The Richmond Central Amateur Football Club plays in Richmond guernseys in the Amateurs’ Division 4, which Amateurs people might recognise as G-grade in the old language. Their ground is the Loughnan Oval at the Kevin Bartlett Reserve (unofficially Comb-Over Park), which is tucked into a bend of the Yarra River.
The view from the new pavilion across the ground to a ring of gums is almost as good as the view at Corowa on the Murray River. At Corowa, enormous gums stretch from the fence of the reserve to the river. The difference at the KB Reserve is the droning of cars that hum along the freeway behind the southern goals.
On Saturday, the speaker at the Centrals’ past-players lunch was Gary March, the president of Richmond’s AFL club as well as Richmond Centrals’ No.1 ticket-holder. Centrals committeeman Ron Nicholson, a former Beaumaris president, had the pull to persuade March to miss out on the Tigers’ game against Port Adelaide at Footy Park to attend the Centrals’ game against Manningham Cobras at KB Reserve.
“He married a Beauy girl,” Nicholson explained.
March spoke of fond memories of Amateur footy. He was a player, coach and president at Old Haileybury. Every Sunday he’s an official for his two sons’ junior teams at South Melbourne Districts. March was disappointed to miss out on Ben Griffiths’ Tigers debut in Adelaide, but he was happy to honour his commitment to the Tigers’ only kindred club in Richmond.
The Centrals’ founder, George Paras, sat up the back with his grey, curly hair falling past his shoulders, telling of forming the club with a mate at the Cricketers’ Arms Hotel in 1986. They called it the Richmond Central Football Club because Paras went to primary school at Richmond Central. They decided on the Snakes as the club’s nickname because Tigers would have been predictable.
In the early months, Paras and a few mates delivered White Pages in Box Hill North and Heidelberg to raise the funds to start the club. Paras was president as well as captain-coach. In the Centrals’ third year, he failed to make the premiership team. “That’s why they won,” he said.
Warwick Bracken is the Centrals’ current president. In addressing the lunch the 33-year-old spoke with a hint of an American accent, like Kirk Douglas in The Man From Snowy River. Bracken spent some of his early years in Boulder, Colorado, where his father worked as a maths professor. He himself is a web developer.
Bracken learned about footy only when he moved from Brisbane to Melbourne at 21. He joined the Centrals with mates from work. These days he plays one game a year, a reserves game against Box Hill North, because the Box Hill North president plays his only game for the year on that day, too. They play for the Presidents’ Cup.
Bracken said most of the Centrals’ players are white-collar workers who join the club after moving from the country or the suburbs to Richmond. Before this season, a new player wandered in off the street to join the club at almost every training session.
One of the best on Saturday was Reuben Schwedes, an 18-year-old who was born in Botswana. Schwedes’ mother rang Bracken to see if her son could have a game. In the first half, Schwedes took several marks of judgment and force. His powerful hands were at odds with his innocent smile. After every passage of play in which Schwedes was involved, his teammates gave him a pat on the back or a word of encouragement.
The star of the day was Luke Jamieson, a business consultant who joined the club a few years ago because he worked close to the ground. Jamieson was a rugby league player when he arrived from Cooma in NSW. Now he’s described as the heart and soul of the Centrals.
At half-time on Saturday, the ruckman and key forward walked around the rooms in circles, plunging his hand into a packet of jelly snakes and exhorting his teammates to maintain their pressure. Jamieson writes the senior team’s match reports for the website. He has warmth and spirit, essential ingredients in any footy club.
In the third quarter Jamieson hauled his lanky frame on to an opponent’s shoulders and took a screamer on the wing, right in front of the Centrals supporters. “Whooaaaa!” Snakes supporters said, their arms in the air. They became very excited when discussing just how much of his match report Jamieson would devote to his mark.
In the last quarter, Jamieson’s rugby-league background shone through when he tucked the ball under one arm and tried to push defenders away using his free arm. It was in keeping with a physical match, which featured countless examples of courage if fewer examples of skill. The most arresting feature was the number of times two players met at full force, shook their heads like old goats and trotted off to find another contest.
Around this time, there was much interest on the sidelines about Richmond’s advancing lead at Footy Park. “They’re out by 22 points,” said a Centrals reserves player whose thumb tracked across an iPhone.
The final piece of play at the KB Reserve was a mark by James Barnett, who stretched his arms high and wide to drag in the ball as the siren went. Bennett, an accountant in the litigation area during the week, is the captain of the Centrals’ Club 18s team, which is the thirds team. On this day he was up in the seniors, wearing No.70, because the regular ruckman was at a wedding in Mildura.
Barnett is a mark and handball man, with a deft palm at ball-ups. After kicking his third goal from his third kick, teammates swamped him like Geelong players once mobbed Mark Blake after kicking a rare goal. Luke Jamieson ended up with five.
The Tigers were surging further ahead at Footy Park ahead as the Snakes players walked off the KB Reserve with a six-goal win to celebrate. It was a good day for the yellow and black all round.