Neil Allen Balme
15 January 1952 (age 71)
Place of birth
Perth, WA (6001)
Football coach and administrator
Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 18y 212d
Last game: 27y 166d
Height and weight
Height: 194 cm
Weight: 96 kg
State of origin
Craig Balme (Brother)
|Club||League||Career span||Games||Goals||Avg||Win %||AKI||AHB||AMK||BV|
|Total||1968, 1970-1979, 1981-1982||176||251||1.43||—||—||—||—||—|
Has great strength in his marking and although not a long kick is most accurate with his drop punts.¹
Balme had played just four senior games for Subiaco when he turned up on Richmond's doorstep as a seventeen year old in January 1969. The recruitment of such young players from interstate was comparatively rare at the time, but the Tigers, perhaps recognising that Balme was mature, both physically and mentally, beyond his years, took a punt and signed him up, a decision for which they would have ample cause to congratulate themselves over the course of the next decade.
Tall (194cm) and hefty (96kg or more), Balme was far from shy in exploiting his physical attributes to the full in the services of his team. The fact that he also possessed considerable football ability made him one of the most formidable talents in the game, especially during his peak years of the early to mid-1970s. A highly capable knock ruckman, Balme was more commonly used near the goal front where he specialised in intimidating and terrorising the opposition, often enabling team mates to procure easy goals. He was also more than happy to chip in with a goal or two himself, and in 1972 (jointly with Ricky McLean) and 1973 he topped the Tigers's goal kicking.
Given the generally raw and robust nature of his approach, Balme's true worth as a player tended to come most noticeably to the fore during the finals. He booted five goals in a losing team in the 1972 Grand Final, while a year later his controversial flooring of Carlton full back Geoff Southby made a significant contribution to Richmond's eventual 30-point win. Balme was also named among the best players in the Tigers's 1974 Grand Final defeat of North Melbourne. He was a member in 1977 of Western Australia's first ever state of origin team.
His roughhouse image notwithstanding, Balme had always thought deeply about his football, and had long nursed an ambition to coach. In 1980 an opportunity arose at Norwood, and Balme was quick to seize it. He would go on to achieve considerable success in the coaching sphere, but his playing days were not quite over either, and despite the inconvenience of an arthritic left knee he would go on to play a further 13 league games in 1981 and 1982 for a career total of 176.
Balme was an effective and highly influential coach with Norwood, where he spent a total of 11 seasons, overseeing premierships in 1982 and 1984. Quite remarkably, the Redlegs never once failed to contest the finals while Balme was at the helm, but in 1991, the season after his departure, they plummeted to seventh.
His appointment as Redlegs coach in 1980 was somewhat contentious as far as many of the club's fans were concerned because, during his time as a player, Balme had acquired a reputation for feistiness. However, as a coach he proved himself both wily and inspirational, with this latter trait in particular coming to the fore during the 1984 major round, when his supremely motivated charges became the first combination in SANFL history to claim a flag from fifth position.
In 1991 Balme took up the coaching reins at the newly merged Woodville-West Torrens Football Club and his two season stint, which produced fourth and third place finishes, can in hindsight be regarded as having laid the foundations for the 1993 premiership.
After leaving South Australia Balme coached in the AFL with Melbourne, leading the club to the preliminary final of 1994, but after a falling off in form was sacked midway through the 1997 season. Subsequent to his coaching career, he has achieved considerable success as football operations manager at Collingwood (1998 to 2006 and 2014-2016), Geelong (2007 to 2014) and Richmond (since September 2016).
Author - John Devaney with additional material from Adam Cardosi
1. Has great strength in his marking and although not a long kick is most accurate with his drop punts.