Sunday, 26 April 2015

Strange Rumblings on Brunton Avenue

There is a long-term reader of this blog who I promised to make famous if we won on Friday night. Not famous enough to name him mind you - it was only Round 4 not a Grand Final. You know who you are, and you know that you took a sadistic glee in poking my Emo Maric style glass totally empty outlook on life throughout Friday by insisting that we would win - by text message, twice by phone, in person before the game and for most of the match itself until the 20 minute mark of the fourth quarter when I finally came to terms with the fact that we weren't going to stuff it up.

It was probably what I needed after last week's moaning, but assuring a life-long pessimist that everything's going to be alright is a high risk strategy. Drinks all around and temporary lifting of darks clouds if you're right, get Lifeline on the phone if you're wrong. It's not that I always think we're going to lose, it's that I always feel like we're going to find new and humiliating ways in which to do it.

He assured me that a key factor was their three good players out, replaced by a group with a similar public profile to Maia Westrupp. It was pointed out that we've beaten them over the years even when we were 100% toxic, and now we're only 95% rubbish. Apparently our loss to Adelaide was a far better trial than their thumping win over the Lions and players like Viv Michie are being forced to earn their spots. And we all know Richmond are just flat out flaky, I didn't need a motivational speaker to tell me that.

On the strength of the evidence presented he made a good case that Richmond might in fact lose the game, but the enormous counterweight to that argument was that they were playing Melbourne. How many times have we been torn apart by players who then faded back into obscurity until the next game against us? Kent Kingsley and Beau Wilkes made careers out of it. Marcus Baldwin didn't even make it to the return fixture after taking us for three goals off his first three kicks. And I think the North Melbourne player who had 36 touches against us once now works as a parking inspector in the City of Stonnington.

Like a person roped into joining a cult when they're at an emotional low I was prepared to subscribe to his newsletter because I needed a win after a horrid week both on and off-field highlighted by a slapstick plummet off my stairs on Thursday night. In a week where we commemorate the courage of men and women who have faced situations that soft-as-butter raised-by-television types like me would run a mile from it was hardly the worst thing that's ever happened, and it was self-inflicted by
me descending a staircase while also reading Twitter on my phone but by Christ it hurt at the time. It's a shame there's no footage of the bump, because the Jeremy Howe style hang-time I 'enjoyed' would have become a YouTube sensation overnight after Jim Ross commentary was played over the top. At least Howe gets to land on on grass, I ended up crumpled on the floorboards.

Somehow it ended as nothing worse than a few bruises and some bland blog content. It was the cherry on top of a frankly shithouse week, and by Friday night I really needed something to lift the spirits. Usually when you're a Melbourne fan there's more chance of finding happiness in heroin than in the stands of the MCG, but against all odds the optimists had the last laugh.

Due to delivering worse ratings than Fishcam we'd been kept off Friday night football since Round 7 2012. That's only one full term of a federal government but it seems like a lifetime. If a political party had been through what we have since then they'd be de-registered by the AEC, but there's a credible argument to be mounted that if you're in my age bracket (25-34) even taking into account the #fistedforever years of 2007-? we've had a better football supporting lifetime than Richmond fans. Nobody on either side is old enough to remember a flag, and as horrible as we've been at least it's been honest sludge instead of a constant cycle of seduction/STD/harsh antibiotics. It feels like death warmed up to be a Melbourne fan (or it did until the temporary glee of Friday) but there is the small matter of making the finals six times since '98 to fall back on if you've got a long enough memory.

It seems there are more Richmond than Melbourne fans reading this page so I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but when we're all in the retirement home having never seen a flag between us while GWS and Gold Coast are enjoying 21 each (one for each fan) at least you'll look back at the run to the finals last year as one of - if not the - most amazing few weeks of your sporting life. I still haven't emotionally put myself back together from the last three weeks of 2005 so I can't imagine how nine weeks of living on the edge would have felt. It's alright, we ended up being thrashed in the Elimination Final as well.

The problem is that even though the second half of last year was the sort of magical run which even caused hard-hearted cynics like me to take notice it wasn't the first time the Tigers had teased magic then reverted to pumpkin status. Remember Terry Wallace saving himself with a killer second half of 2008 then not even making it halfway through 2009? Even in Hardwick's first season where they were MFC style pox in the first few weeks their six total wins included four in a row. We, on the other hand haven't won any two in a row since pre-186.

The question, on a larger scale than our riches-to-rags performance against GWS, is whether it's better to have had legitimate hope dashed or to enjoy a childlike sense of wonder by every rare victory? In all honesty I think we'd have them covered if you didn't then factor in all the off-field disasters as well. We probably think they've had it better, they probably think we do - but in the end we're all cactus. Maybe we should mob up with some St Kilda and Footscray fans and beat the shit out of a Hawthorn supporter to make ourselves feel better?

At the moment mob violence is not required, a simple win does wonders for my life as a supporter. After Round 1 I was ordering an open top bus for street parades, and after Round 2 was trying to drive it off a cliff. Now everything feels good again, and while we're still a bottom four side in most ways it's still true that there is no such thing as a bad win - they are all beautiful in their own way.

I sat with the same football friends when we beat Richmond last year. On the basis of it being the only game we'd gone to together and seen a win it was decided that we must take up exactly the same position this time. That sort of sorcery's not for me, but same result anyway as the chosen seats were in the top of the Ponsford. Now I'm 2-0 in that spot against the Tigers, 2-0 while living on the Hurstbridge line and though it's hardly relevant to this discussion 2-0 at the SCG. I tender that 6-0 combined record as evidence to the people who claim that I'm somehow bringing the club down by always pointing out how shite we've been.

Secretly I thought we were a chance, but I wasn't admitting that to anybody other than my footy tips provider. Even at ridiculously long odds it still felt that with Richmond's outs and the credit we'd won back in Adelaide last week that we should at the very least go close to beating them. This is still a foreign feeling to me, so the longer the game went on and the more it became obvious that we were strangling the life out of them I started to tense up with fear of a humiliating GWS style reverse. Especially after it became personal when a slanging match broke out with a Richmond fan behind us, and we needed to win not only for football purposes but also to further ruin his night.

The night was a success on all fronts. It was our largest non-Queen's Birthday crowd for a home and away game since Round 15, 2006 and while it's now irrelevant as this is going to become an annual game I've always thought Richmond would be a great replacement opposition for Queen's Birthday when Eddie McGuire is finally pushed over the edge and stops generously subsidising us with a home game every year.

Whether the same crowds turn up and the concept works as well next year when the game will be played on a Sunday night I'm not sure but it it all seemed to go pretty the other night. The commemorations were respectful and well-observed, nobody other than kids who don't know any better yelled out during the traditional 38 second AFL brand 'minute of silence' and when the game started nobody immediately blew a hammy from standing around on the ground for 20 minutes before the first bounce. Whether it contributed to Dean Kent's issues a quarter and a half later you would have to consult an actual doctor and/or Google.

The immediate danger in any Richmond game is that Jack Riewoldt is a fairly handy target up forward, but for some reason whenever he plays Melbourne he turns into Michael Newton and has kicked 16.33 against us in 13 games. Compare this his record against everyone else and remember that not long ago Frawley (remember him? I hope so, because Hawthorn fans have already forgotten who he is) tearing him to shreds was something you'd mark on your calendar when the fixture came out. Now that he's gone the torch has been passed to Tom McDonald, who successfully pushed Riewoldt so far up the ground most of the night that they were left without any other forwards who could kick straight - and had paid tribute to MFC 2012/13 by not picking any crumbers in the first place - so were left on the sort of score that we've become famous for over the last few years.

We held Carlton to 7.16.58 last year but it's still an amazing novelty to throttle an opposition like that. Usually the defence battles hard but is overwhelmed by the ball going inside 50 with the greatest of ease. This time Richmond got it down there but were usually under enough pressure that it was easily cleaned. While we're speaking of great defensive performances a word please for Bernie Vince backing up last week with a less exciting but arguably more important job on Cotchin and to both Angus Brayshaw and Aaron vandenBerg who kick with peg legs but are like the Legion Of Doom for chasing, harassing and tackling.

The first highlight of my night was Brayshaw being named to start instead of having to sit on the bench for three quarters wearing a luminous vest. As it turns out he'd have been required much earlier than that due to Kent's injury, but tragic as that was it allowed Michie to come on and play a solid game by the time Brayshaw already had five or six tackles on the board. What a farce the sub rule is, but that's an argument for another day - every other day as it turns out.

Both times we've held sides to scores around 60 we've been helped by horribly inaccuracy from the other side, but imagine a world where the only goal we concede in an entire second half comes from a speculative bomb out of the middle. Not one properly constructed six pointer in approximately one hour, how grand. If you've studied the fixture you'll know it can't last so enjoy it while you can.

It was obvious from the start that Vince and the LOD were going to make life difficult for Richmond, but we'd still need to score to win. Even with looming storms threatening to turn the game into the same kind of sludgefest as last week we weren't going to win with five goals dotted through the evening - and that if we did that they wouldn't let us back on Friday night for another three years.

Enter Jesse Hogan, who was expected to meet his match against Alex Rance but more than held his own. In fact let's just say he won - it was his strong body work which set up Dawes to kick the first, he took two killer contested marks and at one point Rance was so wary of him that he stood back and let Jay Kennedy-Harris of all people take a mark in the square. Glorious. We have been sucked in before, but this is what true excitement looks like. It's one thing to have young midfielders racking up possessions, but to see a key position forward treating the stars of the game with contempt is enough to make you slide off your seat even while sitting undercover.

The pre-match Kaiser I'd had as a gesture of reconciliation towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire almost expelled itself when he took that mark on the stroke of half time (NB: I have botched history here and got my world leaders of the 1900's wrong. Lucky I don't work for SBS or I'd be out on my arse) and The Optimist leapt across the seats to dry-hump me with a vigour I'm not sure I've ever felt at an AFL match before. The fact that he missed the kick didn't really matter, Hulkamania was running wild at the MCG. It also proved a great trial run for his goal in the last quarter that sealed victory. In my dreams I see Hogan goals floating past in an endless loop in the style of the old Flying Toasters screensaver.

It has come to my attention that the original Hulk Hogan is coming to town on a publicity tour this week, and I swear if we don't arrange a photo shoot where Jesse and the Hulkster flex their 24-inch-pythons together in MFC jumpers then the marketing department should put a sleeperhold on themselves. I've hated the original Hogan since I first picked up Wrestlemania V at the video shop in about 1988, but this is the greatest promotional opportunity yet. If I see footage of him posing alongside some Collingwood peanut I'll legdrop somebody at the AGM.

Much like last week I'm sure opposition fans would have differing opinions but surely any neutral observer will admit that the Wheel Of Umpiring Fortune again spun violently against us - continuously on either MISTAKE, ERROR or RORT for most of the night. Differences in free kick counts are the most overrated conversation topic in football, but while there are days when your team is just undisciplined there are others where you've got no bloody idea what rulebook is being used to adjudicate the game.

The cliche would suggest that it's not the ones they do pay, it's the ones they don't but there was at least one absolute corker in either category that went against us - Garland being done holding the ball after receiving it about 0.9 seconds before, and Kennedy-Harris having his legs taken out in the square for no result. The sliding rule is an even bigger overreaction than the sub rule but it's also possibly the easiest thing for an umpire to make a decision on other than a player throwing an NFL style forward pass 30m down the ground - and even then you'd be a 50% chance of getting away with that in some games.

See also Harry O getting done for Riewoldt falling into him, Brayshaw's 50 being about 30 and Dunn not getting the most obvious 50 in history when he was pushed over after marking - but that's probably karmic payback for all the evil LD has been involved with over the years. Just to prove I'm not completely biased (only 99%) I can handle the reversal against vandenBerg costing us a goal, that was just stupidity on his behalf. When your side is having a shot let the defender do whatever he likes until the ball is through the goal then jumper punch him in the kidneys. Also the free against Howe for holding on, that was there. Some people will boo anything (and could you not just yell abuse instead of booing if you're older than 13?) but that was spot on and probably unnecessary anyway with McDonald looming.

We were in front at quarter time and the Tigers did seem rattled, but I wasn't getting roped in again after the debacle in Canberra. It had been pointed out that I take so little interest in other teams that I probably wouldn't be able to pick Shane Edwards out of a line-up, and probably still wouldn't, but I knew who he was when he kicked the first goal of the second quarter - he was the prick who was going to start the avalanche that would ruin my night. Fortunately we then put the breaks on them, turn back a number of attacks and then rope-a-dope them when Watts and vandenBerg combined to goal.

It was another interesting night for Watts. He still does a lot of good stuff but when his first kick of the night was gathered after good play then kicked straight out on the full you could tell things weren't going to go his way. Even as the leader of the Just Let Him Play and Fuck It See What Happens coterie group I can see he's been all over the shop mentally for the last fortnight. It's probably time to take the (dis)honourable route to a few weeks off by piledriving somebody just to get away from it all. Still not sure why so many of our fans get the horn from seeing him going slowly mental though. Next thing he'll be copping it for looking happy after the win instead of sitting down in the centre square and cutting himself. If he'd missed the goal after the 50 courtesy of Dustin Martin, and it was close, then I may very well have joined the picket line.

The good times began in earnest when it started pissing down at the start of the third quarter and we could have well and truly put them away several times during the quarter. They helped us by continuing to kick like muppets inside 50 and around the ground, but once we got a roll on at the end that was when I started to believe. Until we gave a goal up straight from the centre after Garlett's second goal and fear began to creep in again.

Dawes played a much better game than he has in the first two weeks and kicked two goals (perhaps my "second of 10" claim was a bit premature), but his performance as a centre-bounce ruckman was akin to past performances of A. Nicholson and C. Sylvia against Port Adelaide in Darwin so let's put Jamar solo down as an experiment due to the conditions that we got away with and give the man some proper backing next week. He can still do 90% of the work but the ease which Richmond got that goal late in the third quarter horrified me. There is no legal way we can get away with that against Fremantle or Sydney so we at least need somebody who can compete in the taps even if they're all but useless around the ground - arise Sir Spencil? He'll be pocketing life membership in 2017 so we may as well try and get him to 50 games first.

The rain stopped in the last quarter but it didn't help Richmond. Still, until Hogan kicked the sealer I still expected something, anything to go wrong but eventually you just have to sit there and admit to yourself that yes, we are going to win a game of footy. Which is not such a surprise these days having done it twice in a month these victories still hold some historical significance.  When I don't receive one text message of congratulations from somebody after a win then I'll say we're back. Until then "it's only Richmond" my arse, winning is still an event - and considering our next couple of weeks I'll clutch it to my bosom until 1.10pm next Sunday.

I went home and watched the replay until 1.30am. It was deelightful.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Aaron vandenBerg
3 - Jesse Hogan
2 - Bernie Vince
1 - Tom McDonald

Top level apologies to Garland who lost the 1 vote in a photo finish, and regular apologies to Brayshaw (for the defence), Cross, Dunn, Howe and Salem.

Leaderboard
The four time champion looms large in the King of Sizzle's rear-view mirror, while we welcome the man with the faulty shift key vandenBerg as the 92nd player to pocket votes in the history of this award.

15 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
10 - Nathan Jones
7 - Bernie Vince
6 - Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
4 - Aaron vandenBerg, Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Jeff Garlett
2 - Heritier Lumumba, Christian Salem
1 - Angus Brayshaw, Mark Jamar (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton


If footy clubs were countries I'd be the most nationalistic and racist dickhead around but even I'm not going to try and find a way to get the Dees up in this one. A joint banner which both clubs ran through as part of a solemn, well-observed ANZAC ceremony will do nicely for a draw. 3-1-0 Dees for the season and 25-1-1 all-time.

Crowd Watch
After carting an umbrella around all day I finally got the chance to use it after the game, which was a problem considering I'd left it in my seat and only realised once I'd reached ground level. As I returned for the search some kid was making off down the stairs with it, but to his credit he stopped and gave it back to me instead of doing a runner - which was surprising because I'd been led to believe that every teenager these days is an ill-bred hooligan called Jayshawn.

Who am I to take the moral highground on theft at AFL matches - after the drawn West Coast/Collingwood final in 1990 a school chum and I flogged several rolls of tape and a wooden flagpole from the Eagles cheersquad. The pole didn't make it out of the Waverley car park but we were sticking things down at my joint until about 1994 courtesy of our very good friends from Perth. Karma struck once again the next year when somebody lifted my jumper during a post match kick-to-kick at the 'G and every year since when my football club has had bugger all chance of winning a flag.

Shortly after pressing publish on the original version of this report I went to the shops and stepped in a dog turd. This reminded me that at half time on Friday night a bird had shat on my shoulder. If we'd lost I might be in an asylum by now.

Fan Experience Watch
The pre-match ceremonies quite rightly took care of the tripe Richmond served up last year with the ritualistic playing of drums, but unfortunately once the first siren went commemoration was out the door and in came the gimmicks befitting a minor league baseball team from Omaha, Nebraska.

It wasn't so much the gimmicks, but the wide variety of them. The now traditional "wave some shit in the air and win" competition isn't much worse than our Chemist Warehouse supported game of Three Card Monte, everyone except us (thank god) seems to provide a Dance Cam for middle aged women can lose their dignity publicly and something called Cuddle Cam appeared to be connected to charity so I will go against every instinct and refrain from taking the piss out of it. The best bit about Cuddle Cam was the complete disinterest in it by any Richmond fan over the age of 16 because the rest of them realised they were about to lose to Melbourne.

Hands down the worst thing seen since the day Richmond had recovering drug users take part in a pre-match goal kicking competition was a segment called "Are you paying attention?" where they played the Jeopardy theme song and put the camera on people who... weren't paying attention. Riveting stuff. To quote one of my companions "Of course nobody's paying attention, it's half time". Most of the people sitting around these hapless fools never bothered to tell them so they sat there tooling around with their phone completely unaware of what was going on. Sadly nobody jammed an index finger up their nose while being filmed. Does research exist to show anybody is interested in this chintzy rubbish? At the risk of acting like Craig Hutchison if you're not slapping the name of a second rate business on the screen and making a buck out of it then it is completely pointless for everyone but Barbara, 46, from Croydon.

Now that I've seen the digital advertising boards at a night game I can confirm they had no less effect on me than a day match, and in fact I probably wouldn't have known they were there if I wasn't thinking about it. Maybe it's worse sitting closer to the ground, but if that's the case move yourself anywhere but the top of the Ponsford.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to the lightning fast Garlett crumb at the end of the third quarter but I'm going to have to go for Jesse Hogan from the boundary in the last quarter for sheer emotion value. Tyson in Round 1 still in front overall though - but even though we're kicking more goals I'm still waiting for somebody to boot a truly outrageous one and steal the clubhouse lead.

Next Week
You've probably had enough time now to come to grips with the fact that as joyous Friday night was we're going to lose to Fremantle next week - but that's alright as long as we put in a decent shift while doing it. In a Lyon vs Roos game with our backline firing we'd usually expect to lose 3.4.22 to 1.10.16 but they're on fire at the moment so it could be another in a long line of recent debacles against them. Good chance to show we're made of sterner stuff though, will Watts take my advice on board and go down in infamy for a spinning roundhouse kick to Nat Fyfe? Find out 1.10pm next Sunday.

The one ruckman set-up got us through Friday, probably thanks to the rain, but I daren't try the same thing against Freo. Pedersen still never a top level ruckman but a better option than Dawes. Still gagging for Gawn to come good at Casey soon though - because Jamar is alive and well in 2015 but he can't go on forever.

IN: Pedersen (will get him in eventually)
OUT: Kent (inj)
LUCKY: Watts

Was it worth it?
It has otherwise been an arsehole of a week so good god yes it was.

Final thoughts
Still not used to winning but I want to be. Feed me more.

6 comments:

  1. Was zum teufel. The Kaiser was the German emperor, not the Austro-Hungarian Empire emperor.

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  2. Speaking of Wheel of Fortune, what about the Jeopardy think-music played at half time? I've been humming it ever since.

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  3. Oops. Shouldn't have skip-read that last few paragraphs.

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  4. I've made a horrible political fopar, thank christ I don't work for SBS.

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  5. Jetta also out with concussion. Could be a way back for Good Times Grimes.

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  6. Huge relief. If Melbourne hadn't won this our host might have done something really silly, and then what would I do on Monday afternoon at work?

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