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History on the shoulder

Author Peter Newlinds could barely contain his excitement over the AFL final last Saturday which saw his team GWS get over the line, he recaps that game in the lead up to Grand Final Fever this weekend

The Richmond Tigers of 2019 are playing with a lot to prove and a lot of lost years to make up for. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, ‘the past is always close behind’.

When Taylor Adams fired a shot on goal with four minutes and eleven seconds left in Saturday’s preliminary final, the MCG was silent for about a second. When the ball hit the base of the left goal post (for a point) the crowd of 77,000 gasped in either relief (GWS) or ‘here we go again’ (Collingwood).

Not a single point was scored for the rest of the game but that doesn’t even begin to describe a passage of time where everything but the scoreboard moved Collingwood’s way. The Magpies racked up four final quarter goals in a row but couldn’t get a fifth and fell short of a winning score again.

A sea of black and white

The MCG was filled, with about 90 per cent of its occupants decked out in black and white. A wave of noise rose and fell around the stadium as the Magpies (inevitably) made their late run to chase down a 33-point deficit. The climatic environment only added to the febrile atmosphere. Low hanging cloud lead to an early dusk, as twilight faded to night. Showers fell through the first three quarters but eased off in time for the last act – the final quarter. The brooding atmosphere of cloud and rain only seemed to amplify the sense of commotion and expectation and here, perhaps, is where Collingwood came undone.

A few thousand or so GWS supporters had bounced into the MCG like kids on a school excursion. All the trappings of footy support were on display. Orange scarves, beanies, large flags behind the goals, even a banner with the word ‘colliwobbles’ on it. Giants’ fans were there to win but it felt more like a joy ride. Eight years of history can give everything a light touch.

 The weight of history on Collingwood fans

 There’s nothing light about a day at the footy for Collingwood fans. High in the stands like a great emperor Eddie Maguire watches on, willing his team to victory like a true supporter but also waiting to preside over a new era, to redress a history of too many near misses in big finals. The agony of the Collyiobbles.

There’s so much feverish support for this biggest of Melbourne clubs, so much expectation from its supporters that it seems when the chance is there to change the narrative of a (generally) painful history the players tense up. Opportunities can go missing.

By nightfall this Saturday it will be all over

The day might be bright and sunny for the Grand Final between Richmond and GWS this Saturday. It’s a 2.30 start so the game will finish well before the sun goes down. By night time we’ll know so much more.

Richmond entered the VFL in 1908 and waited twelve years to win its first grand final. The record shows that was against Collingwood. In 1920 the Tigers were relative newcomers to the big time and any win was a good win. In the century since, this great and mostly likeable club has written its own story of triumph, along with decades of misery. Along the way it has racked up a tally of eleven premiership flags and its mass of fans would like nothing more than to move up another notch on the overall premiership ladder. (Collingwood sits on 15, one behind Essendon and Carlton and Richmond have 11 and getting closer by the day.)

A great competition can’t live without its history and we wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s how history weighs on the mind that, in part, makes for the sort of drama that played out on the MCG last Saturday.

Like the Tigers of 1920, GWS don’t know how it feels to win the big one. It’s just another day out for a young and evolving club. The Richmond Tigers of 2019 are playing with a lot to prove and a lot of lost years to make up for. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, ‘the past is always close behind’.

Peter Newlinds author of Around the Grounds

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