As you’re wont to do in these moments, we made much of the mundane on the eight-hour-plus drive from Adelaide to Melbourne, as we joined the Crows-coloured Caravan of Courage along the Western Highway.
The canola fields glowed gold like Van Gogh’s sunflowers, while driving across Pykes Creek was definitely a Promising Sign. As was the watchful crow perched on the side of the road as we passed Ballarat, which we decided was clearly a Good Omen.
In hindsight, though, it was a pretty mangy, mangled old bird, very much on its last legs. So while it may have been an omen, it was probably not a positive one.
For Richmond, like the Tiger of old, were indeed strong and bold, and the Crows were – for the most part – neither of these things.
Which, given the season that preceded Grand Final day, is a bit of a pisser, to put it mildly.
Especially given your Fumbles correspondent had come up trumps in the Gold Member Grand Final grandstand lucky-dip, and had near-ringside seats to what I hoped (and – surprisingly, given our traditional Fumbleland melancholia – even expected) would be our long-awaited return to the premiership dais.
Instead, of course, they were ringside seats to our execution.
It all started brightly enough. Two goals in the opening minutes to Rory and Eddie had me high-fiving complete strangers in adjacent rows, who seemed destined to become lifelong friends over the course of the ensuing two hours. But as it turned out, that was the extent of our interaction.
It seemed as if it would play out much as it did the week before against Geelong, whereby we jump out of the blocks with the first two goals before their marquee forward misses a chance to get one back after a strong grab.
But, sadly, it was nothing like the week before.
I had watched the preliminary final again during the preceding days, to help combat my nervous insomnia. I think I just wanted to reassure myself that we were as good as I thought we were.
And we were.
But in reality that game could so easily have been different. So many Geelong turnovers and fumbles came about because of a split-second fingertip to the ball, or packs parting for us like the Red Sea in the nick of time; a clenched fist finding the right millimetre and the right moment. If we’d have been half a second off, things could have been different. But we weren’t. Time and again.
And then, early on Saturday, we were half a second off. Time and again.
Moments that would have gone our way the week before instead went Richmond’s.
There’s a bit of luck there. But mostly they just wanted it more.
There was a moment early on, when we were still up and about, that sounded alarm bells: when Kyle Hartigan got hip-and-shouldered out of a marking contest and went down like a rag doll. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight it was almost symbolic of how our day was to pan out.
Perhaps, if we’d looked hard enough, the signs always pointed that way.
Even before the first bounce, Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers was trolling us in his teal jacket (unless he was wearing it to mark the tenth anniversary of our third-favourite Grand Final?)
Anyway, the brief pre-match entertainment bill ensured that from now on, some of my favourite songs will be forever associated with my team losing. A bit like the ‘Tigerland’ song has been for Richmond supporters for the last 35 years.
The Killers returned to perform a free set after the post-match celebrations, but the mates I was sitting with had already left to catch an early flight (I’d counselled them against booking this, warning that they’d regret missing the lap of honour – so in my face, I guess) and joining the Tiger army in the moshpit didn’t seem an attractive proposition.
So I wandered out, and began the long trudge away from the ‘G.
There was no Mr Brightside to look on today.
Walking back, disoriented among the jubilant Tiger throng, I found myself wandering desolate along Punt Road, which – for the uninitiated – is Not a Good Place To Be when your side has just lost a Grand Final to Richmond.
Did you ever do the thing as a little kid where you stack it in the playground, in front of everyone, and have to hold it together while you walk away, winded and close to tears? That’s kind of how I felt as I jostled quietly between the huddled hordes celebrating their first flag for 37 years: hurt, shocked and, yes, embarrassed. Possibly embarrassed most of all.
And still you love the club… but you love it like you would an unfaithful spouse or a wayward child
Somehow I managed to hail a cab and get the hell out of there, and hightailed back to the sanctuary of my folks’ south-eastern suburbs apartment. It was either that, or catch up in town with a Port Adelaide-supporting mate. So a no-brainer really.
However, I arrived home to discover that the Footy Gods had left one last little dog turd on my proverbial doorstep.
After all the Indiana Jones references that have been something of a running gag here at Fumbleland this year, guess what Channel 7 decided to put on straight after the goddamn Grand Final?
Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Seriously, you could not make this stuff up.
And (even though 7 decided to cut this bit out), it was clear that our search for the elusive prize we had sought had ended the way it was probably always doomed to end:
Still, I certainly got the last laugh: while the Richmond faithful were all sleeping off their hangovers, I was driving the nine hours back to SA, fresh as a daisy.
Take that, Tiger Army!
But it was, admittedly, a surreal, empty feeling. At every food or fuel stop, bewildered Crows supporters would give each other a dead-eyed nod of greeting, or perhaps an uncomprehending shake of the head that said “No, me neither.” We flee as one.
You know when you go to the other end of the house for something, but forget what it is you went there for, so you have to go all the way back where you started wondering why you bothered in the first place? It was a bit like that, multiplied by a billion.
Still, it at least gave me time to mull over a few of the things that annoyed me the most about Grand Final Day.
Namely, and in no particular order:
A generalisation: it has come to my attention that Tigers fans are not ‘my cup of tea’.
Most of the crowds I walked past on my solitary escape from the ‘G didn’t cast a glance my way, even in sympathy, but I did cop the odd ‘Fuck you, Adelaide’.
Swan St Adelaide Scarf burning #RichmondFC #aflgrandfinal2017 pic.twitter.com/2gm5T1NOGA
— Jeremy Budman (@jeremybudman) September 30, 2017
And then, as we wended our way across the border, the Caravan of Courage now more a Convoy of Carnage, a thoughtful Richmond supporter graciously passed on his or her gratitude for our role in helpfully ending their 37-year premiership drought:
You’re welcome, Richmond.
On the way to Melbourne, we had stopped in Nhill for lunch – along with many others on their pilgrimage – and marvelled at the sea of red, blue and gold streamers inviting travellers to bask in the well-wishes of sympathetic strangers. On the way back, though, Nhill showed its true colours: the red, blue and gold were replaced by a pointed array of yellow and black, with one solitary local devoting his day to giving us a farewell salute on our way back across the border.
Note to self: if we ever make another Grand Final, avoid Nhill. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing there. Or possibly Tigers in Crows’ clothing. Whatever.
Although, after Saturday, and amid the prospect of another messy trade season exodus, even thinking about making another Grand Final seems a massive stretch. Like the drive-of-shame from Melbourne to Adelaide, it’s a long way back.
Which brings me to…
2. Josh Jenkins.
Less ‘refreshingly honest’ banter, and more Winning Grand Finals, pal. Cheers.
Not that I’m jumping on the bandwagon, but maybe over the summer you should have a re-watch of your effort in the dying seconds of that 2013 win over North Melbourne and think about the kind of player you want to be.
For all his talk, Jenkins barely ranked as a distraction for the Richmond defence.
To be fair, I’m singling JJ out as a kind of amalgam of our entire – and much-vaunted – forward line, which collectively failed to fire a shot.
An atypical lack of leadership, on-field and off, was palpable, epitomised too by Tex’s listless performance and uninspiring post-match address. And annoyingly, we proved all the pundits who prophesied about our top-heavy forward line correct. We may have been big and strong, but Richmond killed us, on the ground and in the air.
I had high hopes for a feelgood final after Ottens’ comeback selection. But, as Ned Flanders once said: “My family can’t live in your good intentions, Marge.”
In hindsight, Don Pyke indeed went in with too many talls.
But it would be less of a thing if they’d actually looked interested in competing.
At least, though, the ignominious margin probably wouldn’t have been negated by a Milera, or even a Bryce Gibbs. This loss was comprehensive.
Our players were spooked, constantly swamped and harassed by a swarm of Richmond runners.
3. Umpires. Yes, they sucked. But not to the tune of 48 points. Going to my first Grand Final at the MCG has given me a renewed admiration for the early-noughties achievements of the Lions, winning three flags on the trot against Victorian powerhouses. But we knew the score going in, and it’s no excuse.
Off the field, things haven’t gone our way for years – and this team has been resilient. In the Grand Final things didn’t go out way, it’s true. But we were not resilient.
I’ve seen some supporters get quite irate about the inevitable ridicule of Power supporters. Not me though. I welcome it. I don’t want their sympathy.
And, of course, I’d do the same for them if they were in this position. Although I don’t think I’m going to have to anytime soon.
4. History. No, not ours. That just continues apace, on our long and bitter journey from mediocrity to disappointment. At least next season we won’t have to round the number of years we’ve been without a flag up to 20. It will literally be two decades, on the nose.
But perhaps the bigger sadness from the Grand Final is that the received article of faith over those 20 years has been the hapless incompetence of the Tigers, their ability to grab failure from the jaws of victory.
And now everything has changed.
As Richard Nixon would say (if he was still alive, and followed AFL – neither of which seem particularly plausible): “We won’t have Richmond to kick around anymore.”
And moreover, their miserable mantle has probably passed to us.
And there would be few teams more worthy of the dubious honour.
For really, the Crows are the perfect ambassadors for what we call the South Australian Condition: they’re the archetype of a Team for All South Australia.
They’re the one-way expressway of football teams.
A team that promises much, and time and again manages to sell us hope of great things to come – only to routinely bring us crashing back to despondent reality, if not national humiliation.
This is indeed the team of the State Bank, of Olympic Dam, of the nuclear waste dump, of the non-existent mining boom, of the epic but strangely fruitless Defence spend.
The team that lets us dare to dream, and then slaps us rudely awake.
And still you love the club – of course you do – but you love it like you would an unfaithful spouse or a wayward child. You love them despite it all, and fervently hope that one day they will make something better of themselves.
Even though they keep doing this to you:
But because this is still a love story, it’s time to turn that frown upside down and look for some positives. Some consolations.
So open up your eager eyes, ‘cos I’m Mr Bloody Brightside.
In no particular order:
1. Thompson, Smith and McGovern didn’t have to miss out on a flag. So that’s something.
And Thommo on his motorcade still had more impact than Josh Jenkins – and got a bigger cheer. Go well, champ.
2. If we’d won, I’d planned to watch Saturday’s game back at least a couple of times. A day. For the next year. So think how much time that’s saved me.
3. History. No, not ours. But every other club that has played a Grand Final has lost a Grand Final. Why should we assume it’s a rite of passage from which we are immune?
And if you must lose a Grand Final, 48 points is a pretty good margin: a nice compromise between the agony of one point (Sydney in ‘06) and the ignominy of (for example) 119.
And at least we don’t have to be haunted by the ghost of ‘06 anymore. We can now be haunted by 2017 instead.
But I’d still prefer to have made it this far, and have the football world forced to acknowledge my team, at least for a week. I just wish they’d acquitted themselves better at the end of it.
I might have caught a glimpse of my own future there at the ‘G: a lifetime largely wasted supporting perhaps the world’s most annoying football team
For playing a bad Grand Final is a bit like being Jimmy Carter: everyone remembers how you messed up your opportunity but no-one ever talks about how amazing it was that you were there in the first place.
Still, that’s democracy for you. Just ask Jeremy Howe.
But, after all those failed prelims, it nonetheless feels like a monkey off our back, of sorts…
At least we won’t have to hear the joke about not playing grand finals this century anymore. Just about winning them.
4) Richmond: If one has to lose a Grand Final, it is some small consolation to do so to a team that hasn’t won one for almost 40 years. And, far more importantly, to a team that doesn’t feature any former Crows players in its ranks.
Not a Kurt to be seen, or a Paddy, or a Phil or a Jack (well, there’s a Jack, but not our Jack).
Or at least, it was a consolation, at least until after the game, when this particular sympathetic feelgood factor evaporated rather quickly amid the aftermatch celebrations [see 1. above], when I decided that Richmond – a club for which I’ve mostly managed to hold no particular animosity or grudge for more than two decades – was now officially on the Fumbles Shitlist.
But we can console ourselves that we’ve still won twice as many flags as they have since 1980.
And yet I still retain a sliver of empathy: as I left the Cricketers’ Bar at the ‘G pre-game, I spied a decrepit old guy in a wheelchair peering at the ground from the first floor of the Great Southern Stand. It occurred to me at the time that, if we lost, at least this guy would get to see his team win one more flag before he shuffled off this mortal coil.
I thought back on him again afterwards, although not in the same spirit. It was more the grim realisation that I might have caught a glimpse of my own future there at the ‘G: a lifetime largely wasted supporting perhaps the world’s most annoying football team.
Because I was ready to give it away at season’s end.
To walk away from Fumbleland for good. To hang up the proverbial boots – a Shane Crawford-esque “That’s what I’m talkin’ about” farewell, leaving the dais after a long-awaited premiership with nothing more to give, and – more pertinently – nothing more to complain about.
But perhaps it’s not to be.
For while we have our fruitless frustration, it seems, we will always have a Touch Of The Fumbles.
We certainly did last Saturday.
Till next year then.
Touch Of The Fumbles will (begrudgingly) return next year. Probably.
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