It’s a gorgeous morning, so I walk to Ivanhoe Station. I am listening to music, the powerful voice of Mavis Staples is urging someone named Fanny to take a load off, as good a piece of advice as Fanny will ever receive.A big crowd is expected, so I plan to arrive early to line up outside Gate 2, drape my scarf on a seat and take in some of the VFL game at Punt Road Oval, a short walk away. Perhaps, while I am there, I can catch up with some friends? The queue is long and does not move. I am now listening to the Statler Brothers’ sixties classic, ‘Flowers on the Wall’. Playing solitaire with a deck of 51 would be quicker!
I stroll across the park and up into the Jack Dyer Stand. The second quarter has just started and the Tigers already have a comfortable lead. I can’t find anyone I know. A quick exchange of texts follows. We have just missed each other, they left at quarter-time and are in the 3121 Reserve of the MCG. Taking its name from the postcode of our great club, this was my membership category before the MCC gave me the nod last year. The boys have a spare ticket and ask if I would like to join them. Callum Moore kicks a spectacular goal, which I nearly miss while playing with my phone.
I leave at half-time, confident the Tigers will win this game easily. I walk briskly, retrieve my scarf and retrace my steps back to Gate 5. A few more texts and I am standing in the Jack Ryder Room, beer in hand, laughing and chatting with old friends, feeling like I had never left. The mood is expectant and buoyant, I do not recall such optimism before a Richmond game. The last time I was in this room was in 2016!
We are seated. Just like that, I am back in the Richmond stronghold, wrapped up in the strong arms of the Tiger Faithful. I feel like I am walking east along Bridge Road, about to turn right into Lennox Street. I look around me and cannot see any Magpie fans. I can hear them though, you can always hear Collingwood supporters. I can see the Members’ stand filling across the ground.
It’s a blistering start. The Tigers kick two quick ones and the Magpies reply with two of their own, opening the smallest of leads. Magpie fans are ecstatic. In a glorious moment, the romance of the past intersected briefly with the promise of the future. Their goals have just been kicked by the sons of Peter Daicos and Gavin Brown!
How many times do we see a player mark strongly just outside his kicking range, look around and dish off to a passing runner who will shoot for him? How often does this tactic work? Jayden Short is turning it into his signature play. Our graceful, smooth-moving, sharp-shooting young half-back restores our lead. Moments later, he repeats the dose. Wait, is this some kind of bizarre goal review? Was there something wrong with the previous goal? Reality sinks in and the Faithful celebrate like it is September, 2017 again!
Richmond takes a comfortable lead into the first break, just as the VFL team did. Upon resumption, the game tightens. It is cracking football and we sit in awe as it unfolds. Brodie Grundy dominates the ruck, especially when Big Nancy is not on the field, which is strangely for longer than normal. Pendlebury and Sidebottom sound like a dodgy East London law firm but are actually dominant footballers, winning plenty of the ball. Richmond’s midfield is well-beaten and Alex Rance has his hands full containing Collingwood’s American Man-Mountain, Mason Cox. Yet somehow, none of this matters. David Astbury steps up as the main intercept marker. Our forward line is lively and scores freely anyway. At half-time, the game is close but we lead.
During the third quarter, dynamic young Tiger, Jack Higgins, breathes fresh life into the game, this time with a ridiculously ambitious goal that has us all scratching our heads, even the umpires, who are just as puzzled as the rest of us. Are there are any rules that might shed some light on whether this is even possible? It is replayed on the big screen repeatedly, delighting my mate who observes that these give us four chances to celebrate this most incredible of goals. It stands. The Tigers lead at the final break.
Our euphoria is tinged with sadness as unlucky young Magpie, Matt Scharenberg, limps off forlornly, his knee damaged for the third time in his brief career. That sucks.
The last quarter is classic Tigers’ football. A plucky opponent has been worn down under grinding pressure. All that is needed are a few goals to seal the win. They come quickly. The kill is clean and clinical.
These are games of wonder, they restore our youth, they will bring us back for more, again and again. When these two mighty tribes clash on the MCG, we do more than simply watch. All our senses are engaged as the spectacle plays out. We are overloaded with stimuli. We hear the rising roar of the crowd, so loud it jars and shocks. We smell the electricity in the air. We feel the rumbling of the stands in the pits of our stomachs as the marvels of a constricted and contested game explode all around us. And we taste the sweetness of success or the bitterness of defeat.
After the game, we pay a quick visit to the Maurice Rioli Room at Punt Road for another quiet drink. What a wonderful time this is to be a Tiger fan!
As I step onto the train at Jolimont Station, all is quiet and I am listening to music again. Freddy Mercury gives voice to my thoughts as he belts out: “Like a Tiger defying the laws of gravity, don’t stop me now, I’m having a good time.
RICHMOND 5.2 8.3 11.6 16.9 (105)
COLLINGWOOD 2.1 7.1 11.2 12.5 (77)
Richmond: Martin 3, Riewoldt 3, Higgins 2, Short 2, Castagna 2, Caddy, Townsend, Edwards, Rioli
Collingwood: Thomas 4, Hoskin-Elliott 3, Cox 2, Daicos, Brown, Mihocek
Richmond: Astbury, Short, Broad, Edwards, Prestia, Rance, Riewoldt
Collingwood: Grundy, Pendlebury, Thomas, Greenwood, Adams, Moore
Collingwood: Howe (concussion), Mihocek (ankle), Scharenberg (knee)
Umpires: Margetts, Hosking, Findlay
Official crowd: 88,180 at the MCG