“You can’t really compare anything to the joy you get out of footy.”

There is little to no doubt that anyone who has ever worked with Luke Zammit – like I do – would describe him as one of the nicest blokes you would ever meet. Since getting a foot in the door as an intern, he’s managed to secure a full time spot on the playing list thanks to demonstrating his capacity for hard work, sense of humour and ability to throw a chicken nugget into a waiting mouth from 20 metres. Luke’s an all round top bloke and you know when you walk in for a weekend shift with him there’ll be no complaints about leaving the TV on Fox Footy for the next eight hours. As a Tigers fan he’s well and truly been conditioned for disappointment but their last minute narrow losses have been a severe test of character for even the most die hard Richmond fan this season. And while Richmond have long been the team we love to make fun of, there’s one thing that makes all opposition supporters happy to see them get up – that cracking song. Here’s what Luke thinks about footy, ninth jokes and, of course, YELLOW AND BLACK!

Name: Luke Zammit

Recruited from: North west suburbs of Melbourne

Occupation: Gun intern turned media officer

AFL team followed: Richmond Tigers

All time favourite footy moment: Any Richmond win

I am a Tigers supporter. My dad goes for Richmond – no one else in my family does and his parents didn’t either, he just picked it randomly because he likes Tigers and now I’m suffering the consequences. When I was about five or six, I was sort of 50/50 at one point because I was being dragged towards Carlton by the rest of the family, which wouldn’t have been a much better result for me anyway. But I’ve ended up going with Richmond because basically my older brother said, “Look mate, dad needs someone to go for Richmond and it’s not going to be me.” So I’ve ended up being a Tigers supporter.

I think the joy with Richmond comes in the fact that they’re so underachieving that even the little wins mean a lot to us. I remember when I was growing up we’d only win maybe three or four games a season so you’d be absolutely rapt to be second bottom of the ladder. Even getting close to making finals or just being on the fringes of being a successful team or beating a top side, I think I get a lot more enjoyment out of it than perhaps supporters who actually get used to that sort of thing. I can’t really imagine what it will be like if we do achieve something real like winning a final or making a grand final or anything, what that level of joy would be, because the bar has been set so low.

I’ve heard too many ninth jokes. Way too many. Richmond give people so much material, literally every week we come up with another way to cause the criticism and jokes to come our way and people stick to the ninth thing. I don’t think we’ve finished ninth since 2008 and I’m pretty sure North have finished ninth twice since then. We haven’t made prelims like them though. I’m open to criticism and I’m open to copping it as a Richmond supporter but the ninth thing is very uncreative.

I love so much about footy. I play it and I understand it and I really watch for things that other people probably don’t. I’m looking at tactics, looking at a decision a player makes to go 15m inboard or gives a handpass out the back. I just look at everything and I appreciate every part of it. But I think what really makes me love sport in general or love the footy is the history behind it. I always think back to history whenever I think of the team and what they’ve achieved. I’m constantly thinking about that. I spent so many nights as a young kid up late on Wikipedia or Google just looking at the 1963 AFL season or something stupid – who won the best and fairest for South Melbourne in 1955, just everything. I think because I’ve looked into it so deeply and have this appreciation for everything that is going on and has gone on before, I really do appreciate what’s happening in the current seasons. I think about the whole thing in context.

I have an uncanny ability to remember scores. I don’t if it’s come up from sitting at my computer watching live scores – the numbers are probably ingrained in my mind by now. It’s a bit scary how much footy means to me and every little game, every little win we’ve had, I genuinely remember. Especially these past few years, Richmond have been middle of the road and so every game’s important, it’s not like you’re too high on the ladder to worry about losses or too low on the ladder to care about them. I watch every game intently and for some reason scores just stick. I’ve always been pretty good with numbers but I’ll remember little things like oh, that was the day Vickery kicked three… that was once maybe. Little things just tend to stick with footy. I could forget what I had for dinner last night but I won’t forget that at three quarter time this player stood up to get us over the line in a game at the end.

I have this weird memory… a few years ago I was thinking that I had this memory of being at a Melbourne game when I was really, really young, I reckon I would have been about three. I thought this must be a fake memory or something I’d been told about, I don’t know. But I went and asked my dad and said I remember being at a Richmond v Melbourne game and my memory is that the siren goes and we walk off really disappointed, like shattered. Dad was like, yeah you would have been about three and it was 1997 with Richmond sitting fifth on the ladder at the time. All we had to do – we could afford to lose to Melbourne and we still would have slipped into the eight but if we beat them, we would have probably climbed up into the top four. So we didn’t go there with any kind of idea that we were actually going to slip out of the eight that day but we got smashed and we ended up finishing ninth. So that probably doesn’t help my cause with the ninth jokes but that was my first Richmond memory and it really set the tone for another 15 years of pretty much that.

I was actually at Richmond’s biggest ever comeback win. We were 52 points down against Hawthorn, it’s not very Richmond-like to come back from behind. We find it hard enough when we’ve got a six goal lead. We were at the footy with one of my dad’s best mates at the time and he went for Hawthorn; everyone loves a win over Hawthorn at the best of times but to come back from 52 points down… We ended up winning by three or four goals. That one sticks in there as one of the best games ever.

I’m not superstitious but I have my own routines for dealing with the stress of games. My dad is superstitious – he thinks they’re bad because of him and if he watches the games then they’ll lose. I think he must be in a category with a whole bunch of Richmond supporters because we lose a lot and there’s a lot of supporters out there who think they’re the curse. A few years ago I was really finding it hard to deal with the stress of Richmond going from like, the four wins to the nine-ten wins category and being on the fringe of the eight, it was a bit too much for me. So what I used to do was actually watch the scores on the AFL Live update rather than watch the game or listen to the radio. And I don’t mean like check in, like normal people would, I would literally just watch the screen and watch the scores for two and a half hours because that was the only way I could deal with it. It was just numbers. But then even that got too much sometimes so I would cover the scores and just look at the inside 50 count because then if we got an inside 50, I’d check our score. It’s pretty much next level, yeah.

I am a Richmond member and I do it to support the club. I’ve been playing footy for about the same time I’ve been a Richmond member and often I couldn’t get to the games. This year I’ve been able to get to a lot more games because I haven’t been playing footy. I still don’t think I get my money’s worth out of it, even if I was going to every game because Richmond really aren’t paying back the faith. But I do it as a way of hoping it will help the club in some small way.

I’m a weird type of fan. I’m not your conventional football supporter; I don’t fit into the sitting there quietly or sitting there enjoying the game category, I don’t fit into the just absolutely crazy nutbag supporter category either. I’m more – instead of actually supporting Richmond, which is what most supporters would do, I tend to just give crap to the other team. I’ll come up with a way to just really grill every player over any individual thing. I’ll come up with something I’ll never even realise I’ve thought about a player before… They’ll be a player I like from the opposition club and I’ll still find a way. Like, they could miss a handball target or something tiny or I’ll grill them about something they did five years ago, you know as an 18-year-old rookie or something. If I was sitting next to me I’d be getting quite angry at the footy.

It mixes up a little bit who I go to the footy with. I’ve taken my girlfriend a few times but she doesn’t want to come with me any more. I go with friends and then I regret it because I just get grilled, especially I we lose by less than a goal or something and they decide not to be on my side. Recently I’ve been going a lot with my girlfriend’s aunty actually because she’s a die hard Richmond supporter as well. We actually connect on that level. It’s funny, we went to a mother’s day game – it was the Richmond v Freo game where we lost after the siren – beforehand we were grabbing food and they thought she was my mum when we were talking to the food attendant. They’ve said something like “you should pay for her because it’s mother’s day” or whatever and she just took it, just claimed that I was her son. So I think she might like me more than my girlfriend does.

I have a general rule – I think any supporter who wears three or four items of their club’s colours is overdoing it. I mean, you can tell if you’ve got a scarf on that you go for that team, I can see that. As a kid I had the classic scarf with all the badges on it, all my heroes who were just pretty average players. These days I’ll probably go with a Richmond item; a jacket, a jersey over a jumper or something, just something discreet usually.

I’m not gonna lie, having the most loved club song actually means a bit. When that song plays, I just think, you know what, everyone’s envious right now. We get to sing along to this and you’ve got supporters out there for teams like Fremantle – when they stole that win off us earlier this season it’s just a shame that their song had to play over the speakers. What are their fans going to do, oh you’re Freo are you, you’re Freo heave ho? Richmond’s theme song is a really important thing to the fans. When they get to sing that “yellow and black” part, when it comes up and you just hear the entire MCG roar, it’s pretty special. I’m glad we have a cool song. Richmond’s got that right, we just need to get good players now.

When Dimma started, I thought, oh this bloke really knows how to handle a press conference. Now Dimma gets on my nerves a little bit – that whole idea of people being press trained and having fall back sayings and stuff like that, I think he’s taken it to a whole new level. You’ll find that he does the exact same things in every press conference. He has the same expression, he crosses his arms and leans forward over the mike. He says this quote – I hear him say it about 40 times during a press conference – he says “these types of players”. He’ll go, “Castagna, Butler, these types of players.” We get what type of players you’re talking about. Then he’ll fall back on to things like “we’ll learn from this, we’ll learn from that” and mate, it’s been seven years, I don’t think we’ve learned anything except for how to lose a game when we’ve got it won. So. I think he needs to stay though because the main issue with Richmond over the past 30 year period has been the instability of our coaches. The club just throws people out after a couple of years when there’s been no success instead of recognising that the problems are much deeper than that. Give Hardwick another season, I reckon. I think the signs are there and it’s a pretty open competition right now so it’s a good time to start playing well.

When I think about the best players at the club over the years, I have to mention Richo Man, Matthew Richardson. He was probably our only good player for 17 years, there were a couple of other serviceable players that played alongside him and that’s all they really were. He carried the team for years and he copped so much even though he was an absolute icon of the club. I can’t imagine where we would have been if he hadn’t played for us during that period, even though we were unsuccessful. He was just great to watch, one of the best all round players I’ve ever seen. He could play up on the wing, on the half forward line and just had that engine, all the physical attributes that you need. There’s hard triers and stuff but then there’s players like him and your Nick Riewoldts and your Pavliches and stuff who are just blessed.

I’ve always been a massive, massive supporter of Trent Cotchin. He’s a Brownlow Medallist now and there’s no arguments about that. He finished second to a player who used drugs and at the end of the day, I don’t understand the criticism he gets for winning that Brownlow, there’s nothing he could do about those circumstances. And people forget how good a player he was that year, he was a favourite alongside Jobe, so it’s not like it was a shock like Woewodin was in 2000. When people compare Woewodin to Trent Cotchin it makes me very angry. Cotchin’s won three best and fairests at Richmond and now a Brownlow – he’s been pretty successful for a player who’s in his mid 20s. I think he’s very underrated and since he won or was awarded that Brownlow has actually stepped up quite a bit. I’ve got a little bit of a man crush on Trent. I said I’d name my first born Trent. I played at the same junior club as Trent. I call him by his first name because that’s just how we roll. I styled my hair the way it is right now because of Trent Cotchin. I couldn’t pick a hairstyle – you should see my photos from when I was between about 14 and 17, I experimented with at least 10 hairstyles. I stuck to this one because of Cotchin.

Across the game, I do love Scott Pendlebury. Scott Pendlebury is unbelievable to watch, like he just blows my mind the amount of time he has with the ball. I look at him and think, how is he so calm and how is he not being tackled because he looks like he’s moving really slowly. he must just see space like no one else does. Runs the perfect lines and always rises when Collingwood need him to. If I could pick any player in the comp right now to come to Richmond to have for say a year, not thinking about how young they are or longevity of anything like that, I’d have to say Scott Pendlebury.

There’s a few teams I hate. Richmond make a lot of enemies because we’ve had a close loss to pretty much everyone in the competition now. I hate North Melbourne – I don’t know what it is about them, I just can’t stand them and I can’t stand their supporters. When we lose to them, which is often because they’ve got our measure, I just can’t understand it. They’ve got a whole team of inside midfielders, they’re all just triers, they don’t have a single player on that list with actual talent or excitement or anything. And for years a 39-year-old was carrying them. Plus they made two prelims in a row to top it off – I hated them enough but then they fluked their way into two prelims and thought they were on the edge of a premiership. They won nine games in a row and then it all fell apart, which was awesome to watch. They’ve been more competitive than I would have liked this year, I would like them to drop off a little bit more. And I hate Carlton. I just have to hate Carlton.

I think the game is marketed a lot better now than it used to be. I have a real appreciation for that sort of thing. Footy these days – everyone’s an expert, everyone knows everything, they can tell you how many touches Tom Mitchell had last week or how many uncontested possessions your team is getting or this and that. There’s a million footy shows now because the game is a business and I know people worry about that but if you’re running an elite sport and you want it to be at the highest level it possibly can be, that money and the finances side needs to be there. I think the AFL has done really well to get the competition to where it is now. We’ve got 18 teams which is phenomenal – I can’t really see it getting bigger from here but 18 teams is probably a good amount. I do like the expansion.

I’m not naïve with all the rule changes and all the changes to the whole system – the fans who come out and say that they don’t need to change all the rules and want to just leave the game probably don’t really understand the way the game’s evolving and that these changes are being put in place to ensure the game doesn’t lose it’s attractiveness. They do need to slow it down a bit though. Week to week rule changes are a bit extreme and when they say “we’re going to have a focus on this this week” you can really see it and it affects games. The players need to know what the rules are and have a really thorough understanding of what they are on the field and I don’t think they do. I think you see they’ve got a lot of indecision about them, like with your rushed behinds and your deliberate out of bounds and where you put your head over the ball or you slide in, what the correct interpretations are for that week. I don’t think players need to be worrying about that and I don’t think they should be worrying about that when they’re playing games.

Growing up, I was always looked at as this kid who was a smart kid, someone not designed to be playing sport, you’re built for other things – that’s the way my parents looked at it, anyway. When I finally got old enough to drive myself to footy I started playing. Within three games my parents wanted me to quit because I had a sore shoulder. They thought I didn’t have the pain tolerance for football because I couldn’t lift my arm up to get my shirt on. My brother was a very good footballer as well. He started in Under 16s so he didn’t have much of a chance but he had a better chance than I did. I think he was probably a little bit more mature at that point, body-wise as well. My parents were just convinced that it wasn’t my thing. My favourite bit is the fact that I turned it around and a year and a half later they were at my best and fairest, telling me they were so proud of me. I was a midfielder and spent most of my time there, but I’d rest up forward and try and kick a couple of goals. I usually just hacked them through, I had no composure around goals. I was a lot better when I wasn’t expected to kick them. As soon as I took a mark 20m out it was zero chance that was going through.

In my first season, I went up to my coach, who I barely knew, and he’d seen me play one good quarter of footy in a practice match and I knew he was a little bit excited about it. I said to him, “I think we’re getting killed out the back and I think we need to play with a spare back” and he said that he thought the same thing but he didn’t know who we were going to put there – if we were going to put anyone he said it’s probably going to have to be you. So I ran spare back and just collected a lot of easy ball, but it gets you into the game, gets you into the mindset, you’re constantly thinking. That spare back was something we played with throughout the year and if we were against the wind or something like that, it’s where I’d get thrown. I loved the responsibility of it and it made me think that I was playing a really important role for the team, so it always got me in the zone.

I went back and played one game this year for the thirds. Last year I filled in when I could and played seven games and managed to sneak the best and fairest, which was nice. They asked me to come back this year and I said it probably wasn’t a good year for me but I’ll come play one game. Going back to the club you notice what you miss. Having something to look forward to in the week and getting up on a Saturday knowing you have a game that day. The little moments you have there – they’re not comparable to anything you can achieve in your normal everyday life. When you play, you really do have memories that last a lifetime. Like, oh remember when I snagged that goal from the boundary or when I took that screamer… You can’t put a value on it. You can’t really compare anything to the joy you get out of footy.

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