In Vino Veritas

After 37 years in the cellar, who would have thought that when the time on the big stage finally came, we would experience such astonishing brilliance.

In the two months since the Grand Final, much has happened in the “Stainless” household. Most notably, an extended “end-of-season” trip for Number 1 son’s wedding in France. The one blemish to my otherwise perfect Grand Final day was that after 24 years of mostly painful support, my faithful footy buddy wasn’t with me and his brother at the G. We will never forget seeing his rather stunned, tear-stained face on WhatsApp at game’s end, after live-streaming the match at the crack of dawn on the other side of the world. The three of us made a pact, then and there, that after his wedding and his return to Australia we would gather for a suitably reverent viewing of the game.

That viewing duly occurred last Friday night. The historical significance of Richmond’s achievement was marked with the ceremonial uncorking of a bottle of Bailey’s HJT Hermitage 1980.  (Though there are parallels here with Matt Watson’s story about the Richmond Premiership Port, I stress that this was no copy-cat event and the Bailey’s connection is pure coincidence. I’d purposely kept this bottle for many years for the day when it could symbolically farewell the ghosts of our last Premiership year. I often wondered whether the cork would ever be extracted!)

 

 

Now I know a bit about wine and I was under no illusion that even a big, robust red from Ned Kelly country could endure over three decades of rather amateurish cellaring without turning into vinegar. The likely confirmation of this would be an appropriate reflection of Richmond’s history during this period.

So it’s fair to say that I was gobsmacked to the point of dropping an involuntary F-bomb of disbelief when a perfectly intact cork was removed to reveal:

 

Tasting Notes

Bright, sparkling garnet colour with barely a hint of brown at the rim. Astonishingly sweet, fresh bouquet for a wine of this age, which was affirmed by a palate of stunning vibrancy and ripe fruit and spicy complexity with still years left in it. This was a true highlight of my wine-drinking experience. Such was its zest and liveliness one could be forgiven for mistaking it for a vintage as recent as the early Hardwick years. Having handled the bottle with all the gentle care that one would a frail old man, it was as though I’d uncorked a vinous genie complete with neck tatts who’d given me a massive “don’t argue”!

 

My flurry of recent family commitments meant that I hadn’t until now actually sat down and watched a replay of the Grand Final in its entirety. I’ve been sustained over the last eight weeks by fleeting, flashing recollections – incidents, moments, turning points – which my brain has contentedly assembled into my sketchy perspective of the day. But as I’ve done this, I’ve been indulging in a form of deferred happiness at the prospect of filling in the glorious details by sitting, quietly, reflectively, stress-free, with my sons as we review the match from start to finish. I intended to turn this collected intelligence into the definitive, considered analysis of the game that the breathless outbursts of TLSPRF had not been able to capture in the immediate flush of our triumph.

So who would have thought that on a night that I’d dedicated to reliving my footy nirvana, I’d be totally blindsided by a truly remarkable bottle of wine?

Reviewing the Grand Final was in some ways, a bit of a let-down. The game has been rightly decried by many as an ordinary spectacle, and, with the comfort of hindsight, Adelaide’s truly limp performance took some of the gloss of Richmond’s win. Although it took more than half a game to show on the scoreboard, we had this one shot to bits from early on. As the replay went on, I concluded that writing an in-depth analysis of Richmond’s win would be like explaining the brilliance of that wine by describing its chemical composition.

So in place of my insightful analysis, my reflection from Friday night is this. Like that bottle from which I expected so little, the entire 2017 season was a totally unexpected joy in which all the faults of this romantically self-destructive club magically righted themselves. All the characteristics of the Tigers that won them the Grand Final – rock-solid defence, resolve under early pressure, manic tackling and chasing of our forward rat-pack, our second half surge – were no more than those that had been on display from the start of the year. The joyous surprise was seeing them emerge and repeat over the year. Even the extraordinary Grand Final game of Jack Graham had already been foreshadowed through the season as Toby Nankervis, Dan Butler, Shai Bolton, Nathan Broad, Jacob Townsend and others regularly stepped out of obscurity and played significant roles. The Grand Final itself was like the final sip of that great bottle, satisfying in the knowledge that the quality had been true and consistent to the very end.

Ironically, my most powerful image from the Grand Final is our much-maligned clash strip. Whatever our views about whether the Tigers should have been made to wear it, the fluoro-yellow will forever be associated with this drought-breaking premiership. In years to come, any Richmond supporter worth their salt will take only a nano-second to recognise a replay of the 2017 Granny. In its oddity, the clash strip has become iconic.

A few years ago I confided to a Geelong-supporting friend that I doubted that Richmond would ever be great again and that I had serious doubts about persevering with my allegiance. He assured me that success would happen, but that it would occur only when I’d given up all expectation, and that this would make the experience all the more pleasurable. How right he was. And how appropriate was that bottle of wine in making me realize it.

 

 

Want to read more about Richmond’s fairytale 2017? Well look no further because the Tigers’ Almanac is heading your way. Come on down to the launch at the North Fitzroy Arms on 13 December.

 

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. Now comes the 2nd big moment Sam.
    The moment when you realize you could do a ‘Doggies’ and miss the finals the year after the flag-winning September.
    After all the Tiges have long been known as the best-finishing 9th placed club in VFL/AFL history. I’m not trying to mozz the Tiges but just re-working and remembering history
    And all this from a rabid Cats fan whose club has bowed out of the race in the last 2 prelim finals.
    Still we’ve made the 8 12 times in the last 14 seasons for 3 flags so we’ve got a bit of form.

  2. Joe De Petro says

    This premiership is steeped in symbolism for us Tigers, the clash strip is one of the more powerful symbols. Love your assessment of it.

    This really was a “darkest before the dawn” moment. One minute we were grumbling in that way that had become all too familiar and then suddenly we were Premiers. It is exactly how I always thought it would happen.

    The Tigers Almanac will be awesome!

  3. Doesn’t matter one bit, Richard.

    Tigers are Premiers. Who cares about next year?

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