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This is what a footy club is.

Who's Doobs? Ian 'Doobs' Macindoe was once the head physiotherapist at Richmond until he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive neurodegenerative disorder.

It is real and imagined, goalposts and an ongoing story, players, coaches, barrackers, memories that might last to the end of our days. A footy club is tradition. A unifying belief, a common thread, a way of life, family.

Last Saturday afternoon, during the second quarter of the VFL Preliminary Final, Richmond up 47 to 2 over Hawthorn, Ian Macindoe, 56, perched forward in his chair at his home in Black Rock, sipping coconut water through a straw, watching the game, whispering our players’ names – Shai, Markov, Connor, Lloyd – his green eyes alight with happiness.

The football, it brings us together.

Known to many as ‘Doobs’, Ian was once the head physiotherapist at Richmond. Players loved him, still do. All those hours working on their bodies. Fixing them. Telling stories, the endless stories. Lifting their spirits. Giving to others.

Then a foot dragged, a word slurred, something was awry. The diagnosis was frightening: multiple system atrophy (MSA), a rare and aggressive neurodegenerative disorder, worse than Parkinson’s, with no known cause nor cure. Mid-forties, with a family, two gorgeous girls, and this disease has pushed on his every muscle, knowing only one way.

Ian’s youngest sister, Sally, answered a plea of mine for a spare ticket for last Friday week’s final. She told of her brother, a Richmond life member. She mentioned his plight, her concern, how for him this season might be it. He’s the family glue, she said.

Ian and Jacky Macindoe: "All the things we have to do, we have to do now."

What she didn’t say is how much Ian Macindoe is loved at our footy club. He joined its medical team when Robert Walls was coach. He’s seen the ups and downs; players and coaches come and go.

“He’s been a huge part of the Richmond family,” says Nathan Foley.

“He’s been a great friend to many people over a long period of time at this football club,” says Brendon Gale.

“He’s a massive part of the past and where we are now,” says Trent Cotchin.

Ian Macindoe left the club in 2013, his body uncooperative, and a room filled and raised $50,000 toward his medical expenses. ‘Richo’ gave him a roast. Alex Rance sprang from a cardboard box. Tears were shed. ‘Doobs’ was going, but he wouldn’t be forgotten.

Soon after, Richmond players turned-up at his doorstep with wheelbarrows and shovels to landscape his front yard. Giving back. Ian whispers the story. Will Thursfield organised it. Shane Tuck, Nathan Foley, were there.

“Shane Edwards came but he didn’t do any work,” he says, with a mischievous grin. “He did all the talking.”  

A footy club looks out for all.

A footy club doesn’t leave anyone behind.

**

This Saturday, twilight on the spring equinox, be still our beating hearts.

Quell your fears, your doubts and disappointments. Come to play, with your talents and courage, your daring and dash, with all you’ve worked so hard for, with all you’ve to give. We, the crowd, are beside you. Ian will be there, in his wheelchair, with his wife, supporting, finding joy in the football.

From the boundary fence to seats in the heavens, we are many and come only to barrack for you.

Take nothing from our numbers. Belief is what matters. 

**

Sunday afternoon, caught a train to Kensington, to markets at the town hall, spurred by an act of kindness. A Richmond fan, Lauren Clearihan, 37, from Rosanna, had a gift. A pair of cufflinks she’d made, black with a gold metallic sash. Hers is a story of generosity, of spreading the love.

Lauren is a kindergarten teacher. She also makes jewellery (look her up, ‘Rock the Polka Dot’). In other spare time, she volunteers for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. She’ll be at Richmond’s Jack Dyer awards this year, raising funds for the children’s charity.

Lauren is, obviously, a Tiger. Yellow and black number plates adorn her car. The eldest of two daughters, for the past 20 years she’s hardly missed a game in Melbourne, going with her 72-year-old father (raised in Berry Street, on the slopes of Richmond Hill). Three years ago, she went to Adelaide by bus, by herself, to see the Elimination Final.

“The spirit on the way over was amazing, the energy,” she says. (None speak of the return journey).

“A grandparent of one of the children I taught was also doing the trip. The overwhelming feeling was of togetherness.”

Lauren Clearihan: "The Richmond thing is just more than footy."

Lauren recently made a pair of yellow and black earrings for her sister and a niece, and a badge for her father. Her mother put in a request, then a best friend. She posted photographs on social media. Others inquired.

She plans to make a few more, selling them for $15-$20. She feels uncomfortable charging more. She says the idea was always to share the spirit of Richmond these finals.

“The Richmond thing is just more than footy.”

Metallic yellow and black: Lauren's homemade Tiger jewellery.

**

Our want is as one.

The MCG this Saturday is no place for poseurs, for posturing. All that matters is bending backs, pulling together like never before.

One in, all in. Lauren will be there. With her father, her mother, her sister, a family high in the terraces.

You, them, us, we. Richmond.

**

Monday afternoon, I bicycled to Fitzroy, wind whirring in my ears, to meet a clear-eyed woman who has done remarkable things. Her name is Ellen Sandell, she’s 32, has campaigned tirelessly on social justice issues, and three years ago became the first Greens MP to be elected into the lower house of the Victorian Parliament. But I ride to her door mostly because she barracks for Richmond.

“Football for me feels like home, it feels like family,” she says.

Ellen was raised in Mildura, fertile recruiting in Richmond’s old VFL country zone, around the corner from Matthew Knights’ great aunt. “We’d always go over to her house and play games, and she’d give us treats.”

Ellen’s father, an outdoorsman who died three years ago of a melanoma, was her great football influence. He was a passionate Dees man, her mum goes for the Cats, but all three children could pick their own course in life.

“We only ever went to one game a year when I was a kid, driving seven hours,” she says. “I remember when we got to Melbourne and I’d see these signs to Collingwood and Fitzroy and I was thinking how great it was that all the suburbs are named after football teams.”

Smiling Tigers: Ellen Sandell with her greatest creation (and future Richmond AFLW player), 6-month-old Ada.

Environmental advocacy and football, Ellen finds similarities. “Being part of a bigger movement is immensely satisfying,” she says. “There’s all different people, from all walks of life. I work with farmers in Portland, and people in the inner city, on a broader mission that joins us together.”

“Our code of football brings out the very best of the Australian spirit." 

**

Please be gone with braggadocio, false modesty, conceit.

Saturday in the gloaming is all about humility and hard work, doubling efforts, being thankful for what we have, where we’ve come from, who we are, who we bring with us.

Ellen will be there at the game, with her mother, with memories of her father raw in the belly.

**

Damian Doyle, 39, in Canberra and completing a doctoral thesis on Iraqi politics, posts a photograph of a Richmond team in 1949, Jack Dyer’s last season. ‘Captain Blood’ is in the middle, arms bare, expressive grin, those ears, fire in his soul. Damian’s grandmother, Vera Cronin, is also in the photo. She’s in a white dress, to the right of the players. Her home was in Sutton Grove, Richmond, a torpedo punt from the oval.

Like the Tigers of Old: Richmond's team of 1949 with a photobomb by Damian Doyle's grandmother.

Michelle DeLisle, 27, emails from her mothers’ house in Stawell, in western Victoria, to share a story of her grandfather. “I cried the other week when we won,” she writes. “Thinking of him and how excited he would have been. Pa passed away in 2000. He would be thrilled to know how much I love footy.”

Michelle’s maternal grandfather was Ray Potter, a teammate of Dyer’s, who when at teacher’s college in Melbourne played two games for Richmond – one in 1945, the other in 1947 – before moving to Preston in 1948, where he kicked 84 goals to win the VFA’s leading goal-kicker award.

Michelle and her mother, Kerry, will be there on Saturday, nursing the spirit of an old Tiger.

Maternal Tigers: Michelle DeLisle and her mother, Kerry, in Stawell with a portrait of their beloved father and grandpa, Ray Potter.

**

“I ask if he misses being part of it,” says Jacky, Ian Macindoe’s wife.

“He did at first but I think now he’s just really enjoying it. He’s a supporter now, not a physio watching behind the play for the bumps and injuries.”

Ian Macindoe has left the football club, but he is still among us, fighting his battles, trying the best he can to make the most of every day.

Jacky and their daughters witness the irreversible decline, seeing the man he was, a husband, a father, inexorably taken away. It is heartbreakingly sad, and there’s so little they can do about it.

“This is the hand we’ve been dealt and it’s just how our life is,” says Jacky.

“All the things we have to do, we have to do now.”

What is unspoken is the loss, the unfairness, the quiet tears of the caregiver, the knowing that soon there may be no tomorrow for a man they love so dearly. They clasp little blessings. Going to the game together last Friday week; being there again this Saturday afternoon. Knowing they are included. Knowing it gives Ian such gratitude to see the team play well, see them grasp these opportunities.

Over a cup of tea, ‘Doobs’ watching the VFL game on TV in the background, Jacky’s voices wavers.

“I just hope they win, for him,” she whispers.

“It would be so nice, so nice.” 

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