Round 5 – Melbourne v Richmond: Anzac Eve and the sounds of silence

 

 

I’m not overly nationalistic or militaristic. I started attending Richmond-Melbourne on Anzac Eve because my fellow Tiger sister entered into a mixed marriage with a fanatical Demon and we always catch our clashes. But I have grown to love the ceremonies conducted before the match.

 

Due to annoying MCC ticketing practices (what did I wait eighteen years for a membership FOR?), it’s the first time I’ve not sat with my Demons in-laws for this game in I don’t know how long. I hope that this is a good omen that we’re going to smash them and it would have been awkward.

 

Instead I’m with my usual footy mate Cambo and his son Charlie, who have two free seats because his daughter Laura and her friend were determined to sit on the fence, rain be damned. Oh to be that age again. We’re nicely under cover, ground level.

 

The lights go out, except for the backs of the levels. Silence gradually falls on the ground, but the noise from the bars behind us remains loud. Plenty have decided to skip the pre-match observances to keep drinking. The announcer requests we light the torches on our mobiles. A few years ago they used to distribute little candles, but no need for that any more. The stands light up with fairy lights. A serviceman on horseback circles the ground with a torch lit by the Eternal Flame at the Shrine, and we stand silently as he passes. The Cauldron is lit and we observe the minute’s silence. The noise from the bars seems louder than ever, although I know all service staff are observing the minute’s silence. And then, the Last Post, and at last the drinkers catch on. 77,000 punters, and not a whisper. Not even from kids. It’s really amazing and sort of spooky. Even when a servicewoman sings the National Anthem to the end, everyone waits a full beat on the last note before breaking out with “Carna Tiges!” etc, which is unusual respect from the crowd. The teams walk through a joint banner saying “Lest we forget”, which is also painted on the turf.

 

That’s it, lights up, and suddenly it’s a normal game again. Fulfilling the unspoken obligation on commentators everywhere to be a dickhead about the whole Anzac thing, a ground announcer says “We’d really like to bring the spirit of the Anzacs to this game” and then without taking a breath or changing tone, launches into a plug for iSelect. It’s exactly like Lois in the Mad As Helicopter on Mad as Hell, and I get the giggles. Thanks so much for breaking the mood.

 

First bounce. Melbourne get a quick goal and seem to have the play. Cambo, who is listening to what he describes as the Z-team on 3AW “or some such” says that Sam Lloyd has dislocated a finger, returned to the bench, had it put back in and gone straight back out, eventually kicking two goals. We later discover that the Z-team is confused between Jack Higgins and Sam Lloyd, referring indiscriminately to Sam Higgins, so we don’t know what to believe. Furthermore the match injuries report later says nothing. I think the Z-team might have got a little carried away.

 

Play is very one-sided, but in turns. All up Melbourne’s end for ages for a grand return of 1-1, but then down Tigers’ way for a while for a grand return of, yes, 1-1. I want us to pile on a few goals before rain destroys the fun, but it is not to be.

 

It’s tense, but an uninspiring spectacle. The midfield aren’t as impressive as usual – I couldn’t tell whether they were applying less pressure or whether Melbourne were just shrugging it off, as appeared to be the case. There was a sustained period of just kicking end to end, with no reward. “It’s like the Under 10s,” Cambo says. “The best player kicks it downfield to the best player on the opposition side, who kicks it straight back.” I haven’t attended an Under 10s in over fifteen years, but yes, that is exactly what it is like.

 

There’s a Melbourne deliberate out of bounds right in front of us and we Tigers howl as one. The umpire signals he’ll throw it in and again we scream. The TV above me gives a number to text to report antisocial behaviour and I contemplate reporting the umpire but realise I am certainly not the first to think of this oh-so-hilarious joke.

 

At some point we conclude it has rained, although like Andie MacDowell we hadn’t noticed, as everyone is suddenly unable to hold the ball and players keep falling over. I can’t really say it’s making the match that much worse. A Melbourne supporter behind me says, “I don’t like Gawnie this year.” Controversial.

 

There are highlights: Riewoldt takes a fantastic pack mark although promptly converts it into a poster; Jack Higgins is doing that thing of appearing out of nowhere (Jack who?) and eventually kicking three goals including a brilliant tight angle number. I guess you have to really turn it on if you’re fighting to break into a premiership side. But Melbourne are taking too many good marks and throughout the third quarter, winning every contest. Or is it just the Tigers handing it over? That’s how it feels. “Oh no, you have it, I couldn’t possibly.”

 

Eventually Dusty cracks it and brutally moves us forward. Soon there’s a pile-on and Dusty is the last to get up. Much to my horror, he is limping badly. But he is Dusty, so he doesn’t limp to the bench; he limps back into the fray. I guess Dusty on one leg is still better than most players, the way this game is going. I shudder to think what horrible Anzac analogies commentators are applying to this moment.

 

Final quarter and the Tigers wake up, or more probably, Melbourne just winds down. Riewoldt amuses by lining up for a tough angle on goal and then unexpectedly kicking in instead; problem being, his target wasn’t expecting it either. Chaos ensues. I say amuses: I wasn’t amused then, but I am now. Cambo announces the Z-team says we’re on top of the ladder, depending on percentage. Suddenly, my bloodlust is up. I’m screaming like never before. The Tigers oblige. Macintosh kicks a long bomb after lining up halfway back to the city; Jack managed a toe-poke in traffic; Cotchin seals the deal. It’s a goalfest. Thank goodness I’m not with my beloved Demons family, suffering a few bays away; I am free to wallow.

 

Suddenly we have jumped to a 46-point lead, we’ve won, and we’re top of the ladder. It’s beyond my wildest dreams after such an uninspiring start. And middle. But I’ll take it! We sing along with the new, bright, correctly worded recording that I totally disapprove of (tonight’s so much about history, can we respect our own?) and plan to meet up again very shortly.

 

We’ll definitely be at this match again next year. You can say what you like about footy on Anzac Day but those respectful pre-match ceremonies are the only engagement I have with it and I’m pretty confident that would be true of the larger part of the crowd, including the kids. I think any engagement is better than none, and a shared experience with 77,000 (less those in the bars) is especially moving. Well done to both clubs and the MCC. Except for your ticketing practices.

Comments

  1. JBanister says:

    Love it, Mandy, Appalled I missed this one! it’s my favourite game of the year. Keep roaring.
    JB

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