An open letter of footy and political wondering to Martin Flanagan

Dear Martin Flanagan,


Howabout those Tigers?


I wonder how you have found these last months; what you have noticed. I wonder what has been different for you and I hope this finds you well.


Last year I recall you writing of the Doggies flag. You wrote: “I fell in love with football at the age of 13 because I saw a team win a premiership when everyone said they couldn’t.
“Each week, they overcame the understood logic of the game to win. Each week, they defied reality as it was understood to be. Each week, they opened the door on a realm of possibilities that secretly most of us want to believe in but scarcely admit might be true. That’s what footy can do” (

I wonder whether this Richmond team is now playing on that same nebulous plane: playing footy as a collective, as a pack; as a group that is much more formidable than the sum of its parts. Footy as a high-wire act. Done well, it appears miraculous.


The last game I saw was between Collingwood and Geelong on a Saturday afternoon. The winter sun was in our faces; me and the girls, alongside our great friends. A Collingwood family alongside a Geelong family. Collingwood was undermanned that day, but took it right up to the higher-ranked Cats. The Cats kicked away, as their fans would have expected. Watching, in between conversation with the girls, I wondered about the scene. Families and friends sitting there in the sun. Navigating across the city to be there. Communicating across the week to be there together. And I also wondered why it was that Collingwood was in front. How could that be? The game is both complicated and simple. What is means is both complicated and simple.


Within this sphere, voices, repeated loud voices of dissatisfaction wear me down. And this was a constant of the 2017 season. Maybe those voices are a consequence of the gigantic media throng covering footy now. Maybe they are a consequence of social media. Probably all of them are a consequence of misplaced expectation.


Watching the smiles of Tiger fans, though, has been my highlight of the 2017 season. Along with Eddie Betts.


Dugald Jellie is a livewire of all things Tigers. As are the many Tiger-striped contributors to this marvellous Footy Almanac. Reading the stories of many, many long-suffering Tigers has been wonderful. I wonder how you have seen this season 2017. I wonder what you are noticing. I have missed reading your observations.


Back in June I wrote an open letter to you ( I never expected you to answer. Today I write as I wonder about your thoughts, your perspective on recent events. Also, I write to thank you for your most thoughtful and considered reply, earlier ( Your message is one to which I have returned many times. I frequently imagine opening the Saturday Age to read and learn from you.


As I write this, Richmond are into a home Preliminary Final, having defeated Geelong. The long-dormant tiger is rising, stretching. It moves athletically and with purpose. This fact alone has a deep meaning for enormous swathes of football followers. I recognise the easily made (perhaps lazily made) parallels with last year’s Western Bulldogs; but of course the stories of the two clubs are very different. Beyond the decades-long absence of premiership, there are key differences. But a decades-long absence of premiership is a significant burden for the football follower.


My last game of footy was a premiership. That was as a 17-year-old. I played ruck due only to my height, as I did in every game from Under 11. By the time I’d reached Under 17s, a good friend who switched between the half-forward flank, where he snapped amazing goals, and on the ball, declared me a “rover trapped in a ruckman’s body.” That was quite perceptive. I wonder how many other people get around trapped in the wrong body.


I wonder how this Richmond story looks to you. I wonder about the significance of Brendan Gale, of Peggy O’Neal. I wonder about Dusty and Trent and of Damien Hardwick. I wonder about Neil Balme; footy manager at Geelong and Collingwood during premiership years. Is there anything new under the sun?


But mostly I wonder about the Richmond Football Club and what it means to so many.


You signed off in June with advice to “take the game on.” That has been excellent advice. It is a state of mind. And I do wonder about the best way to do this, for we all have our strengths.


For while I wonder about our democratic processes in Australia, which seems to have installed a lame duck as Prime Minister, I wonder what I can do about that. This Prime Minister of intellect and widely espoused progressive views, seems beholden to Conservative party members on whose votes he relies. Tim Winton called him today a “hostage” ( That fits.


But even if our Prime Minister is considered as a hostage, I find his decision to hold a postal survey into same sex marriage to be both sad and frightening.


Sad, because the by holding a public vote, expressions of intent are invited from the public. Vote yes! Vote no! And thus the issue is cheapened, damaged. We should not forget that each public expression of voting intention (whether of support or of not) somehow tears at the fabric of personal self-worth and value for many gay people.


Frightening, because this whole business has been so adeptly manoeuvred; a political football. I imagine that in order to placate both his conservative and his more progressive backers, the Prime Minister elected to conduct this non-binding opinion poll, or survey. So in one respect, the result doesn’t even matter; this survey is merely a tool to aid decision-making and political clout. But in many other respects, this postal survey matters very much, indeed.


Notably, while this lack of national leadership continues, we see sporting bodies stepping into the vacuum. We see Collingwood Football Club, Western Bulldogs Football Club ( and others declaring their support for same-sex marriage.


I read a post online that sporting bodies should stay out of this, as “sport and politics should never mix.” I think this is a gross misunderstanding. My thinking on the sport/ politics issue is informed by much of your writing, including (as I linked in June), this piece about Adam Goodes (, in which you write: “People have suggested the theme I should address today is “Should sport ever be political?” I am tempted to reply – is sport ever not political?”


Many of my friends are not inclined to engage with sport. And some of my friends are affected deeply by the very public discourse around this postal vote. The courting of votes, the debating of merits; it all has significant personal cost. But the stepping of significant sporting bodies into this political fray has been noticed.


I wonder how you see this postal survey and all that it represents.


For now, I simply thank you very much Martin Flanagan, for the ongoing strength of your published words. Your advice to me to “take the game on” has me now writing this letter to you.


And along with Richmond, postal surveys, Trump and climate change; I wonder about Sam Neill and John Clarke and Bryan Dawe. I wonder about Tina Fey. I wonder about Paul Kelly and Don Walker and Jimmy Barnes (whose incredible memoir “Working Class Boy” I am half way through). And I wonder about our girls here; in bed now, sleeping.

Best wishes,
David Wilson,
Ruck (Circumstantial), Under 17 Premiers 1992, Waverly Junior Football Association.


“…And you can’t help but worry for them, love them, want for them – those who go on down the close, foetid galleries of time and space without you.
Tim Winton, “Cloudstreet



Melbourne Cricket Ground, Yarra Park, on a winter’s day.

Previous correspondence:
David Wilson’s letter of humble thanks, June 2017
Martin Flanagan’s reply, June 2017

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Trevor Blainey says

    David, it is a significant virtue of this site that aside from (in addition to?) the many fine contributions of footy specific pieces found here that a writer is moved to share a personal reflection on something that matters to him and, i suspect, to many others besides. my feeling is that this footy nut enclave is the better for a widening of the discourse so thanks from me and regards, Trevor

  2. I miss him too, e.r.

  3. Trevor,
    I’ll widen the discourse. Stop farting about on the internet and start making filums!!

  4. Trevor Blainey says

    trying to AJC, trying to. starting soon in Adelaide.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Turnbull, the star recruit who finds himself with ball in hand, after a dubious free kick, in the Grand Final. 10 metres out, 5 points down. The final siren sounds. The chance he has been waiting for. For his entire life.

    His eyes dart left, then to the right. Frozen with fear, he handballs to the always lurking former captain.

    Game over.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Nice work ER,
    And poor form Labor, who had a chance to put SSM through, but for Rudd’s christian mates. You expect it from conservatives, but Labor let the LGBTQI community down badly when they didn’t change the Marriage Act.
    I hope people can learn to be decent to each-other – my hopes aren’t high – but still, I hope.
    Thoughtful as always, gentle big fella.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Great writing ER.
    Both sides of politics have been extremely poor the past decade, not just on the gay marriage issue but almost every other issue. I’m totally disgruntled with all sides of our current parliament. They make the AFL and Cricket Australia look extremely fantastically run organisations by comparison.
    Intrigued by what a Richmond win on Saturday will bring. So not on the Tiger bandwagon. But intrigued.

  8. Thanks all.
    Trevor – agreed. And respectful conduct should prevail always.
    Smokie – I know what you mean.
    ajc – discourse widened.
    Swish – that’s a pretty apt scene you paint.
    Phil – that’s a wonderful hope to express.
    Luke – I’m certainly not on the bandwagon, either. Strange how the alchemy works; the magic mix of ingredients, conditions – at the right time.

    I wonder, too, about Tex Walker and the resilient Crows.
    And those perennial Cats.
    And whether a Tasmanian team would have drawn more than 14,000 to a home preliminary final.

  9. And Kate O’Halloran has written on sport/politics and the same-sex marriage issue today at The Guardian.

  10. ER – there is a difference between being political and being overtly political. We are all political, but not all of us is overtly political. I have never been a fan of sporting organisations having a view. How can they? Organisations are made up of members with differing views. And what would your opinion be if Gill came out and decided that the AFL is supporting the “No” vote in the current debate? Would you still regard that organisation as being progressive because it expressed an opinion? It is a tremendously slippery slop. I have always been uncomfortable with the whole concept.

    These are sad times. Sad because we live in a vacuum. The country is run by press release.

  11. Hi Dips.
    You make a lot of points here and ask a lot of questions. I will try to address them all.

    “There is a difference between being political and being overtly political. We are all political, but not all of us is overtly political.”

    Agreed. Not all of us make our voting intentions known, nor campaign. But we all have our motivations. And that is fine.

    “I have never been a fan of sporting organisations having a view. How can they? Organisations are made up of members with differing views.”

    I think there are two parts to this. First, maybe you are inferring that such a sporting organisation may be acting outside of its remit. Using the AFL as an example, their reason for being is to facilitate a competition of Australian football. As an organisation, their stated purpose includes “utilising the game to drive positive change and strengthen communities” ( So I think sporting clubs, groups, communities, play a large role in helping people to agree on what is acceptable and what is not.
    Second, your point that an organisation can not have a view, because an organisation comprises many people, who individually hold different views, I find odd. Using this logic, no political party should ever hold an opinion, either. And there would we be? The point of elected leaders, any leader, is to lead. So it’s a job for the leadership of the AFL to decide what the AFL declares. Unfortunately, our government seems to be held to ransom by jumpy MPs with short-term self-centred motivations. And thus, a decision that should have been taken by government, is now in the public domain.

    “And what would your opinion be if Gill came out and decided that the AFL is supporting the “No” vote in the current debate? Would you still regard that organisation as being progressive because it expressed an opinion?”

    My opinion of the AFL would not change if it supported the “no” vote. I didn’t say that I regarded the AFL as progressive. I said that “each public expression of voting intention (whether of support or of not) somehow tears at the fabric of personal self-worth and value for many gay people.” Regrettably, I think that it is expressly because this issue has been made into a political football, that both sides now feel the licence to kick it.I wish that would stop, as I see it hurting people.

    I share your discomfort and your sadness on this.
    Thanks very much.

  12. Political parties exist to have views on social and other issues. Sporting clubs and organisations do not. What the AFL’s stated purposes are for existing, beyond running a football competition, are superfluous and self indulgent. Its a bit like a Local Council saying they will develop a policy to settle the Middle East strife. Its nonsense.

    Perhaps they get involved because we no longer hold any regard for our political leaders?

    Wish they would stick to their knitting.

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    On the other hand, Carlton has said this:

    “THE Carlton Football Club prides itself on being inclusive, and a leader in engendering equality and a deep sense of belonging.

    The issue of ‘same sex marriage’ is essentially one of equality; and so the Club encourages all of its people to have their say in this important national vote.

    As a Club, we respect that this is about personal choice, and as such don’t intend to campaign on the issue, but we do strongly reinforce our Club’s absolute commitment to equality – and a community that is free from any form of discrimination.”

  14. On reflection, and to clarify – my opinion of any organisation advocating “vote no” is very low. So harmful.
    It is important to recognise that the very act of putting this to a vote has been harmful. Public debate here is harmful.
    I mention this only to clarify and hopefully improve my earlier comment.

  15. I see that Dugald Jellie (mentioned in the article above) has indeed been a Tiger livewire this week.
    Check out his magnificent piece posted today on the Richmond FC site.
    “This is what a footy club is”

  16. Now it’s Friday.
    It’s been a big week on the two topics here – Richmond and the same sex marriage survey.
    On Richmond – I recommend Jonathan Horn’s Guardian piece today –
    On same sex marriage:
    It seems that everyone has an opinion on whether the AFL was right to publicly declare their organisation as supporting the Yes vote. My opinion: they were absolutely right to do that.
    I have thought about it a lot this week, discussed with psychologists, gay friends and interested others. The declaring a Yes is not campaigning. Rather it is simply indicating support for a section of the community – a section made up of people who currently feel demonised, maligned and judged.

    And I gather that these indications of support are strongly felt. They make a real difference. (Statement from Royal Australian and NZ College of Psychologists:

    For the AFL to state their position is similar to that of any other organisation doing so. Like a church. Or like a club. Even Catholic St Vincent’s Hospital challenged the remarks of Archbishop Denis Hart on this similar topic, when he suggested that employees of a Catholic organisation risked their employment if they were to marry a same-sex partner. St Vincent’s Health Australia and the Trustees of the Mary Aikenhead Ministries, both organisations under the umbrella of the Catholic church, said:
    “We want to be absolutely clear: all our LGBTQI employees have the full support of St Vincent’s Health Australia. We value you. We recognise you and are grateful for your contribution and care. That will never change. St Vincent’s has a long tradition of embracing diversity in our workforce. We will continue to support staff in whatever marriage choices they make.”

    In this respect, Carlton FC’s fence-sitting statement (above – thanks Swish) I think is a real failure to understand the moment. They say they strongly believe in equality, but won’t do anything to encourage it. I guess the Carlton Board sees it differently. Maybe they don’t want to offend potential sponsors. But an alternative position would have been: “if someone decides to not donate/ sponsor us because they disagree with our Yes vote, that is someone whose money we don’t want anyway.”

    I disagree with you on this Dips.
    I think it was right for sporting clubs and organisations to put down the knitting for something as important as this.

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