Yellow and Black Heart – An open letter to Richmond FC

Dear Richmond Tigers

I have to admit something – I haven’t always barracked for Richmond. From 1985 to 1996, I barracked for Fitzroy. I love my Dad and he barracked for Fitzroy. I love my mum too, she barracked for Richmond. However, dad went to games. Putting two and two together I realised that I could watch real live football if I changed my colours from yellow and black to red, gold & blue. Oh by the way, I forgot to mention the rest of my family did and still do barrack for Richmond. So anyway for those eleven years I lived and breathed the Fitzroy Lions. Dad and I went to as many games as possible, dragging my poor sister along who just wanted to read books quietly but had to put up with her two neanderthal family members yell and scream for Roosy, Lynch, Ozzy Osbourne, the wild-man Mark Zanotti and so and so on. We followed them from Vic Park, to Princes Park and on to the Whitten Oval.¬† We went to charity auctions, sold raffle tickets, shook tins, went to training, read letters from presidents, coaches etc until finally it all ended at the end of the 1996 season due to some financial mishandling from Fitzroy’s side and a want from the AFL to cull the number of teams in Melbourne and the Brisbane Bears a culture transplant. So after watching how gracious Richmond were to Fitzroy in the second last round of 1996 and seeing my mum had put a Tigers jumper and a membership on the table, I was “signed” to Tigerland. Just to pre-empt any comments I was never going to barrack for a side from Brisbane.

Supporting Richmond was immediately different from barracking for the Roy Boys. There was a confidence to Richmond supporters that Fitzroy supporters just didn’t have. Even in 1997 the Tiges finished 13th and still there was this “we’re the biggest club in the country” vibe. Over the next couple of years I would go to some games with my mum, but my heart still wasn’t really in it. Around the age of 20 I started going to games on my own and thats when my love affair really started with Richmond. I would and still do stand at the back of the cheer squad and to the left of the grog squad. If you haven’t heard of the grog squad before, it’s something uniquely Richmond. They are a group of cheer squad separatists who enjoy a tipple, a song and swearing. Bogan, passionate, hilariously self deprecating, viciously aggressive to their own but even more so to the enemy, but loyal. Always there no matter what. From this vantage point I watched us rise up to get to a prelim in 2001 , then disappear to the bottom of the ladder for more than a decade when only the most loyal of sons were worth watching. Chris Newman, one of the most underrated players to ever put on a Richmond jumper. Joel Bowden, Dan Jackson, Nathan Foley, Duncan and Andrew Kellaway and of course Richo. During this decade that Richmond pride took a real beating. We were the punchline to every footy joke ever written. Ninthmond became a phrase. It was hard to raise your head up at this time without having it lopped off immediately. So you kept your head down (well I didn’t) and quietly hoped.

Then something started happening around 2013. Richmond started winning games and something happened along with that within the supporter base. Hope was turning into belief, belief was turning in confidence. It was happening. Was it happening? The thing is, as a Richmond supporter growing up in the nineties and 2000’s, that you were always second guessing yourself, And for the next four years we were right to do that. A loss to Carlton in 2014. Carlton, a team who didn’t even make the final eight that year. The next year a loss to Port Adelaide in 2015 after “the chosen one” Trent Cotchin chose to kick against the wind in the first quarter leading to the Tiges being down by eight goals at quarter time. 2015 a loss to North Melbourne. Boomer Harvey……man I am happy that guy has retired.

Then 2016. WTF was that year? It was like losing control of your legs. One moment was everything was fine and then, boom! We couldn’t move. Jesus last year was a hard year to watch the Tigers. I mean on field was bad enough. Then the end of the season was just ….awful. Brett Deledio leaving. The board challenge (which was just embarrassing). I was at the AGM at the end of last season and it was the only time I’ve felt embarrassed to be a Richmond supporter. KB using his three hours on radio every morning to just kick the club in the head while it was down constantly. It was bleak. Looking back now though there were sparks of optimism. Neil Balme came home and immediately got to work. Brought in Blake Caracella and Justin Leppitch in as assistant coaches to help Damian Hardwick. Then we went into the trade period and got Dion Prestia, Josh Caddy & Toby Nankervis. Peggy O’Neil and Brendan Gale were kept in the roles they were doing very well at a governance level. At the tie it was hard to see the forest for the trees.

Coming into 2017 I’m ashamed to say I didn’t hold high hopes for Richmond. I thought we may improve slightly on the 13th ladder position of 2016 but hope had once again dwindled inside me not completely disappeared just….dwindled. I think most people know the rest of the story from here. The Tigers played good footy all year and then played premiership quality football for the last two months of the season and I was there standing at the back of the cheer squad and to the left of the grog squad with a tear in my eye, a smile on my face and YELLOW and BLACK in my heart.

I will always love you

PS. thanks for the premiership

Yours

Damian Gibson

About

Damian Gibson is one of the founding fathers of the AFL facebook community the Zanotti Files. He also is the host of Fifteen Minutes of Doom & FMOD podacsts A football (and Richmond) fanatic, he should not be approached while watching a game or playing Words with Friends on his phone.

Comments

  1. G’day Damian,

    Your heartbreak of Fitzroy and having been through tough times for Richmond would make you happy winning the flag this year. Rising up from the 13th last year to the top this year is so great.

    Loyalty is very important and I am proud of a big St Kilda supporter. St Kilda have been tough for the last several years after losing the final in 2011, but I hope we are creating new good era soon.

    “Hope was turning into belief, belief was turning into confidence” is a good quote for supporting your footy club and applies to our daily life too, I think.

    Cheers

    Yoshi

  2. Neil Anderson says:

    Lots of similarities with the Bulldogs Damian. The Tigers ups and downs since 1982 and the Bulldogs since 1961. It was really a race between the two clubs to win the flag again and a test of supporter loyalty to hang in there. Many stories of the children of loyal supporters reaching adulthood without seeing their team in a grand-final let alone winning a premiership.
    As a 1954 premiership attendee, my tears started when the Bulldogs beat GWS knowing my beloved Bulldogs were going to play in a grand-final for only the third time in my lifetime.

  3. Joe De Petro says:

    Great work, Damian. Being born into a mixed Roy-boy-Tigers family is a burden but at least you were able to learn about resilience.

    The last two Premierships, the Bullies and the Tigers, show us that footy is all about people. How happy were Bullies fans last year and how happy are we tigers this year?

    Imagine if the Plastic club had knocked both teams off in successive Prelims. Who would have been happy then. apart from the AFL?

  4. peter o'neill says:

    peter o’neill
    Hi Damian
    A great story full of passion of a supporter in your football, and yes like you it was a dream come true with the Tigers Premiers 2017.I will never for forget it (have watched the game seven times still get nervous)
    I came to Australia in 1970 started supporting the Tigers in 1973 my late father in law Keith Proctor was a Richmond player I was been a loyal supporter although I must admit after 2016 my membership was not not going to be renewed I glad it was!Well done again Damian hope to see you in St Leonards soon saving a few Tiger Cans
    Eat Em Alive
    TON (Tiger O’Neill)

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