When the banner is lifted, when Richmond players run onto the ground, when the crowd roars, Dugald Jellie’s heart skips a beat. He thinks it might be love. Here is his interpretation on a football season. Pre 2015 articles are archived here.
- 10 of the best: Brenda Palmer
- 10 of the best: Monty!
- ends & beginnings (& all the stuff in between)
- Short statement on Chris Rees’s sticker stocktake sale
- Stickers & friendships & togetherness
- Saturday afternoon Dusty dreaming
- The winning bit (& bumper stickers & The Tigers’ Almanac)
- Benny Round 11 v North Melbourne at Docklands
- On meeting St Francis & other things
- When it rains
- The sweet journey home
- Pick a fight with Dusty
- Maurice Rioli Dreaming - update
- A night to remember (how could we ever forget?)
- Some words about football (as catharsis)
- On loss (again), & chicken poo, and what it is to barrack
- Loss, death, war, and other things
- On the curse of Richmond
- The winning, oh, the winning
- Benny Round 1 v Carlton, MCG
- Longing, desire, a public declaration
- Four 'n' four
- Maurice Rioli dreaming
- What we think about, when we think about football
- On the Tiger Diaries & new beginnings
- A sports lovers’ book club (& reading guide) for Melbourne
- A last goodbye, for a Tiger
- Show us your colours (a long summer read)
Brenda is going okay.
She’s doing a lot of crosswords, and gardening, and watching replays of old footy games – presumably ones we won. (Does anyone watch replays of a game lost?).
I knocked on her door yesterday afternoon to surprise her with a delivery, five plump homegrown persimmons from two trees I planted for each of our boys.
She opened the door, called out my name – Dugald! – and this was Brenda: personable, matter-of-fact, warm-natured, engaging with the world, and in her slippers.
I asked for her photograph. “Wait a minute, I’ll do my hair”.
For all who don’t know, Brenda is maybe Richmond’s most fabulous supporter, although she’s known more widely as the longest-serving supermarket employee at Coles.
Or as she says: the “oldest check-out chick in Australia”.
You may have heard her on the radio, seen her on the TV, advocating for mature-age employees, for working until later life. She is a treasure, and a total character.
I first knocked on her door in the depths of the 2016 season, on a Sunday morning after a half-hearted Richmond loss the night before, and her pragmatism cheered me, her perspective, and back then I couldn’t imagine where we are now: two premierships and a pandemic, and me delivering a handful of persimmons to her door.
Since writing about her, a few things about Brenda I ought to share:
She’s now a sprightly 88.
A few weeks back, asking how she was, she said Coles have paid her not to work, news I found heartening. Her age and her job put her in a high-risk category for the virus. She is one in the community who needs to be especially cautious. She is also a great asset to her employer. To all of us. She teaches us things about ourselves, sets an example, shows us how a life can be lived. I am thankful to Coles for looking after her.
(And she tells me many customers have asked after her, asking when she’ll be back, concerned for her welfare).
After interviewing Brenda four years ago I returned and fixed her front gate. It’d dropped on its hinges. Needed to be lifted over the latch before it could be opened. When working, Brenda leaves home in the morning dark to start her early shift. I asked if it was a nuisance. She said it was. I returned on my bicycle, then rode to the hardware store for a few coach screws, and took me two goes at it, was a bit trickier than it looked, but it was done and now swings freely. She was grateful.
Late November I launched my new venture, Bowerbird Gardens, a calling to keep me gainfully employed, and many gathered in our back lane and Brenda came along with a few other Richmond friends – bless them all – and she interrupted my speech.
“I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” she told the crowd.
When I spoke with Brenda for her fan profile (republished, below), she said I told her how I’d once taken our two young boys to school by wheelbarrow (true), and had said if Richmond ever won a premiership I’d take her for a ride in it, too.
Was a promise made when I thought Richmond might never win another flag. Not in my lifetime, and certainly not in hers.
I have several wheelbarrows, I told Brenda and the crowd, and I was willing to uphold my promise and take her for a ride.
Where would you like to go?
Sharp as a tack, her reply: “Oh, I haven’t been to Albury for a while”.
One last thing about Brenda.
We vote for opposing political parties and probably always have and will.
When I visited her house she had a calendar on her fridge, from the then local Federal MP for Higgins. I commented on this. Her being a Liberal Party voter. Told her how my beliefs are at the other end of the political spectrum. She shrugged her shoulders, poured me a cup of tea. Was a nice brew.
I love the way football does this. It brings us together.
It reaffirms that despite all our differences – political outlook, belief systems, education and income levels – we are all roughly equal before the bounce of a ball. We all love the game, our club, it’s players, in much the same way.
These are things to hold onto in times like these.
I have much respect and admiration for Brenda, and surely always will, and know she is loved deeply by the broad church of the Richmond family.
Barrack for Brenda?
Where do you join the cheer squad?
Oh we’re from Tigerland: Brenda Palmer
Brenda Palmer, 84, “a Malvern girl”
Favourite all-time player:
Royce Hart – “There was always something happening when Royce Hart was on the field. A friend of mine who barracked for South Melbourne said to me, ‘when Royce Hart runs on the field he just speaks football’.”
Favourite current player:
Dustin Martin – “I love them all but there’s no one who stands out. I think I’ve got a fixation with who wears number four. Matty Rogers was the homecoming hero last week and I was very fond of him. I used to call him ‘dreamboat’. And I do have a real soft spot for Dusty.”
Half-time at the football on Saturday night, three goals down, a forlorn season on a precipice, and I find Brenda Palmer at her usual seat on the fence with a smile. The happiness comes with being there, with her family and friends. “Where there’s life there’s hope,” she says. “What they did in the first half, we can do in the second.”
Sunday morning and I knock on her door, where she’s lived for more than sixty years, beside where Kevin Sheedy’s childhood home, and she offers the perspective of someone who’s seen a bit of football in her time. She remembers Jack Dyer as a player (“he seemed to stand over everyone else”), the lean years of the 1950s (“before the miracle happened in Tommy Hafey”), and knows of all the grand finals and wooden spoons.
“We’re all hurting and feeling dejected,” she says. “But the sun will still come up in the morning.”
Listening to Brenda talk about football, about Richmond, about her family and her life, it’s a tonic. She offers the moderation of experience, of a full-life lived, of the pluck and tenacity of what it is to be a Tiger.
“In the last forty-odd years you could just about count it on one hand how many games I’ve missed in Melbourne,” she says.
Not surprising when you consider this: just after six o’clock each weekday morning she walks up to the Coles supermarket in Malvern to start her work shift. “They’ve worked out I’m the oldest check-out chick in Australia,” she says. She took a job when the store opened in July 1967, and 49 years later she’s a local celebrity, still serving customers.
Brenda Palmer (nee Schofield) was born in Deniliquin (Sam Lloyd country) in 1932, the youngest of five daughters (Mildred, Beryl, Sybil, Winifred) to a returned soldier, a builder by trade who moved his family to Melbourne in 1939 when war broke out. They bought a house near Malvern station and as a young girl, catching the train to the city, Brenda’s eye roved toward Richmond.
“Coming past in the train, I could see them in their yellow and black jumpers, and I thought it looked interesting, what those men are doing there,” she says. “I thought I’d come back one day to find out what it was all about.”
Return to the ground she did, as a teenager, when Captain Blood was still playing, when Melbourne’s suburban grounds were like churches, when Richmond was known still as ‘Struggletown’ and the game was played between hard men with bare knuckles. “Players back then had a bit of mongrel in them,” she says. “You don’t get anywhere being a gentleman all the time.”
Brenda married in 1952, to a grocer (“he was born and bred in Port Melbourne”) who on Sundays played football for the Graham Family Hotel, in Richmond’s colours on the Lagoon Reserve oval. Together they bought a house on the other side of Glenferrie Road, in Armadale, and family life took hold with three children and a busy social schedule.
It was Brenda’s only daughter, her eldest child, Carolyn, remembered fondly by all in Richmond’s cheer squad, who brought her back to the football. It was 1967 and their next-door neighbour, Kevin Sheedy, a De La Salle boy who played for the Prahran two-blues in the VFA, moved to Richmond amid controversy and Carolyn took her mother along to see him in the big league.
For the two of them, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“We were right on the cusp of a glorious era,” she says. “Sixty-seven, sixty-nine, seventy-three, seventy-two, we played in all those finals. It’s wonderful. You have to live through a period like that to know how wonderful it is.”
On Sunday morning, the sports pages of the newspaper spread on a table, Brenda makes a cuppa tea, and talks about football and I could listen all day. She says she liked visiting St Kilda’s old ground, the Junction Oval, and “the little Hawthorn ground”, both “just a tram ride away”. Of Glenferrie Oval, she says: “It was so small if they kicked it one way it landed on the railway line and if they kicked it the other way it landed in the street. And one day we were there it landed in the fish fryer.”
Her least favourite ground was Victoria Park. “It was like stepping into a different world going over there.”
She also didn’t much like visiting Kardinia Park. “It was never very friendly down there. They used to always open up the gates for all their members, and we would be the last in, and we had to sit in a designated section. And if there wasn’t enough room for us, well, bad luck.”
What she remembers most about Punt Road Oval, and the Western Oval, is the mud. “The Footscray ground was notorious for it,” she says. “The players would be so covered in mud you couldn’t even read their numbers or hardly tell who they were.”
In 1970 her daughter Carolyn met under-19s Richmond player Graham Gaunt at a BBQ at Punt Road Oval. Six years later they married, and Richmond literally became part of her family, and weekends were spent at the games, and afterwards at the clubrooms for player roasts and mock weddings and fundraising events.
“None of my family barrack for anything else except Richmond,” she says. “Except for my son Bruce’s wife, who says she barracks for Carlton, but she wouldn’t know what a football was. Almost the first word all the children say is ‘Tiger’. Half of them say it before they say ‘dad’ or ‘mum’.”
Of Richmond’s immediate concerns, she’s philosophical. Brenda has known good times and bad, and knows how quickly they can turn, and how life’s full of hurdles. In the past 10 years she’s lost her husband, Alan, two of her sisters, one of her sons, and a little more than two years ago her most loyal football companion, Carolyn, who died not long after being diagnosed with cancer.
But still there is the football, other family and friends, and her front row seat in the Olympic Stand pocket.
She said she has read some of the “nasty things” some Richmond fans have posted after Saturday night’s loss about the team or club on Facebook. “That’s not them, that’s the hurt coming out,” she says. “You’ve got to get rid of that hurt somewhere, and that’s how those people do it.”
Each room of her house is adorned with Richmond memorabilia, keepsakes, trinkets, with boxes full of badges and framed photographs, and there’s no doubting her loyalty to something that’s been a part of her life for the longest time. “For Richmond to be so unsuccessful since the early eighties and still have 70,000 members is a credit to both the club and the supporters.”
Brenda will be at the game on Friday night, as she always is. And like the rest of us, she hopes our performance against Hawthorn, with backs to the wall, is a credit to each and every player.
Children inherit the world. They are the future, our greatest hope.
They are seers and soothsayers, with a clarity of mind, an innocence, that might make anything possible.
The moon is made of cheese? Why not. Can we fly there? Of course, when we are ready.
A few footy seasons back I wrote a series of fan profiles published on the Richmond Football Club website. It was an exercise in community-building. Telling a story from the ground-up, one fan at a time.
Every football fan has a story, about the game, their club, and how it entwines with their life. It doesn’t really matter how passionate you are – there is no heart-fold test for such things – nor how long you’ve been a supporter.
The main thing is inclusion, and a sense of belonging.
In little ways, each week, it’s what these fan stories tried to do.
This season is one like no other. Winter beckons with no football. When it returns, as it must, it will be crowdless, which is something less than half the game. Can our heart really be in it without a crowd, without us?
Partly to fill this void, a space the game occupies in our minds, I’m pleased to revisit 10 of these profiles. Week-by-week, I’ll select the ones that resonated most with me, for whatever reasons. Maybe look the fans up again, tell a story behind the story.
There is no ‘best’ really, they all had meaning for me, but maybe these are the ones I might remember fondly for the rest of my days.
First up, Monty!
Why? Because in the eyes of a child there is clarity. Because as the regular season came to a close in 2017, he foresaw what would happen. He tipped it! He told me – us – Richmond would play Adelaide in the Grand Final before a finals game had even be played!
Then he went and made a banner saying we would be premiers!
He BELIEVED what most of us could only dare to dream.
This is the gift of a child. They are unencumbered by the weight of history. A ‘premiership drought’ meant nothing to him.
Where is he now? Home schooling, of course. Doing grade 3.
What does he like about home schooling? “You don’t have to be at school on time,” he tells his mum, who emails me. “You can go bike riding at recess and lunch. You can eat whatever you want.”
Are there any drawbacks, Monty?“I miss my friends a lot,” he says. “I miss talking to them and playing games with them. And my mum shouts sometimes because we are being silly and not doing our work at home.”
(Note to mum: as a home-supervising dad, I have just now raised my voice with a 6-year-old, a little refusenik).
Monty’s mum is an architect who has remade herself into an artist. I like this. A reinvention, a renewal. We can all learn from this. Every footballer is only a footballer when they are playing the game, then they become something else. And each of us anyway, have different parts to our lives.
Monty and his mum made art the other day, part of the home-schooling process. He painted a love heart. It was an exercise in which he had to express how he feels about his favourite piece of music.
And what was it? Clue, it begins:
Oh, we’re from Tigerland…
Oh we’re from Tigerland: Monty Anderson
Monty Anderson, five years old, wide-eyed, alive to all the game’s possibilities, just might be the future of the Richmond Football Club. If so, it’s future burns bright.
Monty Anderson, 5, Prahran Junior Football Club
Favourite Richmond player
Jack Riewoldt – “He’s a good kicker. He can kick fifty metres.”
Monty (on his older brother): “He’s more a dinosaur and animal person.”
Campbell (on Monty): “He’s definitely a sportsman. He wants to be a Richmond footballer. We have a million balls outside.”
Welcome to the wonderful world of five-year-old Monty Anderson. He barracks for Richmond. Loves the game. Has Richmond player cards arranged carefully on the first sleeve of his footy book. Knows all their numbers. Jack is his favourite. Then Sam Lloyd and Alex Rance.
“Number eighteen. Fullbackman”.
Monty’s off to the game this Sunday and is sure they’ll win.
Life’s nearly perfect. But there is the pesky problem of his older brother. That’s Campbell. He’s seven years old, in grade two, is missing his two front teeth, and is sometimes a bit annoying. It’s not that he doesn’t share his toys. He does that. The problem is he goes for Hawthorn. Yes, Hawthorn. Why, Campbell, why?
“Because they won three premierships in a row.”
Oh, Mister Monty, our flaxen-haired future, our great hope, how glorious it must be to be five years old at the football, with those big brown eyes of yours, sitting with mum or dad, enthralled by the size of it all, an open book of curiosity, and blessedly so unknowing of all the emotional scars to have beset so many Richmond supporters.
Through a child’s eyes, anything is possible. Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, a Richmond premiership…
Beyond bedtime: Monty and Campbell and their friend Will at the Anzac Eve night game against Melbourne.
I meet with Monty and his brother – and their parents, Cressida and Dave – on Saturday morning after Auskick to talk football and Richmond. It is, in Monty’s words, a simple story: “In Sydney, we supported the Sydney Swans, but when we came to Melbourne, Campbell supported the Hawks and I supported Richmond and mummy and daddy still supported Swans.”
His parents elaborate.
Two-and-a-bit years ago, Cress and Dave moved from Sydney to Melbourne for work, and soon after they learnt of ‘footy colours day’ at their local primary school. Dave, a burly Scotsman raised on a dairy farm halfway between Dundee and Aberdeen, and a former rugby union second-rower, suggested their eldest boy wear his Waratahs top. Cress thought otherwise.
“We’re in Melbourne now,” she says. “I didn’t want him ostracised just yet.”
So, lunchtime in a new city and Dave’s life depended on sourcing a Swans top for a five-year-old. Cress is a native Sydneysider. That’d be their team. The matter was solved. All he needed was a Sydney top. In Melbourne.
Two sports stores later, he found the goods. “I bought one for Campbell,” he says. “But I couldn’t buy for one boy and not the other, and the shop assistant upsold me, so I left with two Swans tops and two Swans shorts and two pairs of Swans socks, and a ball each.”
Both boys left home the following morning in gleaming red-and-white, socks pulled knee-high. A proud father returned from work that night, keen to find out how it went.
“‘Oh, it was good daddy’, replied Campbell, ‘but I actually support the Hawks, and Monty said, ‘daddy, I support Richmond’.”
Turns out Monty had already chosen his team. A child’s elastic mind, it knows what it wants.
“He’d been doing a lot of research in the post office with the songs,” says his mum, Cress.
While she was posting mail, a little Monty sampled all the football-themed merchandise at arm’s reach. Footy books, greeting cards, flags, and a toy tiger with a button any curious child would press. Press it he did, and out rang a chorus: “Oh, we’re from Tigerland….”
“I loved the song,” explains Monty. Who could blame him?
Two seasons later and young boy’s wonder has not dimmed, and it wavered not once last year despite his team’s indifferent performances (“he re-watched the last bit of the Swannies-Richmond game every morning before kindergarten”). He’s been to four games already this season, for three wins and the narrow Swans loss.
“That was the game you burst into tears and we had to carry you home,” says his dad.
“That was the day mummy switched her team,” says his brother.
“I did feel his pain that day so I got behind him and cheered for Richmond,” says his mum.
One game of football, all three of them barracked for Monty.
Football family: mum, Monty, Campbell and dad at the Richmond v Swans game earlier this year.
Because they adore his bright-eyed enthusiasm, but also because he’s Richmond, so his is a passion as mysterious as childhood itself. He puts on his colours after school most afternoons and kicks a football the length of their backyard. Right foot. But he’s practicing also on his left.
“I’m practicing closing my eyes and trying to kick a goal,” he adds.
I ask each of them what they might like to be when they grow up.
Campbell answers, wistfully: “At school we do this thing where you write down all the things, and you have questions, and the bottom question was what do you want to be when you grow up and I wrote down ‘zoo keeper’”.
Monty’s reply: “A Richmond player”.
His second career choice, should this whole football thing not work out?
“Painting the field,” he says.
He’s thought about it, being the person who chalks the lines – the centre square, boundary, goal square, 50m arcs – and thinks it’d be awesome. He’s already in training. His Texta football drawings include one shaped as an oval with all the lines marked on it, and black dots peppering the grass.
“All those dots are the studs,” he explains.
His family suggest we turn a large square of carpet in the living room upside down to see more of his handiwork. He’s laid-out the lines of a rugby field using electrical tape.
“It changes all the time,” says his mum. “It’s been a tennis field, a soccer pitch, an AFL ground. It’s what Monty does.”
His father adds: “Every time I go to the hardware store I have to stock-up on electrical tape.”
This is the magical mind of little Monty Anderson, a boy who goes to bed each night in a sports top, sometimes two – choosing between Richmond, Lionel Messi, the Waratahs, Scotland’s rugby team, the Lions – dreams wonderful dreams, of Richmond playing Adelaide in the Grand Final this year, and winning. If it comes true he thinks he’ll take a day off school.
Make it so, Monty. But first, the game this weekend and a win over your big brother’s team would be nice.
Go Tigers! And go Monty!
PS. The second sleeve of Monty’s footy book is filled with St Kilda cards. Why? “Because Jack Riewoldt’s cousin plays there, Nick Riewoldt.”
Monty our mascot: sitting on the fence with friends at the Richmond v Hawthorn fixture last year.
Monday afternoon, I thought of Yeatesy. Wrote about him. Look me up if you”re on Facebook, have a read. This is football, this is life. See the comments. The crowd gathers around one of us. We’re all in this together.
Yesterday I did something I’d been meaning to do for the longest time. Published a website for my latest venture. It’s a work-in-progress, but it feels right, building other communities in other ways, doing something to try and make a difference. Many have helped along the way, and none of this is forgotten. I Posted about it also:
Hasn’t been easy since being de-listed from footy writing, but I’ve found a way. Have had to. Nobody likes being pushed, not when they think they’ve still got a few more words in them, a few more stories.
Endings are not always of our choice.
Last night, celebrating a new beginning by sorting-out loose ends, I came across a folded piece of paper that I’d long forgotten. A sting of words put down, an idea in the telling. Reminded of tomorrow night, of what a game of football might be; a series of contests, each of equal importance, needing to be halved or won for the ball to go the right way.
Straight from the jottings – and please excuse my scrawl – it reads like this:
31 seconds left in the third quarter
Richmond 7 points up
Dave Astbury mops up a loose ball in defence and on his right foot chips to the wing,
On the head of Dusty
4 against 44
“Now that’s a fifty-fifty maybe, Stewart vee Martin”
Dusty drops an overhead mark, Stewart leads the ball to the boundary, overruns it and it lands in Dusty’s lap.
Element of luck.
As Stewart doubles back, Dusty – our Dusty – clutching the ball in his right, hunched, turning, extends his left arm, pushes an off-balance Stewart on the shoulder and all the possibilities of the game open up.
Bruce goes guttural.
“Dusty, awww Dusty, that is classic Dusty.”
Two bounces in space, running up the outer wing, all us Richmond crowd roaring him on, a crescendo, a release – the game in the balance, a whole history of defeat and despair and loss to be cast aside – a single act, a dance, making space, a moment of the sublime – him, it had to be him, all power and grace in open terrain, thumping the ball into the ground with each bounce, his Geelong counterpart sprawled on the grass, outwitted, outplayed, outfoxed by our main man.
Jack Riewoldt cameo: spearing pass to Dion Prestia, unattended at the top of the goal square, and the crowd behind the posts at the Punt Road end are on their feet, erupting in untrammelled euphoria.
All the emotions, all that star-crossed history, is released and banished there and then.
We have Dusty. We have this football team. We have all the parts of a beautiful sum.
On this night, for this moment, we have the whole world at our feet.
Cleaning up the house this afternoon I came across a photograph of me, running. Soft golden light, the long shadows on a late Saturday winter’s afternoon. A last game for an old team of mine, the Cooma Cats. Snowy Oval, remember it well. A friend took the picture. She’s now back home, in Canada.
That’s me running from the backline, head up, maybe raising my voice, wanting to be heard.
We all get old.
Do it while you can, and do it for as long as you can. Run, run, run.
Our boys will win on Friday night, not because we are cocky, but because a fire of regret burns still inside. The lived experience of last year remains raw. What does not kill us, etc.. An opportunity lost, a season unfulfilled.
Our boys will win because enough of them are still hurting, and all the others are hungry, and because as a group they have confronted and overcome adversity. New players have been given an opportunity and all have risen to the occasion. Most of the older players are playing as well as they ever have, some even better.
Run, run, run,
New bonds have been forged. Respect and admiration is renewed, again and again. It comes from courage, and grace, and humility. It comes from each player playing for each other, as a team, which in turn means each of them plays for us.
Our boys will win, not because it is written in the stars, not because it is a right, because they are entitled, nor because many expect them to, but because they know every little moment matters and none of it can be wasted. Time runs out. Not a moment can be lost.
This Friday night, it will all be gained.
We have a problem. Demand has exceeded supply.
We’ve run out of stickers!
Chris has organised for a FINAL PRINT RUN of stickers: 300. Previously it cost him $357.50 to do 300, which he sold for $5 each. It was my idea to sell some at the ground, to share the love. He agreed, and set a ‘stocktake sale price’ of $3. Do the maths. He’s not making much money out of it. But money isn’t everything.
What price passion?
Talking to Chris today, he said this is the last print run.
“There’s only so long we can continue celebrating a premiership.”
I politely disagreed. The beauty of this design is it’s such a muted ‘celebration’. There’s nothing ra-ra about it. As mentioned, it’s more a documentation, an acknowledgement, of a day and of a time in our lives, and of the ending of something, and beginning of something new.
It is Richmond togetherness.
And our togetherness is in trying to get this sticker to as many who might enjoy and appreciate it.
What we’ll do is this: all who have requested sticker payment and pick-up at the ground this Saturday (either under the elm, or in the cheer squad at half-time) will get their stickers. Haven’t done the final sums yet, but think there are enough to go around. Just.
All who have requested a sticker that needs to be posted, will receive stickers from this new batch (so the wait might be a week or two, depending on production). As advertised, these stickers will be sold for $3 each, plus $1 postage. But Chris has changed the design a little bit, with some of his branding. Hope you don’t mind.
See this link for a sneak preview:
Orders have now closed.
All future sales of this last batch of stickers will be for $4 each (plus postage), until sold out.
I will be selling whatever is left over of this last batch of stickers at the ground at the season’s last home-and-away game, for $4 each (each slim profit goes to the artist).
Then I am done with stickers.
Unless we win another premiership….
(Which is what we all quietly want)
Last Saturday at 3.18pm I was looking at Dusty. His left armed fend-off, tattooed limbs, ball tucked under his right arm. None could get close to him. Play on! gestured the umpire.
The game was about to go our way.
Dustin Martin was in the middle of the MCG running amok, mesmerising everyone – one man in the eye of a storm, time stopped, like a puppeteer pulling all the strings.
Last Saturday at 3.18pm I wasn’t at the game, but in a rear room of the Australian Galleries on Derby Street, Collingwood, looking at the art of Nick Howson, an oil on Belgian linen, titled Dusty premiers. It is beautiful, in its colours, its playfulness, in the long lope of Trent Cotchin in the foreground, in all the faces of the crowd, and is that Bachar on the bench?
Last Saturday at a gallery in Collingwood I called the artist and admonished him for not inviting me to the opening (he said he did, said there must have been a mix-up in the mail-out), and congratulated him on the show, and said his painting of last year’s Grand Final ought to be hanging at the MCG. I said I would contact the curator at the MCC on his behalf.
This is a painting of significant public importance. It is about place, social participation, culture, belonging.
We talked briefly about the theme of his new show, Suburbia, its muted colours, the patterned repetition, all those red hipped rooflines, quarter acre blocks, conformity. I said the motif reminded me a bit of Howard Arkley’s art, but without the day-glo vibrancy. This is more understated. Modest. Introverted.
Was it last year I was in his studio behind a shopfront on Swan Street in Richmond and saw these works progressing? Back then we talked about football, and place, and the visual cues of Richmond, and I remember him enthused about “all the red bricks, the red dirty bricks” of his neighbourhood. A redbrick Federation-era factory wall is an object of beauty. As are the suburban brick veneer dreams of Nick’s latest series.
I desire them.
Last Saturday I was to ride my bicycle to Collingwood to the opening of a friend’s art exhibition on Cambridge Street, and then go and see Nick’s work, and then pop into the football. But a cloudburst, hailstones drumming on the roof, changed plans.
And I called-up a friend, Josh, an American, from Washington DC, a remarkable chess player, who was at a loose end. Said I’d pick him up in the car, by the Church Street Bridge. Let’s go see some art.
Nick Howson is a Collingwood fan who’s probably best known in Melbourne for the large mural he painted of a long-sleeved Richmond footballer, flying over all the petty squabbles and sawtooth factory rooves of old Struggletown, adorning a wall beside the main entrance to Richmond Station. It ought to be heritage-listed, preserved forevermore.
On Saturday afternoon we spoke about Collingwood’s fabulous win on the Friday night – they were inspired, did you see the Brodie Grundy goal, how far he ran? – and Nick asked if I’d seen the score in the Richmond game. I hadn’t. He said the Lions had yet to kick a goal.
I said it was time I better go.
Back to the car. Quick stop on Langridge Street to take a photo of Dusty’s No. 4 painted on the roller door of a mechanic’s garage. Right onto Hoddle Street. An awkward conversation with Josh (do you mind terribly if I dropped you off at Richmond Hill, etc). I had a game to be at.
Last Saturday afternoon I ran to the ground, got there huffing and puffing, stood under the concourse on a wing, took it all in, all the grass, the wide expanse of green, the players running here and there, and shafts of bright autumn light, then sheets of light rain, and saw Dylan Grimes running back with the flight of the ball to spoil a marking contest beside their goal square. The desperation. A quest. We hold no malice to the Brisbane Lions, old Fitzroy, but all of us at that ground on Saturday afternoon, seated sparsely in the open, huddled under the rooflines, wanted to keep them goalless.
This is what happens when yours is the best team.
You find other ways to set a challenge.
And on Saturday at the MCG, this afternoon like no other – I cannot remember another game like it – was punctuated with the exclamation mark of Dusty’s last goal.
A run, that chest of his puffed out, a sidestep, snapping on his left, the Punt Road end, the delirium of the crowd. Nothing thrills us so much as a player like him, running in space, with all his confidence and pomp.
This coming Saturday, Richmond are not playing. Nor on the Sunday.
It is the last weekend of Nick Howson’s exhibition, a last public viewing of his Dusty.
Get along, go! Go see the garage door on Langridge Street, also. If you know anyone with deep pockets, a love of art, and a love of Dusty, tell them they must see it. The price tag? $12,500.
I can only dream. But dreams can take you anywhere.
Go Tiges! Go Nick Howson, you beauty!
Australian Galleries, 35 Derby Street Collingwood
Open daily 10am-6pm
Exhibition closes this Sunday.
The balloons came down, withered, the streamers and signs put away. The cans of Richmond Draught have been drunk (a fine drop, a sweet aftertaste long on the palette). Suppose we need to make room around the house, in the fridge, for Christmas. Suppose. Premiership hangover? The party for us fans, it’s hardly over.
In quiet moments, we catch ourselves remembering what happened.
We won! They did it, which means by proxy, we did it! We are premiers!
We don’t want to let go, at least not until mid-March next year. We are proud, so proud, of ‘our boys’, of what they have done, have achieved. They rightfully ought to be proud also, for they are the best football team in all the code for all this year. It was remarkable, in so many ways. Thirteenth to premiers. No centre-half-forward. An emphatic win. Such a miserly defence. Highlights across the park. Messing with the whole concept of a ‘ruckman’. Beautiful stories about us, about our players, wherever you look.
Jack Graham and his five games, and three finals wins, and two goals in a granny, and a premiership, and how young is he?
Jacob Townsend and his late-season inclusion (five wins from five games, 16 goals from 32 kicks) in a new role up forward, and the public telling of his speech impediment, and he goes and wins the JJ Liston Trophy, and all his fears are realised, and his speech is wonderful, and we’ll all remember his tackle on Matt Crouch in the biggest game of our lives, and he is one of us and we are all the richer for it.
A ‘Dusty’ speech.
His name, in ancient Germanic languages, means ‘brave’ or ‘valiant fighter’, and in a few weeks of football he came out of his shell, looking more comfortable with all he is.
We love him.
We love them all.
It is true, I have been drunk on the winning. And maybe just a little hungover. There have been invitations to lunch (thankyou Ray and Tony Wilson), three courses, seated beside Michael Green and Peggy, clipped conversations about football, about what it all might mean, the Coodabeen Champions entertaining a full dining room at the top of Collins Street. A B&F. Photographs with the silverware. A lunch date with Valy Crowe at Caulfield, for a Tommy Hafey Club function. More beer and bubbles.
Never has my one suit had such a workout. And never has a man had to Google ‘windsor knot’ so often in two weeks.
Lunch with ‘Tommo’ and Skip at the London Tavern on Lennox Street on the Saturday after ‘the game’ (and Andy Fuller swung-by for a coffee) was more my style. I bought ‘Tommo’ lunch and his drinks (as recompense for his generosity on another matter). He bought me and Skip a takeaway six-pack each of the finest: Richmond Draught.
‘Tommo’ was flying back to Kenya on Saturday night. The bloke came from east Africa to be at the game, standing at the Punt Road end with his daughter, Emily. The bloke needs a round of applause.
Before he left, I took him to a laneway end by the railway, took his pic in front of Nick Howson’s latest addition to his prowling, straight-backed tiger: a cup.
Gab Turner, related to Jack Dyer, sent a photo of the stained-glass window at St Ignatius Church, on Richmond Hill. It is said to be a young ‘Captain Blood’.
“My kids and I went into St Ig’s during our ramblings around Richmond on GF night,” she writes.
“Lit a candle to say thanks to the guardian angels and had our usual coo on that wondrous piece of stained glass.”
All these months later and I’m yet to fully watch the replay. I’ve seen snippets, watched a quarter here and there of the other two finals, but yet to sit down and see the whole thing, alone, viewing with intent. Something for February’s to-do list.
Put a Richmond sticker on the car rear windscreen this morning. First time I’ve ever done that. I like to fly the colours, yellow and black, but I’ve been reticent to do it so overtly outside of football. A little part of me finds those premiership car stickers too boastful. I blame Hawthorn.
Looking for a Richmond-themed Christmas gift? Two options.
First is from co-TTBB conspirator, Chris Rees, and his post-premiership celebratory graphic image. Have you seen it? Have you read his considerations behind it?
I like to call it ‘togetherness’. All the players linking arms, shoulder to shoulder, the luminous yellow, an intimacy. It captures a moment in time, and a bond, we will never forget. It also captures the bodies of these players we know so well. The relaxed stance of Dave Astbury. The broad shoulders of Nank. The poised stance of Nick Vlastuin. Jack, always at the end.
In a perfect world, our football club backs Chris Rees, commissions him to do a design, puts it on some merchandise, stocks it online and in the Superstore, we all buy it. Our club needs to keep reinventing itself. It needs to keep trying new things. It needs to stand apart from the pack.
In the meantime, look-up Chris Rees’s website. The image can be reproduced on T-shirts, phone covers, tote bags, wall prints, almost anything. It’s guaranteed to bring happiness. And a greater sense of togetherness.
The Benny votes. (And apologies I’ve been so tardy).
[NOTE: the full list of final Benny votes and other prize winners is here.]
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No. 1, Alex Rance. From where I watched (the Cherry Tree Hotel in south Richmond for the first half, see explanation below) he was everywhere, and impenetrable, and a rock around which all Adelaide’s forward line needed to shape itself. At the other end, Jack imposed himself on the game in the very opening stages, leaping for the ball, fearless in big packs – bookended by Our Man Rance, imperious, as is his way, across the backline. Premierships are won with defence, etc. He was the keystone in a defensive set-up that physically and psychologically had Adelaide beaten by midway through the second term. Their jig was up. All their options were shut down. You get nothing from Vlastuin. Good luck beating Dave Astbury in the air. Good luck beating Dylan Grimes in any duel, at any venue, at any time, wearing whatever colours you like. But Rance was the man. A confidence player, as every player is, and his could hardly ride any higher. He buggered Adelaide, for this season and maybe next. Made them know who’s boss. 10 votes.
Quarter time, Mrs TTBB, at the ground, Level 2, N29, a plum seat, sends a text:
“Arggghhh. Tell me what to think.”
Me, in the pub, alone, one pint down, bicycle tied to a tree outside, making friends with strangers, replied:
“Last two goals hurt. Need to keep them to 2 goals this quarter. We’re well in the game. Need it tight at half time”.
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No 2, Bachar Houli.
Great pleasure in giving him votes. Where are my notes from the day? “Going to bar for second beer, Houli kicks a goal, double fist-pump”. That’s me doing the double fist-pumping; have no idea what Bachar was doing (see ‘yet to watch replay’, refer to ‘saving it for later’). Whenever Bachar kicks a goal, I reckon good things await. When he kicks one in the first quarter, we might be in for a treat. We were. Bachar was everywhere, all game. Eleven marks, five tackles, setting up the play, swooping on anything loose across the half-back line. It’s such an attacking position, and Bachar as our runner and ball-carrier, and Nick Vlaustin as our quarter-back distributor, both give us so much drive. Nick was at his best when it mattered most: the second qualifying final, against Geelong. Bachar saved his best for last. As he walked from the ground, into the players’ race, I gave him a hug. I’ve been told it’s on the replay. Must watch it one day. 8 votes.
Before the final siren sounded, I stood by the players’ race, took photos of the VFL team who assembled, in their suits and ties, and called-out to some of them, told them, “you are part of this”.
And it’s bigger than that. I reckon every Richmond player who has played any games alongside any of the twenty-two who represented the club on 30 September, is part of this. Dan Jackson in the stands is part of this. Matthew Richardson, crouching on the boundary, his face knotted in tears, who played his last game alongside Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt, is part of this. Chris Newman, Nathan Foley, Joel Bowden, Shane Tuck, they’re all part of this.
A football team, a club, is a lineage, and this line goes all the way back to Round 4 of 2007, when an 18-year-old Shane Edwards made his debut. The twenty-one others in the team that day included Lids, the Gas man, the ‘Push-up’ King, Dean Polo, Captain Shulz, Greg Tivendale, Luke McGuane, Kayne Pettifer. They are all, in some small way, part of this.
Of those current players in the tunnel on that last Saturday in September, I reckon at least a dozen of them could have been out there playing, and we still would have won. Anthony Miles in the midfield, we still win. One or two of Sam Lloyd, Shai Bolton, Tyson Stengle playing in the forward line, we still win. Corey Ellis or Connor Menadue on a wing, we win. Jaydon Short or Oleg Markov running off the backline, we win. Reece or Batch given a role, we win. Run Steve Morris off the bench, we win again.
Depth, and a togetherness.
Christmas gift option No. 2.
The good folk at the Footy Almanac have compiled a compendium of Richmond’s season, as seen through the eyes and hearts of its fans, published as The Tigers’ Almanac. The book will be launched this Wednesday night at the North Fitzroy Arms hotel. Make it if you can. I’ll be there. Among all the other Richmond fans. Books will be for sale.
If you cannot be there and would like to buy a copy, see the Footy Almanac’s website for details.
For Richmond fans on Twitter, the Almanac are also giving away three books for a storytelling competition they are running. The challenge. Write a story about something/anything to do with Richmond’s season in 280 characters (which must include the hashtag #almanac280). Best three entries get the books.
It’s a wonderful community, the Footy Almanac, bringing so many people together through words and stories and ideas. It is open to all who wish to contribute. It is about the game, as a code, as a belief system, as an embodiment of who we are. It is about football, it is about us.
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No 3, Dusty.
I’ve wrote something about him, about our admiration for him, that is published in the Almanac. I will tell you all about it at the pub on Wednesday night, if you can make it. Six votes.
So after leading most of the year Dusty has wrapped up his third successive Benny award; full details of placegetters and other awards here.
Got a haircut a few weeks back on Swan Street and Shaun Grigg walks in to get his cut, too.
What are the chances?
I get my hair cut about twice a year. Our premiership player has his medal.
Bumped into Andy Fuller at Richmond’s public library on Church Street and he tells me about Jay Croucher’s piece published in The Roar. I read, retweet, etc. Got home and read John Carr’s heartfelt piece on his Holy Boot Football Emporium website. If you haven’t seen it, look it up.
Friday night before the GF I posted this on Facebook:
When I shower I do my best thinking. I don’t shower often enough, but I did shower tonight. I’m giving my ticket for tomorrow to my partner. For many reasons. My decision. Mostly, because I remember several seasons ago when I started unpaid blog-writing about Richmond, when I went out of my way to interview other fans, go to games with them, tell their stories, I remember how heavily I leaned on her. Me at the football. She, with young child and baby, in this foreign city. She has come to cherish the game, and Richmond, as so many outsiders do. She has continued to support my writing life, which offers a richness that is hardly financial. I am proud of what I have contributed to our football club. I like to think I have advocated for inclusion, for sharing its stories, for giving ordinary supporters a voice. I have always supported and encouraged our players to be the best they can be, in this part of their lives. I think football can be an agent for change. And should be an agent for change. I have checked our club when I think it’s warranted (gambling sponsorship, etc). I have barracked. I barrack with all my voice at the footy. I try and rally the players, inspire them. I held up a sign last week at the footy, to give them a smile, a little release from all that mental exhaustion. None should question my loyalty, or intentions. One ticket does not go into two. I’m so proud of Richmond’s gender equality. I’ve been to Grand Finals before – granted, not a Richmond one in my adult life, etc. I have been so blessed to meet so many remarkable people through the football, for them to share so much with me, and that is my reward. I am happy, so happy, for so many Richmond supporters tonight. These past two finals have given me – us – such pleasure. I wrote a story about this week, published on the RFC website today, and my happiness is if people read it and enjoy it. If the players read it, the parents of the players read it, and get something from it, an understanding of what it means for us. The game is a deeply personal experience. If anyone does have a spare standing room tix, please do let me know. Otherwise you’ll find me at the Cherry Tree Hotel, on the edge of the crowd, the flats of Richmond, the lowland, beneath the red brickwork, the peeling sign of the old Rosella factory, with a beer, wearing our colours, my homemade Tiger top, barracking. Eat em alive, Tigers!
The short story goes like this. I tied-up my bicycle outside the Cherry Tree about ten minutes before the bounce (our 7-year-old boy had had his tonsils taken out on the Thursday before the game, had been vomiting all morning, etc.). Step inside, check my phone. Text messages, about an old friend Simon Troon, trying to get in contact with me. He has a spare ticket!
I had been in contact with Simon earlier in the week. He said he knows someone who was selling a ticket for about $2000. I haven’t seen Simon for many years. He is eight years younger than I. When he was about 10, I coached a hockey team he and my brother played in. I told him I am no corporate high flyer.
I assumed the messages were about this ticket.
At quarter time I checked my phone again, and mutual friends were still texting, saying I needed to contact Simon. I called him. He did indeed have a spare ticket. A friend of his had to leave the game, before it began. Something about a new father, the baby at home, vomiting, him needing to leave.
His misfortune, my blessed luck. The ticket was mine if I needed it. The only condition, I needed to be wearing a collar. I was wearing a collar. I rode my bicycle to the ground at half time. The luckiest man in Melbourne. Thank you, Simon. He barracks for Carlton, but all is forgiven.
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No 4, Jack Graham.
Too young to play in such a high-pressure game? Ha! These young blokes don’t have the burden of history weighing on their shoulders. He has no memory of the 2013 Elimination Final. He bears no scar tissue of losses. Pick No. 53 in last year’s draft. He’s played more finals than he has regular season games. And he’s won the lot, and now a Grand Final. In which he kicked three goals. The future doesn’t look bright. It looks composed, poised, dependable. Four votes.
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No 5, Nathan Broad.
I had decided his game was worthy of votes before he took a photograph of his premiership medal between a pair of young breasts and diminished so many of us. Was so angry about that, now just disappointed, and I’m in the camp that says he should have been scrubbed-out for six weeks. Make a statement. This footy club of ours is about the respect of women. It does not treat them as trophies. It does not objectify their bodies.
But a young man must also be given a second chance, and an opportunity to learn, and an inappropriate photograph distributed on social media might just be the beginning of something better. Contrition, for one. Atonement comes next.
And nor should his misdemeanour detract from the game he played on the last Saturday of September. These votes, and this vote, could have been awarded to ANY in the team, so evenly was the load spread. This is togetherness, of all working for each other and it is a beauty to behold. But I gave this vote to N. Broad because he was probably one of the last players picked, and in his 12 AFL games I consider this his best. Always good to deliver a PB in the biggest games.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.
I hope to keep writing Richmond fan stories next year, but that is for others to decide. Thanks to all who have read them, commented on them, shared them, participated in them.
I threw a little Richmond party at our house a month after the GF win, and thanks to all who came along. Was fun. Hope we get to do it again next year.
This season was the end of something, but it is also a beginning. New opportunities, new connections, new ways of doing things, new experiences and emotions. It’s our moment to set the agenda. Others will chase us. Here is a chance to show them all how we shine, how we take nothing for granted, and how we include other people, share our success, open our arms, as we go along.
Hope next year brings us continued football happiness.
Facebook: Dugald Jellie
At best, it was three degrees. Despite the novelty and the cold winter air, all about the night was forgettable. And yet Facebook tries to remind me, prompting memories with photographs from a year ago. Un-social media.
All who were in Hobart this time last year have cold memories.
Match reports of last Saturday night’s game are glib with the matter – “North had beaten the Tigers seven times in their previous eight meetings,” wrote Rohan Connolly in the Sunday Age – but sports reporters live behind glass, on upholstered seats. They sit not on damp grass on cold earth, sheathed in a blanket, with ski mitts. They are not fans like us. Our memories rarely forget.
This game last year was a low-point in the lowly history Richmond has against North Melbourne since, well, since when Glenn Archer would beat-up on Richo. All knees and elbows, the little knot of aggression hopped-into our long-limbed thoroughbred like a hungry man might hop-into a bowl of hot soup on a cold night. He monstered Richo. North monstered us.
Sure, we beat them last round of 2015, when their team of interns bruised us, mentally, physically, emotionally. A cruel joke. Cheryl Critchley isn’t yet over it.
North Melbourne, a club with less, down by the old abattoirs, that for two generations has given its fans more. A club that fields teams that manage usually to humiliate us. We’re up by seven goals at half-time? No probs, we’ll let them run over us, and ensure a player once one of ours – Robbie Nahas – kicks the goals to put them in front. Salt. Rub. Wound. Richmond.
Saturday night, and all was alright, although we never were quite sure, because this is Richmond and recent history says the margin of error is quite large (although for three games this season it was improbably small). We won! Yay! More relief than overblown excitement.
Our team are gelling better than theirs. And for the first time in 18 seasons, we didn’t have to play against ‘Boomer’ Harvey. Phew.
As fans in the stands, in the outer, we see the game differently, from our partial perspective, bringing to a game all our expectations and hopes and life history and who we are. We are not good judges. Nobody is an expert. We all know as much about the game as the next person, and we all want to wrap Dusty up in a bundle of love, make him happy, fulfilled, enriched, our little project, our warrior leader, indefatigable, we might follow him into a pit of fire, howling against the world, against all its social injustices, against inequalities, phonies, fakes, yes-men, hangers-on, fat cats, those who hardly know the value of a dollar and the truth of a hard day’s work.
See, that’s just me, at the football. Of course it’s more than a game.
It’s what we look forward to all week, our emotional release, seeing the beauty and skill of young and fit men in the prime of their lives doing extraordinary feats of bravery and athleticism. Or is that just Dave Astbury and Alex Rance in the back half?
And a cheerio to them, on their camping trip. Hope they’ve caught some fish, packed warm sleeping bags, enjoyed the fire-side. Anyone know where they are? My guess is the Edwards River, an anabranch of the Murray. Just wanted to use that word. Anabranch. So specific.
Bad analogy. There’s no place in football for Kiwi fruit.
Fans like me judge Dusty and Cotch and Jack and Alex to higher standards because through inherited gifts and dumb luck and hard work, and dedication, they are simply better players. They ought to appreciate this, if only for the betterment of the team. All are not equal on a football field. It is self-evident some are faster or taller or can kick a ball longer or straighter, or can stand-up in a tackle more often than others. But each must pull the other along, together. It is the essence of the word ‘team’; as in a teamster, a team of draft animals, each of them a beast of burden.
Dusty is our bull, but we need more than that. Where would our club be this season, where would this team be, without Toby Nankervis? He’s our lucky break. He was no long-term plan. We didn’t pick him in the draft, identify him as talent, school him. Maybe midway through last year he came onto the club’s radar, or maybe it was later than that. There is much luck in football. Or is it good judgement? Ivan Maric got us out a pickle. So, too, has Nank. But he needs some support.
Reckon we also need a bona fide centre-half-forward. Todd Elton, we are all with you on this (or at least I am). Get that shoulder right, fans like me have not given up. Keep jumping for the ball, flying for it, at least splitting open packs, getting the ball to spill. It’ll come. The ball will stick. So much of the game is also confidence. Look what Dan Butler and Jason Castagna and Dan Rioli are doing, and what Shai Bolton is threatening to become. When your tails are up, anything can happen.
Bachaaaaaar gets my five. Controversial, no. Ramadan, yes. Thirty-one possessions, but who cares about numbers? When he got the ball, he gave us run and carry across the mid-section of the field, he gave us composure, he gave us a get-out and an attacking weapon, he gave us his beautiful, raking left-foot kick. Eighty-nine per cent game time. Only four other players are higher (Rance 100, Riewoldt 93, Astbury 91, Grigg 90), and my guess is none of them covered the territory Houli did. He has been a blessing for our club. I thought his game was marvellous. I would like him to taste my babaganoush.
Brandon Ellis gets my four. No longer “much maligned”, not this season. He’s straightened-up his game this year, is kicking crunch goals at critical moments, is getting in all the right spots, staying on his feet. He’s become more than dependable. He’s become one of our brightest assets. A gauge for all football fans: the heart rate when certain players have the ball. Dusty gets it and my heart skips a beat (knowing he can hit a target 60 metres upfield with a laser bullet). Jack leads and takes a mark and I can at last breathe, knowing the ball is in good hands. Alex takes the ball out of defence, running with all his pomp and confidence, and my confidence rises, too. Brandon Ellis got the ball on Saturday night and good things happened. The ball changed direction, went our way, went to good places, positions of attack, of our advantage. Well done! Been a great year so far, and he deserves it.
Three votes. Dusty. You cannot keep a good man down. He is a good man. I like the way he spoke after the game. A weight seemed lifted. He seemed easeful. He will stay. He is one of us.
Two votes. Cotch. His partner in crime. Been bloody brilliant this year. All leadership (except giving away that free off-the-ball in the centre of the ground that cost us a goal! Bad Cotch!). Good Cotch is a tireless combatant, slick hands, kicking goals again, run-and-carry, dropping his knees in tackles, is everywhere. Would any player be sorer after a game? He is remarkable. He is ours. We love him, we admire him.
One vote to Dion Prestia. Early in the game he fumbled the ball and my thoughts – uh-ho, here we go again – but slowly and methodically he turned it all around and kept getting involved in the contest, again and again (a game-high 11 possessions in the last, along with Cotch and Houli), kept running, contributing. Thought he was excellent. A rites-of-passage game.
Honourable mentions, in no particular order. Kane Lambert. He’s strung together a series of good games of workmanlike footy, that have started catching the eye. He’s put himself back in the picture, through effort and application. Toby Nankervis, our totem. We owe it mostly to him. Outpointed Goldstein (3 marks to 0), carried the load on his shoulders, long may he stay in one piece. Good stuff, big fella. Enjoy the long and hot baths. Dave Astbury and Alex Rance. They’ve become a two-hander, with the odd cameo from Dylan, a yin and yang, sidekicks to each other, both playing with care and confidence. Each make the other a better player. If one doesn’t get you, the other will.
We are proud of our Tigers, and happy for them they’ve gotten to the bye with their character intact, and now enhanced. A string of heartbreak losses, fatal mistakes, and all could have been derailed. But they’ve turned it around, put it behind them.
That’s what good sides do. And good sides keep finding new ways to win. Long may that be the case for this second long act in the season.
The Benny Leaderboard:
9: B. Ellis
6: Grimes, Nankervis
5: Castagna, Astbury
2: Butler, Vlastuin, Prestia
Blair Hartley Appreciation Award:for players who have joined Richmond from another club
(Eligible 2017: Caddy, Grigg, Hampson, Houli, Hunt, Nankervis, Maric, Miles, Prestia and Townsend.)
Anthony Banik Best First Year Player:for anyone who was yet to debut before round 1
(Eligible 2017: Shai Bolton, Dan Butler, Ryan Garthwaite, Jack Graham, Ivan Soldo, Tyson Stengle)
Joel Bowden’s Golden Left Boot:for left footers
(Eligible 2017: Batchelor, Chol, Corey Ellis, Grigg, Nankervis and Houli).
Greg Tivendale Rookie List Medal:
upgraded from the rookie list during the current season
Potentially eligible 2017: Castagna, Chol, Moore, Stengle and Soldo.
Maurice Rioli Grip of Death Trophy:
For the Tiges top tackler
39: Nankervis, Houli
Last Monday morning I rode my bicycle to the front door of Francis Bourke’s house. Had a shave beforehand, out of respect. Looked up his playing stats on AFL Tables. I wore shorts, Richmond socks. Hoped he’d appreciate the touch. He did.
“Like the socks,” he said, on my way out, one cup of tea and almost two hours later.
We had much to talk about. Mostly it was about his father, and his involvement in WW2.
All last week I went looking for a Richmond supporter who had fought in a theatre of war. I wanted to talk to them about military combat, and a fear so few of us would know. I wanted to give them an opportunity to share their story. Inquiries to the RSL in Richmond and the city drew blanks. Several Richmond fans made contact who had been in the army, but none overseas in war zones.
I arranged to interview a former Richmond player whose father fought in Gallipoli, but at the eleventh hour he got cold feet. He said his father didn’t talk much about the war. Kept it all bottled up. He decided he’d feel uncomfortable discussing it.
Last minute, I put a call into St Francis, ask if I can come meet him. He says he’s be happy to help out.
We talk about his father, about the family farm in Nathalia, about a grandfather he never met (“he was gassed on the Western Front, came home and died a shell of a man”), and about looking back and remembering all who have served in war. Then we talk about his newsagency days at Maling Road in Canterbury. Before he bought the business, as a schoolboy I did a morning paper round there.
We talk about Deano, who lived down the bottom of the hill in a weatherboard railwayman’s cottage. Everyone in the area knew Deano.
I stay up late Wednesday night piecing together the Bourke family story. It feels a privilege. Being invited into the private lives of others, entrusted to write their story, give it due respect, the right touch. In putting it together, I learn about Nathalia, and Oxford aircraft, and WW2 training bases, and Bomber Command, then skirt through the history of the Western Front.
My head spins. So much to tell, trying to squeeze it all within a readable length. I email him a draft. He says he is very appreciative I’ve what I’ve done. It makes me feel good. What I can do means something to others.
Francis Bourke was a hero of mine, but truth is, I was looking for someone else.
I wanted a Vietnam Vet, or someone who had fired a shot in Afghanistan. Not because I want to glamorise war, but because I wanted to make sense of first-hand experience. I wanted something raw, something where you might still feel the hurt.
Writing stories about fans has given me as much pleasure as I hope it has given those who I interview, and their families, and all who might read them. I have made wonderful connections and friendships. In my mind, it’s become like a family, all brought together with the common twine of football, and Richmond.
The game, it can do so much good.
How do I find those I interview? It’s an organic process, really. Some are recommendations from others. Some put their own hand up. Some I hear about, read about. Word filters through. There is no set formula.
Sometimes the best stories come from the most unlikely sources. I met a man at Launceston Airport on the Monday morning after the disastrous Friday night game against North in Hobart last year, both of us had been stranded on the ferry overnight, marooned by the floods. Barry Giles is his name. I introduced myself, wrote down his phone number, looked him up, told his story.
I’ve been thinking about Barry Giles all week.
What I wrote about him, I’ve republished it below.
And if anyone know of any Vietnam Vets who barrack for Richmond and might want to share their story, please, do send them my way.
Barry Giles is in the departure lounge at Launceston Airport, the Tuesday after Richmond’s Friday night loss in Hobart, waiting for a flight home. He caught the ferry to Tasmania and like many others his return journey from Devonport was booked for the Monday night.
Then the heavens opened, the Mersey flooded, moorings broke, boats sunk in the harbour, the ferry was cancelled, and a band of Richmond supporters were marooned with their cars on an island.
Adversity, it brings a crowd together. Barry was at the airport, wearing yellow and black, two colours that for people like us open a conversation, and he tells a story of football and being in Vietnam during the war, and I’m all ears, knowing not where it might end.
Every Richmond fan has a story to tell. After a season’s half-time break, what follows is but half the story of a man named Barry Arthur Giles.
Born in Richmond at Bethesda Hospital on 29 September 1949 – the year Jack Dyer played his last VFL game – he was the third child to Ernest and Beryl Giles, who met when working at the Bryant and May match factory on Church Street. “Dad was born into Richmond, too,” says Barry. “It went right through the family. We’re all mad Richmond supporters.”
They lived in Coppin Street and Barry’s older sister regularly visited Jack Dyer’s milk bar for sweets. She recalls games at Punt Road Oval played after the factory whistles stopped on a Saturday afternoon, when it was time for the football.
The family later moved to Springvale, where Barry left school at 14 to work in a firm making boat propellers, embarking on life’s great adventure. “I left home at 17 and went up to Mildura picking grapes,” he says. “I missed the 1967 Grand Final, was up there working for a winery.”
Two years later, two days before his birthday, Richmond won its second premiership in the Hafey era but now he was thankful to be alive.
Barry Giles enlisted in the army when he was nineteen. A war was on and he lost a job in a printing factory in Moorabbin and went to try his luck elsewhere. In June 1969 he was deployed to Vietnam, as part of the 1st Australia Task Force stationed in Phuoc Tuy Province, south of Saigon. An infantryman, his platoon was later led by another Tiger, the then-lieutenant Peter Cosgrove.
On night patrol in a rubber plantation on the eve of the 1969 VFL Grand Final, Barry’s unit was ambushed. “It was the first time I’d been in a fire-fight or had contact with the enemy,” he explains. “We had no idea what was going on, but we stayed and survived.”
Australian armoured corps picked them up in the morning and took them to a makeshift base where Barry found what had been on his mind all night: a radio, and a broadcast of a game. “Richmond were playing back home and all I wanted to do was listen to the grand final.”
After his tour of duty, Barry left the army in 1971 on a medical discharge. Like so many of his fellow soldiers, the war had shaken him about. “I drifted away from the Richmond footy club, from the game, from what was a family.”
After a series of jobs he ended-up at Grassy, at a road’s end on King Island, a place half-way between here and there. He bought a little business selling newspapers; taking time out to find out which way the wind blows.
One morning he drove up to the island’s airport to pick up a bundle of papers and his son, David Giles, was front page news in the Hobart Mercury. A star footballer with Clarence, he was selected by Fitzroy with the second pick of the 1991 mid-year draft.
“He played with Jack Riewoldt’s old man, they called him ‘Cabbage’, and he also played against a young Matty Richardson,” says Barry. “He was a goal-kicker and moved to Melbourne but then my brother rang me one day and said he’s walked out on the club.”
“It’s something I think he’s always regretted.”
For two seasons now Barry – who lives in Inglewood, a town on the Calder Highway north-west of Bendigo – has been back at the football. The return was prompted by his brother’s death, aged 71, from asbestosis. “He was a boilermaker and a mad Richmond supporter like the rest of us,” says Barry. “Near the end of his days we started talking about getting back to football again, the two of us, because Richmond were starting to come good again.”
In his brother’s absence, Barry has made good on a promise. He returned to the fold as a member, joining the club’s inner sanctum coterie group and sponsoring a player.
“I love this club, I loved it when I was younger and I’ve been gone for a while, and it was time to come back, but in a different way,” he says. “I saw that they drafted Daniel Rioli and I remember watching his great uncle play and I saw the footage of Daniel and I reckon he’s got something so I put my hand up to sponsor him.”
And three weeks ago Barry returned to Tasmania for the first time in nine years, to visit his son and daughter and all the grandchildren, and catch up with old friends from King Island, living now at Ulverstone on the north-west coast. And he went to the football.
All Richmond people at the game could never forget what a heartless night it was. But the result has not deterred Barry and his returned love of the club. “I’ve seen the Tigers in their heyday and you can’t forget that,” he says. “I’ve seen some magic games, I followed them all through the 60s, 70s and 80s and there’s no reason they can’t return to the glory times.”
POSTSCRIPT: After the Gold Coast win last Sunday week, Barry booked into a hotel on Spencer Street, caught a bus to the airport in the morning, flew back to Launceston, picked-up his car and drove it to Devonport, where he brought it across Bass Strait on the Monday night ferry, then returned home to Inglewood. And he’ll be back in Melbourne on Saturday to see Richmond play the Lions at the MCG.
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.
Waiting on a train at Richmond Station at 10.11pm last Thursday night, I posted a Tweet:
And our crowd walk lightly from the game, with all the conversation, the song, the optimism. We’re believing again, and it feels good.
I’ve heard it said the best time of the week for a professional football is the hour or so after a win, drinking in the heady cocktail of joy and relief, before all the aches and pains creep up, bruises well, joints stiffen, fatigue hits, and the mind wanders to recovery and next week. A fleeting moment of complete insouciance; a job well done, a basking in the glory.
It’s much the same for us fans.
The walk from the floodlit stadium is so much better after a win. Footfalls are lighter. The stars above twinkle brighter. All the talk is of the future. Even the Yarra Park grass seems lusher, and somehow greener in the dark.
None mind too much the bottleneck crowd and shuffling wait at Richmond Station after win. It’s an opportunity to linger, on an experience, in a place, the stadium glowing still through the trees.
On the train, going home, we check our phones. Look at the stats. Who did what. Log onto Facebook, Twitter, the fan forum feeds, see what others are saying, how they saw the game, was there something we missed, needing to consume every little detail. Conversations are overheard. Three elderly women, standing by the carriage door, all Magpies, chat away merrily, philosophical about their loss, and among themselves they talk audibly about our Dusty, and they cannot help themselves. They’re drawn to him, as we are. They find him as beguiling as we do. One of them says she hopes he wins the Brownlow.
Richmond hearts in the carriage gladden.
The train lurches, jolts, trundles over the river, doors open-close at each stop, the crowd thinning the further we go from the game.
Getting off, wearing our colours, there’s a pang of pride. Leaving the group, the bright lights of the carriage, the station platform becomes a stage, a public place for the passing crowd, for the short victory walk into the night. It’s always better after a win. Check for familiar faces. Often, I see dear old Brenda, say hello, have a quick chat. Or there’s George Megalogenis, a voice of reason, a calming influence, rational in his support for this wayward club of ours.
I skip home alone, busting for a wee, hoping my partner might still be up, knowing she’s been watching it on TV, wanting to share the night – the football – with her.
She’s up alright, and buzzing. She loves the start of the footy season when the grounds are dry and the earth warm, and games fast and fluent. And she loves Dusty. (She flew to New Orleans for a history conference this week, but not before showing me a photograph of Dusty in full flight, arms and legs outstretched, about to kick the ball, telling our seven-year-old boy how much he looked like a dancer).
I watch the last quarter again. She sits at the kitchen table doing emails, looking over my shoulder. She wants to hear what Dimma says in the ‘presser’. Probably even more than me.
Friday morning, I ride my bicycle to Richmond to meet an artist and talk about the visual landscape of the suburb. Its built texture. Its colours and shapes, and the Dimmey’s clocktower, and the church spire on the hill.
Later, I ride down Swan Street to a mural he once painted, a public artwork I’ve always admired, to study his streetscape more carefully.
Richmond win a game of football on Thursday night and on Friday morning I’m looking wistfully at the oversized yellow and black hoops on a sock, and boot studs, and a leg floating above the rooftops, painted on a wall near Richmond Station, and it is wonderful.
Richmond is playing better football this year, and it’s pleasing to behold. No more crabbing sideways, going backwards. The rot of last year all began with this fixture. It wasn’t the coughing-up of the lead, but that didn’t help. It was the method. The quizzical sight our captain leaving his man and running twenty metres backward to demand a dinky little handball receive off one of our kickers. Or the vision of our star full-back, late in the last, switching play, kicking the ball deep into a back pocket, compounding the pressure, passing the buck, leading to another goal to them.
Bless us that this counter-productive playbook has been torn up, buried.
Dimma has seen the cliff edge, and a tiger has changed his stripes. No more dour defence at all costs. He’s freed them up. Let them run. Trust their instincts. Carry the ball, park Dusty up forward, kick it long to him, one-on-one, give the crowd something to delight in, a memory to carry home with them into the night.
Too much of football is justified, explained by numbers. Coaches look for logic, game theory, immutable truths in the streams of stats. Inside 50 count, disposal efficiency, contested possessions, etc, etc.
But football clubs are also in the business of hope.
Late on a Monday night I post another tweet:
And I go to bed thinking of Toby Nankervis, our warhorse, how much he’s needed, hoping he can battle-on all year. I’m addicted again.
And I hope for another sweet train ride home this Saturday afternoon, me and our 7-year-old boy, at his season’s first game, basking in the glory of football, in the joy of our team winning.
Facebook: Dugald Jellie