1981 Revisited – Round 7: ‘I Love a Rainy Night’

It’s the dying seconds of the game. Richmond launches a desperate attack. Michael Roach, sandwiched between two defenders, somehow plucks the mark and hurries back for the crucial shot. Despite rushing his routine, he nails it. Four points the difference. There’s still hope!


But then, there’s not. No sooner has the goal been signalled than the faint siren is drowned out by the roar of the ecstatic home crowd. It’s been a memorable win by Fitzroy. When David Cloke strolled into an open goal ten minutes into the third quarter, Richmond led by 40 points. A comfortable win seemed assured. Then from nowhere, Fitzroy took complete control. Roach’s last-gasp effort was the Tigers’ first goal since then. Stunning comeback or disastrous fadeout? Whatever the case, it’s been a shock result that will have far-reaching implications for our season – and Fitzroy’s.


Recalling this game, even four decades later, I’m struck by how witnessing the cut and thrust of those early 80s stoushes between Fitzroy and Richmond influenced my attitude towards the Lions’ gradual demise over the next 15 years.


I love the history and tradition of the old VFL. Fitzroy was one of the League’s foundation clubs. It was sad to witness the club’s death by a thousand cuts. But I’ve never fully bought the line that Fitzroy was just a helpless victim in the League’s expansionist plans. Even in 1981, when the Lions were thriving on-field, it was obvious that the club was living on borrowed time. They’d had no success since World War II. The Junction Oval might have had a great playing surface but it was a decaying tip of a ground, far removed from Fitzroy’s geographic heartland. That less than 13,000 turned up for this game said it all.


As the VFL revealed its agenda for ground rationalisation and interstate expansion, the finger was inevitably pointed at the Lions as prime targets for change. Whether through merger, relocation or both, unpalatable as they might be, Fitzroy had opportunities to secure a sustainable future for itself. Instead, it chose its path – to battle on defiantly – and suffered the consequences. In 1981, the Lions had a strong, talented line-up and it showed in games like this one. Had they been strong enough to snare a Flag, things might have worked out differently for them. Instead, the Lions’ on-field success worked against them, delivering only a succession of gallant near misses, whilst papering over the club’s fundamental weaknesses.


My surly 17-year-old self regarded Fitzroy as a flaky team that played pretty football in fits and starts. Let’s face it, even in this great win, they still allowed themselves to get seven goals behind. My frustration at seeing Richmond throw the game away was worsened by my sense that it’d be just like Fitzroy to lose next week (sure enough, they would lose their next two). But I couldn’t avoid the conclusion that at this point in time, they were better than the Tigers. Fitzroy’s two wins over Richmond in 1981 were pivotal to the composition of the finals and cost the Tigers any chance of defending its 1980 Premiership.


I suppose it’s easy enough to accept the sentimental view that poor old battling Fitzroy was shafted by the AFL if you’re an old-time Roys’ supporter or someone whose recollections go no further back than the last few years when Fitzroy was on its knees. But when you were there on days like this one in 1981 when the pesky Lions where good enough to knock off the big boys, it’s a different story. They were the enemy. And on that day they prevailed. It still hurts.


Despite our shock at the loss, my mates and I reckon the time-honoured ritual of a post-match kick-to-kick will help soften the pain. After the overnight rain, the ground is heavy, cut-up and slippery. It’s hard to stay upright, let alone kick with any precision. Worst of all, the crappy old PA system is blaring the Lions’ bastardised version of ‘La Marseillaise’ on repeat, interspersed with a lugubrious ditty that is totally forgettable but for a (prophetic) refrain of ‘Fitzroy – we’ll be there in ‘81’. It struck me as strange that a song, commissioned to instill positive vibes about the season ahead, should sound so mournful. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it was appropriate.


On the first of what would be many wet Saturdays through the dank winter of 1981, it was timely that the League would triumphantly announce in the Footy Record that the State Government had given permission to play two Sunday matches at the MCG later in the season. The creaking old suburban grounds were not attractive venues at the best of times, but on a day when Melbourne awoke to a steady downpour, standing for hours on an unsheltered terrace was only for the diehards. Although the sun emerged during the afternoon, attendances this week plummeted below 100,000 in total.


The conditions resulted in a pretty forgettable round of matches. Ladder leaders Carlton and Collingwood ground their way to emphatic wins over Melbourne and South respectively, while North Melbourne, led by a peerless 8-goal display from Malcolm Blight, thumped Footscray at Waverley. However, the shine was taken off by a knee injury which put Keith Greig out for the season.


Aside from Fitzroy’s win, the most significant result of the round was Geelong’s 3-point win over Hawthorn. It was an upset at the time. Hawthorn was coming off its 12-goal demolition of Richmond and Geelong had been crushed on every previous occasion it had played the Hawks at Princes Park, including two losses by well over 100 points. Ten minutes from the end, the gawky Leo King steered his third through and the ferocious Cats just hung on.


At Windy Hill, St Kilda looked to have the Bombers’ measure early, but the Dons showed some class after half time and pulled away for a much-needed victory to relieve the pressure on Kevin Sheedy. Unremarkable the win might have been, but from little things…


A final piece of trivia. This round was notable for the use of yellow balls for the first time during the Premiership season. A recently introduced VFL directive provided for the use of yellow balls in adverse weather conditions, because it was thought to be easier for players and spectators to see on dark, wet days. However, the move wasn’t entirely successful, with numerous players claiming that the yellow balls were slippery and difficult to mark. VFL Company Secretary, Ralph Lane said this was because some clubs used polyurethane-coated balls and not the normal leather ball with the yellow colouring. He said the polyurethane-coated balls had been used in night games three years ago but were discarded because they were too slippery. He said it was unfortunate that some clubs still had stocks of the coated balls.


“The yellow balls we have suggested for use are the same as the normal red ball, apart from the yellow vegetable dye,” said Mr Lane.


Ah, the big issues!






North Melbourne 1.2 9.5 14.10 17.16 (118)

Footscray 2.6 3.9 4.10 7.12 (54)



NORTH MELBOURNE: Blight 8, Cassin 2, D. Schimmelbusch 2, Law, Kelly, Hodgeman, Jonas, Jarrott.

FOOTSCRAY: Sait 3, Jennings 2, McKenna, Wheeler.



NORTH MELBOURNE: W. Schinnmelbusch, Henshaw, Dempsey, Blight, Reeves.

FOOTSCRAY: Egan, Perrin, Jennings.


Umpires: Sutcliffe, Morgan.


Attendance at VFL Park: 10,989. Receipts: $21,440.



Fitzroy 4.4 5.6 10.12 13.14 (92)

Richmond 6.6 9.10 11.12 12.16 (88)



FITZROY: Quinlan 5, Rendell 3, Mugavin 2, Alexander, Harris, Clayton.

RICHMOND: Roach 4, Bartlett 3, Cloke 2, Wiley, Rowlings, Waterson.



FITZROY: Alexander, Quinlan, Harris, Serafini, Taylor.

RICHMOND: Raines, Dunne, Jess, Wood, Roach, Wiley.


Umpires: Deller, Nash.


Attendance at Junction Oval: 12,997. Receipts: $20,027.



Carlton 2.5 5.8 8.15 12.24 (96)

Melbourne 5.2 5.4 8.8 8.8 (56)



CARLTON: Bosustow 3, Marcou 2, Lenaghan 2, Maclure 2, Fitzpatrick, Ashman, Whitnall.

MELBOURNE: Catogglo 2, Jackson 2, Moir 2, Bickford, Pinnell.



CARLTON: Marcou, Doull, Perovic, Whitnall, Klomp.

MELBOURNE: Gaunt, Smith, Fowler, Moir.


Umpires: Dargavel, Quinn.


Attendance at MCG: 22,020. Receipts: $44,467.



Colllngwood 5.3 9.10 13.14 18.15 (123)

South Melbourne 0.4 3.5 5.8 7.16 (58)



COLLINGWOOD: Davis 3, Kink 3, Williams 2, Weideman 2, Daicos 2, Evans 2, Hannebery, Morris, A. Shaw, Twomey.

SOUTH MELBOURNE: J. Roberts 2, Boyse 2, Allender, Taylor, S. Wright.



COLLINGWOOD: Picken, Taylor, A.Shaw, McCormack, Moore.

SOUTH MELBOURNE: Rhys-Jones, Wright, Evans, Round, Smith.


Umpires: Robinson, Smith.


Attendance at Victoria Park 20,553. Receipts: $24,996.



Essendon 3.8 6.10 11.13 14.17 (101)

St. Kilda 4.0 7.5 9.7 11.10 (76)



ESSENDON: T. Daniher 2, Buhagiar 2, P. Bennett 2, Reid, N. Daniher, Stoneham, Fowler, Merrett, S. Madden, Hawker, Eustice.

ST KILDA: Faletic 4, Breen 2, Cunningham, Sartori, Burns, Meehan, M. Nettlefold.



ESSENDON: Buhagiar, Neagle, Fowler, N. Daniher, Andrews, T. Daniher.

ST KILDA: Barker, Cox, Cunningham, Faletic.


Umpires: James, Sawers.


Attendance at Windy Hill: 16,828. Receipts: $24,493.



Geelong 0.5 4.12 4.14 7.17 (59)

Hawthorn 4.3 5.4 7.7 8.8 (56)



GEELONG: King 3, Matthews, Toohey, Bruns, Reynoldson.

HAWTHORN: Mace 3, Tuck 2, Goad, Murnane, Considine.



GEELONG: I. Nankervis, King, Mossop, Bruns, Floyd.

HAWTHORN: Tuck, Mace, Wallace, Goad, Moore.


Umpires: Chapman, Dye.


Attendance at Princes Park: 13,275. Receipts: $22,712.








W L D F A % P
COLLINGWOOD 7 0 0 983 648 151.7 28
CARLTON 6 1 0 799 630 126.8 24
HAWTHORN 4 3 0 798 674 118.4 16
NORTH MELBOURNE 4 3 0 835 719 116.1 16
FITZROY 4 3 0 892 848 105.2 16
Geelong 4 3 0 639 642 99.5 16
Richmond 4 3 0 748 793 94.3 16
South Melbourne 3 4 0 737 860 85.7 12
Essendon 2 5 0 663 679 97.6 8
St Kilda 2 5 0 769 791 97.2 8
Melbourne 1 6 0 661 950 69.6 4
Footscray 1 6 0 600 890 67.4 4


Read The Age, Monday 11th May 1981, for coverage of all matches HERE.


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


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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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. Stainless says

    Some highlights of that Fitzroy Richmond game.

  2. Poor old Fitzroy. The VFL/AFL wanted them gone; they got their way. How anyone could consider Brisbane footy club is a continuation, or in any way linked to Fitzroy, they’d be a candidate for Dunning-Kruger.

    Leo King only played a few games for Geelong. He was a match winner this day. Was working on the Bass Strait oil rigs to supplement his income.

    I had my wisdom teeth taken out on the Thursday night. The Saturday morning i went out to VFL park with Footscray supporting mates, including fellow Almanacker Mic Rees. Why ?


  3. Aside from the Tigers’ 1980 Anzac Day shellacking of the Lions, Stainless, Fitzroy-Richmond games from the mid-1970s to late-1980s were typically very competitive encounters.
    Indeed, bottom-of-the-ladder Fitzroy knocked off top-of-the-tree Richmond less than three months later after that April 25 debacle, though after 11 straight wins the Tigers were due for (and probably welcomed) a loss.
    Fitzroy did have a reputation for playing flaky football but their two wins by less than a kick over Richmond in 1981 were gritty rather than pretty.
    Had the Tigers won even one of those, the teams would’ve swapped places (other things equal).
    It’s the perennial question: would a flag (and I believe the Roys were good enough to win in 1979, 1981 and 1983) have saved Fitzroy?
    When you support a club that got the lemon and sarse, you’re forever wondering whether the AFL could’ve pursued another option, such as aiming for two divisions of 10 teams, each playing 18 games.

  4. Daryl Schramm says

    I am quite enjoying these posts. Interesting with the weather affecting the crowds and it seemed only 2 of the six matches holding any main interest for the outside observer based on table positions prior to the round. I suspect SANFL had similar talking points with one sided contests and lower than usual patronage.

  5. george smith says

    Fitzroy were never good enough to win a flag – their record against Hawthorn and Carlton was poor. In 1986, their best year, they got nowhere near the Hawks in the preliminary final. Don’t forget that in 1981 the Moggies beat Essendon, who had beaten the top 2 Carlton and Collingwood. After 16 straight wins by Essendon they were ready for a bad patch and so it happened against plucky Fitzroy.

    In 1983, when they finally won the double chance, they stuffed up both chances.

    In one of his early books, in the early 60s, acidic tongued Lou Richards said that he didn’t see a future for Fitzroy, geographically sandwiched between the powerful Carlton and Collingwood clubs. Had they moved away from the inner city, like St Kilda, they might have stood a chance.

  6. Stainless says

    Thanks for the comments folks.
    Glen – I agree with your view about Brisbane. South supporters hated it at the time but their relocation to Sydney was a far preferable path than Fitzroy’s defiant march to oblivion. BTW Which was worse, having your wisdom teeth removed or watching the Dogs at Arctic Park?
    FitzroyPete – you’re spot on about the Fitzroy-Richmond games of that era. There wasn’t much between the teams in most of them. Those 1981 wins were indeed pivotal in deciding which team made the finals and were remarkable in that the Tigers twice coughed up seven goal leads. Your sliding door question is interesting. For what it’s worth I reckon a Flag would have made a huge difference. There are too many examples of Premierships transforming clubs – think Hawthorn in 1971, Essendon in 1984, Geelong in 2007, Richmond in 2017 to think otherwise. Equally the history of the competition is littered with teams that botched their chances and fell away as a consequence. One could say as much about Richmond in 1981. Had we made the finals that year, I doubt we’d have won the Flag but just getting to finals might have saved Tony Jewell’s job and avoided the era of crazy instability that pushed the Tigers to the edge by the end of the decade. What if, what if…
    Daryl – it’s certainly obvious that the competition was lop-sided in its era and that even only a third of the way through the season there are many mismatches. Whatever we might think of the changes to the game in the ensuing years, the competition has evened up considerably.

  7. Stainless says

    Tend to agree George. It’s highly doubtful Fitzroy would have troubled Carlton in either 1979 or 1981. Their best chance was in 1983 when there was no standout team. As you say they stuffed up their chances against the eventual Grand Finallists. Their 1986 side pinched a couple of finals but weren’t a patch on those early 80s teams. And that was all folks…

  8. Stainless i didn’t have too bad a day. I was there with mates; watching their team flogged, following the fortunes of Geelong on the radio.

    My head didn’t blow up too bad post surgery. I was back @ Uni on the Monday.

    I was a resilient young fellow.


  9. Peter Fuller says

    I was expecting someone to allude to the Sliding Doors moment in the 1983 Qualifying Final when Michael Nettlefold was penalised for deliberate out of bounds effectively gifting the match to Hawthorn. I think George may be a bit too harsh in saying they stuffed up their chance against the eventual premiers, when so much turned on that decision.

  10. george smith says

    OK Peter what if they had beaten the Hawks. Hawks would have creamed Essendon, then obliterated North, then do to Fitzy what they did to the Rene Kinks in the granny. (Rene played well, unusually!)

    That year one of the scribes described Hawthorn as “Carlton with muscles”. Sadly Fitzroy were Carlton without muscles…

    If they were that good they would have overcome Essendon, but they stuffed it.

  11. Stainless says

    I was at that Hawthorn Fitzroy game. As much as the Nettlefold incident was controversial, Fitzroy overcame it to the point where they took the lead late in the game thanks to the heroics of Bernie Quinlan. A clumsy effort by Gary Pert resulted in Richard Loveridge kicking the matchwinner in the dying minutes.
    Your scenario is probably right but Fitzroy pushed Hawthorn much closer than anyone else. If they win this match does that give them a psychological edge if they meet again in the GF?

  12. george smith says

    Stainless – the track record of the two in the 8os would indicate otherwise. Without GF experience, a Richmond v GWS scenario would have happened.

    Remember the 1987 preliminary final – one side had all the momentum, the other side had all the experience. And the side with the momentum kicked themselves out of it…

  13. Stainless says

    Agree George. Winning and losing – they’re both habits that are hard to break.

  14. Glen

    You certainly were a resilient young fellow going to all those Footscray games. You were blessed with great company and a million classic one liners!

  15. G’day Carl, it’s been a while.

    As the only Geelong supporter at both Primary, then High School, it made sense to go with mates to Footscray games and have an affinity there.

    Gee whizz Footy was different then. Better?

    How you faring?


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