The heart of the Tiger



“The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.” (Terry Pratchett)

In 1992, I had my right knee reconstructed twice in 12 months. I spent more than a year alternating between crutches, knee braces, a walking stick and never-ending expensive physio. These were medieval times before LARS and before Richo.

The injuries and the very slow recoveries changed me enormously. I now felt physically very vulnerable instead of fit and able and was told I would never be able to run or play sport again. Not even for fun, with kids.

Being in crowds made me very anxious, consequently I was forced to tailor my footy viewing habits especially at the ‘G. After much experimentation, my husband Chris and I decided that the lower level in the Ponsford, just back from the goals, was the best option.

If we got there early enough and most importantly, if it was a Richmond home game against a lowly interstate team (those were the days…), we would get prime real estate. On the end of a row, near the stairway to the toilets, close to food and drink and a quick and easy exit.

This position also afforded us great views of exuberant opposition fans and their cheer squads, many of whom were in town for the game and had decided to make a big weekend of it.

About three years ago, we were in our spot. It was a winter Sunday, but it was sunny and the crowd was full of excited painted kids and people desperate to breathe out from their stressful lives.

The ground started filling up – I can’t remember who we were playing. A few minutes into the first quarter an elderly couple arrived and sat behind us. They seemed anxious, a bit lost, a bit overwhelmed.

At quarter time, we made eye contact with them and nodded G’day. They introduced themselves as John and Jean from a rural town in Tasmania. They were in their mid-seventies I guessed.

John looked like he had worked very hard for a long time.

Jean looked like her life had been hard work.

Jean asked me gently where the toilets were. She also asked me if it would be possible to escort her as she was a bit unsteady on her feet. As we walked slowly down the stairs, she told me they were having a long weekend in Melbourne as John was a life-long Richmond supporter but he had never been to the MCG.

They had been hoping for this day for as long as she could remember.

“Oh I hope the Tiges win,” she whispered, “It would just be the best day for him.”

The Tigers were playing well and the crowd was right into it. John’s response was very measured, his eyes said he was loving it, but he wasn’t letting on.

At half time, Chris turned to John and asked him if he could buy him a beer. John, a little bit overcome, said he’d love one and gave Jean a cheeky little “Well, how about that eh?” look.

Jean couldn’t stop smiling.

More beers followed, John became positively loquacious and the Tiges won!

After the fourth or fifth uproarious rendition of Yellow and Black! we checked in on John and Jean.

John had put on a Richmond hat that he had concealed in a bag the entire game and was now standing singing his heart out.

Jean was standing silently, crying out hers.

We said our goodbyes. Jean gave me a cuddle, said what a great day it had been and told me their address.

“Please drop in if you are ever in Tasmania”, she said.

John grabbed Chris’s hand in a firm shake, looked him squarely in the eye and said:

“Please, it’d be my shout”.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    You proved the point beautifully. ‘The important thing about football is that it’s not just about football.’
    I am rapidly getting to the age of John and Jean and I hope you and your husband are there when I totter into the ‘G’ in a couple of years time.
    I hadn’t been to Etihad for a few years and went to the Bulldogs/Demons match last year.
    I was lucky enough to be meeting up with an old friend who knew the ropes and the routine. So many changes with ticketing, available seating for members and facilities available on the day, even for someone not quite as old as John and Jean.
    It must have been quite an effort to assist Jean to the toilet with your injuries.
    Some of the best stories for the Almanac don’t focus on the two teams playing and the consequences of winning or losing. And this is one of them.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic story have you seen the couple since ? Well put Neil the beauty of sport is who you meet and the lifelong friendships which result

  3. Tess Pryor says

    Hi Neil and Malcolm. Thank you for your kind comments.
    We never saw John and Jean again. Neil you sound like a fine fella to bump into at the footy!
    Ahh the ‘G – no matter how many times you go, there is always that incredible rush of human expectations colliding with human possibilities.
    If you are open to it, I think it is impossible to have an ordinary day at the ‘G.

  4. Ben Footner says

    What a lovely story. Thankyou for sharing Tess.

    I particularly love this line – “…and people desperate to breathe out from their stressful lives”.

    This is exactly why I go to the football. 3 hours of absolute escapism. The older I get, the more I enjoy it.

  5. Wonderful story. Beautifully told. You managed to put a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.
    Good medicine on the first day back at work for the new year.
    Thanks Tess, Chris, Jean and John.

  6. Hi Tess,

    Your writing is so beautiful and I feel your warm and kind personality as well as Chris’ help to John.

    Watching a footy match for the first time in such great atmosphere and with friendliness is a wonderful memory for both Jean and John, I can imagine.

    Neil’s mention of a footy match as it is not just football is great too. The sport seems to create people’s connection.

    Your story makes me wish to watch a footy game at a stadium very soon. I have never watched the one at a stadium…

    Thanks for sharing a lovely story and I hope you can watch footy at the ‘G soon.


  7. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Tess, Lovely story.

  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thank you for sharing such an uplifting story.

    “John looked like he had worked very hard for a long time.
    Jean looked like her life had been hard work.”
    The joy of connecting with you and your husband unfolds as the Tigers head to victory culminating in the song. Memory entrenched. Gratitude on all sides.
    Beautifully written.

  9. Paddy Grindlay says

    Beautiful to read. Footy is a game that doesn’t just get played on the weekend, but an event that draws everyone together.
    Thank you for sharing such a lovely story and writing so well.

Leave a Comment