Round 20 – Richmond v Geelong: Long Weekend’s Journey into North Fitzroy’s Arms

Richmond v Geelong

7:50PM, Friday August 3

MCG

 

 

The edge was streaky but thick, and ran away between gully and keeper, much like the preceding 49 ones and twos. Had I meant that shot? I knew I’d claim to later, when I rewrote the history of this innings. For now I scampered sweatily to the far end, overrunning the crease to ensure it could only be a single. The crowd was modest but full of lifelong supporters – even Mr Clifton, my 6th class teacher. Friends, teammates, family, my glamorous wife and kids (as on TV) applauded me. I raised my bat, acknowledging the half century. I tried to look unassuming but inside my heart was pumping. I knew that tonight at least, I was the centre of attention, whether they liked it or not.

 

 

Unfortunately the umpire forced me off at Redfern, waving his ball counter in my face to indicate the game had to push on. Oddly, his counter was somehow beeping, like an alarm. It was an alarm – mine. I became slowly reacquainted with my bedroom in Brisbane, and remembered I had a flight to catch to Melbourne. Why? To celebrate my 50th with a Tigers game, joined by my two brothers (Hawthorn supporters, but we still speak) and six mates from around the country.

 

 

50. It’s that big a number there’s not even a Richmond listed player with it on his back (unless he’s a category Z rookie project ruckman from the University of Winnipeg basketball program playing in the VFL development league). When I was zero we Tigers were reigning Premiers. Even when I was 10 (1978) I could still hold my head up at primary school, not that anyone at Newcastle East PS gave a shit (by then Dad, escaping debts, had moved us from Melbourne to the far side of the Barassi Line). By the time birthdays 20, 30 and 40 rolled around, the only thing the RFC won was made from wood and stirred spag bol. I had hardened and expected to die this way.

 

 

The dear reader knows it all changed last year. Let’s not rehash the mid-life identity crisis the premiership from nowhere wreaked upon thousands of middle-aged Australians like me. (Christmas with the aforementioned Hawthorn supporters was sweet though.)

 

 

My gang and I spent a pre-game cheek-by-jowl hour in the Cricketers Arms, lapping up Melbournity through ale-marinated carpets, dead players watching silently out of picture frames. During the game I was reminded of findings from paranormal science that footy games can be affected by our solipsistic minds (e.g. screamers are taken in loo breaks). I was sure that the narrative of this match closely aped the wonky parabola of my life, no-one else’s. As in my own travails, it seemed to have a rough accountancy of ups and downs.

 

 

The Cats got to within 3 points. The little master’s nine iron to win it did momentarily light up the gallery. But as it sliced right, you sensed that this ageing winner of multiple majors was watching a final shot at glory disappear into the trees. Cotchin by contrast celebrated his new life. He has eschewed possessions in favour of pressure acts, like a property magnate who’s divested his portfolio to explore new age acupuncture. Rance, Astbury and Grimes treat forwards like gaffer taped hostages in a car boot (Hawkins got one all night). Nankervis showed that AFL integrity officers must investigate how a couple of longnecks, three trinkets, and a double pass to Phil Collins were exchanged with Sydney to get him.

 

 

We spent two hours trying to fit into Swan St bars, paying $11 for slim tumblers of beer with faux heritage names. Conversation was attempted against a cacophonic doof-doof backdrop using tin cans joined by string. We gave up. Next day we were treated to the Hawthorn v Essendon classic, which pleased my siblings no end, and resolved to celebrate my 50th properly. The plan was to go somewhere ‘different’, which for us, all interstaters, meant somewhere beyond walking distance of the MCG. “I’ve heard of Fitzroy” said one brother, “I think it’s meant to be OK.” “I’ve heard of one pub there: The North Fitzroy Arms,” said I, recalling it from the Footy Almanac website.

 

 

We cabbed there and immediately felt our out-of-towness as we entered, taken aback by its old-world calmness and instantly doubling the population of the front bar. The pub was so nice that we feared we were soiling it. It had a fire. People were holding normal, intelligent, sporty conversations and seemed to know each other. A local was there with his little daughter but stopped by our table to chat and welcome us. More dead players (Royboys obviously) peered out of picture frames non-judgementally, one eternally frozen in the act of handpassing towards our table by the fire. We drank red wine on linen tablecloths in the restaurant and told lies in speeches. I think we sang Tigerland too loudly over dessert wines but no-one seemed to care. I even had a conversation with Percy Jones about Tony Jewell (they were the days). What a life.

 

 

 

RICHMOND   4.2   6.6  10.11  12.13 (85)
GEELONG       2.4   5.7   7.8    12.10 (82)

GOALS
Richmond:
 Riewoldt 4, Castagna 2, Cotchin, McIntosh, Lloyd, Higgins, Townsend, Nankervis
Geelong: Menzel 3, Abbott 2, Menegola 2, Guthrie, Hawkins, Henry, Tuohy, Kelly

BEST
Richmond:
 Lambert, Riewoldt, Rance, Nankervis, Martin, Ellis
Geelong: Kelly, Dangerfield, Selwood, Duncan, Blicavs, Menzel

Ben’s Team: Will, Nick, Jamie, Steve, Grant, Raani, Andy, Steve

 

 

About

Failed to get drafted out the Wallsend Swans in the early 80s Newcastle league. Joyrider on the Richmond karma bus.

Comments

  1. Really enjoyed this, Ben.
    Sounds like you had a good weekend down south.

  2. Ben- a terrific piece. So many great lines. “a double pass to Phil Collins” is one and I love this from your final paragraph-

    More dead players (Royboys obviously) peered out of picture frames non-judgementally, one eternally frozen in the act of handpassing towards our table by the fire. We drank red wine on linen tablecloths in the restaurant and told lies in speeches.

    Great stuff. Happy birthday too.

  3. Stainless says:

    “Cotchin by contrast celebrated his new life. He has eschewed possessions in favour of pressure acts, like a property magnate who’s divested his portfolio to explore new age acupuncture.”
    That’s making our skipper sound far too pretentious, but it’s gold nonetheless!

  4. That was my favourite line. Brilliant stuff.

  5. Ben – you win the Almanac Piece of the Week award. The Don ham and the Patra orange juice will be available at the NFA front bar next time you are down. You are in line for the car for the Piece of the Year (Datsun 120Y – one owner – rego past due).
    Loved the image of Gary Ablett as Tiger Woods, struggling to recapture past glories on back nine of his career. But I think the women and drugs was Snr not Jnr.

  6. Ben Fenton-Smith says:

    Thanks for the comments and birthday wishes Smokie, Mickey, Stainless, Jarrod and Peter.

    Peter, it’ll be my great pleasure to collect those Don’s Smallgoods and Patra OJ next time I visit the NFA (which will hopefully be next month if you get my drift :-)). If you could arrange for David Honeybun to make the presentation it would be incredible.

  7. Joe De Petro says:

    Love it, Ben, especially when your dear old Dad moved you to the far side of the Barassi line to exacted debts. What a concept, the Barassi Line! I guess they must call it the Wally Lewis line on the other side.

    Eat your heart out, Mason-Dixon Line, Take that!

  8. Ben Fenton-Smith says:

    Thanks Joe. BTW, you probably know this, but the Barassi Line is a real thing (i.e. not invented by me). One of the great Richmond intellectuals (the George Megalogenis of his day, one might say), Associate Professor Ian Turner of Monash University , coined it:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barassi_Line

    Cheers!

  9. Welcome Ben.

    Impressive debut! Indeed, the Tim Kelly of debuts.

    You’ve nailed the description of Ablett’s kick. He needed the six iron, slightly back in his stance and to have committed to the shot.

    When next in the NFA don’t hesitate to let us know.

  10. Ben Fenton-Smith says:

    Thank you JTH. It’s very hard to get midfield minutes as a first year player but I’m just trying to learn the gameplan and make a contribution.

    On Tim Kelly, our jaws were dropping at the game at how good that bloke is. Very jealous. The two best players on the ground were probably Kelly and Lambert, draft picks #1278 and #4578. Interesting.

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