Richmond – The Fall and Rise

I date the decline of Richmond to a match in our last premiership season, a match which we didn’t even participate in.

Round 4 1980 St.Kilda Vs Essendon; yep that match. We’re all familiar with this match because of the Carman/Carberry incident. That incident cost Carman a 20 match suspension and in my absolute opinion Barry Davis’ Bombers a place in the finals that year. Two weeks before, with Carman best on ground, the Dons had beaten us at the MCG.

I’m putting this proposition: if the Dons played finals that year, Davis would have kept his job in 81, Sheedy would have remained at Richmond as an assistant coach and at the conclusion of that year when the Wilson/Richmond reign of terror sacked TJ, our last premiership coach after one unlucky bad year, Sheedy would have become Richmond coach. We’d have kept master recruiter Noel Judkins and as we speak, Richmond would be searching for our 15th or 16th flag. In any case I’ll put that Cinderella story to bed and let’s consider what actually happened.

It’s time to acknowledge that the Wilson/Richmond modus operandi was self-defeating. Ian Wilson appeared on World of Sport the day after the 1982 Grand Final to accept the McClelland trophy and used the opportunity to berate the players for losing to Carlton the previous day. While the club threw all efforts into keeping the troublesome Brian Taylor, who we’d seen fit not to play in the Grand Final, club greats Cloke and Raines were courted by Ranald McDonald’s new Magpies and Bryan Wood by Sheedy’s Bombers.

Wilson/Richmond probably looked upon McDonald as some sort of boarding house gimp and decided on massive retaliation. The club secured the ill-fated Phil Walsh, Craig Stewart, Neil Peart and John Annear; handy players yes but hardly adequate replacements. With Judkins at Essendon, no more greats were coming our way from Mildura. By ’86, TJ was back and Raines wanted to return, but the club was broke. Graeme Richmond finished the year by pronouncing he wanted the club to relocate to Queensland. Club icons like KB and Jack Dyer fronted campaigns to prevent this and a bereft club sought redemption.

Nothing emerged until sadly we picked at the carcass of another battling outfit Fitzroy and struck gold with Broderick and Gale, nailed Bull Richardson’s talented boy, secured the passionate Swooper Northey as coach and finally found on field leadership in Tony Free. Freezer I think could have provided the on field leadership to propel the club to further finals appearances beyond the false dawn of 1995 but sadly he was never to play again after 1 game in 1996 due to chronic injury.

Then again maybe not, after all the club was still hamstrung by poor administration. Following a successful year, an excess of performance based contracts left us unable to keep both Chris Naish and Stuart Maxfield who were being courted by Port Adelaide and Sydney respectively. Based on Naishy’s good second half in the famous final against Essendon we opted to let Maxfield go. The guy who should have been Richmond’s next captain along with Paul Kelly is widely credited with enshrining the grit of the Bloods. The same retrograde fools also saw fit to reward Northey’s breakthrough season by sacking him.

Then, as always, our loyal fans held true. In the early 90’s one generous Tiger supporter, a grocer from Bridge Road, used to send a parcel of his finest fruit to the club for the players. One day upon meeting a tall happy go lucky Tiger in the street he inquired how the boys were enjoying the fruit. The player in question having never seen the fruit in question answered diplomatically that the fruit was greatly appreciated and thought no more of it until he saw a since disgraced administrator loading boxes of new season mangoes and pineapples into his car boot. Do you think Bob Yeomans would have pinched much from Hawthorn? No way!

In this environment I largely forgive the failure of well-meaning people like Greg Miller, Terry Wallace and others to elevate us during their tenure. We are talking about people who enjoyed success at other clubs with more unified administrations.

I write this lament in the sure knowledge that under the Peggy O’Neal/Benny Gale/Damien Hardwick troika the club has finally left this era behind. Though Tiger hearts are heavy at another finals failure the future to me seems assured. A competitive football department is in place, Punt Road redeveloped, coffers are swollen with supporter cash and I think importantly we will continue to derive a benefit from having a stand-alone VFL side.

If you doubt my thesis that a fish rots from the head down, then just check the state of our great rivals Carlton and Essendon. Heaven help those supporters if they endure the agony we Tigers have since a couple of private schoolboys, Wilson and Richmond, supplanted reason with overt brutality as a means of running an organisation.


  1. Interesting, John. Do you think the man management rot started earlier with the decision to get rid of good, loyal players to bring Pitura in?

  2. interesting article John. The Richmond side of my youth, the 1970’s, is still the best i’ve seen. Tough, skillful, with the ability to constantly over awe opponents. John Pitura hey, To my recollection he never played in a premiership side. He lasted what, a season and a half at Punt Road, before vanishing into the ether.

    How much of the paradox of this period, both the great success, with the subsequent staggering decline can be attributed to Graeme Richmond ? He is a pivotal figure in this period.

    It’s an interesting process seeing once great sporting sides decline, not able to lift themselves. Without a doubt the Windies cricket team is the worst example i’ve seen of this nature. In AFL terms Richmond is the closest to this level of ‘collapse’. Where Carlton and Essendon finish up is of no concern for me, though i’m happy to observe. Good luck with your Tigers John,it’s been a long wait, and maybe, just maybe, something good is around the corner.


  3. John

    Like you I have often pondered the misalignment of the planets that led to Sheedy going to Essendon. Had he coached Richmond, would it have made the difference you suggest? Possibly, but I have my doubts.

    Between 1981 and 1985 Sheedy turned a pretty, talented but flaky Essendon team into a brilliant, ruthless outfit. With the talent at Richmond at that time, there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t have had the same success. But the bigger issue that you’ve identified is the management regime. If Sheedy had been coach during the Wilson/Richmond reign would he have had the autonomy to run the show in the way he did at Essendon? If his first year or two hadn’t delivered a Premiership, would he have even survived?

    The Richmond decline and fall continues to provide morbid fascination, not to mention the context for the once funny but now tiresome banter whenever the Tigers lose a game. It’s a nice exercise to try and pinpoint the moment when it all started to unravel. But you can’t change history and the sooner we get over it the better.

    Your final point about the current state of the club is the important one. I don’t for a minute think we’ve got a Premiership list – there are numerous gaps and deficiencies we need to address there. But the club is now operating with stability and professionalism and the results can be seen – financial success, record membership and attendances and decent facilities. The most important aspect of this is that Richmond is at long last regaining its position as a heavy hitter in the AFL in a way teams like North Melbourne or the Western Bulldogs will never achieve, exciting teams and finals wins notwithstanding.

    If this sounds a bit arrogant, a dose of realism mightn’t hurt. In the era of free agency, I predict the movement of talent will be inexorably towards the big, powerful clubs that offer profile, the best facilities and the best prospects of success. Thirty-five years of failure have made me pretty hard-nosed about this – if Richmond wants to assemble that elusive Premiership list, it needs to be one of those big, powerful clubs.

  4. Shift T. Chaplin to full forward…

  5. Peter Warrington says

    it’s a bit harsh to accuse them of sacking Northey, it was a bit of a both parties being unfaithful sort of thing, but I definitely thought we should have done more to keep him, especially if the Carlton infiltrator was the alternative.

    Re Maxfield, his elevation to Swans talisman is intriguing. I always liked him in the mini-bloom of 93-5. But I suspect something was up before he left, there was clear dissent between he and some of the other guys like Campbell and Daffy that godforsaken PF day out at Waverley. It was the only really dark gloom on a morbidly funny day. And whilst it was sad to see him go, the arrival of Gaspar was meant to dispel that.

    96-98 were wasted years, we were good enough to make finals and do damage. Far worse teams have made the finals in other years. So it goes. At least we were winning 11 and 12 games unlike the 5 ot 6 under KB as the list was rebuilt.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great read John. Fabulous Phil has a lot to answer for, he was a incredible player to give a indication athletically he would be the equal of Fyfe unfortunately he suffered white line fever as in all likelihood he cost the pies the 77 premiership by being suspended as well so he has had a more than unfortunate influence on footy history. I think your article is pretty accurate the KB era was a terrible experience for tigers supporters to say the least. While the injury to Nathan Brown we will never no how much that stuffed up Wallace. Stainless is correct re the current list, I sum it up in that your best players win finals and the last 5 picked lose them the tigets are poorly served in both areas but their off field work will help eventually.

  7. Some observations

    Rich V Ess rd 2 1980 is the best match I have seen and I was convinced both would play finals

    Attempting to get back at Collingwood by taking ordinary players, don’t forget Wally Lovett and ? Craig Considine ?, was ridiculous in extreme.

    Losing a final does not make a wasted season, there is another team playing as hard as they can out there as well.

    The enjoyment of the big wins over top 4 teams is real and can’t be taken away.

    Great research, John

  8. John,
    It’s long been said Richmond has never recovered from the 1982 grand final.
    To lead by five goals and blow it can damage the psyche.
    Was that the moment it all started to go bad??
    Or was it Carmen and that game you spoke of??
    Hard to say.
    I think it is a combination of all manner of things.
    The historical reason is no longer important.
    The important thing is Richmond fans sticking with the club, despite 35 years of mediocrity.
    That is the amazing part about the Richmond Football Club.

  9. John – a sidepoint from that era is that Essendon went through the same Elimination Final syndrome in the 70s and early 80s as Richmond is now. They lost five, including two under Sheedy, before finally breaking through in 1983. Sometimes it just takes time…

    Matt – am I right in thinking that at our recent final Richmond fans in large part contributed to the biggest ever crowd at a North Melbourne game excluding Grand Finals? If so this underscores your last point and confirms why for the long term, I’m pretty happy to be following the Tigers.

    Rulebook – I’m intrigued to know your “last 5 selected” at Richmond. I reckon the evenness of the team over the season was a plus. Equally the loss in the final was much more to do with below par output from our top group than the efforts of the “last 5”.

  10. Stainless,is my memory correct? St Kilda, 72 &73, Fitzroy 79 & 81, with North Melbourne doing the job in 1982. Accurate ?


  11. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Stainless personally think the tigers have a number of good honest battlers Grimes,Batchelor,Hunt,Newmann along with others on the list,Vickery not good enough under pressure and in big games along with the obvious,Troy Chaplin and lack absolute elite jump aboard follow me leaders and match winners

  12. Glen – yes 5 out of 5. And they beat Carlton in 1983.

    Thanks Rulebook. Pretty harsh calls on all of those IMO. I think your comment about leadership is much more on the money. Cotchin and Deledio won’t want to perform like that in their next big game.

  13. these are all good comments and valid, but we could throw many around, the what ifs, the maybes, the truth is politics rules football clubs and egos, now we have stable admin, but we are yearning for that talented list of players, we are almost there but the depth between the top (hawthorn) and the maybes, (Richmond) remain far. I try and talk to my son about the powerful richmond teams of the 70’s- I say they were like Hawthorn… I yearn for those years.

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