The Hardest Years, The Best of Days

Pure joy!

Smiles, tears and hugs.

I turned to my family and then to my Tiger supporting friends…one with a tear in his eye. They’d done it. I honestly never thought I’d see the day.

Footscray had just won the flag. At the Whitten Oval that day I’d never wanted a team to win a game of football so desperately. You could say I jumped on the Bulldog bandwagon but in all honesty, I’ve always followed them closely. My younger brother is a Scragger, and living in Footscray, you can’t help but love the community feel that the local footy club brings.

I was there with my family and fellow Richmond supporters Dugald and Craig. It was truly a remarkable moment. I remember commenting that the only thing that could top this for me was a Richmond flag. Little did I know.

Grand Final day 2016, shared with these two Tigers. It is a day we’ll never forget.

 

Grand Final Week

What a week it was. We picked up my Tiger-mad daughter from the airport at 8:30 the morning after the prelim. She missed the GWS game due to a school trip to Vietnam, but picking her up the morning after was most exciting! There was the VFL grand final (carn’ the Borough!) then the Brownlow Medal count, each vote for Dusty was cheered in our house like a goal in a  home and away fixture.

The Age came and took photos for a story that I hoped would net Mog a grand final ticket. It didn’t, but it was fun nonetheless. We spoke to 5AA in Adelaide, again no ‘hoped for’ ticket but a great experience all the same. We recorded our podcast, excitement was afoot.

Some of our media ‘commitments’ during September!

We had multiple trips into Richmond, to visit Tiger friends, to see the wall, to enjoy lunch at the Rowena Parade cafe, chips and beer at the London Tavern, dinner on Swan street, a trip to the Town Hall. Our front fence and tree were plastered with yellow and black. We soaked it up, all week.

Richmond the suburb and it’s football club’s supporters reconnected during grand final week. Living in Footscray, there’s still a firm geographical link between team and suburb, but most Richmond fans I know have their roots in Richmond from many generations ago. So we headed to Docker St to have a look at my nana and pa’s house, my great grandparents house and Jacky Dyer’s house, half-way between the two.

But there were other Tigers prowling the streets, making pilgrimages to the suburb once know as Struggletown. Local businesses sprouted yellow and black paraphernalia,  but I couldn’t help notice that there were more old Richmondites still living in Richmond than I had realised! What a beautiful thing.

My crippling anxiety from the first two finals (see below) disappeared, and I was purely able to celebrate and enjoy the week…. until I saw a photo online of Cotch and Walker holding up the cup. That’s when it really hit home, we were in a grand final and I really don’t think I was equipped for a loss. I hardly slept on Friday night.

Saturday

Having farewelled my family at the Punt Road Oval live site, an emotional parting for me, I ended up in my seat, anxiously waiting. Yes, I had a ticket, and no, my family did not. I was pretty cut up about this, but it’s just the way of things, sadly.

I had dressed very deliberately. Nothing over the top. First on was my 1995 sleeveless jumper. Sure, it’s a bit tight around the middle, but I can still pull it off. On my jumper was an old Tiger badge I’ve had for many a year. Next was my Richmond duffle coat. It’s not an original, but my wife bought it for me ten years ago or so and I love it. The last piece to add was my pa’s old Richmond scarf, knitted for him by my great grandmother. It’s a cream scarf, but at each end is a yellow and black band. Subtle. I love it.

Clash strip

I’d chosen early in the week not to care about the canary yellow jumper. Of course I’m a traditionalist but I didn’t want to allow anything to detract from my grand final week experience. I looked and listened as Ian Wilson, speaking alongside his daughter on 3AW outside the ground, claimed that he would’ve ‘told the AFL to get stuffed and worn the jumper anyway!’ Old Richmond. I like it in a way, but the club of today focused purely on putting energy into things that mattered, bringing the cup back to Punt Road.

It’s not a bad jumper, it’s not really a Richmond jumper, but I’ll tell you what, it’s a part of folklore now. It’s a new part of Richmond!

The people you meet

I’ve met JD on two occasions, although we’ve chatted online for years now. The first time was in the half time toilet queue at the preliminary final, our beloved Tiges just 1 point up against the oranges and looking shaky. We embraced, and JD gave me some much needed hope, his raspy voice spluttering “We’re one point up, can you believe it!?”

Again we met outside the G and then inside, Punt Road End, grand final day. We spoke with passion about what it all means, that we couldn’t believe we were actually here, and basically ‘How good is this!?’ I then wandered down to the fence to soak in the MCG on grand final day. I’d never been to a grand final, and always wondered if the ground would feel different. It didn’t. It was still just the MCG. Someone called my name. He’d seen me on the telly with my son Richmond. He then introduced me to his son…Richmond! Great minds think alike, some welcome distraction from the well set in nerves.

The Hardest Years

The Killers started playing, and to be honest, I thought they were pretty good, and I am traditionally scathing of pre-match entertainment.

“Sing Up There Cazaly, the anthem and then play the bloody game!”

Then they launched into an old Midnight Oils tune.

The hardest years, the darkest years, the roarin’ years, the fallen years….These should not be forgotten years

The hardest years, the wildest years, the desperate and divided years,

We will remember, these should not be forgotten years”

 

Well that did me in, my first tears for the day. All those years, hardest, darkest, roaring (’95), fallen, desperate…they won’t be forgotten. That’s what made this all the more special. I couldn’t help but think of myself as a little boy, so desperate to see us win, so proud when we would get close in a last quarter, the angst as I thought we might fold in 1990, my unbridled joy as the Tiges became respectable in 1995, my despair as we flushed that down the toilet. I’ve loved and supported this football team through thin, and swore that I ‘knew they’d never win a flag in my lifetime…ever!’

I’ve since come up with my own lyrics:

The Wallace years,the Frawley years, the Gieschen years, the Bartlett years…These should not be forgotten years!

 

We were actually in a grand final and I was at the ground, about to watch it, after all the shit I’ve endured. This song could not have been have been better chosen or performed. It’s still in my head as the soundtrack to my pocket full of sun-soaked, grand final memories.

The Game

I took my seat, M2 BB 08, the grog squad in full voice behind me. My ticket is still in my pocket as I write this. Next to me sat George, his three brothers and his nephew. I told him my family were from Richmond but that they’d all migrated south east. George and his family still live in Richmond, have done so for time out of mind. They actually live near the corner of Gipp St and Docker, ‘just near Jack’s old house.’ He said they even see Peggy out and about and apparently she lives in my grandparents old house! According to George that is.

As the Adelaide fans boo my beloved club as they entered the old ground, something took over me. A tribal roar like I’d never felt before spewed from my mouth. I had no control over it. I just wanted this so much…since before the Adelaide Crows were even a thing.

Watching the first two finals was not good for my health. On both occasions, it wasn’t until the match was beyond doubt that I could even voice my support. I watched the grand final with tense abandon, but my levels of anxiety weren’t as pronounced. Still, every time we kicked a goal, I would jump to my feet and roar, then suddenly feel light headed and have to quickly take my seat. When the Lambert goal went through in the third, although we were still far from home, it was the first time I allowed myself to just wonder, could my Richmond win the flag?

Rinse and repeat, just do that again, harder for longer. This was my three quarter time mantra. I knew that we should win from here, but I’m a Richmond supporter, I’ve seen it unravel before. Could we continue to choke the Crows and keep the scoreboard ticking at the same time? Could we? Would we? I could feel myself actively holding it all in. There was a pool of emotions bubbling away but I needed to know that we couldn’t lose before I allowed any of that to surface.

Dan Butler kicked a goal. I knew we had it won. I saw Benny Gale tearing up on the big screen. I joined him. Huge grin, fist pumps and tears. Dusty kicked another goal! I jumped up and down so wildly that I smashed my leg on the chair in front of me. I am still sporting a sizable bruise. I care not. We’d won the flag. Words I never thought I’d think, hear or use. It was simply an unbelievable feeling. I looked around me. George and his family next to me were embracing in pure wonderment. Tears were shared. Oh how I wished my family was there with me to share this. I’d meet them soon enough. The siren!

Them final siren feels!

 

I haven’t seen any footage of this yet, but I clearly remember seeing the players who missed out sprinting from the bench to join their team mates, much like when the kids used to race to the centre circle after the second siren. Pure elation, and this visual will always stay with me as a symbol of how this playing group cared for each other and celebrated each other’s success. It was hard to fathom that it was the Tigers, in yellow, doing the premiership stacks on! This was real, and Richo was going to be handing over the cup!

My mind turned to Punt Road. Mog, Richmond and Ash! How dearly I wanted to be with them! I tried accepting face-time calls but it didn’t work. Ash’s phone had died as it turned out.

Mog at Punt Rd, moments before the final siren.

 

I watched the presentations and cried some more. The Richo chant went up and I suddenly realised how much I’d missed him. How that man and that chant had brought great hope. I roared for each player, Jack Riewoldt, who first captured Molly’s football heart way back in 2010. We’ve followed his career together, Mog calls him ‘my boy.’ I am proud of him, in the way a parent is proud of their children. He’s the ultimate team player having sacrificed his game. That’s why it was so great that he could also showcase his skill on this grandest of days.

I reserved my biggest cheers for Titch Edwards and Bachar Houli. They both proved me wrong. I’ve always loved them as players but have had my own question marks over both of them when the pressure was on. I couldn’t have been happier for the two of them to show the footy world just what they’ve got, and what they’ve been able to add to their games.

Bachar will never play a finer game. He took Adelaide on when we were struggling early, he backed into packs, took contested marks, chased, tackled, and then also used his strengths, runnin’ and kickin’. And Titch. You need to watch the replay just to see how good this man was on grand final day, because I missed half of it live at the ground. Subtle, like the yellow and black on my pa’s scarf.

The aftermath

I farewelled George and his brothers because I had to find my family. I’m forever grateful to them for ‘adopting’ me into their family on grand final day. We shared a final hug. Ash and I had arranged a meeting spot should one of our phones die. Good plan as it turned out.

George and his brothers belting out the song just before the siren rang.

 

I wandered around Yarra Park in a haze, looking for Ash and the kids. There was a Wonder Years filter as the sun set on the grandest of football seasons. I went to our meeting spot and nothing. Watched thousands of jubilant Tiger fans streaming past but still nothing. Suddenly they appeared, and I ran to them for a most wonderful embrace! We’d won it! It was especially wonderful to reunite with Mog. Those three elimination finals were hard to swallow. She’s embraced the Richmond ethos and supports them like a disgruntled 20 year social club member. This was simply the best.

After a glorious kick in the carpark we decided to head to Bridge Road as Swan St looked like it may not have been all that child friendly. But it was still rocking! Little Richie came into his own, handing out high-fives to all and sundry, complete with “My name is actually Richmond!” which was was often greeted with “Hey, I saw you on the news!” Brilliant.

We ended up at Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder. Poor proprietors…it was jam-packed with gaudy football supporters who just wanted a drink! It was the merriest of meals we shared, the highlight being when Richie was suddenly on top of someone else’s table, the guy holding him up and shouting “This kid’s name is Richmond! How good is that!?” Massive cheer from the diners. What a moment!

 

The day after: Catching up at Punt Road with ‘Gazza’ and SCRAPBOOKS with dad.

 

The following morning we trekked back to Richmond to revel in being in Richmond if that makes any sense. We went to my parents for dinner to share in the premiership festivities with my dear old dad in particular, a Tiger of old, the fourth cog in a six-generation Tiger machine. After dinner we looked through his mum’s old scrapbooks, 1958-1969. Dad has some sort of story for every game we looked back at. This was truly a magnificent way to mark the premiership.

50 years apart: Dad’s photo post 1967 grand final and my photo post 2017 grand final. Glorious late afternoon sun which may soon be a thing of the past

 

What does it all mean!?

Football was utterly magical to me as a kid, and I’ve spent much of my adult life chasing that magic, be it emerging myself in the history of the game, the old grounds, looking at footy through my kids eyes or clinging to traditions. And as much as I adored Richmond and the footy, there was nothing that quite gave me that childlike buzz of sitting in the old southern stand, of ‘around the grounds’ score updates, of mud, footy replays, tears on Brownlow night and the smell of a freshly lit cigarette on the terraces.

But the last twelve months have been the most magical yet. To think that my brother’s team Footscray would win the flag!? Such a glorious time to be living in the shadows of the Whitten Oval. Then on a warm Friday night in February, a most wonderful and emotional ride kicked off with the very first AFLW season coming to be. The thought of watching Richmond be Richmond in the depths of winter was not all that appealing at this point of the year, however I couldn’t have been more wrong, as watching the Tiges this year kept me and the kids beautifully warm on the coldest of days.

my baby brother in me, 12 months ago at the whitten oval. I never thought it possible that richmond could do the same this year.

 

The fact that my brother and I saw flags in our lifetime, ‘back-to-back,’ has not yet fully sunken in. That we both won flags during glorious late afternoon sunshine makes it all the better, and they could well be the last two day grand finals we ever see. That was very important to me. I’ll forever look back on this time with great joy and satisfaction.

It’s truly been a magical ride. I’ve never been more in love with the game.

Eat ‘em Alive

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Farewell to Footy Park

FOOTY PARK WAVERLEYc/o Football Invective-Commentary with Balls

West Lakes and Waverley. Football and VFL Park respectively. They are 100’s of kilometers apart, yet the two are so close in many ways. They’ve even been referred to as ‘sister’ stadia. While VFL Park is long gone as a league venue, the last match for premiership points played in a previous millennia, upon entry into 2013, Football Park is too on the cusp of sharing the same fate. Next year, Footy Park will become a former league venue.

Footy Park farewell

Image courtesy of Adelaide Now

Both grounds were built by respective football leagues, the VFL and the SANFL, looking to break away from their respective ‘home’ bases, the MCG and the Adelaide Oval, which were both controlled by local cricketing authoriteis. Waverley opened in 1970, West Lakes 1974. The move for the SANFL was described as the “most exciting and momentous since the SANFL was formed almost a century earlier.”

Both grounds were built ‘out of town…’ VFL Park some 23 km’s from the heart of Melbourne, and Football Park 14km’s, in the much smaller city of Adelaide. Both also began with grandiose visions, the VFL’s original plans catered for 166,000 patrons and a stadium ‘equal to any in the world.’ The capacity reached the mid 70 thousands, although 92,000 did cram in on one occasion. Similarly, Football Park was designed to cater for 80,000 patrons. It too, never got close.

Footy Park v VFL Park comparison

Plans for Football Park on the left (80,000) and VFL Park (166,000). Looking quite similar!

The ‘sister’ stadia shared the same basic design; concrete and bench seats all the way around,  with an elevated stand opposed to ‘the outer.’ VFL Park ‘boasted’ wooden plank seats, Footy Park aluminum, a feature of many Adelaide football grounds. The plastic bucket seat has however won the day.

Unley

Aluminum seating-still alive an well in Adelaide! Unley Oval image from austadiums.com

The West Lakes oval shape is less rounded and not as expansive as Waverley Park, which could comfortably host little league matches between the fence and the boundary line. Here are the two grounds under construction, can you tell which is which?

footy vfl

Image on the left courtesy of Adelaide Now

Here is what ringed (I’m referring to Football Park in a past tense I know) the outer of both grounds. Whilst Football Park is clearly smaller, both share near identical features; larger lower section, smaller ‘upper’ sheltered section with the same roofing/advertising hoardings.Footy Park comparison

Here’s an aerial shot which gives a clear look at the similar set up of both stadia.

FPVFLPK

Both grounds even had a gap between their stands where a small scoreboard was situated. While VFL Park boasted the notorious ‘Big V’ scoreboard, this ‘small’ one was Football Parks main board until recently.FOOTY PARK sc

Well it’s nearly curtains for West Lakes, both it and Waverley conquered by the very cricket grounds they sought to replace. But they have played their roles admirably, and football now resides at the MCG and Adelaide Oval (as of 2014) in a more powerful position. I hope the South Australian footy people can send the old girl off in style. Ugly as she was, she had character.

FP -The Future

And in a final twist of synchronisation, Football Park will join Waverley in becoming both a housing estate and elite AFL training venue…..together forever.  

Adelaide v The Eagles

 

West Coast and Adelaide are often lumped together. Both teams represent their state’s local leagues, the WAFL and the SANFL, and are considered the ‘big brother’ of their respective cross town rivals, Fremantle and Port Adelaide. Both also enjoyed early success, prising away two flags each from a bitter Victorian landscape during the 1990’s.

Why is it then that I consider Adelaide a bona fide footy club, and the Eagles still as a franchise, a bit plastic? I was only 6 when they entered the competition so I’ve grown up with them, but there’s something not quite right for me.

So what’s in a name?

Let’s start with Adelaide. It is what it is, it represents the town of….Adelaide! The previous incarnation of the Adelaide Football Club disbanded in 1893 and is in no way connected to the current day club, which meant that upon entrance to the AFL in 1991, their was no hesitation in simply calling the club Adelaide.

West Coast on the other hand is to me a vague choice of name to represent a Perth based club. In their defence, the name Perth Football Club was already taken, the Perth Demons being a member of the WAFL. However, the ‘West Coast’ of Australia represents a landmass four to five times larger larger the United Kingdom, and as all landmasses possess a west coast, to me the name is generic and far from inspiring.

Think I’m being harsh? Consider the words of respected footy commentator and proud West Australian Dennis Cometti. He describes the “dumb name” as “American crapola!” The usually affable Cometti continued “It’s a real blight on the competition.”

Cometti coaching WAFL side West Perth, who he also played with. Image from- http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2005/08/26/cometti.jpg

Part of Cometti’s reasoning is a lack of a geographical focus. “I have struck many people who I have met overseas who follow Australian rules who ask me where West Coast is located. They ask me how far from Melbourne is it.” The Perth Eagles is Cometti’s preferred choice.

While the name ‘Perth’ was out of reach, perhaps something such as ‘Greater Perth’ could have worked. That’s what marketing and branding people are out there for. ‘West Coast’ seems a poor choice.

Nicknames and Monikers

The Eagles. Easy listening pop-rock music, from the West Coast of the USA. That’s right, ‘West Coast Eagles’ conjures up images of harmonic pop melodies, sweetly sung by hairy, good natured ‘boy next door’ types. It hardly sounds befitting of a hard and tough football team, which is what West Coast have been for the majority of their existence.

The Eagles from the US West Coast. Perhaps Eagle Ben Cousins modelled his open shirt look from the bloke on the left? Image from-http://images.paraorkut.com/img/artists/images/t/the_eagles-1137.jpg

But what should a team from Perth have been called? Like the Perth name was taken, so was the obvious W.A football name of Swans; snatched by South Melbourne after an influx of West Australian recruits many years ago. The state team was also known as the ‘Sandgropers,’ a colloquial term for West Australians. However ‘Greater Perth Gropers’ would struggle to secure the sponsorship dollars needed to run a football club. I don’t have the answer, but ‘West Coast’ with ‘Eagles’ is too American.

Compare this with Adelaide’s moniker, the Crows. This is no throw-away nickname, instead it is steeped in more history than most. South Australia’s state football team has been long known as the Croweaters, a unique name which started out as a term of ridicule. It can be traced back to 1851, seven years before the recognised ‘beginnings’ of our national game began fragmenting themselves together.

As the South Australians rushed to the Victorian gold fields they began to run low on food, so out of necessity, “killed, cooked and ate some crows.” Arriving at the gold fields in a “very hard up state” and after relating their experiences, they were soon dubbed the ‘croweaters.’ The name stuck.

So whilst ‘Crow-eaters’ and ‘Crows’ confusingly brings up thoughts of cannibalism, this too adds to their footy club culture, as all the old clubs have the ability to ‘eat their own’ in times of trouble.

The Jumper

We now turn our attention the two teams guernsey designs. This is important to me. If the jumper is right, I can turn a blind eye to other aspects. When West Coast and the Brisbane Bears entered the VFL competition in 1987, they brought with them two jumpers which challenged the definition of a ‘footy jumper.’

The original 1987 Brisbane and West Coast jumpers, along with the WA state jumper. Upon putting these together I noticed that perhaps a picture of a bird in the middle of the guernsey was possibly a shout out to tradition.

The first thing to notice is that there was far more yellow than had been used in the VFL to that point . But for me this worked, as yellow seemed a colour representative of far warmer climates than the Melbourne competition they were joining. West Australia’s state team had a predominately yellow jumper, and this provided a nice link.

Anthony Costa, whose site http://www.costasportslogos.com/ looks at sporting logos, branding and uniforms amongst other things, also prefers the “gold jumper, which for me is the club’s most distinctive onfield look. There’s a lot of blue and dark sombre colours in the AFL… reckon this jumper would really light things up.”

West Coast reversed the colours in 1988, the colour blue becoming the more dominant, though many shades of blue have since been used. I found and continue to find the Eagles jumper a tad fiddley, with both the writing and the picture being rather non-descript when viewed from any distance past ten metres, though the word Eagles is long gone. The guernsey has never felt settled and is often tinkered with. I am still unclear which is their ‘official’ jumper. 

Adelaide on the other hand have ticked ‘all the boxes’ as the clichéd footy saying goes. Their colours, red, blue and yellow are those of their states football team. Their design is simple and striking, like a Geelong jumper on an acid trip.

South Australia’s jumper left, Adelaide jumper right.

A look through Adelaide’s home jumpers from 1991 to today shows the most minor of tinkering, which would indicate that they have got it right. No fancy pictures, words or designs, which incidentally are impossible to see as a player is chasing the pigskin in the distance. Just simple, bold colours and patterns.

To illustrate my point, the past few years have seen Port Adelaide, Fremantle and Footscray all simplify their jumpers, removing all imagery, to near-universal praise. Port Adelaide’s current jumper was even designed by a 7 year old fan. Consider all the money wasted on professional advice from marketing and design companies!

Club Song

This is my final point. As a a musician, I can’t help but see this as integral to the fabric and culture of a club. I’ll kick this section off with a tweet I came across after West Coast’s recent thrilling victory over Hawthorn.

Simple statement. True statement. West Coast’s ‘modern’ rock-pop themesong severely lacks the punch and heart thumping pride found in old fashioned brass band music. It sounds corny, but it’s amazing what can happen when you mix a tuba, trombone and banjo with a barbershop quartet on heat! The rock beat which sits behind West Coast’s song also sucks the number dry of emotion and feeling.

*click* West Coast’s themesong (Warning! Contains mediocre footy song!)

While Adelaide’s song is far from the best in the league, again you get the sense that they have aimed for the type of song which blokes can sing together post-match, a cappella. They have the right idea, I’m just not sure about the execution. But it has the desired effect as the Adelaide players congregate post-victory. I think I can even hear the Coodabeens South Aussie representative Greg Champion’s voice in there!

*click* Adelaide’s themesong (Warning! Contains MIDI instruments)

Final thoughts

When it comes to club image, marketing and all that jargon, the Crows have just kept it simple and rooted in the past. And just think, anything fancy wouldn’t have matched the heads of McDermott, Weideman, Maynard, Rhenn or Riccoutiou!

West Coast on other hand were and are a slick, professional outfit. Business like and clean cut, seemingly an emotionless machine. Much of that could have been due to coach Mick Malthouse’s approach and demeanor at the time. But just think of McKenna, Worsfold, Pyke and co…. they would have looked just as comfortable on the footy field as they would have in business suits.

Sure, West Coast had the rough heads of Gastev and Ishchenko run around, while the Crows had glamour boy Modra and the clean-cut Tyson Edwards, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Perhaps the ‘American’ West Coast image suits this club? Perhaps it was what the Eagles founders saw as their aim? But I don’t think so. Think of Worsfold’s toughness, the skill of Matera, Dean Kemp and Guy McKenna’s courage, Ashley McIntosh throwing his light frame around with little regard for himself. What of the toughness of the pint-sized Daniel Kerr, the gut-running of Cousins and Judd, the fear Beau Waters instils in opponents. A team renowned for their miserly defence and toughness.

West Coast Eagle fans, you deserve better. Your club’s image does not match the reality of your club, whilst the Crows, love them or hate them, would appear to have done things well.

What’s your take? I would love to hear from Eagles and Crow fans alike!

With a little help from my friends…

-Click here for more of Anthony Costa’s thoughts on the West Coast logo

-All jumper images were found at footyjumper.com. For a comprehensive look at VFL-AFL and state jumpers, this website will not leave you disappointed! http://www.footyjumpers.com/

Cometti’s comments were courtesy of http://www.perthnow.com.au/sport/west-coast-name-is-dumb/story-e6frg1wu-1111113132067

And the Crow-eaters history lesson was found here- http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/manning/sa/misc/crema.htm#croweaters