The 2017 Premiership has meant so much to so many


By Cheryl Critchley


When a dear elderly friend died last November, those close to her gained some comfort knowing that her last few months had been among her happiest.


Marj Doherty was a lifelong and passionate Richmond fan who, like her friends, had followed the Tigers through thick and thin since the days of Jack Dyer and beyond.


These were the women who volunteered to mail memberships and sell merchandise in the days before personal computers. They helped run family days and rolled their sleeves up during the ‘Save our Skins’ campaign.


Now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, when Richmond made the 2017 Grand Final these dedicated fans were over the moon that they might see their team win another flag.


Like the rest of us, they’d stuck with their club through the few ups and many downs since its last premiership in 1980.


The oldest is in her early 90s and attended the Grand Final against Adelaide with her granddaughter.


Marj, who turned 89 in September, was too frail but watched on TV. By the time I last visited her a week before she passed away, she reckoned she’d seen it another 20 times.


Surrounded by Richmond posters and memorabilia, including photos with her beloved Brendon “Benny” Gale, it was clear that age and other ailments were taking their toll.


But Marj still managed a twinkle in her eye when describing how happy she was that her boys had finally come good again.



Marj Doherty and Brendon Gale



That last visit was painfully sad but also uplifting as it showed just how much joy football can bring to the lives of fans who are the lifeblood of our great game.


For Tigers supporters like Marj this unbridled joy was hard earned, preceded by 37 years of angst during which their club, at times, appeared destined to be stuck on 10 flags forever.


Apart from preliminary finals appearances in 1995 and 2001, the Tigers were fodder for jokes about finishing ninth and having less post-1980 success than Fitzroy, which merged with Brisbane in 1996.


There were always good people at the club doing their best, but it never seemed to be able to take that next step.


Things hit rock bottom in 2007 when my eight-year-old daughter and I sat through the demoralising 157-point loss to Geelong at Etihad Stadium. It was the first time she asked to leave a game early.


At the time, I wrote an opinion piece directed at then football director Greg Miller.


“I love my club and will continue to attend games,” I wrote. “I just want the players and coaching staff to show that they also love Richmond and what it stands for – not just their huge pay packets.


“I’m sick of being told to be patient by football managers and coaches who come from other clubs and will eventually leave when they get sacked or move on. Us fans are here for life.”


Ten years on, things could not be more different.


Thanks to the hard work of so many people, including Brendon Gale, who is now CEO, president Peggy O’Neal, coach Damien Hardwick, his assistants and of course the players, things finally turned around.


Gale and his team were ridiculed in 2010 when they announced a five-year plan that saw the tigers make the finals three times, erase debt and sign 75,000 members.


In 2018 the club is debt free, has almost 82,000 members (an AFL club record) and has contested four finals series, including the 2017 premiership against hot favourites Adelaide.


For those like Marj, who never gave up and told her Benny last August that the Tigers could go all the way, that 48-point win over the Crows instantly erased all those years of pain.


It has meant so much to so many people.


Since that glorious day last September, Richmond fans have been walking tall. They are happy, content, relaxed and revelling in the fact their club is now the team to beat.


The engagement from the club has also been brilliant.


The premiership cup has toured far and wide, allowing fans across the country to have their photo taken with it for free – unlike some clubs who have charged a fee.


On holidays in Queensland, my daughters and I drove for more than two hours each way to Maroochydore for a three-hour training session and to pose with the cup together. Priceless.


Most of my Richmond friends now have photos of themselves with the Cup as their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures. Six months on, they are still on a high and it’s beautiful to see.


No longer do we fear what a new season may bring.


As we gear up for 2018 the haters are out in force, arguing that the flag was a fluke and predicting a Bulldogs-style premiership hangover.


But even the most pessimistic Tiger diehards, who normally can’t relax until we’re 10 goals up with five minutes to go in the last quarter, are confident it won’t happen.


Our team won three 2017 finals by an average 45 points, which is hardly a fluke, and the club has since stayed level headed and business like in preparing for the new season. No big heads here.


Given the two thrashings and several heartbreaking close losses the club suffered last year, if anything Richmond could improve in 2018.


Whatever happens, us fans are extraordinarily proud and forever grateful that those now running our football cub have returned it to its rightful position as a force to be reckoned with.


The sleeping giant has finally awoken, and thankfully it did so just in time for Marj.








Cheryl Critchley was a contributor to The Tigers Almanac. Pick up your copy of the book HERE












  1. bring back the torp says

    A lovely story Cheryl about Marj!

    I hope the AFL Executives never lose sight of the tribalism, sense of belonging, and community spirit that are the bedrock of AF. If these things dissipate, the game will retreat- & just become another ” entertainment option” that the “football industry ” offers the ” marketplace” in its bid for “customers” of its “product”.

    With talk of mid-season drafting of players from one AFL Club to another, further loosening of free-agency Rule, constant changing of jumpers etc., I hope AF is not further ” commoditised” (if there is such a word”.

    The top AFL Executives are on $8,000,000 + pa. In his last year in 2013, when Demetriou left the AFL, he was paid about $3.8 million. The football departments (ie NOT including player wages) of the 18 AFL Clubs pay their army of head coaches/forward-defense-stoppage etc-coaches, psychologists, physios, welfare managers, medical staff, recruiters, admin.staff & management over $220 million + pa, EACH & every year. And we have inflated Dynamic Pricing for the big games -is it still a working class sport?

    In the meantime, GR AF in the heartland state of Tasmania is in crisis. AND the recruitment gold mine of champions into the VFL/AFL has been virtually destroyed.
    (The AFL, though, is doing a good job in NSW, ACT, & Qld).

    Lets hope the passion for AF, which envigorated the game that sustained older generations, continues long into the future. It is the fans, together with the players, that has built our great game. Ignore the fans, their tribalism & passion , & the game is imperilled.

  2. Well said Cheryl. Do not underestimate also the joy brought to many Port Adelaide supporters living in Adelaide!

  3. How do I put a photo in comments?

  4. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks guys. It is just brilliant to see the joy success has brought to all these deserving fans who never gave up on their team.

  5. Great piece Cheryl. The photo of Benny with Marc is just beautiful

  6. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks Rob. The Tiger grannies are an amazing group of women who have seen and been through so much.

  7. Robyn Meggs says

    Oh Cheryl, thank you so much for this beautiful piece…. my lovely Marj epitomised just what our great club is about. I miss our many chats about all things Richmond, our team selections, our hopes and the often crushing reality…. I’m so very pleased she hung on and was able to be enveloped in the euphoria of our great win. I’m sad my beautiful Mum couldn’t hang on long enough to share our triumph, but so happy I’ve been able to share it with my Emily! I don’t ever want this feeling of optimism, happiness and Tiger live to end…,

  8. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks Robyn. So sad that Tossie and a few others didn’t make it. I knew two other big Richmond fans who died last year before the finals, which is awful. That made it so special that Marj dud get to see it xxx

  9. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. Richmond played hard for Marj and other passionate supporters.

    Sadly patience is required to many supporters in general. I was so disappointed the mighty Saints missed top eight last year. I just hang in.

    Passions are so important, aren’t they? These attitudes will lift up your club and boys.

    Yesterday I went to a baseball park nearby my apartment to practise footy on my own. It was hard to leave and I realised how much I loved footy.



  10. Cheryl Critchley says

    Hi Yoshi. St Kikda fans have had to be even more patient than us! You are doing an amazing job supporting your team from afar.

  11. Marie Newham says

    i was so sad to read that Marj had died Cheryl. Thank you for your lovely words. My dear Mum, Nance Tipping was a very good friend of Marj, but she died aged 98 back in 2011. She was a passionate
    Tiger supporter and a continuous Member for 85 years. She was still attending games with my daughter, son in law and I when she was 96 years old. I know she would have welcomed Marj and Tossie into Tiger heaven. They were all strong and bold Tigers.

  12. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Cheryl,
    I remember you bringing these fine ladies to an Almanac function a few years back. They were so full of life and spirit and friendship. Thoughts go out to you all.

    Well done Tigers. Now for St Kilda!

  13. Noel, Send it to me at [email protected] JTH

  14. Cheryl Critchley says

    Hi Marie. It is sad that Nance and Tossie weren’t there to see it but hopefully Marj has filled them in :-).
    And Yvette that was a fantastic lunch – brings back lots of memories. It’d be amazing if the Saints could do it this year.

  15. Cheryl, for me, you and so many other supporters Richmond is about family. I never met my great-uncle Jack nor did I have the pleasure of making Marj’s acquaintance, but I was very moved by your story of a tigerish woman who was without a doubt a strong and bold thread in the fabric of Richmond. I’m sorry for your loss of a fine friend.

  16. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks for your kind thoughts Jarrod. I’m glad you liked the story. Marj is one of many footy gems and we need to celebrate them when we can.

  17. Hi Cheryl,
    The fans who worked to save the Club when it was in a perilous situation should be duly recognised by the Club. More recently, Richmond’s fans have also aided the club’s resurrection through giving for the Fighting Tiger Fund, and of course splurging on premiership memorabilia. Dimma was indeed right to dedicate the 2017 Premiership to the Tiger Army.
    Watching the team win is indeed enjoyable; but, knowing that President O’Neal acknowledges the Traditional Owners whenever she speaks publicly is also a reason to be proud of the Club.

  18. Cheryl Critchley says

    Hi Andy. That is true. So many people have given so much. The club is doing a good job recognising them and presented some volunteer awards named after Alice Wills (a tireless servant of the club) at the end of 2017 which is great.

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