AFL Round 3 – Western Bulldogs v Richmond: The Black and Yellow Submarine


Starting my day at the Beatles in Australia exhibition at the Arts Centre gets me thinking about what might have happened had the Fab Four arrived in this city on the Saturday, rather than the Sunday,  back in 1964. If they had been able to escape the screaming hordes camped outside the Southern Cross Hotel they may have clambered on to the number 11 tram and found themselves at the Brunswick Street Oval for Fitzroy’s clash with Richmond that day. The Tigers prevailed by 55 points over a team that didn’t win a game all season. Is it possible that the Liverpool lads may have developed a taste for Aussie rules in general and the Tigers in particular? How might it have affected their song writing?

It presents some tantalising possibilities.

Sheedy Loves You. Maxfield’s Silver Hammer. Norwegian Bryan Wood. Long Tall Daffy. And the titles  keep coming at random moments as I witness today’s Bulldogs-Tigers double header.

That’s right. A double header. I take the train to West Footscray through the industrial landscape of Melbourne’s inner west to see the Footscray Bulldogs take on Richmond’s stand-alone combination in the VFL at the Whitten Oval.  It’s like old times at suburban battlegrounds as I make my way with a healthy contingent of supporters along Hocking Street and past the statue of the great E.J Whitten to the ground.

The last time I was at the Whitten Oval to watch Richmond meet the Doggies was back in the opening round of 1994. Nineteen-year-old Richo booted eight but the home team just managed to hold off the fast-finishing Tigers to get over the line by two points. I stood in the outer on the Doug Hawkins Wing that day under the roof of the old stand with all the other visiting fans. John Northey was compelled by the faithful to give us a wave as he ascended the ladder to the coaches box.  I still remember the racket of disappointed Richmond barrackers kicking the back wall of the stand after  the siren sounded. Laffy In The Sky With Dimmatina.

The old stand is gone now and the outer side of the oval opens on to Gordon Street. A sign amidst the advertising hoardings confirms that it is still called the Doug Hawkins Wing. I sit for the first time in the old E.J Whitten Stand, formerly the preserve of the Footscray members. I can see the docks, the West Gate Bridge and the Melbourne city skyline from an unfamiliar western perspective. One old timer who has sat in this section for years laments the fact that the view has been altered in recent times by the construction of “trendy” blocks of flats. He is full of optimism for his team’s prospects this year. He fancies recruit Marcus Bontompelli – “always on his toes, quick and deceptively tall”, as well as Mitch Honeychurch. He recalls the times he spent as a younger man “as drunk as a lord” standing on the terraces in the pocket between the Geelong Road end goals and the members’ stand.

I always found the old Western Oval a strange place to visit, even when Richmond ruled the footy jungle. For some reason the wind would howl straight down the centre rendering one end  impossible to score from. If you had the wind advantage the Scrays had the knack of luring better credentialed visitors into dead pockets where play would become bogged down in the mud. The Tigers won premierships in ’67, ’69, ’73 and ’74 but suffered upset losses to Footscray out there in three  of those years. The E.J Whitten Stand rocked as Footscray fought and scrapped their way to unlikely wins.

It’s rocking again in a more subdued fashion on this sunny autumn day. Footscray is already up by seven goals at half time when president Peter Gordon is interviewed over the PA system. He urges the locals to revive the “Foot – scray” chant whenever the Bulldogs score goals in the second half and they duly oblige.

The Tigers’ VFL combination is down by 14 goals at the final change. There is a mass exodus of fans in the direction of the railway station to catch the 12:47 to Southern Cross for the major proceedings of the day at Etihad Stadium. Baby You’re a Rich-mond.

I’m confident. The Bulldogs were ritually slaughtered by West Coast at Paterson’s Stadium in the opening round and died on their feet against the Roos last weekend. They were demoralising losses after finishing the 2013 season on a high. Richmond has had three extra days to recuperate after they opened their account with a nail-biting victory over Carlton. The Tigers had little trouble in putting the Bulldogs away by ten goals on the two occasions they met at Etihad last season. If the Doggies fall behind early they’ll most likely roll over and accept the inevitable. Or so I think.

The first time the sides met in 2013 Deledio surged into attack and slotted Richmond’s first goal within seconds of the opening bounce. This time there’s no Deledio and so Cotchin fills the breech. He outmarks Wallis and pops it through for what I optimistically expect will be the first in a steady stream of Tiger majors.

But that’s not how it turns out. The Tiger ball carriers are unable to break the lines. The Bulldogs win a number of crucial one-on-one duels. If they can’t get away they neutralise the situation by scrambling the ball out of bounds and resetting. They keep their forward line open and allow Crameri, Jones and Cooney to run into open space for vital goals.Carry That Weightman.

Richmond trails by 37 points at half time and is probably only one goal from complete oblivion. The black and yellow submarine is attempting to surface and has been torpedoed from below. The Tigers are still 34 points adrift at the 23-minute mark of the third quarter before they finally manage to string some majors together. Riewoldt comes to life after being completely outpointed by Dale Morris in the first half and boots two within a minute and Petterd converts from a lucky free. The margin is only 15 points as they turn for home. Jack in the USSR.

The Tigers are snarling at the Bulldogs’ flanks and threatening to steal the game in what could be the biggest heist since the Great Bookie Robbery. Twice they reduce the margin to three points before the Bulldogs respond each time. Then at the 26-minute mark Riewoldt accepts a pass from Conca before roosting it home for his fourth. The Tigers are up by four points with only minutes to play. It’s a case of Twist and Shout for Richmond fanatics high in the stands. One more should do it.

But Liberatore kicks long to substitute Giansiracusa, who is one out with Brandon Ellis. Ellis manages to spoil his marking attempt, but the experienced Gia holds front position and outsmarts his younger opponent when the ball spills to the ground. He doesn’t take possession but draws Ellis into restraining him with an arm across the chest. Free kick! With only 20 metres between Gia and the sticks I don’t have to look. There is a massive roar from the Bulldog supporters.  Something like the sound when the Beatles walked onto the stage at Festival Hall back in ’64, I reckon. A Hard Day’s Knights.

The Tigers launch one more attack where Riewoldt handpasses to debutant Nathan Gordon, who is running hard towards goal. Gordon is tackled just as he releases the ball and it drops short. A ball-up ensues and the unfancied Bulldogs manage to hang onto it for the last few seconds. We’re two points short after making a late run. Didn’t this happen 20 years ago?

The Long and Winding Punt Road.  Looks like there’s still a way to go.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    Great reporting on a fabulous day for the Dogs and a hard days night for the Tigers.
    Thanks for reminding those under fifty youngsters about how difficult it was to beat the Bulldogs on the old home ground. Boy do we miss playing there.
    But no thanks for writing such a clever tale with reference to the 1964 Beatles.
    I’m still in the process of writing a report about 1950’s and 60’s VFL matches because of that special day out at Whitten Oval, so now the pressure’s well and truly on.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great write up greejoh very entertaining enjoyed the beatles songs mentions and good to hear from a real footy die hard going to both games well played sir
    Thanks John

  3. Prodigious memory and passion, John.
    Good to see that the Lilywhites are still in the promotion fight.
    Back in the Useless Same Same Richmond?

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