Tigers tame Blues - twice in 21
When eight leading clubs departed the VFA to establish a new competition, the VFL, in 1897, Richmond was quick to establish itself as one of the Association's most powerful remaining members. Prior to that, its twelve years as a senior club had been signally inauspicious. Only once, in 1888, did it manage more wins than losses in a season, and for the most part it proved to be an ignominious chopping block for larger, wealthier clubs like Geelong, South Melbourne, Carlton and Essendon.
Between 1897 and 1907, however, Richmond only once failed to finish in the top four in the Association, giving rise, inevitably, to a much improved self-image, as well as heightened aspirations. By the time the yellow and blacks won their second VFA flag in 1905 it was clear that they were unlikely to remain contented for long with life as a large fish in a small pond. Participation in the VFL, preferably sooner rather than later, was the club's express aim, a fact which did not sit at all well with either the Association hierarchy, or the majority of its member clubs. By 1907, Richmond was being treated as a virtual pariah, both on and off the field, and at the end of the season - one suspects as much in desperation by this stage as out of a genuine sense of ambition - the club made an official approach to the VFL, seeking to be admitted to that competition the following year. It took the VFL little over a week to approve the application, and so Richmond, along with University, took their places among Victorian football's elite from 1908.
It took Richmond quite some time to establish itself at the higher level, and its first eleven seasons generated a success rate of just 35.6%. Despite this, the club boasted a definite sense of tradition, was well organised and administered, and its desire to succeed was unquestionable. All it needed was a catalyst to transform these latent qualities into tangible, on-field success. The appointment of Norm 'Hackenschmidt' Clark as coach in 1919 was arguably that catalyst. Clark, who had coached with considerable success at Carlton, brought a wealth of football knowledge with him, and under his expert tutelage the 'eat 'em alive' philosophy was fully fleshed out for the first time as Richmond became a team of immense solidity who were extremely difficult to beat. Discounting the 1916 season, when they had contested the finals by default as there had only been four teams in the competition, 1919 represented the Tigers' VFL finals debut, and they finished a highly creditable second.
In 1920 Clark returned 'home' to Carlton as senior coach. Meanwhile, under his successor at Richmond, Dan Minogue, the Tigers added attacking potency and a penchant for the unpredictable to their armoury, and became an extremely formidable combination indeed. Minor premiers for the first time that year, the Tigers overcame the setback of a semi final loss to Carlton to annex their first ever league premiership courtesy of a 7.10 (52) to 5.5 (35) Challenge Final defeat of Collingwood. As the 1921 football season loomed, everyone connected with the club was determined to prove that this success had been no mere flash in the pan. Staying at the top is often said to be harder than getting there in the first place, but Minogue's Tigers were fiercely determined not to rest on their laurels; one premiership was nowhere near enough - they had dynastic aspirations.
The 1921 Home And Away Season
Despite their best intentions, the Tigers' early season form in 1921 was worryingly inconsistent, but as the year progressed they began to improve, and their last home and away loss occurred in round 12 at home to Fitzroy. Far and away the most impressive side in the competition, however, was Carlton, which lost just once all year, to Fitzroy. Most of its wins were by substantial margins, and there were some observers who went as far as to suggest that it was the best Blues team of all time.
The two meetings between Richmond and Carlton both went the way of the latter, by nine points at Punt Road in the opening round of the season, and much more conclusively by 51 points at Princes Park in round 10. The Blues' four victories over the other two eventual finalists, Collingwood and Geelong, had been by an average margin of almost 22 points, and it would be fair to suggest that only during the early stages of the match against Geelong at Corio Oval had they been seriously tested.
The biggest controversy of the 1921 season came during the final home and away round and led to clamorous, but ultimately unheeded, calls for the finals system to be changed. Prior to round 18 the composition of the final four had been decided, as had the fact that Carlton would win the minor premiership, and Richmond would finish second. Third place, however, was still up for grabs, although given that a team's 'reward' for finishing third was a cut-throat semi final against Carlton it is hard to see what advantages, if any, this had over finishing fourth.
That, at least, appears to have been the attitude down at Geelong. The Pivotonians, who lay in fourth place on the ladder, behind Collingwood only on percentage, were scheduled to play Melbourne on the MCG in the final round, while the Magpies were at home to the might of Carlton. A win to Geelong and a loss to Collingwood would see the former supplant the latter in third place, and be confronted with the unenviable task of facing the Blues in a semi final. Much better to lose, and face the ostensibly easier challenge of Richmond in the finals - which, by fielding a team containing seven untried youngsters, is precisely what Geelong did. Quite what the VFL's reasoning was in giving the third placed team a harder first up final than the fourth placed team is unclear, but the ridicule and scorn it periodically attracted from the press was seldom as vitriolically expressed as in 1921. It would be another decade, however, before the league saw fit to introduce a fairer finals system.
The Semi Finals
Geelong's last round shenanigans fell flat on their face as the Pivotonians were rankly outclassed by Richmond in the first semi final. After a closely fought opening term, the Tigers exploded into life, adding 14 goals to 3 over the remaining three quarters in what was probably their most complete team performance for the year. Geelong did not help their cause by some atrocious kicking for goal, particularly in the last term when they booted eleven straight behinds while Richmond rattled on six goals four. Cliff Rankin was the Pivotonians' worst offender in front of the sticks, booting 2.10 for the match. Best afield was Richmond's full back Vic Thorp, who was ably assisted by centre half back Max Hislop, half back flanker Jim Smith, full forward George Bayliss (5 goals), and rover Frank 'Checker' Hughes. The losers were best served by ruckmen Wally 'Jumbo' Sharland and Lloyd Hagger, full back Keith Johns, and back pocket player Les Smith. Final scores were Richmond 16.19 (115) to Geelong 6.18 (54), with an extremely sizeable crowd of 41,649 in attendance.
The second semi final, played out in front of 37,813 spectators, was a much harder fought affair, although when Carlton 5.6 (36) led Collingwood 1.7 (13) at half time this appeared unlikely to be the case. In the third term, however, the Magpies raised their game, adding 5.2 to 2.1 to reduce the lemon time deficit to just 4 points. The scene was set for a hard, slogging last quarter, but fortunately for the Blues, this was precisely the type of football at which they excelled. Collingwood battled gamely, and remained in with a chance until quite late on, but overall Carlton proved too assured and systematic, winning in the end by 13 points, 9.11 (65) to 7.10 (52). It had been a gruelling match, however, leaving many Blues players feeling stiff and sore, notably centre half forward Horrie Clover who would ultimately prove unable to front up for the final.
Best players for the victors included centre half back Paddy O'Brien, centreman Bill Blackman, wingman Newton Chandler, follower Rupe Hiskins, and former Collingwood half back flanker Walter Raleigh. Clover, with four goals, was the Blues' leading goalkicker. Telling performances for the Magpies came from wingman Bill Twomey, follower 'Con' McCarthy, and the defensive trio of Tom Hammond, Bill Buck and Charlie Tyson. Full forward 'Dick' Lee, whose four goals all came during the third quarter, also had a significant impact on the match.
"Saturday was a day which in its way had no parallel for footballers in the history of the game in Melbourne. Hail fell heavily at half time with such intensity and density as to obliterate the view from the stands and to completely cover the ground. It was a decidedly novel experience. When the storm had spent itself the reserve presented a pretty winter setting in its deep coating of white, fringed with the green from the trees around, but the people naturally were not generous to landscape art, for, no matter the sight, the disturbance to many meant saturated clothes, with the risk of accompanying ills, and besides they had come to see football, a pleasure which had been so unexpectedly removed from them. It was water polo instead. A game which had opened well, and had all the glamour of a championship contest around it, fell to the common level of a physical scramble, devoid of incidents that attract and delight, and a test along anything but football lines." - 'The Age', Monday 10 October, 1921
(Meanwhile, at East Melbourne, the Association final between Footscray and Williamstown was abandoned when the storm hit during the third quarter with the Seagulls leading by four points.) The Tigers were at full strength, while, as mentioned above, the Blues were without their champion centre half forward Horrie Clover.
Carlton started brightly, with Alex Duncan, Rupe Hiskins and Frank Martin all marking strongly within the opening couple of minutes. Blues veteran forward pocket Charlie Fisher had the first scoring chance of the final but his long kick on the run fell just short. Richmond responded with some neat inter-passing involving Max Hislop, Clarrie Hall and Donald Don, with the last named kicking truly to register the first goal of the game. Max Hislop was marking nearly everything that came his way at this stage - "those great aerial flights which bring risks, but have all the splendour about them when they come off" - eliciting great cheers from supporters of both teams. Play was fiercely physical, with the followers of both sides engaging in numerous heavy body clashes. When the ball was in the open, centremen Mel Morris (Richmond) and Bill Blackman (Carlton) were especially prominent, with neither player having the advantage at this stage.
Most of the attacking was now being done by the Tigers, who appeared both faster and hungrier than their opponents. However, in Carlton centre half back Paddy O'Brien they found a redoubtable adversary, who single-handedly repelled many attacking thrusts. Inevitably, however, the pressure told, and Richmond's quarter time advantage of 16 points accurately reflected their superiority. The best goal of the term belonged to Carlton, though, courtesy of a thumping place kick from Perce Daykin. Quarter Time: Richmond 4.2 (26); Carlton 1.4 (10)
The first few minutes of the second term saw the Tigers attacking relentlessly, and Bob Weatherill, with a hefty punt kick, soon had their fifth goal of the encounter on the board. With the match in danger of slipping away from them, the Blues responded by raising both the overall tempo, and the ferocity of their attack on both ball and ball carrier. Wingman Chandler and forward Fisher featured prominently in many of Carlton's attacking forays, but goals proved hard to come by. In quick succession Duncan, Gordon Green, Fisher and Green again only managed to raise one flag, but thankfully for them the Tigers proved even more wayward when it was their turn to attack. Dan Minogue was the worst culprit, twice being freed well within range of goal, but managing just one behind from his two shots, the other sailing out of bounds well wide of the point post.
Much of the football was fast, open and entertaining, and a long, swerving run by Richmond half back 'Snowy' McIntosh brought the loudest roar of the game so far from the crowd. Shortly before the half time bell, Daykin, having been freed just in front of the posts, had no trouble in registering Carlton's second goal of the game, but the Blues were not functioning with anything like the conviction or fluency that had characterised their play for most of the season. Half Time: Richmond 5.5 (35); Carlton 2.10 (22)
The half time deluge changed the match completely, and, given that Carlton's only defeat for the year had occurred on a day of torrential rain at Fitzroy, there were many in the crowd who thought that the omens favoured the Tigers. Certainly slick, cohesive football - the Blues' forté for much of the season - was now totally out of the question, and the drenched spectators, having been treated to a fast, open game during the first half, were now presented with a dour, relentless war of attrition.
To many people's surprise, it was the Blues who initially adapted better to the conditions; they were "surer in picking up than Richmond, longer in their punts, and more certain in their passing". Early on Vic Thorp, on the last line of defence for the Tigers, twice saved seemingly certain scores, snapping a behind post clean in two on the second occasion after running into it.
Carlton continued to press, however, and in the midst of a heaving scrimmage of players just in front of goal Frank Martin managed to toe poke the ball over the line for full points. A rushed behind to the Blues followed shortly after, and when Green snapped truly amidst heavy traffic midway through the term scores were level - 35 points apiece.
Good scoring chances to Daykin and Raleigh then followed, but the first was wasted, and the second saved by Thorp. Then Richmond's first attack for several minutes, pioneered by McIntosh, culminated in a rather fortuitous snapped goal to Bayliss, and the Tigers were back in front. They did not retain their advantage for long, however, as Edric Bickford brought the Blues level moments later with an excellent long, left foot goal, and then Green, with a bad miss from close in, put them a point to the good, and in the lead for the first time in the match.
Carlton were totally on top at this stage, a fact that Stewie McLatchie emphasised with a clever goal to stretch their lead to seven points, but then the pendulum swung back in the Tigers' favour and quick goals to Minogue and Morris saw them briefly back in the box seat. Then came arguably the most critical phase of the match, as Carlton attacked with great vigour and intensity for several minutes, only to miss a series of excellent scoring chances. The worst offender was Duncan, who, having marked in the goal square, sliced his kick so badly that he only just managed to register a behind. However, shortly before the bell the Blues finally nabbed an improbable goal when Fisher's speculative kick somehow conspired to roll through, eluding several Richmond backmen in the process, despite initially coming to ground at least fifteen metres from the posts. Three Quarter Time: Carlton 7.14 (56); Richmond 8.5 (53)
If the football on display in the third term had tended towards the unkempt, this was as nothing compared to the sometimes farcical spectacle of the final quarter. "It was slither and slide all the time. The hail had melted, and well defined water courses were left. Into and along these players waded, and the ball sometimes floated towards its destiny." Somehow, despite the conditions, scores continued to be posted, albeit very infrequently. The Blues were the more successful side at producing something approximating to football, and indeed some of their ball handling was quite remarkable considering the conditions. The Tigers, by contrast, eschewed picking up the ball almost entirely, and were content to play soccer, an approach that may have upset the purists, but which ultimately proved more effective. The only two goals of the quarter both went to Richmond, to Barney Herbert, after a rare mark taken directly in front, and to Hugh James with a scrambled kick along the ground. The Blues meanwhile, despite monopolising possession for long periods, managed just 3 behinds, meaning that they would be required to invoke their right of challenge as minor premiers if they were to stand a chance of taking out the 1921 flag. Final Score: Richmond 10.7 (67); Carlton 7.17 (59)
Richmond: Hislop, Turnbull, McIntosh, Herbert, Taylor, Minogue
Carlton: Duncan, Hiskins, Fisher, Blackman, Raleigh, Boromeo
Richmond: Bayliss, Herbert, Morris 2; Don, Hall, James, Minogue
Carlton: Daykin 2; Bickford, Fisher, Green, Martin, McLatchie
ATTENDANCE: 42,866 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Challenge Final
"Without acknowledging that it was a great game from the standpoint of team excellence, it rose to being great in the popular sense because of brilliant phases of individual effort, the closeness of the scores, and a really fine finish, in which masterful tactics of leaders and men came into the science of things." - 'The Age', Monday 17 October, 1921
Richmond fielded the same 18 as in both of its previous finals, while Carlton was strengthened by the return from injury of its champion centre half forward Horrie Clover. The weather was "in fickle mood, sun one minute and rain the next early, but mostly rain later".
Gordon Green, playing what would prove to be his last VFL match, won the toss for Carlton and, to the surprise of many observers, elected to kick into the breeze during the opening term.
The Blues opened in aggressive, determined fashion, with Paddy O'Brien showing up well across half back, and some of Newton Chandler's foot-passing a delight to the eye. The pace of the game was quick and it was less overtly physical than during the opening phase of the previous week's encounter.
After Carlton had done most of the early attacking, it was Richmond who went ahead thanks to a long, hopeful kick from Mel Morris which miraculously bounced through having landed a good distance from goals. This had been the Tigers' first proper attack of the match, and their success seemed to have inspire them to greater efforts, with Don moments later adding a behind from an adroit snap.
Carlton responded by upping the physical stakes, and for a time this had the desired effect of putting Richmond on the back foot. A goal to Green on the ten minute mark was the Blues' first score of the match, and as heavy rain began to fall they continued to hold the initiative, with Clover, O'Brien and Chandler in particular showing up to good effect. Carlton's second goal, off the boot of McLatchie, was the culmination of a sustained period of dominance that ought really to have given rise to a greater advantage on the scoreboard, but Richmond, having weathered the storm, went on to enjoy a brief spell of superiority of their own, without troubling the scorers.
Moments before the bell, Blues forward Alex Duncan was unlucky when his seemingly goal-bound shot struck a post, leaving the margin between the teams at the first change a single straight kick. Quarter Time: Carlton 2.2 (14); Richmond 1.2 (8)
The Tigers attacked first in the second quarter when James was freed near the centre of the ground. His kick found Minogue, who relayed it to Hughes, who found full forward Bayliss close in on no appreciable angle. However, the former Balmain Church of Christ player missed everything, much to the distress of the more seasoned among the Richmond supporters who were taking to opining that, every time Bayliss failed early, their side lost.
A couple of minutes later, Blues ruckman Harry Toole, from a free, should have made Richmond pay for their profligacy, but he too missed everything.
Carlton, with Albert Boromeo repeatedly in the thick of the action, continued to press forward, but the Richmond half back line of McIntosh, Hislop and Smith, together with the peerless Vic Thorp at full back, combined brilliantly to keep them at bay. Boromeo it was who finally found a way through, however, kicking what proved to be the only goal of the quarter after superbly marking Clover's deft pass.
Midway through the term the Tigers finally began to take up the initiative, but found the Blues' future skipper Paddy O'Brien well nigh impassable at centre half back. Similarly, when Carlton attacked, they proved unable to progress to within scoring range owing to the resolute play of the Richmond half back line.
If the lack of scoring was disappointing to the crowd, the aerial exploits of players like Clover, Boromeo and Hislop helped to compensate for it to some extent. The mark of the quarter, and indeed of the match, was taken by Hislop, who soared high above a pack of half a dozen players and, at full stretch, just managed to get his hands around the ball. Given that that ball was, by this stage in the match, in an extremely greasy, sodden condition, it was a quite extraordinary feat.
Towards the end of the term, Carlton attacked continuously, but could only manage a couple of minor scores. Once again, it had been the Blues' quarter, but their superiority was still not being realistically reflected on the scoreboard. Half Time: Carlton 3.4 (22); Richmond 1.3 (9)
Rain, which hitherto had been only intermittent, if sometimes heavy, fell continuously during the third term, making smooth ball handling extremely difficult, and the Tigers, eschewing such niceties, appeared to adapt to the conditions better. From the opening bounce of the term Dan Minogue carried the ball downfield and kicked towards centre half forward where Morris was first upon it. Morris's kick found Bayliss on a tight angle, but with the ball still comparatively dry he kicked superbly to register the Tigers' second goal.
Shortly afterwards Richmond should have had a goal when Norm Turnbull at half forward left passed towards Bayliss at full forward, only for the ball to sail over his head into the waiting arms of Barney Herbert. Of all the players on the field, Herbert was probably the least reliable kick for goal, and he further enhanced his reputation by managing just a behind from ten metres out directly in front.
Carlton fought back strongly, but their kicking was wayward, and the Richmond defence had little trouble mopping up. One such Blues' foray came to grief near centre half forward where Vic Thorp marked strongly before sinking his boot into a perfect punt kick that travelled to right centre wing, and into the waiting arms of Hughie James, who, up to this point, had arguably been the Tigers' most impressive player. James ran on, and sent an equally impressive kick in the direction of Bayliss, who marked cleanly and brought his team to within a point with a nice goal.
The only remaining score for the quarter was a behind to the Blues, leaving the three quarter time scoreboard reading Carlton 3.6 (24); Richmond 3.4 (22)
The scene was set for a frenetic, gruelling climax, and players of both sides showed great desperation as they hurled themselves into the fray. Umpire McMurray was frequently called upon to intervene, with some of his decisions, particularly regarding the holding the ball rule, causing great perplexity among players and spectators alike.
On the whole, Richmond was continuing to have the better of things, although the play of both teams was uncoordinated and unsystematic in the extreme. The Tigers in particular seemed content to move the ball forward by any means available, and few spectators would have been surprised when the first goal of the quarter came from a long, hopeful soccer kick out of a scrimmage by James.
Richmond now led for the first time since early in the opening term, and with goals likely to prove as rare as proverbial hen's teeth, the Blues were under immense pressure, and for a few minutes seemed on the verge of being overwhelmed. First Bayliss, who on the evidence of his third quarter performance seemed to have found his kicking boots, marked close in, but to Carlton's relief he failed even to make the distance with his kick. Moments later Donald Don had a free run in on goal, only to slip over when just a couple of metres from the line; the ball was scrambled through for a behind. Another behind soon followed, kicked by Hugh James, and the difference between the teams was a straight goal, in the Tigers' favour. From the ensuing kick in, Barney Herbert marked, and this time, instead of trying to kick for goal, passed to Norm Turnbull, who vindicated the decision by marking and kicking truly - Richmond 5.6 (36); Carlton 3.6 (24), with eight minutes left on the clock.
Belatedly, but with great vigour and determination, the Blues began to make a fight of it. A long, raking kick by Fisher travelled deep into the forward lines and bounced perfectly for Jack Stephenson to run onto it, straighten up, and kick Carlton's fourth goal. The crowd, which had been surprisingly subdued, was now, virtually to a man, roaring almost manically.
The Blues moved straight into attack from the centre bounce, and for the final five or six minutes of the match, that was where they stayed. However, the Richmond defenders, all of whom were coated from head to foot in thick black mud, defended heroically, and all Carlton could manage were two minor scores, bringing them to within four points.
The most dramatic incident of the entire match occurred just a minute from time. As the Blues launched yet another, desperate attacking thrust, the ball looked to be sailing towards Alex Duncan, who was unencumbered close to goal, and looked certain to mark. However, he failed to hold on to the ball, and "Hislop, dashing in and picking up smartly, kicked it well out of danger". (There is no suggestion in 'The Age' match report that Hislop spoiled Duncan, as is claimed in some sources.) In the few seconds remaining, Carlton proved unable to mount another attack, and so the Tigers had won arguably the most difficult and noteworthy premiership in the club's rich history, overcoming not only a powerful and highly rated Carlton combination - twice - but the worst that the Melbourne weather could throw at them.
There were some who claimed that, on overall balance of play, the Blues deserved to win both matches, but Richmond's resolve was immense, and their team spirit, bolstered perhaps by not having to make any changes to their line-up throughout the finals series, was indefatigable. Their triumph may not have been either polished or spectacular, but it was earned the hard way, and thoroughly deserved - the sort of triumph which constitutes an important building block in a club's culture and tradition. "The bell rang amidst scenes of the wildest enthusiasm. Every Richmond player was carried in, and the ground was overrun with jubilant supporters, one of them being a young woman, who showered confetti on a number of men. It will remain a memorable game."
Richmond: McIntosh, James, Harley, Smith, Hislop, Thorp, Carew
Carlton: O'Brien, Jamieson, Chandler, Blackman, McLatchie, Stephenson, Boromeo
Richmond: Bayliss 2; James, Morris, Turnbull
Carlton: Boromeo, Duncan, McLatchie, Stephenson
ATTENDANCE: 43,122 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground