The AFL season for a Tiges supporter in Denmark

The Brothers Hill at the Grand Final.

 

by Ian Hill

 

 

I was born in 1963 into a Richmond family, just at the right time to experience the club’s greatest golden era. 1967 and 1969 memories are vague, but I was at the 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1982 Grand Finals and many others which the Tiges didn’t make. Unable to get tickets for 1980, I consoled myself with the thought that “there will be other times”. Ha ha.

 

Conveniently both sides of my family were all mad-Richmond. There were outlying cousins – a Demon on Mum’s side and a Saint on Dad’s (for reasons which are obscure to me today), but the rest were all Tiger-mad and there was never much hope of me being anything else.

 

I remember a time as a kid coming to the realization that many of my friends didn’t have the luxury of both parents following the same team. I once asked my Dad who he thought we might have ended up barracking for if he hadn’t married a Richmond supporter. His (now rather obvious) reply was “There was never any chance of that happening”. Mum and Dad used to tell me that their courting in the 1950s consisted mostly of going to the games of the modest Tiger teams of that period. Mum was born and bred in New Street in Richmond and used to say she had dated half the team before meeting Dad. Why Dad barracked for Richmond has always been less clear as he came from Deepdene, but we have recently discovered he had a maternal uncle who played a handful of games for the RFC in the 1920s. Dad’s Richmond credentials were further underscored by a passionate hatred of “them black-and-white bastards”.

 

I would not call myself a fanatical fan. Never wore the gear and as an adult I had never been a member before 2003. But as a kid in the 1970s I went to almost every Richmond game, and I cared passionately about whether we won or not – it would (and still does) define my weekend. In the 1980s a Saturday afternoon part time job (and arguably Richmond’s fortunes) saw my match attendance dwindle. I started to travel the world in 1989 and by 1991, affairs of the heart saw me married and domesticated in Denmark, where I still live to this day.

 

To my Danish wife, Vivi, Australian Football is, as the Danes say “a town in Russia”. But she accepts, understands, and tolerates my passion for the game. My involvement in the fledgling Danish Australian Football League made a much easier gig of living in Denmark.

 

We have two sons, Alex (born 1995) and Nicholas (1998). Alex played a bit of footy as a kid in some junior programs we had running at the time, and even went on a schoolboy footy trip to Australia in 2009. His interest has since waned but he has a basic understanding of the sport and has been to a few games in Australia.

 

Richmond’s general incompetence has been a topic of much mirth at the dinner table over the years. If we lost I would typically say nothing. If we won, I might just quip during the meal “Tiges had a win today”. This would always produce wry smiles from my family. They knew the drill. Even they knew of Richmond’s capacity to entice with the odd victory or three but ultimately disappoint.

 

Since about 2011, it has been possible to live stream games here and I watch every one that I can (the eight hour time difference meaning that Friday night games are the only ones I can’t as I am working at the time). One of the few times Alex sat down to watch the last quarter of a game with me was the infamous Karmichael Hunt game in 2012. As the events of the final siren unfolded, he saw a side of me that I’m pretty sure he had never seen before and he was given a fresh understanding of the passion we Australians have for the game.

 

As the days of our “Elimination Final Three-peat” approached, the “Tiges had a win today” dinner table quips were heard more often and if there were three or four in a row, Alex would say something like “this could be the year” or “are we going to book our tickets?”. Of course it was always said in jest – even making the finals could not remove the cloak of incompetence that surrounded the RFC in our household. 2016 served only to confirm that and restore the Tiges to “business as usual”.

 

When round five of 2017 saw us at 5-0, one of the more serious dinner table conversations occurred regarding flight tickets to Melbourne in late September. Four weeks later, order was restored.

 

But the Tiges kept on winning. And winning. Despite this, the closeness of the season meant that it probably wasn’t until the Hawthorn win in Round 20 that we were assured of making the finals, and even losing the last game could have seen us drop to sixth (not to mention the size of our last two wins and GWS’s last loss elevating us to third and avoiding a trip to Adelaide in the first final). All this was making it tough to plan for September and after beating St Kilda, I still had no serious designs on making the pilgrimage to Melbourne for the finals.

 

Something I did almost subconsciously made me realise how much I cared and that I would have to go if we made it. The first final against Geelong would start at 11.50 am on a Friday Danish time, and I took the afternoon off work so I could watch it live – something I never ever thought I would do. I think I had a gut feel that we were going to win. I have an office job so even if I was at work I would most likely have been checking the scores so often that I would not have got much done. Taking that afternoon off was the right call for all concerned.

 

As that last quarter unfolded, both Alex and Nicholas were at home in their rooms and after they heard my manic screaming at every goal, they came out to see what was going on, and eventually watched the rest of the game. Emotion got the better of me and I had to turn my head for fear of them seeing the tears.

 

No such problems with work for the GWS final as it was a Saturday. I still hadn’t thought about going to the extent that I had not actually discussed it with anybody. In the week leading up to the Preliminary Final I heard Vivi on the phone telling her brother that “that football team he barracks for in Australia might make the final and I think he’s going to go down for it”. It was that comment that really put the seed in my mind.

 

Four problems remained. Beating GWS, flight tickets, finals tickets and getting off work. As early as the Geelong win two weeks previously, I had worded up my work colleagues that a short-notice trip to Australia might be in order. I didn’t tell them the full reason – I unfortunately might have left them with the impression that a death in the family was imminent. One colleague from Germany would have to move one vacation day he had asked for and already been granted – he did this and it is something for which I will be forever grateful.

 

The GWS game. Similar situation to the Geelong game but this time Vivi was home too and we started to pull away in the third quarter – not the last. My excitement with each goal infected the whole house once again, and with a 31 point lead at orange time, the boys came out to watch again but not only that – the unthinkable happened – EVEN VIVI SAT DOWN TO WATCH THE LAST QUARTER! I’m guessing she thought, if my husband is going to bugger off to Australia for a football match, I want to see why.

 

I never thought I’d see the day. My darling wife who, despite being the wife and mother of Australian citizens had never shown the slightest bit of interest in the footy, was watching the RFC play their way into a Grand Final. Someone at Punt Road was doing something right.

 

Then more drama. Ten minutes into the last quarter, we are 34 points up and just about home. The Giants kick two in five minutes to bring it under four goals and THE STREAMING STOPPED WORKING!!! I can tell you this is a very reliable service. Occasionally it buffers, the quality might not be perfect, but you can pretty much be assured that you can always watch the game. But for the first time ever, it just stopped working. Nothing. Black screen. For the next few minutes I frantically tried to restart it or even pick up the radio streaming but nothing was working. I resigned to following the scores on the AFL website and by the time I had composed myself, the Riewoldt goal took our score to 90 and that just about iced it.

 

“Looks like I’m on my way to Australia,” I announced to the family, barely believing that it had come to this.

 

The rest of the weekend was spent booking flight tickets and making countless texts and phone calls to family members in Melbourne trying to secure tickets to the game. The details of that would easily double the size of this article, suffice it to say, I have a cousin with enough memberships and clout to see it through.

 

I had last visited Melbourne in January 2017 – only eight months earlier, but THAT was my first trip home in over five years – the longest gap between trips home since I’d moved to Denmark. I remember sitting on the train to Copenhagen Airport thinking to myself, this is madness – I am flying around the world for a game of football. What was really interesting was how the narrative changed. In Denmark, I would be trying to explain to friends and family why I would do that, but once I got to Melbourne, most friends and family would have been more surprised had I NOT made the trip.

 

As far as the financial implications of going were concerned, it was my brother’s words that convinced me. Think of the money we’ve saved on finals tickets over the years, he said. Compare this to Hawthorn and Geelong supporters who are shelling out every year. And it could even be another 37 years before we are there again (look at St Kilda, or Melbourne) and by then we’ll both be in the ground.

 

The week was indescribably marvellous. I hadn’t really thought about the result and was really just happy to see Richmond play in a Grand Final, win or lose. It was also very emotional, bringing back thoughts of Mum and Dad (both no longer with us) and the days they spent taking us to the footy during Richmond’s halcyon days of 1967-1982. As the game progressed and it became more and more obvious that we were going to win, the best word to describe it all would be disbelief.

 

So, 37 years down the track, those “other times” had finally come to pass. I had at last made up for not attending the 1980 Grand Final and had shaken off the tag of “not having attended Richmond’s most recent premiership”.

 

It was all very much worth it. I doubt I’ll do it again. If we were to make the Grand Final next year I won’t be going again. I’ve seen the drought-breaker and the odds are we’ll lose next time (we are now 6-2 in “modern” Grand Finals and must be due a loss) so I’m not going to push my luck. And I doubt I will ever live in Australia again so I am content with the fact that it might even have been the last one I will ever see.

 

Had we received this piece earlier it may well have ended up in our collection of writing to celebrate the Tigers’ premiership season – JTH

 

Presenting The Tigers’ Almanac 2017. Read all about it HERE.

Purchase The Tigers’ Almanac 2017 HERE.

The original, and prints, of Kate Birrell’s painting for the cover of The Tigers’ Almanac 2017 are available. Details HERE.

 

 

Comments

  1. Stainless says:

    What a great story!
    From the thousands of words about the Grand Final there’s a substantial theme emerging about the Richmond Supporter Overseas and the dilemma of whether to go or not. Could be a book in its own right!

  2. JBanister says:

    This is just brilliant, Ian. Thanks for penning it. I love the stories of Tiger fans living overseas. I missed the three elimination finals due to living in the UK. Perhaps a blessing – I came home in time for the Dogs, then the Tigers. I may bugger off again now! All the best following the hangover from Denmark!

Leave a Comment

*