The long road back


by John Green


How times change.

Back in the late sixties and early seventies, when the Tigers ruled the footy jungle, my forays to the   MCG on Saturday afternoons always began at the Australia Hotel, on the corner of Bridge Road and Waltham Street in Richmond. This was where my father would meet his mates from his playing days at the East Hawthorn Football Club. It was a prelude to strolling up the hill together to witness Hart, Bartlett, Sheedy, Clay and our other idols maul the opposition. Dad would have a couple of Melbourne Bitters while my brother and I would be treated to a glass of lemonade and a packet of potato chips.

At finals time all the tailors, pubs and milk bars up the street were festooned with player posters, yellow and black streamers, balloons and dollies in knitted vests and caps. As far as my brother and I were concerned, this was infinitely better than the Myer windows or the Christmas lights on the Boulevard. After Richmond triumphed yet again in another final we would retrace our steps to the Australia to celebrate. The patrons would spill out onto the street. How they cheered after the Grand Final in 1969 as a yellow and black banner was unfurled from the tower of the Richmond Town Hall at the bottom of the hill.


Now it’s 2011. The Australia Hotel has been replaced by a women’s clothing store, in keeping with Bridge Road’s updated status as a fashion precinct. It’s ten years since Richmond has appeared in the finals and 31 years since they won a flag.

But today there’s a buzz in the air as I make my in the direction of Punt Road. It’s a sunny winter’s afternoon and Richmond is playing Melbourne. The Demons are ninth, the Tigers tenth and the winners today will be rewarded with a place in the eight, nothing to be sneezed at for two clubs striving to regain some credibility. There’s going to be a big turnout. Both clubs are regarded as being on the rise. The big question is, which one is rising faster?


Following his imposing five-goal haul against the Brisbane Lions a week ago, Dustin Martin is the pinup boy of the competition. Over the last few days he’s been compared to Sam Kekovich, Leigh Matthews, Darren Millane and Mark Riccuito. Caroline Wilson has written a feature on him in The Saturday Age. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Aston Martin sports car was actually named after Dustin years before he was born as a sort of prophecy.


The match has been billed as a young guns showdown. Martin versus Scully, Cotchin versus Trengove, Vickery versus Watts. Two formerly struggling clubs are beginning to reap the harvest of high draft picks growing to maturity.


There is another intriguing sideline. The Demons are caught in a boom and bust cycle where they win convincingly before crashing in flames on their next outing. They are akin to the short term money market for frustrated footy tipsters. If they had beaten Collingwood two weeks ago I would have scored a perfect round and won a Hungry Jack’s Big Whopper voucher in our online workplace competition.


Which Melbourne is going to turn up today?


After six minute of proceedings I’m pretty sure it’s the Fuschias rather than the Demons. The Tigers have 2-4 to nil on the board and could have had more if Riewoldt and Vickery had been on target. Martin boots the first goal of the match and the Richmond supporters grin broadly and shake hands all round. It’s happening again.

But then, a transformation. Tiger turnovers lead to Melbourne goals. The Demons boot seven of the next eight for the quarter and jog to the quarter time huddle with a handy 23-point lead.


Richmond’s errors proliferate. There seems to be a pattern. Is this the club recently accused of playing bruise-free football? To this observer it looks as though they are applying fierce pressure to the Richmond ball carriers, especially as they attempt to bring the ball out of defence. Ricky Petterd is like a ferret set loose in a rabbit hutch. The Tigers are punished for coughing up the ball to the tune of six points per infraction.


Mark Jamar has returned to the team after spending a few weeks on the sidelines due to injury. Although he is used sparingly, he is too accomplished for the courageous, but raw, Andrew Browne in the ruck. He resumes his double act with Brent Maloney. The inexperienced Richmond defence, always vulnerable to pressure, is under immense strain as the ball just keeps coming back. The Tigers are constantly corralled into ever diminishing spaces. The Demons pounce on mistakes, gain possession and surge into an open forward line.


What about the shoot out between the young guns? Martin can’t get into the game. Cotchin is unable to find any fluency in his battle with Jordan McKenzie, his marker. Vickery becomes Richmond’s focal point in attack as Riewoldt is countered by James Frawley. He does alright to finish with four. Scully is quick, brave and incisive. The Melbourne supporters must do whatever it takes to hang onto him and prevent him from heading north to GWS. It might be a matter of passing the hat around at the exclusive Melbourne Club or fixing him up with a supermodel girlfriend. Trengove boots three at crucial times in the match. Watts belies his prissy private school image and takes a series of strong contested marks. He fights gamely in the clinches and kicks three goals. Don’t worry about the fact that he speaks like a young stockbroker or that his shorts hang off his skinny rump. The kid can play.


Melbourne’s lead blows out to 38 points early in the third quarter. But the Tigers keep coming, twice reducing the deficit to 18 points in the final term. They don’t give up and keep attempting to move the ball quickly out of defence, even though it frequently comes unstuck. You can’t fault their endeavour.


In the end, Melbourne’s winning margin in 27 points. They are able to successfully defend the lead they set up late in the first quarter.


What can I say? The Demons are further advanced in their quest to regain their status as major contenders. They may well sneak into the finals this year. But not Richmond, not this time. Maybe next year if they continue to improve.


Perhaps this developing team can restore the roar. Tigerland has been silent for a generation now.  And maybe one day the building on the corner of Bridge Road and Waltham Street in Richmond can be restored to its former glory as a watering hole for the jubilant supporters of a mighty club.



  1. James Fuullerton says

    Hi John,
    I played for East Hawthorne from 1969 to 1975.
    Do you have any history on the East Hawthorn Football Club.

  2. Jeff Ferguson says

    James. East Hawthorn FC meets every Monday after the AFL GF at the Tower Hotel Hawthorn. This year celebrating 50 year premiership win over Northcote Park plus lots of other memories.

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