Gary Brasier – Tigers Tragic

WHEN black and yellow fans came out of the woodwork in late 2017 as Richmond celebrated its first premiership in 37 years, a snarling Tigers’ figurine stood on my mantelpiece – a testament to the great Tiger spirit of my uncle Gary.

Gary was a Tigers tragic who lived far away in rugby league heartland after most of his immediate family moved north of the border in the early 1970s.

“Gaz”, as he was known, died in 1990 in tragic circumstances, but his spirit, wherever it resides, would have been moved by the Tigers’ gutsy efforts against the talent-rich Greater Western Sydney in the preliminary final and the hot favorite Adelaide in the grand final.

Gary Brasier and most of my father’s family had moved to Sydney in 1971, leaving behind the passionate footy club both Gary and his father, Joseph followed.

But despite the move to Sin City, Gary retained his strong love of the yellow and black. During a holiday stay in the Sydney suburb of Dee Why – Manly Warringah territory – in the mid 1970s I remember sleeping in his large bedroom and being impressed by all the Richmond paraphernalia festooning his walls. Gary’s room was a shrine to Richmond, with premiership photos and other triumphalist mementos including the prowling tiger I now have in my room taking pride of place.

Though he lived more than 1000km from the MCG, Gary thoughts were never far away from the hallowed turf and the nearby Punt Rd oval, the spiritual home of the Tigers.

In a nod to another era – the 1960s – Gary told me how he loved to get to the MCG early – 8am – for the under 19s match. He also took in the reserves and then finally the seniors. “It was heaven. I loved it,” he recalled in the 1980s.

His passion for the Tigers knew no bounds. He could recite the famous sides of the 1960s line for line, and his favorite players were Francis Bourke, Billy Barrot and Dick Clay – the Bourke-Barrot-Clay centreline which propelled Richmond to premiership success in 1967 and 1969.

His big regret was that he was not at the 1973 and 1974 grand finals when the Tiger triumphed.

He told me that when he walked into a New South Wales RSL club to celebrate the 1973 flag, his Sydney mates asked what he was so happy about. “The Tigers have just won the flag,” he said. They replied with: “Gary, what are you talking about, Balmain (an NRL side) are not even in the finals.”

Gary, a carpenter, was very much the epitome of a Tiger fan back then – working class, Catholic and a resident of Melbourne’s less affluent suburbs.

Richmond the suburb back then was intensely working class, with migrants and fourth and fifth generation Aussies rubbing shoulders in an area dominated by breweries, factories, rough and tumble pubs, small and humble timber cottages as well as the Bridge Rd and Swan St shopping precincts with their value-for-money department stores.

There was nothing trendy about Richmond then. No fancy coffee joints or fashionable dress shops. Young professional and upper middle class families gave the place a wide berth. The place was too “rough” and uncouth for them. Melbourne’s more affluent suburbs of South Yarra and Toorak looked down over the Yarra River to the industrial heartland of Richmond. The Yarra was very much the class fault line for the city of Melbourne.

Gary grew up in that atmosphere in 1950s and 1960s in outer suburban Melbourne.

My father can remember going to the footy at Punt Road in the late 1940s and 1950s when Richmond played its home matches there. The fans were a tough and hardy bunch more used to failure than success. They had a reputation for being ferocious supporters inside and outside of the ground. They drank bottled beer and endured some hard times before the team transformed under Tommy Hafey in the mid 1960s, eventually winning the 1967, 1969, 1973 and 1974 flags. The Tigers under Hafey were very rugged and talented – just like the 2017 version. Plumber Kevin Sheedy terrorised opponents in the backline at this time, earning a tough-guy reputation that lasted decades. Richmond players like Sheedy and the intimidating Neil Balme and Robert “Bones” McGhie epitomised the Tigers’ take-no-prisoners approach to footy. Their fans loved them and opposition supporters loathed them. One more black and yellow  premiership followed in 1980 before the club experienced more than three decades of poor performances and sacked coaches. But premiership redemption finally arrived for their long-suffering fan on September 30 this year when the Tigers out-muscled and outplayed the supposedly more talented Adelaide Crows.

If he was around today Gary would be in his late seventies, but he would be pleased that his team was finally showing the old Tiger spirit. The boys ate ’em alive, Gaz!


For more Tiger tales like this one, grab a copy or two of the 2017 Tigers’ Almanac here

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