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.

Advertisements

Home & Away #4 Arden Street Oval

Arden Street: League venue: 1925-1985. League (VFL/AFL) matches: 529 . Record Attendance: 35,000-North Melbourne v Carlton, 1949.

Melbourne’s football grounds tend to reflect the suburb in which they are found. As I’ve already shown you, Glenferrie Oval, in the leafy, well to do suburb of Hawthorn boasted an art-deco stand, while Fitzroy, Melbourne’s first suburb, with somewhat a bohemian past boasted two elegant pavilions, one of which still stands.

North Melbourne’s Arden Street oval on the other hand mirrors it’s working class roots. Much like Footscray’s Western Oval and Collingwood’s Victoria Park, Arden Street was a no-frills football ground with plenty of concrete and grit. It was practical, yet still charming in it’s simplicity.

 To demonstrate Arden Street’s lack of outstanding features, it was an object separate to the ground itself which is still remembered as it’s most endearing feature; a gigantic gasometer which towered over the outer wing. 

The gasometer overlooking Arden St. Image from –http://www.footballinvective.com/2005/0508.html

The gasometer however is long gone, the humble little ground outlasting it’s neighbour. The old stand has made way for North Melbourne’s new training facility, with very little remaining to suggest league football was played at this ground. A few years back I made a few trips to Arden Street, and was able to capture the decaying ruins of a league venue. Being too young to have ever attended or been aware of a match at Arden St, it was with some level of mystery that I ventured to North Melbourne’s spiritual home. Here’s how the ground stood just 5 years ago.

Firstly the old stand, what I would term a very ‘northern suburbs’ pavillion, much the same design as Carlton’s late Heatley Stand and what’s left of Coburg’s grandstand. Incidentally, North used Coburg City Oval as it’s home ground for season 1965, yet returned home the following year.

With the old grandstand still standing proud, though blocked off from the public, this is Arden Street looking much as it had as a league venue, complete with the old undercover betting ring behind the old stand which was in place for the greyhound races that used to grace the ground. It was destroyed by fire in 2006, though its days were numbered.

This is a snap taken through the old social club-come-gymnasium window. North Melbourne produced some amazing results in the 1990’s considering their facilities. As North players said throughout their successful era, the “weights are just as heavy as West Coast’s.”

North was renowned for playing hard both on and off the field, yet surely the gymnasium in the bar was taking it a step too far!

As you can see below, the old grandstand was in a state of decay, and though I never like to see a grandstand demolished, what’s more important to me is that North Melbourne is still based at Arden Street Oval. Bulldozing the existing facilities and building up to date ones were the only way that North could stay in it’s own suburb. In a nice touch however, many of the old bricks were used in the new structure.

A feature of the ground which I loved was the old entrance next to the social club. It looks to me as though this was one of the last additions to Arden Street as a league venue, coming across as very ’70’s. And what I love here is the glimpse it gives us into 1985, the last year Arden Street was used as a league venue:

Adults $7, Pensioners/Children just $1.00!

Ah…the magic of entering the ground and heading up the stairs to be confronted by the vast field is displayed beautifully here, a feature at many old league and association grounds, and football grounds the world over.

The old players race is about the last remaining feature from days past, other than the oval itself and the grassy contours which once stood as gravelly terraces. The scoreboard and covered shelter areas are long gone and the ground itself has been opened to the public. The seating along the boundary fence also remains, and you can see by the below photo what I meant when I said that Arden Street was a ‘no-frills’ affair.

As I’ve already mentioned, little is left of the outer other than the grassy hills which have replaced the concrete wonderland, so I was surprised to find this little gem which has survived the passages of time. The old ‘Dry Area’ sign still remains at the top of the hill on the outer side, and I had to remove a small branch or two to make the sign visible. The standing room ‘sheds’ that stood on the wing and behind the goals were demolished after the Bradford City fire in England, deemed a fire hazard.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with the words of football great Ron Barassi. This is one of Ron’s quarter time speeches as coach of North Melbourne in the centre of Arden Street oval during the late 1970’s. Let’s just say that Ron did not hold back for the camera! As Ron rants, make sure you take in the footage of old Arden Street as a league venue, the life and colour that once adorned the old ground. Next time you drive past Arden Street, Victoria Park or Windy Hill, it’s worth remembering the contribution they made to football in Victoria. We outgrew them, but they shouldn’t be forgotten.

For more on Arden Street, in particular the scoreboard, check out scoreboard pressure

http://scoreboardpressure.com/2011/06/22/north-melbourne-victoria/

With a little help from my friends…

http://stats.rleague.com/afl/venues/arden_st.html

http://en.wikipedia.org