Losing the faith


Losing the faith

As a non-believer, I’ve always felt sorry for members of wacky religious cults.

The ludicrous beliefs; unwavering commitment to people who treat you like poo and tell you pork pies; the money freely given by those who can least afford it so the elite can live like kings while the rest live like paupers.

No matter how kooky the beliefs, these people cannot be convinced that aliens won’t be landing soon to take them to a better place or that the world won’t be ending on August 4, 2016. How stupid are they?

About as stupid as me.

As I sit in the drizzling rain on a cold winter night watching Richmond alone after the rest of the family has given up on yet another season, I realise I’m one of them. A cult member.

The realisation hits me like a vision of the late TV evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in a full face of clown makeup. As the Tigers muck around with the ball and fail to convert from about six opportunities in a row, I start to question my faith.

Until now, no matter what my team throws at me, how many unlosable games it loses, how often it misses the finals, how many promises of a better year are broken and how often it sends letters asking for money in my will (this has happened) I have continued to believe.

Believe that the Tigers will one day enter the promised land with a saviour who will win my team a premiership. And no matter what evidence I’m presented with to the contrary, I haven’t given up.

It doesn’t matter that my team has played in two finals series in the past 30 years, or that since we won the 1980 flag 13 coaches and countless presidents have promised to deliver footy’s holy grail – and failed. It doesn’t matter that all that money I’ve given in memberships, merchandise and donations has given me nothing in return.

I have continued to believe.

My friends have gently tried to convince me, in the nicest possible way, that I’m deluded. There is no such thing as a post-1980 Richmond premiership, they say. It’s a figment of my imagination. But I say they’re just jealous, and wish their team had as many devoted fans as mine, who turn up no matter what.

Look, I say, we beat Hawthorn by 10 goals, we beat Sydney and we beat St Kilda for the first time in nine years. But, they counter, it’s scientifically impossible for you to even make the finals. Yet still I believe and continue to worship at the altar of Dustin Martin, who has just kicked his third goal to put the Tigers 11 points up at the 29 minute mark of the first quarter.

It’s still mathematically possible for us to make the finals, I reason, if we win every game by 10 goals and other teams win and lose when we need them to. We could win our first final in Adelaide, flog Hawthorn again, trip Sydney up in the preliminary final then trounce Collingwood I’m the GF, just like 1980!

Sitting in the nosebleed section of the Olympic Stand watching a lack-luster second quarter between two disappointing teams, that belief is wavering. I’m not sure if it’s the biting cold or the fact Brian and the kids are snuggled up at home in front of the fire, but it doesn’t feel good.

However just as I’m about to entertain rational thoughts, the Tigers kick another goal and edge ahead. Maybe there is a finals God after all. It’s a close game and while the standard wouldn’t trouble the Upper Cumbucta West Thirds, Carlton and Richmond fans just want a win. To believe.

We start the last quarter two goals behind but lift, pushing forward again and again. The standard is awful but my team is playing with heart and we hit the front then stretch that lead to 13 points a tick over the 20 minute mark.

Surely this time we can hold on. Surely our belief will get us across the line.

Both teams make mistakes but the Blues kick the next two. Tigers by a point, then two. This quarter is going forever! I text my Carlton supporting sister in the AFL Members: Blow the effing siren!

We’re heading past the 35 minute mark – has the siren bloke died or something ?!!?! – when my faith is forever shattered. Brock McLean gathers the ball from the boundary and slots it from an impossible angle. Carlton is back in front.

Impossibly, the siren still hasn’t gone. Both sides struggle for possession and the Tigers take it forward. I text Maree again: Actually take that last text back.

But it’s too late.

The siren sounds.

We’ve lost the unlosable.


I’m devastated.

And I no longer believe. I feel numb. The faith – and passion – are gone.

There is no such thing as a post-1980 Richmond premiership. It’s all a big lie. I’d be better off believing in Santa or the tooth fairy. At least they bring you stuff.

I feel like an Orange Person or whatever they’re called when they finally realise those aliens aren’t going to materialise and the world isn’t going to explode, at least not for a few million years.

But I’m not relieved.

I feel empty and lost.

(Note to kind Almanackers who will try to draw positives from this game. There are none. Good teams do not lose Gold Coast or the Carlton seconds.)

**On facebook and twitter after the loss, most Richmond fans still had faith in the club and some accused me of being disloyal for being negative. My argument is that if we continue to accept mediocrity that is what we’ll get. I love my club but any team that has made the finals twice in 30 years and fails yet again in a year it was expected to make the eight needs to be questioned. While some improvements have been made, cultural change is needed so that second best is not accepted at any level. Brendon Gale and Damien Hardwick are doing a great job but wider reform is needed.


  1. Jim of Chicago says

    Just a few things, Cheryl:
    1. Be grateful that you are able to go to matches. That’s not possible for some of us who would do anything to be able to be at our team’s matches, even when we lose and lose and lose…
    2. Damn those Tigers! Kept me from getting a 9 in footy tipping this week and plunged me into a tie for first place on an ex-pat’s footy tipping site. Grrrrrrr…

    The Western Bulldogs have made me feel young again. This season reminds me of 1982 when the Bulldogs only won three matches for the year. I was 30 at the time – half a lifetime ago. So thank you, to the Western Bulldog players, coach, assistant coaches and all who have granted me this short remembrance of my wistful youth.

    And shame on Brian and the kids for giving up on the Tigers. Well, maybe not on Ben. He’s tried to break away from the cult of the Tiger. Needless to say, he might be the brightest one in your household.

    Take care.

  2. Cheryl Critchley says

    Hi Jim. I would have loved to be in the USA on Saturday night :-). Sometimes it’s not such a good thing being able to go to games! You’ll have to excuse Jess as she was at a birthday sleepover and probably would have come, but the other two wouldn’t have a bar of it despite bribery offers of lollies and hotdogs. I think they must have known what was coming! Seriously thought it is just so disappointing that we constantly get built up to think that finally we’ve turned the corner, only to be slapped in the face again. This has been the pattern for 32 years. While some improvements have been made, we need a winning mentality and cultural change to instill that belief through every level of the club. As for the Bulldogs, it is sad watching them struggle but they will be back. Even though they haven’t won a flag since 1954, they are at least competitive and play regular finals. Since Jess was born in 1999 we’ve played in one finals series, and she is too young to remember it. We are losing a whole generation of supporters, despite having one of the biggest fan bases in the league.

  3. Cheryl – all believers have their faith tested.

    Settle down, its only been thirty odd years. Some teams go forty, fifty, sixty and even seventy years without a flag.

  4. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks Dips. Yep that’s true and footy is minor in the scheme of things, but when you invest so much emotionally and financially it becomes part of you like any religion. It also becomes harder to take the spin and constant calls to “keep the faith” when that faith is not rewarded.

  5. Haje Halabi says

    we live in hope cheryl, we suffer and believe. after countless texts back home to tiger mates we are finally shattered. I arrived in Indonesia and was convinced that we would win this game. we had to. if no other game just beat the blues. but no, mentally we cracked again. we are but still young, but we have lots of development to do yet on so many levels. I am getting tired and older…waiting. Thanks for the read. Haje

  6. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks Haje. I’m definitely hanging in there but I think Richmond fans have a right to vent after all the support we’ve given over the years.

  7. Watched the game on Saturday night with my Tiger brother Cheryl.

    No matter what I did to console him his pain was too strong.

    He is even calling for Cloke next season.

  8. Cheryl Critchley says

    NOOOOOOOO Phantom, we can’t see Cloke as the answer. If we got him we’d be paying over the odds and there are no guarantees. Unless it was a Chris Judd or a Johnathan Brown, NOOOOOOOO.

  9. I agree Cheryl. He’s over rated and would not straighten up your forward line.

    You need someone running straight out crashing packs not skitting around the boundary.

  10. Cheryl Critchley says

    Phantom my husband reckons we should trade Cotch and Lids before they get too emotionally scarred :-). I LOVE Cotch and Lids and they are the key to our future success if we are to have any. We need to build around them, which we have started doing, but somehow at the moment it’s not working.

  11. Good idea Cheryl.

    We will give you Pods for Cotchin and Ottens for Delidio.

  12. Cheryl Critchley says

    I just asked Brian who we should go for and he said “it would be irrelevant, the player would be sucked in and sink into the cesspool”. And you reckon I’m angry!!!

  13. Cheryl Critchley says

    PS I keep forgetting to plug my twitter. For more bitter and twisted comments follow @CherylCritchley

  14. Cheryl

    I will admit to having tipped the Gold Coast and then North against us but I actually felt confident we’d do it thsi week and confidently tipped us to win.. Of course, having lost those games and to Freo at home, I knew September was out of the picture, but the loss made me furious too. I feel for you sitting alone, keeping the faith.

    I actually think I would have been underwhelmed had we lost. We always turn it on late in the season when it’s too late, and take on the role of spoiler of others final hopes. We show frustrating glimpses, when much is promised, but the reality is we aren’t good enough.

    Yes we led the Cats and Eagles in the final quarter but those close losses are unacceptable.How do you belt Hawthorn and get over teh Saints and Swans and drop to the Dockers at home. I hope the money from the Cairns games keeps us warm in September from the stands again.

    I know we should be positive etc, and I think Hardwick is absolutely the right guy, but I agree with you, keeping the Tiger faith is really really hard right now


  15. Cheryl Critchley says

    It is hard Sean and I agree Hardwick is doing the best he can. Not sure what the answer is.

  16. Great read Cheryl.

    There are positiives.

    Two years ago 0 wins 10 losses

    Even last year – not competitive in many games

    This year they have been competitive in every single game. Got run over by Carlton in round 1 in the last quarter and probably were never going to beat Collingwood after their five minutes/five goals but every other game they have been right up there.

    Could nearly be 15 and 2! I must be a believer!!!

  17. Cheryl,
    After the match, I reckon Hardwick was at his lowest ebb yet.
    For me, as a non-Tiger, it will be interesting to see what he does from here.
    Also, can I say that reading this piece makes me appreciate even more the
    four flags I have been fortuate enough to witness as a North supporter.

  18. “Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by the highway in a ditch
    He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled pokin’ that dog with a stick
    Got his car door flung open he’s standin’ out on Highway 31
    Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run
    Struck me kinda funny seem kinda funny sir to me
    At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe

    Now Mary Lou loved Johnny with a love mean and true
    She said “Baby I’ll work for you every day and bring my money home to you”
    One day he up and left her and ever since that
    She waits down at the end of that dirt road for young Johnny to come back
    Struck me kinda funny seemed kind of funny sir to me
    How at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe”

    Bruce Springsteen from the ‘Nebraska’ album – Reason to Believe (not the Rod Stewart song)

  19. Just a thought.

    How would J Roughead and C Pavlich fit into the Tigers team now?

    A review of their draft picks from a few years back may be interesting.

    ‘Sort of reap what you sow’ stuff.

  20. They had a chance at J Selwood and J Pod before the Cats as well.

    That would make them a different line up.

    Jumping Jack in a forward pocket. J Pod at FF. Roughead at CHB and into the ruck. Pav middle and CHF. Selwood running about in the middle with Cotchin and Delidio.

    Sorry Cheryl. It is a bit of a tease but would have been possible. I apologise

  21. Cheryl Critchley says

    Hi Noel. Yep we have been competitive but is that enough? Not if you lose to Gold Coast and Carlton’s seconds when you have a chance to put yourself into the eight. That song does sum up Richmond fans Peter, but is he going to come back? I think most are still clinging to that hope. Phanton there are so many “what ifs” it is frustrating, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s not just the players. A club is a sum of everything: players, coach, administration, fans. All must demand and deliver the best.

  22. Phantom, the woman is in pain. Why would you bring up recruiting misses? What a cruel man.

  23. Cookie, Go Directly To Gaol : do not pass Go, do not collect $200

  24. Cheryl,

    I had a quiet Saturday night counter meal with the great Tom Hafey when he came to Wynyard a few year ago.

    Very pleasant and informative……………..but he was still spewing over the Pav and Roughie misses.

  25. Cheryl Critchley says

    I agree Phantom.
    And didn’t we take Tambling ahead of Lance Franklin?
    This is painful…

  26. I didn’t think other people felt the pain of a losing footy club as much as me until I joined the Almanac’sect’ and read about your anguish Cheryl. I married into a non-sporty non-footy loving family so I’ve been prowling around in my man-cave cursing footy-gods and useless recruits for over forty years, with no-one to hear my wrath…and then I met John Harms and his Footy Almanac. At last! A place to vent!
    I think you are being kind about the Bulldogs bouncing back again. I agree with another writer that there is a nostalgic whiff of failures past such as 1982 when they won four games. I’ve looked hard for positives this year to maintain my faith, but I have found nothing. It made me sick in the guts to hear one commentator say ‘that maybe these new bulldog recruits just can’t play’, but I quietly agreed with him.
    I enjoy your writing Cheryl and look forward to testing the ‘faith’ with you over the journey.

  27. I tipped 8 from 9 for the second week in a row – guess who let me down both times!

    I should have listened to Harms from his Round 18 preview last week:
    “…The Tigers are good for footy. Meanwhile Carlton fought out an unimpressive win against the Doggies. The Blues have also lacked passion, but I think their discipline and structure will be enough here. (And that is saying something) More heartbreak for Richmond. Carlton by 2 points in a match of feeling.”

  28. Stainless says

    I hate to say “I told you so…”

    The only way to deal with the pain is to have realistic expectations. Two months ago you (and many others) were talking finals. I cautioned you then and unfortunately, my caution has been vindicated.

    My point is, then as now – we have a very young list with minimal depth. It takes a long time to build a Premiership team, even from a solid base. Richmond has such a legacy of recruiting blunders, financial mismanagement, inadequate staff and facilities that its re-build is going to take longer than most, as we are rebuilding the whole fabric of the club at the same time.

    I never envisaged finals in 2012 and will be very surprised if we make it next year. My hope for 2012 was – what Noelmc said – competitiveness every week. Granted, it’s galling getting pipped at the post three weeks running but to this point, there hasn’t been a single match where we’ve been out of it. That would be a rarity at Richmond in the last thirty years.

    Fortunately, I think we finally have some smart, forward-thinking leaders at the club. I’m liking the level-headed responses from CEO, coach and the playing leadership group as they deal with some of the recent OTT outpourings about selling games, suspending players and coughing up leads. If they can stick to their guns through these testing times and play out a solid last month of the season, I for one won’t be too disappointed.

  29. Cheryl Critchley says

    You make some good points Stainless, but this was the year the club told us we’d be playing finals. In March 2010 they said by 2014 we would have played finals three times ie 2012, 2013, 2014. It was the club that created that expectation! I’m normally very conservative in my predictions but after that win over St Kilda and beating Sydney and Hawthorn (by 10 goals no less) we were entitled to think our team was good enough to play finals. It is to their detriment that they then went on and lost the unlosable against Gold Coast among other disappointing losses. Other teams have turned things around within 3-4 years (eg West Coast, Hawthorn, Geelong) but after 32 years Richmond still hasn’t! I agree we have been competitive this year but that means jack what when you keep losing like we have over the past few weeks. I also agree we have some good people running the club now, but the pressure is seriously on now for 2013. If we don’t make the finals next year I don’t blame anyone who gives up (and I know several absolute diehards who have chucked it in this year). We can only wait so long.

  30. Peter Schumacher says

    I would feel the pain after the Gold Coast loss but three in a row now. no wonder you are losing the faith Cheryl.

    I wish that I could think of something comforting to say but I really can’t.

    My mob are pretty stuffed as well but that doesn’t ease your pain of course.

    Perhaps you could think of our women’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay team instead. No relevance to your problems of course but at least provides a comforting thought!

  31. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks Peter. It is all a bit ridiculous when some people struggle to put food on the table, but in Melbourne footy is a big deal. I will enjoy watching the Olympics and hopefully seeing some good wins :-)

  32. Stainless says

    In 1990, we lost our Round 2 game to North by more than 140 points (Round 2!!). The club was an absolute rabble and by year’s end was so broke we were within a month or so of being wound up. The Save our Skins campaign bailed us out – just – but we still had no money for decent players or facilities. Now that’s what I call rock bottom.

    Our current plight isn’t a patch on the (many) lows of the past 32 years. I maintain there’s more to like about where we’re heading than I can remember for a long long time. So please don’t talk of bailing out because of a couple of desperately unlucky defeats. It’s…well…un-Richmond-like :)

  33. Stephanie Holt says

    Cheryl, what a wonderful meditation on the pain of hope, loyalty and belonging. Which I’m sure is no comfort! But do we really do it – the buying crap merchandise, the wandering the streets dressed like colour-coordinated bag people, the handing over of money on the flimsiest pretence, the wasting time in cold and misery – because we want to win? Mind you, I’m not sure how I’d cope with three less-than-a-goal losses in a row, and I just about put my fist through the telly when McLean got that STOOPID goal. And I don’t even barrack for the Tiges.

  34. Cheryl Critchley says

    I’d never bail Stainless. I’m just SO frustrated about not making the finals for so long. My kids and others aged under about 13 have never even seen their team play one. They are fast losing any interest and I couldn’t even bribe the younger two to go on Saturday night with their favourite junk food (any parent will tell you junk food is a fail-safe way to get a kid to do anything). 1990 was a dark time but we’d played in a GF eight years earlier. Seeing the fans rally to save the club was really uplifting, despite the terrible on field results. These days we have oodles more resources but still can’t even scrape into the eight (unless things continue to improve on field next year). Is it too much to ask your team to make the finals more than twice in 30 years?
    Thanks for your thoughts Stephanie. It’s not just the past three losses – the Freo one was just as bad as we should have won that too. Whenever we are expected to win we fall in a hole, a bit like the men’s relay team at the Olympics. A lot of it is mental. I’m hoping they can change that.

  35. Stainless says

    No of course it’s not too much to ask,Cheryl and I hope that your kids are given something that rekindles their enthusiasm before it’s too late.

    I could go on and on debating our plight but I actually think we’re in furious agreement.

  36. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks Stainless. It’s too late for Ben as he hates footy full stop. The eldest is faithful but after the Gold Coast game said she’d had enough, and the middle one is a “swinger” who enjoys it when we win. She has refused to go whenever she’s had the opportunity to avoid it this year! Let’s hope things are finally going to turn soon for them and other kids.

  37. Stainless says

    There’s always hope. My two have made it to adulthood and are still committed Tigers. I even converted the younger one from Essendon at an early age (back when the Bombers were top of the tree if you don’t mind!) Even seeing the mental anguish that Richmond inflicts on their father doesn’t seem to have affected them.

  38. Cheryl Critchley says

    That;’s good to hear Stainless! I also brainwashed my two cousins just after 1980 and my poor niece, who is almost 23 and has seen two finals series in her life!

  39. Cheryl,
    Brock McLean’s goal was an accident, if that makes you feel any better. (Michael, Blues fan)

  40. Cheryl Critchley says

    Hi Michael. No it doesn’t :-)

  41. Hi Cheryl…I’m old enough to remember Richard Lounder, I’m old enough to remember Paul Sproule addressing the players on a wet day at Princes Park holding an umbrella, I’m old enough to remember the John Pitura trade debacle…..I’m old enough to remember the Richmond of 1980, so dominant for the entire season humiliating Collingwood in the GF and not even featuring the following season…or since..It’s extraordinary and I fully understand your frustration….So many promises, so little substance.

  42. Cheryl Critchley says

    Hi Chris, sounds like we are about the same vintage. I was in the cheer squad at the 1980 Grand Final and remember thinking “this is the start of something special”. Famous last words!

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