Round 6 – Richmond v Sydney: Altered States (or A Celebration of Brisbane Footy and Buses)

Richmond v Sydney

3:35pm, Sunday July 12

The Gabba



Dad had debts so we had to leave Melbourne. The Datsun station wagon was packed with kids and bags & driven, for reasons unclear, to Newcastle. I barely had time to pack my Richmond jumper (#30, Francis Bourke). It was 1977: Cop Shop, Sherbet, Tom Baker. I was 9. We arrived in the League-iest of League towns in our VFL tops like Greek migrants trumpeting ‘wogball’.


Never lived in a footy state again. Folks like us, we’re the aerial ping-pong diaspora – the fringe dwellers of NSW, Queensland, and every nation bar Oz. Later I moved to Japan – pre-internet – and listened to games on short wave radio by Tokyo Bay, the antenna swung over a tree, with a few tallboys of Asahi for company. I had Inside Football subs arrive by mail to get a footy news hit, and I’d read every skerrick, even the TANFL reports. Occasionally it wouldn’t come – lost at sea presumably – and I’d be devastated for a week.


In 2010 I moved to Brisbane, with kids at indoctrination age. Google Maps reckons it takes 325 hours of continuous walking (sub Cliff Young pace) along a 1605 km inland route to reach Punt Road Oval from our house. Surely I’m pushing a mini-skip of shit up a hill with a pair of Kmart chopsticks trying to make this intergenerational supporter thing stick? An existential question for the hardcore supporter is whether life has had any meaning if the line dies out with him/her. Like a cockroach I weathered the 37 nuclear winters and emerged from under a share house sofa to finally see a premiership in 2017 and the family is more on board.


Then enter COVID, and my big chance to fully bloom the Church of Latterday Richmondism in the backyard of my very own Queensland home. Forty-three years after leaving Melbourne, the club was arriving on my doorstep, and with it the gift of seeing virtually every Richmond home game.






Game day.


The Henson Road bus stop is at the bottom of our street. It consists of a single garden seat backed against a paling fence, which demarcates the neat yard of a 1950s asbestos and hardboard pillbox floating on concrete stumps. They slapped these down in droves after the war. ‘Here’ is Salisbury, the unassuming Brisbane suburb that pumped out planes, bombs and ammo during the Pacific War.





The 124 to Wollongabba is, on a Sunday afternoon, a 20-minute rattle run through rickety suburbs like these. Appropriately, the day was chilly and rainy, with dark clouds overhead. Authentically Melbourne, to pad out the fantasy that we were an actual Richmond family going to see just another home game at the MCG. We’d only ridden the bus a few stops to Evans Road before another Tiger family got on – a single Dad and two kids. What’s his story, I wondered? Another desperado like me? Maybe a divorcee using the footy to connect with the kids?


The bus snaked further along to Beaudesert Rd through Moorooka, known for used car yards and African shops. Yet another diasporic old Tiger joined our caravan. He was about 75, vintage beanie. Think Jim Jess but add 10 years and an alcoholic pallor. How did he end up in this neck of the woods? He gave us a geriatric (or royal?) wave and took his seat with dignity, alone. The old nod of tribal approval that needs no words.


I reflected on the unspoken unity of us, the diasporic supporters. Today’s our responsibility to get this team over the line. There’d be oddballs like us in any random Aussie town who’d come out of the woodwork should Richmond suddenly get based there for some absurd reason, such as aliens taking over Melbourne, a glitch in the time-space continuum, or a global pandemic.


The bus chugged further into Annerley, which has a higher smashed avo ratio than Salisbury and Moorooka but is kept honest by some halfway houses and a Lifeline store. Finally the bus rises over Ipswich Road, and the Gabba light towers come into view. More and more Tigers could be seen marching along the road, heading to the stadium like a zombie apocalypse militia. (Hardly a Swan to be seen btw – do they exist outside Paddington and Centennial Park?)


Into the stadium now and I surveyed the crowd. With restrictions it’s only a few thousand, but a swathe of the Gabba’s upper deck rippled in yellow and black. Only the odd bloodred speck betrayed the presence of a lonely Swan. Sitting ducks.


The skies continued to darken, foreboding and ominous. I splurged carte blanche on hot chips and the fried entrails of second-hand shoes (I suspect) to hyperactivate the kids and guarantee their desire to return. Japanese drums pounded, then the club song, and now the players running out. And then the gut-churning, life-affirming sound of the crowd roar. For this was the first real crowd at a Richmond game since March. Humans, together, exhaling, having fun.


The match itself? It pissed down raining and hardly a goal was scored. The best one: from centre bounce Mabior Chol ladled the ball into the path of Jack Graham who slapped it on to Marlion Pickett (note, he slapped it – Graham doesn’t do possessions). Pickett casually stepped through an invisible door into a parallel universe in which opposition players wear moon boots filled with concrete. Once there, he weaved Matrixlike in and out of the entire Swans midfield and oozed a sublime handpass to Shai Bolton. Existing on the same astral plane, but operating in warp speed, Bolton broke-danced past several store dummies in Swans jumpers and smashed the ball through the big sticks from 50.


(Sidenote: Mabior Chol is one of us. Born in South Sudan, his family settled in Acacia Ridge, a Brisbane suburb that the 124 bus runs right past. He’s a product of the Yeronga Devils, where my daughter, who’s watching all this by my side and cheering him on, plays in the U-11s.)


We don’t kick another goal till the last quarter and win – fittingly – by a rugby league score (36-24). Apparently it was the second lowest match total in the AFL history. “You saw a slice of history, today, Josie,” I say to my daughter as we leave. She beams up me – “Let’s go see the Tigers next week Dad!”. We had a ball.


In the ensuing days there is a crazed media frenzy as The Modern Game is forced to defend itself in The Court of Sporting Arbitration at Lausanne as a result of this ‘dire’ and ‘turgid’ encounter. The charges are trumped-up: ‘abuse of entertainment rights’. Gerard Whately and Mark Robinson are the prosecution’s chief silks.


Ah shaddapyaface, it was great. The family caught the bus and saw our team, as locals, beat some other mob. It’s not rocket surgery. The state of the game? Who cares. We’re in it – bloody Queensland.



RICHMOND   3.3    3.5    4.7    4.10 (34)

SYDNEY        1.3    2.3    2.5    3.8 (26)



Richmond: Riewoldt, Martin, Bolton, Lynch

Sydney: Papley 2, Rowbottom



Richmond:  Lambert, Short, McIntosh, Baker, Broad, Higgins

Sydney: Mills, Lloyd, Cunningham, Florent, Clarke, Heeney




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Failed to get drafted out the Wallsend Swans in the early 80s Newcastle league. Joyrider on the Richmond karma bus.


  1. Nicole Kelly says

    Loved it Ben. A great line about intergenerational supporters… you’re right… too see them turn from the side is a shame that would be hard to take! Chips and a 3-quarter time chocolate bar were our bribe of choice back when footy used to be at the MCG!!

  2. Michael Nichols says

    State of the game indeed! Like you’ve always said, you’ve been riding that karma bus, you deserve all the fixturing you can get. I hope you file the rest of your draft reports for the season, this is priceless. And you know I’ve been working on a riposte to Robbo for 25 years, but this knocks all my efforts into a cocked hat.

  3. Ben Fenton-Smith says

    Thank you Nicole. It’s not easy waging intergenerational tribal war on a faraway front with few reinforcements. This year has been a boon for the boondocks.

    And thank you Michael. The Datsun left one day early as you may remember, so I was never there for the surprise class send off at Auburn South Primary. I hope they’ve forgiven me.

  4. Nicola Hodgkinson says

    Great report Ben! Glad you got the family aboard the Tigers bus. There’s nothing like it! Enjoy the finals!

  5. Good stuff Ben, I have family in a similar boat to you right now – in particular a couple of cousins who are mad Tigers with young kids near Robina. It’s been an unexpected boon for the family tradition as you say!

  6. Ben. I’m laughing on my weetbix and waking the house.
    Concrete boots, parallel universes and oddballs like us.
    I get it.
    In all its lunacy.

  7. Ben Fenton-Smith says

    Thank you Nicola, Jarrod and E.regnans! I knew you guys would relate to it :-).

  8. Ben, we certainly do exist outside Paddington and Centennial Park! Never missed a Swans game at the Gabba or Metricon game when living in Brissie, and plenty of red and white in those pre Covid days. We also have close on 20,000 Victorian members.

    Enjoy the success whilst you have it!

  9. Love this. So familiar. The 124! I’m going to send this to the Member for Moreton.

    You describe an experience known to many which, with the local footy culture, blends to make a rich history and reality.

    We should put together a series of ‘Footy in Brisbane’ observational pieces in the lead up to the Grand Final.

  10. Fantastic Ben. Love the story of your Richmond origins. There must be lots of other fascinating tales among the Queensland Tiger Army. Enjoy the finals!

  11. Absolutely superb,Ben bloody funny with some priceless lines ( the Cliff Young 1605 km was my favorite)
    I have just posted you’re article on a few,Richmond Facebook pages look forward to future articles

  12. Ben Fenton-Smith says

    Jan, you’re absolutely right. I overlaid the hubristic mayonnaise in hindsight. I went to many SCG games in the early days (train up from Newcastle), before the Swans were fashionable, and admired the likes of Mark Bayes and Dennis Carroll. We were one of the only teams worse than you back then!

    Yes John, please send it to Mr Perrett, who is my local member, and thank him for fixing the dunny situation in Russ Hall Park while you’re at it. The 124 is a fine bus ride that navigates the sites of many Harmsian japes of times past I am sure. I love the idea of a series of observational pieces on footy in Brisbane in the lead up to the GF. Great history to be told and made!

    Thank you Stainless. It’s been weird seeing the same few thousand of us at each game – reminds me a bit of going to the VFA in the 70s, when that was still a thing.

    And thank you Rulebook, glad you liked it!

  13. Thanks for this Ben. So many funny and sharply observed lines. While I’m from South Australia I also know a bit about being part of the footy diaspora having lived in England and Singapore. Like you I was constantly hungry for any and every footy experience, news, snippet. It’s an intense relationship when it’s maintained at such a distance and for me footy became my symbol of home and my way of keeping it close. Gee, isn’t google maps a fun diversion? Let’s walk to Perth! How long will it take? Wow!

    As is now their habit your Tigers are timing their run perfectly.

  14. That’s a ripper, Ben. :)

  15. As a fellow 124er, devil dad and qld refugee I loved this piece. Great work, see you at training.

  16. YeahTigers2020 says

    Great piece, Ben. It’s given us great heart seeing Tiger fans in the stands while we’ve all been at home. Hope you get to go to all of the finals and that something magical happens this year!

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