Visigoths ransack Tigerland

IF THE footy gods do pen the story of every season, they have started this one brilliantly. You can have your “Best of times, worst of times”. Dickens reads like a Funniest Home Videos auto-cue by comparison.
Richmond’s performance last Thursday night has provided the perfect opening. We have started with a complication, a question, yet again demonstrating that the Richmond Football Club is one of the great characters of the competition. The Tiges are good for football.
And Richmond supporters are good for football.
The faithful were great for TV news directors when they were turning up at pre-season training. They were great for talkback radio when they were ringing to say (with the lump-throated voices of prodigals) they’d bought their first membership since Kevin Bartlett succumbed to the comb-over. They were great for the nation when the purchase of No. 32 jumpers almost precipitated a polyester-led economic recovery.
I love them. Tigers’ fans make me feel balanced and adjusted. I love how Newtonian physics doesn’t apply to them; how their mood doesn’t follow along a continuous spectrum that moves them through stages and gradations from supremely confident to monumentally peeved. Only quantum physics applies to them. They leap between two states of being: Upbeat Tiger, where all that is in doubt is the font the engraver will choose for the premiership cup; and Upset Tiger, where all that is in doubt is the colour of the marble stele upon which the coach’s agates are mounted.
I love them so much I wanted to be with them on Thursday. I wanted to be able to say that I was there the night they opened their premiership season with a win over their arch-rival.
My train is shoulder to shoulder. Supporters look round-one fresh. One woman has a new do, pink-purple, like a Mallee sunset, with a hint of early-Everage about it. She waves her Tigers flag. “Go Tiges,” she says, draping it across a youngster’s face. “Go Tiges.”
I do a lap outside the ground. People meeting. People texting. I am near the Barassi statue at the Richmond end. A couple of blokes in board shorts. A kid in his St Kevin’s uniform. Blokes who look like they’ve forgotten that Thursday night is greyhound night.
Further around still to where Dennis Lillee will live forever exactly as we want to remember him, before he sold carpet and health capsules. A Greek bloke in his tight-fitting Tigers jumper is talking on his mobile. He is animated, loud, gesticulating. “What, aren’t you confident?” he asks into the phone. It is so Richmond.
I stand at the Punt Road end, behind the Tigers cheer squad. When the Tiges run out hearts swell. It is, after all, their year.
Richo leads and marks. He has the first shot at goal of the season. He hits the post. “Scripted,” I think to myself. But it’s still the Tiges’ year.
Then Troy Simmonds spills a mark in the last line of defence (which two of his mates could have taken) and the Blues have a goal. Other Richmond mistakes let the Blues in. The skills are awful. Ben Cousins is no longer the story. The only concern for fans is the performance of their team. And it is terrible.
By halfway through the second quarter I feel like I’m in a cartoon. Richmond faces are furious. Poker-machine eyes are spinning in their sockets. One bloke is pacing the concourse like he’s carrying the bloodlines of Groucho Marx and Yosemite Sam. “This is s—,” he screams (to no one). He’s right. It’s all over.
I leave. The Jolimont platform is busier than one might expect at half-time in the match between two premiership hopefuls. A weathered Tiger, no doubt called Dolly or Madge, leans back on the bench and draws long and hard on her fag. She blows smoke into the air like it’s moments after the Visigoths have ransacked her village. She looks at me and shakes her head.
A family is nearby. “Who are we playing next?” a Tiger kid asks his dad.
“Geelong.”
“Can we go?”
“I don’t think we can get there next week.”
You can see dad is shattered, betrayed, angry. Wondering whether this night will be the worst of times, and what he has done to his children.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV’s Offsiders.

He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids – Theo10, Anna8, Evie6.

He might not be the worst putter in the world but he’s in the worst three.

His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Leave a Comment

*