Round 13 – Sydney v Richmond: Changing Tides, Changing Tiges
There’s no escaping it. I feel duty bound to write this article. For weeks friends and family have been asking for one, saying to me, “After last night, I can’t wait to see what you think! You have to write one!” But I think I have felt that if I did, I would jinx something. I think it’s the default position of all Richmond supporters. “Don’t do anything, don’t change anything, don’t talk us up, and above all, NEVER TIP THE TIGERS!” I went along to the West Coast game bundled up in seven layers against the frosty Melbourne night air quite confident, having told work mates that day that the only thing I was worried about was the possibility of it raining. I even tipped the bloody Tiges. And of course we lost. We played awfully, and lost.
It’s taken a trip away from Melbourne, away from Victoria and the bubble that no AFL fan can escape, let alone the players themselves, to see a bit more clearly. That really, nothing we do has any affect whatsoever on the game. Nick Smith didn’t kick it out on the full because I hadn’t moved from my spot on the couch. Anthony Miles didn’t kick the double sealer because I refused a high five from Dad, who was confident we had the win. But that’s the logic of a Richmond fan. That’s the logic of all sports fans. So I can safely write about last weekend without fear of reprisal. If the unthinkable happens, and Jeremy Cameron tosses Alex Rance around like a ragdoll, and kicks seven goals to drag the Giants over the line on the weekend, it won’t be because of this article.
I took the plunge today, and faced the (slightly less freezing than Victorian) waters of southern NSW in the middle of winter. It was my own personal battle. A multitude of factors cancelled each other out, leaving only my determination between the waves and me. At only five foot and 50 kilograms, I can get tossed around pretty easily. But over 10 years of swimming lessons, admittedly in suburban swimming pools, have given me half-decent water skills. I didn’t have a wetsuit, so swam only in my bathers in the middle of winter. But I’m a Victorian girl, I’ve spent my holidays, summer and winter, on the Great Ocean Road, and I’m used to swimming in waters colder than this. It was just like the Tigers – they were playing the might of Sydney, but they had beaten them last year. It was on Sydney’s home deck, but the Tigers have (surprisingly) a very good away record.
I went in to the water with my sister, and though I kept up with her for a little while, she quickly moved onto a sandbank and calmer waters. I was left floundering in the rough, being pulled left and right and centre by an undertow as uncertain as Bachar Houli in the first half against the Swans. Bachar’s normally unflappable, his left foot steady and trustworthy, but the Swans’ pressure upset him, and he kicked everywhere but to his own teammates. I was swimming in vain against a force that was stronger than I was, my arms flailing in an attempt at freestyle, much like Alex Rance’s futile chasing after Buddy in the first half – it’s impossible to stop him if the midfield is on top and your own side’s turnovers are giving him shots at goal.
My sister by now was miles in front of me, having a much more enjoyable time than I was, much like the Swans in the second quarter. Ahead of me, all I could see was a blur of blue, green and brown, the surging waves topped with off-white foam. I imagine that’s what it’s like playing an AFL game against a tight defensive side like the Swans that rebound so easily, red and white waves sweeping across a green carpet. I braced myself. I, unlike Shane Edwards, knew what was coming. And when it hit, I was flattened. Flipped over backwards, my body was suddenly more flexible in the water than on land, which had by now forced its way into my mouth. I eventually struggled to my feet, having been hit by wave of Buddy proportions.
And that was the turning point in my battle to reach the sandbank. Like Trent Cotchin, I twisted my body at unnatural angles, me to avoid waves, him to kick the most unlikely of goals. I forced my way through waves like the way Ty Vickery finally lived up to his potential and played the best second half of his AFL life, willing himself to contests, leading up through the centre, scrabbling for the ball on his knees and pushing defenders off him like he thought he was Dustin Martin. I was as determined as the man universally known as “Jack” was, who didn’t panic throughout the entire game and was justly rewarded with six goals. I scrambled for footholds in the unstable sand like the way Anthony Miles desperately tried, and often succeeded, in willing the ball even a couple of metres forward. I would like to say I was as calm and as resolute as Troy Chaplin was in his intercept marking in that final quarter. I would like to say I was as enthusiastic as Alex Rance was in the second half; with his marking, 20 metre spoils direct to Richmond players and general hassling of a champion off his game.
Suddenly there was silence. I clambered up the sand bank, the water level receding down my legs. It was as silent as it was when two Sydney defenders cleaned each other up, and Jack ran away from the ball that was sitting in the goal square. In reality the commentators were shouting and the fans were screaming, but for me, it was like I was sitting in a bubble of silence. We were only a goal up at the time, why hadn’t he pounced on the ball? What was going through his head? But of course, Jack knew best, and big Ivan came galloping in and calmly soccered the ball through the goal, bottom right corner of the net only he could see. And then it hit, the sounds, the lights and the players, it all felt like someone had hit fast forward. According to my dad we were home, but I spent the last two minutes close to hyperventilating. Just like I did after I reached the sandbank, and the waves seem to pause, then crash down with an even greater force on the shallow sand.