Football fever arrived at Goulburn Valley Health last week, with players from the Richmond Football Club paying a visit to staff and patients last Friday afternoon.
The visit was a result of an AFL Goulburn Murray initiative which saw favourites like Alex Rance, Toby Nankervis and David Astbury tour the Graham St campus.
“Richmond invests a lot of time and resources into community engagement,” Mr Astbury said.
“We’re in Shepparton as part of the Community Camp and the first game of the JLT Community Series against the Demons.”
Mr Astbury said the JLT series was special to many players from regional areas.
“I myself am a country Victorian,” he said.
“It’s always such a great experience.”
Richmond players visited a number of patients in oncology and the children and adolescent unit.
They signed autographs, posed for selfies and inspired awe in followers both young and old.
Tigers fan Josef Bela had scheduled a full weekend of Richmond events before he was admitted to hospital.
“I’d planned to go down to Maude St and see the boys and get all my merch signed, then go to the luncheon on Saturday and the game on Sunday,” he said.
“It was a full weekend of Richmond, but then I ended up in hospital.”
Showing off his 2017 Richmond Premiership tattoo, Mr Bela embraced the rare opportunity to meet Dylan Grimes and David Astbury, sharing jokes and getting behind-the-scenes insights into the club.
“I’ve been pretty down for the last 12 days,” Mr Bela said.
“To have the boys come in and surprise me is very cool.”
As the unexpected bedside visit ended, Mr Bela was asked if he had any words of inspiration for the team in 2019.
“Go hard boys, go hard. Bring the flag home this year!” he said, pumping his fist.
GV Health chief executive Matt Sharp said he was grateful for the morale boost that events like the Richmond visit could bring to the hospital environment.
“Often people who are sick or unwell do not have the chance to attend to their normal interests like football games, sporting events, other club or social activities,” he said.
“A visit like the one by the Richmond players means a great deal when people are unable to go about their normal day-to-day lives because they are unwell.”
Mr Astbury agreed.
“It’s a great opportunity to get around and see some people in adverse and trying circumstances, to help put a smile on their faces,” he said.
“We’re very lucky to be in the position we are, where people are thrilled to meet their sporting heroes. The reception’s always great and it gives us a sense of perspective too.”
GV Health receptionist Kaye Betson has been a Richmond fan her entire life.
She relished the opportunity to see the team on her home turf and to get a photo with the players.
“The visit was excellent. We knew they were coming, because we’re signed up to the newsletter,” she said.
“We went to everything on the weekend, it was very exciting.”
Ms Betson, who was been a Richmond member for almost 40 years, said she has seen a lot of heartache over the years.
“I drive down to Melbourne every week to see the game with family and friends,” she said.
“We were there for the 2017 premiership, and we’re anticipating another one in 2019.”
Mr Sharp expressed his gratitude to the players.
“Having the players visit certainly provided a lift to patients,” he said.
“I know how passionate Richmond fans are, as I have a son who barracks for them.”
Mr Astbury was wary of last weekend’s high temperatures, but was enthusiastic about the visit to the area.
“It’s 38 degrees out there,” he said.
“The weather might not be kind to us, but the people of the Goulburn Valley region always are.”
Ms Betson was philosophical about the positive impact events like the Richmond visit can have on the wider community.
“People say it’s just a game, but when it’s a game that makes so many people happy it’s just priceless,” he said.
To watch a collection of highlights from RIchmond's visit click here.
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