Finals Week 1 – Geelong v Richmond: Musings on history


There can be no doubting the dead weight of history and the profound effect it can have on the present.


Yet if history tells us anything it is that even the deadest of dead weights can be moved.   While this may provide us with grounds for optimism that things will change, we will never know until after the fact when change will happen and the circumstances that gave rise to that change.


As I contemplated tonight’s Qualifying Final as a lifelong Richmond supporter, how could I not consider the dead weight of our miserable history?


As a student of history, I have been trained to look beyond sweeping generalisations and to understand the detail that gave rise to them. I can readily break the 37 years since our last Premiership into eras in which Richmond ranged between near-bankrupt basket case playing before less than 10,000 people even at the MCG, to moderately competitive also-ran that dragged the dormant barrackers back in their thousands with their false promises of new dawns.  I can document the players, the coaches, the administrators and their roles in the club’s brief upsurges and its seemingly pre-ordained downfalls. Unpacking all this helps explain, but it doesn’t alter the historical truth: 37 years of unmitigated failure.


And how does 37 years of unmitigated failure act as a millstone around our collective neck?  There’s a long answer that delves into the many varied ways in which the vicious cycle of failure and negative expectation has played out. But for now, the most relevant is serial failure in the spotlight. Call it inexperience, call it stage-fright, call it exposure of inadequacy under the blowtorch of pressure. Richmond has generally been found out in the big ones, and as each failure piles up, the pressure when the next big opportunity comes around grows.


The implications of this for tonight’s match are obvious, without even having to mention our opponent: Geelong. The Cats are by no means the only club to have systematically and regularly beaten up on Richmond over the last four decades, but they must boast the proudest record of spectacularly whopping victories. Even in the times when they battled their own demons – the handbags, the serial underperformances in Grand Finals – Geelong’s collection of flat track bullies was always good for a cricket score against the Tigers. In our last Finals meeting – the 1995 Preliminary Final – Geelong walloped us in the wet by 15 goals and yet folded up against Carlton as meekly as a piece of tissue paper the very next week. It was a sobering illustration of just how far Richmond had to go, even after their best season in 13 years.


The one shining positive has been the Richmond faithful, who’ve persisted with their team with a loyalty that is surely unmatched in the history of the competition. It is this loyalty that has seen a dog of a draw attract over a million fans this year and drags a near full house into the “G” tonight.


Nearly as certain as their child-like loyalty is the fans’ unbridled optimism as each new big opportunity presents itself. This is where the dead-weight of history butts up against the forces of change. Hitherto, these forces have been insufficient. This year, there are plenty of bullish suggestions that they might be.


One sure thing is that this is now a club that is strong, stable and professionally run. All our off-field “KPIs” are positive in a way that they never used to be. But that merely means that there is a positive environment for the real business of the club. A strong bank balance and good facilities don’t produce goals.


No, it’s the events of the last 12 months that have really caused a shift in belief about where  Richmond is heading as a football club. Calmly and methodically staring down board challenges and calls for sacking coaches, taking bold, decisive trading and recruiting decisions, systematically altering the game plan, and empowering the players to do what they do best – these have been the ingredients of a turnaround of dramatic proportions that has led us to where we are now.  Importantly, our performances have been controlled, solid and consistent in a way that past “great” years haven’t. Excitingly, we’ve cracked it for 3rd spot with still some obvious weaknesses in our line-up, most notably a forward line that averages just 13 goals a game. Well, tonight 13 goals did the trick.


Is this how East Germans felt when they tore down the wall and encountered no resistance? Yes, I’m overstating the significance of what we witnessed tonight but in footballing terms this result might have the same seismic significance. A moment when the dead weight of history was smashed by the forces of change, opening up all sorts of new possibilities.


Intriguingly and perhaps, most satisfyingly, this was, like England’s 1966 World Cup win, a victory that had to be won twice, as their manager put it. A half of our trademark manic pressure ended ominously with two late Geelong goals and memories of several missed sitters by the Tigers. As the 3rd quarter ticked towards “Stuey Dew time” (remember him, Cats fans?), scores were levelled and we awaited our fate with the impending sense that we’d let another one slip.  Big finals are so often won late in the 3rd. Surely the Cats were timing their run to seasoned perfection.


Into the fray stepped Nick Vlastuin. Magnificently composed down back all night, he looked out of place with ball in hand on the forward 50 line. Even as he approached his kick, his demeanour moved from speculative to resolute.  “I can do this”, he seemed to be asserting.  And damn it, he did.  Leadership is an incredibly overused term in sport but I couldn’t go past the ‘l’ word in describing Vlastuin in this key moment.


If the monster Richmond crowd was a factor tonight, it was at this point. A discernible change came over the atmosphere at the ground, a sense of belief translated into positive noisy energy. If Vlastuin’s game of solid defence epitomised Richmond’s dogged determination to date, the floodgates that opened thereafter were assuredly the handiwork of the tattooed one. Setting up goals to Edwards and Prestia before the break, and Grigg straight after, the $1.2 million dollar man proceeded to use the last quarter as a 30 minute justification of why he is worth every cent. To be fair, once the margin ticked beyond four goals the Cats were done. But even here, the significanc e of what we were seeing hit me – the rare air of Richmond playing out junk time in a final AS THE WINNER and a player of truly elite status toying with, of all teams, Geelong. If a cherry was needed on this oh so delicious cake, it would be the much-maligned skipper’s candidate for goal of the year.  It seemed like a finishing flourish to a transformation from an embattled, negative persona of 2016 to a man who has truly found his place.


Move over “Dangerwood”. We’ve now got “Trusty”!


I would love to revel in so many other aspects of this win. But those harsh lessons of history are never far away in my mind. As I joined the throng of deliriously happy drunken revellers through the back streets of Richmond, I heard way too much talk of Grand Final tickets. Those who ignore the lessons of history…


Check out the rest of the coverage from the Geelong v Richmond game HERE.

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.


  1. Love it, Stainless: move over “Dangerwood”. We’ve now got “Trusty” ! Terrific writing!

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Great stuff Stainless and congrats on an eventually resounding win last night.
    I thought you might be in trouble when Geelong scored 2 before half-time. It seemed to bring out the best in many. Rance was superb, Nankervis towering and Prestia nippy and audacious. Time for Trusty and co to make their own history.

    PS Subtle and not so subtle digs at Geelong’s past and present foibles are always welcome on this site.

  3. You mean the “H” word’s OK now Stainless?

    And the “R” word – REZPEKT.

    Would someone please check on my figures? Did Richmond’s last quarter score surpass Geelong’s 4-quarter score?

  4. to be honest we could have put them away by about 12 goals, so rampant were we. but it was good to see us practise some stoppage work and taking time off the clock.

    my biggest fear is that I cannot see how Port, the Eagles or the Giants can top that after a hard coupla weeks – and that the players may sense it too. hopefully the Giants pull one out next week so we are well and truly onguard!

  5. History, hey Stainless? Having done my honours in History i’m fairly cognisant of the subject area. I’ll talk about some history, of which I had some eerie flashbacks last night.

    I first barracked for Geelong when I was 6. As a kid I loved Cats. I have vague memories of the first semi final in 1969. I can recall seeing ‘highlights’ of the match on the B&W television, being too young to comprehend what the match meant. We have family in Springvale, that at Richmond supporters. In the subsequent years I understood the 1967 premiership pictures adorning their house. 1967 when they won their first flag since 1944, beating Geelong in the decider.

    In the thirty years I followed Geelong, I was present at Geelong making football history. in 1992 the first Victorian side to lose an AFL grand final, in 1995 the first side to lose an AFL match against Freemantle, then in 1997 the first side to lose to Port Adelaide. Not the sort of history I enjoyed.

    Last night was the first time Richmond had beaten Geelong since 2006. It was the first time Richmond had won a final since 2001. It was the ninth time, out of eleven matches, Chris Scott had coached Geelong in a losing final since Geelong’s win in the 2011 grand final. Even in the two victories , the 2016 victory over Hawthorn had come when Isaac Smith missed a gettable shot at the end.

    Is 2017 going to see Richmond end a long, long spell without a premiership? The last time they raised the premiership cup, I was doing my HSC , Malcolm Fraser was prime minister, Bjorn Borg had won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon singles crown, with Port Melbourne winning the first of a trifecta of flags. Where to for the losers? Mackie, Lonergan going, how much more from Taylor and Hawkins. Will they pick up Gazza Junior? If they do they’ll have three champions carrying 19 others, in contrast to the current set up where two champions carry 20 others. Are Geelong history ?

    Good luck Tigers Fans, 2017 may be your first flag since 1980.


  6. Echoes of Francis Fukuyama “End of History” in all of this. One swallow etc etc. Or perhaps an early Crow? In a month’s time the Coalition of the Willing (Dennis Rodman, Dusty and a half dozen Maori bikies) could be parachuted into Pyongyang to sort out Kim Jong-un.

  7. steve todorovic says:

    Stainless, my nine year old daughter and myself were part of that throng of deliriously happy ( but thankfully not drunken) revellers through the back streets of Richmond also. Yes, I have to admit that on that long walk from the G to our special secret parking spot in Cremorne St, there was talk of going into the ballot for GF tickets, but mostly we spoke of how good it felt to be part of the greater Tiger army. That 70,000 tiger fans, like us, were walking back to cars, trains, trams and homes, all united as one in the true belief that THIS team, THIS year, has a very realistic chance of playing in the grand final and perhaps of winning the flag. Sophie knows nothing of the 37 years of pain since our last flag, the lack of any final’s success of any type since 2001, or even of the 11 years of losses to the Cats. All she knows is optimism. Optimism that comes from wearing her brand new tiger jumper, bought that night at the Punt Rd shop, with the #4 freshly emblazed on the back. Belief that comes from watching her favourite player turn the game with an imperious half of football. Faith that comes from watching Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt lead their team mates so bravely and determinedly.Optimism borne from the fact that she knows nothing else but a Tiger win when she walks away from the G. We have made the trip down from Wodonga to the MCG on six occasions this year and she has gone home happy each and every time. We’ll be back down the Hume in a fortnight’s time and Sophie’s very optimistic that we’ll be back down again the week after, to watch THIS team, one more time.

  8. Endangered Species no more. Just Dangerous.

    I don’t know about end of History Mr. B, but it was certainly Shock & Awe. I’m just coming down from the adrenalin rush. In the Richmond bleachers, there was always the thought that Geelong would come at us again, and overwhelm us. After all, they ARE the Greatest Team of All. The Blitz of the final stanza came with such a rush, the delirium was palpable. An enthralling arm wrestle became a rout. Not sure if says more about Geelong than Richmond, but tThe Self Belief of The Long Suffering Punt Road Faithful is now as strong as that of The Players.

    Beware, The Tiger is out of its cage and coming to an oval near you.

    ( It should also be noted that the VFL Tigers are through to their Preliminary Final as well. The waters run deep along Punt Road)

  9. Thanks for the comments all.
    Susan – glad you like “Trusty”. Seems appropriate and certainly better than the Adelaide equivalent which I reckon is “Slouch”!
    Phil – yes, definitely a strong sense of wasted opportunity at half time but the renewed resolve and momentum shift late in the 3rd was palpable. Geelong clearly below their best on the night. Some of their disposal was truly awful. Pressure or just the sign of an ordinary team? Hard to say but that Simonds stadium advantage clearly inflates their overall record. (Is that a subtle enough dig to get those silent Catters out of their funk and put finger to keyboard??) Agree with your player assessment but I’d have to put Vlastuin in our best too. Rance got his revenge on the cognac swiller – a superb negating effort I thought ( that’s a subtle Adelaide dig BTW – I wonder if RB will notice it?)
    Wrap – I’ve admired your upbeat appraisal of the team all season and I certainly can’t remember a year when they’ve been so mentally and physically solid. And yes I joined the after party at North Port yesterday and saw some impressive efforts from Miles, Lloyd, Bolton, Stengel and others. It never rains eh? My concern remains about our goal scoring capacity. Three goals in two thirds of a game that we’ve largely dominated is not a good return even with such a brilliant defence holding sway. Better sides than Geelong will surely profit from such a lack of finishing?
    Peter W – agree the big danger is assuming the Prelim will be easy. Quit glad to see the back of Port Adelaide as Robbie Gray et al have caused us problems in the past. Not too fussed whether it’s Eagles or Giants but can’t take either for granted. Our earlier wins against both were hard fought.
    Glen – we must compare history honours notes!
    Peter B – we certainly live in interesting times. In the midst of all this Richmond hoopla I’ve had to remind myself tphat we are living in interesting times.
    Steve – i hope Sophie has a couple more happy trips to Melbourne before the month is out. Eventually the bubble will burst but please not this year! Your story is a reminder that TLSPRF aren’t all LS. My nephew has been following them just this year. I’ve also caught up with an old school mate at games this year – we were at the 1980 GF together but hadn’t seen one another for over 30 years. Footy isa remarkable common thread and in this case the Footy Almanac helped bring about our reacquaintance.

  10. Agreed Stainless; in hindsight, we may have given Geelong too much cred, and thought we were doing well just to hold back the Barwon floodgates up to the citrus break. The over reliance on Dusty to generate scores is definitely a worry. He really broke that game open. I hadn’t realized until the St Kilda game (Round XXIII) just how powerful he was as a footballer. And the influence he could be on how we piled up a score. It’s not a scoring influence that would have gone unnoticed in the remaining September camps. But what do you do Stainless? Stengel & Bolton are natural goal sneaks, and for years to come we’ll be singing their praises, but they’ve played their last 10 matches or so at VFL intensity. True, Castagna & Riolli haven’t been outstanding lately, but they’re blooded as part of the forward pressure structure. And it’s not as if they’ve done anything wrong, other than the times when the balls come in high and wild, and they’ve been caught short. (that’s enough of that Wrap, you’re not paid to be clever – Ed) I guess we’ll see how we go in week three, and by then, barring injuries, it’ll be too late to tinker with winning form.

    BTW, I liked Hansen’s ruckwork. Shades of Billy Morris. Yes, Stainless, I’m that old.

  11. Wrap I dont think there’s much we can do about our scoring except perhaps kick straighter (Josh Caddy take note). I thought that Castagna might make way for Caddy this week and given his fairly fumbly night he might lose his place to maybe Miles or Lloyd. That said, I’m actually pleased that they resisted the temptation to bring in extra talls or bigger names and go with the mix that’s served them well all year. A contrast to 2015 when they dropped the well performing Lloyd and Lennon and took a punt on underdone Griff and Conca. It just underlines that whatever the outcome of the 2017 season, Richmond is a work in progress and that firepower up forward is the obvious area to be improved.
    Hampson did ruck well yesterday but would be a liability in the ones IMO.

  12. Conca’s had his chances. He should see out his time at Tigerland in the VFL feeder team And I fear Griiff, my be in the same boat, which is a shame. He certainly looked to have what it takes — a long boot, sure hands and a tank, but I’m not sure I saw all of that yesterday. He had his hands and body set for several marks, but just couldn’t clunk them. There’s every chance he’s a late developer. He’s not doing any harm where he is for the moment. And I don’t know why Lennon hasn’t been given more senior time. As a matter of interest, the VFL Tigers have been tracing an upward trajectory all season. There’s something very right happening at Punt Road.

  13. Good onya Stainless, you show me tours i’ll show you mine.

    I did my honours @ VUT in the early 1990’s, looking at aspects of the Kelly outbreak..


  14. Agree with your assessment of the VFL, Wrap. It certainly helps to have a full list to choose from and I reckon at least half a dozen of the players yesterday must still be seriously entertaining a chance of a call-up to the big league. What an incentive at this time of year!
    Right back at ya Glen – Mid 80s at Melbourne Uni with an honours thesis on the demise of literary censorship in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s.

  15. Wonderful piece, Stainless. Your observations on the cumulative weight of history on the present are true.
    Selection dilemmas rear their heads for the prelim, which unfortunately I’ll be watching on TV somewhere in Merimbula, having mistimed our family holiday, booked earlier in the year when I thought the Tigers were not likely to penetrate this deep into September (oh Ye of little faith)!
    I agree we need more goal kickers, and Lloyd would fit the bill, probably at castagna’s expense (he can’t take a set shot to save himself, despite getting lots of chances every game). Agree re caddy also- missed simple chances, but his ball winning ability keeps him in.
    Trusty dusty’s second half of the season has really seen him step up. The flashy “don’t argues” and amazing one on one victories always had to be weighed up against his couple of clangers and turnovers every game, but the errors seem to have gone from his game, just leaving pure class!

  16. Joe De Petro says:

    Stainless, I agree, the weight of history can be a heavy burden to bear. Nonetheless, every year, every game is a new experience.

    When the Cats emerged in 2007, many of their fans couldn’t enjoy that season. They were crippled by their history of lost Grand Finals and nearly-but-not-quite moments. I thought that was sad. Fear of failure trumped enjoyment of success.

    At the end of the day, we are just fans. We have no influence over what happens regardless of how much noise we make. Our club could fall flat on its face and we will be devastated, but why let the burden of history win?

  17. Joe
    I deliberately wrote the first half of this piece before the game and the rest straight after. I thought this was potentially a “Berlin Wall” moment for Richmond and I resolved to write it up whatever the outcome. That’s my point – history can be a huge burden but not always, not for ever. You just never quite know when. The most joyful part of the match was from the point when scores were level to when Lambert put us 5 goals up (I think). An historical pattern that I’ve seen over and over again and which was once more threatening was smashed in 20 minutes. I think Geelong fans got a similar blast of unadulterated joy a fair bit earlier in that 2007 GF massacre and that would have more than made up for all the anxiety they experienced during that season.

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