AFL Round 20 – Richmond v Brisbane: Waiting in line

By John Green

On the night that Richmond last played in the finals I was queuing up for Grand Final tickets.

It was a warmish evening back in 2001 when the Tigers were tangling with the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba for the right to meet Essendon in the season’s title match. My friend Adam and I were outside Etihad Stadium, or whatever it was called then, in a line of several thousand speculative Richmond supporters ready to buy their precious tickets should Richmond overcome the Lions and book a place in the big one. We had all our bedding with us and were prepared to sleep there for the privilege of offering our hard earned to the cashier when the ticket office opened on the following morning. I was excited and could hardly believe that the Tigers were in this situation. It brought back memories of lining up for finals tickets at the MCG with my father in the early seventies. I remember him turning his head away from television cameras at one point so his boss wouldn’t recognise his face on the news. He had taken a sickie to be there.

I was a little disappointed when a stadium employee strolled around the line handing out numbered tickets for the queue. If the Tigers won we wouldn’t need to stay overnight and could return in the morning to resume our spot. They obviously didn’t want to clean up the drink bottles and pizza boxes from the celebrations of a yellow and black mob too excited to sleep. It took away from the romance of the occasion, but I was buoyed by the fact that Adam and I were in the first hundred or so and would certainly be at the MCG next Saturday should the Tigers maul the Lions up north.

Nobody went home. Everyone chose the communal experience of huddling around transistor radios and listening to the action as the match began. All you could hear around the stadium concourse was the commentary and the cheers when the Tigers scored goals.

After a short time the word passed around that the Stadium operators had activated  the huge  screen above the main entrance and that we could watch the television broadcast. We all shuffled there at quarter time with the Tigers still well in it. It was almost like being there. But by half time we knew the awful truth. This wasn’t to be our year. The formerly maligned Lions had become a powerhouse and were in the process of barnstorming their way to the first of three consecutive flags.

The number of viewers gradually diminished as supporters gathered up their folding chairs, pillows and doonas before disappearing in the direction of Southern Cross Station. Adam and I stayed until the bitter end. We were sad, but still optimistic about our chances in 2002. After all, we were back where we belonged. Danny Frawley had fashioned us into contenders once again. Heck, next year we would hopefully have a home Preliminary Final and then just watch out! The club certainly thought this as well, trading high draft picks for Adam Houlihan and Paul Hudson before the following season, the so-called missing links in our forward structure.

Richmond fans had never had to bother about finals tickets again as we went back to where we really belonged. Until now.

We actually appear in the ‘Run Home’ section of the newspapers displaying likely finalists’ last few games and predicting where they might finish in the pecking order. In previous years we had been marked down as cannon fodder for the sides heading for epic battles in September. Today we meet the Brisbane Lions in different circumstances  and we’re looking for win number 13, the victory that will ensure finals action for the first time since those heady days of 12 years ago. The Lions look undermanned and inexperienced. They might have won four of their last five but they have no premiership heroes at all in their line-up, except for Michael Voss as coach. Brown, Black and McGrath are missing due to injury. The Tigers are fresh from their stunning conquest of ladder leaders Hawthorn last weekend. This is the MCG, our patch and not the Gabba, where the home support and the humidity can make the Lions a tricky proposition.

The Tigers behave like a top eight combination should against twelfth-placed visitors. They tackle relentlessly and apply formidable pressure. We dominate the centre bounces, monster them at the stoppages and run in waves through the central corridor. Jack is off target but it doesn’t matter. Lukey McGuane becomes the go-to man in attack. The goals are shared around. Our boys exit the arena at the long break to the applause of happy partisans enjoying a substantial 45-point lead. Everyone in the members’ section wears a satisfied glow.

“That’s it, we’re in. They’ll never catch us now.”

In just a few weeks my 16-year-old son will experience his first final as a Richmond supporter. Something to savour.

We contemplate doubling the half time lead by the end of the game for a handy percentage boost. If Collingwood loses to the Swans tonight, if the Bombers lose premiership points, if the Tigers can win a couple more, could we finish fifth and meet the Power in the first week of the finals? Or could we make top four?

But the second half doesn’t go to plan. The Lions rally and the Tigers are unable to trouble the scorer. Fans who basked in the glory of pounding a helpless opposition in the first half are reduced to cries of exasperation as the anticipated triple figure winning margin fails to eventuate. Naturally, we blame the umpires. We are in the position of needing goals about as much as political correspondent Laurie Oakes needs a good tailor.

I reassure my son that our half time lead is enough. Even so, when Pearce Hanley scores at the 20-minute mark of the final quarter to get the Lions to within 16 points I’m a little miffed. Fortunately Jack takes a hanger over two opponents in the pocket. It’s been one of those bizarre days for our favourite full forward. He has four behinds on the board from four shots at goal, but has set up four goals for teammates. To our massive relief, Jack plays on to open up the angle and slots it with his left. He has somehow nailed his hardest shot for the afternoon. That should do it.

I encourage my son with the mantra that it’s hard sometimes to win four quarters of football and that surely we would have accepted a 23-point win if we had been offered it at the start of the game. He grudgingly agrees with me.

Which gets me thinking.

Now that we’re not stuck at the back of the line anymore, how do people get their finals tickets these days?

Comments

  1. Instructions for Tigers fans seeking Finals tickets:
    – Send telegram notifying interest.
    – Have postal order made out to Victorian Football League for 5 pounds 8 shillings and sixpence.
    – Send by Registered Mail to VFL; C/- Harrison House; Spring Street; Melbourne.
    – Await delivery by man on bicycle.

  2. Stainless says:

    John
    I was asked at half time by one of my Tiger mates which team we’d play if we finished fifth. He seriously had no idea!

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