With the Tigers entering their first finals campaign for 12 years and my 5-year-old a bit excited about his Tigers playing finals, it’s got me thinking about how I became a Tiger myself.

Now I’m just your average Tiger supporter, you know with a matchday guernsey for every situation, a string of club caps that have been worn grey and white, the kind of baseless pessimism that comes from sitting through the final siren of every heartbreaking loss since (only) 2003, a hole in my bank balance the size of (only) eleven years’ worth of membership fees and a VERY well loved Richmond jumper in size 2.

It was this jumper that began my Tiger journey.

My love for the Tigers came from my Granny – my Dad’s Mum. She’d been a member of the Richmond Football Club for many years prior to retirement and, though membership was one of many sacrifices she made on the pension, she never stopped loving those Tigers. And so it was just prior to my second birthday, while we were visiting her in Melbourne, she gave me my birthday present early: a tiny black jumper with a yellow sash. It had no advertising on it, it had no logos, but it did have a large number 4 on the back. I quickly learned from Dad (a Bombers supporter) that 4 was the number Granny’s favourite player wore and that his name was Royce Hart.

Perhaps if I’d known the level of success the Tigers would experience in the ensuing 35 years, I might not have begged to wear it every day until it physically wouldn’t fit anymore (or kept it to this day), but of course I was only (nearly) two and did not understand such things. At that stage of my life I only really knew love and trouble and the Tigers had never given me any trouble, so I loved them instantly.

From 1977 through 1980 I kept a child’s love for the Tigers: I knew the jumper, I knew the major hooks of the song, I knew Royce Hart and I knew they were my team. I remember one particular day Dad agonising about me playing with my toys instead of watching the footy on the TV. This was a special game, he told me – this was a Grand Final and the Tigers were in it. I got a bit excited about that and I watched probably the next two-to-four minutes of the game before going back to my toys. The Tigers won in the end which made me happy, though I didn’t quite understand the significance of 1980 until much later.

I don’t remember the day of the 1982 Grand Final at all (thankfully), I think by then Dad had given up trying to get me interested. For people in the Canberra in the 80s and 90s, keeping an interest in the VFL was hard – even if you were an interested adult. The TV would broadcast only one match per week and you had to catch up on any other game by watching The Winners on a Monday night. The introduction of the Canberra Raiders Rugby League team saw the city’s interest in aussie rules gradually reduce to the point where the local newspaper would run a single Saturday page for all (now AFL) footy news and quite often the commercial radio and TV didn’t even mention it. I heard about and even donated some pocket money to the SOS campaign to save my Tigers, but for a disinterested child, forming an interest in the game itself was just about impossible.

By the time I left my home town for the big smoke in my early twenties, I was actually quite proud that I didn’t waste my time on sports. I had little interest in any sport and spent my time on other things. Even in 2001 when I purchased my first Richmond membership (yes, I was very much on the bandwagon), I still didn’t pay too much attention. I didn’t even watch the preliminary final we featured in that year, I just wanted to help my club.

In 2004 I started a tipping competition among the family just because footy tipping sounded like fun. Suddenly I had a vested interest in each and every match and started to really enjoy watching footy. I still loved my Tigers and I was still buying a membership every year, so (as a rookie tipper), I tipped the Tigers every week. In 2004, Richmond received their first wooden spoon since 1989 and I lost the tipping lost by about 7 points. Never mind.

Since I started the tipping comp, I have barely missed watching a Tigers match at least on TV, I’m now a gold member of the Richmond Tigers, I’ve spent time on a supporters group committee, I try to attend at least a couple of matches a year live and I’ve managed to engineer a love of the Tigers in at least my eldest son. It helps that the local junior footy team is the Tigers (winning)…(and now coaching).

This year has been the first since 2004 I haven’t run the tipping comp and I’ve had to back out of the Sydney Tigers committee because 3 kids and full-time work has become just too much (yes, I stopped running the tipping in the first year the Tigers have won considerably more than they’ve lost!). Of course I still tip with the Sydney Tigers and I play some pretty serious fantasy AFL, but something’s gotta give!

This year was also the first time we took the whole family to the footy when GWS played the Tigers in Sydney. Our 5-year-old was in Kevin Sheedy’s honour guard, the Tigers played like genuine contenders and it was so one-sided that I didn’t much mind playing kicks with the kids for most of the third quarter. It was the most enjoyable football experience I’d had since I coached/umpired the Tigers U6s against the Swans U6s in a really wonderful match during the year.

This year I’ve only been able to attended a few games live, but I intend to see at least one more with Grand Final tickets already purchased for myself, my siblings, one nephew and my Dad. Dad has never attended an AFL or VFL Grand final and three years ago Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He wasn’t expected to live past three years. I’m ecstatic that he has already breezed past the three-year mark and is looking good for a few more, but we all wanted Dad to experience at least one Grand Final. Unfortunately it’s meant that making the trip to Melbourne for the Tigers’ finals campaign has been made financially impossible, but I’m quietly hoping the Tiges can deny history and make it to the big one.

I’ve often questioned my love for the Tigers (especially in 2004 and 2007) and co-consul often questions my love of football, but when I’m sitting (or standing and barracking) in a room or a grandstand full of the finest, most passionate people in the world, all bathed in yellow and black, it always reminds me that it’s not about the team – it’s about the supporters.

This year, for the first time since I actually got a bit serious about football, the team is giving us members and supporters something to go home happy about at the pointy end of the season and though making finals means that when we put that jumper on, we have a bit more swagger, from my perspective Richmond supporters have always been winners.

— IEK

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