Tiger in the classroom

Teachers Madeline Russo and Sharlene Broderick, both mad Tigers, have had a big impact on their Grade 1-2 class this year. They’ve managed to convince some to take on the Yellow and Black.


by Madeline Russo


As a girl growing up in the ’90s in Melbourne’s South-East, some of my earliest, and fondest, memories come from football. There was the familiar sound emanating from the lounge room on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon: shrieks of joy and cries of anguish as the game ebbed and flowed; the scent of freshly cut grass at the park where my Dad would try to teach my sisters and me to kick the football; the excitement of decorating the house and front garden in the Victorian side’s colours in the lead up to Grand Finals against interstate teams. But most of all, there was the sheer passion in riding the ups and, more often than not, the downs, of supporting the Tigers. I come from a fanatical Richmond family, and that passion has been ingrained in me.


These days, as a primary school teacher, I see that same passion for football in the eyes of many of the children I teach. I see it when children play in the yard. I see it on Footy Colours Day. I see it in class discussions about the weekend. As I slowly expose our Grade 1-2 composite class to my love of the Richmond Football Club – wearing the yellow and black scarf on a Monday after a win, wearing the jacket during the colder months on yard duty, and occasionally directing class discussions or lessons towards footy – I see the children’s passion building.


My class is made up primarily of Hawthorn supporters and a smattering of other recently-successful clubs. At the beginning of the year, the mere mention of the word ‘Tiger’ or the sight of yellow and black colours prompted a chorus of boos. Students would rib me each week; most revelling in Richmond’s forthcoming (and inevitable) demise.


But as season 2017 progressed, things began to change. Students had less to tease me about. Some students even started proclaiming Richmond as their second team. Yes, children, ever-ready to ride a wave of success, were sensing something different about Richmond this year. And they were right.


My Richmond passion comes from my Mum. And hers from her father, my Pop. Pop had experienced Richmond at their best – Jack Dyer intimidating all others in the ’30s and ’40s, and then the successful Richmond sides of the ’60s and ‘70s. My Mum had experienced the end of this premiership run, lucky enough to sit at the ’G with Pop during Richmond’s 1980 triumph. The only successes my sisters and I had experienced, though, were watching Broderick, Campbell and Knights surge through the centre square. Watching Daffy snap around his body. Watching Richardson clunk a mark and kick truly. I have vague recollections of Richmond’s surge to the preliminary final in 2001, but really, the success was limited.


Later, in 2010, having left Melbourne to pursue a teaching career overseas, a London friend was showing his knowledge of footy. He named every team – bar Richmond. He apologised when I reminded him he’d forgotten one, mine, but reminded me that they were largely forgettable. A year later, still travelling, I woke to the embarrassment of league newcomers Gold Coast beating us. And throughout this period, my partner, a Collingwood tragic, was enjoying a run of rare success, and bragging rights. Being a Richmond supporter was a cross to bear.


My return to Australia coincided with Richmond’s improvement. In 2013, I sat with my Mum and sisters in the top level of the Southern Stand as Richmond ran amok over Carlton in the first half of the Elimination Final. The roar of the crowd when Dusty Martin kicked a running goal was unlike any other I’d experienced. At half time we excitedly discussed the prospect of flying to Sydney for the following week’s game. I don’t remember much of the second half, but I do remember the immense disappointment we all felt trudging home after losing the unlosable. The following year I sat in the pocket at ANZ Stadium in the last round of the season, watching Alex Rance repel attack after attack from the highly-fancied Sydney, as Richmond capped off a nine-game winning streak to scrape into the finals. That joy was promptly extinguished by a rampaging Port Adelaide in the first week of finals. In the Elimination Final of 2015, I sat on the wing with my Mum and sisters, full of hope that it would be ‘third time lucky’ for Richmond in the finals. After all, we were playing a North Melbourne side we had beaten comfortably the week before. Sadly, those football joys would soon be surpassed by the all-too-familiar football disappointments, as Richmond found a way to lose once again.


For much of 2017, I felt it would be a familiar story. Richmond was performing admirably. I was proud of my team. We were winning games. But we were also finding ways to lose. We lost close games against Fremantle, GWS and the Bulldogs, despite seemingly having the games sewn up. We were trounced by Adelaide and St Kilda. Still, we would back up and win games we weren’t tipped to win. That little voice of hope, void of reason, would speak to me: could this year be different? My students clearly felt it. Non-Richmond supporters started using black and yellow in decorating their work and there were a number of anonymous ‘Go Tiges’ being scrawled across their art. The jeers were dissipating. The yellow and black tide had turned and Richmond surged into the finals with unprecedented Grade 1-2 popularity.


I bumped into one of my students, Anna Harms, a Catter of course, on the fourth level of the Southern Stand on the night of the Qualifying Final. We wished each other all the best before going our separate ways.


There we sat – my Mum clutching a photo of Pop, as he sat with us in spirit. My sisters, Ellen and Michaela, perched on the edge of their seats as Geelong ran out to a cacophony of boos from the heavily pro-Richmond crowd, and remaining there until Richmond started to kick away in the last. The sound of the Richmond faithful that night was to propel us to our first finals win in sixteen years. We were off to the ’G again to take on the might of the Giants. This time, with tickets at a premium, we managed to scrounge some standing room tickets together. There were 98,000 Richmond fans there that afternoon, but it sounded like double that in the outer. The noise was deafening, and Richmond’s play-on-at-all-costs game-style was dizzying. Our Tigers had come to play again. As the final siren crept closer and the lead continued to grow, we suppressed the urge to think about the next week. It wasn’t until after the song had played for the eighth time that we paused to reflect: we were playing in the first Grand Final of my lifetime. And how on earth were we all going to get in?


Grand Final week started as a chaotic treasure hunt for tickets: calling friends, calling family, calling friends of family, calling friends of friends of friends, replying to ticket sale ads, posting ‘tickets wanted’ ads and entering every competition we could. One-by-one we managed to hunt down a ticket. My Mum, my cousin Heidi, me. It wasn’t until Friday morning that we were able to get the final two for Ellen and Michaela. We would all be seated in separate pockets of the ’G, but it didn’t matter. We’d be there.


On Grand Final morning we entered the ground early, keen to spend some time together and enjoy a couple of drinks to calm the nerves. At half time we all reconvened. The game itself had been a blur. We recalled Adelaide’s fast start, Jack missing some early shots, and Richmond settling in to the game, but it had gone by quickly. We dispersed again, with Mum this time squeezing in to my seat with me, thanks to a friendly and obliging Adelaide supporter, happy to share some room and let us enjoy the moment together. As the game raced on and our beloved Tigers continued to power, we realised that this could be it. Our first premiership in 37 years. The first of my lifetime. With five minutes to go, and the Tiger Army advancing to the fences to catch a glimpse of their heroes in the victory lap to come, we turned to see Ellen and Michaela had raced down the steps to join us. And there we were, together as a family as the final siren sounded. Together as the players high-fived us on their way around the ground. Together as my Mum clutched the photo of my dear Pop and pointed it toward the ground. I have a feeling this one may have been the best he’s seen. And it won’t be beaten for us either. I can sense, too, that 2017 may have swayed a few more children toward the Tiger train. They’ll have to strap in for a wild ride.


C’arn the mighty Tigers!


Presenting The Tigers’ Almanac 2017. Read all about it HERE.

The Tigers’ Almanac 2017 Launch. Wednesday Dec 13, from 6pm at the North Fitzroy Arms, 296 Rae St, North Fitzroy. DETAILS HERE. Come and send The Tigers’ Almanac off in style, and catch up with the crew. ALL WELCOME. [email protected]




  1. Great read.
    And from one traveling teacher to another, I hope my return to Melbourne coincides with a similar resurgence for the Pies next season.


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