How a Swan swam off to the Tigers

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HE LIVED through the pain of supporting the wrong side when the Tigers were tearaways at the top, now he finds himself in the right camp at last. GREG THOM tells of his conversion to the Tiger faith:

I’VE BEEN a Richmond supporter for 22 years.

Which may seem like a long time, but is actually kind of awkward, because I’m also a 52-year-old Melburnian who grew up barracking for South Melbourne.

While living in Tigerland.

When I describe myself as a football tragic, it’s not in the traditional sense.

By rights I should have grown up with yellow and black pumping through my veins.

Richmond was home, most of my mates barracked for the Tigers and I lived a stone’s throw from the Punt Road oval in Rowena Parade.

On game days, hordes of people as they still do today would come streaming past my home after the final siren, many of them wearing yellow and black.

As is the case with many footy families though, fate decreed my old man was a lifelong Swans supporter from Port Melbourne and I decided to follow suit.

Unlike me, a more than handy footballer he played one game with the “Bloods” reserves in the 50’s (when he promptly got knocked out), but that was enough for me.

You don’t always get to choose your team. Sometimes it chooses you.

I believed in the mantra that once you jump you can never come back – as my Carlton-loving wife explained many years later to our wide-eyed four-year-old son when he was at the crossroads of following the Blues or the Tigers (I lost that battle).

A couple of footy lovers. Greg Thom’s turned Tiger but wife Jane sticks with her Blues.
A couple of footy lovers. Greg Thom’s turned Tiger but wife Jane sticks with her Blues.

Suffice to say, attending Yarra Park primary school on Punt Rd in the ‘70s in an era when the yellow and black were a footy powerhouse and the Swans were cellar dwellers, wasn’t easy.

It was character building being the lone Swans voice in the heated debate about the Richmond coup that saw Swans defender John Pitura join the club for a then record fee in 1975.

Attending Richmond High School wasn’t much better.

As the token Swans supporter, somehow Graham Teasdale (who left the Tigers for South as part of the Pitura deal) winning the Brownlow in 1977 was all my fault.

While my Collingwood, Carlton and Richmond mates reeled off how many premierships cups their clubs had in the trophy cabinet, the only stat I had to play was South’s last Grand Final win – in 1933.

I learned the words to Cheer, Cheer the Red and the White from a giant board in the clubrooms at the Lakeside Oval and my dad’s passionate rendition of the tune after a few Carlton Draughts.

One of my most prized possessions was a rare red and white Sherrin signed by the entire 1976 Swans team – including the legendary Peter Bedford – a year when they finished stone motherless last.

That’s what made the events of 1982 hurt all the more.

After all the jibes, the years of watching the Swans get thrashed at the Lakeside Oval with little to show for it, they were suddenly upping stakes and moving to Sydney, jettisoning the name South Melbourne along the way.

The only passionate footy supporters who really have an idea of what this feels like are Fitzroy. It was like a knife through the heart.

While the Swans relocated rather than disappearing into a merger like the Roys, it may as well have.

The Sydney Cricket Ground is a long way from the Lakeside Oval.

Like many Swans fans who have kept the faith to this day, I tried to remain passionate about a side based more than 1,000km away in another state (even during the totally crazy Edelsten years).

While it just wasn’t the same, I couldn’t quite let go.

The catalyst came in 1995, when Mike Willesee arrived.

Suddenly the Swans were on track to become the Sydney Sharks, would run out on to the ground in a new look blue jumper and serious consideration was devoted to not recognising the club’s past history – including three premierships – in Melbourne.

Enough was enough

No-one makes you sign a legal document when you decide to stop barracking for an AFL team. It’s not really supposed to happen, particularly when you have 25 years under your belt.

Doing so probably broke my old man’s heart.

But the Swans broke mine, so I reckon the ledger’s squared.

While I always had a soft spot for Richmond, as in all things footy in my life however, the timing wasn’t great.

I got on board with the Tigers just as their prospects were looking up under the stewardship of John Northey.

My Richmond-loving mates still blame me for putting the mozz on the side and hold me accountable for its subsequent slide into the footy wilderness which coincided with my declaration I was now a Tiger.

Just like the Swans though, I’ve remained staunch and lived the ups and downs of the club, from tin rattling in 1993 that almost saw the Yellow and Black go under to the jokes about having a lock on ninth place on the ladder and heart-breaking finals losses.

I take out a membership each year and go to the odd game, though not as many as I should.

I share the same passion for Richmond as my mates – many I have known for 40 years – but sometimes suspect I’m a bit like a resident who has lived in a country town for 20 years but is still not considered a local.

These are the same blokes I high fived, hugged and screamed my lungs out with as we watched the Tigers destroy Geelong in the Qualifying Final and end the GWS tilt at their first flag in last week’s Prelim at the MCG.

The euphoria and camaraderie singing arguably the best club song in the League with thousands of fans after the final siren at the top of my lungs will stay with me till my dying days.

If the Tigers win the flag this Saturday, I’ll be out on the streets of Richmond again, soaking up the electric atmosphere just as I did as a 15-year-old Swans supporter in 1980 after attending their last Grand Final win.

Only this time as a paid up, passionate and proud foot soldier of the Yellow and Black army.

Go Tigers!

mm

Author: Greg Thom

GREG THOM spent almost three decades working as a reporter covering crime. general news and sport, then as a feature writer and technology editor at The Sun and Herald Sun. A Richmond local, he is now a member of the corporate affairs team at the National Broadband Network.

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