There’s a lot of storylines heading into tomorrow’s AFL Grand Final, and with any Premiership decider the uncertainties are rife. But one thing we know with absolute certainty: It’s a drought-breaker.
For Richmond, the plight is well-documented. 35 years without a Grand Final appearance. 37 without a Premiership victory. In the intervening years, statistical misery and mediocrity; a string of 9th-place finishes from a club that was never good enough to be truly good, and never bad enough to be truly bad. Nearly four full decades of football purgatory.
For Adelaide, it’s a little different. The first “interstate” club to enter the league without having to suffer the indignity of wearing a Victorian Football League badge, the Crows have been able performers for practically their entire 27-year history. After a pair of, some might say, unlikely Premierships in 1997 and 1998, the Pride of South Australia seemingly had a dynasty in their sights. And then… nothing. Call it underperformance. Call it bad luck. Call it what you will. But since ’98 the Crows have never quite been able to figure out how to take that one rare, extra step.
This year, luck has finally turned for both clubs. Richmond and Adelaide sport the current longest stretches without Grand Final appearances of any of the league’s clubs. On Saturday, that changes forever. And for their long-suffering, diehard fans, it could not have come a moment sooner.
Image credit: Getty Images / Michael Wilson
For devout Tigers fan Melbourne comedian Rose Callaghan, the yellow and black represents a deep and enduring love affair that stretches back at least two decades. Probably even more.
“20 years… fuck, it might be 22,” she said, “My Godfather used to take me to Melbourne games with his kids when I was in Primary School and I loved it. Eventually I started going with my friend Becky and her family. We would sit in the Richmond members. Her Dad and Aunty would yell some of the most poetic and imaginative abuse I had ever heard in my life. Her Dad’s voice had a particularly guttural quality to it that really got the point across. ‘White maggots’ was a classic back then when umpires still wore white. It was pretty loose in the Olympic Stand in the 90s.”
Callaghan’s experience growing up with footy in the 90s echoes that of a lot of people; a carefree, wistful nostalgia for a time of simpler play, a ragtag class of handsome (if not bulky and haphazard) heroes, and revelling in the rare air of victory the only way Australians truly know how: by relentlessly rubbing it in the face of everyone who lost.
“[We would hang] our scarves out the window of my friend’s Dad’s Torana, screaming abuse at people as we drove back to Port Melbourne if the Tiges got up. The car only fit 4 people so there was often someone lying on the floor.”
“I remember meeting my teen crush Matthew Richardson at Punt Road Oval who I had an intense romantic love for at the time, despite the fact he was twice my size and 22, and I was 14 and still waiting for my boobs to come through.”
The thought of a Tigers Grand Final in 2017 still seems like a weird dream to Callaghan, as it does a large chunk of Richmond’s fan base, many of whom have gone their entire lives without seeing their team run out onto the MCG in late September. Whether or not they’ll be raising the cup come Saturday evening remains to be seen. But at the end of the day, merely being able to fully experience the joys of Grand Final week has left Callaghan pragmatic about the outcome.
“I’m honestly just happy to be involved. Plus Adelaide have been phenomenal this year. I just hope it’s not close if they win.”
That pragmatism is a sentiment is shared by Melbourne-based writer Kylie Maslen, a South Australian native and Tigers diehard who, by her own admission, has “followed the Nick Daffy yellow & black trilogy – North Gambier, Glenelg and Richmond – since birth.”
Maslen’s emotions as a Richmond fan this week should be eerily familiar to many; anxiety-tinged anticipation for Saturday, topped with the flickering light of hope that, finally, this might be the start of something bigger.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole bloody life. I heard someone say that if we win Swan Street will be like the Berlin Wall has just come down and honestly I think that describes the feeling best. I’m just so proud of how far we’ve come this year. It’s incredible what this team has achieved, and they’re all so young. This is hopefully the start of a run of Grand Finals.”
Image credit: Getty Images / Michael Dodge
While the Adelaide Football Club, by almost half as much, has the more recent flag success, their fans are no less keen to snap a drought that now extends 19 years. Crows fans – or fans of any non-Victorian team, for that matter – have always maintained a very bullish, ‘Us against Them‘ stance in their attitude towards Victorian football. And while the romance of a Richmond flag is certainly not lost on them, this Saturday the Tigers don’t just represent a club, they represent the domineering golem of the league’s Melbourne-centricity.
At just 27 years old, the club has some of the most impassioned fans in the game, and chef/very good internet person Adam Liaw recalls exactly how fever-pitched the club’s hype was practically from its very first day: “I was 12 when the Crows entered the AFL in 1991 and in Adelaide it was a huge deal. I remember going down to games with friends just to see what the fuss was about.”
History shows the Crows didn’t take long to get going as a club, but it was an extremely unlikely pair of Premierships in 1997 and 1998 that really set the club, and the city, alight. Such was the eerily similar nature in the way the Crows captured both flags that, in Adelaide, Liaw recalls it was practically déjà vu.
“I can’t be sure [of] my memories of the ‘97 or ’98 flags, because I did exactly the same thing for both. We watched the game at a friend’s house in Adelaide and after the win in ’97 everyone was just stunned – ecstatic, but stunned – and we didn’t really know what to do so we all just ran down to the local oval with a couple of footys. Turns out everyone in the neighbourhood had the same idea and the whole oval was full of people recreating every goal from the last quarter. In ’98 it was like a carbon copy and we all ran down to the oval again, and sure enough all the same people were there, too.”
At just 4 years of age in 1998, now-Melbourne-based Crows fan Kirsten Weiser remembers little of the ’98 Premiership, but her recollection of the buzz it put over the entire city of Adelaide is no less joyous.
“All I can remember is there being a lot of red, yellow and blue streamers wherever you went, and everyone being super excited about something all of a sudden. I didn’t know what it was, but the whole city felt very sparkly.”
Image credit: Getty Images / Adam Trafford, AFL Media
For the younger generation of Crows fans, this is their first real chance at seeing their team on the AFL’s biggest stage. But for Crows fans living in Melbourne, as Weiser explains, it’s a chance to fully embrace their roots from a town that constantly has to live in the shadow of Australia’s bigger cities.
“There’s something really special about living in Melbourne and repping your home team. Adelaide has a real underdog mentality, and growing up you feel like your city can’t compete with Melbourne or Sydney for anything. Adelaide’s super underrated and I feel like people don’t think we can compete on any national stage – that’s why I want to see us beat every Victorian team at their own game.”
“All year, I’ve been victim of the Adelaide mentality of being told we were a good team, but sort of subconsciously presuming that there was no way we’d make it. Someone once told me that Adelaide fans get upset when they only win by 7 goals, because it ‘should’ve been 10’. That’s me.”
More than any other year in recent memory, the 2017 AFL Grand Final features two teams that have more common traits than inherent differences; similarities that extend far beyond the players’ actions on the field. Two proud, extremely popular clubs, both dogged by a previously unshakeable underdog status – be that either via on-field performance, or geography. Teams with a bare handful of superstar players bolstered by a supporting cast of unassuming workhorses; two champion teams, not two teams of champions.
Crows and Tigers fans will descend on the MCG, on pubs, on living rooms across the country on Saturday. At the end of the game, their emotions will be never be more different. But for this week – this whole, glorious, nerve-wracking week – they could not be more identical. Weiser, perhaps, sums it up best:
“This week has gone so slowly. It’s all we’re talking about at work. I’ve literally been dreaming about it. I’ve been saying a silent prayer every time my tram goes past the MCG. No matter what the result is, part of me will feel like I can finally move on with my life on Saturday night. My tiny heart just wants so much to cry and scream with joy. I cannot describe how much I want this. Game on.”
Game bloody on, indeed.Image: Getty Images / Michael Dodge, AFL Media