AFL Round 5 – Fremantle v Richmond: A desperate history

 By David Zampatti

Nothing really matters but the end.

One point Fremantle. Chaos. Six seconds to go, Houli, running across the centre, pumps the ball down to the teeth of goal; it arrives at the pack with two seconds to go and disappears behind a flurry of arms, legs and backs. In the adrenal slow-motion of the train wreck we were living through, all I see are yellow sashes and white numbers – Riewoldt, Vickery and McGuane – tracking it back to the goalmouth. I can also see Ray Chamberlain lurking in the pocket, looking for all the world like someone itching to be the Man of the Moment…

They’re always fraught, these Richmond games. On paper, it’s not an especially storied history, a mere 28 games over 19 seasons, no finals, but it includes our very first, fittingly enough on April Fool’s Day 1995 (Richmond 12.18 (90) d Fremantle 12.13 (85) at the MCG). Since then we’ve won twelve to their fourteen, with seven games decided by less than a goal each way.

But it’s a particular and desperate history, a shared, gnawing hunger for respect, two cries from wildernesses for the club that was set up to be a joke and the club that has become one over a horrible thirty years. It might have occurred to me back at that first game that we would be yoked together by misfortune and misadventure, that between us we’d play finals only five times in the next, combined, 36 seasons, that Campbell and Bowden and Richardson would torment us for a decade, that Parker would kick out straight to Hollands at the death in 1999.

Or that Vickery would glance the ball along the goal line and into the goal umpire’s crotch on Friday night.

Because we’re important to each other, whether we choose to be or not. For Richmond, we’re the low to which they must not descend. Even if they only get to play with the big guys – Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon – out of nostalgia and the gate, even if Hawthorn and Geelong and Sydney have gone past them in power, influence and success, at least, surely, they can beat the Dockers. Surely?

For us, Richmond has been the vulnerable big brother, the old, established, folkloric club that, right from day one, it looked like we could beat. So even if we don’t make finals, let alone flags, even if a parachuted-in bunch of marketers can change our club’s symbols – even where we live – at the stroke of a pen, even if we’re all but ignored by the football media and sniggered at by its West Australian chapter, at least we can beat the Tigers. Can’t we?

So nothing else really mattered on Friday night. Not Richmond’s blazing start or Freo’s solid comeback. Not Martin, Knights and Grigg cutting through the midfield or McPharlin and the admirable Johnson turning back tide after tide, not Bradley or Cotchin’s knees, or Fyfe’s boot. Not even White’s check side running goal that put the Tigers ahead with two minutes to go, or Ballantyne’s reply 40 seconds later.

All that really mattered was Riewoldt, Vickery and McGuane chasing the ball back to the goal line as the siren was about to go. And Ibbotson flashing between them to fall on the pill as it sounded.

Footnote: On Saturday, AFL announced they might play three games on ANZAC Day next year, including “the traditional (my italics) Len Hall clash involving Fremantle at Patersons Stadium”.

It was gratifying that, after eighteen years of Len Hall Games the AFL finally gave it some recognition. For some years they even denied its existence, along with any other game ever played on ANZAC Day other than the annual traditional (me again) behemoth gifted to Collingwood and Essendon.

For the record, Len was a West Australian, born the day after the first-ever VFL game in 1897, who fought at Gallipoli and rode with the 10th Light Horse at Beersheba and T.E. Lawrence’s liberation of Damascus. The club named its ANZAC Day game after him in 1996, when he was 99, and he attended three of them before he died in 1999.

It’s a pity that the powers-that-be in footy choose to cherry-pick tradition, especially when, like the ANZAC Day game at the MCG, it’s a self-perpetuating extension of a wider problem; the sense that football is for and about a relatively small group of protagonists (Collingwood, Essendon, Judd, Franklin) against which and who are pitted supernumeraries whose main source of light is that reflected from their biggers and betters.


Fremantle        2.0   7.5   10.8   12.9   (81)

Richmond       5.2   7.3     9.5    12.8   (80)


Fremantle: Ballantyne 4, Mayne 3, Walters 2, Suban, Crowley, Hill 1

Richmond: Knights, Vickery 3, McGuane 2, Martin, Riewoldt, White, Grigg 1


Fremantle: McPharlin, Johnson, Griffin, Ballantyne, Hill, Barlow

Richmond: Knights, Martin, Vickery, Jackson, Cotchin, Ellis

Umpires: Donlon, Dagleish, Chamberlain


Official crowd: 36,365

Our Votes: 3 McPharlin (Frem), 2 Knights (Rich), 1 Johnson (Frem)



  1. Very thoughtful and elegantly written DZ. Please stop writing them as I may end up having some sympathy for the Purple Craze.
    The history of Len Hall is astonishing. I knew he was a WW1 veteran but I had no idea of the breadth of his life. The charge at Bersheeba, Gallipoli and TE Lawrence – astonishing – and lived to 102. Would be fascinating to read any other material on him. Suggestions?
    The 2 hour time differences – NZ, Melbourne, Perth are a natural fit for successive day games each Anzac commemoration. Anzac is my national day, and I have no time for Jimmie Cook day. Freo/Geelong every second year would be a real blockbuster. The Cats have very strong WA links from the days of Polly onwards.

  2. There’s much I agree with here but I don’t get the “joke” analogy.
    Freo’s April 25 game has to fit the fixturing of mid weekers and NZ – the AFL will admonish your inability to see the “big picture”.
    Ignore them and try to enjoy good footy – you sound too anguished.

    ….and Peter – though not a 26 Jan zealot, I reckon 25 April has eaten itself. No perspective whatsoever. And it will be nauseous in the next couple of years (unless I can snare a junket!).

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