Eight minutes to go in the last quarter with Richmond holding the slimmest lead, did anyone at the MCG think we’d win? Honest answers, please. Do you think Damien Hardwick, leaving the coach’s box for the boundary to try anything to break what seemed our wretched fate, do you think he thought we’d win? Do you think any in the cheer squad – TV cameras cutting to their forlorn countenance, to confirm a tired narrative of Richmond heartbreak – do you think they’d think we’d win? Do you think any in the club’s marketing department, any of the players’ friends and wives and girlfriends and parents, any of the fitness staff, the club’s property steward, the good doorman who drives up from Bacchus Marsh to man the rooms, the water-carriers on the boundary, the assistant coaches, Jake King on the bench in a red vest, the club’s Twitter guy, its new president Peggy O’Neal – do you think any of them thought we’d win?
A minute earlier, when Bryce Gibbs caressed the ball through the goals with a kick weighted exquisitely from the boundary pocket, to reduce the margin to seven points, do you think even the players thought we’d win? Honest answers, please.
And yet, and yet, and yet… we won!
Dusty dribbled a goal at the very death, at the other end, and it was as a punctuation mark sending us into delirium. Every able-bodied Richmond fan was on their feet. Strangers were hugged. Beer was spilt. Tears were shed. Fists were clenched. Stomachs unknotted. We have not known joy like this for the longest time. In a one-on-one contest before the goals, clear in space, the ball bouncing and two men twisting and turning – as if in slow-motion, as if all the night’s drama were distilled in this moment – our man was Dusty, and our hearts fluttered, knowing this night was ours.
We won! We won! We won!
It was our night of euphoria and blessed relief. Our night to stand in the aisles and sing our song like never before. Our night to skip home, eager for the replay. Our night when hardly could we sleep, thrilled to be alive, gladdened to know we wake in the morning and our spirits would sing.
Here was the type of win – with an unknowable belief when all seemed lost – that seasons can be made of. Both for the team, and for all us fans.
Tiger Tiger Burning Bright has housekeeping.
We’ve ambitions for this year and if we set them free, we hope they’ll come true. For us all, it’s easiest if they’re listed. Each is a box, needing to be ticked. None are unreasonable.
- TTBB is forming a David Astbury Appreciation Society (DAAS). This was mooted before last Thursday’s game (on Twitter, I’d put out expressions-of-interest), but can now be confirmed. Dave is our man. He has all the makings of a fine footballer. Poise. Athleticism. Courage. Character. The society will arrange a trip to Tatyoon. We will report on his local footy club. We will inquire about his upbringing. We trust he will play every game this year. We are in the process of organising office bearers and a patron. We hope to fund our activities by producing limited-edition DAAS T-shirts. We hope all will contribute.
- TTBB wants a coffee with Dimma. At my home, at his place, in a café. Statistics will not be discussed (how many hard-spoon gets into the sugar bowl). We will talk instead about fatherhood, about ideas of masculinity, about being forty-something, about getting the best from a group of young men. It would be half-an-hour of his life. It would mean the world to me, and to the many fans who read this blog.
- TTBB would like to be photographed between Bachar Houli and Nick Vlastuin. See About Us for details.
- TTBB would be eternally thankful if associates of Richmond’s ‘Grog Squad’ were to pass the hat and collect spare change for a spare ticket to the footy. See Tiger Love for details. I’ll stand at the back.
- TTBB wants Dusty to win the Brownlow, this year.
- TTBB wants Liam McBean to play a game, this year.
- TTBB wants us to beat Collingwood.
- And Geelong.
- TTBB needs a Conca cuddle.
- TTBB wants rain on the day we play Hawthorn.
- TTBB wants us to win a final, in September’s second half.
- Last season, many of my most enjoyable times at the football were with strangers, including Richard from Adelaide, Dave from Splitters Creek, and Troy Chaplin’s parents, who drive down most weekends from Maryborough. This season, TTBB would like to sit at the footy with the parents or partner of another Richmond player. We have no preference, but if Megan Gale isn’t available, we like the idea of the Griggs, Ellises or Vlastuins. Again, see Tiger Love for details.
- TTBB would be much obliged to sit with any supporters who might have a spare ticket (if it must be in a corporate box with smoked salmon canapés, so be it).
- TTBB wants for a guardian angel. For at least one game, he wants to sit in the cheer squad, behind Trout.
I’m not as nervous as previous years, wrote B2 on the Tigers v Blues Gameday thread on the Punt Road End fan forum.
I only vomited twice this morning.
May the football gods shine on our poor tormented souls tonight added Tigerflag2008.
Really really concerned about tonight……
Two years ago, on the morning of the season’s opening game, The Age newspaper published an op-ed piece I wrote that began:
“Last week I paid $185 in an exercise of hope. I’ll know soon if it was money well spent. Funds were from the family budget, although not altogether with my partner’s blessing. She says the product’s faulty and causes despair. Certainly, it has a record of loss-making. Last week I spent perfectly good money on membership of the Richmond Football Club.”
Two years ago, in my first autumn back in Melbourne after years of living north of the Barassi Line, I could hardly breathe before the season’s first game. I was spent. The occasion got the better of me.
Two years ago, my partner knew little about football, and cared even less. We met in Sydney, late in the last season of my playing days. I had been concussed. She worked at a university, as a historian. Soon after our introduction, she wrote a book about the hopes of African Americans in Harlem in the inter-war period. We moved to Melbourne for her work. This city’s obsession with its winter pastime left her bemused.
All changed last winter. With her blessing, and support, she allowed me to indulge in my passion for Richmond. She subsidised me. She looked after our two young boys while I was at games. She encouraged me to keep writing, even though my efforts seemed at times to be discouraged by the club. She did more to support Richmond than anyone I know.
And then, in the balm of Thursday night, the air thick with humidity, something happened that’s not happened before: we went to the football together. I still can’t believe it. Ours were plum seats, on the second level of the Great Southern Stand, in the reserved 3121 coterie section (tickets courtesy of the Capital Tigers Supporters Group – more about that later), with perfect viewing of the game’s first four goals; to Titch, Brandon, Dusty and Cotch. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
“I’m your lucky charm,” she turns and says to me.
It’s our night out, and my goodness it’s fun. Tyrone kicks his first goal – after his push-and-shove before the bounce, after his head knock, after all the criticism levelled at him since the Gold Coast game – and relief is palpable. High-fives are shared among team mates. Reece Conca gives him the obligatory cuddle. Nick Vlastuin spears a pass to Lids, who goals from outside 50, and the TV cameras cut to Malthouse – the white-haired old sage – and he looks flustered. Dusty looks as strong as an ox; unbeatable whenever the ball is delivered to his advantage.
Applause for Dylan Grimes in the second quarter is so crisp when he punches the ball and runs it to the boundary, it sounds like hailstones on a metal roof. When Brandon Ellis sizes up his second shot, and waits… and waits… and bang – goals from the boundary from distance, all those with yellow-and-black hearts see the future and see it looks good. Jack takes a great pack mark. “Dusty one-on-one,” yells a man beside me. “YOU’RE NOT GONNA BEAT HIM!”
Last week I held out my cap for a ticket, and readers of TTBB responded generously. On Thursday afternoon I rode my bicycle through pouring rain – passing Punt Road and the MCG – to a city building where I met a lovely woman who had two surplus tickets she could give me. I could’ve kissed her, but it would’ve been awkward. I was hot, sweaty, wet.
I told her how I had arranged for babysitters (thanks dad, aunty Sar!), and my partner was coming along. It was our date night, at the footy.
Darren Crick, president of the Capital Tigers Supporter Group, then contacted me, also offering spares. A sponsor of theirs couldn’t attend; he had two tickets in the 3121 section, with access to the Hassett, Ryder and Miller Rooms, where Dale Weightman was interviewing Mark ‘Wilbur’ Williams, Dan Jackson and Ivan Maric before the game. When it rains, it pours.
Phone calls were made and I found a willing taker for the other seats. We put our boys to bed, strode to the station, and made it to the ground just in time to take a ‘selfie’ – and pinch ourselves – before the first bounce. Never mind we missed the pre-match speeches, we made it to the ball game.
At half-time I took my partner down to the ground, behind the goals, to meet Trout in the cheer squad. We found our way back to a 3121 bar just as ‘Flea’ was finishing interviewing Kel Moore. I asked the former player why he wasn’t Richmond’s runner anymore, and he said something about a new business venture keeping him busy on weekends.
Malcolm Irvine, president of the Gippsland Richmond Supporter Group, came over and said hello, and explained he couldn’t hear most of what was said in the interview, but picked up that he’d bought into a pub somewhere in Richmond. If any TTBB readers know of which boozer, please let me know. We might be looking for a venue to launch our David Astbury Appreciation Society.
My partner and I shared a beer as the game resumed. It was full-strength, in a glass. “Tell Darren I thank him for that,” she said.
“Jesus, MORRIS, get ON HIM! Ya four yards OFF HIM!”
Halfway through the third quarter and the mood within the coterie group shifts. As generous as some are in their support for the club, they can be brutal in their appraisal of players. I’ve always paid general admission. Rarely have I sat among such a partisan crowd. There was no moderating influence of opposing views. It doesn’t help that umpiring decisions go against us. Richmond people jump on our players when they make mistakes. At times, it makes me uncomfortable. It’s like a blood sport.
Then with four minutes left in the third quarter, wondering still who’ll stand up for the Tigers, I lose my composure, joining the chorus of complaint.
I had watched our game against Gold Coast in country Victoria (at my mother’s house in Camperdown, in Paul Broderick country) and identified two moments when the game was lost.
The first was with 6.04 left in the third quarter – the match at a stalemate, us five-points down – and from a goal kick-out, Dusty went long to the centre square to a two-on-one in our favour. Chris Newman was at the drop, against Clay Cameron on debut, with Shane Edwards in support. We had the upper hand, so long as the ball got to Titch. Instead, Cameron sized up the danger and outmuscled Newie in the contest – he went to ground – punching the ball back from where it came, into the arms of Jaeger O’Meara (gun No. 2), who slipped a handball to Gary Ablett (gun No. 1), who goaled (the first for the quarter).
The second fatal play was five minutes into the last, when Ricky Petterd on our forward 50 misjudged the ball’s trajectory, watching it land in the arms of Dion Prestia, who took off down the wing, had three bounces, and centred to Sam Day who had the sit on Astbury. He goaled. “Terrific slingshot footy,” said Richo. Gold Coast was home.
With four-minutes left in the third on Thursday night, it was déjà vu. Petterd again misjudged the ball’s flight on our forward 50; it got over the back and into the arms of Chris Yarran, who took off through the centre, had three bounces, and kicked to the advantage of Jarrad Waite, ahead of Astbury. Thank goodness his set shot missed.
“PETTERD’S MADE THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE,” I exclaim, to no-one in particular. The night had gotten to me. I couldn’t believe Dimma had let this happen again. Our player under the ball, and over-committing, and opening up the play for them.
When Lachie Henderson, from behind a mark in the last quarter, kicked to the top of the square to an unattended Troy Menzel, I was ropeable. In my mind, we were condemned. The game was over. Nothing good could come of Richmond. No wonder so many pity us.
Never have I known a last quarter like it. We were consumed by the fear of failure. Our forward line vanished. Our midfielders largely went missing. Stevie Morris – who had so many wonderful games last year, and is such a much-loved warrior – was having another of his recurring navy blue nightmares. Carlton had all the run, all the playmakers, all the shots on goal. The TV cameras cut to Trout, in the cheer squad with his luminous yellow wig, looking like a clown readying for tears.
Those around us turned their barbs from the players, to our coach. At least one party upped and left, unable to endure the torment. “Outcoached again,” said a man behind me, as if offering his opinion for others to approve.
I sought comfort instead in identifying players who’d stand up in adversity. I needed something to believe in.
Shaun Hampson in the ruck, and Matt Thomas around the stoppages, have each now strung together two commendable games for their new club. Bachar Houli kept running hard all night, as he always does, and was fearless at the contest, and on the most critical kick of the night – our kick-in with minutes remaining, us six points up – he was the man entrusted with the responsibility. There is bravery in taking that kick, and rarely is it acknowledged. The ball is slippery, the ground heavy, the game at a crux, and all eyes are on you. There’s no safety net, nowhere to hide.
No single turning-point swung the game back our way. It was a series of little events; their missed chances and – with scores level – our will to win supplanting a fear of defeat. Once they drew level, the psychology of the contest altered. A pause took hold. If we weren’t winning, we no longer had anything to lose.
Into this void led Jack Riewoldt, hunting down the field in pursuit of the ball – to retain possession – and jumping for his marks as if life depended on it. It lifted those around. When all others looked leaden-footed, it was Jack who had the spring, followed by Ricky Petterd and his game-saving leap into a contest in defence, and Ben Griffiths floating across packs, searching for the ball.
Elsewhere, Nick Vlastuin mopped-up across half-back, repelling their attacks, with his composed and calming demeanour. Matt Thomas willed himself to contests. Jack kept jumping. And out of nowhere, and after a sequence of mishaps from Titch (a dropped ball, an air swing, a tumble – all encapsulating the error-prone caper of our second half), it was the big man, Tyrone Vickery, who toe-poked a kick through for an ungainly goal. It was to be the winner. It summed up his night. He was dreadful, he was brilliant. He was a whipping boy, he won us the game. He looked disinterested, he was in the thick of it.
Friday morning’s newspaper listed Cotchin, Vickery, Thomas, Edwards, Ellis, Martin and Deledio as Richmond’s best – but don’t always believe what you read in a papers.
From our seats – numbers 12 and 14 (with unluckiness absent from getting between us) in row F, bay N14 – the two players who stood tallest for longest on Thursday were Ben Griffiths and our man Dave Astbury. And what a treat it was! Griff’s game was all the more exemplary considering he dropped an uncontested mark late in the first quarter to create Carlton’s second goal. It can be a lonely and cruel place, the middle of the MCG. It can bury a man’s heart.
When Griff goaled early in the second, applause was generous. Richmond people were happy for him, they were happy for us. As the game tightened, he only loosened his constraints. He glided across packs. He got his hands on it. No other Richmond player took nearly as many contested marks. And when he marked above a contest in the dying minutes, deep in our defence, here was our Leo Barry moment. It may only be March, but for us troubled Richmond fans, we take small mercies wherever they’re found.
This season is open for Ben Griffiths to make of it what he will.
And Dave Astbury was a pillar down back. With Alex Rance absent and Troy Chaplin down on confidence (a double-fisted punch when he could have claimed possession, spilled marks, doubts that beset a man who’s played so much football – but we back him, he’s a professional) – the slack was filled by Astbury. He is tall, agile, holds his feet, backs himself, and puts his head over the ball studiously when kicking. He doesn’t take his opportunity for granted. He won contests when outnumbered. He took 10 marks. He stood Carlton’s most dangerous tall forward. He looked to make the play. Now he’s set a standard for himself, there’s nothing stopping him doing it each week.
In the end, it all came down to Dusty, and his cameo, his wiggling fingers, and our delight.
On Friday afternoon, James Taylor, who last week was the first to post a comment on this season’s new TTBB (we thank him – along with Skippy in the forward pocket, and Cheryl), sent an email.
“How good was that?” he asked.
“I think in all the excitement I may have proposed to Dustin, but who cares?”
In warm night air after the game, walking from the arena, sweaty under the arms, feeling light-headed with victory, the woman who’d given me tickets sent a tweet.
“Your wife has become our talisman,” she said.
“First game at the G and we get a win”.
It was a night so many of us will never forget.
Tiger tiger burning bright