VFL-AFL SuccessThe Changing of the Guard

VFL AFL success table

Beginning at 1897 (left) and working right, this completely overwhelming table shows every season played, when teams joined and which teams were and are the most successful when ‘years competed’ are divided by ‘premierships won.’ It’ll make more sense as you read on…I hope!

How do you measure success? Is it by sheer amount of games won? Because if so, that would make Collingwood the most successful team to have played in the VFL-AFL competition. Or is it simply by the number of premierships? Because then it’s Carlton and Essendon who are sitting pretty with 16 premierships apiece.

Well I don’t necessarily look at it that way, however I’m still seeing premiership glory as the measurement of success. A quick look at the history books shows you that Essendon did not compete in the 1916-1917 VFL seasons during World War 1. Now I’m splitting hairs, but as Carlton has had two more opportunities to win a premiership, does that not make Essendon’s 16 premierships ever so slightly more impressive?

Slide1

Let’s give that theory some form. Let’s calculate how often a team wins a premiership by dividing the number of years competed by the number of flags won. As it currently stands, Essendon wins a flag every 7.31 years, Carlton every 7.44 years. Slightly, yet still, more successful.

Well that is all good and well. However in 2015, using this system to measure success, there was a significant changing of the guard. We all know the Hawthorn story. The team that was let into the VFL in 1925 not on merit, rather due to geography. They then spent the best part of four decades as Mustard Pots, Mayblooms and easy beats. But with a name change to the predatory Hawks combined with the ruthless attitude change, the club has never looked back. The 1950s are the last decade that Hawthorn have spent without a premiership, a most remarkable feat.

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But how successful are they? 13 flags places them in fourth position on the VFL-AFL premiership table, however what must be remembered is that they only joined the league in 1925, some 28 years after the league was formed. Where Essendon and Carlton have participated in 117 and 119 season respectively, the Hawks 13 flags come from just 91 years of competition.

At the end of 2014, with the winning of their 12th premiership, Hawthorn averaged a flag every 7.5 years, slightly behind Carlton (7.38 years) and Essendon (7.25 years.) But here is the momentous part. After winning the 2015 flag, Hawthorn finally sits atop all other comers as the league’s most successful club, averaging a flag every 7 years, (see table below) skipping ahead of Essendon who now average one every 7.31 years and Carlton who average one every 7.44 years. At the other end of the spectrum we have poor old St.Kilda who average a flag once every 116 years. In that light I’ll take Richmond’s ‘flag every 10.8 years,’ even though I’ve seen none of them.

2014 2015 Success

HAWTHORN Success

Using the same table as before however highlighting only Hawthorn’s progress from 1925, you can see their rise to the top of the league

So while I did this research based on looking at Hawthorn’s success, there were a number of other interesting aspects to the tables. Firstly Fitzroy. Eight flags in one hundred seasons means that by the time were no longer a league team, the Roys averaged a flag every 12.5 years. However after 1922, they averaged a flag every 3.71, the leagues earliest power. We might look back and see that as a quaint old notion but at the time it was very real.

As Fitzroy have finished competing, along with University, their statistics will never change. They still sit mid table for VFL-AFL success, and I’m glad they’ve got something to show for all of their early dominance. \

VFL AFL FITZROY

Collingwood’s table also made for interesting reading. After taking over from Fitzroy in 1930 with their fourth successive flag, a record which is under threat from Hawthorn this year, the Carringbush sat atop the league until grand final day 1981, where Carlton not only defeated them but equalled them on the ‘success’ table, surpassing them the following year. Collingwood’s 52 consecutive years at the top is by far the longest reign in VFL-AFL football.

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VFL AFL COLLINGWOOD

However it was nearly interrupted. Melbourne came oh so close to knocking Collingwood off the number 1 position with their 12th flag in 1964. While Collingwood had won 13 premierships at the point in time, it was the three season’s that Melbourne had missed during world war 1 which made their premiership average slightly healthier as you can see below. But that’s as close as they would get. By Collingwood winning the 1958 premiership they not only defended their recording breaking 4 successive premierships, but also maintained their unbroken 52 years atop the league in terms of premiership success.

COLL MELB 1964

melbourne success

Melbourne’s last flag in 1964, when they almost caught up with the Pies. That 1958 Collingwood win not only protected their 4-peat.

Another very interesting part was to see the impact that the teams entering the league from 1987 onwards had on the table, in particular those that enjoyed early successes. Now that clubs such as West Coast, Adelaide and Brisbane have 30 odd years behind them, their premierships and years played statistics are of a meaningful sample size, remembering also that Hawthorn weren’t involved in the for three decades of league football.

After season 1994, West Coast had won two flags from just 8 seasons, giving them an impressive yet ultimately unsustainable average of a premiership every four years! You can see West Coast, Adelaide and also Brisbane race to the top of the table for a short time with the flags that they won, but with every season played since, a more realistic, yet still impressive story is told.

NEW TEAMS

Which leads us to Fremantle. No premierships from 21 years competed. It seems rather harsh to see them down there as they’ve shown great competitiveness over the last decade, however when compared with other sides who have entered the competition in latter years, Gold Coast and West Sydney aside, it is unfortunately an accurate reflection. One could argue however, and probably successfully, that at both Fremantle’s and St.Kilda’s 21 year marks, the Dockers record is far stronger than that of the Saints. Ross Lyon’s coaching career appears to be solely focussed on addressing the bottom end of the premiership success table. How close he has come.

NEW TEAMS

If you’ve made it this far then most likely you brain is swimming in a vortex of facts, figures and spreadsheets. I know mine is. Hawthorn have long been lauded as the most successful side of the modern game, but the numbers now stack up to place them at the top of the all time VFL-AFL table.

I know there are many who think that VFL and AFL premierships should be separated but as I see it, the league has always been continuous and fluid. Should they have started counting again when Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Footscray entered, the single largest injection of teams in any given year? I understand the argument but that’s why I believe that in counting the average years for premierships rather than the sheer amount gives us a more accurate reflection that rewards in particular the successes of Hawthorn, West Coast and Brisbane.

You can see each team’s historical success below, just click through the screens. If you’re keen for a copy of the excel spreadsheet then please contact me, I’m more than happy to share it.

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.

Football

“I know there is strength in the difference between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap” -Ani DiFranco

2 Lil Tigers

Side  by side

I was born in Box Hill, Melbourne. I grew up in Blackburn. At school we played cricket in the summer and football in the winter. Australian football. This is what my father did, what his father did, and so on. This game was the centre of my life. I had no comprehension of it’s limits outside of my own little bubble. I never twigged that Australian football was, on a world scale, nothing but a quirky, little-known game played in a Colonial backwater. To me it was everything. All the people I knew followed a team that their sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers all followed.

Of course I could have grown up in Aberdeen, Scotland. My great grandmother hails from that part of the globe. Then my world would have revolved around what we in Australia refer to as soccer, but is better know world wide simply as football. There’s that word, football.

What comes to mind when I say the word cheese? Plastic cheese? Cheddar cheese? Swiss, camembert or mozzarella? Blue vein? Perhaps shaved parmesan? I guess it would depend on your experiences, on your preferences, heck, it might even depend on where you come from. But are they all not cheese? Similarly, I consider football to be a collective noun. Australian Football is my main expression of football, whilst I very much enjoy other expressions and acknowledge that each expression has very similar roots and beginnings.

In a criminally simplified history lesson for those not aware, ‘folk football’ has been played in countless forms world wide for thousands of years. Some kept score, some included beheading and most had rudimentary rules at best. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, games of football slowly became more formalised. At the Rugby School in England, the game morphed into a physical, ball carrying sport, while at Eton, also in England, the use of hands was gradually eradicated. After much confusion, trial and debate, we ended up with rugby and soccer.

Folk Football Collage

Folk football from around the world

Gridiron is what rugby morphed into once introduced to the United Sates, and Australian Rules football is again what rugby morphed into once introduced to Melbourne, Australia. As history show us, New South Wales and Queensland stuck with the British game, perhaps a sign of the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney. Intriguingly Gaelic football still evokes that feeling of folk football, a game remarkably similar in movement and ball skills to Australian football.

Australian football began differentiating itself from rugby due to the rock-hard nature of the Melbourne earth. Many injuries occurred which wouldn’t have on the lush playing fields of England. So the game prevented hacking and tripping, but to even things up a little, it was decided that a player had to touch the ball to the ground every 15 yards or so. And from there she kept on evolving. I celebrate the game’s origins. Without rugby, Australian football wouldn’t be. I also love that the game was tailored to suit local conditions. It is these nuances which make the different codes wonderful. It actually all happened rather organically, something we’ll never see again in our overly-managed world.

Face it. If you grew up in the Melbourne suburbs then chances are that you’re an Australian rules devotee. I’ve grown up understanding the intricacies and beauty in footy; the high mark, the perfect bump, a well timed torpedo punt. Kids who grew up in Redfern understand the beauty in a well timed sidestep, a well placed dribble kick, a well executed fend off, a beautifully timed pass which finds a hole in the opposition’s defence.

Those who grew up in Dublin have a deep appreciation of a player running at full speed while executing a solo. My friend Gareth who grew up in Scotland appreciates the beauty in a nil-nil draw, the courage in going up for a header in a pack. Someone who grew up in Chicago understands the skill involved in the perfect block and the quarterback who holds his nerve and hits his teammate with a beautifully weighted pass.

Football

The last time I checked, no one gets to choose where they’re born. If you think ‘soccer’ is purely a game for wusses then be thankful you didn’t grow up in Inverness! If you think rugby players are nothing more than brain dead bum-sniffers then be thankful you weren’t born in Capetown. If you hate ‘AFL’ or ‘aerial ping-pong’ then just thank your lucky stars you weren’t born in Ballarat. And PLEASE can we put an end to the term Gay FL? Or perhaps the AFL should turn what is meant to be a derogatory term into a positive GLBT awareness campaign? I’m thinking aloud now.

I understand Australian football’s limitations. It’s never going to be major football code outside of Australia. But that’s what makes it special. While world football has the magic of truly bringing people together the world over, Australian football is a quirky and rather eccentric game. Now I love finding a hidden gem be it a tiny coffee shop hidden in a back street, a great tiny op-shop or record store. This is how I view Australian football on the world stage, a hidden gem.

Now I’m completely sick of the fighting between the codes here in the melting pot that is Australia, and whist I recognise it is a competitive marketplace, it’s time that we leave that jostling for those in charge of our leagues or codes. The arguments between supporters are that of the school yard. Basically “my opinion is right, your football is shit, and get stuffed.” Now I understand that we are each very passionate about our own code and there’s no wrong in that. But why the derision of other codes? The sneering remarks, the belittling? It saddens, angers and frustrates me. Am I allowed to enjoy more than one code?

I grew up in a Melbourne full of propaganda and fear-mongering that soccer is an evil that will come and ruin ‘our game.’ That was my starting point as a young one. The fear demonstrated by Australian Rules Football, in particular the AFL, highlights nothing more than it’s insecurity. The AFL uniquely operates with conflicting inferiority and superiority complexes. How foolish not to partner with other codes under the banner of football.

Barass

Come on Ron, a bit harder and it might magically turn into a Sherrin!

But it’s not just the AFL or Australian Football. Equally ignorant comments are made by rugby league, world football and rugby union fans, and all are based on grand generalisations and the summation that one’s opinion is right. Can we please put and end to this moronic and, quite frankly, childish behaviour? I’m not asking people to fall in love with codes they’re not familiar with, but at least stop and think that even though you can’t see what it is, that each code has it’s own beauty and charm.

Let’s focus on the fact that we all have more in common than we’d like to admit. The joy of winning, the pain of losing, the ritual of going to the ground to support your team. Wearing your team colours and your favourite player’s number on your back. Using football matches from the past as a reference to help remember life’s key dates and moments. The heroes and villains. Do not all football’s serve the same purpose,  providing a sense of community and of place? Of the team representing you, the fan?

South Melb St George

Sometimes there are more similarities than differences

 I talk often with my dear friend Gareth who hails from Scotland but has lived in Australia for more than 10 years now, adopting local side Footscray as his own. His first love however is Aberdeen; the Dons! As we talk about our love of football (collective) I often forget the shape of ball or field we are talking about such is the common thread of our conversation. It’s the ritual, the passion, unique old grounds, the disappointments, the involvement of family and love of statistics which provides more crossover between ‘our codes’ than difference. Don’t get me wrong-football in Footscray and Aberdeen are vastly different experiences, but there is much that ties both together.

The culture of each game is something which should be celebrated, or at the very least tolerated. Don’t criticise that which you do not fully understand. I’m not asking you to like all codes, but let’s stop this nonsense fighting and realise we’ve all actually got a fair bit in common, but thankfully not too much.

I’ll leave you with this quote, or call to arms if you will.

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices” -Henry David Thoreau

Molly Footy

My 8 year old daughter Molly had her first outdoor match last weekend, while her first Richmond membership came in the mail later in the week. She loves both games.

Footy Smells

As I cut the grass in our backyard a few weeks back with our op-shopped, $10 push mower, the smell of cut grass, combined with the gradual pinch of warmth in the air made me think of one thing. Finals.

Though finals games at AFL level are more likely to be under lights than the sun these days, it’s still the notion of the sun coming out in spring, playing finals on grounds where the centre wicket has crusted over to become something akin to concrete, the smell of the afore mentioned freshly cut grass and many other wonders which excites this football writer.

And as such things do, it got me thinking about the different aromas I associate with football, the good, the bad and the downright stinky.

So I compiled a bit of a list and then asked my twitter followers for theirs. There were some popular ones such as the already mentioned (twice) ‘freshly cut grass’ to the more conceptual smells of ‘anticipation and excitement’ (@Shaebee22) and ‘the indefinable smells of hope, desperation and disappointment.’ (@Bulldog_Tragician)

First on my list was cigarette smoke. Now I’m not a smoker but the smell of a freshly lit cigarette, be it in the street, at the park, wherever, generally takes me straight to the football. Local footy still has it, and if you congregate near the exits at an AFL venue a cloud sits nicely over those ducking out for a Billy Rag during the breaks. But I do miss the smell at the MCG, so much a part of my formative footy experiences.

Robbie

My twit follower @justin1flynn added that he ‘Will never forget the smell of men smoking pipes in the outer when I was a kid in the 70’s’ and @Footy_Maths made mention of some ‘whacky tobaccy’ being consumed down the old scoreboard end at the Carlton ground.

Next I had the stench of stale beer on a punters breath. Yep it’s all class, cigarettes, stale beer and drunks! In the ‘real world’ this would repulse me, but get me into the unnatural surrounds of a footy ground and it’s somewhat of a comfort. Mixing this with the smell of wet duffel coats (@Bulldog_tragician) and damp cardboard, (@bob_ely) we have a footy feast for the nose.

There are the smells that individual footy grounds possess due to their location; the old soap factory smell at Port Melbourne, the poo farm out Werribee way and that fresh seaside smell at Williamstown. There’s the doughnut van smell outside the MCG and hot chips in the outer, which @BrotherAmos so elegantly describes as ‘the smell of fried oil permeating the air.’ There’s the ‘food from home’ smells as remembered by @bob_ely of international roast coffee in the thermos and footy franks, skins blistered and smothered in sauce. And of course there’s the magnificent smell of snags sizzling away at the local footy.

Anyone who’s played a game or two of football would know that smell in the middle of the ground where the cricket pitch lays dormant, the Merri creek mud whiff. It’s a thing of beauty, yet still worth washing off yourself should you be lucky enough to roll around it in the name of winning the pigskin. Or as @dugaldjellie puts it, the smell of ‘damp earth.’ And at three quarter time, as you’re sitting on that earth, the traditional smell of oranges (nominated by @watotiger) mixed with mud activates both smell and taste as you suck a few down, a tradition which many primary schools still maintain!

John mud

To the footy changerooms and there’s that wonderful smell of linament! As @MiltMonster remembers ‘I loved that smell of liniment you’d get as you walked to your seat past the Richmond rooms in the old Northern Stand.’ We still get to see our heroes each week at the ground, but the notion of actually smelling the stars has most definitely gone by the wayside, until someone can develop smellevision into something workable.

Still in the changerooms and @AndrewJohnEgan nominated the smell of Goanna oil, @BrotherAmos and @watotiger deep heat, and @dgunsberg and @dugaldjellie both drew upon the inspiration that is ‘stale sweat,’ a smell which much like beer, is sweet with victory, and bitter with a loss. And speaking of stale sweat, @coynejp mentioned the forgotten footy bag, that’s right, the smell of unwashed jumpers and boots from last weeks match. That stench can put hair on your shoulders.

And I loved this nomination from @ASpeedingCar, and I’ve experienced this, it’s the smell of ‘ciggies in the shower from blokes having a quick nerve settler before the team runs out.’ That in itself is an institution.

Moving from the changerooms we now come to the horror of the old suburban ground toilets. Stale piss, inexcusable body oder and drunks once filled these dank, unventilated pits. It’s a little better at today’s modern facilities, but it’s still a reminder to days gone by.

Vic Park loos

@Bulldog_tragician remembers the enormously whiffy loos at the Western Oval, and in particular when there was a dead rat in the ladies as being particularly memorable. And the less said about the Vic Park loos the better, so I’m told!

Turning to country footy and @Suburbia3121 loves the smell of ‘Woodsmoke from a fire in a 44 gallon drum…particularly at Romsey.’ I haven’t watched a game in such conditions and consider myself the poorer for not having done so. It’s on my list, a magnificent way to keep warm at the footy mid-winter no doubt and a far cry from the sterile Docklands television studio.

Finally, I’m glad that @BrotherAmos brought this up because it was one of the most important ‘footy smells’ to me whilst growing up, yet I’d foolishly overlooked it. It’s the smell of leather Sherrins, or any footy for that matter. I can still close my eyes and smell the magic that was my first leather football (Rossy Faulkner!) Sweet, almost edible, and just so darn new! As the footy aged, and mine aged rapidly due to excessive use, the smell changed. It became less intense, but no less comforting.

And the @Coodabeens take on all of this? That it sounds like a season of scratch and sniff from ‘Outside Football’ (their mock Inside Football magazine)! Make of that what you will, but it’s certainly profound!

In closing, there are some footy smells I’d like to know about. What does the MCC area smell like during a game? When your nose is rubbed into the turf at Docklands does it smell ‘earthy?’ Does Sam Mitchell’s shit actually stink, as I’m sure he thinks it doesn’t? And finally what is that elusive smell of success?

Please let me know what footy means to your nose. What are your footy smells?

You can take the family out of Richmond…

I first posted this in 2011 on Nick Maxwell’s blog, and secondly (with additions) on the footy almanac site. Here is my third posting, with further updates! You’ll just have to remember it was written in the context on football 2011. i’m posting this one last time as i’m off to punt road with my daughter molly to watch Port melbourne v richmond, as my family did back in the early 1900’s. Read on.

In case it escaped your attention last year, esteemed journalist Patrick Smith took the astonishing step of turning his back on four generations of Essendon-supporting tradition, trading the Bombers in for my club Richmond! Smith’s actions were in protest of his ‘former club’s’ handling of the controversial James Hird and Mark Thompson coaching appointments, using what he described as “shabby trickery unworthy of a league that aspires to be the best and most respected competition in the country.”

“It has become impossible to continue to support a club that acted so shamelessly.”

Whether a mere publicity stunt or pure stubbornness, it just didn’t sit comfortably with me. Firstly- what exactly did Essendon do wrong? I don’t particularly love the way in which they conducted themselves post-season 2010, but I’d love that ruthless nature should Richmond adopt it. I also get the sense that the majority of Essendonians are supportive, given the sudden spike we saw in 2011 membership sales.

Secondly- what will Patrick do when Richmond one day acts in a way he can’t respect? Surely it’s only a matter of time. Will he switch clubs again?

And thirdly- how can you turn your back on such a family institution and tradition? How can you push down that instinctive ‘urge’ for your team? I haven’t found the off switch yet! Perhaps decades of sports journalism is the answer?

I was reminded of these ‘antics’ as I read through the memoirs Fr Kevin Cronin, my first cousin, twice removed, or more simply, my grandmother’s cousin. Kevin passed away in 2007. His stories added to what I already knew of my family’s links with Richmond, both football club and suburb, yet from a different perspective. The Cronins were of Irish heritage as was much of Richmond’s population, and have been traced back by family members as far as my great great great grandfather, Patrick Cronin, who emigrated from County Cork in Ireland to Richmond in th1840s, during the period of the great potato famine.

The first thing that leapt from the pages as I read Kevin’s memoirs was simply a paragraph on his father, Thomas Cronin, brother of my great grandfather, Maurice.

“Dad was a Tiger supporter even as a boy and a young man. In those days, the Tigers were part of the Football Association. Whenever the team played an away match against Port Melbourne, the Tiger supporters would travel together by train, then form up in military fashion and march to the ground, a matter perhaps of intimidate or be intimidated! I seem to recall hearing from dad that on one occasion the umpire so incensed the Port supporters that, fearing the worst as soon as the final bell sounded, he raced for the exit and made off in a handsome cab. Some irate fans took off in pursuit, but the Cabby kept them at bay using his whip to good effect!”

In trying to locate some information about this match in Brian Hansen’s “Tigerland”, the Richmond Football Club history, I came across numerous spiteful clashes between Richmond and Port, and to pinpoint the specific afternoon is difficult. A fierce footballing rivalry was lost when Richmond joined the League in 1908!

I was fascinated to learn that my family’s link with the Richmond club pre-dates entry into the VFL in 1908. I can only assume that my great grandfather too watched Richmond in the VFA, as my father spoke of how he was a Richmond supporter and member of the cricket club. This all got me thinking, what about my great, great grandfather, Maurice Cronin senior? Surely as he lived in Richmond, and his children followed the club, he too would have been a Tiger, or a Wasp as they were known in the early days!

So I asked my own father again if he knew anything of it, and he pointed me in the direction of the Richmond cricket club, remembering that there had been some link, though unsure of its nature . So I scurried off to my library of all things football (with a smattering of cricket) and pulled out my copy of the History of the Richmond Cricket Club. And there he was, Maurice Cronin (snr), on page 122!

It turns out that Maurice Cronin hosted the players on their tours of the wineries during their 1921 rural trip in and around Rutherglen. The players “eventually staggered home after visiting the local vineyards and the Viticultural College, where Maurice Cronin, an old Richmond personality held sway as principal”. An old Richmond personality? I like the sound of that!

This story certainly rings true with family records, as my own Nana spoke of visiting her grandfather in Rutherglen. There’s also a copy of an electoral role from the time which listed “Cronin, Maurice, Viticultural College, Rutherglen, vineyard manager”.

It can only be assumed, and I don’t believe I draw too long a bow, that my family’s support of the Richmond Football club extends six generations, with my daughter now firmly entrenched in the Richmond camp. I’ve also made life as anything other than a Tiger for my 5-month-old son difficult, naming him Richmond Jack… Richie for short! Here’s hoping he doesn’t rebel like Patrick Smith and end this Richmond fanaticism.

Ed-July 2014: Since posting this piece, I have learnt through the help of Richmond historian Rhett Bartlett that my great-great grandfather, Maurice Cronin Snr was in fact a Richmond football club member in the VFA premiership season of 1905 and the following year 1906. Many thanks to Rhett for his efforts for locating and sending through some photos of these records. It has certainly given the family a thrill.)

Ed-August 2015: Adding to this and again thanks to Rhett, it now turns out that Maurice Cronin Snr was vice-president of the football club during the first world war years. An old Richmond personality indeed!

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Richmond Football Club’s membership records from 1905 (top) and 1906 (below) show that M.Cronin, my great-great grandfather, was a member of the club.

While my great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Cronin lived in Richmond from 1845 until his death there in 1896, I’ve no evidence to suggest he followed the club, which would make my children seventh generation Richmondites. My feelings are that he may have, but as the club was merely 11 years old when he passed, he may have had no time or interest for sporting clubs in later life. Besides, it would be too many bows drawn far too long.

But enough speculation, and back to Kevin Cronin’s memoirs.

In between stories of serving his priesthood in India and other family tales, he also touched upon his own following of the club, going to watch the Tigers play whenever they played at home, just over the road at the Punt Road Oval in the 1930s and 40s.

“I used to have a Scholar’s Membership Card” he recalled, and would often attend with his elder sister Teresa, the most passionate Richmond fan of the lot. “We would sit together in the stand while holding a place for a pal of hers who lived at the top of Richmond Terrace… while people near us grumbled about the amount of space we occupied!” Nothing has changed there, although reserved seating has taken such angst out of many a football fans experience!

I met Teresa, also my first cousin twice removed, when she was an elderly lady, probably three or four times. Never at a family function, rather in the lower deck of the old Olympic or Northern stand, the Richmond members area. Perhaps such occasions could have been classified as “family functions?” Teresa continued attending well into her 80s such was her devotion to the club. Kevin describes her as having a “one-eyed passionate interest in the Tigers” and spoke of her “devoted following of their fortunes whether at home or away.” My dad also mentioned that Teresa is clearly visible in the 1937 Richmond Team photo in front of the old stand at Punt Road. Here is my own daughter Molly in front of the same stand just last year. You can take the family out of Richmond…

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Then Kevin continued with some information which fascinated me no end. While Richmond’s current day song is oft regarded as the league’s best, Kevin spoke of a Richmond song in the 1940s, of which I’d never heard. According to Rhett Bartlett it would have been one of many ditties used by Richmond fans, not an official club song. That would come later.

“It it is true that I can still sing the Tigers song of the 1940s- and it is because of the thoroughness of Teresa’s coaching! Thus (to the melody of “Men of Harlech”) :

‘Bolger, Crane, O’Neill and Dyer,

Cocker Strang, the Albry Flier,

Sure to set the grass on fire,

Tigers on the ball!’ ”

Go ahead- hum it to yourself. It’s quite catchy! The names mentioned are for me almost fictional characters, having only read about them in books, representing a time and place in football and life that is long past. I can only bring them to life using a combination of faded black and whites and a vivid imagination.

Which brings me to “the scrapbooks!”

A visit to my nana and pa’s “little bit of Richmond” in Forest Hill was never complete without three things. Licorice all-sorts, watching old football videos and a fossick through the old Richmond scrapbooks my nana kept from 1958 through to 1969. Top cupboard, spare bedroom. Newspaper clippings yellowing with age, these scrapbooks had a unique aroma, a magical mustiness which permeated my senses. Each match has the selected teams from the Friday paper, results and any match reports or pictures, plus a ladder at the completion of each round.

There were pre-season pictures of players training in sand shoes and the odd shot of a new recruit at his work-place. The hours I’ve spent poring over these family treasures is immeasurable, yet I seem to come across something new upon each viewing. Once the Tigers finally broke the premiership drought of 24 years (current drought is 31 years strong) the scrapbooks began to wain slightly, until coming to an end in 1969, another premiership year. It appears that my nana was well satisfied with victory and lost the hunger! Though my grandparents are no longer with us, the scrapbooks are still in the family.

Now my grandparents were born and bred Richmondites; married at St. Ignatius atop Richmond Hill, Labour and then DLP voters and of course Tigers at heart. Remembering that Richmond was once referred to as “Struggletown”, it’s no wonder that they, like many others, eventually headed for the space and comfort offered by Melbourne’s east and south eastern suburbs. Firstly Carnegie, finally Forrest Hill.

My pa was old school. “Kick-it, KICK the dam thing….ahhhh!” He also had it in for Brendan Gale for reasons never explained, as if every Richmond loss was solely his doing! Whilst never admitting it, I think he disapproved of Benny’s curly locks! Yet a Tiger victory would see Pa humming away to himself, quietly satisfied as he poured himself a sherry.

My nana, a Cronin, was old school too. She was the most mild-mannered being you could meet, never a cross word from her lips and an ever-present smile. Yet the mere mention of ‘Collingwood’ would see a darkness emerge from her that very rarely saw the light of day. “It’s Collingwood on the front page, Collingwood on the back page…it’s all Collingwood, Collingwood, Collingwood!” she would spit with rare venom surfacing above her otherwise sweet demeanour! She was also a nervous football watcher, and legend has it that the further Richmond went ahead of the Pies in the 1980 grand final, the more nervous she got! “Oooh, we’re getting too far in front.”

My nana spent much of her childhood and married life living in Docker street, Richmond, a street which also housed Tiger and Australian Football great Jack Dyer. Younger than Jack, she frequented his milk bar on Church St. “He knew me by my first name” she often told us. It must have been quite a place to hang out. Can you imagine if Buddy Franklin ran a milk bar down on Glenferrie road?

Nana’s cousin Kevin also frequented Jack’s shop. After junior football on a Sunday he and his mates “used to congregate for shakes or spiders at Jack Dyers milk-bar on Church street. Jack was always an interested and courteous host.” It was simple. You live in Richmond, you barrack for Richmond. It’s unimaginable these days.

So to Patrick I say, football clubs are, to a lot of us like family. Or like mine, the two are so intertwined that you’re not sure what came first. I may not agree with or condone everything my family does, but I still accept and love them for who they are. The same goes for my footy club.

But Patrick, I’ll leave the last word on the subject to my late cousin, Kevin Cronin-

“…where once the Cronins, like many others were “parochial” in their tastes and loyalties, especially as regards political affiliations and social identities, over the years and through generations and by reason of migration to less-congested living areas, they have become less distinguishable from their neighbours generally. With one important exception, of course: whoever heard of a Tiger becoming a Magpie or a Demon?”

me

The following are comments from distant family members who added a great deal of information to the story. Included is a family member who played for the club!! This is a bit self-indulgent but it may interest a few of you!

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Below is a grab from the book Pioneers.
Wally Seitz

Uncle Wal’s AFL statistics! Thanks Australian Football
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Richmond v’s Carlton

Mention the football clubs Richmond and Carlton and you’ll get the usual response: halcyon days, the late 60’s and 70’s, Balme and Southby, Walls and Sheedy, Doull and Hart, fierce suburban rivals, Percy Jones and TJ…Helen D’amico.

BOURKE

The halcyon days

That is all well and good, but I’ve only ever read about those ‘good old days’ in books. The ‘Richmond v Carlton’ rivalry has been less glamourous yet no less intense in my years of following the yellow and black.

Being aged just one and blissfully ignorant as the Blues knocked off the Tiges in the 1982 grand final, my first memory of the two clubs is from 1988. Richmond by this stage was a basket case, while Carlton were the reigning premiers. The stage was a Friday night at the MCG, and I stayed up to watch the first half (on delay) at my nana and pa’s house. We moseyed home around the corner at half time, and as I had ‘footy clinic’ in the morning, I had to go to bed. I awoke to find a magical note on the end of my bed. My dad’s capital lettered print simply said;

‘Tigers by 17.’

 I remember that vividly and it still puts a smile on my face. We would often beat Brisbane, St.Kilda and sometimes North, but Carlton?

1988 TIGERS

Michael Laffy gets his handball away in the Tigers upset win in 1988

This ‘win against the odds’ has been the very basis upon which I’ve watched Richmond play the Blues over the years. Two years after the Friday night match, and with another wooden spoon in the bank, we piled into the old Kingswood and headed into the MCG to watch Richmond play the Blues in David Cloke’s 300th match. I distinctly remember my dad, as we wound through the back streets of Richmond, saying words to the effect of “Now John, you know we’re not a very good chance today, don’t you” as if to say ‘don’t get your hopes up son, don’t leave yourself open to being hurt.’

MICHAEL MITCHELL!!

Michael Mitchell gives ‘full back of the century’ a full body ‘don’t argue!’ (1990)

I remember the game well. It was in what I remember as Richmond’s best ‘era’ under Bartlett. Wins against the previous years grand finalist Geelong at Geelong, Sydney and Fitzroy in a 5 week period was unheralded, and the win against Carlton was a ‘back-to-back’ victory. Rare as hens teeth back then. We followed it up with ‘loss, win, loss, win’ pattern to make it 6 wins in 10 weeks. This form was on the back of a young group coming through in Knights, Lambert, Free, Nicholls, Barry Young and the Ryan brothers, ably supported by stalwarts in Flea Weightman, the General, Cloke and Michael Pickering. The nucleus of a promising group which sadly never eventuate as the club’s attentions soon became focussed on keeping itself alive.

Key to our survival was another Richmond v Carlton match, this time a ‘legends match’ fundraiser played at Windy Hill. Just on 20,000 filled the ground, and as I reflect back as an adult I am tickled pink that I was able to see Hart, Barrott, Bourke, Clay, KB and co run around, albeit a little slower and with a little less hair. Except for KB of course. Interestingly, David Cloke played in that match having retired at the end of 1990. He came out of retirement for season 1991 and is possibly the only player to have played in a legends match before the end of his career. His final game in 1991 saw him kick 8 goals and collect the three Brownlow votes in another upset win against, who else, Carlton.

Legends Match 1990

‘Not-so-Bustling’ Billy Barrot chases a loose ball whilst KB and Jon Ronaldson share a joke at ‘training.’

When 1992 rolled around the Tiges again had the pleasure of upsetting the fancied Carlton, sending them from the final 6 with a 3 point win at Waverley Park. Carlton went on to miss the finals by percentage only! Strangely, this was the only occasion our family went to an Essendon game instead of the Richmond, with mum happy to swap her red sash for a yellow one, another closet Richmond fan. I remember a lady with a little radio sitting next to us keeping my updated with the scores once she realised I was a little Richmond devotee. I was at the MCG physically but mentally I was in Mulgrave.

But it’s not just a one-way street of upset. The year 1994 saw Richmond enjoy their best season in years, certainly the first year I could remember us being competitive in a meaningful way. We even won six games on the trot! However, sitting 5th with just two matches to play, Richmond headed to Carlton for what was billed as an old-style suburban battle with the old foe. What unfolded was a 113 point drubbing at the hands of the old Navy Blues. And so began the ‘Ninthmond’ era, with the Tigers missing out on the finals by 6%; the same 6% we lost in that match against the Carlton or as my uncle refers to them, “the forces of evil.”

The following year, 1995, saw both teams improve to such a point where they met mid-season in a top of the table clash. Just two years prior a paltry 6,000 fans attended a Richmond v West Coast match at Princes Park. So the crowd of 84,000 blew this young teens mind, a throwback to ‘the glory days!’ In an enthralling tussle the Blues pulled away late as they steamrolled their way to the premiership. For Richmond, 1995 brought with it a long awaited finals appearance which should have been a foundation for future success. This sadly never eventuated, the club it’s own worst enemy once more as coach Northey left in acrimonious circumstances at season’s end.

The Gieschan years were far from glorious, however when he replaced ‘Carlton man’ Robert Walls as the Tigers caretaker coach in 1997, he propelled us to a series of late season wins, amongst them one of my favourite matches of all time.

In keeping with the theme, this time it was Carlton who simply had to defeat Richmond on their home turf to advance through to the finals. In the last truly ‘suburban battle,’ 35,000 fans crammed into the old ground to see Carlton jump out to a 40 plus point lead. I still pull the old video out every now and then and force myself to watch the first half. It makes watching the second half all the more enjoyable, especially as the commentators turn to talking about Carlton’s finals opponent the next week.

What ensued was a last man standing, nail-biting comeback in which former Blue Ben Harrison kicked the winning goal! Tiges by 2 points with the loudest ‘away cheer’ you’re likely to hear upon the final siren. Whilst we finished a lowly 13th, dragging Carlton down with us at the death presented great satisfaction.

Fast forward to the final match of 1999 and the Giesh had been well and truly unleashed (let go) by Richmond and would soon surface as coach of the umpires! The Blues were grand final bound whilst the Tigers were enduring another mediocre season, but in the spirit of this rivalry as I’ve followed it in my lifetime, the underdogs got up, although the game will forever be remembered as the ‘scoreboard fire’ match!

MCG fire

The final round of 1997 was soon evened up by the Blues, as in 2000 they thwarted Richmond’s attempt at a finals birth, again in the final home and away match of the season. The Tigers needed to beat Carlton to make it, with little percentage separating the Tiges from 8th place Hawthorn. The Tiges lost. The Tiges finished 9th. Again.

It took only a year for Richmond to exact revenge and this time in a footy match with meaning. Just as the teams will compete tomorrow, Richmond versed Carlton in a tough and scrappy 2nd semi-final in front of 83,000 fans. It was a sweet victory, the only finals win that Matthew Richardson and Joel Bowden would enjoy, whilst David Bourke was lucky enough to play also in the 1995 semi-final win against Essendon. Their fathers won 7 Tiger premierships between them.

Rory Hilton

Rory Hilton gets his big bum off the ground in his most important game for Richmond! Kicked the sealer!

However 2001 proved to be false dawn for a number of teams, and the two old ricals plummeted down the ladder to finish in the bottom 3. Both clubs have been slowly trying to claw back ever since. Richmond landed a large blow in 2005 under new coach Wallace, handing Carlton a near 100 point thumping in a false dawn of grand proportions. Then Nathan Brown broke his leg and Plough’s tenure headed steadily south.

A brutal blow was handed by Carlton to Richmond in the much-hyped ‘Ben Cousins’ match, where Richmond fans displayed how desperate they were for anything that could be claimed as a success. Pitted in front of a full MCG it was billed as the biggest build up to a non-finals match the game had seen. Carlton smashed the Tiges in demoralising fashion and I clearly remember a Carlton supporter behind me bellowing “Time for another 5 year plan Richmond!” It hurt because I knew it was true. That’s why I’m not looking forward to Sunday.

The two most recent blows handed to Richmond have actually come from the club formerly know as the Preston Bullants. Not once, but twice in the past 12 months a severely undermanned Carlton have beaten the more fancied Tigers, who in both instances had the match seemingly in their keeping. The fragility of Richmond on display for all to see. While last years loss, compounded with a loss against the Suns from another ‘unlosable’ position, saw us again miss out on finals action, this year’s loss to an undermanned Carlton fortunately was not enough to knock us out of finals contention. However the Blues still get their chance on Sunday, as do the Tigers for redemption.

I haven’t enjoyed this week to be honest. A loss to ‘ninth’ placed Carlton would be the ultimate insult and irony given the wretched run with ‘ninth’ Carlton inflicted upon Richmond way back in 1994. It’s also ironic that when we finally did make the finals, the 9th team also qualified due to Essendon’s disqualification.

Anyway, I’ll be anxiously watching on from level two of the Olympic stand with my keen six year old daughter beside me, the same spot my dad stood to watch the Tigers beat the Blues in 1969. Here’s to shaking off the shackles of failure, but my lid is still firm shut.

Carn’ the Tiges!

The Footy Almanac, 2013

The festive season is upon us, and whilst the organised among my loyal readers have finished buying or making presents, there are those of you like me, who are only just beginning to think about starting such a task. Well this may help, as it has helped me. If you happen to be wondering what to get for your footy-obsessed family member or friend as they suffer the withdrawals the off-season brings, look no further for the answer is here. The 2012 Footy Almanac.

So what just is the Footy Almanac I hear you ask. Great question. In essence it is a yearly summary of the AFL competition, with all match reports written by people like you and me, lovers of football. No routine newspaper style ‘match reports’ which merely appear to cut and paste the teams and players names from week to week, in the almanac each match has it’s own unique narrative. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and all that jazz. It’s a far deeper look at the game of Australian Football.

Falmanackery

The great thing about the Almanac is that the match reports bring to life the dullest of fixtures in a way that Fox Footy’s obsession with off-season repetition cannot, because they focus not just on what happens on the ground, but also the historical implications, the pub talk, the walk to the ground, the characters in the outer. To me, it’s a more complete picture, lovingly put together by John Harms and Paul Daffey.

You can also become a member of the footy almanac website where you can share your football writing, or any other sport should you wish. Check it out, there’s some brilliant content on the site. If you’d like to order the Footy Almanac you can pick it up at good bookstores, probably some bad ones too, or you can purchase it off the almanac website.

Oh, and make sure you flick to the round 17 Richmond v North Melbourne match. Another glorious Richmond loss penned by yours truly.