You can’t choose your family…or your Footy Club! (Updated)

Note:I know, I have already published this piece. However I have since come across some interesting and relevant information thanks to Richmond historian and son of a Tiger legend, Rhett Bartlett. The inserted text is in red should you wish to read just that, and the two pictures that follow are also new. Thanks for entertaining my self-indulgence!

In case it escaped your attention last year, esteemed journalist Patrick Smith took the astonishing step of turning his back on four generations of Essendon-supporting tradition, trading the Bombers in for my club Richmond! Smith’s actions were in protest of his ‘former club’s’ handling of the controversial James Hird and Mark Thompson coaching appointments, using what he described as “shabby trickery unworthy of a league that aspires to be the best and most respected competition in the country.”

“It has become impossible to continue to support a club that acted so shamelessly.”

Whether a mere publicity stunt or pure stubbornness, it just didn’t sit comfortably with me. Firstly- what exactly did Essendon do wrong? I don’t particularly love the way in which they conducted themselves post-season 2010, but I’d love that ruthless nature should Richmond adopt it. I also get the sense that the majority of Essendonians are supportive, given the sudden spike we saw in 2011 membership sales.

Secondly- what will Patrick do when Richmond one day acts in a way he can’t respect? Surely it’s only a matter of time. Will he switch clubs again?

And thirdly- how can you turn your back on such a family institution and tradition? How can you push down that instinctive ‘urge’ for your team? I haven’t found the off switch yet! Perhaps decades of sports journalism is the answer?

I was reminded of these ‘antics’ as I read through the memoirs Fr Kevin Cronin, my first cousin, twice removed, or more simply, my grandmother’s cousin. Kevin passed away in 2007. His stories added to what I already knew of my family’s links with Richmond, both football club and suburb, yet from a different perspective. The Cronins were of Irish heritage as was much of Richmond’s population, and have been traced back by family members as far as my great great great grandfather, Patrick Cronin, who emigrated from County Cork in Ireland to Richmond in th1840s, during the period of the great potato famine.

The first thing that leapt from the pages as I read Kevin’s memoirs was simply a paragraph on his father, Thomas Cronin, brother of my great grandfather, Maurice.

“Dad was a Tiger supporter even as a boy and a young man. In those days, the Tigers were part of the Football Association. Whenever the team played an away match against Port Melbourne, the Tiger supporters would travel together by train, then form up in military fashion and march to the ground, a matter perhaps of intimidate or be intimidated! I seem to recall hearing from dad that on one occasion the umpire so incensed the Port supporters that, fearing the worst as soon as the final bell sounded, he raced for the exit and made off in a handsome cab. Some irate fans took off in pursuit, but the Cabby kept them at bay using his whip to good effect!”

In trying to locate some information about this match in Brian Hansen’s “Tigerland”, the Richmond Football Club history, I came across numerous spiteful clashes between Richmond and Port, and to pinpoint the specific afternoon is difficult. A fierce footballing rivalry was lost when Richmond joined the League in 1908!

I was fascinated to learn that my family’s link with the Richmond club pre-dates entry into the VFL in 1908. I can only assume that my great grandfather too watched Richmond in the VFA, as my father spoke of how he was a Richmond supporter and member of the cricket club. This all got me thinking, what about my great, great grandfather, Maurice Cronin senior? Surely as he lived in Richmond, and his children followed the club, he too would have been a Tiger, or a Wasp as they were known in the early days!

So I asked my own father again if he knew anything of it, and he pointed me in the direction of the Richmond cricket club, remembering that there had been some link, though unsure of its nature . So I scurried off to my library of all things football (with a smattering of cricket) and pulled out my copy of the History of the Richmond Cricket Club. And there he was, Maurice Cronin (snr), on page 122!

It turns out that Maurice Cronin hosted the players on their tours of the wineries during their 1921 rural trip in and around Rutherglen. The players “eventually staggered home after visiting the local vineyards and the Viticultural College, where Maurice Cronin, an old Richmond personality held sway as principal”. An old Richmond personality? I like the sound of that!

This story certainly rings true with family records, as my own Nana spoke of visiting her grandfather in Rutherglen. There’s also a copy of an electoral role from the time which listed “Cronin, Maurice, Viticultural College, Rutherglen, vineyard manager”.

It can only be assumed, and I don’t believe I draw too long a bow, that my family’s support of the Richmond Football club extends six generations, with my daughter now firmly entrenched in the Richmond camp. I’ve also made life as anything other than a Tiger for my 5-month-old son difficult, naming him Richmond Jack… Richie for short! Here’s hoping he doesn’t rebel like Patrick Smith and end this Richmond fanaticism.

Since posting this piece, I have learnt through the help of Richmond historian Rhett Bartlett that my great-great grandfather, Maurice Cronin Snr was in fact a Richmond football club member in the VFA premiership season of 1905 and the following year 1906. Many thanks to Rhett for his efforts for locating and sending through some photos of these records. It has certainly given the family a thrill.

Richmond Football Club’s membership records from 1905 (top) and 1906 (below) show that M.Cronin, my great-great grandfather, was a member of the club.

While my great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Cronin lived in Richmond from 1845 until his death there in 1896, I’ve no evidence to suggest he followed the club, which would make my children seventh generation Richmondites. My feelings are that he may have, but as the club was merely 11 years old when he passed, he may have had no time or interest for sporting clubs in later life. Besides, it would be too many bows drawn far too long.

But enough speculation, and back to Kevin Cronin’s memoirs.

In between stories of serving his priesthood in India and other family tales, he also touched upon his own following of the club, going to watch the Tigers play whenever they played at home, just over the road at the Punt Road Oval in the 1930s and 40s.

“I used to have a Scholar’s Membership Card” he recalled, and would often attend with his elder sister Teresa, the most passionate Richmond fan of the lot. “We would sit together in the stand while holding a place for a pal of hers who lived at the top of Richmond Terrace… while people near us grumbled about the amount of space we occupied!” Nothing has changed there, although reserved seating has taken such angst out of many a football fans experience!

I met Teresa, also my first cousin twice removed, when she was an elderly lady, probably three or four times. Never at a family function, rather in the lower deck of the old Olympic or Northern stand, the Richmond members area. Perhaps such occasions could have been classified as “family functions?” Teresa continued attending well into her 80s such was her devotion to the club. Kevin describes her as having a “one-eyed passionate interest in the Tigers” and spoke of her “devoted following of their fortunes whether at home or away.” My dad also mentioned that Teresa is clearly visible in the 1937 Richmond Team photo in front of the old stand at Punt Road. Here is my own daughter Molly in front of the same stand just last year. You can take the family out of Richmond…

Then Kevin continued with some information which fascinated me no end. While Richmond’s current day song is oft regarded as the league’s best, Kevin spoke of a Richmond song in the 1940s, of which I’d never heard. According to Rhett Bartlett it would have been one of many ditties used by Richmond fans, not an official club song. That would come later.

“It it is true that I can still sing the Tigers song of the 1940s- and it is because of the thoroughness of Teresa’s coaching! Thus (to the melody of “Men of Harlech”) :

‘Bolger, Crane, O’Neill and Dyer,

Cocker Strang, the Albry Flier,

Sure to set the grass on fire,

Tigers on the ball!’ ”

Go ahead- hum it to yourself. It’s quite catchy! The names mentioned are for me almost fictional characters, having only read about them in books, representing a time and place in football and life that is long past. I can only bring them to life using a combination of faded black and whites and a vivid imagination.

Which brings me to “the scrapbooks!”

A visit to my nana and pa’s “little bit of Richmond” in Forest Hill was never complete without three things. Licorice all-sorts, watching old football videos and a fossick through the old Richmond scrapbooks my nana kept from 1958 through to 1969. Top cupboard, spare bedroom. Newspaper clippings yellowing with age, these scrapbooks had a unique aroma, a magical mustiness which permeated my senses. Each match has the selected teams from the Friday paper, results and any match reports or pictures, plus a ladder at the completion of each round.

There were pre-season pictures of players training in sand shoes and the odd shot of a new recruit at his work-place. The hours I’ve spent poring over these family treasures is immeasurable, yet I seem to come across something new upon each viewing. Once the Tigers finally broke the premiership drought of 24 years (current drought is 31 years strong) the scrapbooks began to wain slightly, until coming to an end in 1969, another premiership year. It appears that my nana was well satisfied with victory and lost the hunger! Though my grandparents are no longer with us, the scrapbooks are still in the family.

Now my grandparents were born and bred Richmondites; married at St. Ignatius atop Richmond Hill, Labour and then DLP voters and of course Tigers at heart. Remembering that Richmond was once referred to as “Struggletown”, it’s no wonder that they, like many others, eventually headed for the space and comfort offered by Melbourne’s east and south eastern suburbs. Firstly Carnegie, finally Forrest Hill.

My pa was old school. “Kick-it, KICK the dam thing….ahhhh!” He also had it in for Brendan Gale for reasons never explained, as if every Richmond loss was solely his doing! Whilst never admitting it, I think he disapproved of Benny’s curly locks! Yet a Tiger victory would see Pa humming away to himself, quietly satisfied as he poured himself a sherry.

My nana, a Cronin, was old school too. She was the most mild-mannered being you could meet, never a cross word from her lips and an ever-present smile. Yet the mere mention of ‘Collingwood’ would see a darkness emerge from her that very rarely saw the light of day. “It’s Collingwood on the front page, Collingwood on the back page…it’s all Collingwood, Collingwood, Collingwood!” she would spit with rare venom surfacing above her otherwise sweet demeanour! She was also a nervous football watcher, and legend has it that the further Richmond went ahead of the Pies in the 1980 grand final, the more nervous she got! “Oooh, we’re getting too far in front.”

My nana spent much of her childhood and married life living in Docker street, Richmond, a street which also housed Tiger and Australian Football great Jack Dyer. Younger than Jack, she frequented his milk bar on Church St. “He knew me by my first name” she often told us. It must have been quite a place to hang out. Can you imagine if Buddy Franklin ran a milk bar down on Glenferrie road?

Nana’s cousin Kevin also frequented Jack’s shop. After junior football on a Sunday he and his mates “used to congregate for shakes or spiders at Jack Dyers milk-bar on Church street. Jack was always an interested and courteous host.” It was simple. You live in Richmond, you barrack for Richmond. It’s unimaginable these days.

So to Patrick I say, football clubs are, to a lot of us like family. Or like mine, the two are so intertwined that you’re not sure what came first. I may not agree with or condone everything my family does, but I still accept and love them for who they are. The same goes for my footy club.

But Patrick, I’ll leave the last word on the subject to my late cousin, Kevin Cronin-

“…where once the Cronins, like many others were “parochial” in their tastes and loyalties, especially as regards political affiliations and social identities, over the years and through generations and by reason of migration to less-congested living areas, they have become less distinguishable from their neighbours generally. With one important exception, of course: whoever heard of a Tiger becoming a Magpie or a Demon?”

About John Carr

First and foremost, I'm a Richmondite- 5th generation and dyed in the wool. I love the club, but also have a love for the game itself, and love to explore the cultural and social aspects of Australian Rules football. I am married with 4 kids, and also have a love of music, and run a small recording studio http://theholybootsfootballemporium.wordpress.com/

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Aulich nee Seitz says:

    I have been reading your article and thought you may like to know that Frank and Teresa Cronin had a brother-in-law who played 1 game for Richmond in 1949. My father, Wally Seitz, played many games for Yarraville and is recorded as 1 game for Richmond. Wally Seitz married Kevin and Teresa’s sister, Margaret Mary Cronin. We have a photo of a Richmond team with Dad including Jack Dyer.

  2. Elizabeth,
    Thank you so much for sharing that. It has certainly given me quite a kick to think that somewhere in the family tree the Richmond Footy Club is represented. If Kevin was my first cousin, twice removed, then I have no idea what that makes your father or even you and I…. first cousin, twice removed in law?? No idea.
    I’ve also looked up some old VFA literature to see that your father was one of Yarraville’s best players in a final playing in the ruck and have located him in a few other Richmond publications. I’m not sure if it’s possible but I’d be greatly interested in getting a copy of the team photo or any other footballing photos you may have, and would love to possibly do a piece on your father on my own footy blog.

    Again, thanks for dropping a line,
    John Carr

  3. Angela Doyle says:

    Hello John. I enjoyed reading your story and it brought back many memories of my family’s attachment to the Richmond footy club. I am a niece of Kevin Cronin and first cousin of Elizabeth Seitz. My Mum was Vera, Teresa’s younger sister and she was as passionate about the Tiges as anyone. I have many memories of Mum decorating the house in black and gold. I hold a fondness for Richmond still but having lived in Sydney for many years I follow the Swans. However, my brother and a son of mine have the black and gold blood in their veins. Nice to read Elizabeth’s comments about her dad, Uncle Wal having played for them at one time.

    Regards
    Angela

  4. Peter Molloy says:

    Hello John. I am that son of Vera’s. I remember as a young fellow we used to visit Nana & Pa Cronins house at 11 Sutton Grove very often. Mum ensured I was a Tiger supporter from a very early age, so when we visited Sutton Grove naturally all the talk was about the Tigers. As a young kid (i suppose about 10 yo) I used to go to ‘punt Road’ to collect beer bottles during the game. In those days beer came in long necks, and I could be found fossicking for the bottles,then promptly filled dads A model ford with them.
    I remember uncle Wal (wally seitz) very well. He was a great mate of my father (pat molloy) He was a big man and he once told me when he was in full training he got his weight down to 18 stone (wow..thats big) He was a very gentle ,patient man who used to tell me stories of his days at Tigerland and Yarraville.
    Great memories,
    Regards Peter

  5. Peter Molloy says:

    Another memory I have is my grandfather,Tom Cronin used to bundle up the sporting globes and send them to uncle Kevin who was a Jesuit priest in India.This kept him up to date with the progress of The Tiges.

  6. Greg Cronin says:

    Dear Everyone

    Thanks for what each of you have written (Go Tiges!).

    I am Greg Cronin, third son of Joesph Ignatius Cronin, grandson of Thomas Patick Cronin and Agnes Eleanor (Dolly) Cronin (nee Walker) of 11 Sutton Grove Richmond. My cousin (nee Molloy) sent me this email link – thanks Angela.

    John – I am trying to place you in my family tree. Am I correct that you are the son of David Carr and Joy Moore? If so, I met with your aunt and uncle (Nancy and Vin) in about 2007 and gathered some interesting details to expand my family tree of the descendents of Patrick Cronin and Bridget Mann (or Mahon). I think it was not too long after the death of your grand mother Elsie Cronin? I moved to Sydney soon after and unfortunately have been too busy to keep working on the family history stuff.

    John, you mentioned that the original Patrick Cronin arrived in Australia (Melbourne) in the 1840s. My (limited) research suggests he may have arrived in Melbourne on 26 Sept 1855 on the ship “Western Bride”. This Patrick was 20 years of age; there was also an Alice Cronin (aged 17 years) on the ship. Perhaps they were siblings? Patrick Cronin married Bridget Mann (or Mahon?) in Ballarat East on 21 April 1864. Patrick died aged 67 on 21 June 1900 from “chronic lung disease – miner’s disease”. Having just been to Broken Hill on a holiday, I learned that many miners died of silicosis (the average age of death of miners in Broken Hill was early 30s).

    Anyway…. my dad Joe Cronin often took me to the footy to see Richmond in the mid-to-late 1960s. I never say my Uncle Wal play footy, but Uncle Wal being a Richmond player (albeit one game) wearing the number 35 was a BIG family claim-to-fame. Dad and I would often meet Aunty Teresa at the footy, and in later years I would sometimes drive Teresa to see Richmond if they played at VFL Park Waverley.

    Uncle Wal was a nice bloke. He was big in stature, and highly intelligent. He was an engineer I think, and a champion chess player. One Sunday Uncle Wal and Aunty Margaret visited us at our house in Chaleyer St Burwood. My brother Paul and I were playing chess when they arrived. Wal took one look at the game in progress and showed my brother how to check-mate me in one move! I was impressed (not)!

    My dad also used to tell the story of Richmond supporters getting into military formation and marching from the station (at Port Melbourne?) to the ground to show strength of numbers. It was probably not something my dad experienced, but was possibly a story from his father (Thomas) and uncles Maurice and John Leo. Dad was also at school at St Ignatius Richmond when Jack Dyer was “brought down from the country”. Dad remarked how tall Jack Dyer was compared to the other kids at St Igs.

    I am also a Richmond supporter (I even named my female cat Richo) and my 2 sons (Michael Patrick & Hayden Francis) are also followers. I currently live in Camden which is about 60 km to the west of Sydney. I am a big Kevin Sheedy fan, so I am also a member of the Greater Western Sheedies (so long as they don’t beat the Tiges!). Another of our cousins – Chad Cornes plays now for GWS. He is a great grand son of Ellen (Nell) Cronin & Jack Hyslop.

    best wishes
    Greg Cronin

  7. Damian Doyle says:

    I’m another descendant of the Tigers in this tale – Angela’s son. I’ve got to go against the grain and say that changing clubs can sometimes be the best possible decision.

    While I was raised with a Sherrin in my hands and Grandstand on the radio each weekend, my childhood was itinerant and spent mostly in rugby territory. I didn’t have a club in my blood. In the early nineties I threw in my lot with the Swans and watched them rise to the flag.

    Then I left Sydney to live abroad. And it seemed the high-flying swans didn’t need me anymore.

    Then I spent a special night in Warburton with Mum’s dad, Pat Molloy, not long before he died. We talked footy and watched the Tiges and drank port. When the Tiges won Pat declared that if Vera had still been with us she’d have jumped out of her wheelchair and run down the street.

    Since then I’ve been a passionate and proud Tiger. Like Pat and Vera. And I feel like I’ve found my team. Stories like the ones in this post confirm that I’ve made a sound decision.

  8. Hi family! I’ve been meaning to sit down and reply. It’s been quite a thrill to hear from you all.
    Firstly Angela, I’m glad that my story brought back some nice memories. I’d also like to decorate the house in black and gold one day, wife does not agree! And Peter, it was great to hear your recollections of family and footy. I didn’t collect bottles at the footy as a kid, rather cans! We’d get home from the footy as kids stinkging of beer but it was worth it for the $10 or so we’d get for our haul! Lovely to hear your recollections of ‘uncle Wal,’ he sounds like a true gentleman.
    As it turns out I live just near the Yarraville footy ground so I give him a though now whenever I pass by. And yes… my folks have a couple of Pat Molloy records they dug out as a result of reading all these comments!
    Greg, thanks for your lengthy reply. You’re oh so close…my parents are David Carr and Joy Tonkin. My dad’s sister, Helen Carr, married Norman Moore, creating a Collingwood schism within the bloodlines! And yes, my nana was Elsie Cronin… a delightlful lady whom i miss to this day. Her sister Nancy and husband Vin lived around the corner from us in Box Hill and we used to see them fairly regularly. However it has been a while since we have caught up.
    Thanks for your info on Patrick Cronin’s arrival! It certainly fits better than 1840. I must have chanced upon another Patrick Cronin…or completely stuffed up! We may have inadvertently met at the footy at some stage as we’d often see Theresa, or so it felt. And your dad went to school with Dyer! That’s the stuff of legend.
    Love the female cat named Richo, and nice to see Francis snuck into the boys names! Thanks also for the clarification about Chad and Kane Cornes. My nana had mentioned we were related to Graham Cornes a few times but I never quite knew how. I’ll take back all the things I shouted over the fence at him! He’s nearly in yellow and black…orange and charcoal.
    Damien, my dad and I found your story quite touching, romantic football fanatics that we are! Sounds like a fantastic night spent in Warburton! My nana and pa kept a caravan at Warburton for many years and we’d often congregate there as a family. It’s a lovely, Richmondy part of the world in my mind!
    When I’m at the footy I often think of the people around me “Where our grandparents neighbours?” Funnily enough, my wifes auntie married a Richmond supporter, Paul Sleeth. In getting to know his parents, it didn’t take long to find out that they were good friends with my grandparents, Elsie (Cronin) and Bob Carr. Not only did they both follow the club, but both couples were involved with the local operatic society. ‘Tis a small and interesting world.
    Carna Tiges
    PS…I’m also in the middle of putting a piece together on Maurice Cronin jnr…after dad found some photo’s of him serving the country in France. Among the photos are some shots of Maurice lining up for the Army football team. If anyone has any thoughts, knowledge, interest in this or anything I’d love to hear from you. Thanks
    (my email is john@cherrystone.com.au for interest)

  9. tony hardy says:

    Hi all

    Just stumbled upon this conversation, while doing some research for a biography I’m writing about Jack Dyer (Slattery Media).

    Loved reading the chat you’ve all been having. I’d really appreciate hearing from anyone who has any stories about Jack, and is willing to share them for the book, to be launched next year to coincide with what would’ve been his 100th birthday.

    Thanks fellow Tigers – even those who have lapsed now and then.

    Eat Em Alive,

    Tony Hardy

  10. Hi Tony, sorry, I only just saw your message! I’ll see if anyone in the family can remember anything. I know my auntie Margaret can remember him sitting our the front of his house in Docker St, the same street they lived in, and my nana (with us no longer) used to talk about going into his shop for ice creams and that he knew her by name. In the piece above is a similar story of my relative Kevin going to Jack’s milk bar after playing footy on a Sunday.

    I have to say I’m rather excited by the book, best of luck with it.

    Carn Tiges, John Carr

  11. Thanks John
    Am getting there. There was a lot more to him than being Captain Blood, thank goodness.
    Eat Em Alive

    Tony

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