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Royce Hart 50-year flashback feature

Richmond ‘Immortal’ Royce Hart celebrated his 70th birthday last Saturday. As a tribute to one of the greatest Tigers of them all, we present this fascinating feature article on him that appeared in the 1968 pre-season issue of ‘Football Life’ magazine, reflecting on his amazing debut season with the Tigers (in the Club’s ’67 premiership year). Interestingly, the interview with Hart was conducted by legendary Essendon full-forward John Coleman. It appeared under the heading: “THE SHY ONE”


“Listening to this lad talking about the pain and the fear in football you begin to wonder whether those boyish eyes have grown too old, too soon. He is only 19.

But keep listening, and it gradually becomes apparent that it is not antiquity but maturity that has transformed Royce Hart of Richmond from a boy to a man in just one year.

Hart will never forget 1967: it was the season in which he made fact read like outrageous fiction. Think of it . . . In his very first year in League football he:--

  • Helped win a premiership for his club.
  • Was named outstanding recruit of the year.
  • Played twice for Victoria, kicking seven goals against Western Australia and two goals against South Australia.
  • Was picked for the first-ever world tour by an Australian Rules team and scored two of the three goals in that sensational Gaelic Code win over Irish champions Meath in Dublin.

It seems almost unbelievable that the general public knew so little about this wonder boy when he first came to Melbourne, a gangling, almost painfully shy tenderfoot from Tasmania. Either the talent scouts were drowsing or else Richmond had him well under wraps.

Back home in Whiteford in the Tasmanian midlands where he was born of a farming family of two boys and two girls, and later on another farm nearer Hobart, young Royce was about knee-high to a grasshopper.

In school at Clarence, size didn’t seem to matter so much and he was sports champion for his age throughout his student days. He was made a prefect.

The corners of his mouth twitched mischievously.  “I was very shy then. And I guess I was as much embarrassed as proud when the girls and boys elected me to become a prefect. I don’t think I would have made it if it was up to the teachers to decide.”

Shy or not, Hart was already on his way to football fame. With mild astonishment he recalls that he was only 5ft tall then, and a reedy 9st. Not unnaturally he played as a rover. And so well did he play that at the age of 16 Hart was best first-year player in the under 19s for Clarence.

He represented Tasmania in the schoolboys’ carnival at Hobart and was chosen in the All-Australian team.

At 17, Hart was named Tasmanian Football League under-19 best and fairest and was the leading goalkicker for the season.

This was the “unknown” recruit Richmond brought to Melbourne in 1965. The “beanstalk boy” had shot up to 6ft 1in by then and weighed 12st. 4lb. Almost immediately he went into a training and gym schedule to build up his height and his weight.

Richmond secretary, Graeme Richmond, with a canny mixture of foxing and foresight, blandly told the press: “We are anxious to build him up, then groom him in the under-19 side next year for a senior career.”  Then he clammed up and the heat was taken off Hart.

Shielded from the blaze of publicity that scorched fellow Tasmanian Peter Hudson only a year later, Hart quietly picked up the tempo of the game with Richmond’s thirds for two-thirds of the ’66 season before being promoted to the reserves for the final two games. And that’s when it happened . . .

One jump ahead of the headlines, he kicked the winning goal in the grand final and then strode into the firsts for that dazzling League debut in ’67.

“I didn’t know much about League football in Melbourne until a year before I came to Richmond,” Hart said.  “Then, during that last year back home, they started showing the final quarter of the Melbourne games on television, and I studied the play carefully.

“Everything about the play and the players looked larger than life-size to me. And I knew then that my ambition had always been to break into the big league here and do well.”

Today Royce Desmond Hart is two years older than when he left home for the glitter of the League spotlight. Training three and sometimes four evenings a week in a gymnasium all through summer has added half an inch to his height and filled out his supple frame to a handy 13st. 8lb. He has concentrated on sharpening up his agility and speed.

And he can relax in a chair, look at you contemplatively, and calmly talk about the twin imps of fear and pain that constantly tug at the elbow of any finely-tuned footballer.

“There is a lot of physical pain in the brand of football played today,” Hart says.  “The clashes hurt: it would be foolish to deny that. But you just grind your teeth and keep going. And you try to smile. Because if you let your opposing backmen know you are hurt, you’re gone.

“Mostly this isn’t half so bad during the actual game: there are too many other things on your mind to think much about pain.

“But the dreaded day is Sunday. You wake up – and that’s when you feel really crook.”

Does this affect the way a player fronts up for his next game?  Hart darted a finger through his pale brown hair.  “Fear?  I suppose every human being knows what fear is,” he said slowly.  “The problem is to overcome it.

“I’ve heard Herb Elliott and Percy Cerutty talk about this. But mostly I’ve learnt the secret from my coach, Tom Hafey. Concentrate hard enough, Tom says, and you can shut out your fear. Fasten your mind on the game and on the ball, and you forget to be afraid.”

There was no trace of the teenager in his eyes or his voice as Hart continued talking rapidly and quietly.  “What footballers fear most is not the physical clash; it is, I think, the fear of defeat. It is the worst fear you can have.

“Speaking for myself, being defeated hurts me much more than anything else. I remember when after beating Essendon first up last year we lost to Footscray. I walked off the field with my eyes smarting; I must have been very close to tears.”

If this sophisticated self-analysis was a contradiction of the shy and wistful teenager, threw was more to come. Answering the question that is on the lips of most football followers – could he kick that elusive 100 goals this season? – Hart didn’t bat an eyelid.  “There’s a very good chance that I might,” he said evenly.

There wasn’t a trace of cockiness in his reply. He has given it a lot of thought, and this is what he honestly believed.

“But my ambition is not for what I can do, but what the team can achieve,” he added.  “It would be no satisfaction for me to kick 100 goals if the team finished second or third. Anyway, a lot will depend on whether I am played at full-forward or at centre half-forward. I’ll be content to play where I am needed.”

Will it be easier or more difficult this coming season?  “I’ve heard reports that it’s going to be a lot harder,” he replied.  “I suppose that whereas last year I was an unknown quantity this year I’ll be more of a marked man.”

He shrugged the problem off.  “Don’t forget I’m a year older in League football this season. My added experience will counteract the way they play on me. I suppose the opposing backmen will be watching for me. But I’ll have learnt a thing or two about them as well.”

He has had good teachers. One of them is Hafey, who this young man admires and respects. Another is the late Len Smith. Hart confessed that Smith meant more to him than even he realised at the time.  “When Len died it hurt me like a physical blow,” he said.

“I have no players among my heroes. Just Len Smith. I held him in very high esteem as a coach and as a person.

“He told me what it would be like.”

Another good friend is Graeme Richmond.  “The way he treated me was one of the big factors in my being so happy to play with Richmond,” Hart said.  “When I was a new boy in a strange Melbourne, Graeme used to take me out to dinner or entertain me at his home. These things mean a lot.”

Back to football . . . and umpires. Hart is no whinger.  “On the whole they give full-forwards a pretty fair go,” he said.  “But”, and he smiled, “occasionally the full-forward would be happier if the umpire took more notice of a little trick adopted by the opposing ruckman who bustles you while his full-back marks the ball.”

It was the quietly confident Hart again when he talked about styles of play.  “I don’t model my game on anyone else’s. I like to play my own style and let the others follow if they want to.”

He thinks the best features of his game are quick recovery, strong spring and concentration. And he added with uninhibited honesty: “I don’t think there are any outstanding weaknesses in my play:  nothing special that I’m working to improve, anyway.”

Toughest opponents?  “They’re all tough,” he says.  “But if I had to name one – Tassie Johnson of Melbourne. He just seems to stop his opponent from getting kicks. He’d do anything for Melbourne. He’s one of the greatest team men I know – of opposing sides, of course.”

But football isn’t all rigor mortis. Hart has found plenty to laugh at. At St Kilda last year, for instance, when someone from the outer threw a roll of toilet paper at him . . .

“It was dreadfully embarrassing at the time,” he chuckled.  “It unrolled and got entangled around my legs. I really copped the curry from the crowd.”

And that first game, against Essendon, when one of the opposing team came up to him and said pointedly: “This is a game for men – not for boys.”  Said Hart a little grimly: “I don’t even remember his name, so it couldn’t have been that important.” Which is as good a squelch as any!

The shy little boy from Tassie is a big boy now: he’s got more sophisticated, more mature, more confident and more determined. But he hasn’t got a big head.”