AFL Round 3 – Richmond v Western Bulldogs: The Audacity of Hope

“I wonder, sometimes, whether men and women in fact are capable of learning from history–whether we progress from one stage to the next in an upward course or whether we just ride the cycles of boom and bust, war and peace, ascent and decline.”

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

The title and phrase of  Obama’s second autobiography has never spoken more vividly to me as a football fan than right now. After sitting in the closed dome of Etihad Stadium watching my beloved Tigers dismantle an outsized Western Bulldog outfit, I can’t help but feel philosophical on my position to the never ending ups and downs of the AFL.

To me, this week of football culminating with Richmond’s game, highlights the concerns raised by Obama.  Almost three years ago to this day, Sportsbet paid out on punters backing Richmond to win the wooden spoon after our embarrassing 55 point loss to Melbourne in Round four. It was Hardwick’s first year as coach, we were compared to Fitzroy and were labelled one of the least competitive teams in AFL history. West Coast would go on to win the spoon that year.

Three years on, and Richmond is substituted with Melbourne. The Fitzroy comparisons come out and somebody (in Melbourne’s case Don McLardy) has to resign in a charade of fabricated symbolism to signal that change is actually occurring. We continue to ride their “booms and busts.” Will we ever learn?

In what some saw as the ultimate display of hopelessness, Melbourne was clapped off after a ninety-one point belting. To me it wasn’t pathetic. It was true, a show of loyalty and solidarity within the Melbourne faithful; a display that the hope lives on no matter whether in ‘ascent or decline’.

Today however, the Bulldogs’ hope vanished with the first kick of the game.

Brett Deledio’s spectacular sixty-five metre goal before anyone else could even touch the ball was a sign of things to come. Inaccurate misses from the Tigers and an impressive Liam Jones kept the Dogs within range early, but they never looked like recovering.

Two stories were unfolding; the resurrection of a once great club (that seems almost folk law now) preparing themselves for the expectations and upcoming challenges ahead after years of falsehoods and failures, against a team plateauing; a side who had missed their chance. Directionless, motionless, irrelevant.

However both stories were inadvertently bound together by the most crucial element of football and life. Hope.

Years ago I read a Time Magazine article titled “The Optimism Bias.” The neurological science of the article went over my head; however the philosophy of its need to the human condition was rather poignant.

 “To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities — better ones — and we need to believe that we can achieve them. Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals.”

Optimism is key to survival. It’s what makes us get out bed every day. It convinces us that “Today will be better than yesterday.” Quite simply, it’s the reason after fifty-eight and thirty-two years respectively, the Bulldogs and Tigers continue to exist in the hope of winning their next premiership.

As of Round 3 2013, Richmond’s hope is now unbridled. Undefeated, rewarding, exciting. The faith I have shown in my lifetime to my club has been repaid in the bountiful gifts of Cotchin, Deledio, Martin and Riewoldt. This faith will be carried into next week, where hope will meet reality as we test ourselves against quality opposition in Collingwood. But for now, we can enjoy the win.

Richmond’s hopes were perfectly summed up for me by my Richmond mate ‘Bucks’. Satisfied with the win; after singing the famous song once I turned to him and asked “ready to head off?” With a hesitation he responded “I promised myself years ago I’d always stay singing the until the grounds stopped playing to make up for those years. We belted out the song another six times.

But I cannot accurately measure hope if I only focus on its rewards. The Dogs had a dead set shocker. The promising Easton Wood has been struck down by another injury while Shaun Higgins is out for the rest of the season. But hope wasn’t meant to be easy. It’s unconditional, uncompromising and pushes people to unbearable lengths.

If Bucks exemplifies Richmond’s hope, Daniel Cross is the inspiration for the Dogs.

In the lead up to Cross’ 200th game, much had been made of his own act of bravery in 2007. He and Tom Williams saved a drowning girl’s life in Hong Kong’s harbour. The schoolgirl was attempting suicide when she was hauled to safety by Cross who risked his own life for her. At one stage the girl fell back on top of Cross just as she was almost to safety, sending them both crashing underneath one of the most polluted harbours in the world.

Saving a complete stranger who has lost all hope in life is a truly heroic act that few of us will ever match. As long as football clubs surround themselves with special people like Daniel Cross, hope is never completely lost. These people demand change, and it will come. Even if Cross not apart of the rewards of that change.

Sometimes I wonder if the end result is overrated. I wonder if premierships only act as a figurative end result, to give meaning to otherwise meaningless victories. I wonder if I do experience a premiership, whether it will be the small wins and even bigger losses that I’ll treasure most. It’s that heartache that will make it all the more worthwhile. I won’t know for sure until I experience it for myself, and that hope drives me to keep waiting…

RICHMOND                            4.9    7.11   13.14   20.15 (135)

WESTERN BULLDOGS        2.1   3.3     6.5       10.8 (68)

GOALS

Richmond: Riewoldt 5, Deledio 3, McGuane 3, S. Edwards 2, Martin 2, Knights, Houli, Jackson, Tuck, Maric

Western Bulldogs: Jones 4, Cooney 2, Stevens, Griffen, Giansiracusa, Dahlhaus

BEST

Richmond: Cotchin, Martin, Deledio, Riewoldt, Maric, Tuck

Western Bulldogs: Griffen, Jones, Cooney, Cross

Umpires: Stewart, Leppard, Kamolins

 

Official crowd: 44,045 at Etihad Stadium

Our votes

3. Trent Cotchin (R) 2. Dustin Martin (R) 1. Brett Deledio (R)

Comments

  1. Lord Bogan says:

    Terrific read Michael. Focusing on the end result has tainted the enjoyment of footy for many fans because we are made to believe that not achieving the ‘ultimate’ success is akin to failure.

    I think every fan deserves to see at least one premiership in their lifetime, but meaning need not be measured with flags. Tigers are a big chance this week. Should be a great atmosphere at the G.

  2. Neil Anderson says:

    My theme in a report on the Bulldogs V Lions match after Round 1 was finding an answer to why I support the Dogs after all this time and with only one premiership.
    It came down to the quality of people involved that made me stick, particularly after I read about Dale Morris and his recovery from a broken leg.
    I also had in mind a list of other champion people as well as champion players. That list was headed by Chris Grant, Brad Johnson plus a few others. To my shame I completely forgot about Daniel Cross. I should have had him at the top of the list.
    You’re right about fans supporting teams for lots of reasons other than just premierships.

  3. Barkly St End says:

    I’m very proud to have blokes like Dale Morris and Daniel Cross in my team.

    I love the idea of us having four father-sons in the team, with the prospect of more to come in the next few years.

    I like the fact that Murph is a bit of a deep thinker, an artiste, while Big Will can be both a paid-up member of the intelligentsia, and extremely dumb on the field, all at once.

    There’s always something to love about your club.

  4. For an inspiring title, similar to the Audacity of Hope, i always liked the American historian Howard Zinns’ “The optimism of uncertainty’. In this context your side could be sitting zip-three, but with nineteen matches left the finals are certainly not out of reach, and once there……………………………

    Whilst we’re on adages, applicable to the sporting arena, how can we go past the title of the movie made about Joe Strummer. ‘The future is unwritten.’

    What more can i say ???

    Glen!

  5. Neil Anderson says:

    You have just taken more words out of my mouth Barkly.
    Perfect summation of how I feel.

  6. Barkly St End says:

    Thanks Neil – nice to exchange views on the doggies once again, even if the early season euphoria has already dissipated.

  7. Cool story Mike. Disappointed I didn’t get a mention, but very glad you sang the song seven times. I sang it to myself whilst walking around the circumference of Etihad’s basement level.

    AB

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