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.
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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 to shine without pressure of finals

The Richmond Football Club is pleased to announce that they are out of the running for the 2016 AFL finals series.

Coach Damien Hardwick noted that the club “doesn’t handle expectation well” and with the pressure of finals out of the equation, believes that the club will now be able to put its best foot forward on the field.

“As a group we never like to go into a game as favourites, and we particularly dislike ‘must win’ games. We find the pressure really plays on our minds and distracts us from the playing the kind of football we want to play.” Hardwick believes that the “shackles will be released” now that the pressure of finals has been removed. “It’s just what the club needed” he said with a wry grin.

“I believe in drawing on past successes and as a group, we’ve been inspired by the club’s ‘Unleash the Geisch’ period in 1997. The pressure was right off the club in terms of finals and that really allowed the playing group of the day to focus on playing great football. We’re certainly looking to replicate that.”

Club captain Trent Cotchin said that Richmond now has a great opportunity to “shape the final eight.”

“Now that we’re out of contention I have great belief in this group’s ability to put pressure on those clubs fighting for top four and top eight positions. I mean, we beat Sydney, so without worrying about the finals now, we should be able to worry teams like Footscray and Hawthorn. There’s no more satisfaction in football than when you’re having an impact. Our season starts now.”

Cotchin continued, “The past three elimination final defeats have severely dented the playing group’s confidence entering the following season, so without the heartbreak of finals we will be able to enter season 2017 with renewed confidence. This is a positive step for the club.”

Hardwick said that while the club had entered 2016 hoping to make the finals, it’s hard for clubs these days to maintain successful periods such as Richmond’s three-peat of 2013-15. “Look it’s worked out really well for the club. We’re excited with where we’re headed as a group. I’ve met with the board and we’re all confident that this is our ‘Geelong of 2006’ year. I think that’s pretty clear.”

When questioned on where the Tigers would finish this year, Hardwick pondered for a moment, and quipped “I think we can still push for ninth. With the pressure off, we can really get back to playing the Richmond way.”

“I’m sure our loyal supporters will be rapt with how things have turned out this year. They won’t have to cancel September holidays as they have the past few years, and the last few finals series haven’t been good for their mental health. Look, at the end of the day, it’s all about the fans.”

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Happy Tiger fans reveling in the club’s failure to make the finals in season 2016. The ‘lid is off.’

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.

Windy Hill- Essendon

Windy Hill- League Venue 1922-1991. League Matches: 629. Finals: 1. Record Attendance: 43,487 v Collingwood (1966)

wh quirky 10 a

I’ve always been interested in the Essendon story. In the late 19th and early 20th century, a time in football of fierce suburban rivalries and territorial battles, the Essendon Football Club oddly called the East Melbourne Cricket Ground in Jolimont home, a two and a half hour, 10 km walk from Essendon. How peculiar that while we often now mourn the loss of locality and sense of place in football, Essendon played so far from home all through their formative years, from 1881 until 1921!

Due to the East Melbourne ground’s closure in 1921, the Essendon footy club finally came home to Essendon and did what most league clubs have done in some way shape or form…bullied a VFA club! Yes, they took the Essendon Recreation Reserve from VFA side Essendon Town who, groundless, ceased to exist, swallowed up by VFA team North Melbourne. And there the Bombers stayed for 70 years until progress saw this club move back to it’s traditional area, the MCG!

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This post is a continuation of a series I’ve been compiling over the past few years that I’ve called Home and Away. In the early 2000s I began documenting with my camera Melbourne’s decaying old league grounds, however Essendon’s is a ground I didn’t explore fully until more recently. I did however manage a few encounters with the old ground.

Windy Hill old pics

Mum is an Essendon supporter so I do sometimes stop and think what might have been. Here are some photos she took from I believe a 1975 game between Essendon, in red shorts, and St.Kilda. Mum’s work colleague Colin Carter lined up for the Saints that day which is why the camera was on hand. Below is a mash up panorama of the photos which shows policeman on the ground, during the match, as the Essendon team runs out!

Windy Hill old

 My first memory of Windy Hill is watching the 1988 VFA grand final on the telly and being rather confused as to who Coburg and Williamstown actually were; I thought it was Essendon and Richmond on the telly! I never saw a league game at Windy Hill however I was lucky enough to attend the Richmond v Carlton legends match in 1990, a fundraiser for the Save Our Skins campaign. With the crowd figure nearing 25,000, it felt real to me!

We sat on the members wing in a poky little seating bay, right in front of where the Windy Hill brawl took place! I didn’t appreciate it at the time but on reflection am thrilled to have watched Hart, Bourke, Bartlett, and Barrott in a game of footy, even Bull Richardson had a run. I also saw Syd Jackson, Vinnie Catoggio and Percy Jones play, and of course Barassi. Though he was beyond past it, I can say I saw him all the same. David Cloke played that day too, and in what must be a first, came out of retirement and played league footy the following year!

Richmond took Essendon’s good will in letting them use the ground and ran with it, signing off from Windy Hill with a surprise win the following season. David Cloke played in this game also.0

WH legends match

The huge crowd at Windy Hill to see the Richmond v Carlton legends match, 1990

The other time I got out to Windy Hill was to see an Essendon FC side of 6 take on an Australian VI in a cricket match played before a very decent crowd. I of course had no interest in the game but was along to see and capture Windy Hill with a crowd, bravely wearing my Richmond polo. It was great to see the winning raffle ticket number being shown to the crowd and in the middle of summer, that footy in the middle of the ground was a sight for sore eyes.

Windy hill Cricket montage

The ‘working class stands’ at Windy Hill making use of themselves once more, albeit for a cricket match
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In the past few years, particularly living out this side of town these days, I’ve made a number of visits to Windy Hill for a snoop around with my camera. Thankfully I got some shots of the beautiful old Showers stand before it was criminally knocked down in 2007. Interestingly, built in 1939, it was the last major grandstand built in Melbourne before world war two. Whilst not quite as elegant as the art deco grandstand at Glenferrie Oval, I find it difficult to reconcile that it is gone and the concrete jungle on the wing still stands. That’s progress for you I guess!

WH Coleman edit finish 2A mash up of Coleman taking a big grab in front of the summer cricket crowd from a few years back. Click the photo to make it bigger

The Showers stand had a lovely shape to it and was made predominately using blonde brick. I loved finding this old Tavern Bar and Snacks sign which I’m sure has since been thrown into a skip. What I didn’t capture was how this stand looked from the street. It really set the tone for how I perceived Windy Hill and I’m sad that it’s gone.

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In front of the Showers stand on the terraces (now a grassy hill) sat these two turnstiles. I’ve seen them in a few different spots on my journeys to Windy Hill so I get the idea that they want to hang onto them but are unsure how best to display them. I’ll take one!WH Quirky 1 a

Another visit, another position for the turnstiles. I saw this magnificent old boot studding table the last time I visited, at least I assume that’s what it is. When I look at the nailed on cigarette tin I am transported to a different time, to dingy changeroom of any football club in Australia. Again I’m not sure what the plan is here, but hopefully Essendon see fit to place it in a museum or donate it to someone who will!Windy Hill Quirk

Down at the primary school end of the ground lies one of the makeshift scoreboards that was in use for a time during the 2000s for VFL matches. The main scoreboard was demolished with most of the outer after the ground stopped being used in the early 1990s. To read and see more about the old scoreboard, see Scoreboard Pressure’s great post on it HERE.WH Quirky 2

Essingkton SB VFA

The old Windy Hill scoreboard in all it’s glory. Photo courtesy of Jeff Lawton

Now this is one of my favourite parts of Windy Hill, walking through the bowels of the grandstand, the light of the playing arena beckoning you onwards. That’s what I love in old footy grounds, the contrast.

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Much of Windy Hill has been demolished however what has endured is a very solid collection of grandstands from the 1960’s and 1970’s, serving as a time capsule of sorts. They’re not pretty and there are no frills however that’s what footy used to be. Generally footy grounds reflect their area, and Essendon had a mix of one ‘fancy stand’ and three ‘working class’ stands. That sounds about right to me. Again it’s the nooks and crannies that I love. Footy grounds used to evolve. Now they come pre-fabricated.

Windy Hill nooks & crannies

I love coming across something interesting that you hadn’t picked up before. The photo on the left below is the back of the R.S Reynolds stand, a stand which I understood replaced the old stand on the right. But it dawned on me that the brickwork looked far too old for the 1970s stand that now stands there. Looking at the photo on the right, there seems to be a consistancy with the the grey band of concrete across the mid-section of the two stands, but the more I looked, the stands just appeared completely different.Windy Hill old and nucleus 1

I consulted many books and websites which all spoke of the Reynolds stand in a continuous fashion as if nothing had happened during the 1970s. So I made the assumption that the shell of the brickwork must have been retained to save costs and the new stand built over it. Finally I had this more of less confirmed in the book Flying High, a history of the Essendon Football Club.

“During 1976, the R.S Reynolds Grandstand renovations were completed at a cost of three hundred and thirty-one thousand dollars. The top of the stand had been renewed and extended.”

My itch, finally, scratched.

I know we often joke about the Essendon bowls club effectively standing it’s ground and forcing the Bombers to leave their traditional home, but I for one wish they’d been able to stay. Whilst it took Essendon a good 40 years to make it’s way back to playing in Essendon, Windy Hill will always be the club’s spiritual home. Thankfully the Essendon VFL team still uses the ground as it’s home, and I hope they continue to do so although the language used around this topic has been rather uncommitted.

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I love a good ‘hotch-potch’ of grandstands. These have a very Waverley Park/Moorabbin feel to them; wonderfully bleak.

In a way things have come full circle. There’s again an Essendon team wearing red and black (as the VFA side did) playing at Windy Hill in the old VFA (now VFL) and the league team plays home games closer to the city. I propose that the Bombers VFL side call themselves Essendon Town or the Dreadnoughts (Essendon Town’s moniker) to bury the hatchet all these years later. Would be a nice, quirky touch.

Finally, I took this still from the 1990 Richmond v Carlton legends game at Windy Hill as I believe, and I’m happy to be proven wrong, that this is the last time we ever saw those magnificent banners around the boundary fence. They have the new LED advertising displays well and truly covered in my book, but any digital club people reading this could do well to replicate these digitally before a match. It wouldn’t be the same but would be a nice touch.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.38.43 amI never experienced an Essendon game at Windy Hill but this is the ground through my eyes. I’d love to see and hear your photos and memories of one of league football’s most notorious venues.

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.

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?”

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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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