Almanac Footy History: The John Pitura trade





The name John Pitura will forever be linked to one of football’s most disastrous trades.

Of course, there are other recruiting blunders like Terry Daniher (South Melbourne) for Neville Fields (Essendon) and Fremantle fans will lament that they had the chance to draft a shy kid from Darwin but instead traded their precious draft pick for the long-forgotten Chris Groom from Adelaide. Andrew McLeod would go on to win two Norm Smith Medals and become Adalaide’s games record holder. Giving McLeod the old heave-ho wasn’t the Dockers greatest decision!

John Pitura was born in 1950 in the sporting mecca of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales to Polish refugee parents. The Riverina city was in South Melbourne’s recruiting zone.

His dad had been a talented soccer player and John inherited the genes; being a natural sportsman (after his football career was over, he took up golf and quickly whittled his handicap down to one).

As a kid he had played mainly rugby league and even made some state schoolboy representative sides, but his mates convinced him to try Aussie Rules as they had noted that he could kick the ball a proverbial mile. Norm Smith, who was in charge of South Melbourne, spotted him at a Farrer League inter-league game and invited him down to play in the big league at just 16 years of age. His parents gave their blessing for their son to go from the peaceful country community of Wagga Wagga (and a close immigrant family) to the largely unknown capital city, Melbourne. It was meant to be – South Melbourne wore the same colors (red and white) as their beloved Polish flag. Also, they were assured that young John would be gainfully employed and given suitable accommodation by the club. However, after eight weeks boarding at the Middle Park Hotel and with no job in sight John’s parents decided that he would be returning to Wagga.

After a desperate visit from Norm Smith, they were convinced (for a second time) to allow their boy to return to Melbourne. John recalls that he then began work as a bank teller at the CBC Bank and moved into a share house with some other players including John “Mopsy” Rantall.


In 1969 the 18-year old Pitura, debuted for the Bloods after just three reserves games (9 goals). In today’s football he would be classed simply as a midfielder but the Scanlens footy cards of the day listed him variously as “Half forward flank”, “half-back flank” and even “Utility”.  The talented left-footer (whatever his position) became one of the Swans first-picked and in 1973 represented the Big V in state footy (when Victoria incorporated all of the non-AFL States!). Footage of the 6 foot 1 Pitura shows an impressive athlete with superb sideways movement and a graceful raking left foot kick. Think of Peter Daicos (who incidentally nominated the South Melbourne star as his favorite player growing up).


At just 23 years of age and with 93 games behind him, his star was on the rise. Pitura felt however that he was being underpaid by the Swans in comparison with the stars from other clubs and requested an increase in his salary and the security of a three-year contract. The financially strapped Swans refused to budge. When I spoke to John he confessed to a love of South Melbourne and said he had no desire to leave. He puts it down to some “pig-headed” administrators at the club who he chose not to name.  He said he was paid “2 and 6” and didn’t think a modest increase to his match payments was unreasonable.


Richmond was back to back Premiers in 1973 – 1974 and had the dubious distinction a year earlier in 1972 of recording the highest ever losing Grand Final score against their arch-rivals Carlton. Old Tiger fans like my father recall the Tigers winning the Under 19s, Reserves and Senior Grand Finals all on the one day in September, 1973. “Eat em alive” indeed.


With this depth of emerging talent at their disposal it was unnecessary for the Tigers to headhunt players from other clubs. Still, a big name lured from the opposition sent a strong message that the Tigers were the main ticket in town. For instance, we (Richmond) gained Ian Stewart, the (then) dual Brownlow Medalist from St Kilda in 1971 in return for our volatile premiership centreman, Billy Barrott. Players who had reached their use-by date were dispensed with little sentiment even if you were a premiership captain like Roger Dean.

One man was responsible for this ruthless culture, Graeme Richmond. GR had played Under 19s and a few Reserve games and then held a variety of official roles from Coach of the Under 17s, to Club Secretary to Team Manager. His power, however, extended far wider within the club. He wielded more influence than the coach and President. GR did the lot. He travelled with Jack Dyer to meet the parents of young country recruits to convince them that their son would be in good hands if he were to join Richmond.  To seal the deal a new TV was always ready in the boot of their car. Royce Hart, the champion centre half-forward was famously lured from Tasmania to Tigerland with the guarantee of his accountancy studies being paid for, board and lodging, six Pelaco business shirts, a suit and a a pair of shoes. The menswear would prove to be money well-spent!


So, when South and Pitura reached an impasse the Tigers were keen to entice him to Tigerland. Pitura didn’t drink much but he says he would sometimes “have a parma” at GR’s hotel the Crystal Ballroom. GR’s opinion of Pitura was inflated by the fact that he had towelled up Tiger champion Francis Bourke when they had played on each other. South, however, were prepared to trade Pitura to any other club, except Richmond. Once word of the Pitura-South stalemate arose his signature became hot property. The rumours began:

Crosswell and Waite from Carlton was the mail according to Michael Sheahan in The Age newspaper one week. A week later, however, he was supposedly heading to Adelaide in return for Graham Cornes from Glenelg in a mega-deal.


Pitura was branded a rebel (restraint of trade and free agency were alien concepts with sport in 1974 still essentially an amateur pastime) Whilst in exile he kept fit by training with, rather ironically, an amateur team, Oakleigh near his home. The Tigers mounted a relentless pursuit of Pitura, even being levied with a $2000 fine by the VFL for attempting to gain Pitura’s services from South Melbourne by allowing him to attend training at Punt Road.

On May 22, 1975 The Age declared that the Pitura deal had finally been completed: “Swans get the Whale…Graham Teasdale…and $45,000”. Forty-eight years ago that was a colossal sum of money. The third Tiger player, Francis Jackson is not mentioned in the article presumably because his clearance had not been formally approved. (The paperwork was duly completed a few weeks later.)

Pitura debuted in his Richmond guernsey in Round 9, 1975 in the Grand Final rematch against the Kangaroos at the Shinboners home ground, Arden Street. He didn’t disappoint despite his long absence from the top level. Playing on a half forward flank he collected 17 kicks, gave off 3 handballs, took 3 marks and finished with 3 goals from 5 scoring chances. This is recorded as Pitura 100th VFL game (he played 6 more for South at the end of 1974 as required to ensure the trade happened bringing his South Melbourne tally to 99) although John was unable to confirm this detail.

Unfortunately, Pitura wasn’t able to sustain this sparkling form and the stress of the bitter, protracted dispute may have affected his health. Also, he wasn’t made feel welcome by everyone at Tigerland and the Hafey game plan was built around “bomb it long to Royce” whereas he was accustomed to the more nuanced style of Norm Smith at South. Just three months after his long-awaited debut in his new colors Pitura was dropped. On August 8 1975 The Age reported the news on the back page “Tigers dump Pitura” after losing patience with their expensive recruit.


Although he regained his spot in the senior team Pitura never became the player that GR had expected. He did play well in patches, albeit very sparse patches. In his second season, 1976, he recorded a creditable 14 Brownlow votes and finished 7th in the Jack Dyer Medal (Kevin Sheedy won that year). However, at the end of 1977 and after just 40 games Pitura departed Tigerland to accept a lucrative offer to coach North Shore in the Sydney Football League (he piloted the Bombers to their first flag in 26 years).

So what had the Tigers sacrificed to obtain this 40-gamer?

The answer is PLENTY and it still hurts Tiger fans even though the 3 Premierships in 2017, 19 and 20 have anaesthetized the pain. After 40 years a Richmond Tigers Serious Supporters Group on Facebook was “still as mad as hell” about the legacy of the Pitura trade.





Let’s look at the three players involved in that swap and how their careers unfolded.

Graham Teasdale: Recruited as a 17-year-old from Charlton “The friendly River town” near Bendigo in Victoria, he played just 6 games in the Seniors at Richmond. Teasdale debuted in Round 12, 1973 against South Melbourne and kicked 6 goals and was named in the best players that day. The following week he was also amongst the goals, scoring 5 and again featuring on the best players list. For some reason he only added 4 more games until he was traded at the end of 1974. Nevertheless, the youngster with the high leap was always prominent in front of goals for the Reserves and under 19s.

Teasdale was taken by South as primarily a forward but they soon threw him into the ruck. Teasdale dominated. The bearded 193cm follower had great spring and athleticism for his size.

The 1977 VFL season is memorable for two events: firstly, only the second drawn Grand Final fought out between Barassi’s Kangaroos and Hafey’s Magpies, and secondly, Graham Teasdale accepting the Brownlow Medal resplendent in a hired brown velvet suit.

Teasdale was a runaway winner that night polling 59 votes, from Kevin Bartlett (45) with defenders Bill Picken and Bruce Doull equal third on 41. Diplomatically he was “satisfied” to have proven that Richmond had seriously underestimated his value:

“Richmond wanted a player, Pitura, and obviously they thought I didn’t have a future,” he explained.


Brian “The Whale” Roberts: If the image of Teasdale receiving football’s highest honour was a harsh reminder to Tiger fans of the Pitura disaster (as it was now acknowledged) the loss of “The Whale” was almost as profound.

The Whale stood 6 feet 6 and was built like…well, a Whale. He was larger than life in every way and his importance to Richmond during the Hafey era could not be measured in statistics alone. He had played in both the 1973 and 1974 flag teams after arriving at Richmond in 1971 (78 games, 34 goals). Before that he had been a football journeyman having played for South Adelaide and East Fremantle.

Every team needs one or two of them – the jokers who can lighten the mood at times. The Tigers had Brian Roberts to make Tommy’s tortuous training sessions bearable.

So, when The Whale was offered as trade bait for Pitura the very fabric of Richmond was torn apart.

The Whale would play just 15 games at South Melbourne but remarkably he finished sixth in the 1975 Brownlow, just 3 votes behind the winner, Gary Dempsey of Footscray.  He retired the next year after a confrontation with coach Ian Stewart, his former Richmond teammate. Apparently, the dispute related to Whale’s discipline on the training track.

After football was over The Whale became a well-known publican imploring passers-by near his city venue The Duke of Wellngton with a sign “Have an ale with The Whale”.

Francis Jackson: The defender was a fringe player at Richmond and played just 6 games across the 1973 and 1974 seasons. He was not selected in the Grand Final teams in either year. It would seem that Jackson was “the set of steak knives” Richmond threw in to secure Pitura’s services. The trouble for the Tigers is that he became a very handy set of steak knives and played 100 games for South Melbourne between 1975 and 1983.

As a footnote to the Pitura saga Jackson would rejoin the Tiger staff in 2006 as their full-time Recruiting Manager.

The Pitura name also reappeared at Tigerland when John’s son Mark played two games before enjoying a successful career with Sturt in the SANFL.

John Pitura is now retired and living on the Gold Coast. He described the controversy as a “sad” time for him and his family. After leaving Richmond he found success as a playing coach and in the corporate world.

The good times have outweighed the bad according to the 73 year-old.



Rhett Bartlett podcast Rhettrospective.

Interview with John Pitura.

The Age Newspaper articles by Michael Sheahan.


Read more from Dan Hoban HERE.


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  1. Mark Schwerdt says

    I reckon that F Jackson got the better of this deal. Well played Dan.

  2. george smith says

    What you forget is that G. Richmond pulled the same stunt with Wayne Walsh (South) and Robert Mcghie (from Footscray, signed by South then changed his mind when someone from Richmond waved money under his nose). South were understandably upset and Dyer and Hansen ridiculed them from the safety of their columns in Truth Newspaper. This was the scenario when Richmond demanded Pitura from South.

    South held out for as long as they could but with the restraint of trade thingy hanging over everyone’s heads from rugby league in Sydney they decided to take as much as they could – Roberts, Teasdale and Jackson.

    Trade wars with Richmond, Collingwood and Port Melbourne eventually bankrupted South and they were shipped off to Sydney in 1982. Richmond started chest beating with the New Magpies in 1983-4 and also ran out of money, leading to the fightback campaign in 1988-89. Hubris is a funny thing, and the invincible Tigers had to wait 37 years for the next premiership after 1980…

  3. Tony Forbes says

    Hi Dan are you any relation to Austin? We both went to Moach and boarded at Mannix College.
    Tony Forbes
    I remember the John Pitura trade, he went to Richmond (Austin’s team) from South Melbourne in somewhat acrimonious circumstances. Keith Frearson ( lecturer at Monash and fanatical Swans supporter was livid!)

  4. Keith Frearson… enjoyed life to the fullest. His office at Monash Uni was covered in Swans memorabilia and Greta Garbo posters (Or was it Gloria Swanson?)
    He used the same jokes in his lectures year after year. Only someone who repeatedly failed Eco Sats would know that!
    A big presence at the Notting Hill Hotel as well. Many night raids over Germany in WW2, I think.

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