Round 23 – Richmond v St Kilda: “Who’s having fun?”

 

Friday, August 31, 2001

 

It’s Friday. Dad and I are in Melbourne for Round 22. I’m seven and I’m excited. Our hotel is displaying the flags of Essendon and Richmond, who will play tonight. This is the only evidence I need – Melbourne is football and football is Melbourne.

 

The city hasn’t changed since we moved to Adelaide earlier in the year. But I’m back amongst Richmond fans, my exile over, albeit temporarily.

 

A win against the top of the table Bombers and we come back next week and do it all again – same time, same place, same opposition.

 

I can’t remember a thing about the game now, save that we won and that Richo was the name on everyone’s lips by the end of the night.

 

But we’d made the finals and the four. At long last.

 

***

 

It’s took me nearly fifteen years to move back to Melbourne permanently. You might say that I took the scenic route.

 

A couple of Mondays ago, I started the week by reading David Wilson’s piece – Enjoying the ride. The title drew me in, and so did the opening line.

 

“Is football fun, anymore…is anything fun, anymore?”

 

I was reminded of the column at the MCG on Sunday, when a man stood up in the bleachers and loudly asked us all, “Who’s having fun?”

 

I didn’t answer him on the spot, but I should have.

 

On Saturday, my Brunswick boys went out and completed the club’s first unbeaten first XI season, with a pretty boring 1-0 win against PEGS. We went a goal up early and then didn’t allow our opponents a single shot on goal all day.

 

One of the coaches I had in the UK, Nick Beasant, used to muse that the simplest game plan only has two parts…

 

  1. Score goal
  2. Keep clean sheet

 

Job done. We now have the boxes ticked to be promoted to Victoria’s Premier League. Cross everything you can, sports fans.

 

Moneyball ends with a metaphor about Jeremy Brown, a 240-pound catcher who was too scared to try and run to second base. Brown falls over rounding first. Everyone’s laughing. And then he realises that he’s crushed the ball sixty-feet over the fence.

 

“He’d hit a home run…and didn’t even realise”.

 

I considered whether I was enjoying the ride after reading David’s column. I decided that I wasn’t, by a long shot.

 

When we were 9-0 after 9 games, one of the boys sent me a clip from Coach Carter.

 

“Not only are our grades alright, we undefeated, homeboy.”

 

I watched Coach Carter the next day. The clip isn’t from the end of film. They don’t stay undefeated and win it all.

 

Our next task is to win the flag – but it’s Sunday and I can’t walk out the front door and get it done. Instead, I’ve swapped wine for tea (something that was suggested to me at 9pm on Saturday – of course, I didn’t listen) and I’m just savouring our little home run before the madness of the new week arrives.

 

So, Saturday was fun. Saturday night was possibly even more fun.

 

And watching Richmond and the Riewoldts at the ‘G was maybe the funnest – thanks for asking.

 

While a confusing minefield of capitalist skullduggery gripped the globe with a notorious wife-beater as its hero, the MCG crowd swelled.

 

I realised before that game that a Tiger win would represent a full narrative circle. Two MCG finals, separated by my years away from Melbourne, and by Nick Riewoldt’s entire career.

 

When Nick started out in 2001, people told me I looked like him, because of my snowy blonde hair. I liked the comparison then. I wouldn’t mind it now.

 

But it’s Jack Riewoldt who provided the first highlight, brilliantly tapping the ball sideways to Dan Butler and allowing him to lace out 2018 Coleman Medal prospect Jacob Townsend for the opener.

 

Nick looks proppy away from the footy, but in full flight he looks fine. With the Saints breaking forward, he bolts off towards the flank, taking Rance with him and allowing his teammate the chance to kick to a genuine one-on-one inside fifty.

 

Even on one leg, you don’t leave Nick Riewoldt free on a flank. His running isn’t rewarded. The kick inside fifty is awful, missing by a mile and rolling harmlessly out of bounds.

 

The Tigers, meanwhile, are surging. We look lethal on the outside and our pressure is destroying their game.

 

As we assume control, more and more sets of eyes start to follow Nick around the ‘G.

 

In the third quarter, we start to stutter, until Jack takes matters into his own hands and steals the limelight again, banging a much-needed goal home from outside fifty.

 

Moments later Nick marks on fifty, as if to remind us where we should be looking. He bombs his set shot home and the crowd stands to applaud him.

 

The game is still alive early in the final term when Dusty decides he’s had enough, and settles the matter.

 

He starts off with a long, right-foot banana from the pocket. It’s never, ever missing the big sticks.

 

At the fourth minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Tiger faithful start to chant his name. Really, they’re not chanting. They’re pleading with their hero – don’t leave, please.

 

Right on cue, he gets the ball on the left half-forward flank. You can’t script this. It’s every bit as good as Nathan Lyon taking a wicket on the very ball the entire MCG decided to yell out “Nice, Garry”.

 

Dusty wriggles away from his opponent, narrowly skirting the boundary, and then hits Townsend lace out. He turns and runs to the bench to a standing ovation. Townsend’s kick sails through.

 

The rest of the game is a celebration. I know we’re coming back here to play Geelong in a couple of weeks. That’s beautiful. And St Kilda fans have given up their disappointment at missing the eight and they stay for Nick. Every time he goes near the footy, the excitement builds.

 

At one point, he’s sat on the wing tying his boot lace up when a teammate decides to hit him lace out. He marks, still sat on his bum, and then gets up to give a handball off, before returning to his laces.

 

With his laces sorted, he marks on the opposite wing. The barrackers know it might be his final touch, but the umpire’s sense of theatre has abandoned him. He pays a free kick, which might be the most unpopular decision of the season.

 

He marks again though, not long after, making up for the missed opportunity. Sensing the moment, he launches a long torpedo forward to jovial cheers.

 

The siren ends it, but no one leaves.

 

“This is God’s act, we just actors in it.”

Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown in When We Were Kings

 

Jack carries his cousin off to a huge ovation. The clapping stops after Nick leaves the stage for the last time. Most supporters linger for a moment, wipe their eyes, and then turn for home and for work on Monday morning, leaving the beige and blue seats exposed again.

 

I wait a while longer, watching the seagulls drift in, looking for chips. The oval is empty, but for the security guards staring back at the birds, and the empty seats.

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

Comments

  1. Love it Jack.
    Congratulations to all involved at Brunswick.

    A win can help in enjoying the ride.
    But then, so can stopping to observe the seagulls. Well played. And thanks.

Leave a Comment

*