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Tiger Army's broad church is the backdrop to a perfect day at the footy

Date

Martin Flanagan

I MIGHT not have gone to the footy last weekend but my daughter egged me into it. "Weather looks a bit grubby," I said when she rang. "Not from where I'm standing," she replied. She sees TV games as fillets of footy. She says you've got to go to games to get the big picture.

She lives and works on the other side of the city. Going to the footy together is our way of catching up. Basically, we go to any game which promises to have a bit of zing in it, but this year we're mostly watching the Tigers.

Why? The usual tangle of reasons. Her grandfather is an old Tigers man, as is one of her uncles, and half the fun of footy is sharing it. Then there's the Tiger Army, the best sideshow in the game – people like the tormented in Dante's inferno who still erupt wildly with hope. And another reason - my daughter taught Matt Dea when she spent two years as a live-in tutor in the boarding house at Ballarat Clarendon College and saw male adolescence at its most frank.

She also has a bloke deep beneath the surface of the earth in a coal mine in Queensland. He's a mad Hawthorn supporter from a predominantly Richmond family. That matters because last weekend we went to the 'G and saw Richmond play Hawthorn.

Normally we meet at the statue of Ron Barassi. Normally she brings cheese and salami sandwiches, made just as I like them. But she'd had a big night, we were both running late and I settled for a sausage from the fried food van. I don't like sitting in the upper tier. I always feel the need for a couple of Sherpas returning with the beers after half-time. This time, our luck was in. There were level one seats available behind the goal at the Ponsford end and we ended up four rows from the fence. Best seats in the house.

At the first bounce, Hawthorn tried to lock the ball in. Cotchin unpicked the lock, the ball bounded forward, Richmond goaled. This was a whole new joy for the Tiger Army – the mighty Hawks were undone, disarmed, from the start. Cotchin was marvellous – almost ungainly in his gait, he is brave and awfully clever. Martin attacked like a shark. Big Ty Vickery is a strong player now. My daughter likes the Tiges because, she says, they've got spunk.

She grew up knowing footballers like Peter Schwab and James Morrissey as family friends and liking them as men. "They wouldn't sit back and let a man trash-talk a woman or make fun of a disabled person". She doesn't follow a player because of his stats. "I follow him because of the sort of man he shows himself to be on the field".

Having worked with adolescents, she sees footy "as an expression of male youth. Every week, they get this chance to be heroes. They can be Icarus for a week. If they fail, they have another chance next week". She loves the way the players rush in to congratulate one another after a goal.

It was mid-way through the second term that the first chilling deluge hit. What happened, I think, was that there was a party in heaven and someone emptied the ice bucket over the forward pocket at the city end of the MCG.

At half-time, we watched the mini-league. The smallest kid on the ground was called Ollie. His family was just behind us, filming him. At three-quarter time, with the game looking pretty safe for the Tigers, my daughter rang her grandfather, a Tiger man from Jack Dyer's day who still sees the game pretty much as Jack did.

My daughter says of footy, "I don't see anything else in our culture that unites 50,000 people". Towards the end of the match, we saw a Hawthorn supporter in a wheelchair going nuts at his team. The man, in his 60s, had no words, just a wild array of noises. He signalled his disgust to his carer, a wan bored-looking young woman, and they left early.

Before the game, I saw a blind kid with a stick being led towards the ground by his father. Richmond supporters. I saw a one-eared man. Richmond supporter. After the game, the Tiger Army went crazy. Six times they played the club song. There is something both heart-warming and comic about the Richmond song. It's a statement of ridiculous optimism and, for one cold wet afternoon, it seemed we had witnessed what might be termed the Tiger Spring.

Meanwhile, in a coal mine in Queensland, a Hawthorn supporter came off his shift to be met with a barrage of texts from jubilant Richmond supporters. His response cannot be printed.

It took me one whole day to warm up. She went down with a cold on the Tuesday. We'll be going to as many matches as we can this year.

10 comments

  • Martin, the next time you go to a tiges game, please have a beer for me - and if you can, make it a good old fashioned one and smuggle in a boags draught.

    I can only dream... and so will add one bit of support for them - Carn the tiges.

    Commenter
    Jim
    Location
    In japan
    Date and time
    June 02, 2012, 12:30AM
    • Is it true, has the ice age ended at last?
      Go Tigers

      Commenter
      tisgazz
      Date and time
      June 02, 2012, 5:06AM
      • Nah - but the tundra is thawing

        Commenter
        kepler22b
        Date and time
        June 02, 2012, 11:57AM
    • Being a Tigers fan abroad isn't as painful as when I'd wonder to the G from my Richmond residence in the 90's. I've watched the games live on the internet this year and can see something good happening, maybe not this year yet, but the next few years for sure. I'm coming back for a holiday in July/August and really looking forward to wondering down to the G for the Blues clash. Hopefully we are in the 8 challenging for a top 4 spot! The tough part of the draw is over (I hope), now it's time to consolidate some wins over the next few weeks. C'mon TIGES!!

      Commenter
      SHopcraft
      Location
      Essex, UK
      Date and time
      June 02, 2012, 5:55AM
      • My late great-uncle knew Jack Dyer through football. He would have been thrilled to see the latest edition to the family jumping up and down and yelling "Go Nahas!" at the events on the telly urged on by her big brother. At four years old she'd love to see the footy live, but she doesn't take losing well. It's so much better when everyone's barracking together!

        Commenter
        PostScript
        Location
        The bush - a long way from Punt Rd
        Date and time
        June 02, 2012, 8:04AM
        • Martin, i know you are Sheeds favorite journo and along with Mike Sheahan, youv'e become mine. Loved this article. Being a Tiger is living a thousand lives in one game, and you know what?...i wouldn't change it for a tatts win...

          Commenter
          Manny
          Location
          willowgrove sth
          Date and time
          June 02, 2012, 8:16AM
          • Thank-you for sharing another wonderful football insight, Martin - your writing really speaks to my heart. I have been a 'rusted-on' Richmond man since 1965. While I think that my long absence has made my heart grow fonder for the Tigers in many respects, I only have TV dinners or "fillets" (as your daughter aptly calls them) to dine on - except when Richmond comes to Perth.

            Last week, I, like you and your daughter visited Melbourne and was treated to a feast when I attended the Tigers V Hawks game at the MCG. It was an almost religious experience for me to be there with members of the same yellow and black faith - sheer rapture, actually.

            Martin, your writing reveals a pure love of the game that bonds us all when we share in stories like this. PS: That Queensland coal miner sure is a lucky guy.

            Commenter
            Western Tiger
            Location
            Perth, WA
            Date and time
            June 02, 2012, 8:31AM
            • Good read. Eat 'em alive tigers.

              Commenter
              Joe Citizen
              Location
              Melb
              Date and time
              June 02, 2012, 9:11AM
              • Martin

                As an old Glenelg supporter, I have always had a regard for Richmond because they wear trhe same colours, and because Royce Hart played for both - even though he was cleaned up in his one grand final appearance for the Bays. The point is, it's wonderful as you point out to see a Tigers resurgence after all these years. May it continue to a grand final!! And next year in Jerusalem for the Dockers ...

                Commenter
                Peter
                Location
                Perth
                Date and time
                June 02, 2012, 10:57AM
                • I'm a Footscray man myself but I'm very fond of the Tiges as well and LOVED last night's game. Martin is dead right in describing the Tiger Army, they are a joy to behold. Passion sans nasty - it's very attractive.

                  Commenter
                  Alasdair
                  Location
                  Adelaide
                  Date and time
                  June 02, 2012, 3:48PM
                  Comments are now closed

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