1980 – A Personal Footy Almanac

 

by Sam Steele

Introduction

Thirty-two years on, it’s sobering to realise that half Richmond’s current fan base have no direct memories of our last Premiership.

The optimistic ones talk about our next Flag, but with all the belief of world-weary office workers, mouthing their idle Monday-morning pipedream of one day winning Tattslotto.

As one of the diminishing group that was there in 1980, I’m here to tell you it does happen and the story of that great season needs to be told. Not just for Tiger fans. Supporters who devotedly follow clubs but who don’t know the exhilarating experience of a Premiership need this assurance and I intend to provide it.

Over the coming months I will be sharing a personal recollection of Richmond’s last Premiership season. Readers will need to forgive the perspective of a rather preppy teenager from the leafy suburbs, encountering life on the wrong side of the tracks with a naive mixture of curiosity and shock. But I can’t help my origins, and over that memorable season, I did a fair bit of growing up on the terraces of the old VFL grounds, learned a lot about the geography of Melbourne and plenty about the good, bad and ugly sides of human nature.

I was lucky to have been just old enough to appreciate the significance of what was unfolding at Richmond and to be able to make the journeys around Melbourne to witness almost every contest. Yet I was young enough to retain sharp memories that even today, preserve those days clearly in my mind when hundreds of games witnessed since have grown vague and cloudy.

These days, there is almost infinite information available about top-level sport. But so much of it comes through official media channels, standardised and sanitised to a point where its real significance and colour is lost. It’s always a frantic rush to the next round, the next tournament, the next season, to the point where it’s all just a blur of video highlights and sound-bytes. There is rarely time to reminisce and reflect on great sporting deeds of yesteryear.

The Footy Almanac does a wonderful job of promoting the personal dimension of sports coverage, and I hope that in a small way, this account breathes life to a long-gone year which is otherwise remembered only by a few statistics and the “official” DVD of the Grand Final.

In keeping with the “Footy Almanac” structure, I’ll be recounting my personal recollections of Richmond’s games, round by round, but giving a wrap-up of all results each round. I’ll post these accounts on or around the dates that the games actually happened.

My references for this task are limited. I collected footy records and newspaper clippings at the time but unfortunately, I ditched them years ago. Only a few phrases, facts and stats remain, which I’ve woven into my reminiscences here and there. My 1980 finals records are still around and Stephen Rodgers Every Game Ever Played has been a handy reference. The internet is a mixed blessing. It boasts plenty of online statistical resources, of which I particularly acknowledge AFL – All the Stats and AFL Tables. These are far more detailed than anything that was published in 1980, before stats became an obsession. But match reports, analysis and other accounts that provide the colour are maddeningly non-existent.

My match accounts are therefore more impressionist sketches than detailed analysis of the play. However, I hope this is made up for by personal reflections and anecdotes of the games, the times and the characters that made VFL footy such a rich experience. I hope, too, that these stories trigger memories and anecdotes from others – I’d certainly love to hear them.

Football in 1980

This is unashamedly a Richmond supporter’s reflection on a Premiership triumph. But in writing it, what struck me was how much footy has changed since 1980.

To understand the dynamics of the VFL competition in 1980, and Richmond’s place in it, a bit of historical context is needed.

I feel sentimental about the 1980 season for more than just the Tigers’ success. In many ways, 1980 was the swansong year of the old VFL. It was a time when the competition was played, pretty much as it had been for the previous 55 years. The regular six games across suburban grounds on a Saturday afternoon made “the footy” a ritual almost without parallel in the weekly cycle of Melbourne life.

Unlike today, the competition was based on an equitable draw in which each team played the other twice, home and away. Curtain-raisers made the footy a day out rather than a couple of hours of entertainment, snatched among the other conflicting demands of the weekend. Muddy grounds, unrestricted sales of full strength beer in cans and standing room at most grounds added up to an earthy, rough-and-tumble experience that the AFL has long since discarded.

Radio broadcast all matches live, although the extent of the coverage of your match depended on whether it was on one of the “racing” stations, in which case “…Bartlett runs into an open goal and… racing at Morphettville!…” was the frustrating norm. Television coverage was confined to Saturday night highlights and various panel shows, headlined by the famous “World of Sport”.

Beyond a DVD of the 1980 Grand Final, I have no video coverage of the 1980 season.

Whether this depiction brings a nostalgic tear to you eye or just a quizzical look probably depends how old you are!

As the 1980 season commenced in its familiar pattern, footy fans gradually became aware that the League was on the brink of massive change, some of it disruptive and heart-wrenching to many who had followed such a familiar competition for so long.

A few of the big changes were already underway by 1980. Ground rationalisation began in the 1960s and 1970s, when Richmond moved from the Punt Road Oval to the MCG, St Kilda left the Junction Oval for a new ground at Moorabbin, and Hawthorn left the Glenferrie Oval for Princes Park. While these moves were occurring, the League was creating its own futuristic venue out in Mulgrave, built on a vision of rapid population growth and the car as the dominant mode of transport. VFL Park opened for business in 1970 and by 1980 was firmly established as the League’s showpiece arena and a key weapon in its plans to change the nature of the competition. When floodlights were built at the ground in 1977, the concept of night football (and cricket) was introduced to an initially sceptical sporting public.

In 1979, two matches for premiership points were played in Sydney. In 1980, four such games were scheduled. More significantly, and amidst some secrecy, the League was at this time undertaking significant studies into the potential for major ground rationalisation in Melbourne and the feasibility of establishing teams in interstate markets.

So although the 1980 season was played in a superficial atmosphere of “business as usual”, the undercurrents of change were gathering force.

The following year saw the first Sunday matches in Melbourne played, further spearheading the League’s agenda of ground rationalisation and greater TV coverage of the game. But it was the forced relocation of South Melbourne to Sydney – the VFL’s decisive first step in its quest to create a national competition – that played out most loudly and rancorously through the 1981 season. for me, that episode marked the end of the old VFL. The game was never the same again.

“Tetley Tigers – Running Hot and Strong”

Yes, folks – with Tetley Tea as Richmond’s major sponsor, that was our slogan in 1980!

As a kid, following the Tigers was an easy gig. We were the best team of the early 1970s. Tom Hafey was the iconic coach of the era, loved as much by his players as the fans. The shock of losing the 1972 Grand Final was more than made up for by Premierships in the next two years.

But then things changed. In 1975, the Tigers got as far as the Preliminary Final but were clearly inferior to North Melbourne and Hawthorn – that year’s Grand Finalists. In 1976, the unthinkable happened. We missed the Finals altogether. Hafey was up for re-appointment. In the “perform or perish” culture of the Graeme Richmond/Ian Wilson era, missing the finals was a capital offence. In a recent interview with Mike Sheahan, Kevin Bartlett reckons that Graeme Richmond himself was behind a move to get rid of Hafey. Whatever the case, the Board was split in its decision and that was enough for Hafey. He quit and joined Collingwood, the arch-enemy. Many Richmond fans reckon that something in the soul of the club died with Hafey’s departure, and trace our lamentable recent history back to this moment.

For the next three years, the team drifted. Under Barry Richardson, the Tigers made the finals in 1977 but were bundled out in the semis by North Melbourne. In 1978, they missed the finals again. Richardson was sacked and Tony Jewell took on the coaching job. The captaincy of the team was the subject of similar shenanigans and power plays. Bartlett, captain in 1979, was stripped of the role in 1980. By this time a 300-game player and a club legend, Bartlett felt particularly aggrieved by the goings-on and admits he was almost out the door to either Collingwood or Essendon. Ironically, it was Hafey himself who persuaded KB to remain at the Tigers.

By the middle of 1979, Richmond had won just 3 of its first 11 games and Jewell’s tenure looked shaky. Richmond improved in the back half of the season but still finished with just 9 wins and in 8th place (how we’d dream of an 8th placed finish today!) It was the Tigers’ worst finish since 1964. Jewell retained his job…somehow…but in the ruthless environment of Tigerland, he was clearly on notice!

Carlton was the reigning Premier and the team to beat as the 1980 season commenced. The Blues could hardly have been stronger in 1979, losing just three games for the year. However, a most un-Carlton-like political power struggle caused all sorts of havoc at Princes Park. In the wash-up, their premiership captain-coach, Alex Jesaulenko, quit and joined 1979 wooden-spooners St Kilda.

How would the Blues cope under new coach, recently retired ruckman Percy Jones? If they stumbled, as was widely predicted, which team would step in to take their place? Hafey’s unlucky Magpies? Barassi’s seasoned North Melbourne? The Cinderella team of ’79 – Fitzroy?

Plenty were touted but Richmond didn’t figure strongly in the pre-season crystal-ball gazing. We’d won a couple of games in the Escort Cup (as I think the pre-season/mid-week night competition was called then), but as these were against interstate clubs, they hardly rated a mention.

It was therefore in a mood of excitement and hope, rather than strong expectation, that I began my 1980 season adventure. It was to be a year I’ll never forget.

(Next week – Round 1)

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. Great stuff, Sam. Looking forward to the 1980 season “ahead”.

    A couple of things.

    1. “Thirty-two years on, it’s sobering to realise that half Richmond’s current fan base have no direct memories of our last Premiership.”

    It would be an even more sobering proportion of fans who support St Kilda, Melbourne and my team, the Doggies! Would be an interesting exercise to find out how the % of current members who were alive in ’54. I’m still blaming my parents. Both Dogs’ fans, they were married 8 weeks after that flag. They’re still going strong and I’m still waiting for the Pope to respond to my annulment request.

    2. “Tetley Tigers – Running Hot and Strong”

    I remember going to a Richmond game during this era. The Tigers had introduced Bluebirds-style dancers as pre-game entertainment, and on this particular day when they came out, one wag yellled out, “it’s the Tetley Teabags!” From a political correctness perspective, I’m sure that shouldn’t make me laugh – but it still does.

  2. John Butler says:

    Looking forward to it Stainless.

    I’m sure it will bring the memories flooding back.

    Although I have to take issue with the Carlton power struggle being uncharacteristic. Ever since Jack Worrall was overthrown by the players back in 1909, Carlton has good form when it comes to internal strife.

  3. Stainless says:

    Gigs

    Thanks for the prompt. I think they were called the “Tigerettes”! I’m sure I can find a place for them in my narrative – from memory they were introduced during the 1980 season but didn’t last long.

  4. Stainless says:

    Gigs – on your other point I suspect the answer is very few Dogs fans would’ve been around in ’54 and fewer still would have a clear memory of the GF. That in essence is why I’m doing this account – so that the memories aren;t lost.

    JB – Yes, Carlton does have “form” on powerplays. I’m hazy on the details of this one (it was George Harris being overthrown wasn’t it?) but the point was it came out the blue (so to speak) after an otherwise perfect season.

  5. John Butler says:

    It was a public surprise in some ways. But George’s ‘ambitious’ endeavours to take the club into new commercial ventures had been causing disquiet for some time. That Jezza saw it as an issue of personal loyalty made things more dramatic.

    I was 17 at the time. Jezza was a hero, so it was all very baffling and disappointing.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Sensational Stainless!,

    1980 was the first year I became a Collingwood Junior Supporters Club member and went to nearly every game, include the ‘long’ trip to some place called Geelong. I still ask my Richmond mates: “How do you think the Tetley’s will go this year?”

    I have a DVD set of ‘That Was The Season That Was’ which includes every year from 1978 to 1982. If you’d like to borrow it email me on pkad23@yahoo.com or call me on 9470 3004. Would be more than happy to contribute to sharing the wonderful memories from that era. Looking forward to reading and engaging.

  7. Stainless – yes, I’m no spring chicken but that flag predated me by 10 and a half years!

  8. Sam

    As a Tigers man seemingly about your age, this reminiscing will be a joy to look forward to each week.

    I kept a Tiger diary that year, cutting out photos and articles from Alf Brown and the like, and rode the boys all the way to that incredible win, watching the big day on my gran’s colour telly!

    Disco, the Ghost, Flea, Hungry, the General, Clokey

    Sad to be living so far in the past, but that’s what the Tiger faithful have. Bring on Round 1 Sam!!

    Sean

  9. 1980 equals Disco Roach v Gary Malarkey battles. They were enthralling.

  10. Dips, does this mean we can expect Roach Publications to come out in opposition to us sometime soon?

  11. Damo Balassone says:

    This will be gold! You can’t beat that late 70s early 80s era.

    Looking forward to it.

  12. No mention of the West Coast Eagles?? Seems a bit discriminatory Stainless. Now its coming back to me – I was a West Torrens barracker in the SANFL with St Kilda sympathies. Worse still the Avenging Eagle’s love of the WA black and whites (Swan Districts) extended all the way across the Nullabor. Is that a black and white sheep in the closet?? Or am I mixing metaphors and livestock. She used to tell people that she was a ‘piano player’ in a brothel who took no interest in footy until 1987. Ah the follies of youth. She was saved from a life of sin by Ron Alexander waving a blue and gold bible, and the sight of Dwayne Lamb in 1980’s tight shorts.

  13. Yes, one of the football highlights of 1980 was in the VFA First Divsion,where Port Melbourne won the first of a trifecta of Flags. Coburg finished top of the table that year,we were third. Only one side beat Coburg that season; Port Melbourne, 4 times including the Grand final. In a hard fought encounter Coburg led most of the day until Port lifted mid way through the final term, to run out victors and premiers. However our next flag did not come until 2011! Oh, the Eighties .

  14. I follow Richmond. I was born in 1981. Sigh

    I very much look forward to this throughout the season, and hope it somehow mirrors this year for our club. Sensational start…you’ve really captured the essence of 1980….well I assume, as i wasn’t there!

  15. Louise Robinson says:

    I am looking for old photos of the Tetley Tea Tigerettes

  16. John Floris says:

    To whom it may concern.
    I’m a mad Richmond supporter/member. I’m trying to find an old VFL badge and a Tetley badge.Can anyone help me find or buy them?
    Thank you.

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