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Vale Ron Reiffel

How blessed we all were at Tigerland to share the love, life and passion of Ron Reiffel.

The humble veteran servant of the Richmond Football Club died Sunday, aged 86.

He was married to Maureen for 63 years, and was much loved by his children, 12 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.

His lifetime of service spanned over 6 decades as a player, Former Players + Officials committeeman/secretary, Historical Committee member, and the first Richmond Museum curator.

68 years earlier he had come to Punt Road from St Ignatius YCW, carrying a surname well-known in football circles. His father Lou was a noted Melbourne and Sth Melbourne footballer who had the elaborate full-name of Guy Louis Lindsay Reiffel. Everyone called him "Pop".  The nickname was given by cartoonists of the day – "he's only as big as a pop gun".

At age 19, in 1951, Ron achieved the rare feat at Tigerland of playing for the Thirds, Reserves, and Seniors all in the same year.  His senior debut came in Round 15 as 20th man at Glenferrie Oval against the Hawks. He caught the bus to the game. 

Sitting on the bench he was flanked by the great Jack Dyer (then coach), and Pat Kennelly the chairman of selectors.

At one moment during the match, a policeman walked around the boundary line holding the hand of a lost child. Ron recognised the child as belonging to a mate of his.

"Do I say I know him?  Do I say to Jack Dyer "Excuse me Jack, I have to go and see if I can find this bloke?". I didn't know what to do so I just sat there and the policeman kept on walking by".

Ron didn't take the field that day, or in his next game, but in the club's last match of the season he lined up at half-back. 

Surrounding him were giants of Tigerland -  Roy Wright, Max Oppy, Bill Morris, Des Rowe and Ron's football idol Don "Mopsy" Fraser – "I'd be in the back pocket and Mopsy would be full-back and he'd say to me "I'll catch them and you kick them, when I get it you start running". He was a beautiful mark over the pack and then he'd boot it out and I'd start running, every time, Ron told me in an interview in Nov 2006.

By the time his playing career finished in Rd 16 of 1952, Ron had played six senior games (the same number as his guernsey).  But his contribution to the Richmond Football Club had only just began. 

After a stint with Abbotsford Brewery Football Club (where he won 2 Best and Fairests in premiership years) and Springvale and Olinda clubs, he came back to Tigerland and joined the Former Players and Officials committee in 1963, serving until 2000 (with 20 years as Secretary).  That organisation made him a life member in 1975 and was pivotal in the creation and publishing of the 'Tigerland' history book in 1989, and the financial success of the Save Our Skins campaign. 

Ron's relationships with the Tiger players of the 1930s onwards would be invaluable to researchers like myself looking to uncover, document and record the club's history.

In 1993 Richmond Historian Bill Meaklim laid the foundations for a club Museum and sought out the advice and assistance of Ron which ultimately led Ron to be anointed its first curator in 1996.  The footy club honoured him with a Life Membership three years later.

Many Tiger fans will have fond memories of walking into the Museum in the old social club building and being greeted warmly by the dapperly dress Ron Reiffel, who would regale visitors with stories of Tigerland, or happily listen to theirs.  You were a friend of his immediately. 

I always thought he looked like a matinee movie idol, so it didn't surprise me when I later learnt he was named after the English screen star of the 20s, 30s and 40s Ronald Colman.

I would visit Ron regularly at the Museum, and I hold lasting memories of sitting out back in the curator's office, and, as he peeled an orange, talking about the players he so luckily saw play. 

(For the record, Dyer was the best he saw, followed by Bartlett, Bourke and Hart.  His fifth spot went to Jack Titus, based on his research and reading through the club archives)

His stories of Dyer were some of my favourite.  Like the times Ron slipped out during a movie interval at the Globe Theatre in Swan St to flick through Dyer's scrapbooks at his milk bar on Church St. "Sometimes we never went back to the pictures".

Or the time, as a child, when Ron walked around the inside of the Punt Road ground on match day selling lollies, Minties and Hoadley Crumble Bars from a tray to the crowd and witnessed first-hand the ferocity of Captain Blood ironing out a Footscray opponent

"As Dyer scooped the ball up with one hand he tucked his shoulder in and hit this bloke and the fellow went up in the air as thought he was hit by a bull.  It happened within six metres of where I was standing.  I can still see the Number 17 running away from me.  It was really frightening hearing the crash." 

Ron had an unsurpassed ability of identifying Richmond players in old unnamed team photos. Didn't matter if they were Senior, Reserve, or Thirds players. He had this trick where he would cover the bottom half of a person's face in the photo with his thumb, and identify them by their hairline and ears.  "The ears never change" he told me.

Outside of the football club he was heavily involved in the Richmond Cricket Club, and was their historian, life member, and Hall of Fame selector who contributed significant historical research and articles to their website.

His son Paul Reiffel had played cricket for them, then went onto to a successful Test career before ending up as an Umpire.  Ron was deeply proud of Paul's career, and his lovingly crafted scrapbooks and visual recordings (he had everyone of Paul's Test wickets recorded) is a testament to that.

In our last few correspondences back and forth, Ron's thoughts went back to Wartime at Punt Road, "the Rail line was still running at ground level at that time and childhood memories come flooding back of star Richmond left hander batsman Wally Driver threatening the fate of the Red Rattlers with his powerful drives for six as they moved into Richmond station." 

Even in our final conversation, as he battled pain, Ron's memories were still with the football club he had given so much to and loved eternally.

The last words I ever read from him were 'great times, the Mighty Tigers are back'.

How blessed we all were.