Chappelli at Sturt

Here is a sledge few of us ever endured while going out to bat: ‘You are only in the team because your grandfather played for Australia.’

That was the burden the young Ian Chappell had to bear as a school boy approaching the crease.

On reflection, he says he knew he had got under the skin of his opposition when it changed to: ‘You are only in the team because your bloody grandfather played for Australia’.

“When it got to the swearing stage I knew I was going alright.”

Like his grandfather Victor Richardson, Ian Chappell captained Australia and neither lost a test series while in charge. Richardson famously told his grandson upon being named skipper “don’t captain like a Victorian,” suggesting entertainment should be part of the plan.

Chappell considers he is “more Richardson than Chappell” and his admiration for Vic was evident as he spoke at the Sturt Football Club’s launch of two publications by its Historical and Memorabilia Committee.

“We Are Sturt” is the first volume of an encyclopaedia listing in order every player to have worn the double blue guernsey while a second smaller book tells the story of the club’s first premiership in 1915.

Vic Richardson features in both – he was a player of great ability and a leader of men. By the end of his war-interrupted 114-game career he had three premierships and 11 state appearances including captaining South Australia to a rare win over Victoria in 1923.

He showed immediate flair when on debut in round one of 1915 against West Adelaide he ran off half back to boot a long goal.

“I think Vic might have been a bit of a kick chaser,” observes Chappell.

Vic honed his skills in the backyard against older brother Osma who was an established player at Sturt by 1915.

Osma Richardson played only the first eight games of that premiership season. In July he went to war, taking with him the gift of a compass from the club.

He was killed in August the following year and is buried near Pozieres in France. The loss devastated his family.

When peace came and games resumed, the younger brother burnished a sporting career with achievement enough for two men.

In addition to football and cricket there was lacrosse, golf, tennis, squash and baseball. He was a radio commentator of note, newspaper columnist and raconteur.

After one broadcast at the Adelaide Oval, Vic accompanied by radio comic Rex “Wacka” Dawe were eating at the pie cart on North Terrace. They looked at the horse at the front of the cart and wondered what it would be like to ride. Things escalated, the horse commandeered and a lap of the city mile taken.

After a session at the Hilton Hotel in the early 1990s Ian Chappell and two cousins re-enacted the larrikin stunt by getting behind the wheel of the pie cart in Victoria Square. They drove a circuit of the city in homage to Vic.

Chappell says he takes pride in talking about his grandfather because he was more than a sportsman – he liked him as a person and a character.

One of his favourite stories is from a Sheffield Shield game at the SCG when New South Wales was dismissed late in the day leaving South Australia about 20 minutes to bat out the day.

Richardson gathered his bat and told his mate Jack “Slinger” Nitschke to follow his lead without question.

The pair walked out but rather than heading to the crease, Richardson wandered toward fine leg.

When the umpire asked where he was going he cried out “I can hear you but I can’t see you, yell out again so I know where you are.”

South Australia was granted the light and didn’t face a ball that evening.

Chappell sees some of himself in the approach of his grandfather. They both were independently minded and stood their ground. This led to arguments with his father Martin.

“I made the mistake of arguing with him but Greg reckoned he had learnt from me. He reckoned not arguing with him got him an extra hours sleep.”

After one exchange Chappell remembers his father declaring ‘you are just like your bloody grandfather’ after which he heard his mother’s voice calling from another room ‘don’t you talk about my father like that’.

“That got me off the hook.”

Given the admiration for Vic and his deep connection with Sturt it is surprising that Chappell isn’t a Sturt supporter. His cricket club was Glenelg but he didn’t follow the Tigers either. It was another family connection that steered him to West Adelaide.

“Obviously my mother Jeanne was very much Sturt and we heard a lot about Sturt but she had shit for luck. She was the only woman in the household and she got outvoted.”

Chappell’s paternal grandfather Harold ran a pharmacy in Adelaide’s west end and in keeping with the tribal lore of the inner city was a West Adelaide supporter. He also served on the club’s committee.

Martin Chappell took his three sons to see the Bloods play at a time when the club was rich in characters. In a decade they played four epic grand finals against Port Adelaide that all ended in heart breaking narrow losses.

The experience twisted the young Chappell against anything black and white.

“When I looked at Sturt’s 1915 premiership they beat Port Adelaide which endeared it to me immediately. Although I barracked for Westies I admit in the late 1960s when Sturt was beating Port Adelaide on a regular basis I was always barracking for them which made me popular with mum.

“After watching West Adelaide lose in1954, 56, 58 and 59 to those bastards seeing Sturt whipping them made my day.”

The Chappell boys played football as kids but gave it away in favour of winter baseball. It didn’t mean their interest in the sport waned.

The tribal nature of the SANFL was played out in the cricket sheds. Chappell made his debut for South Australia against Tasmania alongside John Halbert who captained Sturt at cricket and football.

The Shield side also featured Neil Hawke and Eric Freeman who wore the black and white prison bar guernsey in winter.

Chappell believes Freeman’s passion for Port Adelaide made him vulnerable.

“When he walked out to bat Les Favell would say ‘get your head down Fritz’ because he couldn’t help himself and liked to have a thrash and often not sensibly.

“But there was one supporter who used to see him coming and would yell out Carn the Pies just as he set foot through the gates onto the oval and that was the end of Fritz’s brain. He was now playing in a grand final for Port Adelaide and whoosh bang he was out.

“When he got back Les would say ‘Jesus Fritz what happened to keeping your head down’ and he would say it was just a normal shot.”

At the conclusion of the evening, the Sturt Committee presented Chappell with a series of gifts that started resembling the old World of Sport set.

He was given the books containing his grandfather’s lore, a golf cap and club tie. Finally a double blue scarf was draped around his neck as applause filled the room.

He waited for it to die down before remarking

“I can hear Jeanne saying ‘Christ I could never get you to wear that’”.

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.


  1. Ironically victor Richardson was a strike breaker on the port adelaide wharves but ian Chappell was a great shop steward for the players – the best trade union leader of the 70s

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Loved it Michael in 77-78 I got asked on the Sunday of the last shield game to sell signed small bats for the players trip fund , at that stage it looked like Sa we’re going to win the shield ( bloody Higgs and Walker bowled Sa out for the Vicd to win )
    I took the money and left over bats to the Sa rooms and Ian thanked me , I was also told once you were on Ians good side you were on his good side for life , I am pleased to say this is true. Ian was my 1st sporting hero

  3. Great article Michael love the old cricket stories

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m somehow always expecting some dark tale of Chappelli’s past to surface and undo my unceasing worship for the man.

    Hasn’t happened yet.

  5. Excellent story.
    I’ve never met Ian.
    The closest I got was standing near the lifts at the MCG before a one day game.
    I was too timid to say hello, even though I had one of his books in my bag and I’m sure he would’ve signed it.
    I admire Ian, but I was too young to remember his career.

  6. IM Chappell is God. I always batted with raised collar and box tug in his honour. All resemblance ceased there.
    VY Richardson and Bob Bower calling Shield matches on the ABC from the back row of the Creswell Stand at Adelaide Oval in the 60’s. Wooden bench seats were what once made this country great.
    Recall VYR at the opening of the Vic Richardson Gates in the 70’s on the eastern side of the oval saying he was upset that people were already calling the the Vic Richardson Memorial Gates.
    Hope the name is still on that entrance.

  7. Geoffrey Wilson says

    Ian Chappell is surely one of the all time Great Cricket Leaders, both on and off the field and one of its Great Players. I agree with the comments above, Ian is quite simply a Legend and one of my all time Sporting Heroes.

  8. Ian chappell was a great cricketer, admired by West Indies for he stood up to fast bowling , our best captain for Australia, his batting at no 3 was of attacking and toughness. 3rd Australian to reach 5000 runs in test cricket . You wanted to be watching him when he came into bat , great leader of 70s. Legend .

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