Round 5 – Melbourne v Richmond: Being with footy

There are many aspects of Australian Rules Football that make the game truly great. Footy is a game that is shaped by the people around it, from the little leagues to the big time. The characters of the game are the blood of footy, its beating heart the cauldrons that those characters dominate.

Everyone wants to be, or know, a character of footy. There is no footy fan in the country who hasn’t imagined dobbing ten on the M.C.G, or bursting down the wing, through players and shadows, toward the Punt Road end.

The heroes of footy are seen in the footy towns of the country. Go to your local oval early on a Saturday morning where winter’s wind bites at your cheeks and you will see a dozen miniature Pendlebury’s, brown and gold varieties of Buddy Franklin, a navy-blue sprinkling of Chris Judd and a couple of Abletts running about. Head off to junior footy training and witness firsthand the excitement of “Number Night”, where footy goes out the window and all two dozen youngsters want to see is the seven of Fyfe, the twenty-nine of Gary or the twelve of Richo.

I run around an oval in Woodend every Thursday while sixty or so of these footballers strut their stuff. This time around, there is an ambivalent type of shower wafting above their heads and the temperature is represented by single digits, but these kids, all still in primary school, are impervious to the elements. I know a few of the lads through my younger brother, who stands attentively with his mate Dan as their coach belts instructions into the mist. I recognise the pair by their numbers: the 4 of Royce Hart is printed on Ollie’s back, while Captain Blood’s digits decorate Dan’s.

Both kids are die-hard Tigers. Twelve-year-old Dan and his mum have attended all three episodes of Richmond’s Elimination Final Saga (EFS). Ollie, Dad and I accompanied the two when the most recent chapter of the EFS was released. Things got smashed.

Slowly freezing in my jacket, I watch Dan and Ollie line up in the centre circle for a practice match. When Dan slots a goal in the intensifying rain from the boundary, via an Ollie handpass, I smile and wonder if the kids’ faith has ever wavered.

Sunday rolls around eventually. I check out Ollie and Dan’s comrades play against a team from Melton. I spent the morning officiating an under 12’s game in Sunbury, dashing from ground to my Dad’s car to get to Ollie’s match. We cruise along the Calder and talk footy.

“We should go tonight, Da.”

Splutter. Cough.

“You what?”

“The footy. We should go.”

“Mate, I said something to you when we went to the Melbourne match last year. You remember what it was?”


“I said: If I ever want to watch a team coached by Paul Roos ever again, stop me.”

“Fair enough.”

We are late. Dad guides our old Subaru in-between the first pair of faded white lines he can find. Still half-dressed in umpiring garb, I dash toward the fence. Ollie’s at centre half forward, playing with his mouthguard.


The figure turns around nonchalantly.

“Stop playing with your bloody mouthguard!”

Shrug. Nod.

At quarter time neither team has hit the scoreboard. The umpire, an old fella called Rob, has been run ragged by the youngsters.

Ollie and his mates try their hearts out, but the Melton boys are too strong for them. Late in the game, a long haired chap from Melton goes for a dash, taking three bounces up the corridor. His kick fades left, but the moment is not lost on the supporters, both Melton’s and Woodend’s.

Ollie’s copped a boot to the finger. He reckons, almost hopes, that it is broken. The image of sauntering into class with a strapped finger – “I did it playing footy” – has addled his twelve-year-old brain, I reckon.

I have had a good day. So far.

Richmond are to play Melbourne tonight. I tipped the Tigers, more out of team obligation than anything. Due to that, and a forgotten password in round two, I’m occupying the cellars of the footy tipping comp.

I listen to the footy while working on my incompetence on the basketball hoop outside. A commentary team consisting of Zempilas, Gil McLachlan’s little brother and Luke Darcy has me forsaking the telly for a radio and a basketball. Under the stars with only the sharp clang of another missed jumpshot and the calm words of the ABC puncturing the twilight silence, footy seems distant and almost irrelevant.

But that is soon to change as Jack Riewoldt tries to lift Richmond off the canvas in the third quarter. The charismatic forward boots a pair of goals and seems the only Tiger capable of forcing Melbourne into a tense final quarter. Alas, the big forward injures an ankle and that was all she wrote for the Tigers.

I don’t feel as invested in this game as it draws to its inevitable conclusion. The Tigers are poor and it is going to take a helluva lot more than one bloke wearing numeró three to return them onto the winners list.

I chuck the ball up a final time and head inside, carrying no ill feeling or anger. Footy is footy. I can barrack for the game itself when the Tiges are down.

The brilliance of football will save us all.


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  1. Love it, Paddy.
    The detail, the broken finger, the umpiring, the perspective…
    You’ve got me thinking.

    Terrific ending (“I chuck the footy up…”)
    Love it.

  2. yes, we Tigers are neutrals this year and it’s a good year for that.

    brilliant piece. and those sorts of commentators are yet another reason to eschew. cook, or in my case, now, eat : (

  3. Love your writing style Paddy and your rural roamings as an umpire. Sunbury, Woodend, Gisbourne, it must be a serious chill of a Sunday winter morning?

    I was invested in the game..the Tigers kept teasing the fans with the scent of possibility.

    Maybe next week, or the one after…………………..? Or????

  4. In my world we are still celebrating the 2015 flag….

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