1981 – 2016: These Should Not Be Forgotten Years

I hate the misuse of musical classics.


Cheesy advertisements are a pet hate, stripping songs of all their subtlety and irony (News Corp’s use of “A Day in the Life”, anyone?). Their use in pre-match entertainment runs a close second, especially when brain-dead programmers choose seemingly fitting titles without having a clue about the song’s real significance. At the recent Australian Open Women’s Final, for instance, some maudlin drone was tasked with performing “The Winner Takes it All” – yes, really, ABBA’s autobiographical lament about the sadness of relationship breakdown – just before the players walked on court!


So it might sound a tad hypocritical when I confess to having tingles down the spine when The Killers unexpectedly belted out Midnight Oil’s “The Forgotten Years” at the 2017 Grand Final. It helped that it was an impressive rendition of the song, but for this Richmond supporter, tense but elated that this day had finally arrived, the words just resonated.


“Hands have been clenched into fists too long”.


“It aches like tetanus, it reeks of politics”.


I get that the Oils were singing about far deeper matters than the trials and turmoils of a football club. But sometimes you just draw personal significance from words and music. And at that time, in that place, those words and music instantly conjured up 36 “desperate and divided” years of following the Tigers between 1981 and 2016.


“These should not be forgotten years”. As I contemplate the unfamiliar prospect of my team embarking on a Premiership defence, that line keeps coming back to me. We should not forget how the last time we were in this position, we squandered an opportunity for greatness and instead wound up with years of turmoil.


Richmond’s self-destruction began with brutal speed. Round One 1981. The reigning Premiers were dismantled, coincidentally by Carlton, our now regular opening round opponents, to the tune of 62 points. Richmond had enjoyed their summer – and it showed. Further, they had enjoyed the adulation of the footy world that predicted an era of greatness for the Tigers – and that showed too. Hubris, complacency and obstinate reluctance to plan ahead – all were on display that day against a Carlton side that had learned from its defeats the previous year. The Blues unveiled a new coach, David Parkin, a fairly handy strategist. They also introduced a couple of new players, Ken Hunter and Peter Bosustow, who were also fairly useful additions. Above all, the Blues had the hunger of the recently humiliated. Richmond looked like sluggish, hungover guests at a post-wedding brunch.


This one game was a shock, particularly for the “newer” supporters (and there were many of those in attendance that day). But it never dawned on us at the time that it would be a mere foretaste of the pain that lay ahead over more than three and a half decades.


I’m not going to recount the gory details of those years. I’ve already had a good crack at that in the Tigers Almanac. But I know that many among the 90,000-odd in attendance this Thursday night will be there not to gloat at the unfurling of our 11th Flag nor out of bubbling excitement at the novelty of following a Premiership team. This night will have special significance because of “the hardest years, the darkest years, the roarin’ years, the fallen years” that we have endured.


The lesson of those years is to take nothing for granted. But I like what I see at the Richmond Footy Club at the moment. Our team is led by genuine champions, at their peak. Of course, the loss of any of our stars would be huge but our list is young and deep and I don’t see a single player not capable of improving on or at least maintaining last year’s performance. Two pointedly ruthless wins in the JLT series suggest a hunger for further success. Competition for places will be fierce. These don’t look like the Tigers of 1981.


My optimism extends well beyond what is happening on the field. “Yellow and Black”, Konrad Marshall’s chronicle of the 2017 campaign, might be tinged with the inevitable bias of the “insider’s account”. But aside from being a great footy book, it’s a fascinating case study in organisational change. The positive culture and stability that Marshall describes at Richmond in 2017 are in such contrast to the “eat our own” stereotype of past years as to be scarcely believable. If the brutal sacking of Tony Jewell in 1981, less than a year after his Premiership success, summed up Richmond’s famously ruthless and ultimately self-destructive ethos, Damien Hardwick’s contract extension on the eve of the 2018 season is a very tangible expression of the new doctrine of trust at Punt Road. If our 1980 Premiership was greeted with a vindictive snarl, in 2017 it was accompanied by smiles of recognition of a phenomenal team effort across the entire club. All playing their roles, with successes, failures and failings openly and honestly acknowledged. If this sounds cheesy, I can only suggest that you read the book to see what I mean.


So to extend Hardwick’s “Hillary Step” analogy used with such effect during last year’s finals campaign, now Richmond starts a new ascent of Everest, from Base Camp, competing alongside 17 other hungry, ambitious mountaineers. All start equal and we can expect no special favours. But for once, we begin our climb with the certain knowledge that we’ve achieved it before.


I hope we can also use the long, painful experience of our “Forgotten Years” to help drive us to the summit once more.


Read more about The Tigers’ Almanac here.


About Sam Steele

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


  1. Lovely Stainless. My thoughts exactly.

    Enjoy Thursday!

  2. Joe De Petro says

    Well written, Stainless. I must admit, when i heard this on Grand Final, it resonated with me as well. I’m sure someone did some seriously good research somewhere and nailed the mood of at least one group of fans present on the day.

    On the topic of cultural change, the reason Richmond had the 36 years of caca in the first place was that they allowed the link to a winning culture to break. Once it was gone, it was gone. Now that it is back, the challenge is to pass it on to the next generation of players.

    Yes, let’s never forget the hardest years, the darkest years, the roarin’ years, the fallen years.

  3. Stainless says

    Thanks for the comments, guys.
    Joe – I reckon Graeme Richmond wouldn’t have understood the term “winning culture”. For him, there was only “winning”. Inasmuch as Richmond (the club) had a culture in his day, it was one of command and control. That worked well for as long as the Tigers could successfully raid other clubs and competitions for great players and whilst they had Tom Hafey, a coach who players would run through brick walls for. Once he went and the talent thinned out, that sort of culture quickly became destructive because it refused to tolerate anything other than instant success. A dose of the more patient, accepting culture of 2017 back then might have produced very different results.

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