1980: A Personal Footy Almanac. Round 13, Saturday 21 June, v Essendon, Windy Hill

“Big crowd today, mate?” asks Cam as the attendant clicks our tickets at the gate.

He rolls his eyes in reply. “Sure is”, he grunts.

As we climb the steps up onto the terrace and survey the scene for ourselves, we’re not so sure. There seem to be plenty of gaps. The official crowd of just on 24,000 is not huge, even by the standards of this pokey little ground. It certainly puts a dent in Richmond’s average weekly attendances in this remarkable year.

Windy Hill
I had mixed feelings about this ground. The cramped terraces (the full house of 31,000 at Richmond’s 1981 game at Windy Hill rates as the most densely packed crowd I’ve experienced at a footy match) and crappy facilities, combined with a lengthy trip from the eastern suburbs made it the archetypal “tough away game” experience. It’s the only venue where I’ve been chased by home supporters for daring to wear the colours of the visiting team!

And yet it’s exactly this sort of experience that I miss in the modern world of the AFL.

The whole culture of Essendon seemed to change when it moved, first to the MCG, then to Docklands. Unlike the uber-respectable but whingey supporters that the club has attracted since its move to “comfortable” venues, the Windy Hill crowd was a boisterous, wild mob, and their team played with a similarly reckless abandon. The small ground made for plenty of end-to-end thrills that could be appreciated at close range.

I also saw several terrific district cricket matches at Windy Hill.

Essendon are building this game up enormously and I reckon the attendant is just playing his small part in this. The Bombers are justifiably proud over their achievement as the only side to have beaten Richmond this year and they know that playing us on their dunghill with the Tigers coming off a five day break, they’re a great chance of doing the double and ending our winning run.

The home fans are certainly in full voice as the game begins and they’re given plenty of reasons to cheer in the early stages. In a recreation of his famous one-on-one duel with Peter Knights two years previously, Paul van der Haar comes out all guns blazing at centre half forward against our own blond centre half back, Jimmy Jess. The Flying Dutchman is at his high-marking best in the first quarter and is the primary avenue through which Essendon post their six goals for the term. He could have had three or four himself by quarter time but for some errant kicking. We manage to snare four to stay in touch, but there are some ominous signs here.

Jess, to his credit, works his way back into the contest on Vander (no thought of making a positional move back in those days) and the two of them slug it out in an exhilarating game within a game. The Tigers likewise regain their poise after Essendon’s early hits, but we still trail narrowly at the long break.

Essendon is an exciting young side. Talent-wise, they could easily be a finalist. But inexperience and lack of composure in tight finishes is costing them plenty this season and today is no exception. Richmond has been behind all day today, yet as the teams shape up for the final term, there’s an overwhelming sense of belief behind the goals at the outer end. Sure enough, within a few minutes, we’ve taken the lead. Normal service has been resumed.

The plucky Bombers persist though. As they charge home to the grandstand end, the Showers Stand goes off a couple of times as Essendon goals narrow the gap to less than a kick. Although the scoring pattern is bearing a striking similarity to our Round 2 loss, I stand there calmly chuckling under my breath: “those poor fools actually think they can win this”. Yes folks – this is a Richmond supporter at an Essendon match! My confidence is justified. The Tigers answer every challenge and emerge with a hard-fought 10 point win. The Bombers have thrown everything at us today in a season-defining game for them, but have come up short – again.

The Wrap
Essendon 6.6 9.10 11.15 15.17 (107)
Richmond 4.6 8.10 10.16 16.21 (117)

Goals
Ess: Foreman 3, Besanko, T.Daniher, Merrett, van der Haar, Watson 2, Fowler, Mansfield
Rich: Cloke 5, Monteath, Roach, Tempany 3, Bartlett, Rowlings

Major Stats
It’s interesting how memory can play tricks. Statistically, the van der Haar-Jess battle scarcely rates. Vander grabbed six marks and kicked a costly two goals six for the day. Jess failed to take a mark on the day and had only nine touches! Yet I vividly recall the duel as the highlight of the day.

Essendon’s best in fact was Timmy Watson with 26 possessions and a couple of goals, whilst a few other lesser lights such as Wayne Foreman, Grant Fowler and Barry Besanko were also prominent.

For once, Mark Lee lowered his colours in the ruck to the Madden brothers, but David Cloke played a blinder with five goals, a dozen marks and a fair few hitouts. Bryan Wood (27) was the leading possession winner on the day, with Rowlings, Collins, Raines and Bourke all gathering over 20 touches.

The VFL Record noted that, “incredibly”, both sides “indulged” in more than 200 handballs between them, but failed to mention another lopsided free-kick count that went against the visitors 43-21.

Attendance
24,045 at Windy Hill

In other games…
Geelong 12.11 (83) v Carlton 12.6 (78) at Kardinia Park
Collingwood 20.19 (139) v North Melbourne 13.15 (93) at VFL Park
Melbourne 18.21 (129) v Fitzroy 18.9 (117) at MCG
Footscray 15.14 (104) v South Melbourne 12.15 (87) at Western Oval
Hawthorn 21. 17 (143) v St Kilda 16.13 (109) at Princes Park

The round produced two big bonuses for Richmond with losses to both Carlton and North Melbourne widening the Tigers’ advantage at the top of the ladder to two and a half games.
Collingwood’s demolition of North in front of 55,000 at Waverley was clear from the outset as they kicked six goals to one in the opening term. By contrast, Carlton’s loss at Geelong came at the 31 minute mark of the last quarter, courtesy of a Terry Bright snap out of a pack. Carlton had only just snatched back the lead minutes before through late goals to Catoggio and McKay.

Collingwood entered the Five for the first time this season, thanks to another poor showing from the faltering South Melbourne, which made nine changes from its Round 12 lineup. Shane Loveless’s purple patch continued with seven goals as the Bulldogs made it consecutive wins.

Hawthorn’s flickering finals hopes remained alive with a solid win over St Kilda, whilst Greg Wells with 35 kicks and 13 handballs notched the highest possession count of the season in Melbourne’s narrow win at the MCG over Fitzroy. How did the Demons allow him to become a premiership player at Carlton a little over a year later?

The Ladder
Team                  W     L     D     PF     PA     %     Points
Richmond         11     1      1    1716  1191  144.1   46
Nth Melb           9      4      0    1495  1160 128.9   36
Geelong              9      4      0    1429 1210  118.1    36
Carlton               9     4       0    1455 1279  113.8    36
Collingwood      7      5      1     1291 1269  101.7   30
Sth Melb              7       6       0    1399  1395   100.3    28
Hawthorn           7       6       0     1376  1403    98.1     28
Essendon            6       7        0     1352 1256   107.6     24
Melbourne          5       8       0      1402 1618     86.7     20
Fitzroy                2      10      1      1437  1704    84.3     10
St Kilda               2      10      1       1195  1649    72.5     10
Footscray            2     11       0      1305  1754    74.4     8

(Next Week – Round 14)

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.

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