“These shall not be forgotten years” Richmond: 1981 – 2016: An occasional series of reflections on the triumphs and tragedies that made 2017 so worth the wait.

Richmond v Carlton, Round 1, 2009

 

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the infamous “Ben Cousins Game”.

 

The now standard AFL season-opener between Richmond and Carlton was still a novelty back in 2009, but it’s fair to say that its place in the fixture was cemented on that wild night.  For the bean counters, a crowd of 87,000 was ample justification to put the beat on repeat.  For those in the bleachers, the events on-field were as memorable as a footy match can be.  For Richmond fans, this was for all the wrong reasons.

 

It all started some months before the game was played, with Richmond’s decision to recruit former West Coast star, Ben Cousins.  For a club that had for so long failed to sign any players with top-line talent or profile, it was a dramatic coup, milked with almost manic enthusiasm in Richmond’s membership campaign.  Plenty of the faithful took the bait.  By the time the 2009 season rolled around, a record 36,000 members were on board.  A near full house was predicted for the Round One blockbuster against the old enemy, especially with the added frisson of Cousins versus his old team-mate, Chris Judd, in a stellar head-to-head duel.

 

Amidst the marketing hype, some voices of caution could be heard.  Writing about this match in the 2009 Footy Almanac, Paul Daffey recounted his scepticism on first hearing about the recruitment of Cousins.  “I went on air (SEN radio) and said it was no good drafting a thirty-year old whose hamstring had torn from the bone, especially when Richmond were not likely to challenge for the flag in the remaining five minutes of Cousins’ career.”  His prescient conclusion was that the Tigers, into year five of the Terry Wallace five-year plan, were desperate to take the next step beyond yet another 9th place finish.  The theory that the class of Cousins would magically reappear after a long layoff and would transform a moderate list into a great team was “Richmondy” thinking at its worst.  As some cynic once described second marriage – the triumph of hope over experience.

 

And so it proved.  Rarely has a game’s atmosphere shifted so quickly from razor-sharp anticipation to train-wreck shock as in the opening minutes of that night.  A solid but by no means brilliant Carlton outfit repeatedly sliced through Richmond’s physical and psychological defences, killing off the game by early second quarter, and romping to an effortless 83-point win.  The vast Richmond crowd was left stunned.  Many found themselves shamefully rushing for the exits with barely half the game done.  Others remained transfixed as the horror show reached its seemingly inevitable denouement – Cousins himself pinging a hamstring early in the final quarter.

 

Ten years on, two observations hit me as I reflect on that awful night.

 

Statistically, Richmond suffered far worse defeats than this one over their 37 year Premiership drought. (I may summon the courage to write about a couple of these in this series.)  But I can’t recall another that so pitilessly laid bare Richmond’s every failing, on-field and off.  There could be no excuses, no place to hide.  Just three hours was all it had taken for the failings of coach, team, tactics, five-year plan and marketing spin to be brutally exposed.  In so doing, it laid bare the flawed fabric and culture of the entire club. And yet, although it rendered the 2009 season meaningless, it at least bought the club time to plan its next rebuild properly and in doing so, sow the seeds of a genuine dawn after so many false ones.  From the vantage point of 2019, I reckon that night was the moment from which the Richmond Football Club finally steeled itself to get it right.

 

Last week’s win over an improving Carlton also provides perspective about how far the Tigers have come since 2009.  No matter how scrappy, a Round One win over the ODNBs was once a thing of joy to be savoured and treasured.  Now it is standard operating procedure.  Our customary habit against Carlton of building then surrendering a big lead generates mild disapproval rather than full-blown panic.  Where once a crowd of 80k plus was a rare prospect to excite but intimidate yellow and black hearts, it is now regular and unremarkable.  How different was the guarded anticipation surrounding Tom Lynch’s Richmond debut to the red-cordial hysteria surrounding Ben Cousins?  And while its effect on the team is yet to be measured, how mature has the reaction to Alex Rance’s season-ending injury been compared with the sackcloth and ashes lamentations that accompanied Cousins’ breakdown?

 

A lot can change in ten years!

 

 

Read the match report of that game ‘Ransacked by Visigoths’ from John Harms HERE.

 

 

To find out more about Almanac memberships CLICK HERE

 

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, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. Stainless, a considered and honest appraisal. Cousins was never going to be the answer, regardless of what the question may have been. Take heart from this: at least you didn’t recruit Fevola whose move to the north set the Lions back by about a decade.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    No coincidence that Benny Gale was appointed CEO in August 2009.

    Enjoyed this perspective Stainless.

  3. Stainless, I enjoyed your piece. I was there that night. I recall it being a tight opening of furious footy. Then a disaster. I’ll see if I can find my observations.

  4. I just read this after Tigers were demolished tonight by Pies (again) and Jack injured his wrist. I remember the night you describe so vividly. In fact, its horror, as well as plenty of other traumatic Tiger defeats, has never left me. Despite the optimism about the 2019 Tigers, the arrival of cruel fate has reminded all Tigers what it feels like to really hurt, feel powerless and utterly uncertain. I really enjoyed your lovely writing, Stainless.

  5. george smith says

    Mr Injuries is a baaad pussycat. After the loss of Reiwoldt and Rance came the news that our man Lynden Dunn had re injured his knee. So unless a miracle occurs he will have the record of playing the longest time without a final.

    So it goes – Flower and Skilton, no grand finals, various other worthy players, no finals.

    I hope they all have a speedy recovery.

  6. Thanks all for your comments.
    Ian – I agree about Cousins (and Fév) although I’d emphasise that this is not about the individual player, it’s about the foolhardy decision making by the Club. To that end, yes, Swish, Benny Gales impact at Richmond seems profound on so many levels, and most of all in eliminating that reckless propensity to shoot ourselves in the foot. Loved re-reading your account, JTH. I’d like to think that you’d be finding RFC 2017-2019 is less “good for footy”. Perhaps it’s our new yellow colour. More bright and happy and less bilious, wouldn’t you say? Jill – thank you for your kind words. Yes, 2019 has certainly begun disastrously. But to my point, I’m not seeing any memberships in the kitchen just yet, let alone near the microwave. Commiserations about Lynden Dunn, George. The injury gods are cruel indeed. Lots to like about Collingwood this year, much as it pains me to say it!

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