Premiership Tiger Dreams of a 1967 Repeat

Is there no stopping this Tiger army? Like an invading force it marches on… plundering those in its path, and converting new disciples along the way.

90,000, or more of them, proudly garbed in the tribal Yellow and Black, convened at football’s citadel on Saturday night. After another battle had been won, multitudinous, decibel-shattering renditions of the army’s War Cry rang out across inner-city Melbourne.

John Perry was there.

“It was moving stuff,” he says. “To see families – parents, their kids and grandkids – so happy; sharing the joy of a Richmond victory… I’d forgotten what it was like.”
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John’s football lineage is impeccable. His grandfather, Bill Strang, a hard-hitting ruckman and key forward, came from the bush, to play 69 games with South Melbourne,  including  the 1907 Grand Final.

Bill’s son Allan, followed him to the Swans. Another lad, Colin, made a couple of appearances with St. Kilda, whilst Doug and Gordon became household names when they arrived at Richmond in 1931.

Gordon (‘Cocker’) took 12 marks on debut , and proved a champion at either centre half forward or back, in 116 games with the Tigers. Doug was renowned as a magnificent mark. His ability to scale the heights, was balanced against his sometimes wayward kicking. However, this was not apparent in his second VFL game, when he booted 14 goals against North Melbourne.

Doug’s son, Geoff ( John’s cousin) – a dashing half back flanker – was  also to become a dual premiership star in Richmond’s strong sides of the late ’60’s……
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John’s mum Edna (‘Bobby’) was just 12 when her parents first took her down to watch her brothers, Doug and Gordon, in action with the Tigers. One of her idols was their team-mate, the great ‘Captain Blood’, Jack Dyer.

“Jack made a bit of a fuss of Mum. She loved him,” John says.

“Our family owned the Blazing Stump Hotel, and, later on in Jack’s life he used to spend the week between Boxing Day and New Year with us. That was his annual ‘pilgrimage’.”

“He just enjoyed being among Richmond people, away from Melbourne. Fishing, shooting and relaxing – that was his ‘go’.”

“Jack would regale me with the same footy tales that he’d told Mum, about my uncles. I couldn’t get enough of them.”
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Thus, it was inevitable that John’s pathway would lead to Punt Road.

One of the many qualities of the legendary Tiger administrator Graeme Richmond was his unparalleled skill as a recruiter. “If someone played a good game at a place like Swan Hill, Graeme would know about it on Saturday night and be up there on Sunday to talk to the guy,” President Ian Wilson once reflected.

So when John Perry took out Wodonga’s Best & Fairest and finished runner-up in the 1963 Morris Medal,  aged  18, the astute Richmond invited the youngster to the Tigers’ pre-season training early the next year.

“I think he wanted to make sure that someone with a strong Richmond pedigree didn’t slip through their fingers,” John says. “And, just to re-inforce it, old coaches Des Rowe and Jack Dyer came up to visit me.”

Through circumstances beyond his control, Perry’s League career stuttered for the first three seasons. In just his second game he sustained a broken shoulder in a collision with Essendon’s Barrie Davis ( “Probably the only time Barrie ever hurt anyone,” he jokes.)

Then, having been conscripted to National Service, he was able to fit in just a handful of games in each of the ‘65 and ‘66 seasons.

He gave Richmond fans a taste of his capabilities, though, when slotted in against Geelong, late in 1966 . With 25 disposals on the wing in a losing side, the pacy blonde left-footer was a standout.

The Tigers missed the finals by just half a game that year, but it was obvious that they were on the rise. Tommy Hafey had introduced a tough edge to their game, and the host of young players coming through were beginning to blossom.

“We all loved Tommy and played for him. He was such a caring person, but he worked us hard.”

“One of his greatest assets was his wife Maureen, who brought all the wives and girlfriends together, “ says John.

1967 proved to be the coming-of-age for the Tigers. They lost only three home-and-away games en-route to belting Carlton by 40 points in the Second Semi.

John was selected on the bench for the epic Grand Final clash with Geelong, played in front of 109,000 fans. Grainy highlights of the game always feature the two long goals from lanky ruckman John Ronaldson, and a ‘screamer’ from Royce Hart, who rose to the heavens at a telling moment in the last quarter. It went down to the wire, as Richmond hung on to win by 9 points.

There was an out-pouring of emotion from Tiger fans, who savoured the club’s first flag in 24 years.

That victory lap and the celebrations that followed, were made all the sweeter because he shared them with his cousin Geoff Strang. They are still clearly embedded in John Perry’s mind….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A bout of Hepatitis, and its after-effects, provided another impediment to John’s bid to claim a regular senior spot over the next couple of seasons . He also found himself typecast as a winger, and the brilliance of the incumbents – Dick Clay and Francis Bourke – resulted in scant opportunities.

But he remained deeply involved at Tigerland. He continued his education in the ‘pub game’, working at his future brother-in-law Graeme Richmond’s Vaucluse Hotel, and pushing hard for senior selection.

John played only four senior games in 1969, but tied for Richmond Reserves B &F, was runner-up in the VFL’s Gardner Medal and represented the VFL Reserves in a State game. He was named as first emergency for the seniors’ Grand Final – and ultimately – Premiership side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when North Melbourne coach Keith McKenzie came knocking at the end of the season, dangling a regular senior game in front of him, he decided to take the plunge and leave the Tigers.

“I knew I was good enough to play League footy and wanted to give myself the best chance. A good friend of mine, Frank Dimattina, went to the ‘Roos the previous year, and it seemed like a good fit.”

“I loved my time at North. I was still living and working in Richmond although, a bit later on, I moved over to the Junction Hotel in St.Kilda, which was run by Graeme and a business partner, Todd Shelton.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John established himself as a regular in his four seasons at Arden Street, becoming a prolific kickwinner in his 56 games. A season at Caulfield, which was coached by an old team-mate Tony Jewell, saw him finish fifth in the VFA’s Liston Trophy.

After another year at Williamstown, under Ted Whitten’s coaching, he decided it was time to head back home, to play his part in operating the family’s businesses.

Wodonga promptly appointed him captain-coach in 1976 –  a coup for the ‘Dogs, who welcomed the return of a favourite son. But in his first game at the helm, against Myrtleford, he copped a heavy knock, which necessitated spending the rest of the year in  hospital.

His career was over…

John was actively involved in the early development of Birallee Park, the home of the Wodonga Raiders, and still follows the club’s fortunes from a distance.

Nowadays he has an interest in the Blazing Stump Motel, which is situated next to the family’s old landmark pub. And he spends plenty of time on the 40 acres he has ‘out the road’, on which graze several thoroughbred racehorses.

But this week John’s attention has turned to the Tigers. He rates them a real chance. “The way the forward line’s operating, with those little fellahs around Jack Riewoldt, is terrific. They’re ferocious. I reckon 90 per cent of Victoria will be barracking for them.”

In an idle moment, John might permit himself to dream what might be, come 5 o’clock on Saturday. “… The siren sounds… Richmond have hung on to record a famous victory… The players, delirious with excitement, begin their victory lap… waving the Premiership Cup… offering salutations to the screaming, long-suffering fans…”

It will be a reminder of that day in 1967, when he took the same journey.

 

 

KB Hill’s blog can be found at https://kbonreflection.wordpress.com/

Comments

  1. Neil Anderson says:

    John Perry was posted to the Albert Park barracks in 1966/67 during his National Service. I worked there as a civilian in the Army Department during that time. Our Department had a football-team that played across Aughtie Drive at one of the surrounding ovals. John Perry volunteered to umpire one of the matches. He was helpful to me by quietly telling me where to position myself at the boundary throw-ins. As a wingman himself, he must have felt some pity for the struggling young winger who was trying hard, but not too successfully. I blame the alcohol and cigarettes.
    Fifty years later I remember John’s kindness towards me.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Another ripper from KB Hill. Has there been a better pub name than “The Blazing Stump”?

  3. Rocket Singers says:

    Another ripper piece from the Wangaratta chronicler!

    John Perry was a left-footer as I recall, in terms of kicking the football.

    And no relation to 1967 premiership team-mate Mike Perry…?

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