By Andrew Gigacz
Putting a finger on the cause of Richmond’s woes over the last quarter of a century is no easy task. There are myriad variables that could have had an influence on the Tiger down-turn. Could there have been a single pivotal moment in the Tiger time-line that can be pinpointed as the prime precipitator? Here is an analysis of some of the factors that may have triggered the malaise that has rocked Richmond for nearly thirty years.
Tigers Tata Tea-totalling Tommy
Richmond’s most successful coach ever, Tom Hafey led the Tigers to five grand finals and four premierships in just eight years. The last of those was in 1974, yet less than two years later, after finishing seventh, the Tigers chose to replace Hafey with the untried Barry Richardson. Could this have been the flashpoint that led to two and a half decades of Tiger tragedy? A case could be mounted for this argument but the fact is that just four years later, in 1980, the Tigers won another flag.
Alan Bond, the Magic Wand
Remember Bondy? Sure, he knew what it took to put an elite team together to bring home the most coveted trophy in the sport. Unfortunately the sport was sailing and the trophy was the America’s Cup. When it came to footy, Bondy couldn’t even bluff his way through his short tenure as Tiger President, referring to the jumper as having a RED stripe and incorrectly pronouncing the captain’s name. Within a few months of stepping aboard the good ship Tiger, Bondy was made to walk the plank.
Pitura for the Whale and the ’Dale
The Tigers were blinded by the sublime skill John Pitura displayed in his 99 games for South, to the point where they gave up Brian “The Whale” Roberts and Graham Teasdale to get him. While Pitura played three seasons at the Tigers, his games could be described as serviceable. Teasdale, meanwhile, went on to wear the greatest suit ever donned at a Brownlow count, and won the ’77 Medal to boot. OK, the Whale may have had an ale too many by the time the Tigers off-loaded him but what the Swans lost on him and Pitura was recovered in spades by “Teaser”. Such was the impact of this disastrous trade, Richmond was still trying to make some good of it nearly 20 years later. In 1993 they drafted Pitura’s son Mark. He played two games.
A legend of the club, no-one ever doubted Kevin Bartlett as a player. Over 400 games and five premierships he mesmerised his opponents. But by the time KB took over as coach in the late eighties, tactics had moved to a new level and it took more than a quick comb-over to fool the other team. Richmond finished tenth in his first season at the helm and over the ensuing three seasons more hair was shed by Tigers supporters than those of any other side.
The Truth about the Tigers
While no doubt significant in the overall anatomy of the depredation of this once-proud club, I do not see the above events as turning points. To me they are symptomatic rather than causal.
Evidence suggests there was an event that did act as the catalyst for the destruction of the seemingly immovable monolith that was the feared and revered Richmond Footy Club. An event that was to drive everyone at the club to such levels of distraction that, nearly thirty years later, most have not recovered. In the grand scheme of things the event itself seems insignificant. In fact it lasted under a minute. But the aftershocks reverberate even now (especially when there’s a grand final marathon).
It was in the third quarter of the 1982 Grand Final. The game was in the balance, the Tigers had played well, and were looking for their second flag in three years. Arch-rivals Carlton were almost ready to receive the knock out punch. Then came the moment. The streaker. Sure, the Tigers had seen a streaker before – but at the cricket, not the footy. And definitely not at a Grand Final. And absolutely not a female.
Yet there she was: Helen D’Amico, arguably the single most destructive influence the Richmond Football Club has ever known.
Think about it. Moments after she graced the field, the Blues kicked two or three quick goals. The Tigers never regained the lead. They never regained their composure. They never played in another Grand Final. And they never again filled opposition sides and supporters with fear and dread.
This was clearly a traumatic experience for all at Richmond. But in the eighties, amongst men, trauma was not something to be discussed. It was a matter of get over it and get on with it. Thankfully times have changed and we are encouraged to work through such experiences, often with the help of professionals. It’s time for Richmond as a club to firstly recognise the moment as the cataclysmic event that it was and then take steps to deal with it once and for all.
It’s often postulated that the best way to deal with trauma is to relive it in your mind. Perhaps the Tigers could do worse than obtain advice from VAFA club Prahran in reliving and moving on from the Helen D’Amico experience.