AFL Round 17 – Richmond v Fremantle: Babbaganoosh, Pioneer Park and Tigers.

Venue: Bright. Date: July. Rationale: Visiting my parents and friends. My hometown. Born, well, let’s say, many years ago. Bright shines, but it is mightily crisp this week. A cold snap has engulfed the town. Jack Frost is up and about. Initial plan was to go down the MCG to watch the Tigers, but the decision has been made to watch in the local pub. The pool tables have been taken out, to the disappointment of our boys Sasha and Jack. They will have to make do with chips and lemon squashes.

Two things define Bright for me. One, my mother’s cooking. The best Babaganoosh and Kibbe going around. So many summers sitting under the apple tree eating with friends and family. We should have started charging all my mates for eating. We would have made a killing, but that’s not the Lebanese way.
Second, equally beautiful, is the Bright Recreation Reserve (Pioneer park). I need to run around that glorious ground like I did when I played up there as a kid. So I run the morning of the game. The air chugs out of my nose like wasps of smoke.
The morning of the game I go and watch good mate Jason Reid coach the Bright under 12’s. The kids are sliding around in the mud but are absolutely giving their all. Our boys go down in the slush to Myrtleford, in a tough game. The kids sprint to the showers at the end of the game. I watch with Robbo. “It snowed at Mt. Porepunkah yesterday” says Allan Robinson. Robbo was our car driver at our wedding. We were driven in his pride: his old Ford Falcon XWGT, 1970, which is a jet. I am hoping my mate Wes can join me to watch the Tigers. He is Bright’s best ever Full back and one of my best ever mates. Its funny how I cannot see good friends like these for a long time, and we just kick it of how we left. This is home.

Venue: the Pub. Topic: Tigers aspirations. The clan has gathered. Dave, my brother has a good table and we are ready. Today is a season defining game for the Tigers. Ross Lyon has had Hardwick’s measure. Lyon is the master tactician, up against a young apprentice. I like Hardwick. He’s made of the right stuff. Today will define us. Are we worthy of September? Today Ballantyne, Pavlich and Sandilands are out. Mike texts, “Today or never”.

The first quarter is completed and generally me and Dave are happy. We have started well and our intensity is up. Journalists have written about Delidio shaking a tag to make the next step up. So far he has been good. Jack Reiwoldt is us and about. We have 21 tackles for the quarter. The second quarter continues and we are up to the challenge. Hardwick re- assemblies his soldiers admirably. Jackson and White are giving they’re all: White has reinvented himself this year and is today earning 100 games.
Dad walks into the pub. He does not drink but loves a wager and this is where he can be seen most afternoons having a flutter with cup of tea, form guide and some mates. Mum is watching over him and is on our table with Grandchildren.

At half time I am still worried. I know that Ross Lyon coaches above a plane of reference. His team’s suffocates the opposition, and then carefully finds crucial goals. In the third and last quarters Freo dare to suffocate on numerous occasions with players like Mzungu, Johnson, and Dawson threatening.
However the Tigers have their prime movers in Cotchin, Newman and young gun Vlastuin. Rance is holding down defense beautifully.
The Tigers march to a 27-point win and in doing so take a massive step to September. The camera pans to Chris Newman. Richmond’s senior player and ex Captain. There is a good chance he will be playing in finals in September. We sing the song in the pub. The only thing that is missing is the Babaganoosh.
That night I dream of running around Pioneer Park again.

A flashback has me leading the Bright Under 16s. We are doing our final cool down lap after a tough night of training. Venue: the Pioneer park wing. We are all very close. Coach Jim Lewis has asked us all to be vocal on this last lap. All the kids are urging each other on, talking up the big game against Beechworth on Saturday. We need to beat them to make the finals. Its bloody cold but we are immune to this, our voices and the closeness warms this chilly air. We round the wing and our voices are an orchestra of positivity. I can hear mate Robbie Gillett urging his teammates on. He had a terrific voice did Rob. “We can do it boys”! He beams loudly. We seem carried along wings of angels. We see the change rooms get closer. We race each other to the showers, as the mud sticks to our boots.

About Haje Halabi

Born in Bright Victoria and went overseas for 2 years and stayed 18, back home now, keen observer of life and obsessed with sport. Tiger tragic, father of 2 boys who are growing too fast into young men.

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