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Richmond v Carlton

A roundabout round 1 review


These Carlton v Richmond round 1 encounters have been going on long enough that they’ve consolidated their own characteristics. Almost always, the matches come at the end of a Thursday of great March weather, inciting wishes football could forever be in such conditions, and demanding little more than a bluish t-shirt as supporter-wear. There’s nearly always, too, a mood of quiet confidence on the walk from Richmond train station, which improperly announces itself to whoever I’m attending with. As we pass Punt Road, word will invariably get around that our 2s have beaten the Tigers in the unofficial, dislocated curtain-raiser. Inside the ’G, there’ll still be bright evening above the stands at the time of the bounce. Heaving supporter bases won’t have to wait long for early goals, but my analysis suggests whoever’s kicked the first shall generally lose. And the only result that AFL administrators might properly care about will flash briefly before the final siren – namely, an attendance figure that should be something north of 85,000. There’s a tired, regrettable characteristic, too: those excluded whingers who’ll inevitably be crowing somewhere, in the interests of ‘fairness’ or ‘commercial incentive’, that it’s time the opener be shared between other teams.


This year, I honed-in on a specific dissenting voice: clumsy Perth journalist Paddy Sweeney who proposed on Thursday morning – leaving his run a bit late – that the season always be kick-started with a grand final replay instead, because the Blues, in particular, can’t be trusted for a fitting contest. He was writing for WAtoday, which unfortunately turns up in The Age. Defamatorily, he confined his evidence to the last seven seasons and claimed: “During this time, the Tigers and Blues have played out dour affairs. Every. Single. Time.” Aside from the fact final scores during the nominated stretch were almost never a reflection of the closeness of those contests, scribbler Sweeney was conveniently forgetting how, in the arrangement’s early years, when the match-up was basically Judd v Cousins, it was the Tigers who were by far the lagging team. As such, Carlton had been owed a grace period.

Let’s not forget, too, the audacious hope (to use an Obama-ism) of the Carlton tribe, and the certainty they’ll show-up in droves, fill the coffers, on the thrust of our club’s unauthorised summer media offensive or the excitement surrounding the Lenten baptism of a high draft-pick – remember Weitering, Dow and Walsh’s debuts on these nights. Heading into 2023, we’re in many savvy pundits’ crystal ball top-four and we’re possessive of Mark ‘The Mozz’ Robinson’s anticipated best player in the league. If ‘fairness’ is a whinger’s gripe, then it might be countered it would be extremely unfair – nay, unhealthy – for the most pepped-up fans in the league to ever need to wait longer than the earliest possible opportunity to test their club’s hype against reality. This time around, our debutants were lowish picks (‘11’ and ‘30’ or so) who’d each blossomed throughout a summer’s incubation in coach Voss’ world-class program. These two and the unprecedented result aside, the night did end-up feeling quite familiar – worst of all through Dustin Martin’s confident swoop and snap at the outset. What follows isn’t a match report, however. Applying a ‘fan experience’ lens, I’d like to share three performances from the night I’d wager you missed.


1. The former Carlton premiership captain and distinctive media commentator who sat directly behind us. Lest I come across as a grubby ‘CBD’ reporter, I won’t refer to this man by name and tarnish the sanctity of his private life, even though he may be easy enough to infer and was appearing among a crowd of 88,000. I had no concept of him being there until Ben, my brother, said so at quarter-time. To that point, after an honest start (Fisher’s flick, Silvagni’s mark, Hewett’s BHP-esque powers of extraction), the Blues hadn’t given any cause for getting too grumbly. I chanced a look to ‘6 o’clock’ to confirm it was the former premiership captain, and indeed saw his flushed face, his white hair as gelled arches, his self-confidence proven by jeans that turned ‘cowboy’ through his choice of belt. And then, for the rest of the game, I couldn’t help but be very conscious of him. I clearly registered his signature voice, but couldn’t see him, like this was one of his customary radio slots, beaming not to the nation but the lucky audience within his ten-metre radius. In holding stages of the game, my ears searched for his analysis. I found him surprisingly optimistic, though sadly he did unselfconsciously join the pile-on of a certain player in the last quarter, whose name I’ll also protect in case I come across as the kind of nuffy supporter who moans as if they could get hurried after marking in defensive 50 and not, in panic, blast the ball out on the full, as good as miles away from their intended target. The ex-captain was so excited by the last quarter that he even leant and nudged me in the back. Startlingly, my radio went ‘4D’. He snappily apologised, and I whipped around to tell him it was ‘okay’. Of course, bigger nuffies than myself would’ve thanked him.  


2. The former league half-forward (with a robotic goal-kicking action) and semi-recent Carlton assistant coach who sat almost directly ahead of us. I didn’t hear a peep out of this second character, perhaps because he was sitting with his likely son. Now I know ex-player sightings are frequent and it’s pitiful to get very excited by such things, but this one was also significant. Specifically, it was notable how the half-forward/ex-assistant was combining the visual data of the game with audio. Like many fans, my own dad included, it seemed he was adding commentary to the match via headphones. This is no crime in itself, of course – I can admit that cunning graphics and broadcasters we know better than our extended families have dragged AFL deep into the territory of a ‘TV sport’. Our issue (for Ben noticed this, too) was that the half-forward was having the commentary delivered by a single AirPod (or imitation product) and that the piece was fixed in the ear adjacent to the son, effectively cutting off any whinge or inexpert comment the kid might’ve liked to offer (see illustration, if this is at all confusing). Obviously, we were not privy to any counter-balancing reason the barrier was set-up (perhaps his left AirPod, for instance, had been broken) but it did immediately present as an egregious social crime – and unnecessary, given there was a noted radio voice for our MCG neighbourhood to pick-up without a device. Perhaps, in fact, he was listening to a Foo Fighters or film soundtrack playlist in order to render the whole show into a highlights package. Sam Docherty’s last quarter bomb would’ve looked even better, I think, set to the closing stages of Hans Zimmer’s ‘Final Ascent’ (for it rained over on the Richmond defence like one of those British missiles at the end of No Time to Die).














3. The neighbour who appeared in the second half to the torment me. I couldn’t suppress the stupid thought that a couple turning-up to take seats hitherto empty in the first half might test the universal balance that had got the Blues to a 14-point lead. Based on their age, their investment, and what was proving to be our B-grade VIP surrounds, I suspected them the parents of a player. The woman/wife/mother sat in the chair I’d previously been draping a comfortable arm across, and soon revealed herself as also a member of the anxious, magical-thinking brand. As Charlie Curnow lined up for goal in the third following a pass from his brother, this woman hissed, “Miss, miss, miss, etc.,” with the venom of a hex. It didn’t work. Charlie’s shot was dead straight and we, his dependents, roared. But my new neighbour’s campaign of sorcery nevertheless continued, and perhaps worked. Though we never acknowledged each other, we were both drawn deep into the tension of the last quarter, as Carlton defenders parried Richmond entries but always seemed to ‘return to sender’, who’d send again. So desperate were this possible mother and I that, if you’re a utilitarian, you might think the result of ‘greatest net happiness’ was the one that played out in the end, with no winner. Indeed, my post-siren pain was quickly blunted by appreciating the other mob weren’t leaving the ’G with anything more. And yet how can this have been ‘greatest net happiness’ when no-one, really, was happy? No-one except, bizarrely, ‘Captain Grumpy’ (the Fox Footy moniker of the ex-captain whose anonymity I’m now too exhausted to maintain), who emitted a maniacal laugh, swears Ben, just as the siren blared, moments ahead of what would’ve been a match-winning Blues’ forward clearance and score. Maybe I should add a myriad of bookmakers to the ‘happy’ list, too– the league’s rightful public enemies – who would have cashed-in handsomely on the draw. On the train home, after reading Sarah Black’s excellent match report, I hoped guileless Paddy, the Perth journalist, was at least sticking that bang-even scoreline, that classic but pungent contest, into his pipe, smoking it in the quiet of the world’s most isolated city. However, once again, this scoreline hadn’t reflected the closeness of the contest. Acres, in normal circumstances, should’ve marked, handpassed to the underrated, long-kicking Lochie O’Brien. Blues should’ve won. 

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