Neil Balme – player, coach administrator: five decades of influence

 

https://www.richmondfc.com.au/news/2016-09-14/21-things-about-tiger-balmehttps://australianfootball.com/players/player/neil%2Bbalme/10383

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Balme

http://www.redlegsmuseum.com.au/ON_FIELD/THE_COACHES/Balme__Neil_A.aspx

(includes highlights of Neil’s playing career at Richmond)

Neil Balme as a player is remembered for brutal aspects when in reality he was so much more. An excellent ruckman (for SA readers, similar to Mick Redden in my opinion) and outstanding key forward who used his body very intelligently and strong powerful over head. And as Ian Day described so eloquently, a kick which would crank start a 707.

Neil played in a different era where physicality and taking someone out for the cause of winning was common place. He talks openly about it when he was the guest on Mike Sheehan’s On the Couch (also includes some fantastic highlights of his playing career at Richmond). Neil gave plenty but copped plenty and openly admits incidents like the Geoff Southby hit in the ’73 VFL Grand Final were not good, but cannot express any stronger a different era (more than a touch of irony how many people say how shocking they were but are used as highlights and promotion of our game).

Anyway, back to the beginning.

 

The player

Neil is the son of Barry and Iris with an older brother, Ian, and as Redlegs supporters in particular know, also a much loved younger brother, Craig. Neil played his junior football with Mount Pleasant amateurs then Wembley Athletic Club before joining Subiaco. He played senior WAFL footy aged just 16, making an impression in a game opposed to the legendary Polly Farmer.

Barry was then transferred to Victoria with work. Neil makes the point that unless that had occurred in all likelihood he would have played his whole career at Subiaco. While several Victorian clubs were interested in Ian and Neil’s services they signed for Richmond on the promise that they could go on the Tigers’ end of season trip (why does that not surprise me that was a successful lure, Balmey?)

The Balme family moved to Victoria in January ’69. The Tigers decided that Neil still needed fine tuning so he played Under 19s (a tad different to now days) and played in the third successive flag under Slug Jordon’s tutelage.

Neil debuted for the Richmond seniors in ’70, playing three games and by ’72 combined with Ricky McLean to kick 110 goals between them (a tad more the Bash Brothers than Chris Lynn and Brendon McCullum). Neil personally had a very good Grand Final, kicking five goals in a losing cause.

In ’73, yes it can’t be denied, Neil seemingly was on a self-destruct mission re. Geoff Southby and Vin Waite. I again emphasize that the end result justified the means was the overwhelming thought of the vast majority of people back then and the Tigers duly saluted. In ’74 Neil was an important player helping Richmond to finish minor premier, the Tigers again duly saluted, going back to back with Neil having a very good finals series. Neil was a dual premiership winner by the age of 22 (interesting to ponder re. not being rushed as a teenager and being allowed to develop slowly).

Richmond then lost several ruckmen, so in ’77 Neil played mainly as that and had his best year, coming runner up in the Jack Dyer medal. Now consider his teammates included Royce Hart, Francis Bourke, Ian Stewart, Michael Green, Kevin Sheedy, Dick Clay, Kevin Bartlett and Merv Keane who all made the Tigers’ team of the century. It shows what a achievement that was.

Neil had another good year in ’78 but severely injured his knee in ’79 and only played two games. He then surprised the VFL world by announcing his retirement aged 27. I will leave the last word by others on Neil’s playing career to Mike Sheahan:

 

16.    Neil Balme:  1970-1979, 159 games, 229 goals

Mike says: His reputation as an enforcer (opposition supporters might say “thug”) undermines his true worth as a player. A dual premiership ruckman/forward who kicked 229 goals including 55 in 1972. Mike named Neil as number 16 of his top Tiger 50 which for me describes his true value as a player perfectly.

 

Neil names Royce Hart, Kevin Bartlett and Ian Stewart as the top players he played with. He names Graeme Richmond as very influential as an administrator in his autocratic manner, again, more the method back then. Tom Hafey, he notes, was very influential, a real player’s man. Neil points out that Tom was a teetotaller and physical fitness fanatic (wouldn’t describe either of those two as your strengths, Balmey). Neil admits they didn’t have a huge amount in common but always appreciates Tommy in terms of recommending or giving references to players re. other roles.

 

The coach

Barry Richardson was a huge influence in shaping Neil’s thoughts and ideologies re. footy. In fact, it is believed that Barry was approached about coaching Norwood in 1980 but declined partly due to his own business interests and he recommended Neil for the role. There was trepidation and nervousness from just about everybody at Norwood on Neil’s appointment. What in the hell is the club doing appointing a thug as coach?

Neil quickly allayed these fears both with the playing fraternity and supporters with his personal and caring nature. In 1980, we started slowly with Neil’s philosophy of kick it long not really working – unfortunately we didn’t have a Royce Hart. To Neil’s credit he listened to senior players such as Ian Stasinowsky and Bruce Winter and made changes. The Redlegs stormed home, making the Grand Final from the Elimination Final and, alas, if not for injuries to big men Neil Button, Jim ‘Piano’ Michalanney and Ugo Colosante at bloody work, they may have pinched the flag against a star studded and very dominant Port side.

In 1981, Neil made a return as a playing coach and had a huge impact and didn’t the Redlegs faithful love it!

Interviewing Neil for the article I asked him about an incident with Stephen Kerley

 

“Balmey, righto what was it with Stephen Kerley?” Balmey replies “well there’s a funny story with that. I got on well with Stephen but he made the decision to go to North Adelaide. Anyway, I’m playing full forward, he’s playing full back and in the first quarter we kick eight points. Well, I’m back from the goal square and each time Kerls kicks the ball to himself and runs off so Kerls’s stats are looking very good. I had advised Kerls in the quarter that it may not be in his best interests to do that and the chance came to apply some physical pressure (I am laughing) so I obliged”. I said “of course you had to check his ribs out as well as his head”. Balmey laughs and says “I can’t help my lack of balance”.

 

The ’81 Preliminary Final weather wise is the most bizarre day I have been at. The bloody wind changed at quarter time. You could actually feel it happening and it was a gale. It really was a case of win the toss win the game. As a result, the SA footy public was deprived of Neil Balme v Port Adelaide.

The highlights of Neil’s coaching career at Norwood include the flag in ’82. The Redlegs were the dominant side in the second half of the year and after close fought wins against Sturt and Port destroyed Glenelg in the grand final.

In 1983, Geoff Wilson and I went to Melbourne to watch Norwood play Footscray in the Sterling Cup night series competition – a collation of all the sides over Australia. We caught the train to Glen Waverley and then a bus to Waverley – basically good luck with getting back to the city from there. Norwood won and we organized to get the bus back with the players. What resulted was one of the great nights of our life.

Now what happens on tour stays on tour but recovery back then was a beer followed by another beer. Now, I was a tad young and naive and the night was a education but I reckon it was more educational for our No. 7 ( hint: may now have a reasonably important role at Port Adelaide). Feel free to comment anyone who was there. Ohh, what a night!

The history makers flag in ’84, coming from fifth to defeat Port Adelaide by nine points in an epic grand final was sensational and ironically the only time I ever thought of Craig Balme as Neil’s brother. Under Neil’s coaching, thinking of the fun and games between Craig and Tim Evans, this could get really interesting if Craig is like Neil in a Grand Final. In reality there wasn’t really much in it. A bit of push and shove but by geez it worked a treat as it really put Tim Evans off his game, particularly early. It can be revealed now it was the brainchild of the late Ian Stasinowsky (thanks Staz!)

Celebrations 1984 Grand Final night including the famous song, Balmey, sorry we made you wait.

Other thoughts re. Neil’s 11 year coaching tenure at the Parade where Norwood played finals in each of those years (an achievement in itself). In 1986, Norwood FC was rocked by the death in a work accident of the late great Jim Thiel just before the finals. Neil admits that both he and the club would have handled several things differently.I immediately thought of the brilliant comment by Brenton ‘Sticks’ Phillips re. Bali: “hey ‘book they don’t give you a manual on how to handle terrorism”. Exactly the same re. grief. Jim was a revered man at the Parade – a real leader!

Jim, while recently retired, had played with a lot of the players who were playing against Woodville and we just struggled handling it and trying to perform. Neil makes the point that Jim was as tough as anyone he played with or coached. We shared several Jim Thiel stories and I remarked to Neil “hey, we never had any problem with David Granger playing against Port with Jim playing”.

While there are a lot of people who think Norwood underachieved in the ’80s, I have mellowed in time on that thought. In reality in ’82 two of our finals and in ’84 three of our wins could have gone either way. It really is a fine line between pleasure and pain (there you are John Griffen), there were a couple of very close finals losses which could have gone our way. There are other clubs who feel they underachieved also.

Neil and John Wynne worked perfectly together in my opinion with John the protector from abuse at times. At various places, footy wise, 28 with his left field thoughts and Neil with his calm thoughtful manner was a great combination.

Balme cannot speak highly enough about the doyen of administrators, Wally Miller. Wally was at times a mentor, confidant, advisor and a myriad of other things both to Neil and the Norwood FC. I have no doubt whatsoever that Neil constantly thinks in his administration roles over time about how Wally would have handled this problem. Neil also rates Glen Rosser extremely highly re. administration.

In interviewing Neil we discussed players who performed in the crunch situation. Neville Roberts and Phil Gallagher were two from Norwood who featured strongly. Neil points out it was a privilege to coach the Norwood FC and that Norwood were extremely professional and well in front of several VFL clubs. He coached a number of champions and very good footballers who would have walked into any VFL side. With the Premierships and the people he met along the way the highlight and didn’t the Redlegs Club pump on a Saturday night in particular in the old days.

From Glen Rosser:

 

Hi Malcolm,

Neil’s memory for names is exceptional and even now, after all these years, he still remembers everyone’s name from his days at Norwood many years on when he meets up with them again.

One funny story I remember was we were playing West Torrens at Thebarton and I was sitting alongside Neil as Assistant Coach, and there was a West Torrens big mouth supporter standing right behind the coach’s box on the fence and ripping into Neil and our players all the game.

At three quarter time we had played very poorly and were about 5/6 goals behind and when the Eagles kicked the first goal of the last quarter going with the breeze the loudmouth yelled out “it’s time to hit the panic button, Balmey!”

Neil turned around straight away and responded with “well you fellows know where it is!!”

From then on we dominated, kicking the last 7/8 goals of the game to win.

Cheers Glen

 

Early in the last quarter of that game, a West Torrens player took a mark and, instead of passing to a unmarked player in the goal square, he twirled the ball above his head and missed. Greg Thomas then put on a clinic kicking four goals and the ‘legs came from the clouds. In the rooms afterwards, I remember the above supporter getting a mention and, as Geoff Wilson remembered, the very entertaining debate between Michael Aish and Tom Warhurst to be the club representative on the Channel 9 footy show. Both were very keen as Kym Dillon was usually West Torrens’s representative and he may have been the player who twirled the ball above his head.

Another time, Neil had two pairs of boots for training and a player had put a egg in one of the boots with a very slight crack in the egg. Balme hadn’t used the boots for a while and when he went to put the boots on pressed firmly. It cracked utterly and I am reliably informed the smell was putrid. Ricky ‘Steamboat’ Pearce was blamed but, finally, all these years later it can be revealed the prankster was Alby Menzel (I admit Balmey, Alby would have been my first suspicion).

John Wynne points out great people leave great legacies and are remembered and sought out at reunions with affection. Neil ticks all the boxes!

Neil departed Norwood at the end of ’90 and was chosen as the inaugural coach of Woodville-West Torrens, the amalgamation of Woodville and West Torrens. Fanatical Eagles man and board member, Darcy Evans, remarked: “When I met Neil and got to know him, I understood why you Norwood guys spoke with so much affection about Balmey. He was the perfect person to unite two playing groups and supporter bases with his communication ability and calming manner.”

Neil working with Bruce Winter played a huge part in the Eagles achieving the holy grail in ’93 under Bruce’s coaching (yes, unfortunately against Norwood).

Another highlight of Neil’s coaching career in SA was coaching the state team against WA in Perth. The side was packed with young SA stars: Bradley, Motley, Anderson, McIntosh, A and D Jarman, Aish, Kernahan. Neil a few weeks out rang Malcolm Blight who was back at Woodville and told him “I reckon you should play”. Blighty accepted and kicked a casual seven, Stephen Kernahan kicked six and SA thumped WA (I reckon Balme and Blight together after the game would have had a bit of fun!)

After Woodville-West Torrens, Neil accepted the coaching role at Melbourne FC which began in ’93 and ended abruptly after Round 9 in ’97. It included a Preliminary Final loss against a rampant West Coast in ’94, the year in which Neil was chosen as the All Australian coach. For critics of Neil’s tenure at Melbourne it must be pointed out that David Schwartz (who was Carey-like with his ability to physically dominate a contest and the jump aboard ‘follow me’ attitude), Garry Lyon gun forward and leader, and very influential midfielder Stephen Tingay all missed huge amounts of footy through injury (hell, he even lost Todd Viney for a while to have a crack at tennis coaching).

His time at Melbourne didn’t end well under Joseph Gutnick’s leadership. Yes, the Dees needed his $$$ but it always should apply that people of his experience should not make football decisions. Neil and the players were also caught up in the proposed merger with Hawthorn in ’96 which certainly didn’t make his job any easier.

Neil then worked in the media for a year in a variety of roles with 3LO and the Age and I admit I had forgotten on 5DN doing an afternoon sports show (Balmey quite rightly had a crack at me for forgetting that as I was one of his regular callers). My favorite radio call to Neil was when he was on SEN with Kevin Bartlett. I asked Neil how he would compare Jim Thiel and Craig Kelly as players. Neil replies “you’re probably better qualified than me to answer that”. My response was I consider Jim Thiel the better player. Neil says “so do I” and the station is then inundated with callers saying but Craig Kelly is a Collingwood premiership centre half back. Balmey responds “I know it will shock a lot of Victorians, there were a hell of a lot of good SA footballers out there”
(always loved that Balmey saw the whole picture).

 

The administrator

Neil has been involved in footy administration since and is born for the role. His footy smarts and rationality is just so vital, it is no accident that success has followed. Only a contentious goal umpiring decision cost Balmey being involved in a ‘pies flag in 2002. Neil loved his time at Geelong and holds Brian Cook in similar esteem as Wally Miller – enough said!

He also thinks it is unfair to compare any other back-man to Matty Scarlett (I am on the same plane – Scarlett was brilliant standing a man and keeping him under control, not just the plus one role). Jimmy Bartel and Stevie Johnson just standing up time after time in the crunch, and in awe of Gary Ablett. Bomber Thompson back then was switched on and a fantastic coach and Chris Scott was a more than capable replacement.

Neil made the decision to leave Geelong – typically a very unselfish decision in that Steve Hocking had moved into marketing and Neil felt he was ready and had the skillset to be Football Manager. Neil moved back to Collingwood for two years and then to Richmond in 2017. His ability to rationalize and have a more clear-thinking approach was just what the Tigers needed. Desperate clubs make desperate decisions. The old “think it over and get back to me in the morning” works a treat in life in general.

In chatting to Neil, we were enthusiastically discussing women’s footy and I said I went to the 2018 SANFL women’s Grand Final. Honestly not expecting Norwood to win (South Adelaide had dominated the competition to that point while Norwood just scraped through the Preliminary Final), I have always felt it’s more important to be around for a loss than a win. What I witnessed was the most together and united group I have ever seen, desperately competing for every possession. Even the players who had missed selection supporting vociferously.

Neil replied “Malcolm, it’s ironic you mention that as that is exactly what the Richmond 2017 side was like. Just so united and caring of each other. For mine it was like the planets perfectly aligned re. arrivals and departures to create this atmosphere!” When you think Neil has been involved in footy at senior level for five decades that is remarkable by the Tigers and helps explain the result.

Neil is married to Carmel with children Kate, Jarrod, William, and Georgia and is proud of their achievements re. study and in life and has a close family relationship in general.

Summing up, Neil has had a remarkable career in footy playing, coaching and administration and left a huge positive imprint on each club he has been involved with and the game in general. A magnificent positive legacy!

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Excellent read Book. One of your best. Your comment regarding the 2018 Lady Legs was also spot on.

  2. One of your best “Rulebook.” It seems Balmey has the capacity to fit in and adapt at any club and make a significant contribution. Fond memories of ’81 Prelim when the Bays had the wind for three quarters! Balme just a great football person and still going strong.

  3. Chris Kendall says

    Great read, Malcolm. Was at a few of Neil’s games as a playing coach and his presence was enormous. Innovative coach whose strength in communication was vital to bringing the group so united for the 2 flags. Arguably should have won more but it was a powerful SANFL era. One of our all time greats.

  4. Bill Drodge says

    Well done Malcolm; great read!

    Balmey has certainly done it all, and at some stage should be recognised for his entire involvement in the game (not sure many others have done it all like him).

  5. Martin Rumsby says

    Balmey is a larger than life character who has experienced success in all aspects of the game in his more than 40 years of involvement with it. Another entertaining and informative article, Malcolm, about one of the legends of Australian Football. I particularly enjoyed viewing his interview with Mike Sheeehan and the footage of Neil’s playing days at Norwood.

  6. All these articles are great Malcolm, but I think this might be my favourite one yet. Such an interesting character Balmey and will always be revered by the Parade faithful. One question mate, I’m guessing Balmey and Rocky crossed paths at Punt Rd and that played a part in Rocky becoming a Redleg? Thanks again Book for another outstanding read.

  7. Love Balmy. Very under rated player and one of the keys to Geelong’s recent premiership successes. I’ve always admired his directness.

    Great work RB. Really enjoyed the read.

  8. Scott Brownrigg says

    My favourite read of yours Malcolm. As a 10 year old I recall how aghast my red and blue blooded father was when Norwood announced “that thug Neil Balme'” (his words) as coach. It didn’t take long for him to change his opinion and realise what an amazing coup The Legs had pulled off by getting Balmey to the Parade. I particularly like your comment regarding the thoughts of ‘underachieving’ after 84. I have been one who has looked back and thought gee, we should have won more flags than the 2 while Balmy was there. But you have accurately presented just how strong the SANFL comp was, and how it was literally a fine line between success and failure. Making the finals every year was a brilliant achievement that shouldn’t been so easily discarded. Magnificent times and read. Well done.

  9. As per usual, a superb read Malcolm. I always wondered why Mike Nunan was overlooked as Norwood’s coach in 1980 when Balmey got the job. perhaps one day you could reveal the nitty gritty. My one big regret of Balmey’s tenure was when the weather conspired against us in the ’81 Prelim Final robbing us the chance of tangling with Port in the GF. It was common knowledge that Balmey was keen to say hallo to Mr Granger in his special way in that match. The only real criticism the fans had of Neil’s coaching was that he had too much faith in his players and wasn’t quick enough to swing changes. Against Centrals when Roe had the wood on Aishy, Neil should have played Michael at full forward or half forward. In other words, he lacked a PLAN B.
    For all that, I loved the big man and the ’82 and ’84 Grand Finals will live forever in my mind.

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Book.
    Balmy was never properly appreciated at Collingwood. Our loss was Geelong’s and Richmond’s gain.
    He also did a great job to coach Melbourne to a Prelim in 1994. Cheers

  11. I’m not surprised that Stazza planned the Evans / Craig Balme incident in the ’84 GF. Over the years Stazza had a great deal of success countering Evans. Craig Balme was a most underrated player, even amongst Redleg fans. I loved watching him play, a great team man especially when rucking. I confess i really enjoy Neil’s frank interviews on the telly – straight from the heart and none of the bull dust you often get from others.
    In my humble opinion Neil Balme is a giant of the game. Keep you’re brilliant profiles coming Rulebook.

  12. Great article Malcolm. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Balmey personally, but would love to, he’s always seemed such a gregarious, good bloke, though not to be messed with on the field!

  13. Very good read, MA. I was behind the goals at the southern end of FP at the 1984 GF as Craig Balme and Evans had some pre-opening bounce catching-up to do. Started a wonderful afternoon of football magic.

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Another cracker ‘Book.

    For some reason, I can still recall that Balme worked as State Sales Manager or similar for Renown and Pearlite for much of his time at the ‘Legs, so he did ok off the field as well.

    It says a bit that he was prepared to not only retain his involvement in footy after getting the Khyber from Diamond Joe, but he thrived (as did the clubs that he went to)

  15. Craig Balme says

    A great read – sorry I was not available to contribute. Its great seeing everyones positive comments about Neil. He is a terrific big brother and to this day still provides me with calm & considered advice relating to managing people and ensuring the culture is right for success – arguably Neils greatest skill, and a skill that has seen success occur at all the clubs clever enough to secure his services. Thanks Malcolm!

  16. Great to hear from you Craig, a Norwood legend in your own right that will always hold a special place in Redleg fans memories. Hope life is treating you well.

  17. David Clark says

    Good stuff Malcolm a very interesting article being a long time Richmond supporter/member great memories of the big man standing tall during many clashes with Carlton. Was surprised with his coaching record at the Redlegs never missing finals and I know how much he is loved and revered at the Tigers great man great article

  18. Robert Bryson says

    A great man at the club during his tenure. Friendly approachable and interested to hear what club members had to say. He was a favorite of players and supporters. He has become a terrific football club leader in the AFL.

  19. Great read Malcolm. Even for a North supporter who couldn’t understand at the time why/how Balme was getting away with belting Kerley. At another time I need to find out more about your 83 trip to Melbourne!

  20. Cracking read Book! You’re getting better with age – just like Balmey.

  21. Cameron Glenn says

    Another good article :)

  22. Tim Wedding says

    Neil Balme, the man that will be forever etched in my memory as the guy standing on the boundary line in the Redlegs sweater, arms folded and glaring at either a dubious free kick or act of thuggery from an opposition player. What a figure he was. Thanks for the article, fascinating read. What a history he has with our great game.

  23. Michael Rehn says

    A great read as usual Malcolm, about another great man of Norwood. Neil Balme brought a lot to Norwood, two Premierships are tangible results, but he also developed an inner strength and fighting quality within each player which showed up in our come from behind victories like the one at Thebarton in 1984, and of course our whole finals campaign in 1984. I really think Neil Balme as a Norwood person and quality coach deserved at least another Premiership with us…I feel all of us as a club under performed a little in that 1985 to 1990 period. I will, as old supporters tend to do remember that decade of the 80s with fondness, because we saw some absolute greats, and some superb football with Neil Balme at the helm. I have the utmost respect for Neil Balme !!!

  24. Peggy Knowles says

    Malcolm really liked your write up on Balmey. I remember when he was just appointed. Thursday nights was our night for dining at Redlegs. Bob Farnham came down to our table and Betty Ward and I asked him about Neil adding we didn’t no much about him.Bob told us not to worry. “He will grow on you” and grow on us he did!Neil is one of my favorite people of the NFC!

  25. Kevin Hammond says

    Well done malcolm. Balmys presence was enormous, luvd his playimg days ar norwood, his presence wheever he went was evident, even today at Richmond, i will never forget the respect he got when returned to parade after going to eagles,

    he made me walk proud n tall in my duffle coat

  26. Chris Brown says

    As others have said above, I think this is one of your best articles to date Malcolm. I was nearly 9 when Neil was appointed coach and in 1980 I first joined as a club member and haven’t missed a year since. So in so many ways I grew up with Norwood and Neil Balme. It was a pleasure to go to school every September with your club playing finals!
    I would have liked to have heard Balmey’s thoughts on Macca. In many ways they had so much in common with their on field and their off field personas. And they must have been a great complement to one another – another case of “planets aligning” perhaps?
    It has always been great to follow his career post-Norwood. There is a real sense of pride seeing Norwood people earn respect across the national game for their abilities as players, coaches, or administrators. And that time of his appointment – 1980 – was such an era where Carmel Court and sheer talent was found, developed and “harvested”. Think of the people around at that time who went on to big things. Bob Hammond, Neil Balme, Neil Craig, Mike Nunan, Wally Miller etc. I hope Balmey gets some kind of national acknowledgement and recognition beyond being in our Hall of Fame. He is appreciated in the game but curiously I wonder if many have ever reflected on his sizeable contribution. And that’s probably because Balmey is not a “big” ego or big personality. He just does his thing but boy, he does it damn well.

  27. Richard Wyatt says

    I was a trainer at the redlegs at the time Neil coached
    and I will never forget his incredible people skills. Once he met you treated you as an equal and never forgot a name. A giant of the game who should be formally recognised by the AFL for his contribution.

  28. Dean Bogisch says

    A very informative read Malcolm. A true champion at Norwood, and beyond. Learnt more than I knew about Neil.

  29. Reading your outstanding tribute to Neil Balme Malcolm, and the very interesting comments, I couldn’t help but think that, with a little bit of luck, we could have had 4 out of a possible 5 Premierships. ’80, ’81 and ’82 and ’84. If only Rocky had come over a year earlier that would surely have made a hugh difference. I still have nightmares about that big wind change in the ’81 Prelim Final costing us any chance of knocking off the Bays. One thing is for sure, the boys would have put up a better show than the toothless Tigers in the GF. Like many of our other supporters, I also believe the Legs under performed from ’85 to ’90 considering the talent at the club.Watching highlights on You Tube etc is much more enjoyable than watching the modern day game – in my opinion anyway. The Neil Balme way of playing was very exciting to watch.

  30. Great read Mal & have been looking forward to this articles. I can’t comment about Neil’s playing days due to before my time however I would have to say he would be one of the greatest football administrators the game has ever seen & everywhere he goes the team does win premierships.

    Keep up the good work & go the Tiges.

  31. The personal interview and/or quotes are what make your articles unique Rulebook. And of course the comments of other integral to the story

  32. Michael Browne says

    Great read and it was good to see 84 footage at the redlegs club

  33. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful read Malcolm.
    What a career and contribution over many years by Neil Balme. Particularly enjoyed reading about his time at Norwood, which, as a Victorian, I knew very little about.
    Have always enjoyed Balme’s media work, a very considered and intelligent football thinker.
    What a shame he’s not still at the Pies.

  34. This article was worth the wait, Rulebook! Tough player, clever coach and administrator. His tenure and success which coincides his time with the Legs, Eagles, Pies, Cats and now Tigers is phenomenal. Deserves billing as one of the greats of the game.

  35. Great stuff, Rulebook. Balme, for all of the reasons you have outlaid, is a fascinating character. Such a seeming contrast from the on field persona to the man who now we see more the outcomes of his work behind the scenes in the success at every club at which he works. Of course, it’s no contradiction, people are complex and capable of being more than one thing at the same time. I loved the way the Redlegs played footy under Balme – was nothing more exciting when they’d break the ball into space and run in waves.

    As much as the 2017 AFL Grand Final hurt you’ve definitely hit on something re. the comment at the end. The team unity/unconditional esteem/heart in the contest is what draws me to women’s footy, whether it be at Hope Valley, Norwood or the Crows.

  36. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Baldy it was a privilege to watch the lady legs in last years gf.Lachlan he has a unique ability to mix with any one and be so calm and rational.Chris agree completely.Bill surely afl hall of fame beckons.Martin agree totally and thank you.JK yes Neil and Neville played together at punt rd and it played a huge part in getting,
    Rocky to the parade.Dips yes fantastic player a huge part of the cats success and thank you.Scott thank you yes older and hopefully wiser enables a more rational considered outlook.Fisho I reckon we can miss subtle changes and people accuse coaches of no plan b when in reality there are v few massive changes,K Sheedy probably the exception trust in players yes a huge strength could have been considered a weakness at times definitely a double edged sword.Phillip to say I agree is putting it mildly.Fisho Craig always gave absolutely everything never left anything in the rooms he will always also be remembered v fondly at the parade and yes
    Neil’s honesty is a refreshing change from so much of the boring cliches and garbage we are fed and Neil has left a huge legacy on a number of clubs and the game overall definitely a giant of the game.Stazza was a deep thinker about the game as well just a fantastic bloke I was doing a garden job one day ran in to Staz that was the end of gardening for the day the fountain inn front far called,RIP Staz missed greatly.
    Peter just a quality football person.Bizz what a great afternoon ! thanks folks and the sharing of the article is greatly appreciated as well

  37. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Swish a oversight on my behalf yep Neil worked for Renown and Pearlite in Victoria before coming to SA and it was nearly 14 years in total I think and yes v well respected in business also agree totally re Diamond Joe and thriving since.Craig aka the King of Mandurrah least I got to no your message well last week and seriously love your comment succinctly put v well said thank you.David glad you enjoyed the article and v much so I think in that the well respected,Mike Sheahan rates him at number 16 in his best 50 tigers says it all.Robert loved your words v well put.Charlie it was entertaining re with Kerls and a fantastic night.TC aka storm trooper of love welcome back and thank you.Cameron thank you.Tim yes that glare was piercing incredible history with in the game and thank you.Michael well said always love your red and blue passion.
    Peggy those Thursday nights dining in the redlegs club hold special memories and Robin Phillips announcing ladies and gentlemen this weeks,Norwood side from the forward line many a night a dash from training at Bob Neil number 2 to the parade it was the legs faithful,Bob Farnham was certainly correct well and truly..Kevin the ovation,Neil received as the eagles coach at the parade in reality a testament to him as a person and showed how loved he was go the duffle coat ! ( please keep sharing the article thank you )

  38. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Chris a huge number of past players and officials which,Neil speaks of so warmly I agree entirely and admit following ex redlegs in the afl is probably my major interest in the afl eg Gags at St Kilda means suddenly a interest there and yes some big legs names have left a enormous footprint on the competition.i reckon you nailed the last part as well.Fisho it is always a fine line unfortunately we well and truly learnt that last season
    yes that bloody wind it’s interesting re watching footy back then did we just see the best bits and highlights compared to today’s saturation re afl coverage ? We were v exciting to watch tho big time.Bushy yes brutally physical but fantastic skills a absolute gun as a player I don’t think any one can dispute,Neil Balme as a great of the game administration wise.6% greatly appreciated.Michael thank you and what a night that was.
    Luke than you glad you enjoyed the article esp the legs part a deep considered so rational thinker yes the pies mmmm.Paul thank you yes definitely a great of the game.Dave well said and yes the way women are playing for the correct reasons and enjoyment of the game resonates with me also thanks folks

  39. Great article again! Seems like he’s done it all in the world of footy.

  40. Shane Growden says

    Great read Malcolm glad you included the very well respected Mike Sheahan interview showing some of his highlights as a player so many people just think of him as a thug forgetting what a fantastic player he was and how highly Mike rated him as a player holds more credence than a ex tiger players opinion

  41. Always enjoy learning more about the people behind these legendary figures Malcolm. He is a huge icon across most of the footballing states and at so many different clubs. Thanks for this one too.

  42. Craig Fester Paech says

    Good work knackers!!
    Balmey was “my Coach” as I was 12 in 1981 and spent my whole teens with him in charge.
    2 flags at Norwood and an important part of Geelong breaking our drought in 2007.
    Excellent read.

  43. Grenville Dietrich says

    One of the toughest on the field and a true gentleman off it, a legend in the WA, Vic and SA not many can say that…..

  44. John Topperwien says

    Once again a brilliant article Malcolm, showing great insight into Neil on and off the field.

  45. Peter Crossing says

    Enjoyable read, young Malcolm. Well done.

  46. Paul Harradine says

    Hey Malcolm great article you gave me an isight to the man I didn’t know all that well and now know a lot more about someone I had admired for a long time as a players coach as well as a human being albeit from a opposition perspective

  47. What a great read! Lots of effort went into this. Loved Balmy! Athug on the oval. Cold blooded. An assassin. Overshadowed just how good a footballer he was. Would love to meet the man.

    Well done again, mate!

  48. Joe De Petro says

    A great piece on a great football person. As a long time Richmond supporter, I have always thought his stint in the ruck for the Tigers in the late seventies was greatly underrated. He was almost as important as KB during this period.

    He spoke at a supporters’ function that I attended a couple of weeks ago. He made a number of honest, candid and incisive observations. He followed each one up with a wink of his eye, a wry smile and the words, “Did anyone understand what I just said?”

    He is a delight to listen to and is unbelievably generous with his time. Sure, it is probably part of his job to do these functions but that doesn’t mean that when it is over he has to hang around for another half hour and chat with nuffies like me. But he does.

  49. Geoffrey Wilson says

    Another great piece of work Malcolm, you have done very well to define the Great Mans work in this article, with a true Norwood bias that we would expect. Neils incredible influence at Norwood is remarkable, from the players to the staff to the supporters, he treated everyone as equal, just ask John Evans, his trusty ball steward.

    My 91 year old Mother demanded me to print this off, so she could read it,She and my late Father Norm would always have a chat with Neil in the Magnificent Redlegs Club, they always spoke incredibly highly of him.

    Surely Neils Achievements in over 50 years of footy at the highest standards will see him inducted into The SANFL and AFL Hall Of fames. Critics say we should have won more Premierships, I say yeh maybe with a touch more luck we might have, but it was a great era.

    All in all an incredible insight into a true legend of the game, well done Malcolm, congratulations Neil, still getting over the Crows losing the GF in 17, but all the best.

  50. Thanks Malcolm for sharing Alby’s highlights reel. He was a courageous player, a NFC leading goalkicker and a great team man.
    As for Balmy, what a fantastic manager of men. On a personal note, a wonderful support to me of the many issues we face as a human being outside the world of (semi)professional football. The fact that AFL premierships have followed him from Collingwood to Geelong to Richmond is a testament to Balmy’s character.
    Always good to catch up with him. Btw he has told me on occasion not to share this with anyone – ‘he loves his job.’ Lucky man.

  51. Peter Tisato says

    Malcolm. I certainly enjoyed reading the article. I’ve always been impressed by Neil Balme, especially how he speaks and presents himself. His football status cannot be questioned. Peter Tisato

  52. Michael Coligan says

    Another great Norwood past player profile Malcolm. I was at the MCG in 1973 for the Richmond v Carlton grand final with my mate ‘DB’ Denis Browne and 116,954 others. We were guests of Carlton Football Club (my uncle Harry ‘Soapy’ Vallence was a great Carlton full forward) and supporting the mighty Blues. In the first four minutes of the game Laurie Fowler had ‘shirt-fronted’ John Nicholls and knocked him out cold, although he did recover, albeit very groggy, and kicked the goal after receiving a 15 metre penalty. In the second quarter the No.21 for Richmond with the long flowing hair ‘took-out’ the great Geoff Southby, and after that incident we could sense this was not going to be Carlton’s day. Neil Balme’s reputation as a tough uncompromising footballer has always preceded him but to meet the man is another matter. Where ever Neil has been involved with football success has followed. He had great respect for Tom Hafey who would not berate his Richmond players but would encourage them to be positive and to take responsibility on the field. Even at Melbourne he was one of the first AFL coaches to empower his players and treated them with respect. Neil was inducted as a Norwood Hall of Fame member in 2008 for his decade long tenure and premiership success at the club and I am sure Australian Football Hall of Fame status will be awarded to him in the future for his significant contribution to our great game.

  53. Good read again Rulebook. The early eighties Legs under Neil Balme brings back my earliest memories of watching footy at Norwood Oval. Well done.

  54. Excellent read Malcolm one of your best

  55. Malcolm, Great to catch up with you. I really enjoyed reading the article. An accurate representation of a great time at the Redlegs. Norwood is certainly a wonderful Footy club and I was very privileged to have spent so much time there. Really good to be reminded of the people and the good and bad times. Wonderful memories and so hard to believe it was 29 years ago.

  56. Loved Neil he’s great bloke did some awesome stuff for Norwood and now doing things for the tigers great man and great article guys

  57. Brett Zorzi says

    Great read Rulebook, keep them coming.
    Never met the great man but Stazza would often tell me stories. Ten years of finals footy, amazing achievement. He turned the demons around very quickly and made them extremely exciting to watch. One of those guys that success just keeps following him….legs, cats, pies, tigers.

  58. Matt Huppatz says

    Great article Rulebook.
    Only met him a couple of times, but Dad use to deal with him when he was involved with packaging (bags etc.) when we were in supermarket business, and is a great bloke. Also one of my friends is his brother in law, one day was able to go to MCG after Melb v Crows game in all Crows gear (yes I’m a Richmond man, but beginning following Crows as second team, yes I know??) but was very welcoming of the group.
    I do remember as a kid (11 years old) sending a team sheet for the ‘84 side suggesting certain changes and thoughts of team etc. in the middle of the year when we were traveling badly at that time.(think we were anchored towards the bottom of table st that stage.) This was addressed to Neil’s work I think. Anyway, we as kids liked to think this helped lol ?, as we had that comeback at Thebarton against Eagles which started our mighty roll to being History Makers. We still think we helped with that history making fyear with our team sheet ????

  59. Michael Charles Aish says

    Remarkable Football career. Neil’s reputation as a rough and tough player( to put it nicely) was well known. We had no idea what sort of coach he would be. I can say that he coached nothing like the way he played. He was pretty well relaxed and never really went off at all.Neil had a great sense of humor and a great footy brain. Another great Norwood man. Fascinating article Malcolm

  60. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Campbell thank you.Shane agree totally for mine gives far more credibility.Mickey thanks mate.Fester thank you.Grenville well said.John and Peter thank you.Paul glad to get a opposition players perspective.Matt thank you he’s a great bloke.Joe v much so and that is Neil to a t.Geoff yes always a strength of Neil’s to treat every one equally and I can hear your mum making you print the article glad to hear and yes surely the afl hall of fame beckons.Neags love the line re Alby ( I reckon he is telling every one they must watch the links ) and yes you have always spoken highly of Neil in that regard as we both would say he gets it and yep success following,Neil is no coincidence thanks folks

  61. As usual Ashy your passionate endeavours in writing have come to the fore. I was involved with Norwood during Balmie’s time and found him softly spoken, humble but very strong in his views and application to get the message across. I like many other Norwood people, loved the guy. It’s not surprising to me that everywhere he’s gone in his footy journey the team has been ultimately successful.

  62. Great article as usual Ashy I was involved at znorwood during Balmies time and found him
    Tone very friendly quietly spoken and humble Burt strong in his application and was respected by everyone at Norwood Its no surprise time that he’s been successful wherever he’s been in his football journey

  63. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Peter thank you.Michael didn’t no re Soapy Vallence ! Thank you yep well said meeting,Neil completely different than the persona as a player yes success has followed totally agree re Hall of fame.Raf and Raj thank you.Neil thank you for being so generous with your time and so honest look forward to catching up in
    Melbourne.James thank you.Matt there is enormous respect for Neil in the packaging business and yep thanks for winning us the flag in 84.Michael yes remember the nervous apprehension amongst players and supporters when,Balmey was appointed he blew that out the water pretty quickly.Johnno don’t reckon I have heard a official ever say a bad word about Neil a huge testament to his character thanks folks

  64. Ross Dillon says

    I remain amazed re those who can remain in the football system for as long as NB has
    because the ‘ beast ‘ has a habit of spitting every one out sooner or later .
    Few step down on their own terms … even Norm Smith , Tom Hafey , Kevin Sheedy ( the
    ultimate survivor ) , FOS Williams , Jack Oatey etc .
    NB has survived in the game in a multitude of roles at a multitude of clubs and he retains
    a positive image

  65. Jeff Milton says

    Malcolm clearly his ability to manage people and footballers is exceptional.Such an intimidating presence on the field but so calmly spoken off the field.Always gets the best out of people around him. Still have fond memories of the first 5 minutes of the 1984 GF when Norwood opened up that 2 goal lead largely due to free kicks given away by Port players responding to Neil’s brother’s words and actions. Norwood appeared to have every player other than Craig Balme highly focused on playing footy, whilst Craig created havoc with the Port players in those crucial opening minutes.

  66. Great article mate,
    Balmeys playing achievements were significant, his coaching philosophy and influence were known by all who know him, being 67 and still involved at the pointy end at AFL level says it all.

  67. Hey Book, great article on a sensational football player, coach and administrator.
    Every club he’s involved with has improved dramatically on and off field.
    And most importantly, he’s now back at Tigerland doing magical things!

  68. Stan the Man says

    He took on St Kilda’s Big Carl Ditterich…… that says it all !!!

  69. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Ross v well said yes a huge achievement to be involved at senior level for 50 years.Jeff definitely a elite man manager and no doubt what so it was a master plan re Tim Evans it worked a treat and settled so much better than the magpies and Craig was always in control he did it perfectly.Riverboy you nailed it.Jags success following,Neil is no coincidence what so ever.Stan the man as you no,Balmey never worried about who the player was or what size unlike a few others thanks folks

  70. As an 11-year old I remember attending a sportsman’s night at the Brighton and Seacliff Yacht Club in 1983, compered by Tony ‘Pilko’ Pilkington (smoking a cigar during the evening, I recall) and featuring Neil Balme and headline speaker Max Walker. Despite the fact he was deep in Bay territory, Balme held the crowd with engaging, witty and profound commentary and entertaining anecdotes. My parents were Norwood supporters, so there was always respect at home for his efforts at the Parade – especially when the Redlegs took the Magpies down a notch.

  71. Doug Wade says

    Great read Rulebook that Panther game up the top was the 1st SANFL game I’d ever seen when Balmey kick 7…I’d never heard a crowd roar like that before it’s always stayed with me

  72. Willow Wilson says

    Nice work as always Book.
    I really enjoyed Balmey’s work when he coached Norwood and since then the teams he has been around have enjoyed success. His knowledge of the game and communication skills appear to be key strengths.

  73. David Chadwick says

    As a 21 year old Soccer player for Campbelltown City I did my knee in 1980 and had my first knee op. Balmy came in to the hospital to visit a young Norwood Reserves player. Jason Archer as I recall. After spending a considerable amount of time talking to him, he walked towards the door of our ward. Must have spotted I was feeling a bit down in the dumps and he came over and sat on my bed. I reckon he spent another half an hour chatting to me and reassuring me that things would be ok. Didn’t know me, no benefit to him or Norwood. Some people are just special. Respect.

  74. Eugene Arocca says

    Well done Malcolm. Good read about one of the truly great people in football. He is one person who is universally loved and respected by the whole industry.

  75. Hiram Holliday says

    Balmey, it was actually 39 years ago! I can remember meeting up with you and Kevin Sheedy for lunch on the Gold Coast QLD in around October 1980 after I’d been trying to recover from a knee reconstruction!!

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