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Richmond says goodbye to the ghosts of grand finals past

A young, anxious Tiger prays for a Richmond revival during the last quarter of 1982 grand final. He’d have to wait 35 years for it. Picture: CHANNEL 7

Richmond says goodbye to the ghosts of grand finals past

Rohan Connolly    

There’s a heap of great stories to be told when a club which has been in the premiership wilderness breaks a long drought. And so there was last Saturday.

Richmond has always been a big, boisterous and passionate club, and while the Tigers’ ending of a 37-year-long flagless spell wasn’t as romantic as the Western Bulldogs’ triumph the year before, most of us would know at least someone for whom their grand final win meant a lot.

I certainly do. And yet when the siren rang on Richmond’s 48-point win over Adelaide, my immediate thoughts turned to someone I didn’t know, had never met, never even seen in the flesh, the sole connection between us about two seconds of grainy footage from an old grand final.

I’ve always been a big watcher of old grand finals, having religiously kept, long before the days of YouTube, each one in its entirety, to be dragged out and revisited all too often. And one image in particular has continued to linger.

It’s from the 1982 grand final, Richmond’s previous appearance on the big day before last weekend. The Tigers are warm favourites against Carlton, but three goals down and in big trouble early in the final quarter.

Richmond champion Kevin Bartlett snaps a goal to give the Tigers hope, and the cameras cut to a crowd shot, way up in the top of the old MCG Northern Stand. It’s a group of Richmond fans, and among them, a father and son.

The dad turns excitedly to his kid, in his mid-teens, about the same age as me then. The boy, his face painted in Tiger colours, looks sick with anxiety, but is clasping his hands together, praying that this is the start of a flag-winning comeback.

Of course, it wasn’t to be. Carlton would steady, take out its second premiership in a row, and for Richmond, by then in its seventh grand final in 16 seasons, incredibly, that would be that for three-and-a-half decades.

The Tigers wouldn’t even contest finals for another 13 years, would win only one in the next 19, and would wait from 1980 until a couple of days ago to turn 10 premierships into 11.

But through all the various ups and mostly downs of the past 35 years since Richmond last graced the grand final stage, I’ve often thought of that kid way up in the stands.

How did he cope with the eventual defeat? Did he, like most Tiger fans, and most damagingly, the club itself, presume there would be another chance not far down the track? Like me, a man now in his 50s, did he keep the passionate, all-consuming faith in his team he had that afternoon?

And how did he feel now? Did it mean as much? Was his dad still there to share that boyish glee of seeing your team win a flag? Did he have kids his own, the same age he was then, to share it with?

Yes, football’s just a game. But it means so much more to so many of us. It ties families together. Bonds people from so many different walks of life, cultures, socio-economic groups and political persuasions. It’s not just about the game, but a sense of belonging to a tribe, the shared triumphs and tragedies which accompany that felt intuitively and instinctively across those divides.

Richmond to me has always seemed to symbolise that spirit better than most clubs. Once determinedly working class, values honed in old factories and cheap homes along Punt Road, Swan Street and Bridge Road, its name and culture would spread outward as Melbourne the city grew.

I grew up in a safe middle-class suburb which also happened to be in the thick of Richmond’s old metropolitan recruiting zone, and at a time in the early ‘70s when the Tigers were on top, and loud and proud about it.

The fearsome masses of “yellow and black” supporters dominated my school, my street and the length of the Glen Waverley train line I used each Saturday to go and watch my team play on the other side of town.

Last Saturday night, as I walked the length of a blocked-off Swan Street post-game, the déjà vu was overpowering. This was one rollicking celebration, but one still determinedly old school, much of the gear worn by the fans belting out the theme song in delight over and over of a vintage long gone.

There were tattered old scarves and caps, jumpers clearly bought in the post-golden era days the Tigers were broke, had few stars of which to speak and by when weekly thrashings had become a habit.

These were no Johnny-come-latelys or bandwagon jumpers, but real Richmond people, rusted on supporters who had done the hard yards, suffered for so long and now, finally, and almost with a sense of disbelief, had something to celebrate once again.

The Tigers have a lot more of them than many clubs, and anyone who witnessed their spontaneous explosion of joy couldn’t help but feel anything but delighted for them.

I half-expected to see that kid from the 1982 grand final coverage again, now middle-aged and with grey hair and perhaps a couple of excited kids of his own in tow, but still wearing a duffle coat with Michael Roach on the back and with his face painted yellow and black.

I know he’s out there somewhere with the rest of the Tiger Army, perhaps having taken a “sickie” or two from work and just sitting back contentedly with a can of VB watching a replay of another grand final that, this time, his team gets to win.

Whoever you are and wherever you are, mate, enjoy it. It may have taken three-and-a-half decades, but that praying finally paid off.

  1. While I was not at the 1982 Grand Final, I watched the 1980 GF from home at 18 years of age, recovering from tonsil surgery. I was a Tiger fanatic, living with my family in Glen Waverley and expecting a Tiger dynasty that never came. Like many, I hung in there and stayed true to the club, hoping to see another flag in my lifetime.

    The grand plan was to have my kids see the club sucessful and maybe snag a premiership. As my son, Nathan, turned 18 in August, I told him this was our time, and that finals are coming for Tigerland.

    I could never have imagined what unfolded, however as he weeks passed, it became a tsunami of joy. With trepidation back after that Round 23 win over St.Kilda, I confidently announced that it was Tiger Time and a flag was finally coming. How ironic that at 18 years of age, it would happen again.

    An amazing day, week and year. What a joy to share it with Nathan, relive the 1980 triumph, and bury the demons of 1982. Thank you Tigers!!!

  2. Thanks Rohan, as a long-time sufferer and attendee of the ’82 Grand Final, this piece warmed my heart and captured how I feel to be part of this ‘tribe’. It’s the place I feel like I belong, I guess as people do who live in small communities or are part of a local church. My ongoing joy, relief, ecstasy, occasional disbelief will last right up until Grand Final day next year, I think. Cheers.

  3. As a Tigers supporter my first grand final was in 1967 which I saw with my dad who is now 94 some 50 years on the wheel has turned full circle as I had the pleasure of sharing my sons first grand final with him. How good was that!

  4. So i hopped off the train at Richmond to met the old man, running early as i was keen to get in there. A guy from worked grabbed me and said you are coming with me. A nuetral supporter with his Tiger mate. Dragged me along to the pub (which one i don’t remember). A few beers later i headed back to Richmond Station to meet the old man who is now 60. To see the smile on his face, you know it is all worth it. So a few beers later next to the cricketers arms, in the blocked off steet, it was time to go. So 4 qrts later. The smile and relief from the old man was amazing. I think it took nearly 2 hours from the g to the station, as every couple of steps he would stop, look around and smile. I could it meant so much to him, i used to blame him for barracking for Richmond, now i know why!! What a feeeling and what a family of supporters, the hugs, the tears of enjoyment from everyone. I was born in August 1982, years on i kept thinking maybe i was the curse, if so, the curse is gone. EATM ALIVE TIGERS

  5. Lovely writing Rohan. As a 23yo Tiger I was at the 82 GF with my girlfriend (now wife), having met in 81. I, too, expected a return to the GF sooner as there had been 7 of them since I was 8yo, but that was not to be. I wondered if my married life was a jinx. I worried that I had inflicted pain on my children by bringing them up as Tigers with so little success and constant ridicule. Ninthmond, Richmondy, train wrecks, coach sackers, eating their own, every jibe bit hard when I knew that I, and my family stuck fat, even if the kids didn’t go regularly. The release and joy of Saturday cannot be described in words. Fortunate enough to be MCC members and get a seat to the game, my wife and I, too, walked Swan Street after the players were presented at the G and Jack did his rockstar turn. It was 9pm as we walked from Punt Rd along Swan St, singing the song with each little cluster, singing “We are the Champions” with one group, hugging and high fiving people I’d never met and likely won’t again. Wed got home around 11pm, hugged and celebrated with the kids (now adults), and then watched the replay where I cried again (having done so at the ground) when shots of Richo and Benny Gale were shown.

  6. I was there in 80 and 82 I was 18 years of age in 1982 I was planning to have a few beers with some mates, after we won the flag. KB got a early goal and my hopes were high. Then the wait of 35 years for another tilt. A 53 year old bloke, just praying this was Tiger Time. When the siren went I was in total shock with relief, excitement, and shock. Dusty signed on for another 7 years so let’s hope, let’s just hope we win another flag before the Prince of Punt road retires. A Tiger for life, our Dustin who gives every RICHMOND supporter hope.
    The tribe has spoken!

  7. Great read Rohan. I too was at the 82 (and 80) GF. The pure joy this flag has delivered to so many people is overwhelming. Every time I see a package of highlights, the tears come. Mum was a big Tiger supporter. She died a few years ago. She would have loved it.

  8. I know him! He was a couple of years ahead of me. His name was Ian or perhaps Iain. Don’t think I remember seeing him again after about 1982.

  9. Our school was Middlefield Primary in North Vlackburn. By the time the 1982 GF, I was at Blackburn High School. I don’t remember if Iain was there or at the Texhnical School, or elsewhere.

  10. As I said on Facebook, I got his name wrong. It was Mark Thomson.

  11. A great story Rohan, I was 21 when I went to my first VFL Grand Final in 1982. I stood with some school mates at the city end of the MCG behind the goals, I was devastated after the Grand Final, but always thought we would be back in the big one in the next year or two, it wasn’t to be. So there I was last Saturday sitting in the Southern Stand some 35 years later watching the Mighty Tigers win their 11th Premiership. It was so surreal and completely unbelievable. It what makes our game great #gotiges

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