1980 A Personal Footy Almanac – Round 8, Saturday 17 May, v Carlton, MCG

It’s 12.30pm and the upper deck of the Southern Stand is already a sea of faces. Sure, the cool, showery weather has encouraged the early arrivals to grab the under cover seats, but this crowd isn’t just regulars huddled together for shelter.

This is huge.

I grab one of the few remaining areas of bench seating. It’s only free because a metal pillar is directly in my view of the ground. I already know that today’s game is going to be memorable.

Back in 1980, “blockbusters” weren’t the manufactured all-ticketed contrivances of a manipulated draw that ensures that the biggest drawing sides play each other at the biggest venues. With a fixture that pitted each side against the other twice – home and away – blockbusters happened by chance. But when they did, they were organic and visceral. Melbourne footy followers were acutely aware of games of real significance and descended on them en masse.

The rush for the prime seating and opening of the normally closed upper deck of the old Ponsford Stand to accommodate the late-arriving hordes gives a special frisson to the pre-game atmosphere. It simply doesn’t happen at today’s pre-reserved games where people casually wander into their pre-ordained positions moments before the bounce.

The official figure at today’s game is 85,659. Bear in mind, there are five other games going on in Melbourne at the same time, which, combined, attract a similar aggregate. It remains the second-largest crowd at a non-split round game in VFL history. (A Melbourne-Essendon game in 1962 holds this particular record with just over 86,000.)

A remarkable alignment of the stars has brought about the extraordinary interest in today’s game. Carlton has been the VFL benchmark for well over a year but two consecutive losses have knocked the Blues off the top of the ladder. Richmond has replaced them on a wave of huge wins. Today they meet at the “G”. That they happen to be two of the oldest and bitterest rivals in the competition is the cherry on top of this hugely appetising cake.

Having resigned myself to watching this game around a large column of metal, I glance around and see a group of my mates a couple of rows away in an unimpeded viewing position. As I move to squeeze in with them, I feel it’s a positive omen. However, my respect for this Carlton team prevents any sense of confidence.

The game begins in a raucous cacophony. The “G” is at its pulsating best. Within seconds, Carlton’s little men have rushed the ball forward and have a running goal on the board. I sit back amidst the din. “This is going to be tough”, I say to myself.

Perhaps my inner calm is being channelled to the Richmond players, for they settle quickly after this early setback. No sign of blockbuster nerves here. We score four of the next five goals and take a two goal lead at quarter-time. As the second quarter progresses, it’s apparent that our midfield is at least the equal of Carlton’s, the Mark Lee-Geoff Raines combination again proving particularly effective. Our defence, led by the ageless Francis Bourke, is holding firm. Our forwards too are stretching the strong Blues defence. Michael Roach is giving “Curly” Austin a tough run, Geoff Southby surprisingly starting on the bench alongside Norm Smith Medallist Wayne Harmes. Robbie Wiley and KB are looking ominously sharp round the packs. Only inaccuracy prevents us taking more than a 17 point buffer into the long break.

Carlton fans will reminisce fondly about their many great third quarters during this era, and for a while, it looks as though this will be one of those. They score some early goals to narrow the gap. The vast crowd stirs. This much-anticipated contest is about to yield the answer to the crucial question that has tantalised the footy public all week.

“Maclure!” shouts Doug Heywood on “The Winners”, as Carlton’s blond centre half-forward takes a huge pack mark amid a sea of Richmond defenders. The Blues are pushing really hard now, trailing by just two points. Do the Tigers have the self-belief to withstand the challenge?

You bet they do. A couple of late steadiers restore Richmond’s lead before the final change before the last quarter becomes another avalanche of goals. In the game that cements Kevin Bartlett’s late-career position as a half-forward goal-sneak, the little champ torments the Blues’ defence all day, finishing with seven. Roach gets six in an efficient rather than dominant performance. But it’s Wiley with an astonishing 46 possessions, Raines and Lee who earn the real plaudits from the commentators.

Richmond has passed a huge test today – emphatically. Carlton, three weeks ago the raging Flag favourite has been done three weeks running and is now a game and a half behind the Tigers. More to the point, they were outpointed in every facet of the game today. As Cam and I wolf down a few dim sims from our local Chinese takeaway before parting company, we savour the warm glow that a certain P.J. Keating described 13 years later when he remarked: “This is a victory for true believers”!

The Wrap
Richmond 4.4 7.10 12.16 19.24 (138)
Carlton 2.4 5.5 10.7 12.13 (85)
Rich: Bartlett 7, Roach 6, Weightman, Cloke 2, Landy, Smith
Carl: Buckley, McKay 3, Doull, Fitzpatrick, Harmes, Jones, Johnston, Maclure

Major Stats
This was truly a statistical mauling by the Tigers. Without checking every game, I would guess that Robbie Wiley’s performance of 33 kicks and 13 handballs would be the season-high in an era where 30 touches was seen as remarkable. Barry Rowlings and Raines with 30 and 29 respectively capped off a great day for the Richmond running brigade that left their much vaunted Carlton counterparts flat-footed. Only Wayne Johnston (22) managed more than 20 possessions for the Blues, who had over 100 fewer overall. David McKay battled hard for a game high 10 marks along with his three goals. Mark Lee, ably supported by Cloke, thrashed the Carlton duo of Mike Fitzpatrick and “Wow” Jones in the ruck, more than doubling their hitout tally. Up forward, Kevin Bartlett somehow managed to handball three times whilst helping himself to seven goals four!

85,659 at the MCG

In other games…
Footscray 10.11 (71) v Essendon 22.16 (148) at VFL Park
Hawthorn 17.16 (118) v Melbourne 15.18 (108) at Princes Park
Fitzroy 17.16 (118) v Collingwood 17.16 (118) at Junction Oval
North Melbourne 15.19 (109) v South Melbourne 16.10 (106) at Arden Street Oval
Geelong 20.15 (135) v St Kilda 10.12 (72) at Kardinia Park

One of the best games of the season was played at Arden Street where the home side held onto a 3 point win despite plucky resistance from South Melbourne in a game where the margin never exceeded 14 points. A young blond star, David Rhys-Jones, played a blinder for the Swans, but North’s all-round experience prevailed in the end.

At VFL Park, the Bombers finally broke through for a win against the competition whipping-boy, Footscray. Down at the Junction Oval, Fitzroy’s good form continued, but so too did their frustrations in close finishes, this time, drawing with Collingwood. Geelong proved far too strong at home for St Kilda and Hawthorn, likewise won at home, albeit with less conviction, over Melbourne.

The Ladder
Team             W  L D PF     PA      %    Points
Richmond     6  1  1  1070  728  147.0  26
Nth Melb       6  2  0  937   676  138.6  24
Hawthorn     6  2  0  887   821  108.0  24
Geelong          5  3  0  827   701   118.0  20
Carlton          5  3  0  896   829   108.1  20
Sth Melb          5  3  0  856    824     103.9   20
Essendon         4  4  0  870    760     114.5   16
Collingwood    3  4  1  780     836      93.3   14
Melbourne       3  5  0  842    965      87.3    12
Fitzroy             2  5  1  863    1008     85.6   10
St Kilda            1  6  1  723    1002     72.2    6
Footscray        0  8  0  709    1110     63.9    0

(Next week – Round 9)

About Sam Steele

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

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