AFL Round 2 – St Kilda v Richmond: Pessimism United

There is no sensation more convincing than the knowledge that your team will lose. It is a secret we, as football fans, carry with us. A shame we choose not to give voice to but is ever present. Our preset position is of pessimism, winning is always a less likely outcome. It is simply a coping mechanism but it does serve a valuable purpose. I have spent considerable time deconstructing my pessimistic outlook on life and fiddled with the cogs and springs of my psyche to ascertain why I have so much trouble being optimistic. The conclusion I’ve come to is that I am naturally inclined to being negative in the hope that if things work out for the best I can enjoy it, safe in the knowledge that I have prepared myself for the worst. An optimist is disappointed- A pessimist is surprised.

Never, therefore, have I ever been convinced that the Sainters would win. I have wished, hoped and dreamed of them marching in but I have never had the sense that we were guaranteed the win going in. A close mate is a Hawks man and he has often told me of a childhood I can never imagine. A glorious vanguard of Hawthorn success with no respite. He would be stunned to arrive at school on a Monday morning to endure the taunts of contemporaries claiming victory for their side over his. In simple, unflinching clarity he informed me that he never, ever went into a game the Hawks played throughout the 80’s contemplating failure. I knew this mindset only from viewing it- I have a snapshot in my mind of the day we fell over the line against the Hawkers down Moorabbin way in the late 80s. We got our noses in front in time-on and even then it felt impossible to believe we could actually take this match from the kings. Then, as Dermie wheeled out of a pack searching for the goals…..the siren sounded. The image etched in my memory is of the look of shock on Brereton’s face. He stood, holding the footy on his hip, mouth agape. Hawthorn had lost. That wasn’t supposed to happen. His shock slowly appeared to melt into confusion. Sure, I might be reading too much into his facial expressions but the memory haunts me still because I suspect it was the first time I had encountered that kind of display of sporting entitlement. Dermott Brereton was a great footballer, he played for a great team, that he knew would find a way to win. That’s what champions do. Losing wasn’t something he contemplated. Losing was what St.Kilda did not his brown and gold juggernaut.

The coming of age as a football fan sees you lose that sense of your side’s invincibility. My mate knows the certainty of loss all to well now. He freely admits that the Hawks-‘mean too much to him,’ yet he is unashamed by his passion. I caught up with him after last season’s decider and offered my commiserations. He nodded ruefully and told me, with the same sense of directness that when the game was gone, deep in the last quarter, he put his head in his hands and slowly realised, without ever sensing it was occurring, that he was sobbing.

Never judge someone until you understand how much it means to them. I didn’t cry when we lost three Grand Finals on end but I suspect it was because I was just too numb to feel anything. I have never wanted something so badly in my life but until my mate articulated his pain I had a sense of shame that something as ephemeral as supporting a football team could be so all-consuming to me. Who am I to take this so seriously? What does it give to my life that I can justify riding every contest with such obsessive fervour? The more you attempt to deconstruct passion, the less sense you create.

Passion is life, dwell on it and you waste opportunities you never get again. Passion is why I went to the ‘G on Friday night convinced we would lose, yet happily sat with three Richmond supporters as I watched us concede the points. It was never in doubt. The Saints never led after scoring the first goal and for most of the contest, while looking structurally tight and disciplined, they were outplayed. The Tiges were playing with daring, taking on the game, looking to fulfil the clichés of the new vernacular. Sure they made plenty of mistakes- They missed targets, used the wrong option, went up and down on the spot and wasted plenty of opportunities….but to get back to the cliche, they were red hot and committed to the contest. I liked the signs. Here was a team that was finding the momentum that sets up seasons. They played with a sense of purpose that suggested they knew they could dictate a game on their terms. They just haven’t quite got there yet. It is an exciting time, the gathering of collective experience that pushes young sides into contention. The hard yards begin to make sense to the side, the tight losses, the lessons handed out by superior teams in ten goal doses all push the group towards fulfilling their talent. I remember the climb well. It was my favourite part. Seeing Goddard click into gear, Montagna force his will on the game and Riewoldt take charge, the development of the list reaching the tipping point whereby the team sense they are a match for any side.

That us where the dichotomy between fan and footballer is at its most pointed. I have a constant sense of trepidation, a lack of belief that is the complete opposite urge in the minds of my team. Footballers are convinced they will win every contest. There is no room for negativity, it is chased away by sports psychology. The will to win is all encompassing within the ‘bubble’ but we mere supporters don’t live inside that space. We peer in from outside and project our hope and desire upon them.

It was why I enjoyed watching Martin, Cotchin and Deledio much more than the sea of yellow and black I sat within. Having made peace with our loss before I’d arrived, I simply waited to see how much we would get done by. I predicted thirty points, the three goal margin suited me just fine. Yet all around me was the constant and unabated sound of frustration. Every mis-kick was met with a groan. Every poor decision lambasted and every failure met with soul searching. Thirty years in the wilderness tends to heighten the urge to berate. Richmond fans are so used to inadequacy that the thought of being adequate is not acceptable. That’s what the Tigers were Friday night- Good enough. Not great, not unstoppable and never dominant. They weren’t in control of the contest but they headed it.

I recognised   the victory as a classic of the genre- Good sides find ways to win, regardless of the aesthetics. Winning is rarely pretty, especially in the early days of a season. The problem for Richmond’s faithful is that nothing has changed. This win means little, it’s context can only be evaluated the other end. If the lads make the finals, this game will not carry any weight upon the journey. It is merely a footstep upon the greater trail. It might only be me that saw where it might take the Tiggers.

Too much is read into early season form. Very rarely can you look upon a round two result and determine what it means to the season ahead. (That’s why Melbourne are in turmoil- that result means everything is gone.) Hope is what the opening rounds are about and the Tigers are giving rise to the possibility that they have arrived. We can’t know if they have yet, there is too much footy to play. I have no concern that we are 0-2 on the season, so it would be hypocritical of me to claim the Tigers are sure things; but they have shown some resistance to the pressure of games that are in the balance. The learning curve is on the upswing and the season is filled with opportunity.


  1. aussie80s says

    There are 2 ways to deal with this situation.

    Firstly, you can go to the Russell Holmesby school of unflinching faith in your side to the extent where it appears no other teams have done anything over the summer and picking up a few rejects will make you premiers. It doesn’t matter to Russell that virtually every draftee from 2008-10 has been delisted, he will always tip the Saints to make the Top 8….or even go higher.

    But you can be much more pragmatic if you are a pessimist.

    I was very much like your Hawks friend. I started following Hawthorn in 1976 and had a premiership in my first year (we also won a night comp in Adelaide). By 1992 I had been following the Hawks for 17 years and seen 7 day and 7 night flags…14 flags in 17 years. I too expected to make finals every year and to win every game we approached. I respected Essendon and Carlton (and in the early days Collingwood and North) but I still expected to win. Losses were deflating experiences but we would always bounce back the next week.

    Empires never last though and the Hawthorn crash was swift. From cruise control in 1992 we just avoided a wooden spoon and merger just a few short years later. All of a sudden losing became a habit, I became a pessimist and expected to lose each week.

    This is where I decided to exercise my pragmatic approach to our awful onfield displays – I decided to cash in. If I was convinced that we would lose then I would bet that they would lose and use reverse psychology. I would plonk money on the opposition and then sit back and enjoy the game. If we lost then at least my day at the footy had been paid for by the opposition which lessened the pain of a loss. If we won I was happy to forgo a bit of cash as I would double up the next week to win it back. The only way you can lose is if your side go on huge winning run and you don’t have enough to cover the doubling up effect – so never be pessimistic beyond reality – to win $25 per week you may need $5000 in reserve (although when you win a lot of games in a row the opposition start getting long odds and it is a cheaper system – everything goes your way when you are a pessimist).

    Therefore, if you are a genuine pessimist, cash in on it. Never bet on your side to win as winning makes you happy enough that a bit of extra cash is trivial however if you lose and you also lose cash then it magnifies the loss.

    The only golden rule is never put that much on the opposition that you would actually prefer your team to lose as the amount of cash is of more importance than a win. You always want your side to win but you want to at least receive compensation for losing.

    Use reverse psychology and let pessimism pay.

Leave a Comment