“These shall not be forgotten years”: Richmond: 1981 – 2016: An occasional series of reflections on the triumphs and tragedies that made 2017 so worth the wait. 2. Impossible Wins

A recent example of the crazy struggle for oxygen in the AFL media occurred when that “highly respected footy analyst”, Campbell Brown, was moved to rate Port Adelaide as “a bigger certainty than Winx” to beat Richmond ahead of their recent meeting.

 

In the aftermath of what turned out to be a remarkable Richmond victory, I greatly enjoyed reflecting on Brown’s egregious example of foot in mouth. But I must admit that, pre-game, my expectations for our undermanned, inexperienced line-up were, at best, a gutsy honourable defeat. Winning seemed impossible.

 

That got me thinking about other occasions during our 36-year Premiership drought when I’ve had no expectation of winning and come away with that marvelous glow produced by victory against all odds. Victories that happen when you dead-set think they can’t are the ones that produce that glow that sustains you, keeps you believing. There’s scarcely a better feeling in footy.

 

So, in chronological order, here’s a selection of “impossible” Richmond victories from “the forgotten years”. Plenty of “famous” Richmond victories aren’t on this list. That’s because my criteria here is the mismatch between pre-game expectation and result, not the special nature of wins. Put simply, these are games where I saw no prospect of victory and was completely gobsmacked by the result.

 

I hope they trigger some memories and comments.

 

  1. Round 18, 1983. Richmond 19.10 (124) def. Essendon 6.14 (50)

 

Wild horses wouldn’t stop me watching the Tigers each Saturday back in the early 80s. So it’s testimony to how little hope I had about this game that I seriously contemplated not trekking across town to Windy Hill on this bleak July day. Luckily I did.

 

The Tigers were reaching the end of a season that had produced little other than misery, tumbling from minor premiers the previous year to a pitiful 10th place. The club had seen its stars David Cloke, Geoff Raines and Bryan Wood walk out at the end of 1982. Bitterness and rancour over pay, coaching and club politics swirled around those that remained, with predictable impacts on their performance. There seemed to be nothing to play for. By contrast, Essendon were striding purposefully towards a third consecutive finals series under Kevin Sheedy. They looked a monty in this one.

 

That Richmond not only won, but did so with four solid quarters, equaling our greatest winning margin against the Bombers, was simply inconceivable. A glance back over the stats sheds some insight into why the result mightn’t have been as fanciful as I thought at the time. We had a decent team in. The incomparable Maurice Rioli showed the way with a game-high 29 touches and a goal, ably backed up by premiership rovers Wiley and Weightman and journeyman, Paul Sarah. Not surprisingly, Michael Roach booted five goals but so too did…Dan Foley?? A big rangy ruck/forward I recall, Foley was playing the fourth of his 13 VFL games and landed just over half his nine career goals in this match. Some days are diamonds…

 

As if to underscore the validity of my predictions of gloom, Essendon, suitable chastened by this disastrous rout, peeled off seven emphatic victories in response. Their next loss was the Grand Final.

 

2. Round 8, 1986. Richmond 16.16 (112) def. Sydney 16.15 (111)

 

At the end of 1985, Richmond’s list was a hotch-potch of ageing Premiership players and mediocre signings, largely from our vicious trade war with Collingwood. We were also broke as a result. The only thing the Tigers had in our favour was an Under 19 group that had won the Premiership. There was only one way forward in 1986. Play the kids!

 

At the SCG this day, the “kids” included: Brendan Bower (4th game), Simon Clark (5th game), Peter Czerkaski (17th game), Jeff Hogg (5th game), Stephen James (23rd game), John Manton (17th game), Des Ryan (1st game) and Craig Smith (7th game). In this, the first year of the Geoff Edelsten era at Sydney, the young Tigers were up against an expensive assembly of experienced stars including Greg Williams, Jim Edmond, Gerard Healy, David Bolton, Bernard Toohey, Paul and Tony Morwood, Mark Browning, and of course, Sydney’s self-titled “Whiz” – full forward Warwick Capper!

 

On a big screen at the Richmond Social Club, I watched the nauseating spectacle of Capper kicking 10 goals, every one followed by a shot of the adoring Edelsten and his acolytes in their box. Yet in spite of Capper’s dominance, the Tigers kept pace in a see-sawing affair. In a hectic last quarter, our own full forward, Michael Roach, held to just four kicks on the day, booted his third goal to edge Richmond to the lead, only to see Capper again lead, mark and settle for what would surely be his 11th and match-winning goal. He missed – and the anguished faces in the Edelsten box is a memory I’ll treasure forever! The siren sounded shortly after.

 

The beer flowed freely that night at the RSC as we toasted “the kids” again and again.

 

3. Round 12, 1988. Richmond 15.20 (110) def. Carlton 12.21 (93)

 

Youth featured even more strongly in this astonishing upset of the reigning Premiers, on a slippery June Friday night. Richmond had won just two of 11 games in the season to this point and the team this night collectively had played about half as many games as their opponents. A large proportion of this experience was held by Mark Lee and Dale Weightman. Eleven Richmond players that night had played less than 20 games at this level.

 

At quarter time, the predicted thrashing was unfolding. We trailed by 26 points. From thereon, the Tigers kicked 14 goals to seven, running right over the top of a strangely lethargic Carlton. The indefatigable “Flea” led the way as usual with 33 possessions, but much of the Richmond revival was instigated by some unheralded names, again plucked from our strong Under 19s group. Tony Free and Trent Nicholls both went on to have solid AFL careers, but what became of the lightly-framed Chris Pym, a hero this night with 3 goals in just his 5th game?

 

In an age where we’re used to bumper crowds for the regular Richmond-Carlton Round 1 clash, it’s remarkable that less than 20,000 attended this game – yours truly being one of the many who didn’t make the effort! Presumably it wasn’t just me who gave Richmond no hope in this one.

 

4. Round 7, 1990. Richmond 13.18 (96) def. Geelong 9.28 (82)

 

Consider that Geelong had beaten Richmond by an average margin of 82 points in their previous four meetings, had narrowly missed the Flag in 1989 and had won their previous four games of the season and were playing at their Kardinia Park fortress. I was at home this sunny Sunday with my two-month old son. Fortunately, I wasn’t holding him when I saw the scores flashed up during a break in Channel 7s broadcast of some forgettable Brisbane Bears game.

 

The match scores show how Geelong botched what should have been a regulation win with appalling inaccuracy. The real damage was done in the middle quarters when the Tigers booted 8.9 to Geelong’s 1.14. The Cats’ predictable comeback came in the final term, but their scattergun kicking continued. A couple of Richmond goals were enough to keep them at bay.

 

Robert Scott (2.5), Andrew Bews (0.4) and David Cameron (1.3) were Geelong’s worst offenders on the day, whilst Jeff Hogg booted four and Des Ryan chipped in with three for the winners. In an interesting inter-generational combination, Dale Weightman and Matthew Knights were among our best, but, improbably, it was the maligned Tim Powell (later to transfer to Carlton) who topped the possession count on the day with 29. Another Under 19s rookie made his debut this day – Stuart Maxfield.

 

Ultimately, though, the absence of a certain G.Ablett was the major difference between this Geelong line-up and those around this time which routinely beat up on Richmond. Ablett’s temporary exit from football in 1990/91 cost Geelong dearly at a time when they had all the necessary ingredients for a premiership team. On this day for one, their opponents were truly grateful!

 

5. Round 8, 1991. Richmond 24.15 (159) def. Collingwood 15.12 (102)

 

“The Mothers Day Massacre” is remembered fondly by older Richmond fans. Bringing down the hated Magpies is satisfying at any time but to do so when they were reigning Premiers and with young full-forward, Jeff Hogg, booting 10 goals on the day, what’s not to like? Probably that only 28,000 were in attendance at the half-demolished MCG (the year of the Great Southern Stand construction), and that I wasn’t among them.

 

In hindsight, this was probably a win that could have been foreshadowed. Collingwood was lethargic and complacent through most of the ’91 season and were coming off a 17-day break thanks to the bye that operated this season in a 15-team competition. With most of their Premiership players on the park, they started the game well. But as Richmond warmed to their task, the Pies looked flat and disengaged, completely lacking the hard edge that characterised their 1990 season. A free-scoring affair became a rout after half time as Hogg took control, ably supported by smaller forwards such as Chris Naish, the evergreen Weightman and Des Ryan, plus the presence of emerging big man, Brendan Gale. The final quarter was a rarity for long-suffering Richmond fans – an opportunity to bask in the glory of certain victory.

 

Coach Kevin Bartlett, in his 4th year of guiding a very young side, was cheered off the ground this day. Four months later he was sacked. So Richmond!

 

6. Round 15, 1994. Richmond 13.12 (90) def. Adelaide 12.11 (83)

 

Perhaps this one seems an odd selection as an “impossible win” given that it came during a six-game winning streak. But it’s a sign of how little belief I had in this emerging team after a decade of abject failure. Added to which, Richmond hadn’t beaten Adelaide since their entry into the AFL and the Crows had won our previous three encounters by 110, 94 and 139 points respectively! They were the ultimate flat-track bullies!

 

Unlike some of the games on this list, this was a cracking contest and an archetypal John Northey-inspired win on the road. Three goals down at half time, Richmond were looking as good as I’d expected. Working hard but outclassed. I hoped for a gallant loss under six goals. The second half had me riveted as we started to outplay the Crows all over the ground. Some unknowns came of age this day: Jamie Tape, Duncan Kellaway, Scott Turner, Chris Naish, Chris Bond and Stuart Maxfield (God, I loathe how AFL-assisted Sydney stole him from us).

 

And then there was Richo! The record shows he had only six marks that day, but in that frenetic second half he seemed to clunk everything that came his way. Even at this early point in his career, I think most folk realised he was a special talent, but it’s worth remembering that he’d been playing in the reserves a month before this game. He certainly hadn’t played on a bigger stage than this one.

 

With just a couple of minutes to play and having seemingly silenced the parochial cacophony that is the Adelaide home crowd, Richmond had to endure one final scare as the Crows, from nowhere, conjured a couple of late goals, leaving them just five points down with a minute to play. Surely they weren’t going to pinch it at the death? No sir! In a statement that defined Richmond’s 1994 revival, we won the decisive centre clearance and pumped it forward for not one but two shots on goal to ensure a famous victory.

 

7. Round 6, 2005. Richmond 19.9 (123) def. Port Adelaide 9.13 (67)

 

This is another case of believing the hype about the reigning Premiers I guess!

 

This match came early in the first year of Terry Wallace’s tenure as coach with a rebuild based on the famous draft that delivered us Richard Tambling rather than Lance Franklin. Not much was expected of the Tigers in 2005 so this really was a shock result even with Port’s indifferent start to the season.

 

What should have been obvious was that it was Richo’s 200th game and that therefore there were going to be fireworks of some sort. Happily it was “good Richo” who turned up, celebrating the milestone in style with 17 marks and three goals. Nathan Brown kicked six goals in the start of a career-best patch of form that was cruelly ended by that horrific leg-break. The Tigers slammed on 12 goals to three after half-time.

 

8. Round 8, 2006. Richmond 10.9 (69) def. Adelaide 9.12 (66)

 

After witnessing every horrendous moment of the previous week’s 20 goal drubbing at the hands of Sydney, I chose cleaning the gutters of my roof ahead of going to this match against the ladder leaders and arch-front runners, Adelaide. Sydney had put 27 goals through our threadbare defence. What might the Crows do?

 

Whilst this match was famously criticised by Kevin Sheedy and numerous other commentators as a “basketball game”, to me it bore all the hallmarks of a classic 1-0 upset in soccer where the rank outsider pinches a goal and then “parks the bus” for the remainder of the game. Of course it’s harder to do that in Aussie Rules where scoring is much easier and retaining possession by chipping endlessly round the backline is more difficult. But that’s exactly what the Tigers did for lengthy periods after snatching a fortuitous early four-goal break. Richmond’s extraordinary mark count of 181 (just 13 contested) illustrates the “keepings off” style that they persisted with all day. The Bowden brothers – Joel and Patrick – collected 35 between them.

 

A late flurry of Adelaide goals almost derailed Terry Wallace’s audacious plan but the Tigers somehow hung on for a narrow win that was the ultimate expression of the ends justifying the means. Wallace’s coaching was pilloried and pundits expressed grave fears for the evolution of the game.   But watching the replay was still a lot more enjoyable than scooping muck out of a blocked downpipe!

 

9. Round 21, 2007. Richmond 17.17 (119) def. Essendon 13.14 (92)

 

Richmond’s rained on a few parades over the years. Dustin Fletcher’s 400th, Kane Cornes and Stephen Silvagni’s 300th, Stephen Kernahan’s last game – all very satisfying “spoiler” wins. But it’s hard to go past this one for the ultimate example of playing the unexpected role of party-pooper.

 

OK, the 2007 Essendon was hardly the formidable team of bully-boys that had regularly pummelled Richmond over the previous quarter century. But this was a wooden-spoon season for Richmond and this was the farewell game for Kevin Sheedy after 27 seasons and for golden-boy skipper, James Hird. The massive crowd of 88,468 fans (yes, I was at this one) was there for one reason – to send these iconic figures out in fitting style. There was only ever going to be one result this day – right? The Tigers’ role as the fall guys was clear – right?

 

Wrong!

 

The Bombers certainly followed the script early on, scooting to a first-quarter lead and enabling an obligatory goal for Hird. But the longer the game went, the more the Tigers worked their way into it, drawing level by half-time and nosing ahead during the third quarter. Yet it was only when Essendon failed to fire a shot in the final term that it dawned on the assembled masses that the Sheedy/Hird-inspired coup de grace that we all predicted was not going to happen. On the day, Richmond was the better team and, strangely enough, we wanted it more.

 

My recollections of the game are of the fleeting promise that Will Thursfield and Kel Moore could form a solid defence and that Kayne Pettifer and Dean Polo might be decent small forwards. But ultimately it was Richo – yet again – who showed the way, hauling in another 15 marks in another imperious display. He and Hird had begun their AFL careers at roughly the same time. It was symbolic therefore that Richo and his team were still going strong when the final siren announced Hird’s (and Essendon’s) anticlimactic end.

 

10. Round 10, 2010. Richmond 10.17 (77) def. Port Adelaide 3.12 (30)

 

It took 10 games for Damien Hardwick to coach this, his first victory at Richmond. The surprise to many pundits was that it happened even this quickly. After all, Richmond had been widely predicted to have a winless season in 2010 as Hardwick presided over yet another rebuild of our list. The early results hadn’t been promising. By late April some bookmakers had paid out on Richmond as wooden-spooners.

 

Port Adelaide weren’t much chop, it must be said. And the weather was atrocious. But what was evident from the outset was that the Tigers were playing with a desire that belied their awful start to the season. On a day where contested, ground-level possession was the norm, the stats show we laid a phenomenal 142 tackles. The game was as good as won by half-time, our five-goal lead worth double in the slushy conditions. But after such a succession of losses, the players weren’t going to relent, grinding out an emphatic 47-point lead and restricting the Power to what was then its lowest AFL score.

 

Emerging star, Jack Riewoldt had a day out in the wet, kicking four goals two, just four points less than the entire Port Adelaide tally. The blond dreadlocked Ben Nason chipped in with three. Along with Riewoldt, four other players from that match, David Astbury, Trent Cotchin, Shane Edwards and Dustin Martin would grace the Premiership dais seven years later.

 

From little things…

 

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About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m greatly impressed by the passion and loyalty that sustained the Tiges faithful over the ‘Forgotten Years’ and this helps me understand it even more Stainless. Thanks.

    Richmond beat the Crows twice in our premiership years too.

  2. Interesting read Stainless. Have you discovered Harry Harrison’s famous and hilarious STAINLESS STEEL RAT series of books. The Rat is a REFORMED (?) master criminal (real name Slippery Jim D’Gritz) in the far future who has been converted to law enforcement.

    If you haven’t read them, please do, I recommend them for a good laugh.

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