Norwood identity Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood knows Neil Balme from the days when ‘Balmey’ (as he calls him) coached the Redlegs. He caught up with him and from that chat he was able to produce this analysis of recent times at the Richmond Football Club.

Neil Balme in his playing days for the club where he is currently General Manager of Football





Balmey has an impact wherever he goes, and most recently he’s played his part in the two Richmond premierships.
He has had a life in footy. His career has crossed three states. He was a promising junior player in Western Australia, playing senior-level WAFL at just sixteen, before his father Barry moved to Victoria for work. Balmey chose to play for Richmond, debuting in 1970. His time in the VFL was cut short by injury and he retired at the end of 1979.


In 1980 Balmey began his coaching career. He was considered a surprise appointment as coach of the Norwood Football Club in the SANFL but ended up coaching the Redlegs until 1990, including flags in 1982 and 1984. His engaging manner endeared him to everyone and he remains a much-loved figure at the Parade. Balmey then coached the amalgamated clubs Woodville and West Torrens which became the WWTFC (the Eagles) before returning to Victoria and what was now the AFL. His time coaching Melbourne, between 1993 and 1997, saw him reach the Preliminary Final in 1994 only to lose to West Coast.


Balmey spent 1998 in the media, his only year out of clubland since his debut for Subiaco in 1968. He moved into football administration at Collingwood for seven years, followed by seven at Geelong and then back to Collingwood for another two.


In 2017 he made his much-heralded move to Richmond as the football manager. Balmey was the perfect person for Punt Road at that time with his calm, thoughtful, reassuring manner. When something wasn’t immediately working Damian Hardwick had been known to “do a 180” and change the thought and structure completely. Balmey’s “sleep on it, talk more about it tomorrow” attitude was exactly what Damian and the Tigers needed. In effect Damian and the club in general had been guilty of trying too hard. Balmey brought a more reasoned and thorough approach.


In 2018 Richmond lost the Preliminary Final to Collingwood which the footy media seemed to consider failure – ridiculous in reality, as any club can lose a game on the day. It had still been a very good season for the Tigers finishing minor premiers and winning eighteen games.


In 2019 Richmond were hit hard by injuries, in particular losing their key defender Alex Rance to a season-ending ACL knee injury in Round 1. While the footy world was writing off the Tigers, internally the club considered it a chance for Dylan Grimes to become the leader of the backline – and didn’t he do it with aplomb! When other key players in Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin were also injured, Richmond had to test their systems and structures, and they stood up magnificently; in particular in away games against Port Adelaide and Fremantle. For mine it also showed against the Crows in Adelaide. Even though the Tigers lost, I left that game convinced that Richmond would ultimately triumph in 2019.


What now resonates from Punt Road is growth and positivity. Huge credit must go to Hardwick and Cotchin in particular, who following the review at the end of 2016 had to admit their limitations and change. It takes strong, honest people to do that. Dimma had been a control freak; in delegating more he is now able to observe more and let his personality shine through his pre-match addresses. His habit of leaving individual well-thought-out gifts for players in their lockers has become legendary at Punt Road.


There were many individual success stories for Richmond. They recruited Tom Lynch, a once-in-a-generation player who was sold on the Tigers’ great program despite receiving several more tempting offers. Dion Prestia stepped up a level, resulting in winning the Jack Dyer Medal. And of course the ultimate story was Marlion Pickett; I was with Balmey the night of the mid-season draft and he was confident the Tigers had recruited a beauty. Again it was a significant indicator of the culture Balmey had helped build – Richmond were confident enough in their development programs and caring internal nature to have a crack at a player where footy ability wasn’t the question but rather off-field issues. Balmey said he and the club were keen to play Pickett but a finger injury had held that back until Jack Graham was injured in the Preliminary Final. When determining his replacement the leaders in the playing group were confident that Pickett would not be overawed in debuting in a Grand Final. Following much internal debate the selection panel unanimously agreed that Pickett was the man and didn’t he deliver on Grand Final day!


Richmond internally consider 2019 to be the season of redemption proving that 2017 wasn’t a fluke. They delivered when it counted. Yes, I am biased, but I firmly believe this era would not have resulted without the arrival of Neil Allen Balme as football manager. He was exactly what the doctor ordered for Punt Road: his nature shines through their decision-making which is now calm and considered, not previously the case. Balmey remarked to me that the playing group was the closest and most united group in his five-decade involvement in footy, which is a huge endorsement of the footy program and for mine partly explains why the Tigers are the number one club in the AFL currently.


I recently contacted Balmey about a Tigers supporter who was doing it tough in hospital. Balmey rang him and lifted his spirits immeasurably. This sums up Balmey perfectly. When Balmey said to me earlier in 2019, “shh, don’t tell anyone but geez I love my job,” it was not a revelation – it shines through at all times. You can see Balmey’s loyalty to former clubs in how he returns to Adelaide for significant Norwood events such as the funeral of former president Nerio Ferraro. I see him as the number one administrator in the game and I reckon he will continue to be vital for the Richmond Football Club and the game in the coming years.





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  1. BushyTheMadTiger says

    Absolute pleasure to read Book. Balmey one of the most respected people in the footy circles Australia wide with his 50+ years involvement,

    Our 2017 & 2019 premierships are a huge reason Richmond have had such great success with an ok list.

  2. Peggy Knowles says

    Richmond were perennial 9th on ladder. Along comes Balme and suddenly the coach can coach!!

  3. Lachlan Waterman says

    Balmey has got the ‘Midas Touch’ no doubt about it. Norwood, Eagles, Geelong, Collingwood, Richmond.

  4. Matthew Huppatz says

    Absolutely spot on Malcolm.I’m even more biased of my thoughts being a mighty RedLegs and Richmond supporter (even when at WWT, as played lower grade cricket for Peckers). Great article!

  5. Andrew Cooling says

    Fixed Geelong (Bomber was on his way out). Fixed Collingwood and then fixed Richmond. Ultimate football administrator. It’s beyond belief the Crows didn’t sell the farm to get him. Understands the footy landscape in SA and would be perfect for young Nicksy.

  6. Can remember a tough no nonsense Neil Balme in the 70s with his mullet, confidently holding sway. I’m sure he learnt a lesson or two from T shirt Tom terrific Hafey as a player and subsequently converted his assertive dominance on the park to being the God father of many successful footy club programs, a champion bloke who has finally come home to Tigerland to help guide and affirm the mighty Tigers may it continue!!!

  7. Campbell says

    Fantastic read yet again! Had a massive impact on the Tigers 17 and 19 premierships

  8. Cameron Glenn says

    Another good article on a great administrator and coach of Australian Rules. Balmey has been really successful.

  9. Peter Tisato says

    Excellent article Malcolm. A legend of the game. Seems like a fantastic person, but he did have white line fever.

  10. Well written once again, Balmey is my neighbor and he is one of the nicest guys you could meet a true gentleman, What a great football thinker and great mind he has, I enjoy listening to him, well done Book

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Great read Malcolm. Balme has made a huge contribution, really liked his work at Collingwood and was disappointed when he left. Don’t think we’ve ever adequately replaced him.

  12. Rafael Sterk says

    Nice read Rulebook. Maybe he wants his biggest challenge yet? Come back to live in Adelaide and clean out the Crows!

  13. Great stuff RB. Balmey was superb at Geelong. As you say, the calming influence. He, Cook and Bomber were the perfect combination. And he’s a ripper bloke.

  14. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Bushy a quality individual.Well said,Peggy.Lachy yes can’t dispute that.Matthew thank you. Andrew Neil isn’t a financial person he’s well entrenched in Victoria no chance of coming back unfortunately thank you re my upcoming book to.Richard love you’re passion.Campbell thank you and definitely.Peter great bloke and yes he admits that himself re white line fever.Coke thank you fair pick up in the next door neighbour draft.Luke thank you and yes monumental stuff up by the pies.Raf unfortunately coming back to the city of churches isn’t on Balmeys Radar ( yes current situation not accounted fore) Dips yes his calmness just so vital to Damian Hardwick ( while,Balmey won’t admit it likewise re Trent Cotchin imo ) thanks folks

  15. Great read as always Book.

  16. Again, a great read Malcolm. Balmey is a great manager of young men. I always regret that the wind and Glenelg conspired against Norwood in the ’81 Prelim Final. This meant that we missed a Balme / Granger get together. The word going around at the time was Neil was quite looking forward to saying hello to Grave Danger.

  17. Tony Cove says

    Yes, Neil Balme is one of the game’s great thinkers, a walking encyclopaedia of strategies on how a club should be run. Crows could do worse than pick his brains for a clear plan on how to exit the current mess and support the new coach M. Nicks, who is in over his head at the moment.

  18. Grenville Dietrich says

    Absolute truth to the saying what you get on the field may not be the same as off the field as Neil would probably have more white line fever in him than any other player I have seen or played with or against. But off the field you get a very soft talking gentleman that is completely different and has his heart in the right place and also I would say is a big reason why he has had success at every club he has been with. I was shattered when Melbourne sacked him as nobody could have done better with their injuries, but was rapt when he finally came home to the Tigers and now we can all see why….

  19. Hey, Rulebook, good piece. Balmey and I are about to start writing a book about, well… Balmey. Love to be able to pick your brain about the SA years. I’m sure you’ve got a million contacts with tales to tell as well.

  20. For such a “fighter” on the field he has been a “lover” off the field! I can’t believe he is yet to be recognised – as far as I recall – in the AFL Hall of game. When Bob Hammond dies recently it was pointed out he had achieved accolades as a player, a coach and an administrator and Balmey is not dissimilar in this regard.

  21. Excellent, RB.

    It is very difficult to reconcile Balme the footballer with Balme the administrator.

  22. Malcolm Ashwood says

    TC thank you.Fisho alas that bloody wind change.Tony while,Neil won’t return to SA agreed at least have a chat getting some wise words of wisdom would not hurt.Grenville v v well said couldn’t agree more.ajc happy to help.Chris the afl HOF has some glaring omissions to say the least and staggering additions imo.
    Smokie thank you I think we have to remember completely different era what was run of the mill then is totally unacceptable today tho.thanks folks

  23. Great story Book, Neil Balme is a premiership player, coach and administrator. Not too many can claim that! Each club he has been involved with was stronger after he left them than beforehand. Hoping he can be part of a third Richmond flag during his current tenure!

  24. Les Campbell says

    Well we’re not we’re we are today without a good crew running the club Peggy. And. Neil and all the board members are outstanding in the job their doing I’m 75 years old I remember standing outside those red brick turnstiles next to the clubrooms in 1954 till 1958 selling the footy record for the total price of sixpence. \5cents in today’s money,Billy Barrot. Bull Richardson and Dick Clay just love the joint

  25. Dean Michaels says

    Great article Malcolm. Very true in may respects as Balmey has been the quiet, unassuming backbone of a lot of RFC’s recent success. I recall seeing him on the ground after the 2017 GF, quietly smiling and allowing the players and coaches to have their moment. No fuss, no bother, just gets on with it in his usual ‘solid as a rock’ manner.

  26. Bruce Greene says

    I remember as a kid seeing Balmey squeezing himself out of a mini minor at Albert Park; just before a Richmond pre-season intra club match. Billy Barrot’s brother Wes was reported the same day for punching a team mate. Great article Malcolm!

  27. Another great article. A highly respected man in football and his leadership is spot on. His time at the Parade is unforgettable.

  28. Chris Kendall says

    Excellent read as always Malcolm. Neil was the Norwood coach that really shaped my view of the club when he arrived as I was 7 at the time. Always a fantastic communicator and able to smile even at the harshest defeats. I always felt he was someone who truly loved the game for what it gave to him as much as what he could give it back. Left an indelible mark on Norrwood and a massive impact at every club he has spent time at. A true great of our game and our club.

  29. craig oriley says

    Absolutely he is. l’ve loved watching Balmy since l was a kid and Tommy Hafey was coaching the Tigers but Balmy has those calming qualities that we needed when he came home to Richmond and as soon as he walked through the doors magic is created in a way and everyone listens and change happens. When l saw Caro on Footy Classified on Wed night l was doing a quote for work and my ears pricked up when she said Neil Balme has been taken out of the football department and my gut feeling was straight away don’t muck around Tigers if something is not broken it doesn’t need fixing and leave him to naturally do things his way. As lm writing this my feeling is that Balmey to me and the club as a whole is absolutely inspiring, motivating and all the above. l know he has 1 year to go on his current contract but from this lifetime Tiger supporter Peggy and Brendan please sign Neil so that he retires a very proud Richmond person so that he can awe inspire us all and we can all enjoy this wonderful Richmond era that with all and sundry have helped to create and we as passionate Tiger fans at the games are so thankful for eatum alive.

  30. craig oriley says

    Hi Malcolm lve been sent the wrong thankyou lm craig not John eatum alive

  31. Vic Harris says

    Have followed Richmond since 1965. Supporters love our own and hate the administers who do the wrong thing by them.
    While the majority of supporters do know Balmey his record speaks for itself and we feel that Richmond is his true home. (Apologies to all other clubs and supporters who would constantly him to be theirs. He Peggy Brendan and Damian are the reason there are 100,000+ members.
    He won’t be there forever and time will tell if the club can continue on a road unlike that which followed the 1982 loss.
    Balmey gives the club supporters the assurance that regardless of player personnel that the organization is totally solid and following a road that’s rock solid

  32. Stuart Peters says

    100% correct the most astute Football man in the game he bought success to Collingwood Geelong and Richmond he knows how to harness and install confidence within the Club, one of the best blokes I have met in football he is a great Bloke and a total asset

  33. Rob Bradley says

    Great football administrator. It’s no secret that wherever he’s been,that club has experienced success. We were lucky to have him for a while and got all three flags under his watch I think

  34. Graham Ferris says

    You may disagree with me but I would like to share my thoughts about Neil Balme. When people think of Balme, they think of him as an administrator and, before that, as a coach. That is a little sad although he was exceptional in both roles. People should never forget the fact that he was also an outstanding footballer, one of the the best in the VFL. I get upset that, when people mention Balme the footballer (which is not often), they only talk about the 1973 Grand Final when he king hit Geoff Southby in the second quarter. He did play a big role in that premiership but he was also capable of some magical team football as well. Tom Hafey was one who rated his team input very highly. Please remember that there have been many facets to Balme’s career and he was outstanding in all of them!

  35. Dean Michaels says

    Will go down as maybe the best Football Administrator in AFL history. The mentor, the thinker, the strategist, the influencer, not just at Tigerland but elsewhere.

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