Almanac (Footy) Memoir: Being where the ball ain’t!



Richard Griffiths has lived a footy life. As a fan. As a player. As an administrator. He has many memories, and many stories. Recently he has been encouraged to get some of them down on paper. This is the first one:



Way back in the dark, distant winter of 1969 I encountered a terrifying experience at Glenferrie Oval. I was caught in the player race with Kennedy’s Commandos. Twenty brutes staring down the race and out onto the sardine can confines of a muddy ground with but one intent: destruction.


If being caught in the race with Kennedy’s Commandos as an innocent ten-year-old from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs put shivers down my spine nothing was to prepare me for what I was to endure nearly a decade later.



Kennedy’s Commandos – with Richard caught in the race! Photo: from the author’s collection.



Fast forward to the winter of 1977.


The winter months in Melbourne 1977 were particularly cold, bleak, and wet and as a seventeen-year-old student at Carey Grammar I was gearing up for another APS footy season. I had played one game in the First XVIII in 1975 as a skinny 15-year-old against a Xavier College team laden with hirsute adonises. I played alongside the bullocking Stuart Jackson (father of Richmond’s Daniel Jackson) and David Curnow who went on to become the school Chaplain at Geelong College and the father of Carlton’s Ed and Charlie Curnow. According to the stat sheet compiled by my best mate John Hands (son of legendary Carlton Captain, Coach and Hall of Famer Ken Hands) I was the recipient of one free kick, two kicks and booted one goal.


In 1976, I played every game mainly in the ruck and resting in the forward pocket alongside Peter ‘Squeaker’ Stevenson who later became a goalkicking legend at VFA club Camberwell. Squeaker needed space and in no uncertain terms instructed me to keep out of his way – I would play very wide when resting up forward! My only other recollection from the 1976 season was being on the receiving end of a vicious round arm at a boundary throw in from Xavier College strongman Steven Pirrie which resulted in a broken nose and split eye. I saw Steven on the Number 42 tram the following week and rather than apologise he simply smiled and winked. Pirrie went on to play a handful of games with Richmond, St Kilda and Essendon.


Our coach during the mid-seventies was a former Bell UH-1 helicopter pilot who played a pivotal role in the August 1966 Battle of Long Tan, Bob Grandin. On August 18th, 1966, Bob was the co-pilot on a No 9 Squadron Iroquois helicopter that flew over the enemy to resupply ammunition to desperate soldiers engaged in the battle at the Long Tan rubber plantation – it was the turning point of the battle. Bob was a Vietnam war hero.



Bob Grandin 1966




And yet I do not recall him once mentioning his heroic feats to any of his schoolboy footy teams or in the classroom as a mathematics teacher. In fact, I only became aware of his Vietnam involvement in 2019 following the release of his book Answering the Call and a film documentary on the Battle of Long Tan conflict.


Bob Grandin at the time of his book’s release in 2019.


The 1977 Carey Grammar First XVIII was an average team to say the least and we won just the one game against a Geelong Grammar team full of western districts farmers’ sons.



Carey Grammar First XVIII 1977.



On one particularly wet Friday afternoon in July we played Haileybury College at Bulleen’s No. 2 Oval. It was so wet that day our game had to be transferred from the prestigious No. 1 Oval that was always prone to flooding. On this day it was a complete bog heap and unplayable.


While warming up (in the No. 2 jumper, a nod to Bob Keddie’s four goal haul in the ’71 Grand Final) I noticed Hawthorn strongman and Premiership Captain Don Scott standing alongside two other more elderly gentlemen in suits, ties and heavy overcoats. Club Secretary Ivan Moore and recruiting stalwart Seth Dunn had joined Scott on the sidelines. I thought to myself the Hawks must be here to take a look at our dynamic centreman, the highly skilled Mick Church and the athletic Mark Laidlaw.


I always enjoyed playing in heavy conditions as it usually brought the game back to my pace  –  that of a draught horse. As it happened, I put in my best performance of the season but thought nothing of it.


As 1977 came to an end I reflected on the Granville rail disaster, ABBA’s first tour of Australia, the launch of Don Chipp’s Australian Democrats, the disappearance of Donald Mackay, the demise of Sir John Kerr and of course the completion of my HSC exams to end my school years.


Then only days before Christmas I received a letter in the mail. The envelope had a small brown and gold Hawthorn emblem (now called a logo) on the top right-hand corner. I carefully opened it and slowly read its contents:


Dear Richard, The Hawthorn Football Club has much pleasure in extending to you an invitation to participate in our pre-season training and practice matches for season 1978 (etc etc)… Ivan Moore Club Secretary.


I immediately thought “this cannot be right, they’ve got the wrong bloke!” Soon after Bob Grandin rang to congratulate and that they were impressed with my performance against Haileybury. Hence, the invitation.


Now Carey Grammar at that point in time had not produced too many VFL players. Virtual unknowns such as Mick Glenn, Allan Pell and Richard Keddie (younger brother of Bob) all had forays at Under 19 and Reserves level but none went on to the big time.


The exceptions of course were 1971 premiership player Geoff Angus and a virtual unknown full forward in Michael Cooke who burst onto the scene with a four goal haul in his debut match, a final against North Melbourne at VFL Park in 1975. Unfortunately for Cookey he did not bother the statistician two weeks later in the Grand Final and was duly dragged at half time never to grace a VFL ground again.


I was never confident in my ability (or lack of) but as I gazed and re-read the letter I thought I would have a crack – I loved the Hawks.


However, that unbridled passion for the Brown and Gold quickly turned to fear and trepidation precipitated by the first time I walked into the changerooms deep in the bowels of the Ferguson Stand.


As I slowly, languidly strolled into the rooms there they were in all their living glory. Superstars of the game and seasoned Premiership players; Leigh Matthews, Peter Knights, Don Scott, Kelvin Moore, Michael Tuck and co. I thought to myself what am I doing here among these immortals of the game; a scrubber from Carey Grammar who happened to play a decent game in the slop the year before in the presence of some officials. My inclination was to turn around walk straight out and back to my beat-up 1967 Austin Nomad parked in the Linda Crescent car park.



Richard Griffiths (left) with Mick Church. (Name the shoes)



Instead, very sheepishly, I got changed and ventured out onto the oval. I stumbled and fumbled my way through the running and fitness drills but refused to embarrass myself when it came to ball handling and match training drills. So, I adopted the Jack Dyer theory – be where the ball ain’t!


Unfortunately, this tactic came unstuck at one particular training session with the senior squad at Stradbroke Park, Kew on a Tuesday afternoon.


The Under 19 boys had to pair up with a senior player for match simulation training (it was called circle work back in the 70’s) and I was paired up with a ‘boom recruit’ from WA in former Claremont ruckman Jeff Murray. Murray was to play ten games in 1978 but missed out on Grand Final selection and returned home to Perth. ‘Big Footy’ describes Murray as “an uncertified nut case who was more interested in brawling than football.”


As the ball zipped around the ground at a rate of knots, I suddenly found myself in a position where I had no alternative but to take possession of the ball which I did with great aplomb. The problem came when I found myself swinging onto my left foot. In those days if you were caught on the opposite side of your body you had to dispose of it on that side – unlike how players nowadays straighten up onto their preferred foot.


I hastily threw the ball onto my left boot to the general direction of a leading player and duly missed the target by metres – or was it yards in those days? Within a split second a young raging bull called Robert Dipierdomenico came thundering towards me and gave me an almighty spray (literally with saliva spewing from his gaping mouth) with words to the effect “that’s s#%t mate you need to work on your left foot!” I froze at that moment and made a pact with myself to never go near the ball again to avoid further embarrassment and more spittle from the likes of the Big Dipper.


Needless to say, my career at the Hawthorn FC Under 19s came to an abrupt end after two games off the bench. I politely asked Ivan Moore for a clearance (and not surprisingly this was immediately granted) and I retreated to the idyllic setting of the Queenscliff Football Club in the Bellarine League. There I had three blissful seasons enjoying the spoils of bush footy both on and off the field.


I’m now good mates with Dipper and have relayed my story to him and thanked him for reaffirming what I had already thought – that I had no right to be mixing it with my childhood heroes and it best I retreat to the lower levels. Thanks Dipper.


The Hawks went on to win the VFL Grand Final by 18 points that year. Mick Moncrieff booted three first quarter goals, Snake Baker took Mark-of -the Year over Ian Paton and Robert Dipierdomenico was voted Best on Ground for his dash off half back and keeping North’s most dangerous forward Arnold Breidis quiet for most of the day.


And I enjoyed a six pack of Carlton Draught tubes from the stands with my brother together with 101,704 spectators, content with my brief career at the club I loved.


Footnote: In later years Carey Grammar has become a fertile recruiting ground for AFL clubs having produced players including Martin Heppell (Melbourne and St Kilda), Jackson Macrae (Western Bulldogs), Jack Viney (Melbourne), Andrew Gaff (West Coast Eagles) Darcy Moore (Collingwood), Ed Richards (Western Buldogs), Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn), Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson (Gold Coast SUNS). The school has also produced a number of elite women footballers including Harriet Cordner and Katie Lynch.


[All photos are courtesy of the author]



Read Richard’s story about being caught in the race with Kennedy’s Commandos HERE



The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE



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  1. Rick Kane says

    Magnificent story Richard, from another Richard who similarly, in WA trained with Swan Districts over the summer of 79/80. I played about 5 mins of one scratch match before doing tearing a cartilage. Icing the knee in the bowels of Bassendean Oval, the seniors coach, John Todd checked in on me to let me know they were letting me go anyway. It hurt but it was the right call.

    Cheers and go the mighty Hawks!

  2. I reckon the shoes are Adidas “Roma”

  3. By the way, this is a great yarn, Richard

  4. Peter Fuller says

    I loved this self-deprecatory account of your coodabeen experience. (I also enjoyed your boy in the race reminiscence). However mistaken the invitation, you have the letter, which I’m sure is a prized possession. It’s a variant of the truism, better a hasbeen than a never was (my status).

  5. Jarrod_L says

    Echoing Smokie, this was a ripper tale, Richard.

    I love that photo of the mighty fighting Hawks bullocking up the race.

  6. Anne Cahill Lambert says

    I just loved this article! I was at that grand final too! Thanks, Richard!

  7. Laurie Laffan says

    I managed to sneak in the back door at the old Bradman Stand at Manuka Oval Canberra back when the coach of Hawthorn, John Kennedy was giving his pre game speech and in no uncertain terms laid some players future prospects on the line . In the other room Mr Football , Ted Whitten,was geeing up his Footscray boys. I managed to get into their room at half time. Pretty brutal attitude to their players I thought at the time. Im unsure of the actual date but i think it was a practice match.John Hendrie, the subject of a not so gentle encouragement, played a blinder. Cowboy Neale told me once that good cattle make good coaches. VFL was a brutal business.

  8. I had a very similar experience at the Hawks myself Richard. Appreciate your take — very entertaining piece.

    Enjoy life in ‘retirement’ ! Cheers H

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