If you grow up in Melbourne, you have to choose an AFL football team as your own. That’s part of the unwritten rule of being a citizen of this town – ‘who’d you go for?’ I love it because it’s an egalitarian rule. We all know that, really, all teams are pretty equal, and in the main, we’re happy to sit with a supporter of any side (maybe not Collingwood, but that’s a different story. Sorry to hubby and son, but it’s kind of true).
Anyway, coming from a family which isn’t particularly passionate about sport, it was up to me to make my choice. The Richmond tigers caught my eye in 1979, when the social pressure started at school. I can’t tell you why – I just had a good feeling about them. They didn’t make the finals that year, but were victors the following year. My fate as a Tiger’s supporter was sealed.
Since then, the fortunes of the club have waxed and waned. Often they start the season strongly and peter out part way through. Occasionally they’ve made it into the finals season but rarely progressed past the first round. This year, for the first time since 1982, they have made it into a Grand Final. And the excitement that this is generating is amazing! Yes, there have been the diehard supporters who have, week in and week out, turned up, volunteered, and taken the ribbing from others about being in a team which ‘Finished ninth again’. Then there are the rest of us who, like our team at times, have waxed and waned in enthusiasm – there for the good times. It is the Richmond way (although they always have a large contingent of committed members).
In the past I’ve felt a little guilty about this but no more. I realised, I’m committed, week in and week out, to so many other things, from kids’ sports, to political issues, to local issues. Footy, to me, is entertainment. And while I watch from afar in the bleak times – I never disown them – but I find I can’t get too upset during the down times. Because AFL it is a game and there will be winners and losers. But how joyful when you are on the winning side!
I was fortunate to be at the preliminary finals match on Saturday, where Richmond beat Greater Western Sydney to secure a place in the Grand Final. The sound – and (appropriately), roar – of the crowd was spine tingling, with well over 90% (95%+?) of the 95,000 people there on the side of the tigers. And joining in the theme song as it’s sung over and over again is something quite spectacular.
Melbourne, and particularly the suburb of Richmond, which bounds the Melbourne Cricket Ground where the Grand Final will be played, is embracing the team. Yellow and Black is appearing everywhere. Images of players such as Dustin Martin (who won the Brownlow Award for the best and fairest player in the competition on Monday night) are spray-painted throughout the city. It is reminiscent of the Western Bulldogs the previous year, which I wrote about here, and experiences in previous years when other teams which have not experienced as much finals success as others finally get their time. Melbournians love a come back story.
It would be great if Richmond could seal the year with a win, but they are up against a really strong opposition, and I’m not particularly confident (and, again, that’s the Richmond way). But in some ways it doesn’t matter. This might sound sacrilege to some, so let me explain.
I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s new book ‘Braving the Wilderness‘ which is about the quest for true belonging. Pretty relevant at the moment. It’s a human instinct to want to belong. There are many issues that divide us across a range of social, environmental and economic levels. There are differences of opinion so tightly held they can divide communities and families, there are decisions we make and actions we take which create barriers or marginalise us or others. There are votes or surveys we are encouraged to complete because politicians can’t make up their own minds. And we can end us, as Brené says, ‘loving the idea of humanity but (finding) people in general are constantly on our nerves’. So what to do?
One simple thing –
We can ‘show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to inextricable human connection’.
We can let go and revel in the music at an amazing concert. We can watch proudly, even if we cringe a little in sympathy to slip up they might make, at our kids concerts. We can turn up to support celebrations of life at funerals, standing in solidarity, and we can match together for changes we believe in.
We can also appreciate the collective impacts of others and that’s what I’ve been doing this week (this month, actually). As an urban planner, with a real interest in community cohesiveness, I love seeing the role of local government in contributing to this unity, and the excitement of the club itself, but the influence is coming from so many different places. I can’t help but note the impact of leadership across different sectors, within small businesses, by individuals from the ground up. Seeing the displays, the attendances at training, the acknowledgement of each other as we leave the ground or wander around in our richmond colours. These times of unity – they are so precious. They are to be celebrated.
I am really hoping that Richmond does win on Saturday. I know how much it will mean to so many long time supporters, all who work for the club and the players, family and friends. But for me, it doesn’t really matter (and this is not just me calming my nerves – although there is a bit of that!). Because in many ways, they’ve already won. And I am so joyful that they have got so far.
I’ll be showing up on Saturday to share in the collective excitement even if I’m outside the ground itself (although if somehow I get in, even better). I’ll be screaming my heart out and and singing proudly the theme song.
Because, win, lose or (well, no draw anymore), whatever happens, we are no longer in Melbourne. No sirree, this town is now Tigerland!