Tigers for the flag

Tigers For the Flag: It’s As Clear As Black and White

Those who’ve had footy – and the team they follow – ingrained into them from a young age can usually apportion blame to one person.

For me, it was an uncle; a decent bush footballer from Ouyen who, like so many Collingwood supporters, is blind in one eye.

After a semi-final win in 1984, this uncle had my seven-year-old-self believing I was talking to Peter Daicos over the phone. He named pets after favourite players. He would insist the family be clad in black and white as much as possible.

And his face still reddens when highlights of the 1980 VFL Grand Final – especially when a cocksure, wispy-haired Kevin Bartlett raises both arms in celebration of his seventh major – are shown during the annual Grand Final Marathon.

“I remember wishing Stan Magro could get close enough to Bartlett to grab his comb-over and dump him into the ground,” he told me via text message.

So, as far as Richmond goes, I really had no choice. Along with Carlton, the other high-profile club that I was raised to despise – not least because of three Grand Final defeats they inflicted on the Pies during the ‘Colliwobbles’ era – there were two annual non-negotiables: win at home against them, and win away against them. If there happened to be a third – or fourth – clash during September, then warfare ensued. I once had a schoolyard scrap with another young chap purely because he sported yellow and black on the school’s ‘footy colours day’.

All of this, of course, wasn’t helped by raids, from both sides, of the other’s players during the early 1980s. The hatred, naturally, was reciprocal.

But while the Blues continued to be a club of strength for the remainder of the 1980s and much of the ‘90s before falling into a quagmire of their own making, the Tigers seldom copped a whiff of freshly-cut September grass; having to make do with chicken manure instead.

And, in a gleeful sideshow for non-Tigers supporters, the team’s more serviceable years ended in no-man’s-land: half a dozen 9th-placed finishes in the final-eight era.

Even with a return to September action in three of the four seasons prior to 2017, the gag persisted: a trio of elimination-final defeats, including the unmitigated disasters of 2013 (a loss to Carlton, who made the eight only by virtue of the aeonic Essendon supplements scandal) and 2014 (a Father’s Day flogging at the hands of Port Adelaide; a game I watched at a Warburton pub with a Richmond mate: we turned up 10 minutes’ late to discover the Tigers were already six goals down).

…the resolute manner in which Richmond has turned things around, and the party atmosphere that an on-song Tiger throng generates, has led to something of a sweeping, begrudging respect.

It seems hard to fathom the Magpie Army ever softening their stance on the Blues, but the resolute manner in which Richmond has gone about things this year, and the party atmosphere that an on-song Tiger throng generates, has led to something of a sweeping, begrudging respect. Maybe it’s because Collingwood supporters see something of themselves in the passion Tiger fans have for their team.

And because, like with the Bulldogs last season, we’re patriotic Victorians following the fairy tale. At least, this one is.

Because, really, who do we want to win? The Crows? Ted Whitten would be turning in his grave.

No, this has to be Year of the Tiger. The monkey’s off their back: they were irrepressible against Geelong; resilient against GWS. They’ve got the cattle; the following. The timing is right. They’re Yellow and Bleak no more.

Eat ’em alive, Tigers; until 5 pm on Saturday at least (before we hate you again), Victoria is behind you.

Except for my uncle, that is. I pressed him via text: “Got a soft spot at all for the Tigers this year?”

“No,” was the response.

Some wounds you just can’t heal.


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