1981 Revisited – Round 17: ‘Bad Habits’

It’s late in the first quarter of Richmond’s crunch game against Fitzroy at the G. The Tigers have just slotted their seventh unanswered goal and the early tension has been released. From my customary spot behind the Punt Road goals, I exclaim to no-one in particular, “oh well, we’ve got this game in the bag, let’s just hope we can keep this going into the finals”.


Ah, the naïve optimism of youth!


No performance summed up Richmond’s inconsistency in 1981 better than this day. Fresh off an invigorating win over Hawthorn, Richmond had reignited its hopes to play finals. The Lions’ game was the perfect opportunity to back this up with a victory against our other rival for fifth spot. For 30 glorious minutes, the Tigers delivered. It was a smashing in the best traditions of 1980. Game over. Or so it seemed.


Two hours later, the Tiger throng sat there, numb with disbelief. An extraordinary game had just unfolded. One of the best of the season, no doubt, but that’s of scant consolation after we’ve witnessed Richmond giving up a 42 point lead at quarter-time. Our ruthless, relentless attack vanished as quickly as it had arrived. Whatever an apparently apoplectic Robert Walls said at the break had an immediate effect. By the last change, Fitzroy had not only hauled itself off the canvass but had piled on 13 goals to four, taking a handy lead and all the momentum into the final stanza. During those two quarters, the Lions turned on all the finest qualities that epitomised them during that memorable season. Too fast. Too skilled. Too audaciously good.


Then a further twist. Whatever Tony Jewell said at the break had an immediate effect. The Tigers powered back into gear, erasing the deficit with early goals (and, to our cost, more than a few points). With a few minutes remaining, Colin Waterson’s wonky set shot is shepherded through to give Richmond back the lead. But our hope of a last-gasp win is fleeting. Two more scoring shots are squandered before Laurie Serafini, dashing off half-back, finds David McMahon in acres of space. He doesn’t miss. Hasn’t missed all bloody afternoon.


We talk a lot about “sliding doors” moments in footy. For Richmond, the entire 1981 season was a case in point. Flashes of the Tigers’ best form were all too often cruelled by injuries, combined with maddening inconsistency and fadeouts, leaving fans with an abiding sense of what might have been. Nearly 40 years on, I still think often about this game and how the fortunes of my team might have been so different had we won. Finals in 1981, the popular Jewell keeps his job, the club doesn’t go down the “eat its own” path that almost killed it. You just wonder…




The other big match of the day at Geelong was in stark contrast to the free-flowing affair at the MCG. Another dourly defensive performance by the Cats saw them edge away slightly in the final 20 minutes. The result left Hawthorn clinging by just percentage to their top 5 spot.


The VFL’s last two captain-coaches handed in their commissions during the week, one reverting to being a player only, the other, a coach. Malcolm Blight clearly relished his new freedom by booting 11.6 to guide North to victory over Footscray. Blight kicked six in the last quarter as the Roos finished strongly on the breeze after trailing by 40 points early. Notably, Ian Dunstan played his 150th game for the Dogs and Kelvin Templeton played his first game for the season, kicking three goals.



At Moorabbin, the now full-time coach Alex Jesaulenko saw victory snatched from his Saints after they pressed to within three points ten minutes into the final term. The indefatigable Essendon made it 11 straight wins, notching 4.4 into the wind after logging 0.9 with it in the third.



At Princes Park, the Demons clung to within five points of Carlton until the final stanza in which the Blues danced clear, winning their twelfth straight against Melbourne.


All focus turned to Sydney on the Sunday as South Melbourne took on league leaders Collingwood in what was looking like a dress rehearsal for their move to the SCG in 1982. The crowd of just over 22,000 was a little disappointing, especially as the ‘home’ side turned on its best display for the season, upsetting the Magpies in a close, high standard affair. Amidst the growing bitterness about the fate of the Swans, watching the game you just got a sense that this was their destiny.




Carlton: 2.2 10.10 14.12 23.15 (153)

Melbourne: 5.4 7.6 14.7 15.10 (100)

Goals —

CARLTON: Sheldon 4, Maclure 4, Marcou 3, McKay 3, Johnston 2, Ashman 2, Maylin 2, Fitzpatrick, Glascott, Kourkoumelis.

MELBOURNE: Jackson 6, Seddon 2, O’Donnell 2, Healy 2, Eishaug, Hutchison, O’Dwyer.

Best –

CARLTON: Ashman, Sheldon, Marcou, Doull, Glascott, McKay.

MELBOURNE: Seddon, O’Donnell, Fowler, Healy.

Umpires: Marcy, Morgan.

Attendance at Princes Park: 15,198. Receipts: $16,081



Essendon 4.4 8.5 8.17 12.21 (93)

St. Kilda 1.1 6.2 9.2 12.4 (76)

Goals —

ESSENDON: Van Der Haar 3, S.Madden 2, Schultz 2, Foreman 2, Watson, Hawker, Buhagiar.

ST. KILDA: Scott 2, Roberts 2, Gorozidis 2, Brown, Kellett, Middlemiss, Barker, Cunningham, Duperouzel.

Best —

ESSENDON: Watson, Foreman, Van Der Haar, Buhagiar, Taubert, Clarke, T. Daniher.

ST KILDA: Duperouzel, Barker, Dunne, Fidler, Elphinstone, Roberts.

Umpires: Bryant, Sutcliffe.

Attendance at Moorabbin: 23,126. Receipts: $44,613.



Fitzroy: 0.5 8.9 13.13 17.14 (116)

Richmond: 7.5 9.8 11.11 16.19 (115)

Goals —

FITZROY: McMahon 5, Quinlan 4, Conlan 2, Wilson, Murnane, Thornton, Lewis, Parish, Rendell.

RICHMOND: Roach 5, Jess 4, Bartlett3, Raines, Lee, Wiley, Waterson.

Best —

FITZROY: Alexander, McMahon, Quinlan, Serafini, Francis, Smith.

RICHMOND: Raines, Rowlings, Mount, Roach, Martello, Jess.

Umpires: James, Nash.

Attendance at MCG: 37,589. Receipts: $71,354.



Geelong 1.1 3.5 6.7 10.11 (71)

Hawthorn: 2.2 3.3 6.8 8.9 (57)

Goals —

GEELONG: Blake 2, Bright, Matthews, Mossop, Clarke, Reynoldson, Peake, Neal, Floyd.

HAWTHORN: Davies 2, Tuck 2, Matthews, Wallace, Murnane, Howard.

Best —

GEELONG: I. Nankervis, Malarkey, Mossop, Card, Bruns, Peake.

HAWTHORN: Ablett, Kennedy, Knights, Wallace, Howard, Robertson.

Umpires: Cameron, Chapman.

Attendance at Kardinia Park: 24,750. Receipts: $38,654.



North Melbourne 2.4 8.6 12.8 19.11 (125)

Footscray 9.2 10.6 13.8 18.8 (116)

Goals —

NORTH MELBOURNE: Blight 11,McCann 2, Byrne 2, Spencer, W. Schimmelbusch, D. Schimmelbusch, Holt.

FOOTSCRAY: Burton 4, Salt 4, Templeton 3, Whitten 2, Hampshire, Egan, Edmond, N. Cordy, Gallagher.

Best –

NORTH MELBOURNE: Blight, Wilson, Glendinning, Tanner, Hodgman, Dempsey.

FOOTSCRAY: Burton, J. Berry, Seery, Dunstan, Salt, B. Reid.

Umpires: Dye, Robinson.

Attendance at Western Oval: 14,755. Receipts: $22,280.



South Melbourne 6.3 8.8 13.10 18.13 (121)

Collingwood 2.6 6.10 12.12 15.13 (103)

Goals —

SOUTH MELBOURNE: Browning 3, Allender 2, Roberts 2, Evans 2, Wright 2, Carroll 2, Foschini 2, Smith, Teasdale, Hounsell.

COLLINGWOOD: Weideman 4, Irwin 3, Davis 2, Daicos 2, Morris, Williams, Shaw, Taylor.

Best —

SOUTH MELBOURNE: P. Morwood, Browning, D. Carrol, Smith, Evans, Hounsell, Round.

COLLINGWOOD: Weideman, Byrne, A. Shaw, Irwin, Davis.

Umpires: Dargavel, Smith.

Attendance at SCG: 22,238. Receipts: $77,837.





Read The Age, Monday 27th July 1981, for coverage of all matches HERE.




W L D F A % P
COLLINGWOOD 14 3 0 1954 1569 124.5 56
CARLTON 13 4 0 1854 1423 130.3 52
GEELONG 12 5 0 1735 1337 129.8 48
ESSENDON 12 5 0 1806 1470 122.9 48
HAWTHORN 10 7 0 1877 1677 111.9 40
Fitzroy 10 7 0 1962 1823 107.6 40
Richmond 10 7 0 1907 1816 105.0 40
North Melbourne 7 10 0 1876 1860 100.9 28
South Melbourne 7 10 0 1760 1926 91.4 28
St Kilda 4 13 0 1561 1861 83.9 16
Footscray 2 15 0 1422 2104 67.6 8
Melbourne 1 16 0 1435 2283 62.9 4



To read further stories from ‘1981 Revisited….’ click HERE


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About Sam Steele

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


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    I went to most Essendon matches during the 70s and there were some very lean years then. I moved to the country in 1981 so saw little of the Bombers for some time. Bomber fans could sense the beginning of something great and your series has enabled me to relive those times again.Thanks Sam.

  2. Hi Stainless, i thought you’d be tired of my comments so i decided i’d give you a fortnight respite from me; it only lasted a week.

    How much did Essendon kick in the third term?

    Some handy ex-VFA players mentioned there. Kevin Sait, ex-Yarraville only had the one season @ Footscray 1981. He was a nippy rover.

    Steven Allender came across from Port Melbourne to South Melbourne in 1981. He’d had a fantastic 1980 as he won the Liston Medal, also playing in a premiership side.

    There was Wayne Foreman @ Essendon. Wayne started his career with Sunshine in the VFA, before progressing to VFL ranks with Footscray, His family lived adjacent to us in Maidstone.

    David McMahon with Fitzroy came from Prahran. You would have wished he’d stayed there !

    Did Richmond twice hold big leads over Fitzroy, losing both matches , around this period?


  3. Richmond’s lead vs Fitzroy at 1/4 time is currently the 2nd greatest for a team that lost the match by 1 point.
    Greatest: Round 9 1974
    Geelong 8.4-52 vs Sth. Melbourne 1.1-7. Final score: Geelong 16.12-108 vs Sth. Melbourne 17.7-109

  4. Michael, i remember listening to that Geelong vs South Melbourne match on 3GL. As an 11 year old i was shattered.

    The week prior Geelong had a convincing victory @ Victoria Park. Then a big first quarter from Geelong, i was rapt. The end was a different issue.

    Later that season Geelong played South Melbourne @ the Lake Side Oval. Geelong won by a point.

    I’m curious if you’re aware of any other times when two sides met with only a point separating them both times, though the victories were shared. You any the wiser? I’m pretty sure the two Hawthorn V Fitzroy clashes in 1978 were both one point results, though Fitzroy won both.


  5. Stainless says

    Thanks Colin – I vividly remember feeling that the Bombers were a sleeping giant at that time. So many exciting players. Seeing the snippets of games on YouTube what particularly strikes me is how good Neale Daniher was. So sad that his footy career was so injury-plagued.

    Glen – never tired of your comments. Keep ’em coming! Your attention to detail is keeping me honest too. According to AFL Tables, Essendon’s score was 8.9 at half time and 8.17 at 3/4 time, so in fact it was 0.8 for the term. My scoring is wrong on both counts. Love your recollections of these obscure players. McMahon played a blinder that day. I wish there were more highlights available from the game. It was a ripper. And yes we coughed up 40+ point leads twice against Fitzroy in 1981. If we’d hung on in one of them, the season would have turned out very differently for both clubs.

    Hi Michael – I did not know that stat, and I can’t help with Glen’s query about on-point reversals either – sorry.

  6. Hi Stainless

    Just catching up with these last two 1981 Revisited pieces. Great to recall these which are well and truly still in the memory.

    I have a list of best sporting fixtures I’ve seen – and this Richmond v Fitzroy game is on it. I watched it in the TV room at Union College. Mulcaster would have been there (an occasional contributor to this site) along with Dave ‘Hungry’ Baker (Unless he was down the coast surfing) who is now an Almanac member. I remember this one as an end to end comeback game – a classic of the 80s genre. I remember David McMahon’s game and especially that final goal (although I didn’t remember the ump getting bowled over).

    That TV room gets a run in Loose Men Everywhere. As does Mulcaster

    I’d stopped playing footy for Uni because I wasn’t a fan of the violence that 30-something ex-southerners were willing to inflict on soft students. We were lacking an enforcer (from memory).

    Mulcaster, better known as Gulbo in those days, is a Pies man. He was an uber-engaged Pies fan when in that TV room when the Pies were playing.

  7. DBalassone says

    Astonishing game. I have vague recollections of this game, but am getting confused now – was there another crazy game Richmond game around that time, where they trailed by 10 goals to none at a quarter time, but then came back and actually hit the front late in the game…only to lose with virtually the last kick of the game?

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