AFL Round 13 – Richmond v Fremantle: We shouldn’t have let ’em play

I wonder if the English ever regret the fact that the game they invented, soccer, went global. Just like St. Kilda’s sole premiership, the English have won only one World Cup in their history, in that same year of 1966. Other countries quickly stole a march on the English and they haven’t been able to   catch up.

As for Aussie Rules, it was first played at Yarra Park here in Melbourne in 1858. Although it quickly spread to the other states the VFL competition was supreme. Richmond did OK so long as there were no more than 12 teams in the competition. They won 10 premierships in 72 years, a pretty good strike rate. In the early eighties the rot set in. The Tigers were already gone before 1991 when the VFL became the AFL and eventually expanded to 18 clubs from five states.

How is a struggling club meant to hold the line if there are even more teams to compete against? Especially from Western Australia. The Eagles and the Dockers have greater resources to play with. Most of the state might consist of desert, but what riches that desert contains – iron ore, diamonds and gold. The riches flow to the Perth-based clubs. They have more to spend on recruiting, staff, player welfare and development. They have an enormous advantage when playing at home.

For Richmond, the gold ran out years ago. If only they were still playing in a suburban competition within a single city.

Today I witness two games where I fully expect my teams to lose.

First off it’s Australia against Chile in the World Cup on the telly at breakfast time. They meet in Cuiaba, Brazil, in a region called the Mato Grosso, the geographical centre of South America. It’s a long way from the green fields of England. The Aussies are brave, but are never going to defeat Chile, ranked fourteenth in the world. At least Timmy Cahill nets one in the honourable 3-1 defeat. The Socceroos will already have their flights booked for the day after their third group match against Spain. As for the English, they’re no certainty to make it through to the next round either.

Next it’s off to the MCG for Richmond’s clash with Fremantle.

The first thing that strikes me is that there’s hardly anybody here. The attendance of 22,000 proves to be the lowest for a match between the sides in 20 years. While it’s a cold winter’s day in Melbourne, I wonder whether disillusioned Richmond fans have decided they’ve experienced enough heartache for one season. Yet the Tigers are more than competitive. In the early stages of the game they dominate possession and inside fifties. Crowley goes to Deledio at the bounce and the Richmond playmaker promptly runs into attack. He outmarks the Docker hard man on the lead and registers Richmond’s first goal of the afternoon. So far, so good. They out tackle the Dockers and appear as though they’re in with a show.

But they squander their chances. Riewoldt and Edwards miss easy shots. Tigers fumble the ball at crucial moments. Like Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ against George Foreman, the Dockers absorb the pressure from Richmond and wait for them to make  mistakes. The errors certainly flow, even in uncontested situations. Then the Dockers pummel them on the rebound. They are clinically efficient in the comparatively brief periods they spend in their attacking zone.

Dockers such as Fyfe, Hill and Barlow have the polish and the footy smarts to fully capitalise on Fremantle’s time in possession. The Tigers boot four in a row and hit the front late in the second term. Then the belligerent Hayden Ballantyne zips away from Morris and kicks a couple in time on.

Sam Soliman is presented to the crowd at half time and interviewed on the big screen. Sam, a Richmond supporter, captured the IBF world middleweight title from Germany’s Felix Sturm a couple of weeks ago. At the age of 40, he is Australia’s oldest ever world boxing champion. He happily displays his championship belt and poses for photos with the kids.

Ballantyne’s majors are the first in an unanswered sequence of seven by the Dockers on either side of the half time break. Just like last week against the Kangaroos, Richmond’s playmakers have left the field and are presumably taking a smoko on the concourse outside the stadium. Fremantle takes the lead out to a game high 40 points.

Richmond has another run of four goals in the final term to get within 14 points with five minutes left on the clock. The Dockers are summoned back to their work stations for one last effort. Pavlich marks and boots his third for the afternoon before Ballantyne ices the cake with his sixth goal from 11 kicks. He is a model of efficiency. Riewoldt, on the other hand, has a return of 1-5. In the end it’s an undistinguished 20-point win over non-contenders for a team heading for another finals appearance.

The rain starts to fall. A man in front of me asks his mate whether he’s fronting for next Friday’s bout with the Sydney Swans.

“I don’t want to,” he replies, “But I’ll probably be here.”

The middle-aged men get it. It’s like a marriage that’s entered a rocky phase. You’ve got to grin and bear it and keep turning up in the hope that things will get better.


  1. Sean Gorman says

    Hey GJ – lucky Les E’s book n the Dockers is coming out this year – I suggest you spend a bit of time looking at Freo’s genesis and the $ struggles that epitomised its very existence and its on field folly. At some point the club has to take carriage and sort it. I think Dimma is a man of great patience but one who has not recruited well enough. There are many reasons for this. BTW I was a Tiges man b4 the Dockers came in but you can’t keep making a cock up and keep pointing at the other guy and saying ‘he did it’ or he has more lollies than me – I can’t speak for the feathered mob up the road but we have built our shit one shit block at a time. Heaveho.

  2. David Zampatti says

    At the risk of piling on, it’s a stretch for Richmond to bemoan its fiscal travails. It is, after all, one of the Melbourne-based establishment clubs the AFL and its attendants shower their largesse – in fixturing, profile etc. on. It’s also one of the Melbourne clubs whose supporter and corporate base should allow it to compete on equal terms with the best-endowed interstate clubs.

    I could go with your argument, John, if you were talking about the Bullies, Norths or the Saints, the clubs who’ve really been squeezed by the lop-sided marketing of the AFL and the fraternal brutality of the Collingwood/ Carlton/ Essendon and, yes, Richmond hegemony. Coming from the Tiges, though, is a bit, um, rich.

    Dr Gorman is right about the parsimonious genesis of the Dockers and, if Les’s book is going to shine a light on the bastardry, from both the WA and national football establishment, that consigned it to a decade of failure and ridicule and blighted the careers of many, on and off the field, that’s a good thing. You are also right, John, about Freo’s ultimate resources, although the mountains of gold, silver and rubies (was it?) you speculate about isn’t the real Eldorado (any economist will tell you that real wealth is always in cities, not mines). It’s the Dockers ability to recruit the support of a fair share (currently around 40%, I suspect, and rising) of two-and-a-half million people to its cause, along with a similar share of local media and the advantages of being the only game in town whenever it plays, that gives it strength.

    For Victorian clubs to have those advantages, there is really only one solution, and that’s a brutal one. Victoria can only support six clubs with the sort of base that the interstate clubs can attract. While it continues to have 10, there will continue to be the same winners and the same losers in Melbourne. And if enough Tigers supporters think Richmond is one of the losers, John, that might be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    John there is no many things here culture , Richmond had it by sacking , Hafey they have never recaptured a winning culture and self belief they have enough supporters but last year gave false hope and now they are dropping off in droves
    Recruiting ! Fiora before , Pavlich and Tambling etc but the present list has so many failures at other clubs in the crunch , Chaplin , Houli , Grigg , Hampson ( just because you have a stunning partner shouldn’t get you a game ) etc why did the tigers think they could change and improve so many ? Internally within the football industry the tigers list is not rated and rightly so. David Z is right there are too many teams in ,Melbourne of which if we are being blatantly honest is a expanded vfl comp to keep clubs from falling over . Richmond are a club which should survive and prosper but has been a basket case for a long time , it needs leadership and honesty it needs to get a copy of the master print of the cats blue print from when , Frank Costa implemented and changed and developed the cats in too a super power

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