Australian Football Celebrating the history of the great Australian game



As a youngster growing up in the 1920s, Jack Dyer's greatest ambition was to play VFL football for Richmond. Despite the fact that "it was just as hard to get an invitation to train as it was to get into the senior team" [1], such an aspiration was by no means as unrealistic as it would be today, when a young player's football destiny is typically determined by the AFL draft, irrespective of where he happens to live, or indeed what he happens to want.

For Jack Dyer, playing football for Richmond was simply a logical extension and expression of who he was, and it is at least arguable that few if any players before or since have personified, not to mention helped mould, shape and develop, the essential character of a specific football club to the extent that he did. Players drafted by Richmond in the twenty-first Century will, for the most part, arrive at the club unburdened by expectation, pre-conception or any intrinsic sense of belonging, and for most of them, any loyalty they develop must needs be tenuous and transitory.

...the heart and soul of a Tiger

Not so for Dyer and his contemporaries, whose desire to play football at the highest level was inextricably linked to an overwhelming sense of tribal identity, of being a Tiger, a Magpie, a Blue or a Don. In a very real sense, every time Jack Dyer ran out onto the football field in the famous black and yellow he was at once affirming his identity and defending the honour, integrity and reputation of his 'tribe'. Is there any wonder then, that the man indelibly labelled for posterity as 'Captain Blood' played the game with such fanatical ardour, ferocity and determination?

One of the best descriptions of Dyer was proffered by Norm Smith, the legendary Melbourne and Fitzroy player and coach. The reason the description is so apposite and telling is that, in detailing Dyer's attributes, qualities and characteristics, Smith could almost be summarising the entire Richmond 'eat 'em alive' ethos itself. In 1965, sixteen years after Jack Dyer had retired from VFL football, Smith wrote that he (Dyer):

.... was one of the three greatest footballers the game has produced, probably the greatest. I feel that he would undoubtedly have stamped himself as the most brilliant footballer in the game had he played as an individual rather than for his team. It has always been Richmond first, Dyer last, with Captain Blood. He was a breath-taking footballer, a strong attacking player with amazing pace and stamina. His dedication made him one of the most accurate kicks in the game. His marking was as brilliant and consistent as any I have seen. As a ruckman he was without peer, he put the ball to his rover with uncanny accuracy. For a big man his handling of the ball was a treat. If I were picking a side from the greatest players the game has produced, Jack Dyer would be the first picked. [2]

Jack Dyer made his VFL debut as a raw sixteen year-old in 1931, the year that the VFL introduced the Page-McIntyre system of playing finals. Despite playing only 6 games - including the losing grand final against Geelong - in his debut season, Dyer "showed so much class and devil .... that the critics raved" [3].

His rapid blossoming as a bona fide champion would coincide with Richmond's emergence as one of the teams of the thirties, although as chance would have it, when the Tigers first broke through for a flag - their third in the VFL, and fifth in total - in 1932, Dyer, who had suffered an injury-interrupted season, but who had nevertheless displayed enough of his nascent talent to eventually be awarded the first of his six Tiger club champion trophies, was absent.

a vigorous, hard bumping, defensive style of football

Coached by Frank 'Checker' Hughes, Richmond in 1932 played a vigorous, hard bumping, defensive style of football which was in marked contrast to the free-flowing, attacking approach of many rival clubs, notably reigning premier Geelong, and heir apparent - at least as far as most so-called experts were concerned - Carlton. The Blues it was who topped the ladder going into the finals, half a win clear of Richmond, and for much of the second semi-final they appeared to have too much class for the Tigers. Richmond, however, has always been known for its fighting qualities, and these were admirably displayed during "a tumultuous last quarter burst .... which won the game" [4]. The Tigers not only won 'pulling away', they demonstrated a hitherto unsuspected ability to modify their game plan, casting aside their usual defensive propensities when it was clear that these were proving unsuccessful, and flooding forward in numbers to overwhelm the hapless Blues. Despite this setback, however, Carlton remained a firm premiership favourite with most critics, particularly after its spectacular 75 point demolition of Collingwood in the preliminary final.

Richmond tried desperately to nurse its wounded starlet Jack Dyer back to fitness in the week leading up to the grand final, but to no avail. For coach 'Checker' Hughes, who had been appointed in 1927, this was the fifth premiership play-off to which he had steered the Tigers in six seasons, but he was still seeking a win. A then record crowd of 69,724 turned up at the MCG for the big match, and they were not to be disappointed.

After winning the toss, Richmond captain Percy Bentley surprised observers by electing to kick into the breeze, but whether by luck or good judgement it proved a telling move. With the Strang brothers, Gordon at centre half forward, and Doug at the goal front, dominating in the air just as they had done a fortnight earlier, the Tigers shaded the opening quarter to eke out a single goal advantage, and by half time they had extended this to 15 points. On the debit side, however, Carlton's free scoring full forward, Harry 'Soapy' Vallence, who had booted 11.9 in the preliminary final against Collingwood, had begun to look dangerous, and by half time he had been responsible for 3 of the Blues' 5 goals.

The third term was vigorous almost to the point of viciousness, with the Blues' centreline getting on top, only for the hard-hitting Richmond backline to repeatedly repel their attempted incursions. As the three-quarter-time bell rang, with the Tigers ahead by 7 points, the spite with which play had been laced for most of the term erupted into full blown violence, with umpire Scott having a full time job identifying and noting the names of the worst miscreants. Eventually, affairs calmed down, but the huge crowd was at fever pitch waiting for the start of the decisive final stanza.

The early stages of the last quarter saw the Blues playing their best football of the afternoon to rattle on 3 quick goals and open up a 10 point lead. Several of the Richmond players seemed to have lost a yard or two in pace, and for many of the club's diehard supporters it must have seemed a case of "oh no, here we go again". Then, in the Tigers' first purposeful move of the term, "a chain of passes was topped off by O'Halloran goaling" [5], and suddenly it was 'game on' once more. The final fifteen minutes or so of the term saw the teams trading goal for goal, but towards the death, almost miraculously, it was the men in the yellow and black jumpers who had the greater spring in their step. At the onset of time-on, with Carlton leading by 4 points, the ball came off hands near the Richmond goal square, and Jack Anderson, the Tigers' nineteenth man, snatched it up and goaled. Moments later, half forward flanker Jack 'Skinny' Titus added the sealer, and Richmond had won "a virile and grimly fought grand final" by 9 points. [6]

In what had been an even, all round team display - evoking the best traditions of the club - Richmond had been particularly well served by strong marking centre half forward Gordon Strang, tenacious half back flanker Basil McCormack, dashing back pocket Kevin O'Neill, and the supremely versatile Jack Baggott, who lined up on this occasion on a half back flank.

...'Captain Blood' vs. the foreign legion

With a fit and keen Jack Dyer back in harness in 1933, Richmond supporters could feel justified in anticipating another stellar season, but ultimately it was the loss of coach 'Checker' Hughes, who accepted what was reputed to be quite a lucrative offer to coach Melbourne, that was to have a greater bearing on the Tigers' fortunes.

On its day, the side was still indisputably a force to be reckoned with, but new coach Billy Schmidt, a former centreman with the club in both its later VFA, and early VFL years, as well as with St Kilda, lacked his predecessor's inspirational qualities and tactical acumen, and when the pressure was on during the finals against South Melbourne's formidable 'foreign legion' ensemble he signally failed to come up with the goods. Richmond lost the second semi final to the Bloods by 3 goals after leading by more than 6 at half time, and a fortnight later the team sustained arguably its most humiliating grand final defeat ever, troubling the scorers just nine times all match en route to an in truth rather flattering 42-point loss.

The Richmond hierarchy, believing Schmidt had had the players at his disposal to secure the club's second successive premiership, promptly replaced him with Percy Bentley at season's end. Bentley, a tactically astute and immensely powerful ruckman, had played for the Tigers since 1925, and had been captain for the past two seasons. He had the respect of the players, and as 'Checker' Hughes' close ally and confidante in 1932, possessed first hand insight into the what was needed if a VFL club was to go 'all the way'. [7] He promptly put this knowledge to use in 1934 when he piloted the club to pole position on the ladder going into the finals, with his inspirational leadership qualities proving particularly decisive in crunch encounters with eventual fellow finalists South Melbourne and Collingwood late in the season.

The second semi final between Richmond and Geelong was expected to be close. Both sides had finished the season quite strongly, although the Cats, having already secured the double chance, had dropped the final game of the season to South Melbourne. In the only meeting between the sides during the minor round, Geelong had triumphed by 22 points in a low scoring, slogging affair in the Corio Oval mud. The MCG on 29th September, however, was a totally mud-free zone, and after a hard fought first two quarters the Richmond players did more or less as they pleased, adding 14 second half goals to 2 to win with embarrassing ease by 84 points. The Tigers' final tally of 19.20 (134) established a new record high for a finals match. Bruised, battered and humiliated, the Cats failed to recover in time for their preliminary final meeting with South Melbourne, and they were again comprehensively outplayed, leaving the 'Team of Champions' (South) to play of with the 'Champion Team' (Richmond) for the flag for the second successive season. The fact that 1934 was the city of Melbourne's official centenary year gave added prestige to the premiership, with members of the victorious team to be awarded special centenary medallions.

A crowd of 65,335 spectators basked in bright spring sunshine on grand final day as first Richmond, and then the Bloods, played spectacular attacking football which highlighted all the best aspects of the code. The Tigers led by 3 points at the first change, but with South having finished the opening term the stronger the game was on a proverbial knife edge, a state of affairs which continued until late in the second quarter when Jack Titus, Richmond's light weight and elusive full forward, broke free from Jack Austin on three occasions to snare vital goals.

At half time, the Tigers led 10.8 (68) to 6.5 (41), and after they added a flurry of early goals in the third term the match was as good as over. Richmond led by 10 goals at three quarter time, and despite easing off towards the end of the game, emerged with a comprehensive, and thoroughly deserved, 39 point win. Titus with 6 goals was best afield, while the entire back six - Kevin O'Neill, Maurie Sheahan, Martin Bolger (the so-called 'Three Musketeers'), Jack Baggott, Gordon Strang and Basil McCormack - were virtually impassable until it no longer mattered. The fact that the Tigers won so comfortably with minimal input from Jack Dyer says much about the strength of their combination at this time.

the greatest crowd puller in Australian football

Richmond at this time was the greatest crowd puller in Australian football, but for the remainder of the 1930s, still under Perc Bentley as captain-coach, the side only occasionally threatened a return to greatness. In Bentley's last season, 1940, the Tigers at last made a return to grand final action, but Checker Hughes' Melbourne proved too strong, as did Essendon a couple of seasons later when 'Captain Blood' was at the helm.

The 'Captain Blood' label was first applied to Jack Dyer in 1935, after a frenetic and hard fought-game against Fitzroy during which he pole-axed three opponents.

After the game, 'The Age' football writer John Ludlow followed Dyer into the rooms.

"Golly, Jack," said Ludlow, "I haven't seen bodies piled up like that since I saw Errol Flynn in that 'Captain Blood' movie."

Monday's 'Herald' carried a cartoon of Dyer dressed as a pirate, a skull and crossbones on his cap, and a cutlass between his teeth. The name stuck. Dyer didn't like it, but grew into it. Opposition fans loathed and abused him. Tiger supporters worshipped him. [8]

As a playing coach, Dyer was very much in the Perc Bentley mould, leading from the front. His greatest moment came in 1943, when he oversaw a memorable grand final triumph over an Essendon side which had earlier defeated the Tigers in the second semi final with some comfort. Richmond was also in trouble in the preliminary final against Fitzroy, which led 5.1 to 2.3 at quarter time, and 6.5 to 3.8 at half time, before a steam-rolling second half display from the Tigers saw them add 9 goals to 2 to win with deceptive ease.

With the MCG being used as a service camp, the 1943 grand final took place at Carlton's home ground of Princes Park in front of a crowd of just 42,100, the lowest since 1927, when freezing winds and incessant heavy rain had reduced the attendance for the Collingwood-Richmond play-off to just 34,551.

Whereas two weeks earlier Essendon had dominated the opening exchanges, this time it was the Tigers' turn to explode out of the blocks, and within minutes of the first bounce they led 3.2 to nil. Thereafter though the Dons fought back, and for the first three quarters it was blow for blow, kick for kick, and goal for goal. By three quarter time Essendon, which had begun to look ominously steadier than the Tigers, had inched in front by 5 points, 8.13 (61) to 8.8 (56).

However, Richmond was "a dogged, forceful side, which ground down lighter opponents by playing it hard", and with Jack Dyer putting in a Herculean effort on the ball, and permanent forward pocket Richard Harris playing the game of his life, booting seven 7 for the match, the Tigers surged to a 4 goal lead which looked to have made the game safe. [9] The Same Old, however, fought back, and as Richmond players made uncharacteristic errors under pressure, they capitalised to the tune of 3 unanswered goals to reduce the margin to a single straight kick. Then, with time running out, Essendon follower Norm Betson's seemingly goal-bound shot was touched on the line, and with the final bell sounding moments later, the Tigers were home by 5 points. Amidst scenes of euphoria, Jack Dyer was chaired from the arena, and the celebrations could begin - celebrations which would not be repeated for more than a quarter of a century.

...last major round appearance for precisely twenty years

After winning the 1944 minor premiership, Richmond was strongly placed to repeat its 1943 flag success, but was second best to a fanatically determined Fitzroy side in both the second semi final and the grand final. Over the preceding couple of decades the Tigers, along with Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon, had been popularly regarded as  one of Victorian football's elite 'gang of four', a status which derived both from success on the field, and popular appeal. Over the next two decades, however, the on field success side of the equation would take a serious battering. When the Tigers squeezed into the finals half a win ahead of Collingwood in 1947 it was to be their last major round appearance for precisely twenty years, with perennial flirtation with the wooden spoon during the late '50s and early '60s representing arguably the lowest point in the club's VFL history up to that time. Nevertheless, Richmond continued to prove a popular draw card, and when Punt Road was packed to the rafters with an estimated 42,000 fans for the visit of Collingwood in 1951 it sparked suggestions that the club should consider re-locating to the MCG. Fourteen years later, it finally did.

Despite its poor on field form, however, the club continued to provide a home to some of the greatest players in the game, including dual Brownlow Medallist Roy Wright, a quintessential 'gentle giant' among ruckman, his antithesis, the fearsome Don 'Mopsy' Fraser, triple best and fairest rover-cum-back pocket Ron Branton, tenacious half back Des Rowe, polished Western Australian defender Dave Cuzens, and skilful, goal kicking rover Ted Langridge.

At the end of a 1963 season which had seen the team apparently mark time, with just 5 wins out of 18 matches for the year, the same as in 1962, the Richmond committee nevertheless felt justified in waxing sanguine about the club's future prospects:

Looking ahead to 1964, our hopes are raised by:-

The acquisition of the great coaching ability and tactical skills of Len Smith, who had remarkable success at Fitzroy. Len is very impressed at the material he will handle at Richmond.

The distinct promise of several of this season's recruits such as Arnold, Brown, Evans, Garland and Warner. We now appear to be progressing in our efforts to overcome our small man weakness.

The unfulfilled potential of Barrot, Dean, Gahan, Guinane, Hayden, Madigan, Patterson and Williamson, all of whom are just approaching their peak years.

The arrival of a talented array of recruits, who may well prove to be the best the club has had for many years. [10]

Although ill health forced Len Smith to resign as coach after just 4 games of his second season in charge, his role in laying the foundations of Richmond's long overdue return to greatness cannot be overstressed. Eschewing the old fashioned 'prop and kick' methodology which still prevailed at many VFL clubs, he encouraged his players to develop a fast, play on style of football that never allowed the opposition to relax. Under Smith, many of the players mentioned above blossomed as never before, and after showing marginal improvement in 1964, the Tigers stormed up the list in 1965, with former champion goalsneak Jack 'Skinny' Titus taking over the coaching reins from Smith whilst persevering with the same overall approach.

Another factor in the evolution of the 'new Richmond' was the aforementioned move to the MCG in 1965 (although Punt Road was retained as a training and administrative base). The wide expanses of football's traditional home ground were ideally suited to the Tigers' vibrant, attacking style of play, and just as importantly the increase in attendances which accompanied the move helped restore the club to the same level of financial health it had enjoyed before the war.

...the boys are back in town..with Tom Hafey

Tom Hafey's appointment as coach in 1966 was another important piece in the premiership jig-saw. Under fitness fanatic Hafey, the Richmond players trained harder than ever before, adding unrivalled physical conditioning to their undoubted skill. In 1966, the Tigers lost just 4 of their 18 home and away matches, and drew 1, but still missed the finals. The following year, with legends of the future in the shape of Royce Hart, Francis Bourke and Kevin Sheedy aboard, they not only reached the finals for the first time since 1947, they did so in style, with their 15-3 record securing the club's first minor premiership since 1944. The benefits of playing home games at the MCG had been made abundantly clear:

Richmond have made no secret of the fact that they have styled their side to play on the big MCG. When recruiting, the player they have looked for is the one who is young and tall ... and FAST.

When Melbourne were winning Premiership after Premiership, it was claimed they had a big advantage because their players were accustomed to the MCG.

The same may now be said about Richmond. By now the Tigers should feel right at home. They have used the MCG for their 'home' matches since 1965. [11] 

Richmond's free-flowing, attacking style was exhibited to optimum effect in front of a record second semi final audience of 99,542 when Carlton was swept aside by 40 points, 20.21 (141) to 14.17 (101). The Bill Barrot-Royce Hart show was in full swing, with Hart providing an imposing target at full forward - he finished with 6 goals - and Barrot winning possessions at will all over the ground. The fact that not one member of the Richmond team had previously played in a VFL finals match made the win even more meritorious.

Richmond's grand final opposition a fortnight later was provided by Geelong, a team with a similar attacking mentality, and almost as much talent, as the Tigers, causing critics and supporters alike to drool at the mouth in anticipation. Richmond was warmly favoured to win, but the last time a grand finalist had enjoyed such favouritism - Melbourne in 1958 - things had come spectacularly unstuck, and so the coach and players were certainly taking nothing for granted. As things transpired, the 1967 VFL grand final was one of those all too rare games genuinely deserving of the term 'classic', with both sides performing to the absolute limits of their considerable potential - and then some. The last quarter in particular has to go down as one of the greatest exhibitions of the Australian code perpetrated up to that point: it began with Richmond ahead by 2 points, saw the two sides take turns in seizing the initiative, involved a number of controversial umpiring decisions, and mixed the best of the 'old' - spectacular long kicking and high marking - with quintessential features of the 'new' - precise passing, vigorous running in numbers, and the fluent, intelligent use of handball - all at breakneck pace, with scarcely a pause for breath. When the final siren sounded, the scoreboard showed Richmond 9 points to the good, but at the risk of sounding crass, the real winner was football.

Just as he had been two weeks earlier, the imperious figure of centreman Bill Barrot was pick of the bunch as far as the Tigers were concerned, with rover Bill Brown, full forward Royce Hart, bullocking ruck-rover Alan 'Bull' Richardson, and veteran back pocket Roger Dean among many of his team mates to shine.

...peaking at the right time

The failure of teams to maintain standards the season after winning a flag - the so-called 'premiership hangover' - is so frequent an occurrence that it almost definitely cannot merely be down to chance. Moreover, the fact that it is a well known tendency implies that the mere application of will power is not sufficient to counteract it. In any case, the fact is that, despite coach Tom Hafey's best efforts to ensure that his players remained fit, focused and hungry, in 1968 the Tigers missed the finals, while for much of the 1969 season it appeared probable that they would do the same. In the end, the battle for the fourth spot in the finals developed into a two way affair involving Hawthorn and Richmond, with the Tigers having improved immeasurably over the course of the second half of the season. When the two sides met at Hawthorn's home ground of Glenferrie in round eighteen it was a virtual elimination final, with the intensity and vigour of much of the play, not to mention the closeness of the scores, endorsing this. For much of the game it seemed likely that the Hawks, who appeared to be handling the big occasion nerves better, would prevail; they led at every change by 8, 13 and 2 points, but during the last term Richmond lifted the intensity level still further and ultimately got home by 11 points. Failure in either of the last two minor round matches of the season could still have caused the Tigers to miss the finals, but the players were in no mood to choke, and wins over Carlton by 29 points in a Princes Park 'shoot-out', and against Footscray by 90 points at the 'G', ultimately consolidated fourth place.

What followed in the first semi final meeting with Geelong was one of the most complete football performances imaginable. In front of a record crowd of 101,233 Richmond blitzed the Cats right from the opening bounce, accumulating a record semi final score of 25.17 (167), and winning by a record margin of 118 points. Had Geelong not had full forward Doug Wade in its line-up the result could have been even more embarrassing as Wade was responsible for 5 of the Cats' 7 goals for the match.

If ever a team chose precisely the right time to peak, it was Richmond in 1969. After a closely fought first half against Collingwood in the preliminary final, the Tigers duplicated their first semi final form in the third term when they added 7 goals to 1 to put the result beyond doubt. Ruckman Michael Green, who had been nineteenth man in Richmond's 1967 flag-winning side, played the best football of his career during the 1969 finals series, and was popularly listed as best afield in both the first semi final and preliminary final.

The Tigers' grand final opponents were Carlton, but fans hoping for a repeat of the spectacular goal feast of a month earlier were to be disappointed. Despite near perfect conditions, it proved to be a game in which defences - particularly the Richmond half back line of Strang, Burgin and Owen, and Carlton's key defensive duo of Lofts and Goold - held sway. After playing the better football up to half time to lead 6.5 (41) to 2.7 (19), the Tigers added a quick goal in the third term courtesy of John Northey and were beginning to look ominous. However, from that point until three quarter time, Carlton took control, adding 6 goals to 1 to head into the last quarter 4 points to the good. It was the nearest Richmond had come to playing poorly all September, but whatever Tom Hafey said during the three quarter time interval had an instantaneous and pronounced effect. The moment play was resumed:

... the Tigers went furiously into the attack. The players were suddenly running, talking, calling to each other. They lifted across the ground. Bill Barrot took a remarkable mark and kicked an even more remarkable goal ... Richmond attacked the Carlton players with tremendous ferocity and Carlton wilted. [12]

The Tigers' added 4.7 to the Blues' two behinds in the final term to win with a comfort that had looked beyond them at three quarter time. Ruckman Michael Green was again most people's choice as best for Richmond, with ruck-rover Michael Bowden, rover Kevin Bartlett, and the aforementioned half back trio of Geoff Strang, Graham Burgin and Ian Owen also prominent.

A fortnight later, Richmond claimed the title of Australian champions after comprehensively thumping SANFL premier Sturt by 53 points on the Adelaide Oval. Royce Hart, who a week earlier had played 'on lease' for Glenelg in its loss to Sturt in the SANFL grand final, enjoyed emphatic vengeance as one of Richmond's best players. [13]

At the end of the 1969 season, Richmond reigned supreme. Not only was its team indisputably the best in Australia, it was also, for the fourth consecutive year, the biggest draw card in Australian sport, facts on which its supporters would look back in twenty years time and ruefully shake their heads. of the most freakishly unpredictable games in football history

Despite the best efforts of everyone concerned, the 1970 season brought the baneful curse of a premiership hangover once more; the side was intermittently brilliant - wins over minor premier Collingwood and second placed Carlton, for instance - and woeful - twin losses to Fitzroy, and a 9 goal thumping by Melbourne. In 1971 there was sufficient improvement to see the side qualify for the finals, but it was unable to overcome the preliminary final obstacle provided by St Kilda.

The 1972 Tigers were close to the classic breed, averaging 112 points per game during a minor round that yielded 18 wins from 22 matches, good enough for 2nd spot on the ladder, before engaging in a highly memorable, if ultimately fruitless, finals series. In the qualifying final, in front of a huge crowd of 91,900, Richmond played scintillating attacking football in overpowering Collingwood, 25.14 (164) to 18.12 (120).

Then, by way of complete contrast, the second semi final meeting with Carlton at VFL Park developed into a dour defensive tussle which saw the Tigers with only 1.8 (14) on the board to half time. The replacement of the injured Ian Stewart with Marty McMillan provided Richmond with the necessary second half spark, however. McMillan booted 3 goals, and with minutes to go in the last term Richmond led by a goal, only for Carlton centreman Barry Armstrong to tie up the scores almost at the death. It was only the fifth draw in VFL finals history.

In the following week's replay, Richmond appeared to put a mortgage on the '72 flag with a vigorous, confident display that yielded a 41 point win. When the same two sides met again a fortnight later in the 'big one', most neutral observers expected to see a repetition, but instead what transpired was one of the most freakishly unpredictable games in football history. Richmond, in accumulating a tally of 22.18 (150), would have emerged victorious from every single preceding VFL grand final bar one, but Carlton, whose coach John Nicholls audaciously opted to take on the Tigers at their own game, had 25.9 (159) on the board by three quarter time, and added three last term goals to win with a comfort that was as complete as it was unexpected. Incredibly, this was the first time since 1920 that Carlton had defeated Richmond in a major round game.

In 1973, with only one thing - revenge - on their minds, the Tigers experienced the opposite of a premiership hangover, and ultimately emerged with the flag. However, the route to the premiership was often bumpy, with a 20 point qualifying final loss to Carlton representing the nadir, and meaning that the team would have to confront - and surmount - three weeks of cut-throat finals football to emerge with the ultimate prize.

The first semi final against St Kilda was closely fought until three quarter time, but in the last term Richmond added 6.3 to 1.0 to win by 40 points, and comprehensively raise confidence ahead of a do or die preliminary final encounter with minor premier Collingwood. At half time in the preliminary final, the Magpies look to have one foot already in the grand final, as they led by 6 goals and seemed totally in control. In the second half, Tom Hafey opted to introduce a half fit Royce Hart to the fray, and the gamble paid off in dramatic fashion as he provided a hitherto absent focal point ahead of centre, helping himself to 2 magnificent goals, and contributing to several others as the Tigers roared back to be within 8 points at the final change. The Magpies were not yet beaten, and in terms of general play the last quarter was evenly contested, but there seemed to be an air of inevitability in the way that Tiger moves were rounded off with goals, whereas Collingwood kicked a succession of behinds. Richmond duly added 5.2 to 2.5 in the final term to win by 7 points, and set up the longed for grand final showdown with Carlton.

In battling its way to a 16.20 (116) to 12.14 (86) grand final win over arguably its greatest foe, Richmond emphatically demonstrated all the virtues and qualities traditionally associated with the club; the inspirational displays of the likes of Bartlett, Sheedy, Sproule, Clay, Hart and Stewart in the white heat of battle graphically personified the 'eat 'em alive' philosophy, and many supporters of long standing regarded the Tigers' 1973 premiership success as their proud team's finest hour. For many, the 1973 VFL grand final is best remembered for a controversial incident just before half time involving champion Blues full back Geoff Southby and the flailing fist of Richmond strong man Neil Balme, but the effect of this incident on the outcome of the game was negligible. The Tigers won - and indeed led at every change, by 9, 26 and 38 points - because, just as in 1969, they had peaked at precisely the right time, and because every member of the side was adept at performing skillfully and purposefully under pressure. Carlton made a semblance of a comeback early in the last quarter to get to within 18 points, but the Tigers went on to dominate the closing stages just as they had most of the rest of the match, and in the end the 30 point victory margin probably flattered the losers.

The rubber stamp to what had been a remarkable season came when Richmond re-claimed the Australian club championship courtesy of hard fought wins over Glenelg by 15 points and Subiaco by 13 points in Adelaide.

...lifted the game to a new pinnacle of excellence

Of all Richmond's flags under Hafey that of 1974 was arguably the most conclusive. The popular perception at the time was that the Tigers that season had lifted the game to a new pinnacle of excellence, and although they did occasionally - five times in fact - taste defeat they gave the distinct impression that this would never happen when it really mattered. After clinching a week's rest by finishing top after the minor round, Richmond showed finals newcomers North Melbourne what September footy was all about by booting 5.7 to nothing in the opening term of the 2nd semi final, before visibly easing off and coasting to victory by 21 points. A fortnight later in the grand final, North presented a slightly sterner challenge, thanks mainly to accuracy in front of goal; by half time, however, with the Tigers leading 10.11 (71) to 8.3 (51), and seemingly having the answer to everything the Kangaroos could concoct, the only real question appeared to be 'how much Richmond?'

The answer, after a second half of fluent, sometimes flawless football from Richmond, was 41 points, but in truth the margin told little about the Tigers' superiority in 1974. Where they clearly excelled over almost any team that had gone before was in their handling of pressure; prior to Richmond, the benchmark of a great team often tended to hinge on a perceived ability to cope with pressure, but Hafey's Tigers did not merely cope with pressure, they thrived on it. Consequently, when players of the calibre of Kevin Sheedy (best afield in the '74 grand final), Royce Hart, Paul Sproule, Kevin Morris, Dick Clay, Kevin Bartlett, Gareth Andrews and Robert McGhie found themselves in situations of reduced pressure - as in the 1974 Australian club championships in Adelaide - they resembled ravenous wolves released in a paddock full of sheep, with the resultant carnage pathetic to behold. Richmond completely annihilated a Tasmanian combination 34.29 (233) to 2.4 (16), and a supposedly highly skilled Sturt outfit 27.11 (173) to 13.17 (95), effectively precipitating the demise of the club championship concept, and perhaps sowing the seeds of the VFL's future aspirations towards a pseudo-national expansion of its own competition.

Richmond dropped to 3rd place in 1975, and Tom Hafey left to coach Collingwood at the end of a 1976 season which had seen the Tigers plummet to an all time low under his aegis of 7th, with just 10 wins from 22 matches. Overall, however, the Hafey era at Richmond was by some measure the greatest in the history of the club, with four premierships in ten seasons, and a phenomenal success rate of 69.2%. last hurrah

The Tigers' two seasons under Barry Richardson were somewhat disappointing, yielding 4th and 7th place finishes, and when Tony Jewell, a defender in the club's 1967 grand final win over Geelong, took over the coaching reins in 1979 initial indications were not good, as the side plummeted to 8th, its lowest position since 1964. The following year, however, everything miraculously clicked, the side comfortably qualified for the finals in 3rd spot with a 16-5-1 record, and in trademark Richmond fashion it peaked at just the right time, sweeping into the grand final on the back of impressive wins over Carlton (by 42 points) and minor premiers Geelong (by 24 points).

On the face of it, the Tigers' route to the 1980 VFL flag had been smoothed somewhat by virtue of the fact that their grand final opposition was being provided by a Collingwood side which had not only had to scramble its way through from the elimination final, but whose players were confronted by the immense psychological hurdle of the 'Colliwobbles syndrome', which centred on the discomfiting fact that the Magpies had lost their last six grand finals, most recently to Carlton the previous year. Nevertheless, while the majority of pundits favoured a Richmond victory, few if any of them could possibly have imagined the scale of the massacre that was to unfurl before them on one of the blackest days in the history of the Collingwood Football Club, Saturday 27 September 1980.

Right from the outset, Richmond had too much pace, class and vigour for the Magpies. At quarter time, the Tigers led by 23 points; by half time it was a match-winning 43 points. (True, Collingwood had let slip a 44 point advantage against Carlton in the 1970 grand final, but such a capitulation was unimaginable for the club infused with the spirits of such as 'Captain Blood', 'Mopsy' Fraser, Stan Judkins, Percy Bentley, Roy Wright, Bill Morris, Kevin Sheedy and Royce Hart.) In the end, Richmond's margin of victory was a record-breaking 81 points, with Norm Smith Medallist Kevin Bartlett (7 goals) and centre half forward David Cloke (6) alone responsible for more than Collingwood's entire score. With ruckman Mark Lee, rovers Robert Wiley and Dale Weightman, centreman Geoff Raines and wingman Stephen Mount among many other Tigers to shine, Richmond's 23.21 (159) to 9.24 (78) success represented yet another high spot in the club's already supremely proud, illustrious history. Surely, as in the words of the song, 'things could only get better'?

...the one that got away

The premiership hangover suffered by Richmond in 1981 may have been predictable, and was certainly milder than many of its predecessors (the side's 13-9 record would have comfortably ensured finals qualification in most years), but these facts did not enable coach Tony Jewell to escape the axe. To the popular acclaim of many fans, favourite son Francis Bourke was installed as coach prior to a 1982 season which, with the benefit of hindsight, and until something better emerges, it is tempting to regard as the Indian summer of the Richmond Football Club.

The Tigers in 1982 seemingly had all the ingredients necessary for a premiership side: skill and pace on every line through the likes of Geoff Raines, Bryan Wood and Maurice Rioli, a superb ruckman in Mark Lee, the best key forward set-up in the League in the shape of David Cloke and Michael Roach, a hyper-resilient defence featuring Jim Jess, Merv Keane, Bruce Tempany and Alan Martello, and a devastating band of 'smalls' including Kevin Bartlett, Dale Weightman, Robert Wiley and Barry Rowlings. The team was also supremely well coached, and just as capable of playing vibrant, uninhibited attacking football, as evidenced in high scoring wins over Essendon (25.22 to 16.14 in round 3) and St Kilda (28.17 to 14.18 in round 17), as it was of 'toughing things out' when the going was hard (a good example was the 'backs to the wall' 2 point win over Geelong at Kardinia Park in round 8). The nature of football, however, and part of its allure and charm, is that optimum ingredients do not always give rise to optimum achievements; it is the better team on a single day which carries off the premiership. In 1982, the Tigers were probably the best team for 21 out of the 26 weeks of the season, but when it mattered most, on grand final day, they were found wanting, if only marginally.

After topping the ladder with 18 wins from 22 home and away matches, the Tigers cruised into the grand final thanks to a second semi final defeat of Carlton in which the 23 point victory margin completely failed to reflect their supremacy. Already strong flag favourites before the match, Richmond was now at very short odds indeed to secure its second flag in three years, and the odds narrowed still further when it emerged that Carlton, rather than the supposedly tougher Hawthorn, would be the Tigers' grand final opponents.

Any doubts as to the Blues' toughness were firmly eradicated during a fiery opening to the grand final in which brawls ignited all over the ground, and 90% of the umpires' time seemed to be devoted to awarding 15-metre penalties. The Carlton players gave as good as they got during this period, both on and off the scoreboard, and by quarter time it was a 4 point ball game in favour of the Blues. The second term saw the Tigers, with Weightman, Rioli and Raines constantly in the thick of the action, play their best football of the game to open up an 11 point half time lead, but the loss of Bruce Tempany with a broken arm was a cruel, and in the end arguably decisive, blow. The third term saw Carlton in almost complete control, adding 5.4 to 0.6 to lead at the last change by 17 points. The Tigers were far from done, however, and goals to Jess and Bartlett within four minutes of the resumption brought the margin back to 5 points. Then came two incidents which probably swung the match. First, Carlton defender Bruce Doull saved what looked like a certain Richmond goal, and moments later, at the opposite end of the ground, Wayne Johnston pressured a Richmond defender into a wayward clearing kick, which was pounced on by Rod Ashman, who initiated a chain of handpasses that culminated in Peter Bosustow kicking truly. Thereafter, it was largely a case of Richmond repeatedly coming up against the brick wall of Carlton's half back line, with breakaway goals to Marcou and McConville making the game safe for the Blues. The final scoreline of Carlton 14.19 (103) to Richmond 12.13 (85) revealed nothing of the balance of play, but unfortunately for Richmond it is goals and behinds, not territorial supremacy, which wins football matches, and premierships.

Having come so close in 1982, there was justifiable optimism at Punt Road prior to the commencement of the 1983 season. However, after a disastrous start to the year in which all of the first five games were lost, the club never recovered, managing just 7 wins all season for 10th place - the lowest position since 1963 - on the ladder. Francis Bourke departed at the end of the season, precipitating a coaching merry-go-round that was to see four different men at the helm over the course of the remainder of the decade. None proved successful, and by the close of the 1980s Richmond had plummeted from premiership aspirants to perennial cellar dwellers. Even worse, the club was in serious financial strife, precipitating strong speculation in 1990 that it would have to merge with another club in order to survive. In the end, however, a 'Save Our Skins' campaign, launched by club president Neville Crowe in October 1990, raised enough funds to steady the ship.

Mere survival, however, was not enough. As Crowe himself had ventured in the club's 1989 Annual Report:

THE RICHMOND FOOTBALL CLUB IS NOT JUST INTERESTED IN SURVIVAL. Survivals are for losers. RICHMOND ARE WINNERS AND WE WANT SUCCESS, and success means premierships not just staying alive. [14]

... 'like the Tigers of Old' the beginning

The unwieldy transition of the VFL from a suburban to a pseudo-national concern was much less a clearly thought out process than a sequence of knee-jerk responses to predominantly economic stimuli. In this, it mirrored to some extent developments in the game which took place a century earlier. A linking factor in both periods of transition was the difficulty that the Richmond Football Club had in coping. In the twentieth century, the club was brought to the verge of collapse by its financial predicament, and even though recovery was achieved, this has yet to translate into significant on field success. Back in the nineteenth century the club, in common with the game of Australian football, and indeed with the entire nation-in-waiting itself, was fumbling towards an identity, with many almost accidental occurrences helping shape all three.

In the case of the Richmond Football Club, which was officially formed at Byrne's Royal Hotel, Richmond, on 20 February 1885, a key identifying feature was present right from the outset - pride in the jumper (albeit that that jumper, initially at any rate, was incongruously coloured all blue). The club also had a ready made home ground at Punt Road where the local cricket team had been playing its home matches since 1856.

Before Richmond's footballers took to the field for the first ever time on 25 April 1885 against Cremorne Juniors, the inaugural pre-match address was delivered by vice-president J.F. Lancashire, who is reported to have said, "I ask you gentlemen to play the game in such a spirit as to uphold the honour of the Richmond Football Club" - scarcely the sort of language one can imagine issuing from the mouths of 'Checker' Hughes or Jack Dyer, but the underlying sentiment is pure Richmond: the honour of the club transcends all. [15]

Of course, the precise nature of that club had still to emerge, but arguably the most important and distinctive feature was not long in arriving. Aside from the jumper, the most important feature of a nineteenth century footballer's garb was his headgear, and when Richmond players took to wearing yellow and black striped caps - presumably because this was a popular and readily purchasable design at the time - the Tiger nickname quickly followed (although the team was also referred to as the Wasps for a time). Before long, yellow and black replaced blue as the colours of the team's jumpers as well.

... "they were considered the best team in the competition"

On the field, with the exception of a promising 1888 season which yielded 11 wins and 8 losses, Richmond's early fortunes were inauspicious in the extreme. Members of the VFA from their very first season, the Tigers repeatedly found clubs like Carlton, Essendon, Geelong and South Melbourne too strong, and indeed on many occasions they were on the receiving end of substantial hidings. Moreover, although football was still ostensibly amateur at this time, the number of talented players lost by clubs like Richmond to wealthier opponents clearly suggested that money was beginning to be the predominant controlling influence in the game. Although it was less clearly defined than it is today, there was nevertheless an implicit pyramid system in nineteenth century football dominated by the clubs which would eventually comprise the VFL. Only after the departure of those clubs from the VFA in 1897 did Richmond's fortunes improve: in 1898, the team finished fourth, its highest position to date, and two years later it rose to third. In 1901, "they were considered the best team in the competition",[16] but an unaccountable late season loss of form saw them narrowly miss out on the premiership, which at that point was still decided on the basis of placings after the home and away matches. Port Melbourne was the team which benefited from Richmond's end of season fade out, precipitating a keen rivalry between the clubs which was to endure for the remainder of the Tigers' involvement in the VFA.

Richmond and Port Melbourne remained the strongest teams in the competition in 1902 and engaged in a season long tussle for supremacy. After The Tigers struck the first blow with a 19 point opening round win against their arch rivals at Punt Road, the Borough comprehensively turned the tables midway through the year at the Port to leave both sides with just 1 defeat up to that point, and the VFA faced with the tantalisingly lucrative prospect of a play-off to determine the premiership. Williamstown ultimately stuck a pin in this notion, however, by securing an upset win over Port Melbourne, a result which effectively handed the Tigers their first flag. According to 'the Guardian' football writer, the achievement was well warranted:

We have to sincerely congratulate both the Richmond team and members on the magnificent season when for the first time in the history of the Richmond club, they won the premiership. Long years had they battled hard to gain the honours, and when the curtain of 1902 was rung down and the players had achieved their ambition every heart in Richmond was filled with joy at the success of the old club. Never will that eventful day be forgotten. The success of the team was thoroughly deserved, for never in the history of the club has there been such a fine, manly and honest combination of footballers and the members of the club had every reason to be proud of them. [17]

Key players for Richmond at this time included George 'Mallee' Johnson, widely considered to be one of the best big men in football, a reputation he endorsed when he crossed to Carlton in the VFL in 1905, veteran utility Charlie Backhouse, and brilliant rover Charlie Ricketts. The side was captained by Alex Edmonds.

Prior to the start of the 1903 season, Richmond engaged in two matches against VFL opponents. The first, at Corio Oval, Geelong was played in a relaxed, almost friendly spirit, with the Pivotonians winning comfortably by 70 points. The second fixture was a much more serious affair, however: the first ever challenge match between the premier teams of the VFL and the VFA. With the pride of the whole of the VFA riding on their backs, the Tigers battled fiercely and gamely, but VFL side Collingwood was just too accomplished, winning 7.15 (57) to 4.4 (28).

The VFA had been reluctant to introduce a finals system because it did not wish to be thought to be aping the VFL, but the loss of a potentially huge pay out in 1902 convinced it to change its mind. The 1903 season saw the inception of a 'final four', with the top side - which proved to be Richmond - enjoying the right of challenge if beaten in either the semi final or final. A lacklustre semi final loss against Footscray, which some observers felt was attributable to some key Richmond players 'lying down', meant that the Tigers could relax for a week while the Footscray and North Melbourne fought for the privilege of contesting the challenge final. Victory ultimately went to North.

The VFA's first ever challenge final took place in front of an estimated 20,000 spectators at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground on an extremely windy day which would prevent either side from scoring even as much as a behind at the railway end. North enjoyed first use of the wind and booted 3.4 before restricting the Tigers to 1.4 in theseco2nd quarter. In the third term North, playing with much greater cohesion than the Tigers, added a match-winning 4.2, and then hustled, harried and buffeted their opponents into submission during a brutal last term which in effect created a template for many VFA finals matches to follow.

Richmond forfeited both the match and the premiership

Richmond again topped the ladder in 1904 but sensationally, on what the club's players and officials regarded as a matter of principle, surrendered the possibility of a premiership when, after narrowly losing a semi final in controversial circumstances to North Melbourne, they refused to participate in the challenge final if the same umpire, a certain Mr. Allen, was appointed to officiate. Not surprisingly, the VFA refused to be coerced, and promptly appointed Mr. Allen as the challenge final umpire, whereupon Richmond forfeited both the match and the premiership. In retrospect, the incident probably played a major part in persuading the club hierarchy to begin to explore the possibility of joining the VFL.

First, though, there was one more VFA pennant to be won. In 1905, it was North Melbourne's turn to enjoy the right of challenge, but in both the final and challenge final Richmond proved too strong. The Tigers won the former match by 20 points, after leading from start to finish, while in the decisive encounter a week later they were much too strong after half time en route to an even more convincing win. The final scores were Richmond 9.7 (61) to North Melbourne 5.6 (36), with rover Charlie Ricketts, ruckman 'Rhoda' MacDonald and centreman Walter Sykes among the victors' best.

Richmond's fortunes waned somewhat in 1906 when Williamstown and North Melbourne, in successive weeks, inflicted the side's first home losses for five years. Although by no means a disaster, third place at the end of the season was disappointing to a club that had quickly grown accustomed to, and highly appreciative of, the taste of success.

Off the field, relations between the club and the VFA were becoming strained, with the VFA suspicious of Richmond's longer term ambitions vis-à-vis the VFL. Just prior to the 1907 season, the VFA introduced a ruling which barred its member clubs from playing matches against VFL opponents, a practice which Richmond, alone among those member clubs, had been in the regular habit of engaging. Indeed, a pre-season practice match against Geelong had already been arranged, and the club committee decided to call the VFA's bluff. The upshot was that the match was played - and won by Richmond - and the VFA backed down. However, it seemed clear to most observers that Richmond's days in the VFA were numbered.

... the VFL...responded warmly to Richmond's overtures

After an injury-ridden 1907 season which brought another third place finish, the Richmond committee resolved to take the proverbial bull by the horns and make an official approach for admission to the VFL. As it happened, the club's timing was perfect, as the VFL itself had decided that the time for expansion was nigh, and it responded warmly to Richmond's overtures. The Tigers' VFA apprenticeship, which since the departure of the eight VFL renegades in 1897 had seen them go from strength to strength, managing an overall success rate during the period of 64.4%, was over; things were about to get much tougher, but ultimately much more satisfying too.

Richmond's induction into VFL ranks could scarcely have been more satisfying as, after trailing until midway through the third term, they overcame the challenge of Melbourne at Punt Road by 11 points, the first of 6 wins from 18 games that the side was to enjoy. In what was now a ten team competition, the Tigers ran ninth, albeit that they were four wins better off than wooden spooners Geelong.

If Richmond's first few seasons in league company were unspectacular, the club nevertheless quickly acquired a reputation for tenacity, excellent organisation, and a refusal to cave in, whatever the odds. In 1916, the side participated in the finals for the first time, albeit that, with the ravages of war having reduced the competition to just four clubs, qualification was automatic. Paradoxically, after going under by 3 points to Carlton in a semi final, Richmond was consigned to its first ever wooden spoon, an indignity it suffered again the following year, this time in a competition involving six teams. Once the war was out of the way, however, the Tigers were ready to roar at full pitch for the first time since leaving the VFA.

the Tigers come of age

In 1919, as relieved crowds flocked back to football grounds all over Australia, Richmond, under Norm 'Hackenschmidt' Clark, embarked on its first legitimate assault on the VFL premiership. Clark, a South Australian, had played for Carlton before the war, and coached that team to successive premierships in 1914-15. He clearly knew how to win, and his experience quickly rubbed off on his charges, who burst out of the blocks with wins in the opening 3 rounds before going on to qualify for - as opposed to being automatically included in - the VFL major round for the first time.

Richmond's semi-final opposition was provided by reigning premier South Melbourne, a team which had twice defeated the Tigers during the home and away rounds. However, in front of 45,318 supporters at the MCG the underdogs raised their game to a new level, with only greater accuracy in front of goal keeping South in the game; in the end though it was Richmond by 14 points, a result that was as unexpected as it was pleasing. Nevertheless, there was better to come: in the final, in front of a huge crowd of 51,000, Richmond played superbly to lead at every change against minor premier Collingwood en route to a 10.14 (74) to 6.9 (45) win.

As minor premier, Collingwood had the right of challenge, and this time the tables were turned, with the Magpies winning 11.12 (78) to 7.11 (53) after pulling away after half time. However, if Richmond defenders had not given away so many costly free kicks right in front of goal things might have been different.

Richmond's next meeting with the Magpies came in unusual circumstances in round 5 the following year, with former Bendigo miner and ex-Collingwood footballer Dan Minogue, reflecting the preference of the time for on-field leaders, having replaced Norm Clark as coach of the Tigers. In order to enable the visiting Prince of Wales to attend a VFL match whilst in Melbourne, the game was re-scheduled to commence in the morning. With both sides on their best behaviour, the 30,000-plus crowd was treated to a spectacular match in which Richmond always seemed to have just that little more in reserve, and won by 7 points. It proved to be an omen. The Tigers went on to secure the VFL minor premiership for the first ever time with a 14-2 record, and despite losing to Carlton by 23 points in one semi final, they were delighted when Collingwood overcame Fitzroy, the team responsible for both Richmond's minor round losses, in the other.

For the second year in a row, Richmond and Collingwood ended up meeting to decide the destiny of the premiership, although this time it was the Tigers who were exercising the right of challenge. Despite the low scores, it was a fast, open game, and after an even first term Richmond's superior pace and skill proved decisive. The Tigers won 7.10 (52) to 5.5 (35) with Collingwood reject 'Max' Hislop best afield, ably assisted by followers Hugh James, Barney Herbert and Dave Moffatt, rover Clarrie Hall, and half back flanker James Smith. As hordes of ecstatic supporters crammed into the changing rooms after the game a tradition was allegedly born after James Herbert's cry of "What did we do?" elicited the roared response "WE ATE 'EM ALIVE!"

... "Max Hislop, brilliantly hurled himself into the path of the ball"

'Max' Hislop was at the forefront of the club's greatest achievement to date the following year after he was again best afield in the narrow challenge final victory over Carlton that secured a 'back to back' premiership triumph. This was a much harder earned flag altogether, for while there was no real hint of the sort of premiership hangover that was to beset the team in years to come, the Tigers of 1921 were, on the whole, appreciably less convincing than in 1920, at any rate during the minor round. They reached their lowest ebb in round ten at Princes Park when Carlton dished out a 51-point hiding in what was arguably the Tigers' worst performance since the war.

Football premierships are won during the finals though, and once these started Richmond was a different team. After a hard fought opening term in the semi final against Geelong, the Tigers proved comprehensively too good all over the ground, winning by what was a quite extraordinary margin for the era of 61 points. Then, in the final against minor premier Carlton, they held their nerves when the pressure was at its height, and despite managing only 17 scoring shots to 24, won through by 8 points.

The challenge final the following week was one of the toughest games imaginable. Carlton led narrowly at every change, but Richmond never gave in, and when half forward Norm Turnbull kicked truly with eight minutes left in the final term it was the Tigers by 4 points.

Black with mud, the two sides fought out those last eight minutes, the Tigers standing up to the fiercest sustained onslaught on the goals that Carlton could produce. In the last minute, with the score unaltered, the ball flew towards Carlton's Alec Duncan, not far from goal. It looked a certain mark until Richmond's vice-captain, Max Hislop, brilliantly hurled himself into the path of the ball and saved the 1921 premiership for the Richmond Football Club. [18]

In coming good when it counted most, the Tigers had conclusively proved that they had come of age in the VFL. Besides Hislop, others to make sterling contributions to the flag win included his fellow half backs James Smith and Norman 'Snowy' McIntosh, captain-coach and first ruckman Dan Minogue, and rovers 'Checker' Hughes and Clarrie Hall.

The cracks which had started to appear in 1921 developed into a full blown chasm the following year, despite the fact that Richmond entered the fray with basically the same set of players as had clinched the previous two flags. With just 7 wins from 16 matches for the season, the side comprehensively missed the finals, with much worse - a 4-12 record and a narrow escape from the wooden spoon - to follow in 1923.

The 1924 season saw the VFL experiment with its finals system and a much improved Richmond proved to be one of the 'guinea pigs'. The top four sides at the end of the minor round - Essendon, South Melbourne, Fitzroy and Richmond - played off for the flag on a round robin basis, with the Tigers finishing second to the Dons, whom they actually beat by 20 points, on percentage. The experimental finals system was a dismal failure with the public, with the matches attracting an average crowd of just 28,500. Not surprisingly, in 1925 the VFL reverted to a knock-out final four, with the minor premier having the right of challenge.

The Tigers dropped to seventh place in 1925, their last season under Dan Minogue, and although they managed two and a half more wins the following year in Mel Morris' only season in charge, they were unable to improve their placing.

... rage against the machine

Frank 'Checker' Hughes, who had left Richmond for Ulverstone at the end of the 1923 season, returned to the club as coach in 1927, and the next major phase in the development of the unique Richmond Football Club identity got underway. As mentioned above, Hughes favoured a vigorous, hard-hitting style of play which helped the Tigers come closer than any of their contemporaries to challenging the might of Jock McHale's Collingwood. In 1927, 1928 and 1929, Richmond defeated the Magpies at least once, only to end up losing to them every time in the premiership play-off.

The intense hatred which exists between Richmond and Collingwood, that had been 'bubbling under' since the Tigers' accession to League ranks, probably came to full fruition at this time. Certainly it was a strong motivational influence in shaping the mindset of one young Tiger supporter who, in 1929, clambered over the MCG walls on grand final day to watch his heroes in action against the hated foe. He went home disappointed that night, but over the course of his nineteen season, 312 game VFL career with Richmond, Jack Dyer would be responsible for sending many of the club's supporters, young and old, home happy - not to mention sending many of his opponents clattering painfully to the turf.

Dyer, who died in 2003, was the quintessential Tiger, whose impact on the club was unmatched, and continues to this day, with the best-and-fairest award named in his honor. The closing words, which admirably summarise both the Richmond ethos and the compelling allure of the game, should clearly be his:

.... I have often been accused of costing Richmond wins by overdoing the tough tactics. I won't have this. I've always preached vigour but it must be combined with football. You don't bash, bash, bash all day. You meet your opponent shoulder to shoulder. Shoulder to chest if necessary, but the concentration must always be on the ball. You don't win matches if you forget the ball, and we won plenty. But this always brings up that old argument, football or footbrawl? Many people consider Aussie Rules football is played too hard and the players have too little protective gear compared with other codes of football. I have often been asked if I was if I was disturbed by the number of injuries I have inflicted on opponents and whether I could have played top-class football without playing it so tough.

On the surface the game does look too tough, but on paper it isn't. I cannot recall any deaths from injuries in senior Australian Rules football and I can only recall a couple of permanent disabilities, the most serious being a player going blind from a deliberate kick. That was not my code of football. I hit hard and I hurt but I never inflicted an injury which had lasting effect on an opponent. If I hadn't played it tough I might just as well have stepped out of the game. Any slackening off in my game would have registered as a sign that I was getting scared or slowing up and I would have come in for much more severe treatment than I was receiving. And don't worry, I've hobbled from the field with my boots filled with blood, black and blue from bruises and stop marks gouging flesh from my shoulders to my ankles. I've been punched and kicked and had teeth knocked out and been carried unconscious from the grounds, but to me it was one of the hazards of the game and I've loved it all. [19]

... the long road back

Dyer's later years had witnessed the long decline of the club's fortunes on and off the field. After both of their two finals series appearances in the past thirty years - 1995 and 2001 - the hopes of Tiger supporters had been cruelly dashed. The club that had once taken continued success for granted was now almost invariably unable to qualify for the finals, instead suffering the ignominy of finishing ninth (one place short of finals qualification) on six occasions between 1994 and 2008.

That period coincided with the playing career of fan favourite Matthew Richardson, another in a long line of Tasmanian forwards to have donned the yellow and black. A supremely talented, albeit rather erratic player, 'Richo's' frustrations on the field were apparent for all to see, and perhaps indicative of the Tiger's predicament through those years - so close but yet so far.

After some notorious early blunders in the draft, most notably the passing over of Matthew Pavlich and Lance Franklin, Richmond's recent draft success has given the long suffering fans renewed hope of success. The likes of Brett Deledio, Trent Cochin, Jack Riewoldt, and Dustin Martin form an inner core of talent capable of lifting the club to September action. Backed by a capable management team including former player Brendon Gale, and a coaching staff led by Damien Hardwick, the Tigers improved steadily following the dark days of 2009 when they narrowly managed to avoid the wooden spoon (after having succumbed to one in 2007).

Second from last in 2010, the Tigers managed to clamber up four places on the premiership ladder the following year and there was further marginal improvement in 2012. In 2013 Richmond qualified for there finals in fifth place but then suffered the acute disappointment of an elimination final loss to old rivals Carlton. Twenty-six points to the good at the main break the Tigers crumbled as the pressure mounted during the second half. By three quarter time Richmond’s lead had been cut to just 4 points, and in the final term the Blues added 6 goals to 2 to win by 20 points with something to spare.

Richmond again qualified for the finals in 2014, this time in eighth position. Once again, however, they could not get beyond the elimination final, which on this occasion was against Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval. The Power virtually won the match in the opening term when they scored 8 goals to 1; by three quarter time the Tigers’ deficit was 81 points, and although they produced a fighting last quarter to add 5 goals to 1 there was no escaping the fact that they had once again crumbled when it mattered.

Richmond’s horror run in finals continued in 2015 when they again fell at the first hurdle, this time at the hands of North Melbourne. The loss was all the harder to accept in that when the two teams had met the previous week in their final home and away match of the season Richmond had cantered to victory by 41 points.

With Damien Hardwick still occupying the coaching hot seat the Tigers failed to qualify for the finals in 2016 for the first time in four years after managing just 8 wins. In round nineteen at Manuka Oval Greater Western Sydney restricted them to 3.5, their lowest match tally since 1961.

The Tigers' stunning drought-breaking premiership win in 2017 therefore came as a surprise to some but no one can deny that it was thoroughly warranted. Third on the ladder after the home and away rounds Richmond's form in the finals was irrepressible. The qualifying final clash with Geelong attracted 95,028 spectators to the MCG and, after a comparatively closely fought first three quarters, they saw the Tigers systematically and ruthlessly tear the Cats apart in the last, supplementing their score by 7 majors to 1 to win by 51 points, 13.13 (91) to 5.10 (40).  Next up was Greater Western Sydney in a preliminary final, again at the MCG. The Giants made a decent fist of things until half time, at which stage the margin was a solitary point in Richmond's favour. Ultimately though the intensity of the pressure applied by the Tigers coupled with the intimidating atmosphere generated by another 90,000-plus crowd eroded the Giants' resistance, and Richmond won with something to spare thereby qualifying for their first grand final since 1982.

The grand final opposition was provided by an Adelaide team which had topped the ladder at the conclusion of the home and away series and which had scored a runaway 76 point win in the teams' previous meeting in round six. Crucially, however, that match had taken place in front of a packed house at the Crows' home ground of the Adelaide Oval. The Tigers moreover had probably improved significantly in the interim, with their performances over the last few minor round matches coupled with their two finals victories setting a new benchmark for excellence, and arguably marking them out as the team to beat. Additionally, the fact that the grand final would take place at Richmond's home paddock of the MCG was another factor pointing to a Tigers win.

Just as in their two previous finals scores were close until half time, but after the main interval the Tigers produced an exemplary display of power football and they ultimately cruised to victory by 8 goals. Kate O'Halloran, writing in 'The Guardian', cogently summed up the occasion and the incredible nature of Richmond's achievement:

A year is a long time in football. In 2016, the Richmond football club was in crisis. After three successive finals appearances in 2013-2015, the club bottomed out to finish in 13th last year. A rebel group of challengers threatened to spill the board with one of their number, the 1980 premiership captain, Bruce Monteath, saying the club sat at a “35-year crossroad”. Saturday’s 48-point pummelling of Adelaide in a captivating finale to this season was vindication for those who refused to panic and lent their backing to the coach, Damien Hardwick.

For 37 years Richmond has notoriously underperformed, misstepped, drafted poorly, and been ridiculed for the implementation of their infamous “five year plan”. Yet the last laugh belonged to Hardwick’s team as the Tigers’ plans belatedly, gloriously, came to fruition in front of 100,000 fans at a feverish MCG .......... The Tigers were not freed up until later in this game but once they were, the dam wall broke, thanks in large part to its $8.75m dollar man, Dustin Martin. After a season of unrelenting contract speculation, the man who Leigh Matthews argued had had the best season of any AFL footballer achieved the incredible feat of becoming the first player in history to win a Norm Smith, Brownlow and premiership medal in the one season.[20]

For much of the 2018 season it looked quite likely that lightning would strike twice, but in the end the Tigers' season fizzled out disappointingly at the hands of Collingwood in a preliminary final. The Magpies showed up frailties in Richmond's game plan which had not been evident since a clash with St. Kilda in round sixteen 2017 when the Saints had booted 14 first half goals to 1 before triumphing by 67 points. On that occasion, Richmond had regrouped and gone on to capture a highly memorable flag. Whether the preliminary final loss to Collingwood in 2018 will represent a similar springboard to achievement is unknown, but somehow it is hard not to imagine the Tigers being in the mix come finals time for quite a few seasons yet.


  1. Captain Blood by Jack Dyer and Brian Hansen, page 26.
  2. Ibid, pages 11-12.
  3. Tigerland by Brian Hansen, page 54.
  4. The Complete Book Of VFL Finals by Graeme Atkinson, page 100.
  5. Ibid, page 101.
  6. Let's Look at Football by Hugh Buggy, page 29.
  7. This was demonstrated when the players, who had the right to select their captain, overwhelmingly voted for Bentley to continue in that role.
  8. The Clubs by Garrie Hutchinson and John Ross, page 304.
  9. Buggy, op cit., page 40.
  10. 'Richmond Football Club Seventy-Ninth Annual Report and Balance Sheet Season 1963', page 5.
  11. From 'The Football Record', volume 56 number 27, 9/9/67, page 4.
  12. Tigerland by Brian Hansen, page 140.
  13. Hart, who was on National Service, had been stationed in Adelaide all year, and had trained during the week with Glenelg, with Richmond flying him over to Melbourne each Saturday to play in the VFL.
  14. 'Richmond Football Club Annual Report 1989', page 4.
  15. Quoted in Tigerland by Brian Hansen, page 19.
  16. Ibid, page 25.
  17. Ibid, page 26.
  18. The Complete Book Of VFL Finals by Graeme Atkinson, page 68.
  19. Captain Blood by Jack Dyer and Brian Hansen, page 67.
  20. 'The Guardian', 30/9/17.


* Behinds calculated from the 1965 season on.
+ Score at the end of extra time.