Musings on History Part 2

 

Swan Street between Punt and Bridge Roads was blocked off last night as it became the scene of the most extraordinary spontaneous street party I have ever seen.  Thousands of us, young and old hugged and high-fived complete strangers, sang, cheered and exulted in the deeds that had played out just hours before.  I could easily bore you all with a list of hundreds of disastrous losses, slumps, fadeouts, sackings and general turmoil that formed the historical impetus for this outpouring of joy, but a couple of examples will suffice.

 

In 1987, Richmond won a wooden spoon just seven years after its 1980 Premiership.  At our home game against the new West Coast Eagles team, our threadbare team laboured to a last gasp victory at the MCG in front of a crowd of barely 8000.  Any win in those days was a comfort, but as the loyal few gazed around the giant empty stands on that bleak afternoon, we silently acknowledged how far this great club had plummeted.

 

Three years later I was back at the G, this time at a post-season rally for the “Save our Skins” campaign.  The late Jack Dyer spoke with his trademark ineloquence, sparking a burst of passion from the faithful that was sustained sufficiently to raise the million dollars needed to keep the club afloat.  We continued to exist, but the road became no less rocky.

 

In 1993, a young father took his three-year-old son to his first Richmond game, against Sydney at the G.  The wind was biting and the little fella turned an interesting shade of blue as he doggedly sat out the final quarter, watching two rock-bottom sides slug it out.  The Tigers prevailed.  A young gangly colt called Matthew Richardson kicked six goals that day.  But there was precious little that the dad could see that gave much hope that his son would get much joy from following the yellow and black.  But follow them has has done, for 24 long and mostly painful years, as have countless thousands of others.  In a way, the young ones deserve this more.  Theirs has been a complete leap of faith, having never experienced the thrill of a Grand Final or a Flag.  Never even close.

 

In the lead-up to yesterday, my obsession with history went into overdrive.  Which year would 2017 be like?  The obvious one was 1997, in which the marauding Crows pulled a spectacular heist, stealing the cup from St Kilda on a day of heart-break for the League’s ultimate Cinderella club.  Maybe 2002, where a gallant but under-strength Victorian team came agonisingly close to upsetting the hot favourite, Brisbane.  I couldn’t even dare hope that we might see a repeat of last year’s Bulldogs miracle.

 

In the end, the closest historical parallel was probably 1990.  After a nervous opening, a thirty-year drought broken in a game of relentless, bulldozing pressure.  While Josh Caddy’s opening goal was hardly a Daicos boundary line spectacular, it had a similar relief valve effect. The Tigers settled from that point.  As in 1990, the second quarter was decisive, albeit without the brawl.  Thereafter was a steady, inexorable grind.  Most neutrals called it early.  Only the jittery diehards waited until the final term before unleashing hugs, tears and general mayhem.

 

If the lessons of footy history tell you anything, it’s that timing is all-important and you have to seize your moment.  Before the game, I read a great article in the Footy Record about Geelong’s triumph in 2007, coming as it did from an amazing rebuild of club, team and culture.  The hard work that had gone into that transformation was enormous,  but the lesson was clear.  If you really want to change everything, you have to seize the moment when it presents.

 

Many parallels have been made between Richmond’s extraordinary run of awards and achievements this year and Geelong’s 2007 season.  It seemed that every individual award this year has gone to a Tiger.  But as I watched our VFL side succumb to Port Melbourne, a team with a fraction of the “names” but, on the day, twice the desire, this lesson was doubly rammed home.  I feared that this result would have a deflating effect on the club as its biggest test approached.  As I write this, the satisfaction of knowing that Richmond has taken its carpe diem moment is made all the better from reflecting on the 37 years of hardship that have gone before.

 

In the lead up to the Grand Final, that young lad, three in 1993, now 27 and about to be married, has been posting pieces on Facebook about his favourite players over the years – Mark Merenda, Matthew Knights, Mark Coughlan, Benny Gale.  The lesson of timing rang through loud and clear.  What each might have been had they played in a better team, not been plagued by injury etc.

 

And I reckon the lesson of timing has been just as tough on my son, as watched the final moments of the game with tears running down his face.  Only trouble was that he was in Dublin!

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. Joe De Petro says:

    Wonderful stuff, Stainless. Why did we do this to our kids? It has been so hard on them.

    Still, they are resilient.

  2. Stainless says:

    Resilient and pretty proud too, I’d say, Joe.

  3. John Butler says:

    Great piece Sam.

    Lap it up. :)

  4. Rabid Dog says:

    At least you can’t be accused of jumping on the bandwagon.

  5. End of history? More end of civilisation as we know it.
    Enjoy Stainless. You’ve more than earned it. I reckon Dimma’s genius was to stop trying to emulate the game style of other successful teams. Hawthorn – precision and possession. Cats – marking forwards. And ask “what cattle have I got here?”
    Speed and strength and endurance in spades. Then all the pieces fell into place.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Congratulations Stainless. The Bingle Tigers doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the ‘Tetleys’ does it? 37 years, 34 of which were pretty ordinary, finally over. Enjoy !!

  7. DBalassone says:

    Congratulations Stainless. Enjoy. Richly deserved. What an emotional crescendo. I was watching it again yesterday arvo, and got goosebumps again. Just beautiful.
    I reckon that 1990 analogy is spot on. Not just the unexpected breaking of the drought, and the conceding of the first two goals, but also the final margin of 48 points. The way Richmond broke Geel, GWS and Adelaide over the past three finals was just staggering. 22 hard nuts absolutely invested in the cause.

  8. Stainless says:

    Thanks guys. I’m sure you Collingwood folk will be glad to relinquish the mantle of the last side to lose to Richmond in a GF. The 1990 analogy certainly works in terms of the after parties! The huge challenge is to ensure that the decade that follows doesn’t emulate the Maggies after that drought-breaker.

  9. Lovely article Sam. I am sure, like you, your sons will see Grandmother as officially their favourite person.
    Bens poster is winner!

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