RICHMOND tasted premiership success in front of 100,014 fans last September.

On Thursday night there were 27 people in the MCG stands as the Tigers kickstarted their flag defence with another win against Carlton.

It was just one layer on the most remarkable, weird and eerie night in recent sporting memory with no spectators permitted in an attempt to limit the outbreak of the coronavirus. 

00:34 Mins
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Edwards strikes first to eerie silence

Richmond on the board with the opening goal of the 2020 season through Shane Edwards

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Only the handful of people walking their dogs and commuting home from work prevented the surrounding areas of the MCG from being a proper ghost town.

Public gates were shut, with entry allowed via the security entrance or a car park off Brunton Avenue that media and security shared with players and officials.

Not even CEOs Brendon Gale and Cain Liddle or presidents Peggy O'Neal and Mark LoGiudice were deemed "essential" attendees in an AFL-issued email to clubs midweek.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan watched from home. 

Loud music cannoned off the vacant grandstands as players went about their usual pre-game routine, walking and chatting in small groups two hours before the bounce.

A Richmond banner emblazoning 'We are the Tiger Army' across one whole bay of seats at the Punt Road end went some way to offsetting the lack of flag unfurling.

For the first time since its inception in 1912, you could not buy a hard copy of the AFL Record at a VFL/AFL match. 

TV producers and cameramen wore gloves as Channel Seven icon Bruce McAvaney completed a pre-game interview with AFL football operations boss Steven Hocking from a two-metre exclusion zone.

In any other blockbuster that would house 85,000 fans, there would be more than 3000 combined police, seat attendants, security, events and catering staff scurrying around 90 minutes pre-bounce.

On Thursday night there were only a handful of security, six catering and events staff (typically 2500) and 25 police officers.

Everywhere you turned it was tumbleweeds. Not even the famous MCG seagulls decided to rock up.

As the players entered for their official warm-ups, you could hear their own rev-ups as the music was halted. 

With no nets up, club staff were needed to fetch wayward balls into the grandstand.

Richmond list manager Blair Hartley was among them – a far cry from his normal duty as the man behind Richmond's dual premiership-winning list. 

Jack Riewoldt had to even go and fetch a footy himself. 


There were no mascots, no banners and no Richmond drums synonymous with a headline act.

Both had their team songs, but the energy of the players' entrance had all the hallmarks of a practice match.

An umpire was left to do the coin toss, but Blues co-captain Sam Docherty and Tigers skipper Trent Cotchin shook hands – everything we've been told not to do upon greeting in the current climate.

Among the 27 people scattered across the scarce MCG were eight ball-fetching attendants.

Docherty's first kick at AFL level in 936 days required him collecting a ball out of one of the various bags around the ground after Dion Prestia had put a kick 15 rows deep at half-back.

A couple of ambulance staff were dotted around the ground and were joined by three boundary riders, Hocking, club staff and the respective emergencies.

Not even injured players – including Blue Eddie Betts who did an interview for Channel Seven from his couch at quarter-time – were allowed in.

07:10 Mins
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Highlights: Richmond v Carlton

The Tigers and Blues clash in round one

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Goal celebrations were naturally subdued, players' cheering echoing around the ground, while the scoreboard remained in normal transmission with live play followed by the Tigers' 'roar' sound effect and advertisement after majors.

There was no smell of hot chips or spilt beer that usually hit you between the eyes at the back of the terraces.

The balls were disinfected at quarter breaks in the hope of reducing the chances of spreading COVID-19.  

From ground level you could hear the six radio broadcasts competing with one another, forming one single buzz of noise on the rare occasion the intensity lifted.

Players even commented post-game that they could hear the callers from the ground.

Lines including "back corridor" and "protect the space" could be heard shouted across the ground, as players were able to call their own changes from the bench. 

Blues youngster Paddy Dow was instructing new teammate Jack Newnes to be smarter with his ball use going forward due to the lack of tall target as Levi Casboult was forced to relieve an injured Matthew Kreuzer in the ruck.

Everything you predicted of a chirpy Riewoldt rang true. He was even heard overtly mocking Blues defenders as the Tigers gathered momentum during the second term.

And the MCG siren had never sounded so loud. It'd be a shock if they didn't hear it two kilometres away at Flinders Street Station.


Handshakes turned to hugs between players as the Tigers' song bellowed from the speakers. Only one rendition was needed compared to the normal three or four.

Whereas the changerooms would normally be brimming with corporates and family and friends, Richmond staff were forced to provide the atmosphere as the Tigers returned to sing their song.

Coaches' press conferences were completed from a three-metre exclusion zone, TV broadcasters spoke to players from a distance and radio interviews were done over the phone.

Even David Teague was locked out of the Blues' rooms after his media conference due to the lack of staff around to assist.

And Dylan Grimes and Dion Prestia beat the media out of the ground in a sight that would usually be reserved for local footy.

Thursday night was unique in every facet, but we better get used to it. Fans won't be allowed in for some time yet.