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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There’s always next year…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Tiges.

Tigers 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.

Happy Snap #23 Saturday Afternoon at the G

MCG Saturday AfternoonThe universal reflex reaction to victory, hands in the air followed by clapping.

This photo was from a gorgeous Saturday afternoon spent at the footy back in the mid-2000’s, and marked the last time I would sit in the old Olympic/Northern Stand at the MCG. The occasion was Footscray v St.Kilda, and I took my Dog supporting brother, Pete. We sat in the middle deck on wooden seats. Come to think of it, this is the last AFL match I watched with the risk a slpintered bum. It was also the last time that I could sit and watch league football in Melbourne and see trees, something I miss greatly.

Today we find the Dogs again on one of their exciting excursions to the MCG to play Richmond, a day that me and my Footscray supporting brother never relish. The last Richmond v Footscray match for points we went to together was the game at Docklands when Richmond snatched a draw from the jaws of victory, and Nathan Brown greeted the siren with arms raised. We are both rather fond of one another’s team, yet we are fiercely competitive…it’s just not a good mix. The Liberatore/Knights incident threatened to tear us apart!

Whatever the result, football will always be the winner when the MCG is graced on a Saturday afternoon. Long may it continue to do so.

Happy Snap #22 Farewell to the Lazy Full Forward

Stinky Pete 1He could have been chasing. He could have been tackling. He could have been doing a one percenter to get himself involved in the game, help the team out!

But no. My brother, though having turned just 10 on this very day, possessed the demeaner of an old time full forward nearing 40 who is past his prime. He appears to be carrying on his shoulders the jaded torture of 10 seasons worth of poor delivery from midfielders, though the little league match actually only lasted 15 minutes.

How would this dinosaur fair in todays game of full ground presses and pressure acts? Poorly I feel. But my brother does have a couple of points up on me. Firstly, he played on the MCG. All I got was a grid match at VFL Park and a game at Princes Park.

Secondly, he scored North Melbourne’s entire score, 1 behind. There it is on the MCG scoreboard, thanks to some quick thinking with the camera by mum.

Well played little man

Stinky Pete 3

For further reading on our little leage and brotherly football adventures, check out THIS post, and THIS ONE TOO!

Stinky Pete 2Photos by Joy Carr….mum

Don’t forget to check out my bootique shop for your quirky football paraphernalia

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!

Fitzroy’s Demons

Whenever a team begins to struggle greatly these days, the tired old comparison is pulled out by all and sundry…they’re as bad as Fitzroy! It seems that the only time the poor old Roys are brought up in the media is to compare their non-competitive final two seasons with whoever is struggling at the time. It’s become the ultimate slur on a club….you’re as bad as Fitzroy.

This is grossly unfair. Fitzroy’s life as a league club should be remembered as a whole. They even have the 1895 VFA flag to their names, a year before the big split which saw the VFL breakaway from the old Associatoin; Fitzroy being one of the rogue clubs. When the club won the 1922 premiership, they led all comers in the ‘flag race.’ They were the first team to win back to back flags (1898-99) and even boasted two elegant grandstands at their home ground on Brunswick St. They were well to do, the big boys.

1905 Roy boys

Fitzroy FC-1905, a year where the Roys won their 4th flag in the 9th year of VFL. Including Fitzroy’s 1895 VFA flag, at that time the premier competition in Victoria, Fitzroy claimed 5 flags in an 11 year window. They were a power. Image courtesy of PIcture Victoria

Despite some reports, Kevin Murray wasn’t the only player to pull on a Fitzroy guernsey before colour television came along. Some of the absolute champions of the game are Maroons, Gorillas, Lions and Royboys. Chicken Smallhorn, Bunton Snr, Butch Gale and Alan Ruthven to name a few. In fact the Fitzroy Team of the Century would take some beating from even the biggest clubs in town and nation wide.

The Roys popped up to win the 1944 flag at the Junction Oval, but the premierships ceased. The battle for survival began in earnest as the club left Brunswick St Oval for the 1965 season. Was this the beginning of the end, or had that already occurred? No one can really know. However an unstable home ground situation (Princess Park, Junction Oval, Victoria Park, Princess Park again, Western Oval and a toe dip at North Hobart and Bruce Stadium in Canberra) and a declining supporter base, intwined with intense financial hardships, is what got the Roys in the end.

It’s the Melbourne Football Club who have been brought to the feet Fitzroy’s final years for comparison of late. Equally a proud club who once stood at the top of the tree, the Demons struggle of late has not been easy. However they’ve had more ‘ups’ than the Roys did in my living memory, but this slump looks to be fairly serious.

Former Fitzroy coach Robert Shaw recently lashed out at the comparison, stating that it “is a slight on Fitzroy. The one thing they had was fight, right up to the last minute.”

Roy boy

Let’s look at some statistics of Fitzroy’s final two seasons, when the bottom really fell out and they unfortunately ceased to be competitive. But then we’ll add some context.

The Lions played in 44 matches (1995-6) winning just 3, meaning they won 6.82 % of those games. Looking at Melbourne last year and so far this year, (not including matches against the development sides GWS and Gold Coast) has seen them play 25 matches, winning just 4% of those.

-Fitzroy’s average score for seasons 1995-6 was 69.75 while the Dees in 2012-13 are averaging 66.08. Defensively the Roys conceded an average of 129.9 points, Melbourne 120.1 points.

-Fitzroy’s percentage over their two final seasons was 53.7%, Melbourne’s for seasons 2012-13 thus far sits at 55.03%. The numbers are stacking up neatly.

While the similarities in score lines are apt, the context is far different. Fitzroy knew the end was coming, they just weren’t exactly sure of when or how. Melbourne is in no such state as yet, with mergers not on the agenda and relocations not spoken of seriously since North nearly headed north.

Shaw put it like this. “I think the comparisons are wrong. This is a club with high draft picks. We never had any of those…they weren’t good enough, but they never lost their ability to compete with spirit and for the jumper.

Yes, there’s been somewhat of a player exodus at Melbourne. Tom Scully opted out and the club has lost McLean, Rivers and Moloney, while former Dees Scott Thompson and Darren Jolly have been getting a kick elsewhere for some time now. But it pales into insignificance when compared to the ‘heart and soul’ which was ripped out of Fitzroy in their final years. Consider the former Fitzroy players playing elsewhere during seasons 1995 and 1996, and what could have been for the Roys.

FITZROY 95 & 96

Ruck position aside (feel free to jump in if I’ve forgotten anyone) it is a formidable line up. Imagine if youngsters Brad Boyd, Jarrod Molloy, Chris Johnson, Matthew Primus, John Barker and not so young Martin Pyke could have learned their craft alongside the leadership of Roos, Osborne and Lynch instead of having to lead themselves? Look at the spine or Pert, Roos, Broderick, Osborne and Lynch?

While a number of these players were nearing the end of their careers, it highlights the un-fillable hole from which Fitzroy could never recover; players they couldn’t afford to keep, yet without them they couldn’t compete. A vicious cycle. The Dees have been able to go out and attract key forwards Mitch Clarke and Chris Dawes. Fitzroy on the other hand gave Richmond half of it’s list for a tired Jeff Hogg.

So how do I remember Fitzroy? As fighters against the odds. For lifting themselves during the 1980’s for one last unsuccessful tilt at a flag, for the fans and club officials fighting for the club’s survival again and again, for leaving no stone unturned. I remember two loud and foul mouthed supporters shouting themselves horse behind us at Princess Park one day and I remember the kids Bamford and Carter busting their guts to little avail in the final two years of this proud club.

Roy boy burger

Staunch

I can see a brave Brad Boyd lining up for Victoria in the Lions penultimate year, and I see the cheer squad banner spitting venom at the AFL after being forced to merge with Brisbane. I remember their fans being few but boisterous. They also won their final quarter of league football in a far off land to the west. Or east, if you keep on going that way.

And of course Fitzroy are back where they started this whole footballing caper back in 1883 at the BRUNSWICK ST OVAL, having fought back yet again so once more they can kick the pig skin in anger, this time around in the VAFA. For what it’s worth, the Melbourne Football Club are still kicking around on that old paddock of theirs too after all these years. Long may it continue.

Brunswick St 2

Carn’ the Roys! Go the Dees!