A Footy Newcomer’s Story Volume 2: The Richmond Rollercoaster Ride


Though 2016, my first year as a fan of AFL had its share of ups, downs and shattered expectations, it’d soon pale in comparison to 2017. Coming off the 2016 finals, I declared Richmond were the team I’d decided to commit to, and though their disappointing 2016 performance left little to hope for, I had adopted the mindset that expected defeats were easily shrugged off while unexpected victories were the sweetest kind. The 2016 season’s conclusion only affirmed my certainty that Richmond were the team for me when I saw the Bulldogs’ victory and thought “think what it’d be like if the Tigers did it, I want to be part of that when it finally comes”. If you had told me then that I would only have to wait a year for that to happen I’d have simply laughed.


Four games into 2017, things were looking good, I was happy to enjoy the wins as they came but still maintained a restrained outlook. “Making finals and at least winning one would be a satisfying conclusion” was the position I remember having then, one which would remain for most of the season. Then came Anzac Day eve, Richmond vs Melbourne (Round 5, 2017), a game now etched in my memory. At three quarter time Richmond were 20 points down and I thought our season’s first loss was pretty much set. But then in a brilliant final quarter performance the Tigers somehow managed to get the score back near level. Though hopeful, I didn’t want to get too optimistic, still being sure it could go either way. What also didn’t help were the many behinds each team was kicking at a stage where scores were around a point or two apart. Finally, Richmond broke the pattern of minor scores with Jack Riewoldt’s sixth goal of the night and I now thought “maybe we can save ourselves here”. Then, from a patch-up of a near fatal error just outside the Demons’ goal square, the Tigers drove it all the way back up the field almost in the blink of an eye to end with Josh Caddy kicking the final goal of the night. Soon the siren finally sounded and the roar of the Tiger army shook the stadium, the loudest I’d heard it yet. Ever since I’d started going to matches, I’d come to enjoy the post-victory singsong, but that night the tops of lungs were most definitely reached. “What a comeback, and what a start to the season” I thought. “Maybe, just maybe, this is year is one in which to be hopeful.”


High as we’d climbed, a hard fall was about to hit. The royal flogging at the hands of the then competition-leading Crows was somewhat expected but the follow-up game’s late collapse against the Bulldogs left more than a sore feeling. A week later, after the most soul-pulping defeat by way of David Mundy booting a goal after the siren, one could be forgiven for thinking the torture would end there. It wouldn’t. As if enduring one loss by way of a dying seconds goal wasn’t bad enough, GWS saw that we’d have to suffer two in as many weeks. Painful as they were, those weeks certainly brought things back down to earth and, when you hit the ground from as high up as we’d been, there was always going to be a thump at the bottom.


Though a heavily relieving bounce back would come against Essendon a week later, followed by a morale boosting win over North Melbourne, the rocky ride persisted. Another painful late collapse after a game of overall dominance would come against the Swans just after the bye, contrasted by wins to follow against Carlton and Port Adelaide. It must have been at this point in the season that I would rethink my theories on teams being either bandwagons or pain-trains by throwing a third state into the mix, the rollercoaster. Given Richmond’s unpredictability combined with highs and lows all over the place, a theme park ride seemed an appropriate metaphor. It was here the rollercoaster would take its greatest plunge yet. Round 16 would deliver the Tigers a shock walloping at the hands of St Kilda, a night I remember being especially long. My uncle Sam has since reflected on that match multiple times saying, “You’d have had a hard time convincing me we were flag material after that game”. If any game has made me want to leave early it was that one, but Sam convinced me otherwise, something that, in hindsight, I am very grateful for. With the exception of one more loss a few weeks later (Geelong, Round 21), the Tigers’ season would be pretty much uphill from here. With our run home appearing more and more promising by the week, finals now seemed a definite prospect. “At least make finals and win one,” I kept thinking. “Finals have almost seemed cursed for the Tigers in recent years.” Then came our last home and away game of the season and here we were, not just looking at a place in the finals but, potentially, a top four finish. Our only obstacle was the team who had utterly mauled us weeks ago, St Kilda. Fortunately, this time around we pulled through in brilliant style and with that our finals chances were at their best in a long time.


Before I knew it, I was right back at another Qualifying Final (having gone to Hawthorn v Geelong the previous year) and the memories flooded back as to just how big and loud the crowd got at these games. I’d say the crowds I’ve heard get the loudest in my short time are those of Collingwood, Richmond and Geelong and, considering the latter two were playing, a storm looked set to erupt. Despite my catastrophising thoughts, Richmond would ultimately blow the Cats completely out of the water that night, much to every Tiger fan’s extreme happiness. Two weeks later, the hype train was ready to roll like thunder all over again in our prelim against GWS. “My goodness, could we really do it? could we really make it to the Granny?” If the Tiger fans were loud at the qualifier, this time with them being roughly 95% of the crowd, they’d surely be heard all across Melbourne were we to win. And, much to our joy, we did. We were in the Grand Final, and no amount of singing was going to be contained to the stadium that night. After the game when Sam, his son Bill, and I went down to the Corner Hotel for a couple of celebratory drinks, the crowd there went into a massive belting out of the Richmond theme song no less than three separate times.


So, then it finally came, Grand Final day against Adelaide, a team that’d looked near invincible all year. Being new, I was unable to join Sam and Bill on the day so instead watched the game at my grandparents’ house. Ever the pessimist, I had to struggle throughout to contain my nerves and, when Eddie Betts kicked the Crows’ second goal early on, I was more that worried a slaughter was coming. The Tigers were able to find their mojo quickly enough, and by the time they eventually gained the lead in the second quarter thanks to a Jack Graham goal, I was a little less anxious. Looking back, I can distinctly remember throughout the game picturing the image in my head of Cotch and Dimma holding up the cup in the hope that I could somehow will the outcome into happening (silly as I knew it to be). Finishing the first half in front was certainly a surprise, but it would turn to amazement by the end of the third quarter. 34 points up and all I could do was tremble, unable to think. Though one could say as the commentary did that Dion Prestia’s goal sealed it, the couple of quick Adelaide goals still found a way to stir my inner worry wort. A couple more from the Tigers soothed my worries but most definitely not my nerves and, as the minutes wore down below 5, I knew it was ours. Then came the siren. Still now my memory of everything after it is foggy, though I do recall thinking of how Sam and Bill must have felt, being there to see it after waiting so long (certainly longer than me).


The rest of that day, the next morning at Punt Road oval and even up until the start of the 2018 season, I still recall it feeling like the realisation hadn’t fully sunk in. This team, this brilliant team had done just what I’d wanted to barrack for them in order to see, and what a ride it had been. From jumping on board expecting pain to then get a band wagon, only to switch back to pain train mode and then become a rollercoaster ride was nothing like what I’d predicted. Far more unbelievable than that though was that the Richmond rollercoaster somehow went all the way to the top.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Ben Kirkby

Ben moved to Melbourne at the start of 2016 from country NSW. Shortly after declaring his intent to live in Melbourne permanently, his uncle Sam suggested "If you're going to live here you've got to get along to the footy at some point". After seeing his first football match (Hawthorn vs Sydney, round 9 2016) Ben's interest in AFL took off in a way highly unexpected by both himself and his extended family. Ben's team alignment was uncertain for a time, seeing an interest taken primarily toward Hawthorn during much of the 2016 season, but during the finals series he declared his intent to follow the way of his cousins and uncle and become a Richmond Supporter, primarily on the grounds of them being the team he most wanted to see win, among a long list of other reasons. Needless to say the following year saw him very happy with his choice.

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