David Astbury and Bachar Houli . . . opposites in many ways, but inextricably linked forever as wonderful Richmond Men and triple Tiger premiership heroes.
Astbury, the 195cm, 96kg, extremely reliable, strong key defender, renowned for his intercept marking and ability to lock down the opposition’s biggest forwards.
Houli, the 180cm, 83 kg, small backman, renowned for his hard running, elite rebounding and spearing left-foot kicks that so frequently turned defence into attack for the Tigers.
There was a stark contrast in the pathway each of them took to Punt Road.
Astbury, from Tatyoon, a small country town in the western region of Victoria, arrived via the AFL national draft in late 2009, Richmond’s third pick and number 35 overall. He had played in the TAC Cup under-18s competition with the North Ballarat Rebels.
Houli, from the western suburbs of Melbourne, and a product of TAC Cup team the Western Jets, was initially drafted into the AFL by Essendon. He spent four seasons with the Bombers, but after managing just 26 senior games during that time, sought greater opportunity, which Richmond gladly provided. He joined the Tigers in the 2011 pre-season draft.
Dave Astbury’s senior debut with Richmond was in Round 4, 2010 against Melbourne and, although the team lost by 55 points, he impressed as a forward, kicking three goals. Astbury would play 17 games all-up in his first season of AFL football, primarily as a defender during the latter part. So promising was he, at the end of the year the Club handed him the prized No. 12 guernsey, worn with such distinction throughout most of the previous two decades by Matthew Richardson.
In the opening round of the 2011 season, Bachar Houli made his debut as a Tiger against Carlton. Richmond was beaten by 20 points, but Houli showed good signs, finishing with 18 disposals and 10 marks in his half-back role.
The playing careers of Astbury and Houli at Tigerland then took distinctly different directions over the course of the five seasons from 2011-15.
Astbury would endure a wretched injury run – foot problems, two dislocated knee patellas, and even being stung by a stingray – restricting him to just 24 senior games in those five seasons. It was an incredibly difficult time for Astbury, but his strength of character and resilience enabled him to overcome all those obstacles on the injury front.
Houli, on the other hand, flourished throughout this period, playing 111 of a possible 113 games and providing the team with plenty of drive as a rebounding defender.
The 2016 season proved to be a bad one for Houli and the team overall. A broken wrist kept him to only 12 games, while the team slumped to 13th on the ladder.
For Astbury, however, 2016 was the start of his football resurrection following five of the most frustrating years imaginable. He managed to play 19 games at senior level and was a valuable contributor in the side’s defence.
From that point onwards, both Astbury and Houli became integral components of the Richmond dynasty – three premierships in four years – through their efforts on and off the field.
They played their backline roles to perfection and were also key drivers of the strong cultural change within the playing group.
Astbury was rock-solid in the Tigers’ three Grand Final triumphs, highlighted by a miserly lockdown masterclass against Greater Western Sydney in 2019, restricting his opponent, Jeremy Finlayson, to one solitary disposal for the match.
The game’s big stage brought out the very best in Houli, who finished runner-up to Dustin Martin in the 2017 and 2019 Grand Finals. Then, in the 2020 premiership-decider against Geelong at the Gabba, Houli bravely fought through a calf injury sustained early in the first quarter to ensure the team was not further disadvantaged after Nick Vlastuin was knocked out.
David Astbury and Bachar Houli will be greatly missed by their teammates on the AFL fields of battle, but their deeds will live on as long as there is a Richmond Football Club.
They leave a tremendous legacy that will be a source of inspiration for future generations of Richmond players.