Dustin Martin has vindicated the gamble of following Richmond. He owes us nothing more

How do you write about a person you’ve never met, but whose proficiency at their job has largely dictated your moods between March and September for the last 12 years?

Being a football fan is like gambling a little of your own happiness each week on a group of men or women you’ve never met before, but who happen to be wearing your chosen or inherited colours. It is an absurd thing to do. It must be difficult and frustrating for non-football followers to understand the clamour surrounding a game, a premiership and indeed a footballer.

I should divulge at this point that I am a diehard, unashamedly one-eyed Richmond supporter, from a family where a family outing as a kid generally meant a trip up the Calder Highway to see the Tigers play.

In this sense we were, and are, heavy gamblers, so to speak. And in the early days, we were losing like we were playing the pokies. These were largely through the Terry Wallace years and the less successful second half of Danny Frawley’s tenure. It was a time when the word Richmond was synonymous with ninth place and frustration, when supporters spat on the coach, dumped truckloads of chicken manure at Punt Road and worshipped Richo one week before booing him the next.

I was there when Dustin Martin made his debut against Carlton in round one in 2010, when he was largely anonymous except for his high draft position. I had heard rumours of this guy from nearby Castlemaine, who had thighs like tree-trunks and a bikie for a dad.

I was there when he won Richmond a game off his own boot for the first time, against a mediocre Melbourne-side in 2011, a tiny crowd watching on in a cavernous MCG.

I had flown back from Munich days earlier to be there when that same, previously cavernous ground was packed with over 100,000 people, as he, Bachar Houli and a supporting cast of 20 triggered a first flag in 37 years, and pandemonium on Swan Street.

I was at a pub in 2020 when a pandemic kept us rooted to our home state, as he carried Richmond to another flag, providing our supporters a glimmer of light in an otherwise difficult year.

Seeing him fend off another tackle or kick yet another clutch goal never got old. They were fixtures of my life in winter that provided a small, external moment of joy. We are fortunate in this country in that so much of our own destiny and happiness is within our control. Sometimes it is nice to leave it to someone else.

And while creating a winning football team must surely take a village – of coaches and physios in tracksuits, office people in suits, full-forwards and ruckmen in short shorts – we are obsessed with diluting it down to one or a few as the chosen ones with whom our fortunes lie. And there has never been a bigger chosen one at Richmond than Dusty. They say that no athlete is a bigger than their team, but it doesn’t feel like that. He has about 50,000 more followers than the club he plays for, for example.

To those who wonder how people become so invested in a sporting team, Martin is a case study in the affirmative, the justification for sitting there in the rain until the final siren during the Wallace years. Or spending more money than we’d like to imagine on fuel, tickets and grossly overpriced beer.

As has been well documented, Martin’s aloofness and complete aversion to the spotlight has only enhanced his legend over the years. People are interested in people who aren’t interested. It is this personality trait that might be what leads him to Sydney.

“What he gives us, he’s paid us in spades,” said Richmond’s coach Damian Hardwick earlier this year. “Whatever Dustin’s decision is moving forward is up to Dustin and to be honest, he has my blessing.” It is a view that is likely consistent with the majority of Richmond’s fanbase.

If an eventual move to one of the Sydney teams next year does take place, it will not be unexpected. But given the vindication he has already given many of us who have spent a lifetime gambling on a football team for a small level of happiness each week, nor is it completely devastating.

These latter two in particular qualify as great memories. But if he does move to Sydney later this year, as has been reported, it is the week-by-week joys that I will miss most; the water cooler chat, nonsensical pub glorification and phone calls to Dad regarding what superhuman feats this delicately skilled brute would accomplish next.
These latter two in particular qualify as great memories. But if he does move to Sydney later this year, as has been reported, it is the week-by-week joys that I will miss most; the water cooler chat, nonsensical pub glorification and phone calls to Dad regarding what superhuman feats this delicately skilled brute would accomplish next.