News flash: I’m off to the Dreamtime game this Saturday with Chris Rees – creator of the Richmond Virtual Duffle Coat, Maurice Rioli artwork, the famous Bones McGhie tee – standing in the outer, offering homemade halftime ‘Bachar Houli’ babaganoush. For recipe, details and reasoning, see end section. Join us, to share the Tiger love.
Interviewed by Dennis Cometti, in the rooms before the Collingwood game, the four walls closing in as a season faltered, vice-captain Brett Deledio had this to say about Damien Hardwick:
“The coach has been fantastic. You can’t ever question how he treats us and respects us as players. We know he’ll always have our backs and back us in. You could never question Dimma’s love for us and want for us to play better footy.”
On Footy Classified on the Monday prior, Caroline Wilson said she thought Hardwick would lose his job at year’s end. Wilson is an award-winning journalist – on so many issues a voice of reason in football – with a rich Richmond pedigree. Her father, Ian Wilson, was president of the Richmond Football Club from 1973 to 1985, a connection that at Punt Road opens many doors.
Ian Wilson, a club life member, is probably esteemed at Tigerland, for his role in the club’s premiership ‘golden years’. And yet still, in my mind, there is a counter view. Club statesmen like Wilson and Graeme Richmond, for fans like me, fans of a particular age who’ve never really had all the September glory, men like these were also wrecking balls.
In good times and bad, till death do us part, us Richmond people have followed our team. So many flew over to see the game on Sunday night; there were familiar faces in the cheer squad, phone texts chimed all night. Last September, for the final against Port at Adelaide Oval, I was part of maybe the largest interstate pilgrimage in Australian sporting history.
We came by plane, by car, by train, by bus; as a convoy. We left the ground, wearing our colours with pride, regardless of the result. We love our team, our players, our colours, our culture, even our history of heartbreak. However we could find a way, we got ourselves to the game.
Ian Wilson was at the helm of Richmond in good times and bad. As a leader, he cannot only claim the plaudits of the halcyon days. He was also at the wheel during our fall. Ian Wilson presided over the club when it was brought to its knees. Five years after he left, fans were left to rattle tins.
Jake Batchelor kicked the opening goal late on Sunday afternoon, drifting into the forward line to find himself on the end of what is now commonplace Shane Edwards creativity, a beautiful handball into space, and we could hardly recognise him. He had cut off his long hair for this game. It was an occasion. He now looks like the kind of old-fashioned footballer so many of us admire. Nothing flash. As much as we love Shane Edwards’s flair, and Jack’s pomp, and Alex Rance’s regal demeanour, we always respect a hard-working, blue-collar player; the lot of the toiler.
Jake Batchelor returned to the side in last season’s second half, and along with the then rookie-listed Anthony Miles, played a pivotal role in our revival. But last year, he left his worst game until last. I’m not sure he had a single, meaningful, possession in the final against Port Adelaide. He was subbed off the ground.
Last Sunday he took Titch’s handball and kicked the opening goal, then wheeled from the players and pumped both fists. He was pleased with himself, and justifiably so. This meant more than a goal. Here was sweet redemption. We all shared in his pleasure.
Steve Morris played his season’s best game on Sunday, putting behind him indifferent form that led up to last year’s Elimination final. His has been the most public of career changes: from small defender to lock-down forward. Results have been mixed, but signs encouraging. These past few weeks, he has kept ticking boxes.
None could deny his effectiveness on Sunday, returning to Adelaide where he once plied his trade in the SANFL for West Adelaide (winning a B&F before being recruited to Richmond). He flashed into the television footage, down low and hard, reckless with his body, a human cannon ball. All us Richmond people willed him to kick that goal. Not for us – we wanted it for him, for Stevie, our warrior who made such an impact when he first burst onto the AFL scene.
At a time when the game was still in the balance, still there to be won, when legs were heavy with fatigue and minds weighted with a fear of loss, it was our smallest forward who led hard and straight and with conviction. Morris wanted the ball; he wanted to make a difference. In good times and bad, he took the game on.
Public opinion, the voice of the crowd, looks to have transformed “the Richmond way”. Gone is the sideways kicking, the slow build-up, the crabbing, the long daisy-chains of handball. Against Collingwood, from the centre, led by our captain, when in doubt we looked to bang the ball on our boot, get it going long and forward and quickly, and see what happens. And what happened is our forwards had a sniff.
The court of public opinion says Damian Hardwick got it wrong by moving Alex Rance – our most confident playmaker, and our best defender – into the centre square. Our back-six looked awry. We coughed-up goals. They got the jump and a blowout beckoned.
But a counterpoint is that this unorthodox move may just resurrect our season. Something needed to change. We needed a catalyst. A shake-up was required.
The team was in a rut; and if you keep doing the same things, invariably the same results will follow.
Public sentiment says the move didn’t work. But maybe it did. Rance was switched back into the backline and all at once every player responded with a greater fluency and assuredness. They became unburdened; liberated, freed of an unknowable constraint.
The move of Rance – an experiment – unlocked something. The players found “a Richmond way” that was daring – maybe even strong and bold – that was all about taking the game on when opportunities arose.
Caroline Wilson had offered a very public rebuke of Hardwick on the Monday before the Collingwood game. For that week, Hardwick’s job may have felt as though it might be measured by the volume of a cardboard box. For a coach, as with a player, it is all about the performance on the field, on match day. If results run against you for long enough, all the office trinkets – the family photos, the mementos, the coffee mugs, maybe even the stapler – get put away in a box and carried home.
In the days of Ian Wilson, that was another of the “Richmond ways”.
Before our loss to Footscray, Richmond fan Matt Stanford sent a photograph of a picture plate his son had made, memorialising a past recent win against the Western Bulldogs. All the colours were there, and the blades of grass, and the shape of the ground, and the final score: 80 to 150. We were almost twice as good as them.
Matt Stanford is a graphic designer, with his own blog, on which (under the headline, ‘The importance of belonging’) he has said this:
I belong to the Tigers. I’ve loved them for almost 30 years of continued, unending heartache and disappointment, but still I belong and always will. That I have paid a membership this year won’t really affect how they play in the slightest, way less than my vote counts in a state or federal election. What they mean to me is almost irrelevant; it’s just that they’re my team.
Matt’s young son is also, presumably, a Tiger. He made a plate that immortalises a game. Like many Richmond fans, I remember that game – where I was, how I watched it – and I remember laughing – yes, laughing – at the skills of Trent Cotchin. He turned them inside out. It was as if he was playing with his own ball. If there were 10 Brownlow votes on offer that afternoon, he got them all. It was the most perfect performance I have ever seen from Cotch.
In the first quarter of the Collingwood game two weeks ago, I stood in the outer with Tigers man Michael Green. No, not that Michael Green; not the former Richmond ruckman and four-time premiership player. This one is a fine freelance journalist – full of ethics and integrity – with a gentle manner, who has a sideline business in baking sourdough bread for his neighbours in Carlton.
He turned to me, as the goals went against us in the first quarter, as all the traffic was one-way, and said it was sad. His lament was for these young and fit men, these fine athletes in the prime of their life, who didn’t look as though they were enjoying what they were doing. For them, the fun had gone out of the game.
In good times and bad, us Richmond people know it is more than a game. It is a passion, a longing, a dream, a hope that one day the wind will forever be at our backs. A hope that one day, we will all be happy, together.
All of us know how good Shane Edwards has been this year. A TTBB team player, Andy Fuller, wrote a careful and considered piece about Titch and football in North Adelaide, that is worth revisiting in the week prior to the Dreamtime spectacle.
On Twitter, Shane Edwards responded to Andy’s writing, in kind. “Couldn’t be more humbled with the piece you wrote,” he said. “I really appreciate the kind words about me and my family. Loved the art.”
It wasn’t on the field of play, and yet it’s been one of my season’s highlights, so far.
As was the game against Collingwood, with the introduction of Liam McBean and Connor Menadue – welcomed onto the big stage for all of us to see, the FUTURE – with the clutch goals to Deledio, and the leadership games by Cotch and Ivvy and Dusty and Jack.
There’s been disappointment this season, but now there is hope. It comes with Kamdyn McIntosh and his loping stride, with the work-rate and level-headedness of Shaun Grigg, and with Nick Vlastuin and his fearlessness. How old is Vlastuin? I can only see good things ahead for him; wonderful things ahead.
There was Kamdyn’s first game, and the complete team efforts of these past two late Sunday afternoons, and our world has now lifted and our spirits dance.
After Connor Menadue kicked his first goal in league football – wrap yourself in glory, son! – was there any able-bodied Richmond fan not standing in adulation and delight? Such a beautiful kick; so straight and deliberate and elegant; as dramatic as a falling dagger. It dropped into the goals; it broke their hearts and made ours soar.
Can there be a better moment all season? On Monday morning I found myself looking at the footage, over and over again, and freeze-framing the players’ celebration. I look at the image and I cannot help but smile. It makes all us Richmond fans happy. The togetherness of the players brings us together, also. Eighteen Richmond players in a knot of delight, with Menadue in the middle. It is his moment. He made them as one.
In this frame, only Nick Vlastuin stands apart, No. 31, as if marshalling the troops, his back to the centre square, this young man who one day will captain this football club. I believe one day he might also coach it.
Barracking for a footy club, whether you like it or not; it’s all about togetherness, in good times or bad.
What Brett Deledio said about Damien Hardwick – unscripted, candid, without hesitation – ends any speculation about his tenure. He has the faith of his players, he has their loyalty. They might bare their souls for him, walk through the desert for him, climb the highest mountain for him, go into war for him. It is a symbiotic relationship. He has earned their trust, because they believe he has their best welfare – as players, as young men finding their way in the world – at heart.
I look through the list and think of all the senior team regulars, only Jack Riewoldt might question the motives of his coach. But this is a full-forward’s prerogative. And Jack has shown he doesn’t necessarily need the backing of Hardwick. He plays for the team, and he understands what the game means to us fans.
I love it when Jack speaks on the ground, immediately after a game. Among all the clichés in football, it’s like he’s some kind of truth-teller. It’s as if he plays on our behalf, and he speaks on our behalf, and that is all we need to know.
This week, I’m grilling six eggplants on the barbeque – the ‘back six’ I’m calling them: Grimes, Batch, Chappy, Rance, etc – and scooping out the flesh, adding tahini, salt, oil, a squeeze of lemon, for a big batch of homemade babaganoush. It is the Dreamtime game, yes, but I am making it in honour of Bachar Houli.
It is nothing special. I have always made babaganoush when holding a party, and after the past two Dreamtimke flops, I am hoping this Saturday night is a party.
Sometimes it is written in the stars. I have a long history of falling in love with women with Egyptian eyes; it is just the way it is. And likewise, I have a long history of burning eggplants until their skin chars and splits. More recently, I have a history of admiring Bachar Houli, a former Essendon player, as an athlete, a footballer, a role-model, a mentor, a man.
I will pack the homemade ‘Bachar Houli’ babaganoush in my vintage yellow-and-black Polar Pack and bring it to the footy in tubs, with rice crackers.
If you can, please come and join Chris and myself at half-time, on the ground level standing room above Bay M50 in the Olympic Stand, by the aisle that’s right beside the gates to the MCC. All welcome, including any injured Richmond players, or coaching staff in need of half-time sustenance.
Chris will hopefully be wearing his new Maurice Rioli t-shirt. I will be in my Tiger hoodie.
It’s a little soiree that we like to call Richmond.
Tiger tiger burning bright