1980 A Personal Footy Almanac – Round 11, Saturday 7 June, Richmond v South Melbourne, VFL Park

As we get off the train at Nunawading, I can already see the queue for the bus snaking along the side street behind the station. There are plenty of bright red and white scarves dotted among the yellow and black. And no wonder.

South Melbourne hit peak form last week with a 14 goal thumping of Hawthorn. They’re the glamour team at the moment, boasting a Brownlow-winning ruckman, Graham Teasdale ( one the Tigers let go), a jumping jack full-forward, John Roberts, and a mean, stingy full-back with his head on a permanent sideways angle, Rod “Tilt” Carter. Throw in the Morwood brothers, a wild, exquisitely talented blond winger, David Rhys-Jones, and a couple of nifty rovers, Stevie Wright and Bernie Evans, and there’s an excitement machine in the making. Just imagine what they’d be like if they’d held onto those Daniher boys!

After a balmy autumn, winter’s hit. It’s an overcast gloomy day, threatening rain. Arriving at VFL Park, we join the cheer squad and its hangers-on up the back of the stand under the small amount of roof covering that the Waverley outer offers. This puts us a long way from the play, but the panorama across the ground and out over the Dandenongs is a spectacular contrast to the confines of some of the other grounds we’ve visited this year.

By this point of the season, I’m feeling like a seasoned veteran. I’ve got a regular uniform – black cords, boots and windcheater, adorned with various badges, Richmond scarf and black duffel coat. I’m attuned to the rhythms of match-day, even down to the little rituals of individual players (e.g. Emmett Dunne always goes into the centre for a bounce of the match ball before the game begins).

I’m noticing the performances of fringe players. Journeyman Dennis Collins (no. 28), from Footscray and Carlton, has slotted in nicely on the wing with the injury-prone Bruce Tempany out again. Ian Baker (No. 26) made a useful debut last week but hasn’t held his spot. Another first-gamer, Michael Nugent (No.37) is getting a run this week as a backup big man. How will some of these newcomers make up for the big loss of Robert Wiley, who misses through injury this week?

By game time, the stands are comfortably full. The official crowd is a smidge over 50,000 – a terrific turnout, particularly for cash-strapped South. A win today would do wonders for their standing in the competition – and their bank balance. There must be plenty of pressure on the team to perform.

They go OK for a half, although Richmond is shading them. But early in the third quarter, South makes its move. They take the upper hand around the ground, applying plenty of pressure. Goals aren’t easy to come by. Roberts, in particular, is being well held by Francis Bourke, re-born at full-back. But eventually the Swans pinch-hit some goals from ruckman, Barry Round, and Wayne Carroll, and mid-way through the quarter, they forge to the lead. Their success-starved supporters come to life.

It’s yet another challenge for the league leader – the price you pay, I guess. Some anxious glances are being exchanged high in the stands, but once again, our players respond quickly and ruthlessly. “Like a giant aroused from its slumber” is the Age’s description of the Richmond reaction that follows this uprising. We power from a narrow deficit to a nine goal win in another breathtaking 45 minute burst.

At the risk of monotony, it’s another team effort. Michael Roach can boast none of his heroics from last week. The “Tilt” holds him to a modest four goals, but a gaggle of 10 team-mates contribute another 14. More to the point, our unheralded defence has again risen to the occasion, restricting this glitzy, free-scoring outfit to just 10 goals.

We’re at the halfway mark of the season and Richmond is a game and a half clear on top of the ladder. We’ve knocked off all the main contenders in the last month and are in that absolute sweet spot of form where super talent aligns perfectly with real hunger, producing spectacularly decisive victories. Despite the early winter gloom outside, there’s a satisfying inner glow among my fellow passengers in the bus back to Nunawading. Our only nagging fear is whether the Tigers can keep it up.

VFL Park

Despite the League’s grandiose claims at the time that its showpiece ground was in the “demographic centre of Melbourne”, VFL Park was a nightmare place to get to, even for privileged folk like me who lived on the eastern side of town. A train to Nunawading was followed by a bus to the ground. It was advisable to allow plenty of time. The buses ran hourly and on big match days like today, usually got held up in the traffic along Jells Road before finally slinking into the vast carpark that encircled the ground. All up it was an hour and a half trip. How kids got there from further afield is beyond me.

Paradoxically, at a venue built with scant regard for public transport users, travel to Waverley by car was often worse. Buses were at least given priority access and exit from the car park. For motorists, it was a gridlock free-for-all and the surrounding roads were often little better. Forget parking in the suburban streets around the ground. A wide, vigorously policed restricted parking zone operated on match days and those who risked it usually had an expensive day out.
The consolation for this arduous travel was a spacious, all-seater stadium that provided clear views of the play throughout, thanks to the cantilevered stand construction. The contrast to the cramped, primitive confines of the suburban grounds and even the old stands at the MCG was profound.

Unfortunately, the League’s far-sighted vision in creating VFL Park was never matched by its implementation. For most of its life, the stadium was too far out of town to be user-friendly. Planned public transport links were never built. Designed with the ultimate vision of a 150,000 seat stadium, Waverley was only ever semi-completed. Most of the ground had no shelter from the elements (which were notoriously harsh in this part of town which is right in the middle of a rain belt). In contrast to the steeply angled modern stands at the MCG, Waverley was built with a gentle contour which meant vantage points towards the back of the stand were very distant from the play.

Waverley’s finest hour came in 1991 when the redevelopment of the Southern Stand at the MCG meant that it hosted all Melbourne finals including the Grand Final. Hawthorn (and briefly, St Kilda) became the major tenants at the ground during the 1990s and the much-maligned stadium finally began to gain acceptance as a convenient, accessible venue within the rapidly expanding south-eastern corridor of Melbourne. Ironically, these positive developments coincided with the League’s abandonment of its long term vision for the ground and Waverley’s eventual closure in 1999 came as a wrench for many footy supporters, in spite of the many hassles they experienced there over the years.

Now a major housing development occupies the carpark. The playing arena remains as Hawthorn’s training base and the heritage-listed remnant of the cantilevered grandstand is the club’s headquarters. As I pass this rather sad edifice on the Monash Freeway, surrounded by a sea of McMansions, I regard it as an unfortunate symbol of how a grand vision can so easily be derailed by the misalignment of politics, poor planning and population.

The Wrap
Richmond              4.5 6.9 10.9 18.13 (121)
South Melbourne 3.4 5.5  7.7    10.8 (68)

Goals
Rich: Roach 4, Bartlett, Rowlings, Sarah, Weightman 2, Cloke, Collins, Keane, Lee, Monteath, Raines
South Melb: Carroll, Round 3, T. Morwood 2, P. Morwood, Roberts

Major Stats
Any fears that Robbie Wiley’s absence would hurt Richmond were dispelled by another terrific display from the Richmond running brigade. Raines (31 possessions) again danced beautifully to the beat of Mark Lee’s ruckwork, whilst Dennis Collins (29) display on a wing was as eye-catching as his beard and permed locks. Rowlings, Weightman, Cloke (12 marks) Keane and Wood were as solid as ever and the defence led by Bourke, the unheralded Greg Strachan and Jimmy Jess, obliterated a forward line that had slammed through 28 goals the previous week.

For the Swans, Mark Fraser, who played just 20 games over three years for the club, topped the possession count with 22. Graham Teasdale broke even with Lee in the hitouts but had little support. Tony Morwood battled hard in the forward line but, with the honourable exceptions of resting ruckman, Round, and Wayne Carroll, in just his fourth game, he had few allies. Rod Carter restricted Michael Roach to just six kicks but “Disco” still potted four majors in the biggest return of the day.

Attendance
50,017 at VFL Park

In other games…
Fitzroy 19.12 (126) v Carlton 22.24 (156) at Junction Oval
Collingwood 19.15 (129) v Melbourne 18.11 (119) at Victoria Park
Hawthorn 9.17(71) v Essendon 13.11 (89) at Princes Park
Footscray 15.13 (103) v Geelong 22.12 (144) at Western Oval
St Kilda 12.8 (80) v North Melbourne 25.13 (163)

Collingwood and Essendon were the main beneficiaries of the Swans’ defeat, both moving within a game of fifth place with hard-fought wins over Melbourne and Hawthorn respectively. Not for the last time did inaccuracy cost Hawthorn dearly, as next week’s report will show, whilst sparkling displays by Flower and Elshaug weren’t enough to hold off the Magpies who trailed much of the day.

Elsewhere, teams 2, 3 and 4 did it pretty comfortably against the cellar-dwellers. North Melbourne’s swing-man, Darryl Sutton, kicked nine at Moorabbin, in the individual performance of the round, but elsewhere, Carlton and Geelong were just far too strong across all lines.

At the halfway point of the season, Collingwood, Essendon and Hawthorn were still very much in the mix for a finals berth, but the bottom four sides had already fallen way off the pace and would clearly be of nuisance value at best for the remainder of the year. North Melbourne and Carlton still appeared the main challengers to Richmond for Flag favouritism, but Geelong was emerging.

The Ladder
Team             W   L   D    PF    PA     %     Points
Richmond     9    1    1    1491 996  149.7  38
Nth Melb       8    3    0   1291 949  136.0  32
Carlton          8    3    0   1287 1111  115.8  32
Geelong          7    4    0   1199 1048 114.4  28
Sth Melb        7    4    0   1228 1144 107.3  28
Collingwood    6     4    1    1206  1179  102.2   26
Essendon         6     5    0    1173  1038  113.0   24
Hawthorn        6    5     0    1145 1186     96.5   24
Melbourne       3    8     0    1139  1409    80.8   12
Fitzroy             2    8     1     1197  1408    85.0   10
St Kilda            2    8     1      994  1372     72.4   10
Footscray        0    11    0    1034 1544     67.0   0

(Next Week – Round 12)

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. John Carr says:

    A lovely piece. It’s hard to believe South would last just one more season. At least they were still giving their supporters something so late in the piece.

    And Waverley Park! I grew up in Blackburn and had a mixture of bus trips and driving with dad. I can see the problems with the place, (concrete jungle, excessive distance from play, cold, location, 2-exit car park) but I can’t help but have fond memories of the place. I went to the last match and made my final VFL Park bus trip home with a souvenier…a square foot of Waverley turf! Interesting ride home to say the least!
    Lovely work.

  2. Phantom says:

    Stainless, was that the year that the Cats got to the top in the last round and went out in straight sets? I seem to remember my Tiger brother mentioning it on more than one (thousand) occasions.

  3. Stainless says:

    Phantom

    I don’t want to spoil a good story by giving away the ending, but you might possibly be on the right track.

    Stainless

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Great stuff Stainless. The late Denis Collins would have to be one of the unluckiest foortballers. He crossed to Carlton and Richmond when they were powers and he never got a chance to play in a premiership side. He was a handy player.

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