AFL Grand Final – Adelaide v Richmond: Why we left three empty seats at the Grand Final

Grand final morning … On my way to the ‘G, I stop at one of those trendy new coffee shops opposite Fairfield Station.


The brunch menu offers eggs anyway I like, chicken and pork are both options. Curiously, I order the butterflies, which are served hipster-style on a wooden board. I eat slowly, careful not to damage their wings so they can flutter around inside me for hours.


We step fretfully from the train at Jolimont Station. I barely recognise Yarra Park. It is like we are entering another world, one where my football team plays in Grand Finals. Astringent wafts of freshly-cut grass assault our senses.


A Tiger battalion assembles. We chat fussily together in our language of unbounded pessimism, a secret dialect with over a hundred ways to express disappointment. I swear, I hear them all, in snippets of conversation, as we bustle along.


Many enjoy the pre-game entertainment. Not me. I am anxious and fidgety. The butterflies are working overtime. Why did I eat so many of the little suckers?


It is a slow start to the game. Both teams test each other and Adelaide win the early ascendancy. Rory Sloane makes the initial run at the Norm Smith Medal with two fine goals. Alex Rance holds firm. Surprisingly, Nick Vlastuin is the one who makes early mistakes. He will atone for these many times over as the game progresses.


The first quarter belongs to Adelaide and a ten point lead at quarter time is their just reward. Richmond’s vaunted forward pressure has not been enough to thwart the Crows yet.


There is tension in the second quarter. Adelaide is a kick or two away from splitting the game open but Richmond defend grimly. It is a stalemate. One hundred thousand and twenty-one people feel the pressure.  It is a cauldron but players from both teams stand tall.


Jack Riewoldt breaks the tension with a goal.


Another follows and then another. Teenager Jack Graham, playing in only his fifth AFL game, kicks the first of his three for the afternoon at a most critical point.


How easily does success come to an AFL player? Ask Matthew Richardson, arguably the greatest modern-day Tiger, and you will get one answer, ask this young man and you will hear something totally different. He has come of age very quickly during this golden September.


We lead at half-time, but not by much. So far, it has been tighter than Lycra on a middle-aged man. My stomach has not churned like this since those reckless days of my youth, riding on the Mad Mouse every Show Day.


Dare we believe? Will it happen? We have played this out in our heads for years but that means nothing. Lady Football is cruel-hearted lover and we are but her playthings, our emotions are her toys, she will break our hearts and order a coffee in the same breath.


Conventional wisdom says that the third is the Premiership quarter. This makes sense. In a close game, if you kick the last goal of the second, you have momentum. If you kick the first after half-time, you have doubled-down. If you kick the next in a Grand Final, one hand is on the cup.


Richmond’s pressure during this period is enormous. Martin, Rance, Houli, Prestia, Graham and Edwards are all magnificent. Which one will win the Norm Smith Medal?


The final stanza is a party. We jump, we dance, we laugh, we share kinship with each other. Each goal kicked on the field is a ripple that spreads in ever-widening circles through the stands and across the park to Punt Road Oval and then pulses through each and every suburb of this great city.


The chaotic buzz of Tiger fans, initially an indistinct background hum, rises to a jarring drone, swells to an insistent vibration and finally explodes into an irresistible roar!


I scarcely hear the final siren; it is barely discernible amid the raucous din. A waterfall of relief washes over me, cleansing away 37 years of bitter heartache, cruel bounces, missed goals, surrendered leads, embarrassing losses, games that ended a few seconds too early or momentarily too late, lost opportunities and shattered weekends.


I embrace my friends, share high-fives with strangers, sing with crazy gusto, call my family but in the pandemonium and bedlam I do not hear their words. Emotions surge through me. I cannot control them, there is heady elation, intoxicating jubilation, sentimental wistfulness. I have an overwhelming desire to use bad words.


Fortunate people experience a handful of perfect moments before they die. A first kiss. Meeting the love of your life. Looking into your new-born child’s eyes. The joy that a simple kindness brings…and once again, the thrill of a Premiership.


A vibrant crowd of 100,021 people attended the 2017 AFL Grand Final. Official ground capacity is 100,024.  The Tiger faithful left three seats vacant on this glorious day. These were for absent friends, for our departed friends, for our children overseas and interstate, for our loyal members who were unable to attend and most of all for our three fallen heroes: Tommy Hafey, Graeme Richmond and Neville Crowe.


Our Groundhog Day has ended! There shall be no more disappointment.


ADELAIDE       4.1     4.7      5.10     8.12       (60)
2.3     6.4     11.8     16.12     (108)

Sloane 2, Walker 2, Betts, Greenwood, B. Crouch, Cameron 
Graham 3, Townsend 2, Martin 2, Caddy, Houli, Riewoldt, Grigg, Lambert, Castagna, Riewoldt, Prestia, Butler

M. Crouch, Jacobs, B. Crouch, Sloane, Laird
Martin, Rance, Houli, Astbury, Prestia, Edwards, Graham, Grimes

Richmond: Rioli (ankle)

Reports: Nil


The Three empty seats


More 2017 Grand Final coverage HERE.

About Joe De Petro

My favourite period in history began with the Summer of Love and came to a sad end with the birth of Disco. It was from 1967 to 1975. What was not to like in those days? The Grateful Dead, Creedence, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond and the mighty Tigers won Premierships every other year. It was a magical time, much like the current period in history.


  1. Oh Joe, I read your headline and thought the worst. But you were there to see it, and I now love the notion of the three empty seats. My great-grandma would have been in one. I loved her so much that I followed the yellow and black rather than the red and black of the rest of my family.

  2. Joe De Petro says

    That’s the sentiment, Gill. Each of us has three stories as to who should be in those seats.

  3. Matt Zurbo says


  4. A great read, Joe. Well played!

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I also had an overwhelming desire to use bad words Joe, but mine came about an hour before yours.

  6. Joe De Petro says

    Thanks Matt and Smokie. I went to coffee with a couple of the guys from work and they asked if I had written this yet. I had but I wasn’t happy with it. So they brainstormed it for me. The heading and the Tommy Hafey and GR line came from them.

    Swish, lots of bad words are said at the footy

  7. Kerrie Gardner says

    Needs a sub-heading ‘Tissue Alert’. I can relate to your breakfast, felt like I was a butterfly enclosure all September.

  8. Kathie Gardner says

    We all have stories about who would be in those three seats…. my dad was a tragic Richmond supporter who saw premierships in the 60s and 70s but died too young at 51 in 1977… one seat is for him. Another is for my mother-in-law who is responsible for her entire extended family being Tiger supporters – she grew up in Richmond, and given her 88 years, can recall the real hard times of those who lived close to Punt Road. The third is for my partner Graeme, who has been an MCG member since 1989, not missed a Grand Final since then…. we planned a trip to the US in February when even in our best times, we could not imagine a Tigers premiership….

  9. Joe De Petro says

    Thanks Kerrie, making people reach for tissues was what I was going for.

  10. Joe De Petro says

    Sorry, Kathie. I hate getting people’s names wrong. Serves me right for slacking off at the work.

  11. Joe De Petro says

    Sorry Kathie and Kerrie. Now I’m just feeling stupid.

  12. I really enjoyed your piece, Joe. It’s got real heart and meaning behind it. Congrats to you and your fellow Tigers on a very successful 2017. Let the celebrations continue for a few more days (at least).

  13. Joe De Petro says

    Thanks Matthew. Glad you liked it.

  14. Love it Joe. We’ve all got at least three folk who should have been in those seats.

  15. Sean Curtain says

    Great report Joe, what a day. I think I need to keep reading these pieces to convince myself I saw what I saw

    Nice about the three seats


  16. Joe De Petro says

    Thanks Stainless and Sean.

    Sean, its real all right.

    Stainless, yeah, I hadn’t realized how bittersweet something like this could be until it happened.

  17. Kerrie Gardner says

    No problems Joe, we are related and Kathie has probably expressed what I couldn’t – my goodness those 3 seats! It’s been hard to watch our old Mum, a Struggletown native. She kind of knew what was going on. We decorated her house, made sure she watched the games (though thought we’d won the the GF after the Geelong game) and kept at it but it was hard work. Just a year ago she’d have been all over this and the old Richmond stories would be coming thick and fast. Still, we thank her for our Tigerness.

  18. Joe De Petro says

    I hear you, Kerrie. My father-in-law passed on at near age 98 a few weeks ago. It is really tough to watch the slow loss of a loved one. I hope your Mum took some pleasure from this. Sounds like she got to enjoy the Premiership at least twice in three weeks, which is great. Maybe if we are lucky enough to get to her age, we will be able to celebrate every win likes it a flag! That will be pretty cool.

  19. Chris Rees says

    Thank you Joe, wonderful story. I thought of Tommy all through the finals, nice to think he and GR and Nev were there together to see us [bad word]ing smash our way to a flag.

  20. Joe De Petro says

    Thanks Chris.

  21. Mark Alexander says

    Awesome piece & can tell it’s from the heart Joe ??
    Maybe a a 4th seat for one of my favourites Maurice 17?

  22. Joe De Petro says

    Thanks, Mark. I was trying to write about emotions.

    You choose who sits there, they are your seats.

Leave a Comment