1980 – A Personal Footy Almanac

Round 1, Saturday 29 March v Hawthorn, Princes Park

by Sam Steele

I’m walking-running from the North Coburg tram through Princes Park towards the stadium that shares its name. Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, the No.1 hit at the time, is playing in my head (unassisted by any iPod, or even a Walkman). The upbeat tempo and tongue-in-cheek attitude perfectly matches my excited mood. Such was my anticipation, I was wide awake at midnight the previous night watching Saturday 29 March tick over on my new digital watch – the first day of the new footy season.

I was no band-wagon hopper in 1980. My passion for Richmond was already a decade old and by age 15, in 1979, I was old enough to regularly attend games. The primitive facilities at the suburban grounds, the heady aromas of fags and beer and the anarchic roars of the crowd quickly became addictive. A school mate and I stood all day at the 1979 Grand Final, watching, captivated, as Carlton splashed its way to that famous 5 point victory. The intervening summer couldn’t go quickly enough.

Finally footy was back and for Richmond, 1980 begins with an away game against Hawthorn. The game is a virtual sideshow to the 1979 Grand Final rematch being played down the road at Victoria Park and plenty of Carlton and Collingwood scarves are in evidence as I catch the red rattler into Flinders Street. The lurid combination of yellow, black and brown only becomes concentrated at the tram stop on Elizabeth Street where fans await their ride up to North Carlton.

Princes Park
Back in the days before footy grounds acquired sponsors’ names, Princes Park was the long-term home of Carlton. Hawthorn was a recent co-tenant, having departed Glenferrie Oval in 1973.

In 1980, Princes Park was the biggest ground in the League behind the MCG and Waverley, in terms of capacity, but when I first went there in 1979, I was shocked at how small and ramshackle it looked compared with the mighty “G”.

Much of the accommodation was standing room, all around the southern wing under the “ski-jump” Hawthorn Stand, under the old scoreboard in the south-eastern pocket, behind the eastern goals and round to the northern side, where the old grandstands for home members began. Even in these areas, plenty of home fans were shoe-horned into standing areas, such as those behind the western goals under the old Heatley Stand.

In the late 80s and 90s, the ground was transformed, largely during John Elliott’s Presidency at Carlton, in a doomed, ego-driven attempt to make it a modern all-seater affair in the manner of a mini-MCG. I last attended footy there in Round 22, 1997, when Richmond memorably came from a mile behind to pinch a two point win over Carlton and tip them out of the finals. AFL matches ceased there a few years later.

I don’t regret the ground’s passing.

In 1980, a Richmond student membership gives me entry to all home and away games for the princely sum of $22 – a dollar a game (normal adult admission in 1980 is $3). It’s probably the best investment I’ve ever made.

After having my precious ticket clipped and clanking through the ancient turnstiles, I emerge, blinking, from the darkened, subterranean walkways at the back of the Hawthorn Stand onto the filling terraces. Bright sunshine and a picnic atmosphere greets me. Friends have told me that they’re going behind the goals where they reckon the real crowd “action” is to be found, but for some reason I pike out and settle instead for a spot on the wing. I down the first of the cans of soft drink I’ve brought along (it’s the good old days of eskies and BYO cans and bottles, remember!) I try to absorb the last of the reserves match – the curtain-raiser was such an enjoyable way of easing into the main event and I greatly miss its passing – but before long, the banners are out and the real action is underway.

It’s a match-up between two mid-table teams from 1979, who shared the points in their meetings that year, so this is an intriguing early-season form guide. A decent crowd of 21,000 has gathered and as the ball is bounced, my space on the terraces has diminished.

Hawthorn won a flag just two seasons ago and has a lot of experience – Matthews, Knights, Moore, Tuck, Scott, Geoff Ablett etc. I’m reacquainting myself with familiar faces from our 1979 team, but it’s a newcomer, No. 43 Matthew Wall, who posts our first goal of the season streaming through half-forward and letting fly with his first kick in the big league. However, from there, Hawthorn dominates the opening quarter and holds a 26 point lead at the break.

It’s a bad start, but the old cliché of “early days” holds true today. With a breeze at their backs, the Tigers roar back into the game with a 7 goal second quarter and hold a narrow lead at half-time.

Our running players are doing the job – a sign of things to come. Ex-Hawthorn rover, Barry Rowlings is prominent against his old club, as is our West Australian contingent of Robbie Wiley and new captain, Bruce Monteath. Old and young are blending together beautifully. Another young debutant, Kim Kershaw, is holding his own in the ruck in the absence of the “General”, Mark Lee (was it injury or suspension? – I don’t recall), whilst the recently deposed skipper, 33 year old Kevin Bartlett, is winning plenty of the footy and, characteristically, helping himself to a few goals as well. By contrast, our tall forwards, Michael Roach (90 goals in 1979) and David Cloke (8 goals in the corresponding fixture in ’79) are being well held.

Our revival continues after the break and Richmond extends its lead to around 3 goals, holding the Hawks goalless with the wind in an excellent quarter of defensive play. This is epitomised by one passage in front of me, in which the Tigers simultaneously inch forward and run down the clock as our tall defender, Emmett Dunne, smashes the ball back over the boundary 4 or 5 times in a row from throw-ins – a tactic that would be neither legal nor useful these days. Parochial Richmond fans around me roar their approval.

By early in the last quarter, Hawthorn looks spent, trailing by 4 goals against a younger, fresher team. Yet as clouds roll in to douse the late afternoon sun, the Hawks’ experience comes to the fore and they stage a spirited revival. With Roach held almost kickless by the canny Kelvin Moore, Richmond is bereft of a forward target who can put the game to bed and we resort to desperate defence in a frantic last few minutes. Finally the siren sounds with Richmond clinging to a 5 point lead. I raise my head to the sky in relief. It’s a shaky win, but a win nonetheless.

The trip home is always a learning experience as fans from other games mingle in the city and accounts of those contests are swapped. Today, the big news is that Carlton have gone to Victoria Park, unfancied underdogs, and have unleashed a performance as dominant as any in their triumphant 1979 season, demolishing Collingwood. Although I’m buoyed by our win against a decent opponent, this sobering news underscores the magnitude of Richmond’s task this year.

As I walk home from the station in the setting sun, I reflect on the thrills of the opening day. Twenty-one weeks to come. How good can life be!

The Wrap

Hawthorn 5.4 8.7 8.12 15.16 (106)
Richmond 1.2 9.7 11.12 16.15 (111)

Haw: Ablett, Moncrieff 4, Matthews, Tuck 2, Goad, Goss, Russo
Rich: Bartlett 4, Keane 3, Oborne 2, Cloke, Jess, Monteath, Raines, Rowlings, Wall, Wiley

Major Stats
Plenty of famous names among Hawthorn’s leading possession winners today, with Matthews (27) taking the honours from Tuck, Murnane, Russo, Ablett and Eade who all topped 20 touches. Kelvin Moore, with just two kicks and two handballs, showed you don’t have to win a heap of the ball to be a leading player, blanketing Michael Roach in a superlative display at full-back.

For the Tigers, Kershaw was the most impressive of the youngsters, shading Don Scott in the hitouts and leading Richmond’s mark count with seven. But it was the oldest man on the field, Bartlett, who led the way for Richmond with a 24 possession, 4 goal performance. Rowlings, Monteath and Wiley were also prolific ball winners.

21,028 at Princes Park

In other games…
Collingwood 13.16 (94) v Carlton 19.18 (132) at Victoria Park
Essendon 12.15 (87) v North Melbourne 15.10(100) at Windy Hill
Footscray 17.11 (113) v Fitzroy 18.17 (125) at Western Oval
Geel ong 12.13 (85) v South Melbourne 13.10 (88) at Kardinia Park
St Kilda 14.16 (100) v Melbourne 18.14 (122) at VFL Park

In a statistical oddity, all the away teams won in Round One.

Carlton’s thrashing of Collingwood was the big sensation, the Blues dispelling any suggestions that they would tumble down the ladder this year. The Blues at one point led by 77 points, Johnston “dominating” with seven goals and a new bloke called Maylin making a stirring debut.

The thriller of the week was at Geelong where the visiting South Melbourne snuck home with a goal after the siren from new full forward, John Roberts. Elsewhere, Fitzroy won at the Western Oval, North Melbourne was too strong for Essendon at Windy Hill whilst out at Waverley, Melbourne delighted its fans with a convincing win over St Kilda.

In a subtle piece of propaganda to support its ground rationalisation agenda, the VFL Record noted that the 31,000 crowd at Waverley for the rematch of the bottom two sides of 1979 was bigger than the crowd of 29,500 at Victoria Park for the Grand Final rematch. “There’s a lesson here somewhere”, gloated the League’s official organ! Ironically, the MCG lay vacant in Round One, presumably because the League did not have access to the Cricket Ground until after the Cricket Season!

The Ladder
Team         W L D   PF PA        %    Points
Carlton       1 0 0    132 94    140.4   4
Melbourne 1 0 0    122 100 122.0   4
Nth Melb    1 0 0    100 87    114.9  4
Fitzroy        1 0 0    125 113   110.6  4
Richmond  1 0 0     111 106  104.7  4
Sth Melb       1 0 0        88   85   103.5   4
Geelong        0 1 0        85   88     96.6   0
Hawthorn     0 1 0      106 111     95.5   0
Footscray       0 1 0      113 125     90.5  0
Essendon       0 1 0        87 100     87.0  0
St Kilda          0 1 0      100 122     82.0  0
Collingwood   0 1 0      94  132     71.2  0

(Next week – Round 2)

About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. Gee, I like the look of the bottom of that ladder!

    Great stuff, Sam. As well as giving us an insight into what 1980 meant for you, these weekly updates will jog the memories of those of us old enough.

    As I was still an Essendon supporter in 1980, I’m particularly looking forward to next week’s Round 2, Easter Saturday entry!

  2. Sam – Ripper read. Didn’t Disco Roach take MOTY in the Hawthorn v Richmond clash the year before?

    Don’t know why the VFL couldn’t access the MCG. Last Shield game was played mid February, Vic finished season at Adelaide Oval early March.

    Gigs – You won’t enjoy the ladder Rds 3-13 (inclusive)


  3. John Butler says

    Sam, you’ll make me cry if you keep this up. :)

    Most of my early football watching at Princes Park took place in that pocket under the scoreboard. I gradually worked my way around to what became the Elliot Stand wing as the standing room areas diminished over time. (Don’t start me on the Legends Stand!).

    What a Richmond man despises, a Carlton man remembers as a cathedral. Certain toilets possibly excepted.

  4. I was at the Geelong/Swans game at Kardinia Park that day (we lost following an ‘exciting’ Swans goal at the Barwon River end after the siren – sigh). I recall coming back to a party in Melbourne afterwards. I wasn’t the life of it.

  5. Stainless says

    Gigs – Without pre-empting anything, yes, Easter Saturday, Richmond v Essendon is the next entry. I assume you recalled that particular game from memory?

    Mic – yes, I was at that game in 1979. Disco’s mark was the only highlight for the Tiges that day. Hawthorn gave us an awful towelling. However, we won at Princes Park later in the year. David Cloke kicked 8 straight. For those of us who remember his wonky kicking style, that was an incredible result.

    I was only assuming that the League couldn’t get the “G”until April, but I may be wrong. Just seems odd that they wouldn’t schedule a Round 1 game there.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Stainless, as I read this the memories came flooding back into my senses. Opening Round 1980 at Vic Park with a sense of anticipation and righteous anger after 79. I didn’t know who some blood nut in the number 13 for Carlton was, but he kept getting the ball and pumping it forward for Johnstone and Maclure to do the rest. Phil Maylin starred on the outer wing in the Rush Stand that day.

    I remember the smells and images, polystyrene eskies, homemade scarves, duffell coats, I hate Carlton badges, the peanut man, the intermingling of all sorts of tobacco products from Peter Jackson, to Amphora aromatic pipe tobacco and the odd joint. Throw in the scent of stale beer, Hutton’s Footy Franks and four n twenty farts and the synapses come alive. Then the jolly train trip home up the Epping line with brawls, singing, people spewing and pissing out the gap where a short wooden rail stood between you and certain death. The best and worst of humanity on a Saturday arvo.

    Can’t believe Disco was goalless against Hawthorn. Was Oborne the Rod Oborne who played for Collingwood? Wonderful work mate :)

  7. These were the golden years of football, don’t have to be a Tiges supporter to love these superbly written accounts.

    This vaudeville era had all the freedoms we love about going to suburban footy whilst at the same time boasting the most spectacular players and the most unhinged characters going around (on and off the field). I look forward to next week’s instalment.

  8. Stainless, yes I was there on Easter Saturday. Looking forward to reading your take on it. I have or two particular things that I recall, which I will share on next week’s post.

  9. Jeff Dowsing says

    Btw that Coll v Carl game is featured heavily in The Club, the result fitted the early part of the storyline well.

  10. haiku bob says

    really great stuff stainless.
    took me back there (unfortunately).

  11. I was at the Western Oval inR 1, and was it Frank Marchesani’s debut for Fitzroy? If i’m correct, he was recruit of the year, though they finished 12th, which in 1980 bequeathed you the wooden spoon. At the time i was a Geelong supporter, and to my memory they lead almost all day, though never by much, then the debutant full forward for South Melbourne, John Roberts, goaled, and as they say in the classics, ‘that’s football’ .


  12. Gigs, Essendon supporter? I don’t know what’s more alarming – that you used to follow Essendon, or that you left them for the Dogs! What happened?

  13. My not-so-secret shame, Cookie. Although I became a Western Oval regular from 1974, I actually barracked for the Bombers right up until I turned 18 in 1983. Then I jumped off because I knew my psyche could not handle a premiership.

    I have no regrets.

  14. Glen,

    You’re right. At KP Geelong had a slight advantage pretty much all day. Roberts received a softish free kick (for over the shoulder I think) at the top of the goalsquare about 10 seconds before the siren. He duly converted after the bell. The umpire wasn’t popular with us Cats supporters.

    Mind you that loss didn’t feel anywhere near as bad as that semi-final loss to the Swans in 2005 when Davis kicked the winning goal out of the air with 5 seconds to go, after we’d looked winners all night. Two weeks later they were premiers and we were still searching after 40 plus years. Can’t complain now though.

  15. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Gigs, at least you’ve still got a team. My mate barracked for Hawthorn until 1978 and then changed to Fitzroy. It cost him a lot of money and way too much emotional turmoil. Maybe his psyche couldn’t handle having a team at all. Now he hates all the Victorian teams, never attends games and made his kids barrack for West Coast and Sydney, even though they live in Northcote. Must write something about his story one day, but I feel it may depress me too much!

  16. haiku bob says

    Phil – think you mate’s issues may have started when he quit following his team the year they won the flag…

  17. John Harms says

    Super stuff Sam. That was the first year I had opportunity to see footy live – on TV in the Union College lounge room in Brisbane. Although in the early part of the season I was having a run with the UQ Red Lions.

  18. Matt Zurbo says

    Battlers? My favorite player was Stephen Mount!!! No.6. Nobody understood. I didn’t care.

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