1980 A Personal Footy Almanac – Round 15, Saturday 12 July, v Fitzroy, Junction Oval

To this point, the 1980 season had unfolded in a wonderfully rhythmic way for me and for Richmond.

The humdrum school week improved steadily as each Saturday approached. Another Tiger win was just around the corner. Yes, always a win. Amazing how an 11 game winning sequence can feel like eternity.

The week’s break upset this pattern. The lure of State-of-Origin footy at Waverley was clearly not strong enough for most Melbourne footy-goers, as only 31,000 turned up on a pleasant winter’s day to see Victoria down Western Australia in a good, competitive stoush. I stuck to my footy-going routine and made the trek out to Mulgrave, feeling none of the usual pre-game tension. Sitting on the forward flank rather than my usual spot behind the goals added to the sense of theatregoing. Only when, during the second quarter, WA forged to the lead and an upset briefly loomed, did I sense any real emotional interest in the game from the crowd. I felt a surge of quiet pride as the Vics introduced Kevin Bartlett off the interchange bench and, almost on cue, he sparked a revival by the locals with two quick goals. What a season the veteran is having!

On the train home, I get into discussion with a Hawthorn supporter about the merits of our respective teams. I’m able to counter every one of his favourite players with one of mine with at least the same ability (at least on current form). This exchange gets me focussing on the remainder of Richmond’s season and gives me a further boost of confidence about our prospects.

Things only really start to go awry the following Saturday and even then, it’s just minor stuff. I’ve done the trip to the Junction Oval for a Fitzroy v North game last year, so I know the drill. Train from Flinders Street down to St Kilda. This now defunct branch line is a short one over the old railway bridge across the Yarra, then down through South Melbourne and Albert Park. It’s an easy trip on the old red rattler, that pulls out of Flinders Street from the platform closest to the river, the rails there now long since pulled up. But unlike the sense of adventure I’ve got from my train trips out west, today I have a desultory feeling of travelling to the end of the line.

St Kilda Station opens straight out into the den of iniquity that was Fitzroy Street back then. This straight-laced 16 year old looks up and down the street and can’t see anything that warrants such a tawdry reputation! I shrug my shoulders and make the short walk to the ground where I have my trusty season ticket clipped with a circle-shaped clipper rather than the regular v-shaped ones that mark all my previous games. It ruins the pattern!

An omen? C’mon, Steele, now you’re getting paranoid!

But the challenge that really assails players and fans alike is the wind. It’s a sunny afternoon but there’s a gale shrieking down to the Fitzroy Street end of the ground. It’s as much as we can do to remain upright as we take our regular place behind that goal. When the cheer squad lets streamers go, they blow straight over the back of the terraces and out into the adjoining parkland. The run-throughs are shredded as soon as they’re lifted.

We bear this hardship with stoic smiles. After all, we’ve done plenty of hard yards at other tricky venues and come away successful.

Junction Oval
Fitzroy’s nomadic last three decades were already in full swing by the time I got into footy. I don’t think I even realised at this time that the Junction Oval had once been St Kilda’s home. Perhaps the existence of “Fitzroy Street” so close to the ground added to my confusion.

I never saw the Tigers win at the Junction Oval (except for a captivating district cricket Grand Final win over St Kilda in 1990). The wind that blew this day wasn’t unusual at this seaside venue and the tricky atmospheric conditions more than made up for the ground’s bucolic setting at the bottom end of Albert Park Lake and the relative lack of parochial home fans. The ground itself was spacious and boasted a beautiful playing surface.

The Junction Oval was the venue for Fitzroy’s last Premiership, in 1944 (also against Richmond), and the Lions’ finest years post-Brunswick Street were spent here. Although the Lions’ limited fan base never managed to draw big crowds, the Junction Oval would hold plenty of fond memories from the club’s last successful years.

Fitzroy has endured a crisis-ridden fortnight, beginning when it hit bottom spot in the previous round following a horrendous 89 point hammering by Hawthorn. Unlike the other three sides vying for the wooden spoon, Fitzroy has a good team. A finalist in 1979, they’ve lost little in the way of personnel. Somehow the spark just hasn’t been there this year.

During the break, their coach Bill Stephen announced that he would resign at the end of the year. Stephen won plenty of plaudits for taking the Lions to the finals last year and this decision is seen as a further mark of the man’s integrity. Naively, I’ve failed to realise how this sort of move can lift a team.

Fitzroy have first use of the gale and boy, do they use it. Within minutes the Lions have five or six goals on the board and we’re looking at one another in bemused silence. Their runners are chopping us up and ambitious shots from long range are flying through the sticks into our midst. The Tigers stem the flow later in the quarter but it’s eight goals to two at the interval.

It’s hardly panic stations among the Tiger throng. We remind ourselves that this is top v bottom. “Imagine what we’ll do with this wind if they can get eight”, I remark, cockily.

Richmond certainly dominates play in the second quarter but their finishing illustrates their unfamiliarity with the wind’s flukiness compared to the side that trains here. Our return for the quarter is a disappointing four goals six, and a late goal conceded to the Roys puts us a couple down at half time.

Blithe optimism still reigns behind our goals amidst the ghetto blasters and half-time beers. We’re so used to the team “flicking the switch” at some crucial point that an impending upset still doesn’t register. We just need to hold the Lions at bay with their second use of the wind and we can reel this one in.

During the break my mates and I part with an outrageous $3 to purchase “Richmond Grog Squad” badges from this renegade branch of Richmond fandom.  I’m told that formal membership of the RGS requires the consumption of 18 cans in an afternoon at the footy, but they seem quite happy to simply take our money for the badges without putting our beer-drinking capacity to the test.  The high cost, we are sincerely assured, is because the badges are printed in three colours.  The picture of the drunken Tiger is naturally yellow and black but he’s also holding a red football and his eyes are delicately bloodshot.  Cute!

Back to the game and Fitzroy continue to play inspired football, their experienced stagers, Walls, Irwin and Wilson leading by example. A couple of solidly built youngsters – Michael Poynton and Michael Conlan – are running amok in the forward line and down back, Laurie Serafini is blanketing Roach whose high marking threat is minimal in these conditions. They post another six goals to two and finally it dawns on us – a 37 point three-quarter time deficit is going to be damned hard to erase, even with this hurricane at our backs.

So it turns out. Although the Tigers outscore their opponents, the Fitzroy defence is on a mission and never looks like cracking. Another late goal against the wind seals the victory for the home side and the antique grandstands rock with joy at the siren. Bottom has beaten top in the upset of the year.

It’s been over three months since I’ve experienced the losing feeling. It’s certainly a shock but even with my limited knowledge of the game, I sense this is a freak result. As we trudge back to the rattler, the question of how the Tigers will react to the loss bubbles around in my head. One thing’s for sure, the sublime regularity of my football season has come to an abrupt end.

The Wrap
Fitzroy       8.3  9.5  14.13  15.19 (109)
Richmond 2.4  6.10  8.12  12.16 (88)

Goals
Fitz: Poynton 4, Conlan, Walls 3, Irwin 2, McCarthy, Quinlan, Wilson
Rich: Monteath 4, Cloke, Roach, Wiley 2, Strachan, Tempany

Major Stats
For Richmond, the tale of this match was perhaps reflected in the notable absences. No goals for KB, no ruck domination by Mark Lee, no centre-square mastery by Geoff Raines. Dale Weightman flew the flag for the Tigers with a commanding 34-possession game, but Bruce Monteath aside (4 goals and 28 touches), he had few mates. David Cloke logged a distressing 2.5 for Richmond, but then again, Robert Walls bagged 3.6 for the home side, which suffered an alarming case of the yips in the second half with Richmond at their mercy. The high winds made this a day for small forwards, and Fitzroy’s goals came largely though their running players. Michael Poynton in just his 9th game was the hero, with four goals, but Gary Wilson’s 33 possession game was also immense.

Attendance
11,362 at Junction Oval

In other games…
Melbourne 15.13 (103) v Carlton 18.24 (132) at MCG
Collingwood 11.22 (88) v Essendon 13.6 (84) at Victoria Park
North Melbourne 15.19 (109) v Footscray 7.8 (50) at Arden Street Oval
Hawthorn 4.13 (37) v Geelong 17.15 (117) at VFL Park
St Kilda 5.6 (36) v South Melbourne 6.14 (50) at Moorabbin Oval

Carlton and Geelong gleefully took advantage of the Tigers’ shock loss, posting emphatic wins and narrowing Richmond’s lead at the top to just a game and a half. For the second week running, Geelong conceded just four goals, this time in dry conditions. The Cats were really starting to grab the commentators’ attention.

North also made up ground with a regulation win at home as Footscray’s winning run came to an abrupt end.

Meanwhile, the 5th place merry-go-round continued, with Collingwood again replacing Hawthorn, with their second four-point win over the Bombers for the year. The inaccurate Pies looked to have blown their chances when they trailed by 15 points at the last change, but snuck home with four goals to one in the final term, courtesy a couple of excellent Ray Shaw snaps and the sealer from King late in the piece.

South Melbourne were unimpressive in the Moorabbin mud, but did enough to keep their finals chances alive for another week.

The Ladder
Team               W     L     D     PF     PA     %     Points
Richmond      12     2     1     1877 1364 137.6   50
Geelong           11     4     0     1630 1274 127.9   44
Carlton           11     4     0     1665 1421  117.2   44
Nth Melb        10     5    0     1631 1294  125.3    40
Collingwood    8     6     1     1443 1426  104.1   34
Hawthorn           8     7     0     1556  1575     98.8     32
Sth Melb             8     7      0     1488  1509     98.6    32
Essendon            6     9      0     1484  1397   106.2    24
Melbourne          5    10     0     1548  1823     84.9    20
Fitzroy                 3    11     1     1601   1935     82.7    14
St Kilda               3     11     1     1284   1747     73.5    14
Footscray           3     12     0     1428   1906     75.0    12

(Next Week – Round 16)

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. Adam Muyt says:

    I’m tipping the Roys to be the big improvers through the early-mid 80’s :)

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