Here we are again

So there I was again, wandering the darkened streets of Footscray with the shadows of the Western Oval looming large. Again I decided to hit the footpaths, unable to cope with that orange team being victorious. The same dark thoughts were circling in my brain, of how football is simply unfair and unenjoyable.

In the midst of red-white-blue fever last September, I roamed these streets as the Giants took what I thought was an unbeatable lead against Footscray in the preliminary final. It stunk. I was in the foulest of moods, believing nothing in football to be right, the Bulldog-laden charcoal team with a billion first round picks smothering the once in a life-time opportunity that was to be a Footscray grand final birth.

I couldn’t hack it, and solemnly took to the streets. I could easily have been mistaken for Droop Street’s very own Danny. As legend has it, the Dogs fought back, and as I heard the shouts and cheers bursting from the houses around me, I ran back home to witness an achingly tense last few minutes. I just had the hair stand up on the back of my neck and arms as I typed that.

Well the romance of last September and the inaugural AFL Women’s season had dissipated as I again took to the very same streets. My two youngest kids and I had moments earlier been jumping maniacally around the living room as first gamer Shai Bolton’s snap went through the two uprights. Our poor dog sought the refuge of my partner Ash’s lap. As I was in the middle of telling Molly that we still weren’t safe with 1 minute 18 seconds left on the clock, we caught wind of a goal review. It was touched, absolutely no doubt. But the Giants had the ball and  also had the Tigers where they wanted them; defending a narrow lead with a minute to play.

The ball skewed off the pack where Toby Nankervis had the unenviable task of holding up hundreds of orange players running towards him. Goal.

I know the Dockers needed just 21 seconds to kick a goal the previous week, and we had three times that amount at our disposal to scramble a goal, but I also knew there was no way that it would happen. I left the house, making sure I was safely out of the kid’s view before I took out my anger on an unsuspecting tree (not for the first time) and hit the footpath.

There would be no cheering from neighbouring lounge rooms this time to signal a win. I kept hoping to turn and see Molly streaming out from our house, shrieking excitedly to inform me that we’d somehow kicked a goal and won! No shrieks, and after a few quiet minutes I knew. I walked, hands to my head in disbelief, much the way you’re supposed to walk around after a long run to get as much oxygen back into you as possible. I saw no one, no cars or people. I trudged up to the round about where apartments now occupy an old pub, the same pub that Simon Atkins partner dumped all of his belongings one Mad Monday many moons ago, and then headed homeward.

Two weeks in a row. I’ve known plenty of terrible times as a Richmond supporter. Losing an elimination final after leading by five goals to the team that finished 9th! I sat through an 157 point loss. I was there when Brock McLean led what was basically a Carlton reserves side to victory. I had to endure the Karmichael Hunt balls up, not forgetting our reprise of the Beatles ‘Revolution number 9’….number 9…..number 9…. number 9. But these last two weeks have cut even deeper if that’s possible, whilst adding to the legend.

To think that you have won the game with a minute or less to go, twice, and then to surrender that lead in the dying seconds not through the oppositions brilliance, but with our poor structure and thinking, is, I can’t believe I’m say this, a new low. I could cop acts of brilliance that you just can’t stop, but we’ve only got ourselves to blame.

Now I’ve seen Richmond teams give no effort and I can’t fault this team of that. But there is so much on the line after three putrid finals campaigns and a slide down the ladder last year. We are three lousy kicks off top spot, yet clearly so far from deserving that spot due to our poor mental and strategic efforts when the game is in the balance.

Not all is lost, but we simply must beat the teams we should beat from now on. We had a huge chance this past month to set up our season, but all we’ve offered is heartbreak and questions. Will the last three weeks, which we’ve lost by a total of 10 points, make us, break us, or leave us just the same? It could go either way. We need to prove, not just to the footy world but to ourselves, that we are capable of performing in the big moments. Until then, we are pretenders.

There’s always next year…

Rituals. My old top; Richmond by club and name. Wanded: nothing to see here.
st.k Richmondst.k wanding

Footy friends and faces; a relic from a bygone era. Punt Road End. Pie. Petrolst.K Craig2

Get around him. First goal. Elton performs. All downhill here from.st.k Elton

Kick it to me. Mog, my grandfather’s knitted head warmer, cousins, family, Jack kicking a goal. Locks.
stk F & M

Long faces, the people you meet. Online Tiger royalty. Half time…there’s always next year.
st.K twits Last quarter heroics, none forth coming. Kids watch their last moments of Richmond for the year. 19th century fence, 20th century lights, 21st century stands. Same old Richmond.st.k Rich MolLast minute push, 9 points short, 20 minutes too late. Reality sets in, this Tiger gig is tough. Tears.St.K 10

The best remedy, kick it out. Cousins, carpark
st,k kick The sun sets on 2016. Love of the game wins out. This is where the game began, this is where we regroup and move forward. st.k end kick

Footy. Family. Four points missing. Jam doughnuts and kick-to-kick. We’ll be back next year.
st.k after

Go Tiges.

Tigers to shine without pressure of finals

The Richmond Football Club is pleased to announce that they are out of the running for the 2016 AFL finals series.

Coach Damien Hardwick noted that the club “doesn’t handle expectation well” and with the pressure of finals out of the equation, believes that the club will now be able to put its best foot forward on the field.

“As a group we never like to go into a game as favourites, and we particularly dislike ‘must win’ games. We find the pressure really plays on our minds and distracts us from the playing the kind of football we want to play.” Hardwick believes that the “shackles will be released” now that the pressure of finals has been removed. “It’s just what the club needed” he said with a wry grin.

“I believe in drawing on past successes and as a group, we’ve been inspired by the club’s ‘Unleash the Geisch’ period in 1997. The pressure was right off the club in terms of finals and that really allowed the playing group of the day to focus on playing great football. We’re certainly looking to replicate that.”

Club captain Trent Cotchin said that Richmond now has a great opportunity to “shape the final eight.”

“Now that we’re out of contention I have great belief in this group’s ability to put pressure on those clubs fighting for top four and top eight positions. I mean, we beat Sydney, so without worrying about the finals now, we should be able to worry teams like Footscray and Hawthorn. There’s no more satisfaction in football than when you’re having an impact. Our season starts now.”

Cotchin continued, “The past three elimination final defeats have severely dented the playing group’s confidence entering the following season, so without the heartbreak of finals we will be able to enter season 2017 with renewed confidence. This is a positive step for the club.”

Hardwick said that while the club had entered 2016 hoping to make the finals, it’s hard for clubs these days to maintain successful periods such as Richmond’s three-peat of 2013-15. “Look it’s worked out really well for the club. We’re excited with where we’re headed as a group. I’ve met with the board and we’re all confident that this is our ‘Geelong of 2006’ year. I think that’s pretty clear.”

When questioned on where the Tigers would finish this year, Hardwick pondered for a moment, and quipped “I think we can still push for ninth. With the pressure off, we can really get back to playing the Richmond way.”

“I’m sure our loyal supporters will be rapt with how things have turned out this year. They won’t have to cancel September holidays as they have the past few years, and the last few finals series haven’t been good for their mental health. Look, at the end of the day, it’s all about the fans.”

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Happy Tiger fans reveling in the club’s failure to make the finals in season 2016. The ‘lid is off.’

Tigers Don’t Win Finals

This was penned on the night of Richmond’s elimination final loss:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

It’s all I can cling to during the despair in which the Richmond Football Club has left me. It hurts so meaningfully because of the love. But it’s surely better to actually feel something in this life. About five minutes after the siren, as my daughter Molly and I trudged out of the MCG, I was overcome with emotion for a fleeting moment. I felt silly of course, it’s just a football match. But it’s more than that. I choose it to be. Footy and Richmond makes me feel something and I like that, even though it’s often pain of some sort.

Richmond town (2)

Happier yet still terribly anxious times; prematch in Richmond and Yarra Park

As a means of self-preservation I often sarcastically yearn for the days where Richmond were hapless. I understand how to deal with that sort of failure. But this new failure is prickly, it pierces and it leaves you blind with pulsating disappointment. They’re laughing at us again.

I grew up with Richmond being simply dismal. Ablett, Dunstall, Lockett and Modra kicked a billion goals against our flimsy backlines of the late 80s and early 90s. We were a laughing stock.

Now my own daughter Molly is growing up with a reasonable team, stars on each line, many more wins than losses. Surely it’s better for her to grow up with three successive finals campaigns? The lows however, such as today at the MCG, are far more disappointment than I ever had to process as a child, far more.

They’re still laughing.

Firstly, when I was a kid they laughed because we were just shit.

Then they laughed because we finished 9th more often than is statistically probable.

Now they’re laughing because we’re finals chokers. We’re still the same old Richmond. And I’m not sure which is worse. When we defeated Hawthorn during the season, a few Poos and Wees fans left early, earning the usual ‘see you later’ from the Tiger ferals. But I won’t forget get one woman who stopped, turned and yelled “Yeah, well we’ll see you in September!” I knew in my guts she had a point. And she was right, we weren’t up to it. The North banner said it all.

Banner

My Molly really felt that loss in her guts today. In fact her optimism took a battering. All year she’s said “dad, they’ll by alright, they’re a good team” to counter my negativity. And she’s been right. But after today she reflected that “you were right, dad” with all the resignation of a long time Richmond supporter. Her spirit was broken.

MCG pano

I was too anxious to enjoy this moment.

The monkey sitting on our backs now is of gargantuan proportion. SHOULD we make the finals in 2016, we’ve not only an opposition we’ll need to defeat, we’ll have ourselves to overcome. The only positive I can grasp is that we’re slowly getting better, but I fear for the mental wounds caused to our players. As well as you may play in the home and away season, many players must now have serious doubt about their ability under intense pressure.

I’ll name them. Cotchin. Grigg. Chaplin. Is Maric all that we thought he could be? Titch Edwards. Conca. Ellis. There’s probably more but that’ll do for now. Should we make another final, the pressure on these gents to perform will be high. And as we’ve seen in the first week of finals the past few years, handling pressure ain’t a strong point. At least Cotchin won the toss and didn’t choose to kick into a 14 goal gale! Small steps.

I knew today’s result would happen. All week I’ve had Tigers and neutrals telling me to be positive, ‘come on, Richmond’s different this year’ is one I’ve heard on numerous occasions. But the recipe was there for utter disaster and I believe that football is often played out in the dramatic sphere rather than stats, figures and ladder placements.

Pre Match G

Pre-match at the G. Richmond fans do finals well.

The perfect recipe for a Tiger disaster was there. Robbie Nahas. Of course he was going to be fired up and play well against his old team. A lot of people felt he was let go a little easily after one poor season at Tigerland. As the North fans started singing the old Tiger grog squad song ‘Robbie Nahas, Robbie Nahas, Yeah-eah-eah’ Mol turned to me and said “that’s not fair, that’s our song.” All is fair in love and war dear child.

Then there’s Jarrad Waite. If anything can haunt Richmond it’s this fella. The 2013 final saw Waite kick 4. Today the same. He loves playing against Richmond in finals. His old man didn’t mind either, I’m told.

Finally there’s the mental games that North played with their selection in round 23. Where better to toy with Richmond than in our minds! Nine stars missing, allowing Richmond to win, knowing they’d play each other the following week.

tiger despairThe downtrodden. Tears were shed, young and old alike.

North is just a team that unsettles Richmond. Always have been. It was the game against North in Hobart when I decided that Richmond wouldn’t make the finals and we could have a family holiday in the September school holidays. Tasmania was our choice. So of course as soon as that was planned, we get our act together and I start worrying about finals and holidays! However again it was North who paved the way for me to get away and not be consumed by Richmond. It’s terrible for my mental health this finals business.

The Richmond footy club may actually be mortally wounded. We were SO bad for SO long and this ship is oh so hard to turn around. We’ve got it half turned, but there’s a stack more waves coming at us. We may never win a final, or play in a grand final, or, dare I say it, win a flag. It seems to be our lot.

North jubilation final 2

(Click to enlarge) I was devastated yet thought it important to document what winning a final looked like. The guy bottom right was on the phone to a mate and was just squatting up and down madly. 

As we slowly meandered through Richmond for some dinner, Molly, who’d begun to cheer up slightly suddenly blurted out “What was Chaplin thinking dad!?” I explained that he’s become a solid home and away player however confused his abilities with his ambition. What a dreadful moment, one that Mol, myself, Troy and the rest of you Tigers are sure to be haunted by.

Now just for one moment, I’m going to close my eyes and allow myself to feel and hear that Tiger roar. The colour, movement and noise in the streets of Richmond before the match, the Tiger fans marching to the MCG in full voice. When we win I feel as though I’m part of the collective, in some way connected to every other Tiger fan out there. When we lose it is though my own personal football team who plays solely for me has let ME down and I’m the only person feeling it!

And all I can hear are all those other clubs laughing.

My DIY Football Table

Footy Table 1

I am a magpie, but not in the football sense. I pick things up, I find things and I bring them home. As a kid this included all sorts of useless junk but through maturation I’ve been able to refine this habit to serve house and family in a positive manner, meaning I no longer bring home EVERY speaker I see!  For some years now however there’s been an slowly increasing pile of ‘footy ground stuff’ accumulating in our backyard; old bricks from grand stands, broken old seats and anything that hadn’t been nailed down basically.

As I toured Melbourne’s rotting football grounds in the early 2000s, camera in hand, with the view to documenting much of what has now been demolished, I also began picking up souvenirs. But until recently they’ve sat idle for the best part of a decade in the many sheds of the many houses we’ve lived in, taking up space. I always wanted to do something with them, show them off or use them in some way, and as you can see below I toyed with putting together a sort of football ground collage which never came to fruition, but served as a starting point.

Footy Table 2
Inspiration: Bits and pieces from football grounds I have collected over the years which I toyed with turning into some sort of installation art piece (middle). Also, Ash and I enjoyed a beer at a Williamstown pub last year where the table tops were made from an old basketball court.

Also lying around at home was my old nana and pa’s table, the scene of many happy Friday night dinners in my childhood, and as you can see below, the odd birthday celebration. No one in the family wanted to get rid of the table, yet no one was really able to use it either, so I put my hand up to take it. We used it for a number of years until we found our beloved 1960’s laminate table on the side of the road, so nana and pa’s old table got relegated to the backyard, where though we tried our hardest to keep it dry, the top began to warp and crack badly. I needed to save the table in some shape or form, and I had to use this footy ground ‘stuff!’

Mezz and I table
Nana and pa’s table back in the day. Many a Friday night dinner was eaten here. Here’s my little sister turning 2.

Well as you may know, the old Western Oval at the end of my street has recently undergone a facelift, and a part of that was replacing the old wooden seats in front of the John Gent stand. As luck would have it, I was able to help myself to a fair amount of the old seats as they lay in a rubbish pile.

Western Oval Seats
Western Oval: The old seats early last year, the pile that I helped myself too and the replacement seats ahead of the VFL final played there last year

It sat down the side of our house until about a month ago when my ever-patient partner politely asked what was happening with that wood? Luckily this question was asked during the two weeks I had off work over easter, and I suddenly realised I could kill two birds with one stone; the ‘footy stuff’ and the table. I took the top off the table to find that the base was undamaged and still ridiculously strong. I don’t have any power tools so the beauty of this table is that it was a real ‘blood, sweat and tears’ job, with great assistance from the kids.

Cade Twitter Table

Great minds think alike, and while sharing the progress of the table on twitter, @cade_e knocked my socks off with the tweets pictured left. There’s a sister table out there! It turns out that this wood was salvaged from the tip, and what a great place to sit and discuss the fortunes of the club formerly know as Footscray. Surely footy clubs MUST know that there’s crazy supporters like us out there who’d love the thought of owning a piece of our teams old ground? It frightens me to think of the treasures that have been discarded over the years. Better to focus on what I have salvaged.

The majority of the wood for my table was from the Western Oval but as I’m not a Footscray supporter it was very important to incorporate as much wood from other grounds as I could. Whilst I have nothing from Punt Road, I do have one line of wood which is yellow and black in the table, made ironically from Vic Park and Princes Park, enemy territory for a Richmondite.

Table Build

There is also a plank from in front of the old grandstand at Arden Street and small bit of VFL Park which I scored out of a bin when I went out there ten years ago or so. As you can see in the photo below, they’ve kept a few bays of seating in front of the old Sir Kenneth Luke Stand, and I happened to be there the day after they trimmed them all down. Right place, right time. You can’t teach that.

Footy Grounds
Clockwise, starting top left. Princes Park, Arden Street, VFL Park and Victoria Park.

As the table will live outside I wanted to make it last, so headed to Bunnings and asked which varnish would be the best. Three coats of outdoor varnish later and not only is the table protected, but the darker look the varnish gives really adds something and ties the different parts together.

I set out to make something kind of cool and just used what I had at my reach, but on reflection this table carries a lot of meaning for me, for it is family and football tied together. Family, Football and a place to share Food. I’m not sure what else you really need?

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The finished product. Next project, chairs that suit!

 

Coburg v Richmond

As former partners Coburg and Richmond clash today in round one of the VFL, let’s take a look back at the second time these two great clubs met, back in the final round of season 2000.

To set the scene, this was the first year of the restructured VFL which was made up of VFA teams, AFL reserve teams and some VFL/AFL alignments. Coburg was actually sponsored by the Fitzroy Football Club and as such became the Coburg-Fitzroy Lions, a move which made sense as this was the emblem for both clubs. The team wore it’s Coburg jumper against old VFA teams and a Fitzroy jumper against AFL reserve sides. Upwards of 3,000 old Fitzroy supporters swelled Coburg’s attendances each week and the arrangement seemed to be kicking goals. Cob-Fitz v Rich 2001

Final round of 2000: The crowd was big and tense

But Coburg were broke. Entering the final round match against Richmond there was great uncertainty in the air. This was a very difficult time for both Coburg and Fitzroy people, bearing in mind that Roy fans had already lost their team just 4 years prior. Was this to be the last time a Coburg and or a Fitzroy side graced the Melbourne playing grounds?

As such there was great feeling at the City Oval that day. Though both teams were well out of contention there was a real finals atmosphere with just on 4,000 there to see the game. Coburg-Fitzroy as it turns out were never going to lose the game. It could well have been their last and they planned to enjoy it.

Cob Aaron James

Aaron James lining up at full forward for Richmond

I can’t remember a single passage of play from the day, who played well or who stunk, but football is deeper than that stuff sometimes because I very much remember the feeling of being there; a Richmond supporter hoping that Richmond would lose. It sounds awful I understand, but I don’t follow the Tiges in the VFA-VFL comp.

As the siren rang there was a great outpouring from Lion fans of all persuasions. Richmond fans, who didn’t care about the result, just went on with their kick-to-kicks, un-disturbed by defeat. The Coburg-Fitzroy boys however knew this might be their last hurrah, and the players congregated in front of the fans on the hill and together they belted out the Coburg song. Coburg Song

Above: The players belt out the song in front of the hill, pictured below

Cob Roys on the hill I still vividly remember leaving the ground with a flurry of supporters, and a bloke in a Fitzroy scarf responded to someone’s jubilation with ‘I just hope we have a fuckin’ side next year mate.’ There was very real concern on his face. Turns out they didn’t. Coburg leave the field It’s funny how things work out. I kept a close ear to the ground over the coming weeks to see what would become of Coburg-Fitzroy. Impatiently, I decided to phone the club and ask for myself. When the phone was answered with ‘Hi this is the Coburg Tigers football club’ I had to do a double take. Tigers? Had the person on the line suffered big-cat forgetfulness?

2000.16

No. It turned out that Richmond, whom it seemed may have been Coburg’s final opponents, had stepped in as some sort of white knight and ‘saved’ the club. The catch was, they were no longer the Lions. Whilst I was happy that the club was saved, I was very disappointed in my own club insisting upon the name Tigers. The colours remained red and blue and the Tiger made no sense at all. There was also anther bunch of Tigers kicking the footy around down at Werribee. And the Fitzroy fans? Would they have stayed on board it the name Lions remained? Hard to tell, but what a loss again for the loyal Roys. coburg

The Coburg Tigers logo…the sunburnt Tiger

There’s an odd symmetry with today’s games. Richmond plays the VFL and AFL Lions, both having had an affiliation with Fitzroy, obviously Brisbane’s is ongoing! I now hold a membership for both Richmond in the AFL and Coburg in the VFL, and as such will be wanting for a Burger win with no Richmond injuries!

And what would Coburg-Fitzroy look like now if they had been able to continue. We’ll never know sadly, but it all came down to money I guess. At least we have the name Lions back in the old VFA. And who knows, hopefully one or two old Roy boys pop down for a look.

Go the Burgers