Oh for the days when the Tigers had the wood on the Swans

By Paul Daffey

In my boyhood Richmond beat teams like Sydney as if we were having a kick in the park. Robbie McGhie would send his curling drop punts (they reflected the arc of his bandy legs) towards the forward line, where Royce Hart flew from the side before wheeling on to his left foot. Neil Balme had a look of wry amusement interspersed with extreme anger, as if a bough from one of the park’s big trees had lobbed on to his head. Such events ruined his fun. They generally came at a time when the Tigers had to work for a while. Teams like South Melbourne had the role of amusing us between goals.

I realise the Swans have been a great club for a decade, but I don’t think it truly sunk in that the Tigers no longer have the wood on them until that horrible match at the SCG in Round 10 last year, when Sydney led by 100 points at quarter-time. Then, finally, I realised that our relationship had changed.

I think I’m like a lot of Richmond fans, in that I cling to boyhood memories. I’ve still got very clear recollections of a few Tigers and Swans games.

The first is of a mid-1970s day at the Lake Oval, when the wind whipped off Albert Park like Kevin Bartlett after a loose ball. It was bitter. So cold that every Swans player but one (maybe Stewart Gull, because he was very tough) wore a long-sleeved guernsey. My Nana, who’d packed an extra thermos of sugary coffee, thought the Swans were sensible. I can remember her saying it. “Aren’t they sensible?” But that’s not to say she thought the sleeveless Tigers were silly. They were just Tigers. Richmond pummelled the sensible Swans in the cold at the Lake Oval that day.

A few seasons later I was back at the Lake Oval on a still, grey day. Even now I can still see a skinny Swans wingman floating across the gun-metal sky. His red No.30 hung in the air longer than a Jim Jess torp. Then he cupped the ball gently in his hands and proceeded to earth on the shoulders of more brutish men. The player was David Rhys-Jones, an eighteen-year-old in his first year of senior footy. His hanger that day was the Swans’ one highlight for the match. All these years later, it remains the most graceful mark I’ve seen.

The last game is the 1977 Elimination Final at VFL Park. South Melbourne had clawed into fifth place in the final round after Footscray had beaten Carlton to tip the Blues out of the five for the first time for the season. Everyone was barracking for the Swans because they were so seldom in the finals. I remember walking around the far wing at Waverley and being struck by the red and white scarves. It was so different to seeing the black and white of Collingwood or the blue and white of Carlton. There was something incongruous about the Swans being there. But I didn’t feel sorry for them. I wanted the Tigers to win. Bryan Wood took a big mark, arching his back like a gymnast at the Montreal Olympics, and the Swans were never in it. They just didn’t belong at the Richmond end of the season.

Times clearly do change. The Swans have become a regular feature in September while the Tigers have been left in the outer, sipping my Nana’s coffee. But the times might be changing again. The Swans are faltering and the Tigers have won one game in a row. It was a promising win, with Jack Riewoldt taking marks up forward and Brett Deledio finding the footy again. The Tigers might just about be right on Sunday if we roll up our sleeves.


  1. Damian O'Donnell says

    Daff – I got bashed up as a little tacker by Richmond supporters at primary school because I barracked for Geelong and wouldn’t change. So I’ve had little sympathy for Richmond since. But now I’m beginning to think they have been whipped long enough. I almost (not quite) feel sorry for them. That’s probably the ultimate insult….when opposition feels sorry for your team. Maybe two in a row for the Tigers?

    Memories of Gary Malarkey and Michael Roach’s epic struggles at the MCG – they were great footy days.

  2. Dips,

    That is terrible. Not the fact that Tiger supporters belted you for being a Geelong supporter, but that you feel sorry for us. We’re not South Melbourne or Fitzroy. We don’t want anyone’s “second favourite team” condescension. Eat ’em alive. Grrrrr!

    Speaking of Michael Roach and Gary Malarkey Publications, I’ll never forget the game mid-1972, when Richmond were at their height and Geelong were second last, that the Cats beat us by 12 goals at the MCG. I can still remember being struck by David Clarke’s kicking style, but mostly I remember being thunderstruck about lowly Geelong thrashing the mighty Tigers. Did the ladder lie? My 6-year-old world was turned upside down.

    And regarding two in a row, probably not. Sigh.

  3. Curious Youngster says

    How old are you again?

    Young(er) brother

  4. None of your business.


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