1980 A Personal Footy Almanac – Round 22, Saturday 30 August, v South Melbourne, Lake Oval

Gloom surrounds Albert Park.

I feel it in the unseasonably warm, heavy atmosphere that’s descended on Melbourne. I see it in the sullen demeanour of the fans, as we trudge back towards the city. And I taste it in the grit and dust that the horrible wind’s been blowing into our faces all afternoon, a teasing reminder of its miserable but profound influence on my team’s fortunes on this last crucial day of the season.

This is the second time Richmond’s been brought undone by the wind that screams across Albert Park Lake. What strange meteorological Bermuda Triangle operates down here?

Lake Oval
With its picturesque setting at the top end of Albert Park Lake, the old wooden press box on the lakeside wing and the row of palm trees in the background, it was hard not to like this ground, although clearly, on days like this one, it was a tough venue for visiting teams.

I only went to two senior VFL matches here, the other one being in 1981, when Richmond had a win. For some years after the Swans flew north to Sydney, the Lake Oval was used as the club’s Melbourne training base, for their Reserves matches and for Sunday afternoon Reserves games televised by Channel 7. Sadly, as the years went by, the ground became more and more dilapidated. For me it became a poignant reminder of the demise of the old VFL, and of the clubs that were once so identifiably linked to the suburbs where they played.

The eventual transformation of the Lake Oval into Bob Jane Stadium, a bright new soccer venue, was in some ways a blessed relief, although the crumbling old heritage-listed grandstand no doubt still contains the ghosts of past South Melbourne greats.

The day began so promisingly. Gleeful accounts of our triumph over adversity last week at Arden Street. Excited anticipation of a week’s break, watching the other finalists slugging it out. Our run of poor form, dead and gone, just in time for September.

Then the game started.

South has experienced their own gloom last week, when an insipid loss to Hawthorn ended their finals dream once and for all. But their grieving has been swift. They’ve been rock solid at home this season, with just one loss in the wet to Carlton, and they look resolute about finishing the season on a high as they charge through…not one…not two…but three banners! Clearly, their cheer squad ordered in extra crepe paper in the expectation of some September commitments!

The Swans get the jump early. They look far more poised in the tricky cross-wind and our early attempts at conversion are woeful. The second quarter is no better. It’s hard to judge whether the wind is favouring either end, so wild and fluky is it. But South are clearly more familiar with these conditions and they’re leading Richmond a merry dance, leading by five goals at the long break.

By early in the second half, it’s clear that we’ve lost this game. Scoring is hard work and the margin would be a big one to make up even in pristine conditions. As the game drags on, our thoughts turn to the consequences. A check on other games confirms our worst fears. Carlton and Geelong are well in control and both look set to leap-frog Richmond on the ladder. So there goes the week’s rest.

But there’s worse. Injuries.

Richmond’s had a pretty good run this year with injuries but the rigours of a long season are taking their toll. Skipper Monteath, injured early in the North game, hasn’t come up and there’s several other players out there who are looking proppy. But it’s David Cloke who’s the biggest worry. He didn’t look right coming into the match and now it seems he’s aggravated an existing leg injury and is off early. While Michael Roach and Kevin Bartlett have stolen the headlines with their big hauls of goals, Cloke is critical to our forward structure, giving height, strength and focus from which our smaller, crumbing players have enjoyed rich pickings. His non-influence today has cost Richmond dearly and the risk taken in selecting him looks to have backfired big time.

This is disastrous. Not only will we have to play next week, but it looks like we’ll be doing it with some key players missing. How could such a wonderful year have so quickly turned pear-shaped?

The old grandstand at the Lake Oval is rocking. It’s as though South rather than Richmond are heading into September action. As they punch out a 9 goal win – easily our largest and worst loss of the season – you can understand why their supporters are so upbeat. They must have been anticipating a rip-roaring 1981 season. If only they knew what torment lay ahead…

The geography of this part of town defeats us and we walk in the wrong direction for the tram back to town.  We resort instead to following the sight of the city buildings until we reach Flinders Street on foot.

It’s an arduous trek, but in the light of what’s gone on this afternoon, strangely appropriate.

The Wrap
South Melbourne 4.4 6.8 11.10 16.11 (107)
Richmond 2.3 3.7 4.9 7.11 (53)

Goals
Sth Melb: Smith 4, Roberts 3, Evans, James 2, Browning, Koop, T.Morwood, Round, Teasdale
Rich: Roach 4, Bartlett, Smith, Wiley

Major Stats
In a measure of how ineptly Richmond played the conditions, the statistics show we had equal use of the ball to South. Clearly, we butchered it. After the recent bonuses of good performances from some of our lesser lights, it was left to the usual suspects – Raines (24 possessions), Wiley (22) and Weightman (20) to provide drive. Unfortunately, they lacked much support. Roach battled hard in the tricky conditions to snare four of the Tigers’ seven goals but the early loss of Cloke clearly disrupted the forward line.

South, in contrast, had a host of good players, none better than midfielder, Greg Smith, with 22 possessions and four classy goals. The Swans had winners on every line, names such as Ackerly, Browning, James, Tony Morwood, Teasdale and Jackson highlighting the talent that was at this club at the time. But the surprise performance of the day came from young ruckman Phillip Plumb in one of just nine senior games over four seasons. Plumb had Mark Lee’s measure in the ruck, enabling Round and Teasdale to exert their influence elsewhere.

Attendance
21,964 at Lake Oval

In other games…
Under the Final Five system, top position on the ladder provided a huge advantage -a week’s rest and a double chance. No wonder Richmond risked injured players in attempting to hang onto it.

As Richmond’s demise after 14 weeks at the top became obvious, the race began in earnest between Geelong and Carlton to claim the minor premiership.

The Cats began the day with just a 0.5 per cent advantage over the Blues. Both had relatively easy assignments – Footscray at Waverley and Fitzroy at Princes Park, respectively – and for much of the day, both were enjoying sizeable and comparable leads.

However, there was an 11th hour twist in the plot and it began at Arden Street, where the other cellar-dweller, St Kilda, was threatening a huge boilover against North. A win by the Saints would see Fitzroy become wooden-spooners if they lost to the Blues.

In 1980, there was no compensation of a Number 1 draft pick for finishing bottom of the ladder. Finishing last was the ultimate in failure and ignominy, a position to be avoided at all costs. For Fitzroy, a finalist in 1979 and competitive against most sides throughout the year, to finish bottom would be a scarcely-deserved fate. Despite facing a 51 point deficit at three-quarter time, the Lions mounted a huge comeback in a desperate effort to avoid it. They almost pulled off what would have been an all-time record comeback, eventually failing by less than a kick.

Their brave effort was in vain. St Kilda hung on for a draw against North, the two points gained being enough to get them off the bottom.

For Carlton, the win, which could have been pivotal, was ultimately meaningless. They needed a big win to have any hope of leap-frogging the Cats on percentage. Once Fitzroy started narrowing the gap, Carlton’s top-spot chances evaporated. They finished second, rather than third, but still faced a Qualifying Final next week.

Geelong, meanwhile, enjoyed an easy day out at Waverley, cruising to a comfortable 50 point win over the Dogs and enjoying a stress-free ride to the minor premiership and the week’s rest, plus a nice familiarisation session at the ground that was to be their finals venue.

Collingwood also gained the double benefit of a comfortable victory and training run at a finals venue, running out 10 goal winners over Melbourne at the “G”. In a comic aside, Melbourne’s playing coach, Carl Ditterich, was reported in his final VFL game. With his lengthy disciplinary record (including missing St Kilda’s 1966 Premiership win through suspension), Ditterich copped a final four week “holiday” amidst jovial scenes at the tribunal!

The most inconsequential game of the round was at Windy Hill where Essendon completed a frustrating season with a solid win over Hawthorn. How rapidly both teams would turn around their 1980 malaise in the coming years!

Geelong 12.18 (90) v Footscray 5.10 (40) at VFL Park
Carlton 21.20 (146) v Fitzroy 20.22 (142) at Princes Park
Melbourne 9.12 (66) v Collingwood 19.10 (124) at the MCG
Essendon 15.12 (102) v Hawthorn 8.14 (62) at Windy Hill
North Melbourne 11.17 (83) v St Kilda 12.11 (83) at Arden Street Oval

The Final Ladder
Team          W     L     D     PF     PA     %     Points
Geelong      17     5     0     2362 1888 125.1  68
Carlton       17    5     0     2576  2128 121.1  68
Richmond  16    5     1     2754  1990  138.4 66
Nth Melb    14    7     1     2345  1894   123.8 58
Collingwood 14 7     1      2491  2178   114.4 58
Sth Melb          13   9    0     2211    2174     101.7 52
Essendon         10   12   0    2268   2151    105.4 40
Hawthorn       10   12   0     2249   2381    94.5  40
Melbourne        5    17  0      2140  2709   79.0   20
Footscray          5   17   0     2056  2737     75.1   20
St Kilda             4    16   2     1872  2704     69.2  20
Fitzroy              4    17   1      2398  2788    86.0   18

Next Week – The Finals begin

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. That was an enjoyable read.

    I often look back and wish i had taken a camera to the old suburban football grounds. Now that most have been demolished, or at least had half of their stands torn down, it really is difficult to get a feel for what it was like back then.

    You didn’t happen to take any photos during that time you could share did you??

    cheers

    Simon

  2. Stainless says:

    Simon
    Thanks for the kind words.

    Unfortunately, no, I don’t have any photos from those days. I wish I did. As much as the old grounds were of interest, so too were the characters that used to inhabit the terraces back then.

    Replays of games played back then occasionally surface on Fox Footy and the like, but they probably don’t convey the vibe as well as personal photos and anecdotes. I guess that’s in part why I’m doing this recollection.

    Sam

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