“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.

5. KB’s 400th

 

Some games are born blockbusters, some games become blockbusters, some have “blockbuster” thrust upon them.

 

Any match between the old rivals, Richmond and Collingwood, certainly has the blockbuster pedigree. But by the time the old foes met in Round 19, 1983, their ladder positions had reduced the match to a mundane end-of-season affair with little or no bearing on the Premiership race. The Tigers were well out of the running. They hadn’t played that badly in ’83, but they just kept finding ways to lose. Collingwood was still in the hunt – just – but were relying on sides above them to falter. The game had blockbuster status thrust upon it for one reason alone – the 400th appearance in the black and yellow by a small, wispy-haired rover named Bartlett.

 

Since his debut way back in 1965 when he walked into Punt Road off the street and asked for a game, Kevin Bartlett had been an incredibly consistent and resilient member of the Richmond sides that dominated the VFL throughout this period. His ability to find the footy was matched only by his appetite for goals, hence the “Hungry” moniker. For nearly two decades, Bartlett teased and tormented opposition players and supporters alike with his “selfish” antics and his maddening capacity to milk free kicks. But no-one could dispute the mounting statistical evidence of his astonishingly high-quality output with barely a bad game and barely an injury. His ability to lift in finals was legendary. He probably would have won a couple more Norm Smith medals had they been awarded earlier in his career. In his later years, Bartlett ceased playing as a genuine rover and reinvented himself as a crumbing forward of the finest quality. His 1980 finals series will never be forgotten. Richmond kicked 55 goals 40 points over the three games. Bartlett contributed 21.7 – more than a third of the team score.

 

But by 1983, the sands of time were running out, even for a player as durable as Bartlett. However, as his remarkable career drew to a close, one final milestone loomed. The game with Collingwood would be Bartlett’s 400th – the first VFL footballer to achieve this feat. As Richmond’s disappointing season petered out, the prospect of celebrating KB’s big day kept the supporters positive and a mammoth crowd of nearly 82,000 turned up to the MCG to witness a little bit of history. I vividly remember the finals-like atmosphere building pre-game, assisted by a cracking curtain-raiser game which the Richmond Reserves won in the last minute. (Ironically enough, I think it was ex-Collingwood forward, Ross Brewer, who kicked the winning goal.) The Richmond Cheer Squad had made an enormous banner, so large that they could barely lift it, so strong that when Bartlett eventually ran onto the arena amidst tumultuous applause, he struggled to break through it.

 

The details of the game that followed are a bit hazy in the memory, but it’s fair to say both sides lifted for the occasion, turning on a gripping display that was close throughout. For much of the day, it looked like the Tigers would do the right thing by their champion veteran, but, as they had done so frequently that year, they squandered opportunities late, before watching helplessly as Collingwood’s rookie of the year, Phillip Walsh, sprinted down the members wing and slotted one of the goals of the season to see the Pies home by ten points. Walsh’s best afield performance was to take on a greater significance than merely winning the four points for Collingwood. Desperate to atone for their wretched season and livid at losing David Cloke and Geoff Raines to Collingwood, the Tigers moved heaven and earth to woo Walsh to Punt Road over that summer. The move fuelled a player trade war that brought little success but created plenty of bad blood and nearly bankrupted both clubs in the process. For Richmond, especially, it was the beginning of the darkest, most tumultuous period in our history. It would be a dozen years before the Tigers played in front of an 80,000 crowd again.

 

As for Bartlett, the stats show that he had a serviceable game in his 400th. Sixteen kicks and no handballs (surprise, surprise!), and sadly no goals – a rarity over his 403 game, 778 goal career. Three weeks later, he ran through another vast banner for his final game against Fitzroy. A remarkable player who had been so integral to Richmond’s success during his playing years and who had seemed so permanent was finally finished. The symbolism of the end of an era was palpable.

 

Rich       4.4         7.7         9.12       11.13 (79)

Coll        5.0         7.2         9.5         13.11 (89)

 

Goals

Rich: Roach 4, Weightman 4, Rowlings 2, Egan

Coll: Walsh 3, Annear 2, Richardson 2, Williams 2, Allan, Banks, Fellowes, Taylor

 

Leading possessions

Rich: Lee 29, Landy 24, Keane 23, Weightman 23

Coll: Walsh 31, Richardson 30, Shaw 28, Taylor 28, Williams 25, Annear 24, Picken 23

 

Umpires: Sidebottom and Bryant

 

Crowd: 81,966 at the MCG

 

Stats sourced from AFL Tables

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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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, after 30 September 2017 and 28 September 2019, his dear late mum is officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. I took the week off my umpiring duties to attend the occasion, ordinary game as best I remember, a bit disappointed that KB didn’t kick a goal. My prediction that 1983 would just be a blip and the Tigers would soon be back in the top part of the ladder…….

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