Tiger Army Rejoices

Richmond fans can finally utter the ‘F-word’ without being reminded of their worst nightmares. Not only can they utter it, they can shout the F-word with confidence when they go to the football… No, not the traditional word you’ve heard shouted from Tiger mouths – a different F-letter word that has haunted Richmond supporters for years.

Finals.

That’s right, for the first time in twelve painfully long seasons, the Richmond Football Club will be competing in the September action. The word deserves a line of its own as for the thousands of other Tiger supporters including this columnist, they will finally get their opportunity to wear the famous “Yellow and Black” in the spring warmth rather than the winter cold. The last time the Tiger faithful saw their team play in September was back in 2001 – it seems an eternity ago.

The Tigers’ 2013 finals fate was secured after its Round 20 victory against the Brisbane Lions. The landmark victory brought its number of wins to the magic thirteen, thereby making it mathematically impossible to fall outside of the eight. It is perhaps the only mathematical equation that Richmond supporters can think about, and one that brings tears of joy to some of the most resilient sporting followers in the country.

It has been a painful and downright disastrous decade for all involved in the Richmond Football Club. The Tigers have been the victims of repeatedly famous jokes much to the amusement of the rest of the football public. The recurring false dawns that Richmond fans have been forced to endure has led opposition supporters to cruelly rename the club, ‘Ninth-mond’, in response to the Tigers consistently finishing just outside the top eight.

Since Richmond last experienced premiership glory in 1980, the Tigers have remarkably featured in just two finals campaigns, in 1995 and 2001. It’s a pretty funny statistic for most football supporters but further salt rubbed into the wound of Tigers like myself when we consider that even Fitzroy – a club that became extinct in 1997 – has played in as many finals matches to date.

I could write on and on about the number of Richmond false dawns and times the side has just missed out on making the eight, but I won’t, primarily for it would absolutely exceed my word limit but also because the repetition would bore you to death. Let me just say that opening up a package in the mail which reveals a wooden spoon– a ‘present’ given to supporters of the team who finishes last – in 2004 and 2007 is not fun. It’s also not much better finishing in 9th spot – one position outside of playing finals football – in 2006 and 2008. And the other years? Well let’s just say it’s better they not be written about for this columnist is desperately trying to forget them… Terry Wallace – Terry Who?

2013 is finally different and the pain of the past decade makes a top eight spot even sweeter. While the Tigers are still a developing side and thus, at times, struggle with consistency as all young teams do, there is much to get excited about. The senior coach, Damien Hardwick, has instilled discipline and patience into a club that once was addicted to ignoring youth development and going after the “short-term fix.” The team oozes some A-grade class with the likes of Cotchin, Deledio, Martin and Riewoldt supporters by promising youngsters in Conca, Ellis and Vlastuin, to name just a few.

However, the group that almost certainly deserves the most praise is the club’s supporters, the famous Tiger Army. Despite three decades of the cruellest suffering in the sporting context, the fact the club boasts over 60,000 members speaks volumes of the unwavering loyalty of Richmond supporters to their club. The Tiger Army can finally delay any holiday plans in September and stick around in Melbourne to watch their team play. They’ve ridden an emotional rollercoaster with a couple of highs but mainly filled with incredibly deep lows.

While this comment has been falsely stated in the past, it can be finally said for real – the sleeping giant of the AFL has finally awoken. I’ll see you in the stands in September!