AFL Round 22 – Richmond vs Essendon: Yellow and Black

Big week. Footy on a Friday night. Everything is at peace in the world.

Coming into this game, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this is a game between a team that lost to Melbourne and a team that lost to Gold Coast. Both teams had real chances to make the finals. But both teams blew these chances. And now both teams are languishing in mediocrity once again. For at least one of these teams it will be a repeat of ‘we finished 9th again’. But tonight I’m hoping it’s a song with a slightly similar tune.

My inner dialogue on the way in was a conflict between two voices. One voice was asking. “Why should I even bother coming tonight?” whilst the other voice was wondering, “Why am I even thinking that?” As the train pulled into Richmond station and I could see the big lights in the distance excitement overwhelmed the voices, as I began thinking of what will be tonight. A lot is resting on tonight it really will set the tone for the remainder of the weekend.

I filed out of the station with the hordes dressed in Yellow and Black and Red and Black and civilian clothes for others but all with the same purpose to forget their first world problems for those ethereal hours when nothing mattered and young children could watch their heroes and grown men can watch with the same admiration. As I made my way out of the station I was offered 2 for $20 tickets for the game from some stooge in a suit with his junkie mate shuffling behind him I had my 2012 Richmond membership so even if those tickets were not counterfeit as I expected they were then they were redundant nonetheless. I made my way through the Punt Road traffic and met old mate- Tim- a Bombers supporter, we joined the masses as we made our way into the MCG.

The excitement remained but the conflicting dialogues resumed, they were overpowered by one thought “You never chose me”. I’m not really sure where that thought came from. Maybe it was from the roaring Tiger stuck in the Richmond emblem or from Jack Dyer stuck in the same old pose with a Football in one hand evading no one. I am stuck in this club in the same way that Captain Jack and the Tiger were. I once flirted with the idea of claiming North Melbourne as my team but they’re not my club. If I had have claimed North Melbourne I would have experienced slightly more success in this decade but not very much more. I could never have done that. I love the Tigers. I bleed Yellow and Black. Sure I’ve had more disappointments than any tangible success. But barracking for Richmond teaches you things. It teaches you resilience. It teaches you how to face adversity. I’m sure there is a German word that would be more efficient but I believe in this case the English language is sufficient. Hemingway said that war is a metaphor for life. I say that for Melburnians, actually for all people, sport is a metaphor for life. Not just playing sport but all sport. Be it as a player, supporter or any other role you might have it is in sport that you learn about the best and worst aspects of life. A man that can take a 100 or even 200 point drubbing of their football team and is able to grin and get on with life, is a man who is able to take on the worst of what life has to offer. Sport is not just a sadistic and nihilistic experience although growing up barracking for Richmond one may have thought it was, the euphoria and ecstasy that comes with the sweet taste of experience is the pinnacle in many people’s lives.

As I pondered what it was that drew me to the Yellow and Black, I encountered a bigger question. What is it that draws so many people to AFL football; these days there are 18 allegiances that you can choose from. It gets said a lot. But maybe not enough. What is great about our great game is that despite the commercialism of the game which is inevitable in this modern world. Despite free agency- how does it even work? I’m not sure if anyone knows. Despite the much talked about transfers of Scully and Ablett. This game is tribal, what draws people in is the parochial nature of the game. These days there are 18 tribes. They come from all across the land and two tribes go to war against each other every weekend. At the end of the season the most powerful tribe is declared victor. When you think about Footy in a tribal sense which I think is the truest sense of the game then it is not just the coach, players and team of physiotherapists, psychologists, team manager, president and the list goes on that are involved in the club but it is every fan that supports the club on the weekend and during the week that are a part of the tribe.

Football strives on this parochial tribal nature but it is not the only sport that has such a culture. Soccer (sorry Football. Bloody Poms) in England has a similar culture but there is one huge difference in the way the emotions within the fans are fostered by the cultures. In England at least if you believe ‘Greenstreet Hooligans’ and anecdotes, the tribal culture fosters a gang mentality as fans take the sporting battle a little too literally. It is a problem in most places where the round-balled game is popular as YouTube kindly provided me with footage of bloody spectator violence in Germany, Turkey and Brazil. In my humble opinion there is no such problem in Australian Football’s tribal culture as members of opposing tribes will go to the games side by side and in some strange cases arm in arm. This is what I love about our great game.

 

As we edge closer towards the hallowed ground the anticipation in the air is palpable. We meet family outside the gates and enter in. Maybe it says something about the game at hand or maybe it says something about our great game that we were easily able to find very good seats with General Admission tickets. It matters very little as I nestle in for a very special few hours.

The game began at a rapid pace as the Tigers scored early. Then stalled for a while. It picked up pace as Stewart Crameri, a barometer of sorts for the Bombers gathered the ball about 60 meters from goal and it seems it is time for the tides to turn and the luck will favour the Red and Black. But luck favours the well prepared not the over prepared- if you’ll believe the current half-baked excuse doing the rounds or maybe it is too old now half a week on. Luck favours the well prepared and Steve Morris had already carved up a respectable career in the SANFL before the Tigers picked him up. The SANFL must be a good preparation for the AFL as luck was on Steven Morris’s side as he lurched himself forward and somehow smothered the ball. Turnover ensured and a Richmond goal down the other end. Essendon’s was captured in this moment; Essendon showed promise but was never able to deliver when it counted. If Riewoldt had have missed down the other end then perhaps Richmond’s season could have been captured in that moment as well. Morris is a tough player but a smooth operator; a complimenting contradiction best encapsulated in his smother as it was so clean that you could hear the sound of the connection from where we were sitting.

Dustin Martin renowned for his tough play particularly the ‘Don’t Argue’, displays this contradiction as well. He quite possibly has the cleanest kick in the game. He kicks it differently to every other player, there is a an intent and precision in his kicking style no other player and the ball sounds different as it comes off his beat. Martin is an a-type footballer. A unique beast. One of a kind. I’m not sure if we have ever seen a player quite like him, I’m not sure if we ever will again. Everyone wants to be Dustin Martin but only Dustin Martin can be Dustin Martin.

As the ball was bounced at the beginning of the game it suddenly struck me that this was the Grand Final for both of these teams and was the reason why I was there. The players and fans alike seemed to be treating it like that as the contest was fierce and the cheering was even fiercer. Hard hitting Footy, the way it should be. With finals seemingly out of reach for both teams; it seemed that the players wanted to win something so every contest was an attempt at Goal and Mark of the Year. Some paying dividends with some cheeky goals from Jack Riewoldt and his crony’s and some truly remarkable aero acrobatics from players of both teams. The spectacular and mercurial mixed with in with comical guffaws. Nathan Lovett-Murray reminded those who had forgotten of the gamble that is an attempt at a speccy; if you pull it off then well you’re a hero and could be driving away in a new Toyota. If you fail then embarrassment ensures and the umpire’s whistle- push in the back. Nathan maybe leave it to the professionals or go train a little harder.

As those around him were attempting to fly Ivan Maric did not need to, they were jumping just to reach his height. As shown perfectly through a pack mark, as an Essendon player tried to soar for the ball ‘the Mullet’ plucked it from his grasp with a slight extension of his limbs feet placed firmly on the ground. This is the way he plays not the most spectacular player by any stretch, he is a true workman’s footballer. Ivan Maric is arguably the best ruckman in the league this season- a surety for All-Australian, a non-betting man would suggest. He is also the most improved player at the club this season if not in the league. I’m not sure if I have ever witnessed a first year player have such a profound impact on a club in their first season as Ivan Maric has had on the Tigers. Especially if you consider his form prior to this season. It is easy to forget that at the Adelaide Crows Maric was struggling to get a game and when he died he struggled to make an impact. Oh what a difference a year can make in a person’s life. Ivan Maric embodies the truth in the cliché that a change of scenery can change a person. It definitely changed Ivan as a Football player, in his first year he has made a huge impact at the club and the fans love him for it. He is ‘the People’s Mullet’ but it is not just his mullet that belongs to the people he is also the people’s player. A player donning the Yellow and Black has not captured the hearts of fans in quite the same way as Ivan Maric has since Matthew Richardson (and Richo sported a splendid mullet in parts of his career as well but not quite as luscious as Ivan’s.) Ivan Maric has filled a void. The Tiger faithful needs a player whom they can adorn their hopes and dreams on week and week out. The current crop has several players whom the fans can adorn their hopes and dreams, Ivan Maric is one of the most popular.

Another key player whom the Tiger faithful has been adorning their hopes and dreams on for a number of years is Jack Riewoldt. Jumping Jack was influential tonight but as usual the scoreboard did not reflect his influence on the game in fact it belittled it. Jack seems to be a player like that, yet he is still a chance to snatch the Coleman- a testament to the player he is. Keeping with form he commanded his football and strutted around as though he deserved it. He is the master’s apprentice. The 3rd quarter began with a shaky start and it looked like the Bombers were getting back in the game. They never did. Thanks to one man. One man who held the game in the palm of his and the kick of his boot. You never know how he will do it but you always know that Jack Riewoldt will perform.

A player who seemed to be playing for the Red and Black instead of the Yellow and Black in parts of the game was David Astbury. As a spectator, I don’t like being overly harsh on players that are trying their best out on the field- I was genuinely gutted when Richard Tambling was booted to the Crows. But with a number of senseless turnovers and no real contribution to the team, it made me wonder what he was doing out there wearing number 12. If you’re going to wear Richo’s number you need to at least play the part. Astbury was not. Until he gathered the footy. Evaded a player. Conditioned by previous Astbury fumbles I thought surely it was Essendon’s ball now. It was not. He handballed received the handball and goaled. Redemption.

With the game all but sealed up in the dying seconds of the game Shane Tuck has a chance to place the final nail in the coffin with the final kick of the game. From 50 meters you really had no idea what he would do. Of course you knew what he would do. He stuffed it up and the umpire only signalled with one hand. The game had already been decided so it mattered very little. Tuck’s solitary point could summarise the season for both teams- not entirely pointless as there was plenty of promise but ultimately the goal was not achieved. No finals for either side.

As I considered the professionalism of our great game and the myriad of awards, contracts and temptations that confront the modern Footballer. It became apparent that in a rapidly changing game, one thing will always remain; in the ethereal hours for the Football fan when they are at the game, the game is a spiritual experience. The MCG is our sacred game, it is truest broad church in the land. It is a place where the suits can sit with the junkies, the bogans can sit with the hipsters, the blue collars can sit with the white collars. Political beliefs and ideologies are meaningless. The only thing that matters is the team you support, the tribe you belong to. And if they win on the weekend.

And win we did.

Oh we’re from Tiger Land…. Yellow and Black

About Will Brussen

Will Brussen is a Tiger, he loves the Richmond Tigers and he has suffered. He finds solace in the fact that he did not choose the Tigers, they chose him. He finds comfort in watching replays of the 1980 grand final, on repeat. He finds joy in singing the club song, whenever he wants. He believes that supporting the Richmond Football Club has taught him many life lessons.

Comments

  1. Love your passion mate.

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