The Baan Baa Richmond Supporters Club

Baan Baa lies in the heart of the Namoi Valley in northern New South Wales. It’s several hundred kilometres north of the Barassi Line. Surrounded by towns with names of equally laconic charm – Wee Waa, Gunnedah, Boggabri, Dunedoo and Coonabarabran – this is hostile territory for anyone with an AFL allegiance. Yet little did the wise heads of Punt Road realise as they plotted and planned their 12-game winning streak to the 2019 Premiership, that it was the passion and commitment of the Baan Baa Richmond Supporters Club (membership of 1) that was quietly spiriting the Tigers to victory after victory.

 

Times are tough in this part of the world. A long, brutal drought threatens the very existence of agriculture, the region’s economic lifeblood. The irony is not lost on the locals that coal, the recent source of an employment boom in the area, is also a strong contributor to the climate change that may lie behind the drought. The BBRSC is acutely aware of this, as she derives her income from both agriculture and a job at the local coal mine. When farming and mining are the basis of your regional economy, you face some tough moral questions that rarely register among folk who live and work in urban enclaves and can easily derive a warm inner glow from marching in climate change rallies.

 

Yet for all these challenges the BBRSC loves her life in this part of the world and wouldn’t have it any other way. It was her love of horses that initially saw her leave Melbourne, as soon as the opportunity arose, to pursue a rural life. Nearly 40 years on, that equine passion has diversified into a mind-boggling variety of skills, abilities and pursuits. From riding a stockhorse at the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, running thriving agricultural enterprises, managing environmental standards at the mine, to backing a trailer with a precision that leaves most blokes lost for words, it’s as though she was born and raised in the bush. For the rest of her city-based family, she’s a bit of a black sheep, but what an awesome one!

 

Despite this transformation, I recently discovered a small vestige remains of the Melbourne girl I knew as a kid. When she visited the big smoke back in July, she quietly dropped the suggestion that “I wouldn’t mind going to the footy?” I suddenly had a vision of a wiry little figure, decked out in her muddy Hawthorn jumper – yes, she went for the Hawks back then and wore Peter Hudson’s number 26, but I recall she also had a soft spot for Collingwood’s mop-topped goal-ace, Peter McKenna – furiously chasing the footy round the back yard. Surely she’d long since dropped this childhood passion? Apparently not. She goes on to confide that she regularly watches such AFL coverage that there is in Baan Baa, and that she hates rugby league with a vengeance. “Brutal, horrible game – can’t stand it!” This creates an interesting dynamic with her partner, a staunch Cronulla fan, who has equally little time for Aussie Rules. Apparently the BBRSC occasionally threatens to grow to 2 members, as he’ll watch the game for a while. But usually there’s an incident that prompts him to exclaim “what a stupid game”, and the prospect of a truce evaporates!

 

As fate would have it, Richmond is playing GWS on a bleak Sunday afternoon while the BBRSC is in town and there are sufficient spare tickets to accommodate her among our tribe. The game should be the right balance between a decent contest and not so crucial that I forget my role as genial host. The Tigers are a good show, emerging from a near-catastrophic run of injuries with a couple of wins and a tantalising run of MCG games ahead to finish up the season. It’ll be a good test for them. Win and we’re back in the running for top 4. Lose and…oh well, a season cruelled by ill fortune.

 

Aided by the untimely early injury to the Giants’ Stephen Coniglio, Richmond is able to jump the visitors and surges to a five goal lead which they never give up. Although a man down and in a form slump, GWS battle hard but ultimately in vain, going down by 27 points. Sitting in the chill and intermittent drizzle, I’m more on edge about BBRSC’s comfort than the fortunes of the Tigers. But it takes harsher conditions than this to throw her off her stride. There’s no complaints about Melbourne’s weather, beyond the odd lament that the rain isn’t drifting 1200 kilometres further north where it’s really needed. Instead we’re sharing views about the sure ball handling in the wet, appreciation of the emerging star, Sydney Stack, and the timely return of Jack Riewoldt. More than three decades out of Melbourne, but BBRSC still knows her footy. However, our collective nous didn’t extend as far as a prediction that we were watching a preview of the Grand Final.

 

Over the subsequent weeks, amidst our long-distance exchanges about the serious stuff of life, the BBRSC would regularly check in on game day with a little message of encouragement, surrounded by emojis of tigers, happy faces and crossed fingers. As our winning run gathered momentum and a fool’s hope morphed into genuine optimism, the messages became more systematic and more serious, as we both tacitly acknowledged that this had now become a ritual based on superstition. On Grand Final day, the message read “the yellow and black mascot can hardly contain her excitement…go Tigers we know you can do it. Have a great day and hope you’re celebrating tonight.”

 

Post-game was a little simpler: “BLOODY BRILLIANT 3 x tigers 3 x hearts 3 x thumbs up smiley face”. The BBRSC could rest easy now. Job done.

 

And now, bloody hell, it’s her birthday and as usual I’ve done nothing about it!

 

Well this’ll have to do, mate, until you’re next crossing the Barassi Line and I can give you a present in person. An RFC membership maybe?

 

Happy Birthday to the best sister you could ever have!

 

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About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, after 30 September 2017 and 28 September 2019, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. It is worth mentioning the BBRSC mascot is a large black and orange cat that did not stir during the entire game so confident was she, not even the deafening roar of the Tiger Army roused her unlike her owner! Enjoyed every minute of the journey loved the story Bro ????

  2. Ben The Artist says

    Brilliantly retold Sam. A great reminder of the support our Tigers get from so far off, and the support we get from our family for the things we enjoy.
    Also, Happy birthday once again to the best mother one could ever have.

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