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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Here we are again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coburg v Richmond

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

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

Final round of 2000: The crowd was big and tense

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

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

Cob Aaron James

Aaron James lining up at full forward for Richmond

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

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

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

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

2000.16

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

The Coburg Tigers logo…the sunburnt Tiger

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

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

Go the Burgers

Happy Snap #21 Royce the Legend

Royce Hart sharpened

Just a quick celebratory post today to signify Royce Harts induction as a Legend of the VFL-AFL competition. As you can see, Scanlon’s footy cards recognised Royce’s ‘legend’ status back in 1989, labelling him ‘The Richmond Legend.’

A big thankyou to my old footy card collection, still going strong, still proving relevant!!

And some extra reading and looking upon Royce from my archives…

The day Royce first set foot upon Punt Road Oval…

Royce Hart and the Tassie Tiger connection