The View from the Summit

“I long ago come to the conclusion that all life is six to five against”. (Damon Runyon)

 

In hindsight, experiencing the 1980 Premiership at 16 wasn’t good for me. In just my second season of regularly attending games, I was like the novice gambler winning a jackpot first go, completely hooked by the thrill. In the following years I furiously chased the repeat that I assumed was just around the corner. Richmond’s disintegration during the 1980s was, admittedly, spectacular, but my reactions to their repeated failures were ridiculously angry and bitter.

 

I now realise the obvious truth about sport (and life): that “normal” is dealing with the sheer frustrating struggle of it all. For the footy fan, the on-field stuff is hard enough – the losses, injuries, suspensions and the like that seem to constantly prevent your team reaching that tantalising potential. But this at least is the necessary consequence of supporting a footy club. It’s part of the distraction from real-world problems that footy provides.

 

Where we get way-too complicated and serious is with our endless analysis of the off-field dramas – club politics and scandals, and, when we’re feeling more philosophical, all the issues about the state of the game itself. Look around now. If we’re not prying into the personal dramas involving Ross Lyon and Mark Thompson, we’re holding impassioned debates about the supposed decline in the standard of footy. Dilution of talent, congestion, rotation, zoning. Agonising about how we might do it differently, better. It’s getting to the point where we’re banging on like worrywarts trying to solve Melbourne’s transport infrastructure problems. And all about a game that’s supposed to be pleasurable.

 

Amidst all this turmoil and angst, the early rounds of 2018 have been an oasis of joyful tranquillity for this member of the Yellow and Black faithful. Perched at the summit of the AFL competition whilst the other 17 contenders scrap desperately for prominence at our feet, I’m feeling an unaccustomed serenity about Richmond’s position. I’m breathing the rare air of following a club that is in pretty much the best place it can be.   Top of the ladder for the first time in 23 years. No injuries apart from Dan Rioli (although I admit to being concerned about the serious long-term effects of foot injuries for blokes whose occupation consists of kicking and running). Enviable depth and fierce competition for places in the senior team. All within a club that is surely as strong, stable and profitable as any going around. And that wonderful “Zen” culture that was made so much of in 2017 doesn’t seem to have changed a bit.

 

Above all, this team has reminded me why I fell in love with footy in the first place. It’s something you do and watch for fun.   For the past few weeks, watching Richmond has been fun, pure and simple. A gloriously likeable team, individually and collectively, playing gloriously watchable footy. If you’re worrying about footy becoming dull and congested or that scoring rates are plummeting, come to a Richmond game. Watch how moments of pressure-packed congestion suddenly give way to breathtaking bursts of lightning-fast pace and sublime ball movement. Watch how superb defensive organisation, judgement and poise can make low scoring something to savour. Watch how the no-names – Lambert, Townsend, Short – make a mockery of notions of declining skills or that the Tigers should be re-named Martin Rance and Associates.

 

Make no mistake, this isn’t hubris. With each new game I still find plenty of reasons to respect, even fear, our next opponent. It’s certainly not complacency. In the clinches, I’m still experiencing that desperate desire to see the Tiges prevail. No hint of acceptance that we’ve had a good run so maybe it’s time for another team to take centre stage. On the contrary, with each win comes a growing realisation that losing is painful and when it comes, as it surely will, it will be particularly tough after such a charmed run.

 

And that’s my point. In the tumultuous business of being a fan, times like these are incredibly rare. But their fleeting existence is the reason why we keep coming back, week after week, even when all objective evidence says there’s not much prospect of joy. So when they actually occur, why not damn well sit back and enjoy them?

 

I know full well how quickly things change in footy. The contrast between last Sunday’s powerful victory over Collingwood and Round 2, 2016, when the sub-standard Magpies pinched victory from us, triggering a season from hell, is remarkable. Especially when you think 13 members of our side back then played last week, 14 of them are now Premiership players and 19 of them are still on the Richmond list.

 

I know I’m blatantly tempting fate when I brag about Richmond’s healthy list. In 1995, the last time the Tigers took top spot on the ladder, they achieved that feat on the same day that Matthew Richardson wrecked his knee. I know the capricious nature of the footy gods.

 

I know there will come a time, maybe this weekend, maybe years away, when this wonderful team starts to unravel, when savvy opponents start to unpick our structures and tactics, when age and fatigue start to affect these superbly athletic bodies.

 

I know also that when this happens, I’ll have those words of Runyon ringing in my ears and will still find enjoyment from the lesser Richmond sides that must surely follow this one.

 

Living in the moment is not the same as gloating. If one of the few benefits of growing old is that you develop a sense of perspective, it seems silly not to put it to use. Especially at a time when we seem to be more fixated on worshipping problems than enjoying this wonderful game for what it is.

 

 

 

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. Joe De Petro says:

    Nice work, Stainless.

    Watching the Tigers has always been fun, not always for the right reasons, but always fun.

  2. Chris Daley says:

    Amen

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Enjoy it while you can, Stainless. As your profile states, you coodabeen a Dees fan !

  4. Jarrod_L says:

    This is quality, thanks Stainless

  5. Stainless says:

    Thanks all.

    From the Summit – as you were!!

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