Recollections of a Memorable Debut

Sometimes it’s the ordinary, mundane games that give us special memories.

This is a story of two such matches, both Richmond v Sydney at the MCG, played 18 years apart.

The first, on a blustery day in May 1993, was an awful spectacle.  Both sides were rooted to the bottom of the ladder,Sydney in the midst of a losing streak of something like 27 matches. Richmondwas little better.  They won just 4 games in 1993 and this was one of them.  A gangly 18 year old called Richardson kicked 6 goals, providing the match highlight and a gleam of hope for long-suffering Tiger fans.  But that’s another story.

Among the sparse crowd that day was a blond three year old boy wearing a Richmond jumper and carrying his prized black and yellow mini football.  He was attending his first AFL match.  His Dad had chosen the day deliberately, knowing a Tiger win was likely and that there’d be plenty of space at the back of the stand for games of kick-to-kick when the concentration levels inevitably waned.

The plan worked well. Richmond shot to an early lead which it never relinquished.  Dad, always a nervous supporter, was able to concentrate on entertaining his son without having to worry too much about the score.

The three year old even made a memorable, if misguided, barracking debut.  As the Tigers scored a goal, a jubilant fan behind us yelled “carn Tiges, let’s get the next one”. Showing an alarmingly well-developed sense of fair play, the lad turned and replied “no, now it’s the Swans’ turn”!

By the final quarter, the boy was firmly anchored in his seat.  No, he wasn’t captivated by the contest.  He was simply blue with cold and dog-tired.  However, to his dad’s great satisfaction, he lasted to the final siren.  The seed had been successfully planted.

The same father and son attended Richmond’s recent upset victory over a despondent lookingSydney.  They travelled in together on the train as they’d done 18 years previously and countless times since.  The boy, now 21, stands at eye level with his Dad.  They chat about the game with the easy banter that comes with long-time understanding of each other’s perspectives.  The main change over the years is that Dad’s gone from teacher to student.  His son has played the game and sees trends, tactics and possibilities that are better learned on the field than in the stand.

These days, they part company at the ground to go and sit with their respective groups of mates. This is a bit of a wrench for the old man.  He misses the little rituals they built up over so many years of attending matches together – keeping score in the Record, the half-time snacks that are a compulsory part of a kid’s day at the footy.

On this day, the separation was a bit more poignant.  The following week, his son flew to Canada, alone, to study.  He’ll be gone for six months.  This was to be their last footy match together before the yawning chasm of separation.  That it was Richmond and Sydney again, like that first game together, magnified in his mind the time warp that every parent recognises: so many years, gone so quickly.

Like that day in 1993, the skills were pretty horrible.  By quarter time,Richmond’s domination of play had been completely undone by its botched execution. Sydney led when it had no right to do so.  But as if understanding the sense of occasion for the father and son, the Tigers persisted and by half-time, were rewarded with a narrow lead.

The game hung in the balance through a tense third quarter.  A month earlier,Richmond reached this point of their game against Essendon, needing just one more goal to break their opponent’s resistance.  Instead, they conceded 10 without answer.  Today, though, they did not submit.  A flurry of goals either side of the last change saw the Tigers home to a comprehensive win.

Dustin Martin exemplified the Tigers’ performance.  Early on he looked listless, as though hungover, dropping marks and missing easy scoring chances.  But by the last quarter, he was gliding through the middle of the ground.  He nailed a 55 metre goal that barely rose above head height on its journey.

For father and son, Martin is a great new source of hope at Richmond.  Even when separated by half a grandstand, both simultaneously recognised his goal as the “game over” moment.  But only the father recalled a parallel moment, 18 years ago, when a flying leap from Matthew Richardson and accompanying roar of the crowd briefly distracted him from his little game of kick-to-kick and caused him to reflect on exciting future possibilities, in football and in life.

Missing ya Tom.  Roll on 2012.

About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!

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