Richmond crowd with such diverse life-stories, together as one.
“We’ve given Richmond people in the region a reason to gather,” says the groups’ president, Darren Crick, the son a boiler inspector who grew up watching his dad play on Saturday afternoons for the Gormandale Tigers in the North Gippsland Football League. “We’re a new supporter group, so we’re still finding our way and creating a link to the club. We’ve established a small community of supporters that we hope will grow as the word gets around.”
Jack Riewoldt ought to catch public transport more often. “Journeys are the midwives of thought,” wrote armchair philosopher Alain de Botton on ‘The Art of Travel’. “Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.”
To travel is to reflect, to ponder, to dream of what could be, of how many goals could be kicked.
All Richmond players ought to invest in a Myki. Catching a train or tram in Melbourne is a great leveller. It allows commuters to engage in a public space, to see their city from another vantage, to mingle with strangers. But it creates also a forced think-time, a moment of introspection.
Never before have I seen Jack’s hands so quick and sure. He was beaut to watch on Saturday. All Richmond fans who travelled to Spotless Stadium realised early in the game they were in for a treat. Jack was on. He had been publicly slighted. He was a lightning rod for all last week’s disappointments. And now on the field, he was here to let his football do the talking. It was a pleasure, a privilege to watch. For all Tigers in attendance, it was like a private party. Then in the last quarter, he pulled out a trick. Rather than chasing more records, he kicked backward to his captain.
There you go – whattya think of me now?
On the road, driving up the Hume, I hear wonderful stories about a love for Richmond, and a connection to a game that knits people together.
There’s Cassandra Hall, 51, whose father Len played centre-half-back for Melbourne High before kicking 26 goals for the Richmond reserves in 1959, then playing in Oakleigh before his job as a bank clerk took him to Heyfield; a star recruit in the Latrobe Valley League. Cassandra was born in the old timber town, with early memories of away games at ovals in Sale, Maffra, Bairnsdale and Traralgon, returning home for spaghetti Bolognese and to watch the Saturday night VFL replay.
She moved to Melbourne to study medieval languages, lived in share houses in North Carlton, North Fitzroy and Northcote, and for a few years turned her back on football. Still, as a 19-year-old, she bought a $5 standing room ticket to the 1982 Grand Final, and went with her mother and young sis, Kirsten.
All changed in 1995. “I saw Wayne Campbell and I was just smitten,” she says. “Ever since that time I followed Wayne Campbell all the way through, all through those lean years. I just fell back in love with it.”
On the bus our conversation is about Chaucer, pilgrimage, historical fantasy, Celtic heritage, the Orkney Islands, Vikings, the shared and private grief of cancer, and the Cotch Crew. She’s a member. And she reads Old Norse, Old English and Middle English. I think this is wonderful.
Here is a dichotomy in our lives. After years of moving about, Cassandra has found herself in Narrabundah (“Canberra’s a much better size for me”), working as a live-in nanny (“after years of looking after a lot of children it’s just lovely to be one-on-one”), for friends who cannot understand our game. “Allan calls it barracking for footy,” she says.
For her, here is a belonging and something with a deep connection to family. “Once you get really devoted to a team, that’s your tribe,” she says. “You have something in common with other people, even though you might have nothing in common with them. I don’t watch any other games. It’s only Richmond.”
All about Saturday afternoon was a fabulous novelty. The balmy weather, a carnival atmosphere, spectators in shorts, one wearing a Hawaiian shirt with pink flamingos. Demountables doubled as ticket booths. The Giants theme song played out before the game, sounding like Russian marching music. There were children’s jumping castles within the ground, and motor-cross riders doing stunts on the ground afterwards. The Richmond banner was raised. The cheer squad, bless them, misspelled ‘Deledio’ on his 200th game. His vowels, they get confusing.
Steve Morris lined-up in a forward pocket (kudos to Hardwick for the switch, bouquets to Morris for making it work). Jack kicked goals. Martin and Thomas were like bulls at the ball. Griffiths led hard, taking strong grabs. Jack kicked another. McDonough gave run off the backline. Jack kicked more six-pointers. Vickery was in good positions. Jack slotted another. Rance mopped up across the back half, Chaplin found touch. Jack marked, and kicked straight. Ellis was everywhere, Conca was lively. And Jack was at the end of everything.
At half time I ate a kebab. Never have I watched a Richmond game feeling such relief, with such insouciance. Never have I seen Richmond play before such a small home-and-away crowd. In this boutique stadium, it added to the occasion. There was a sense of intimacy, a refreshing informality.
After so many weeks of disappointment, this felt like a party. My breath, it smelled of garlic.
I swap seats on the bus. I sit beside Sean Gourlay, 37, born in Adelaide, schooled in Tasmania (“I used to follow the Hobart Tigers”), and then moving to Duntroon. His dad played the tuba in the Army band. Sean’s a school teacher, but for now mostly a stay-at-home dad to Bella, 5, Evie (“turning three next week”), and Vivienne (“almost 11 months”). We share notes on house husbandry. I do more cooking, Sean has more children, our youngest were born on the same day. He joined as a Richmond member last year, and takes an active role on the Capital Tigers’ committee.
I meet Sandra Brown, who after years away working government jobs in indigenous affairs in Darwin and Canberra has taken a redundancy and is going home. “We’re driving down to Tasmania next weekend via the Dreamtime at the G game,” she says. “Our whole life revolves around the football.”
For her, Canberra was always a stopover, although after 12 years in the far north she says she’s come to love the city’s civic nature and its whereabouts. “We can do things like drive down to Wangaratta to watch the pre-season game against Collingwood,” she says. “And being part of this group has been really good value.”
I have a long chat with Richard Bollard, 54, a Canberra native who studied philosophy at La Trobe University, lived in a share house in Rowena Parade on Richmond Hill, and works now for the Australian Mathematics Trust. Out of hours, he’s a moderator on the Yellow and Black Richmond fan forum, where he’s known otherwise as “egg”.
“I tend to spend a lot of time on the site putting out fires,” he says. “Some see me as a cheerleader for the club.”
He explains terms such as “lurkers” (people like me who often read such sites but don’t post) and “spiders”, and we discuss “Gimme”, a much-appreciated regular correspondent with TTBB who has an occasional diary on yellow and black, and recently posted a heartfelt tribute to Tommy Hafey (among other things, it noted he was paid a record $25,000 wage in 1977 to coach Collingwood).
Also on the bus is Denis Boutcher, 57, born in Yass and now in Queanbeyan, who started following Richmond in 1969 (“one of my favourite players was Royce Hart”) and says he tries to get to Melbourne at least once a year for a three-game football weekend. And there’s Carol Anderson, a retired librarian, born in Bealiba near Dunnolly in central Victoria, who explains her Richmond affiliation thus: “I had this very nice head master at primary school”. A Tigers man, no doubt. And Greg Watt, 52, a ‘sparkie’ born in Brisbane to Melbourne parents (“mum lived up the road from Geoff Strang”) who’s a self-confessed sports tragic with a team in his chosen competitions (South Sydney, Brumbies, Manchester United, Oakland Athletics, Boston Celtics and the Pittsburgh Steelers, “because of the colours”).
But of all connections to Richmond, the story told by Justin Heycox, 41, I find the most intriguing. Born in Forster, on the central-north coast of New South Wales – rugby league heartland – he came to know about Richmond through one of his mother’s friends, who she played squash with. They were relocated Melbournians, Richmond people, and as a boy Justin found himself at their house watching the broadcast of a single VFL game on a Saturday afternoon on the New England Network channel. It was 1982. He was seven years old.
At school in Taree, he played soccer and like all his classmates had a league team. “But I also used to enjoy watching this black and gold team.”
Fast-forward to 1995 and he joined the Navy, and for four months in training was posted to HMAS Cerberus in Crib Point, and was associating with trainees from the southern states who spoke only of one sporting language. Soon after, his rugby league team, the North Sydney Bears, were subsumed by Manly in a lop-sided merger, and the die was cast.
He became a convert, and a Richmond fan, and his wife and three daughters know when his team is playing he is hardly worth talking to. “It was the passion of supporters and the size of the crowds that really opened my eyes to what sport is all about.”
Some points of interest about the game (apart from the Jack Riewoldt show – a denouement on this past week that just may rewrite the season’s script). Credit where it is due, Shaun Hampson showed he can play. We all knew he could tap-ruck, but at last he took marks around the ground. They were overhead, one was contested; they made a world of difference. Good on him for turning it around.
Matty Dea, the gloved-one, came into the team and looked immediately to belong. He is composed, has quick hands, is creative with the ball, and linked-up well with team mates. A spot in the back line is all his for the taking.
Here was a game that buoyed the confidence of the team because all got touches, all were involved. Bumps, tackles, blocks, bounces, punches – all the little things were done well, to create the bigger picture. Foley, Edwards, Houli, Lennon – all were busy, all were industrious. Stevie Morris got the fewest touches, but it doesn’t matter when you see how he mans a mark, arms flailing about, creating a spectacle of himself, a distraction, with loose strapping tape on his shoulder looking like an epaulette.
It was good also to see Deledio raised on shoulders and carried from the ground. He is a champion of ours; and this need be acknowledged. When this happens, I always note the bearers. It reveals playing group dynamics. On Saturday, the lift was orchestrated by the team’s oldest player, Nathan Foley. Under one leg was his good friend, and business partner, Shaun Grigg. Under the other was a player who most Richmond supporters have come to empathise with because, rightly or wrongly, he’s the one who most displays his emotions on the field, who most looks as though he cares. He’s also a greatest advocate for public transport.
At the game I spent time sitting with Cheryl Critchely, a keen Tigers woman (see http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/my-son-hates-footy/ for explanations) and ask about her advocacy work with the recently-formed AFLFA. I call by the cheer squad and buy a fund-raising pin badge, and ask about the whereabouts of Trout. I bump into Fran Doughton and her daughter Hattie, from the Sydney Richmond Tigers Supporter Group, and she says their pre-game function with Kevin Sheedy was a success. And by complete happenstance, I sit in front of Sean Ross, who also blogs about Richmond (see http://rfcramble.blogspot.com.au/), and who I looked up when I last watched Richmond play in Sydney.
And I spent half the game sitting with a friend who in school days was captain of Xavier’s 1st XVIII, a long and lean fellow – the Dylan Grimes type – who has half-back flank written all over him. The thought of his playing days I find of equal interest to his academic career in architectural history. With his young family, they’ve just moved up to Sydney for a plum job. He’s a Tigers’ man, married to a Tiger woman (also with a PhD, in history and medieval religion) with their two young Tiger children. Their eldest, Hanora, brings ‘Richo’ to the game, a handmade bear knitted by a great aunt.
It’s ‘Richo’s’ first trip to Spotless Stadium.
Big thank you to Darren Crick and Alison Neil (I wrote about her in a blog post last year) for the seat on the Capital Tigers bus. In coming weeks I’ll mention more about the quiet and generous work their committee does. They’ve been great supporters of TTBB. It was a marvellous way to get to the footy (although my note-taking was very much distracted by the replay on the bus TV monitor of the 1974 Grand Final – “many rate this as the Tigers best ever side,” says Ron Barrassi, in the introduction – and part replay of the 1969 Grand Final).
Two things: I would like to make this road trip an annual affair (they have another for the Swans game). And if all Richmond supporter groups – Ballarat, Geelong, Gippsland, Hobart, North Central Victoria, NW Tasmania, the cheer squad, Queensland, SE Melbourne, South Australia, Sunraysia, Sydney and Western Australia – were ever to gather at Punt Road for a big night of trivia, I know which table I’d join. This is of no disrespect to the cheer squad.
Tiger Tiger Burning (again) Bright
Punt Road End alias: grubberkick (I’m a ‘lurker’)
Yellow & Black alias: tigertigerburningbright (again, ‘lurker’)