First Elimination Final: Reflections of a Tiger Tragic

Reflections of a Tiger Tragic – First Elimination Final 2014

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”(Mark Twain)

This wasn’t meant to be. No-one, not even the most tragic of Tiger supporters would of, or even could of, predicted this, wouldn’t have even dare dream it. Sure it’s one thing to keep a ‘stiff-upper lip’, remain positive and hope against hope, but really, did any of us see this coming on that cold June night when we slipped into the abyss of 3-10 off the back of an 11 point loss to Sydney? Did you? I’ll be honest, I didn’t. Being ‘mathematically possible’ is not the same as being actually possible…until now. The Tigers have re-written history, added a proviso to every future season and guaranteed their own question in every footy themed pub trivia night contest.

We all know that following Richmond is different to following any other team. For me it’s a dedication steeped in family roots. I could no more support another team than fly to the moon. I love the tradition, I love the history, I love the joy, the anger, the disappointment and the delicious feeling of happiness triggered by the final siren on Saturday night marking the Tigers’ return to the finals. The lows are excruciatingly low, the barbs painful (even though they’re expected), but the highs are euphoric and drug-like. I love that when I talk with other Richmond supporters they feel and think exactly how I do. I love the sentimentality, the ravenous desire for success and most particularly, I love that after 30+ years of absolutely nothing, nil, zilch, nada, they still can’t kill us. We are one and we are many.

I decided at the start of last week to enjoy the week. If this was going to be Richmond’s last game of the season then I was going to ‘live’ it, so I immersed myself in whatever I could find about the Tigers (and there was plenty of it). Black & Yellow became ‘the new black’. I read about the guy who painted the fence of his house in Tiger colours; read about numerous families who have followed Richmond for 40, 50 or even 150 years; listened to footy podcasts and read hitherto unknown Tiger related websites. I discovered Twitter and refused to let my wife wash my Tiger jumper that I’ve worn each Tiger game day since the streak became “The Streak”. I dreamt on Friday night that the Tigers won but didn’t tell anyone for fear, irrational for everyone else but totally rational for Richmond supporters, that it would jinx the team and it would be totally my fault. Verbally I was calm, internally I was screaming for a victory.

On Saturday night, I spent the last quarter of the game ensconced in a small Tiger enclave following the game via my new best friend Twitter, the AFL live app and text messages. It was the modern equivalent of the ABC ‘broadcasting’ test cricket from England in the ‘30’s using basic information cabled through to the studio…just without the improvised sound effects. And as the siren declared our victory, a chorus of hoots and hollers emanated from various locations around the room and I realised that mine was not the only enclave of true believers. We are one and we are many. And we’re in the finals…again and Nick Vlastuin’s never played a season without finals. How cool is that?

9 straight. They call it a fairytale, from equal last to the finals. A fairytale and everyone is happy, but in all the childhood fairytales I’ve ever read not everyone ends up happy. It was ok for the pig who owned the brick house but what about the other two sods that had their houses blown down? Little Red Riding Hood was eaten alive by a wolf, Hansel was locked in a cage and Gretel was forced into child slavery. Rapunzel lost all her hair. Fairy tales aren’t what they seem. They can turn very ugly, very quickly.

That’s the reality of Sunday’s Elimination Final. The difference between agony and ecstasy is both minute and as wide as a yawning chasm. The footballing world may be lauding Richmond’s 9-0 run but it means nothing now. The score line’s been reset to 0-0…and once you get a 1 in the second column, you’re out. Rooster today, feather duster tomorrow.

Prior to a formal declaration of war, countries usually engage in a period of haranguing, bluster and chest beating known as the ‘phoney war’. This week there has been a phoney AFL war played out full of insults, niggle and faux outrage – the focus on the ex-Port players and staff now at Tigerland; the by-play between Richmond’s Chaplin and Port’s Boak before, during and after Richmond played Port in mid-July; Port’s president’s early season comments about Jake King and the sooking Port has carried on with because they can’t wear their home jumper due to a colour clash. We’d play in potato sacks if we need to, said Tiger chief, Benny Gale. Touché.

But all this is a sideshow to the main game. On Saturday the Tigers will realise that finals are a different ball game – the pressure increases, time gets compacted, decisions, good and bad, are magnified and that ‘last time’ means ‘nothing’ this time.

So:

–          does Richmond bring Vickery back, will Jackson be selected, will Pettard retain his place?

–          how does Richmond stop the classy and fast Port midfield/forwards – Monfries, Hartlett, Grey, White and Wingard? Steve Morris doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence but he will be charged with shutting one of them down.

–          what about Shultz and Westhoff? Hopefully Chappy and Rance continue their great form.

–          which Jack will turn up?

–          how much did last week’s slug-fest take out of the Tigers?

–          can the Tigers produce another fast start? The wins against Adelaide, St Kilda and Sydney were all built on leads produced early on.

–          what about the weather? Victories over West Coast, Essendon, Adelaide, St Kilda and Sydney were all played in wet and/or heavy conditions, but Sunday is predicted to be sunny in Adelaide.

These questions, decisions and plenty of others will be answered come Sunday evening.

I won’t be travelling to Adelaide on the weekend but I, like you, will be riding it all from somewhere between 700 and 1,000kms away. All the pundits predict Port or that it’s ‘too close to call’ but after I saw the vision of the Tiger team belting out the Richmond club song after Saturday night’s victory over Sydney, I have no doubt. I saw a real belief in the team. It wasn’t relief that they’d made the finals; it was a belief that they can continue winning and in winning cause some real carnage.

 

#daretodream is the RFC’s new Twitter hashtag. Well I’m daring to dream because that’s what us Tiger Tragics do. It’s in our DNA and it’s part of the ritual of following Richmond, good or bad, thick or thin. Dare to dream. Dare to win. Dare to celebrate like Richo and Mick Malloy. Go Tiges!

Comments

  1. Cheryl Critchley says

    Great piece Paul! You’ve captured the mood perfectly. Let’s hope you get at least one more week to celebrate :-)

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