AFL Round 15 – North Melbourne v Richmond: One of those days



I feel like Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World. Today, thanks to my daughter who knows one of the young players, my son and I are in the possession of two complimentary tickets to enter the Richmond change rooms before the match against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium. Just like the movie, with the friends having back stage passes to the Alice Cooper concert in Milwaukee.

We arrive at the stadium nice and early, giving us plenty of time to make our way down to the holy of holies to behold our heroes. Membership cards scanned, backpacks checked. The tickets say B2 at 12:40 and we aim to be at the doors early. B2? Apart from being half of Bananas in Pyjamas it doesn’t ring a bell. There’s no B2 on the stadium plan on the board inside the entrance. Does it have something to do with Basement 2?

We ask an attendant stationed at the rear of level one. She is equally mystified and suggests it means level two up by the Medallion Club. That’s funny. I thought the players entered the arena at ground level. Up the ramp we go. This doesn’t look right. We reveal the tickets to the young girl at the desk supervising the reservations for the lunchtime diners at the Medallion Club. She excuses herself to summon her supervisor. The supervisor informs us that we need to descend the nearby escalator to ground level and make our way from there.

We duly emerge in the cavernous car park in the bowels of the stadium. A wire fence bars our approach to what we think is the approximate location of the dressing sheds. We locate an entrance of some sort manned by security staff. Membership cards scanned, backpacks checked. We display the golden tickets to the attendants and plead for assistance.

“Just follow the red line for fifty to sixty metres and take the stairs at the end. No problem.”

We follow the red line until it peters out and we spy a stairwell. Down we traipse and we discover yet another underground car park. It’s now 12:27 pm and my vision of triumphantly waving the tickets around like Wayne and Garth in front of assorted hangers on and would-be groupies is swiftly evaporating. Now it’s more like the scene in This is Spinal Tap where the band emerges from its dressing room all fired up to hit the stage but becomes hopelessly lost in a maze of passages, utility rooms and dead ends, before seeking the advice of a cleaner and  ending up on the roof of the venue. Only in our case we are at risk of being trapped in a cellar somewhere.

This time we ask a lady taking the money from cars driving in to the car park from the street. She sends us back upstairs. We retrace our steps to the official who first advised us to scurry along the red line. Membership tickets scanned, backpacks checked.

“You went down the wrong stairs mate. You should have gone down the one at the end.”

This time we take the stairwell to the left. It’s 12:32. We arrive at another car park. But there’s an attendant sitting by a door leading out of the stadium. Membership tickets scanned, backpacks  checked. We show him our tickets and he points us to a door about 30 metres away. There’s an elderly gentleman dressed in a neat dark suit with a yellow and black striped tie. It can only be one of those legendary doormen, the type who volunteer their services to the club for half a century or more and end up as life members. I know now that I have reached our goal. It’s 12:40 precisely.

We flash our cards and are welcomed into the inner sanctum. Well, almost. My son and I take our places in a small area separated from the rooms by a wire fence. We are informed that we are not permitted to take photos. Fair enough.

It’s a bit like watching animals in a free range zoo.

There they are. A digital clock counts down to match time. Cotchin lays on his back, gently twisting at the hips, throwing a footy high into the air and catching it. Shane Edwards is on his back with his feet against the wall. He lofts a footy and allows it to bounce off the wall before he catches it. Grigg, Aaron Edwards and Riewoldt stroll over to chat to them. Through a door to a side room I can see Jackson receiving a rubdown from a female masseur, her elbow pointing hard into his right buttock and manipulating the muscles in a circular motion.

About twenty of us, mostly mums, dads and little children, take it all in. Conversations are hushed, reverential even. I’m old enough to be the father of any one of the Richmond players, but I feel like an overawed schoolboy again, remembering my shyness with Paddy Guinane and Neville Crowe when my own father presented me to them in the rooms at Punt Road back in the sixties.

Grigg is playing his hundredth AFL game after making 43 appearances for Carlton. So too is Jake King, and all for the Tigers. He sits against a pillar listening to his iPod. He sings along soundlessly and keeps time with his right fist on his left palm. What’s he listening to? The Stones’ Street Fighting Man? Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting? Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger? King is like one of the naughty kids you remember from your childhood letting off firecrackers in a Coke bottle outside the milkbar. And now he’s going to get his name on a locker at Tigerland with the other hundred gamers.

The players barely glance at the muted spectators in the cage. They’ve seen it all before. I try to catch the eye of the player who provided the passes for us, but he has his mind on other things. The players talk quietly amongst themselves. Rance and Dea kick the ball to each other. Cotchin rolls a ball along the carpet and it comes to rest against the wire. A little boy scampers under the hand rail and pushes it back to the skipper.

“Thanks mate.”

“Thank you everybody,” says the doorman. “It’s time to go now as the players have to attend a meeting.”

It’s 1:10 pm precisely. We file out and leave the boys to their own devices, confident that our hopes and dreams are in capable hands.

But the stadium is not about to release us from its clutches. I can’t remember where we have come from. Fortunately my son has a better sense of direction than I do and is able to return us to the lift that we descended in. We press the button for level two. The lift is full of Richmond supporters. Level one. Basement. Level one. Basement. It looks like we are doomed to ride endlessly between levels in the depths of Etihad Stadium, never to see the light of day again.

“Must have been designed by the AFL Commission,” quips one man.

We clamber out on level one and make for the escalator. Membership tickets scanned, backpacks  checked. We join my wife in our seats. She has visited the DFO outlet while we boys had our near players experience. How can I not be confident of winning after witnessing the composure and assurance of the boys in the sheds? North has almost no chance of making the finals this year. Last week I was filled with glee when I saw the footage of Lindsay Thomas, their leading goal kicker, giving Jacob Townsend of GWS a Liverpool Kiss. Just as I anticipated he was sent on a two week holiday. That’s one less dangerous Roo to worry about!

Bachar Houli, our most accomplished running defender, so adept at setting up audacious attacking moves from defence, is out of the selected side because of injury. No wonder I didn’t spot him in the rooms. His absence negates the advantage to Richmond of having Thomas out, but doesn’t unduly concern me.

The Kangaroos have taken the Tigers’ mantle of always losing the close ones, a factor that cruelled our chances in 2012. North, funnily enough, has beaten Richmond by four points in each of the last three clashes between the clubs, if you include the NAB Cup limited format matches of 2012 and 2013. Surely they’re not going to win a close one against us today? We should still win, shouldn’t we, even though after four consecutive wins there is the sneaking suspicion that it’s too good to be true and that we are due for a loss? Banish these negative thoughts.

But what follows is One Of Those Days. The Kangaroos press back into defence and strangle Richmond’s tall attacking options in Riewoldt, Vickery and Aaron Edwards, so effective as a trio in the win over St. Kilda last week. Hansen and McMillan assist Thompson in stifling Riewoldt. The Roos seize possession and bound into their attacking zone. Petrie, who tormented us with his seven-goal performance at the MCG last year, is kept quiet but Tarrant and Black get away from us in their open forward line. North’s playmakers in Swallow, Ziebell and Harvey shine. Hine blankets Deledio and Greenwood limits Cotchin’s effectiveness. Goldstein dominates Stephenson in the ruck.

Put it all together and you have big problems for the Tigers. North boots eight goals to our none in the second term. The Tigers, on the other hand, are so wasteful that they couldn’t hit the door of an aircraft hangar.

Proof that one of those shockers is occurring right before our eyes is demonstrated late in the third quarter. Steven Morris courageously runs in the same direction as the ball is travelling and hauls in the mark. He duly converts, the first time for the afternoon that a Richmond player has goaled from a deliberate kick. The Kangaroos sweep forward again. Greenwood doesn’t even look at the sticks before sending a speculative kick from inside the pack. It bounces and skids across the line in front of a flailing Chris Newman, who had set off at top pace in a vain effort to prevent the goal.

I tell my increasingly disgruntled son that this is the way it goes sometimes. I desperately try to retrieve some life lesson from the ruins. Every so once in a while everything goes wrong and you have a shocker. Indeed, we were able to ambush top contenders Hawthorn and Sydney last year, vanquishing them in games they were expected to win. If you follow a club’s fortunes, you have to accept the disappointing losses as well as the exciting victories. And furthermore…

It’s all to no avail. He leaves with his equally exasperated mother before three quarter time. I am left to fly the flag and hope for a few consolation goals to minimise the loss of percentage.

But the day’s ordeal is not over yet. I realise that I am on the wrong train when we go through Rushall station on the Epping line. I had thought I was on the Greensborough train. I get off at Bell station and climb aboard the 513 bus to finish my journey.

A fellow Richmond supporter is in the seat in front of me.

“How much did we lose by mate? I left early.”

“Sixty-two points in the end. At least Jack got a couple of late ones.”

He ruefully shakes his head.

“Some days nothin’ goes right mate. What can ya do?”


  1. The Tigers wouldn’t be The Tigers without mysterious disappearances like this John. Brave of you to write about it.
    Next week gives a whole new meaning to ‘gone troppo’. Will you withdraw their Victorian passports if the unimaginable becomes the inevitable?

  2. The Wrap says

    We’ve been planning this one since last year Mr B – I hope. Last satuerday just wasn’t our day John. We’ll bounce back. Christopher Robin’s Tigger did.

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