Twenty-one. This number has a certain resonance with me because of Kevin Bartlett. When I first became aware of footballers to the extent that I could understand statistics and nominate a favourite, Bartlett was 21 years old, five feet nine-and-a-half inches tall and weighing in at 11 stone three pounds.
Now number 21 has further significance for me. Today my daughter attains this age and we are celebrating her birthday at a party in our home tonight. This presents a serious challenge for me as I am also intent upon watching Richmond take on Hawthorn in an NAB Cup clash in Launceston on TV. Somehow I must appear to be pulling my weight in the preparation stakes while giving my real attention to cheering on the Tigers as they do battle on the other side of the strait.
Initial impressions are important. I rise early to sweep and mop the floor, vacuum the carpet and clean the toilet and bathroom. I transport plates of salad to the next door neighbour’s fridge. I scrub the barbecue to prepare for family members scheduled to arrive for dinner around six.
The clock ticks round to one o’clock. I surreptitiously make my way into the lounge room, close the door and reach for the remote. It looks to me as though northern Tasmania is being seared by the same heatwave that we’re experiencing in Victoria. The hills beyond Aurora Stadium are bleached white in the sun. In fact a special heat rule will apply today in which teams will have ten minutes break at both quarter and three quarter time as compared to the usual six minutes. They will also be allowed to take refuge inside the rooms.
The Hawks are resting stars such as Franklin, Rioli, Hodge and Sewell while the Tigers are operating pretty much at full strength.
I’m certain my wife knows where I am, but I remain undisturbed. A pattern emerges. I watch the first quarter before making a great show of hefting the outside furniture from behind the shed and positioning the chairs and tables around the back yard. At half time I assist my daughter’s boyfriend and his best mate to assemble the gazebo and string the fairy lights. At three quarter time I fill in some holes in the turf just inside the side gate to prevent young girls in high heels from doing an ankle when they arrive for the festivities tonight.
Richmond threatens on several occasions to take the match away from the battling Hawks but never quite manages to do so. They lead by 19 points late in the first term before conceding three late goals. Perhaps trying to demonstrate to the locals, who after all are major club sponsors, that they stand in solidarity with them in the oppressive and unaccustomed heat, the Hawks choose to remain on the arena during the interval. The Tigers, on the other hand, opt to cool off in the rooms. Suitably refreshed, they surge to a handy 19-point lead by half time.
At one stage during the term Riewoldt leads to the boundary with Matt Spangher hot on his heels. Jack gets his hands on the ball but is unable to shake his pursuer. Spangher gives him a nudge in the back and Jack is therefore unable to come to a stop before colliding with the fence. He somersaults, his legs momentarily perpendicular, before disappearing altogether. He re-emerges and appeals for a free kick from the spectators’ side of the pickets. Perhaps he has a sense of déjà vu as he recalls standing in this very spot as a boy and cheering on Clarence against one of the Launceston clubs.
His entreaties are ignored and the ball is thrown in.
My hopes for a relaxing and fun-filled afternoon are dashed when Hawthorn strikes back and Derrick Wanganeen goals to put them in front for the first time deep in the third quarter. Houli regains the lead for the Tigers with a post-siren major.
I must be barracking in a more animated fashion during the tense final term, because I am gradually joined by other watchers. My brother- in- law, son, second daughter and even my wife are drawn to the action.
When it’s this close everybody wants to win, regardless of the time of year.
Chris Newman excels in his new role as a sharp-shooting midfielder and coolly slots his third to put the Tigers up by a point with a minute and a half to go. Then Roughead, unsighted in the first half, receives a soft free kick in a marking duel with Rance and boots his fifth. It’s the Hawks by five points. The Tigers launch a final desperate attack. Nahas passes to Riewoldt who dives and marks in front of a flailing Roughead, who has been sent back to bolster the defence. Siren! Jack takes aim from 35 metres out on a 45-degree angle and sends it home to seal a one-point victory, much to the delight of his fellow Apple Islanders and a certain family in Melbourne which should be hard at work preparing for a twenty-first birthday party due to commence in a few hours.
Tonight we have a costume party with a theme of ‘S’ or ‘G’, my daughter’s initials. I’ve chosen a ‘seventies guy’ look with an open-necked body shirt, gold chain and flares. An extravagant wig completes the outfit. It’s an appropriate look for a Richmond supporter like me old enough to revel in the memories of a time when we ruled the football jungle.
When I deliver the keynote speech some hours later I recall that holding my newborn daughter in my arms for the first time was the most wonderful moment of my life.
Of course there were some other wonderful moments occurring in 1967, 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1980. But these reminiscences can wait for another speech on another night.