Round 6 – Richmond v North Melbourne: Slow train to nowhere


When this season’s draw first came out I got caught up in some magical thinking. I’d been to Tassie twice last year with my partner. We’d had a ball. Now the Tigers were scheduled to play North down there I got a bit ahead of myself. We’d go down there for a Tigers/MONA weekend. The Tigers would kick away in the golden light of the Hobart afternoon. Riewoldt would star on his home turf and I’d wax on about the great Tassie Tiger forwards; Royce, Disco, Richo and now Jack.

Instead I spent Saturday on a train to Adelaide.

My plans changed a few weeks back with a text from my old mate Luke. I was to be Godfather to he and his wife Helen’s young son William. Luke’s a Bomber. His greatest service to the Essendon Football Club has been not killing Dustin Fletcher with a cricket bat. About twenty years ago during a game of backyard cricket in Moonee Ponds the bat had slipped out of Luke’s hands and followed the ball over the fence.
Arrrgh! Struth! (or words to that effect).
Mortified, Luke had ran out onto the street to apologize and there stood Fletch , unkilled, bat in hand. Having survived that scare Baby Bomber Fletcher turned 40 this week and defing logic, he’s still an AFL footballer. Luke, forty as well, has a baby Bomber of his own.
Luke and I exchange a ridiculous number of texts about football. Luke’s latest marketing idea is an AFL sanctioned Onesie round. Luke is unique.
On The Overlander I carry two mini Sherrins (one red, one yellow) and a small cross made in Bethlehem from the olive wood that has grown there for millennia. They’re presents for William. In my mind I have hope that I’m going to be able to get phone reception so I can listen to the Tiges, and I have the stories of my own Godfather Don Grossman.
When Don died about ten years ago the headline in the local paper was Death of a Legend. And he was. Don played 90 odd games for South Melbourne, including the infamous Bloodbath Grand Final. He would have played more but WW2 intervened. After the war he was recruited to play for Warrnambool as their captain-coach. He won the league best and fairest but not a flag. After four years with the Blues Don did the unthinkable and crossed to South Warrnambool. When delivering his eulogy, Don’s best mate and Warrnambool patriarch Hogie McCorkall said, “When Don went to South, he may as well have been playing for the Taliban”. South won the flag the first year he was there.

Don played on until he was well into his forties and filled every coaching and administrative role around. But Don didn’t enter our family’s life through football. My old man was not a footballer nor a local, which back in Warrnambool in the day could limit one’s employment opportunities! Dad got a job pouring beers in one of the local pubs. The other barman was Don.
Dad reckoned Don was pretty good at getting lost in political discussion about the Labor Party and, having boxed a few pro fights in his time, sorting out any trouble that might have occurred.
From a young age I was aware that there was something almost magical about this man. It was in the way people spoke about him, and spoke to him. My contact with him was sporadic over the years. Don walked about fifteen kilometres a day right up until his death, literally. He died out on one of his walks behind De Grandi’s sport’s store. When I was home I often used to run into him when he was out. He’d always stop for a chat. He’d encourage me to go to the seaside to meditate or tell me about his piano playing.
One year I arrived back in town half way through the footy season. I hadn’t played for a few years but by good fortune my ninth game of the year was the grand final. I ran into Don down the street on Friday afternoon. He told me a long story about old footballers playing in the wet. It was Don’s polite way of telling me that sometimes the best I could do for the team was to boot the ball off the ground. We won the premiership the next day. My direct opponent won the Don Grossman Medal for best afield!

The train meandered its way through the west of the state, across Tjap Whurrong country, where the people played Marn Grook for millennia. I saw cars ring the footy ground at Tatyoon. We stopped at Ararat, the only Australian town to have been founded by the Chinese. There was a bloke on the platform carrying a lamb dressed in a nappy. There’s a lot of ways to spend a weekend.
The game started when the train was stopped at Nhill. I listened to the ABC through the AFL app on my phone. I got a few minutes of Gerard and Sellers before the audio dropped out around Kaniva. I then spectated via graphs and stats on my phone. The vast Wimmera plains a blank canvas for the game being played in my mind. Bordertown brought a return of the commentary, both on the train and on the football. The conductor told us that Bordertown is home to the rare white kangaroo. What was this omen? The commentators told me that Riewoldt missed and then Newman missed, before Boomer kicked one after the siren to put North a goal up. The audio died again.
The third quarter brought an all too familiar feeling of distress. The graph on my phone resembled the side of an ancient Aztec pyramid as North piles on six unanswered goals to end the third quarter. I could barely look during the last quarter. I reckon I’d seen it all before anyway.

Crossing the Murray River I received a text from a mate. He’s a Tjap Whurrong man and a North fan. Commiserations was all it said.
The conductor then announced we were passing Australia’s largest giraffe herd. This trip was getting weird. I needed to hear more about Luke’s proposed onesie round.

About Chris Daley

Tiger fan Chris Daley works in Community Nursing, which has taken him to Perth, Broome and now Dandenong. Being tall, he used to get a game in the ruck playing bush footy outside of Warrnambool.


  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Chris, are you from Koroit? Sorry, at work and no time yet to read your piece. I will get to it.

  2. Hi Andrew, that’s a question I get a lot! The Dalys are from Koroit. I am a Daley with an e. Having said that my mum’s family are the McCoshs. They have a big history around the Koroit area.

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