AFL Round 7 -Port Adelaide v Richmond: A grand day out

I stagger out of bed at 5.30am, pondering that I am effectively about to plonk $500 on the result of a footy match. As I have no inclination to gamble on sports of any sort, this is a weird feeling.

I’ve been going to Richmond games for 40 years. I went to all the old suburban grounds. I’ve sat in the Waverley carpark for two hours after a match waiting for the gridlock to ease. I’ve done the drive and the train down to the Cattery. But I’ve never been to a game interstate.

My son and I made a pact a couple of years ago that this state of affairs must change. Last season came and went and the pact remained unfulfilled.  (Thank God we didn’t go to Cairns!)

Then came the fateful combination of three early wins, some cheap Virgin airfares and an upcoming game at AAMI Stadium against Port Adelaide. Our exchange of knowing looks said it all.

I booked.

I missed the cheap seats on flights at more civilized times. It’s a “crack of dawn” start for the 8.10am and the prospect of four hours to kill before game time in a city not renowned for its excitement. Oh well, it’ll be a long day but hopefully a good one.

But as Round 7 approached, our decision was looking more and more like a sentence to a long, expensive and depressing day. The Tigers had started losing. The Power kept on winning – from some improbable positions.

The selection news that Trent Cotchin would miss the game through injury, along with a bunch of others, didn’t help my demeanour.

An unseasonably warm, windy day was forecast. Surely these conditions would be tailor-made for the home team, which has established a formidable reputation for its fitness.

Sitting in the airport lounge, I spy a few other Tiger faithful making the trip along with some Richmond support staff including Wayne Campbell and Kel Moore, now our runner. Their purposeful looks and smart, official uniforms give a sense of occasion. It’s probably just another day at the office for them, but I’m suddenly struck with a feeling that this trip could provide a timely break in our (losing) routine.

A change is as good as a holiday, or so they reckon.

Once in Adelaide, we spy Campbo and Kel ahead of us at the taxi rank.  But they’re waiting for a couple of their group so they allow us to take the solitary cab (how very Adelaide!). I take a punt that we need to spend time somewhere more inviting than Westlakes so we head to Glenelg, where a wander along the jetty and the fine array of trendy coffee shops make for a pleasant distraction. I spy a few Richmond boys sinking beers at one of the pubs. It’s 10am and they’re already well into it.

Another cab up the coast and we’re at AAMI Stadium with plenty of time to look around. The surrounding suburbs and shopping complex are definitely urban, but once in the carpark, this place has a distinct country atmosphere.  Sort of Kardinia Park meets Mulgrave.  I’d take it over the sterile concrete wasteland around Etihad Stadium any time.

My chief sensory association with AAMI Stadium will be the smell of cooking meat. The carpark barbecues are in full swing in the perfect, mild weather.  Families and large, genial supporter groups congregate happily. Barossa reds are being consumed from real wine glasses. There are tables with table cloths. These much-maligned Port Adelaide supporters are scarcely living up to their feral reputation.

The only dodgy looking bloke is the Port mascot, whose teal lightning-bolt face bears an uncanny resemblance to Dean Brogan.

We do a lap of the ground to soak all this in before entering (AFL members admitted into the Members’ Reserve at Port games – no dramas). Some of the Richmond boys are doing a pre-warm-up warm-up. A chance to quietly familiarize themselves with the conditions with no fanfare, nor pressure of expectation. Dusty Martin’s drilling them from 50 and no-one’s paying attention. I like this.  After all the hype and angst surrounding Richmond back home, I sense he’s enjoying the solitude.

The pre-match hype begins with a highlights reel of Port’s opening five wins. I like that too. Having seen our own over-exuberant marketing department roll out beating drums and player lookalike mascots in recent weeks, it’s good to see other emerging clubs getting ahead of themselves too.

The carpark picnickers rush in at the last minute and a decent sized crowd’s on hand as the game commences. Only two of the outer bays are tarpaulined off today!

The forecast strong northerly hasn’t materialized but Richmond begins as though it’s a howling gale. Only a couple of goals from free kicks save Port from complete embarrassment, as the Tigers slam on eight for the quarter. Riewoldt snags three and our midfield, led by Martin, Deledio, Tuck and the much-maligned Jackson are dominating. Troy Chaplin gets roundly booed every time he touches the ball but along with Rance, Houli and Ellis, he’s holding firm in defence.

I’m barracking internally, offering nothing more offensive than an occasional moderate fist pump, while I gauge the mood of the unfamiliar crowd around me. It’s silence and occasional groans of frustration rather than the overbearing aggro we hear about across the border.

It gets a bit louder when we move down to the fence for the second quarter. An arm-wrestle period of play for ten minutes is finally broken as Jack juggles a mark 30 metres out.

“You’re not as good as your cousin, Jack”, is the best advice the locals can offer.

“You kick better than your cousin, Jack”, I respond as the all-important first goal of the quarter sails through.

The crowd soon emerges from its genial somnolence as Port snag a couple in quick succession. For a half-full stadium, they generate plenty of noise and I’m worried what they’ll be like in the event of a full-scale comeback.

Any concerns about that are temporarily allayed as Chris Knights snaps a steadying goal. Sadly, he also snaps his patella tendon, as he slips while kicking. I ponder the ways of the footy deities, who have granted Knights a month in which he’d appeared to revive a flagging career, only to snatch it away in these cruelest of circumstances.

The one genuine witless bogan I encounter for the day, a buffoon who chooses to boo Knights as he’s stretchered off, is quickly silenced as Martin profits from a Port turnover, strolling into an open goal and giving Richmond a seven goal lead at the break.

Thus far I’ve seen little evidence that Port’s as good as their ladder position suggests, but my nagging fear is their run and the impact of that vocal crowd if they get going.

Port scores the first two goals of the second half. Tuck’s shoulder is crunched in a contest and he runs off with one arm flapping aimlessly. Another man down.

The game has reached a nervy tipping point as momentum propels Port forward. But they lack the precision of our recent opponents and fluff a couple of opportunities. This is no Geelong we’re playing.

The decisive moment comes, as is often the case, not in a pristine passage of play but a flurry of bodies fighting over the ball until one manages to get boot to ball. Jake King is playing his best game of his best season and from a goalmouth scrimmage he unconvincingly but deservedly wobbles it through.

Port persist but their surge is waning. Deledio, our stand-in captain, is playing with a point to prove (Nathan Brown and Robert Walls – were you watching?) and is the class act in an otherwise pedestrian game. He slices through the midfield with a “goal of the year” beckoning, but does the team thing and passes to Nahas in space. Nahas misses the shot. But moments later Grigg nails another. McGuane misses an easy mark but then grabs a tough one and goals+. Three quarters down and we’re 50 points to the good. Even I reckon we’re home.

Port gives their fans one last glimmer of hope with some early goals in the last quarter, but Newman, Riewoldt and “Push Up” put the final nails in the coffin. As 20 minutes tick over and the home fans start filing out, my $500 bet is home. The expression “nothing venture, nothing win” dances across my mind.

The visiting fans are here in good numbers but there’s only a few dozen of us around the players’ race, allowing a close-range view of many satisfied smiles. Hardwick gives the unlucky Knights a sympathetic hug. His and Tucky’s injuries are the one sour note.

The post-game exhiliration of a win against the odds is just about the best feeling in football, and making a long trip to see it just adds to the joy.  But there’s still more in store. A couple of celebratory Coopers at the airport bar turns into a celebrity meet and greet with Messrs Hunt (Rex), Crawford, Harley and McVeigh (Mark) who are all returning to Melbourne following their various commentary duties.  They are, as one, friendly and graciously accepting of our intrusions.

Then, to my delight, the entire Richmond entourage is on our plane home. Rex is sitting a row ahead of us and, as though still broadcasting, speaks with his inimitable earnestness to every player that comes past. It makes for a fascinating trip and even at 49 years of age, I don’t care if I’m watching the passing parade like an awestruck kid.

Our day ends with Mark “Choco” Williams on our shuttle bus back to the long-term car park. As we hop off, we say “well done” for what seems the thousandth time today.

Mark smiles and says “Yeah, it was a good performance, wasn’t it. Well worth the trip, eh?”

You betcha!

RICHMOND 8.2 11.5 15.6 18.6 (114)
PORT ADELAIDE 2.1 4.5 6.10 10.13 (73)

GOALS
Richmond: Riewoldt 5, King 3, Grigg 2, Newman 2, Tuck 1, Nahas 1, Vlaustin 1, Knights 1, Martin 1, McGuane 1,
Port Adelaide: Schulz 3, Mitchell 2, Gray 1, Monfries 1, Moore 1, Wingard 1, Broadbent 1

BEST
Richmond: Deledio, Martin, Riewoldt, Stephenson, Ellis, Newman, Jackson, King, Vlaustin
Port Adelaide: Boak, Schulz, Wingard, Mitchell, Carlile Redden

Umpires: Farmer, Findlay, Pannell

Crowd: 25,372 at AAMI Stadium

My votes: Martin 3, Deledio 2, Newman 1

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. Andrew Else says:

    Speaking as someone who is 0-4 for his own team and 0-2 for his wife’s on interstate trips, all I can say is congratulations. Your son will never forget it.

  2. Cheryl Critchley says:

    Excellent stuff Sam. So great that you got to see it. Nothing better than making the effort and having it pay off with a memorable win.

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