We take a little walk to the train station. It is not that long ago that such a walk was the highlight of each day, a brief relief from the relentlessness of lockdown life. Excitement grows as a small group congregates on the platform. We can see the eagerness in their eyes, in their smiles. We can hear it in the greetings: “Go Blues! Go Tiges!”
Here is an interesting question. What defines the soul of a city?
Paris has its Eiffel Tower and its grand boulevards, its mighty river and impressive buildings with Mansard rooves and stone walls. Rome has its Colosseum, its Vatican City and its chaotic streets, lively and steeped in history, with grand Churches and statues of chariots on rooftops. Manhattan Island, New York, is vibrant and cosmopolitan, with busy avenues full of financiers and advertising executives, towering buildings and neon-lit plazas. These are the unmistakeable signs that you are in these cities.
But how do you know that you are in Melbourne? How do you recognise the soul of this great city?
Step off a train at Jolimont or Richmond stations and join the animated throng, a growing gathering of people, proudly wearing team colours and marching towards a striking stadium in a picturesque park. Hey man, let me be unambiguous about this. That is how you know that you are in Melbourne!
Walk past the ramp, past the statues nestled in the tree-lined perimeter, past the food vans and the ticket office. Open your bags for inspection, walk past the good-natured security guard and place your phone in the scanner. Step up the ramp or take the escalator, past the food and beer stalls, past the facilities, past the bars, teeming with happy people. Your heart will skip a beat as you exit the bowels of the stadium and see the arena for the first time. The teams will be there, warming up!
This is a gorgeous Autumn night at the MCG in Melbourne. We are ourselves again. Finally!
The Tigers unveil their two most recent Premiership flags in an understated ceremony. The next campaign begins. This is the first game of footy played before a crowd at this wonderful arena in a year and a half.
The game begins and Richmond Premiership hero, Jack Riewoldt marks strongly but misses his first shot at goal. Not so the Blues. They take their early chances and skip off to an early lead. They look determined tonight and are keen to challenge their more decorated opponents.
The game looks different tonight. The players seem more spread out around the ground and the unsightly rolling mauls of the last few years are nowhere to be seen. Play is fast and open. Disposal is crisp and precise. As is their wont, the Tigers hit back and have the slimmest of quarter time leads. The Blues have been good but give the ball back a little bit too often. When this happens, Castagna, Aarts or Rioli will pounce!
It looks open but this does not do justice to the efforts being made by these gladiators out on the field. Both teams run hard. Contests are bone-jarring and at an accelerated pace. Who would play this game? Finely-tuned athletes push themselves to the limit of their powers, crashing and bashing into each other with scant regard for their safety. The only respite comes for the “man on the mark”. For the briefest of moment he becomes a statue. All he can do is watch.
When Dusty Martin stands a mark, we see a glimpse of the statue that will celebrate him in the future. Take a photo now, in this moment, convert it to a bronze sculpture and mount it outside the MCG for all eternity. He deserves it!
Scores are exchanged with regularity and, at half time, the Tigers have stretched their lead, courtesy of their superstar who produces another breathtaking goal just before half-time. The Sultan of Swerve is at his very best tonight.
Carlton refuse to lie down and hit back hard after half-time. Harry McKay is a handful for his Richmond opponents and he is surrounded by quick-thinking smaller teammates. Sadly, he is let down by inaccurate kicking.
Jayden Short is Richmond’s reigning Best-and-fairest winner for a reason. When McKay marks strongly, gets behind his opponent and dashes towards and open goal he is caught and stripped of the ball by the lunging half-back flanker. This is when we know that the Tigers will prevail.
The Carlton coaches inject experienced recruit Oscar MacDonald into the game. He takes his opportunity to impact the scoreboard and looks like he may have a new career as a forward. At the other end, Riewoldt and Rioli keep the Tigers ahead, striking regularly.
The Tigers are well-served by their younger players in this game. Noah Balta takes a number of intercept marks. Shai Bolton shines in the second half and kicks the goal that seals the game. Jack Graham is brutal in the clinches and repeatedly bashes the ball towards dangerous teammates. For the Blues, their captain Patrick Cripps plays a powerful game and their young midfielder, Sam Walsh, is poised and clean. Running half-back, Adam Saad, makes a sparkling debut for his new team.
The game is entertaining and spirited. The Tigers eventually cruise to a regulation win, but not before they are given an almighty fright by their manful opponents.
Footy is back!
Melbourne is alive.
RICHMOND 3.3 - 8.5 - 10.8 - 15.15 (105)
CARLTON 3.2 - 6.6 - 8.12 - 11.14 (80)
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Castagna 2, Martin 2, Rioli 2, Aarts 2, Lynch, Caddy, Bolton
Carlton: McDonald 2, McKay 2, Gibbons 2, Casboult, O'Brien, Dow, Silvagni, Plowman
Richmond: Martin, Balta, Graham, Short, Prestia, Edwards, Riewoldt
Carlton: Walsh, Cripps, Saad, Plowman, Newnes, Setterfield
Richmond: Cotchin (illness) replaced in selected side by Pickett, Vlastuin (knee)
Carlton: Silvagni (shoulder)
Richmond: Ross (replaced Vlastuin)
Carlton: McDonald (replaced Silvagni)
Crowd: 49,218 at the MCG
Joe De Petro’s favourite period in history began with the Summer of Love and continued until 1980. What was not to like in those days? The music was wonderful and the Tigers won Premierships every other year, just like they do now.
The new Summer of Love began in 2017. Long may it last!