When Stuart Davidson’s beloved Fitzroy folded in 1996, his then five-year-old son, Nicholas, suggested Stuart could join him as a Richmond fan.
“Fitzroy played Richmond in its last Melbourne game and it was pretty emotional after we left the ground. Nicholas put up a convincing argument about both sides being cats (Fitzroy/Lions and Richmond/Tigers) and said he thought it would be alright if I went for Richmond (the team Nicholas supported),” Stuart recalled.
Stuart lives in Richmond and is the chair of the Richmond Uniting Church council. Tomorrow he will rise before the sun to travel to the MCG for the 6am Melbourne Cricket Club members’ gate opening to secure a seat, to watch the Tigers make their first Grand Final appearance (against Adelaide) in 35 years. It will be Stuart’s first Grand Final since he joined the Tiger Army.
Richmond last played a Grand Final in 1982 when it was beaten by three goals by Carlton.
The Tigers’ 35-year drought – which has covered 12,789 days between Grand Finals – is the fourth-longest in VFL/AFL history. In that time Richmond has played 779 games, 11 finals matches, had 13 coaches while seven new teams have been added to either the VFL or AFL competitions and Australia has had eight prime ministers.
When Richmond last played in the decider current coach Damien Hardwick was 10 years old and Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin was nine years away from being born.
Stuart admits he cannot quite believe the Tigers have made it after many years of disappointment and heartbreak.
“Richmond fans generally start the year optimistic in round one but heartbroken by the end of the home-and-away matches,” he said.
That looked on the cards again this year when the Tigers were humiliated by St Kilda in round 16.
“I really did begin to think that might be when everything would go horribly wrong,” he said.
But, Richmond righted itself and impressive finals wins over Geelong and Greater Western Sydney see it enter the grand final in red hot form.
“They still make mistakes. They are not a perfect football team but they have been playing better as a unit and there is a real team spirit,” Stuart said.
Living in Richmond, Stuart said there had been a real buzz around the suburb over the last few weeks with a campaign to have as many fences as possible painted black and yellow.
“We have a black wire gate but we have put a yellow sash on it and after last Saturday’s win the Anglican minister had the bells ringing at St Bart’s in Burnley St,” Stuart said.
He did not expect the weight of expectation – and hope – would hold the Tigers back tomorrow.
“I hope they will enjoy it and play for each other. I also do not think that Adelaide plays the MCG well,” Stuart said.
“They are good at the Adelaide Oval but not that good at the MCG.”
Stuart is far from the only Richmond tragic in the Uniting Church with Rev Arnie Wierenga, the minister at Mooroolbark, suffering from a similar affliction.
Arnie has been following the Tigers for as long as he can remember, having been introduced to the yellow-and-black by his brother, Dirk.
The pair grew up in Kingston, about 15km south of Hobart in Tasmania, where the local team also plays in Richmond’s colours.
Arnie said he started to believe the Tigers had a chance about halfway through the last quarter of the preliminary final.
Unlike Stuart, Arnie is planning a quiet home viewing with his wife, Jennie, tomorrow.
And an important theological question – is it acceptable for a football fan to pray for victory for their team on grand final day?
“If we are two points down and there is 30 minutes on the clock in the last quarter, I might try anything,” Stuart laughed.