It is 30 years today (September 15, 1991) since the man regarded as the greatest administrator in Richmond’s history, Graeme Richmond, passed away, aged 57. Three years earlier, on June 17, 1988, Richmond provided a fascinating insight into his illustrious career at Tigerland in an absorbing, lengthy interview with legendary football commentator Mike Williamson. We pay special tribute to Graeme Richmond on the 30th anniversary of his passing by presenting the comments he made during that interview on a far-reaching range of Tiger-related topics. Here is what GR had to say . . .

On taking over as the Club’s secretary in 1962

“We really needed to take the stick to every aspect of the Club’s operation, on and off the field. And, fortunately, I had the blessing of the late Ray Dunn, who was a strong man behind the committee at that stage. He’d become completely disappointed with the Club’s performances and a few of us got together. There was Al Boord, Ron Carson and the early days for Ian Wilson. We all decided that we were going to have a ding-dong go at trying to lift the Tigers. And that, really, was the start of it.”

On why the Club had been struggling for so long

“Richmond had been highly successful through the ‘30s and the ‘40s. I think the recruiting had been allowed to run down. Probably people still expected the Jack Dyer image to attract people to come to Richmond. Our style of play really hadn’t caught up with the development of the run-on game that had come via Melbourne and especially Geelong in the early ‘50s and ‘60s. We were badly undermanned. Occasionally, we had sides that at full strength were pretty good, but we hadn’t any depth. We just needed more players.”

On his role as the Club’s secretary

“There was none of the bureaucracy involved now. It’s quite interesting to recall that when I became secretary, I was also the person responsible for making up the pay, paying everybody, I was the recruiting officer, I answered the telephone, I was the receptionist, and I also did all the other jobs associated with secretary. In other words, I was the only person employed by the Club.”

On Len Smith’s appointment as Richmond’s senior coach

“I think probably the best recruit I ever signed was Len Smith, who had been at Fitzroy as a player and then as a coach. He brought to Richmond the modern, play-on, handballing style . . . play on at all costs. Len was a great football philosopher. He had really the first compact manual on how to play football that I’d ever seen . . .”

On Richmond’s move to the MCG in 1965

“It was a bitterly fought issue at the time. In fact, people looking back now would find it difficult to comprehend the circumstances under which Richmond moved to Melbourne. And really, only Ray Dunn and his professional knowledge, and his own personal prestige, could have pulled it off. It was an issue that wasn’t generally accepted by a number of clubs, who bitterly opposed it, feeling that us playing at Melbourne would have an effect on their own home crowds. I think a lot of them really didn’t want to see any other club have the facilities and the opportunity, not only financially, but recruiting-wise, to have this enormous asset at their disposal . . . Hawthorn were at the forefront of opposition. They fought the issue very, very strongly. They felt that we’d transgress on their home crowds. I think both Collingwood and North Melbourne felt some sense of trepidation about the move. Although, later on, both of them came around in support because they looked at it deeper and saw the advantage to the game overall . . . We’d looked at the possibility of improving the Richmond ground as part of our overall plan for Richmond to come good. But whatever cost involved was prohibitive . . . We just believed that the difference in preparation and playing on the Melbourne ground, as against the Punt Road ground, would put Richmond in a far better position as far as winning premierships was concerned.”

On establishing a strong recruiting network

“We had the advantage of many of our former players being positioned around the countryside and interstate, and we were able to galvanise them into action. They’d all been disenchanted with Richmond’s results. It’s fair to say that most of the clubs, probably Melbourne and Collingwood excepted, and I suppose Hawthorn, weren’t really organised as we know them today. It was still pretty much a hit-and-miss situation, where the administrations were really only out of the part-time era in football.”

Rhettrospective with Jan Richmond

Rhettrospective continues with an interview with Jan Richmond, the widow of Graeme Richmond.


On the Club’s recruiting strategy

“At that stage, when we were still at Richmond, frankly I recruited everybody who could crawl, walk, or run who could play football . . . We had that many holes it was inevitable anyone who could play would get a game. But later on, of course, it became a much more specialised operation when, indeed, we moved to the Melbourne ground.”

On the important acquisition of top-class forward talent

“Our forward line really revolved around two players in that ‘65-‘66 period. Pat Guinane and John Northey were the principal persons on our forward line and we realised we needed to thicken up our talent a little bit more than that. We’d tried unsuccessfully to lure Ted Whitten to Richmond after the 1966 Carnival. At the end of that season, he’d been replaced as coach of Footscray and Len Smith had a very high opinion of Ted. We were anxious to get him to Richmond, but he decided to stick tight to the red, white and blues. We also had a young man we’d brought across the previous season to play in our under-19s, who went on to play in the under-19 and the reserve-grade finals in 1966, in Royce Hart. Over the summer, he’d worked very hard on his physique. No one ever knew for sure whether a young man could improve to that extent. Barry Richardson had come from St Pat’s, Ballarat (in 1965) and run into a serious knee problem, which also looked as though it had been put to rest. So, we were looking much better in ’67. And, as the season started, it did, in fact, mark the start of those two magnificent careers, with Hart at full-forward and Richardson at half-forward.”

On the classic 1967 Grand Final v Geelong

“I think the lead changed 12 times during the match . . . Many people considered that to be the finest Grand Final ever played. It was a magnificent day, Geelong were very, very strong. They had leading players such as Farmer, Goggin, Marshall. Sharrock, Wade, etc. etc. The game itself was completely nip and tuck. Bill Goggin kicked two goals just before half-time that put the Cats right back in business. When we came out in the third quarter, John Sharrock cut loose, and we weren’t looking very good at all at three-quarter-time.”

On Alan Schwab replacing him as the Club’s secretary

“I recruited Alan. My purpose in coming as secretary of the Club had never been to be a professional football administrator. I was only there to try and achieve a result in lifting Richmond out of the trauma it was in. And, once my job was done, I was in a position to go and get hold of Alan, who’d indicated to me that he would be interested if the job ever came up . . . I felt quite comfortable about Alan taking on the job.”

On missing the finals in 1968 after winning the flag in 1967

“It was a bit of a hangover. We weren’t as desperate in ‘68, as we were in ’67. I think the players thought that the good times would go on forever after celebrating the premiership. We ran into a series of injuries that affected almost all of our top nine players . . . We lost games that we should have won . . . It wasn’t a good result.”

On being a key motivator at Tigerland

“If you look at it in a philosophical context, selectors put trust in players to represent the club. The supporters of a club trust in committees and persons working for the club to do the best they can for them. And it really narks me that people of that era didn’t do what was required of them. It narks me even more today where people are being paid very big lump sums of money to perform. I just believe that people expect you to perform at a certain level if you’re being paid proportionately. And it disappoints me when people, for attitude reasons, don’t perform.”

On Richmond attracting record crowds to its games

“We certainly aroused the interest of the public . . . the Tiger and the Yellow and Black and the long history of the Club where Jack Dyer and co. had really galvanised people in the ‘30s and ‘40s. There were many, many people at Richmond who had gone missing for 20 years that came out of the woodwork . . . We were a highly-publicised club. The propaganda machine had run rampant for five or six years, and most of our leading players were household names.”

On rumours Tommy Hafey was going to be sacked as coach during the 1969 season

“These matters always come to the forefront when teams aren’t performing as well as people would expect them to be. But I can assure you that there was never ever any genuine intention to do so. I mean it had been rumoured that a couple of our senior committee members were not happy with him. But a couple of us were then in a position to be able to put the acid right on the players to respond and show the best they could to answer the situation that was put up to them. I’m very pleased to say that they were able to do that, and we stormed home to make the finals. We only made the first semi-final, but we played Geelong and we set a then league record score in the first semi-final and went on to win the premiership.”

On the winning philosophy at Tigerland

“We never made any pretensions about what we were there for – we were there to win at any cost. A lot of people might have objected to the way we did play, but we played it with full-blooded intent to win . . . In those times, it’s fair enough to say that we played in a manner that was just sort of kill or be killed. That’s how it was with us.”

On missing the finals in 1970

“Unfortunately, players like Roger Dean reached the end of their tether. Paddy Guinane had gone by the wayside. Michael Patterson had quite a nasty knee injury . . . Our big-man strength had been seriously depleted . . . We frankly, at that stage, were just too small. We went to great pains to recruit Brian Roberts from the East Fremantle club. We’d pursued him actually since 1966 and we’d never been able to catch up with him. He signed with Carlton in between. They let his form (four) lapse. He’d gone in between times to South Adelaide. But we sat right on his tail and finally landed “The Whale”. We also brought across Craig McKellar, who was a very handy player for us from the Woodville club in South Australia.”

On the sensational Barrot-Stewart swap

“Stewart had obviously run his race at St Kilda and Bill Barrot had gone into a decline, brought about by excessive weight training and so forth with Richmond. We did what we thought was a mutually acceptable deal in that we swapped Barrot and Stewart. Well, Stewart came to Richmond and immediately got himself back on the track. Got himself super-fit, put in a magnificent season, and finished up winning the Brownlow Medal.”

On the shock 1972 Grand Final loss

“We went in as red-hot favourites . . . we were considered to be a lay-down misere. I suppose that probably was our undoing. We may not have worked as hard on the preparation for the game as we possibly should have. We’d also had the misfortune for Michael Green to retire through entering into his legal practice at the start of the season, and he was our top ruckman of that time. That left us just a little bit down the drain, I would say, at that time. And, also, Ian Stewart had not reproduced his form of the previous season . . .”

On Laurie Fowler knocking out John Nicholls early in the 1973 Grand Final

“We had a very desperate young man called Laurie Fowler playing for us in the back pocket at that time. It was just one of those flukey sort of things where “Nick” came out to take what looked to be a fairly easy mark with his arms extended in front of his face . . . He’d given us merry hell the year before in ’72 playing again in the forward pocket. Laurie Fowler took off from the side and hit him at a 45-degree angle. And I think it would be fair to say that John, outside his peripheral view, just never saw anything at all of what was coming. Laurie was a very strongly-made fellow . . . and hit him going at about 100 miles an hour.  It was quite a spectacular collision. Even the mighty can fall. John certainly fell, and with that I think the hopes of the Carlton club on that day.”

On Neil Balme’s game in the 1973 Grand Final

“Neil Balme was a very aggressive player. There were a couple of Carlton players who suffered collisions with Neil on the day and came off second best. But you must realise that we’d gone through a season of complete frustration in that having disgraced ourselves by losing the ’72 Grand Final, which was there to be won, we virtually spent the whole year needling ourselves . . . It was hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles. And there was a great matter of very proud players having to right the record.”

On planning for back-to-back premierships

“We realised that after having won a premiership, where we’d previously made a bit of a mess of it, that we were going to have to probably introduce anything up to six players. And it was a fact that in our premiership teams, there was invariably something like six or seven team changes from even one year to another. We were ambitious to emulate the Club’s previous double premierships of 1920-21. We saw no reason why we couldn’t do it. But we were conscious of the fact that we had to come up with new talent.”

On the Windy Hill brawl in 1974

“Essendon under Des Tuddenham were starting to fire up a bit and we needed to improve our position on the premiership ladder. So, we went out to Essendon with a view that we were going to win at any cost. And any cost is putting it mildly. “Browny”, (Mal Brown) of course, was the centre-point of the very vocal Essendon supporters’ objection to Richmond. He had that sort of attitude about him that the opposition supporters took great umbrage to. And he certainly didn’t let them down during the first and second quarters where he got into altercations with Graham Jenkin . . . In those days, the team officials all sat on the boundary – the coach, the match committee personnel that were required . . . As the half-time siren sounded, Browny started to walk to the Richmond race . . . Their runner of the time made disparaging remarks to Browny, who immediately clocked him. Well, all hell broke loose. Bodies flew from all angles. I must admit, I was ruminating at that time on what had happened in the game up to that point, to make some, hopefully, constructive contribution at a half-time discussion. And I really missed the opening skirmish until, I think it was Alan Schwab, poked me in the ribs and said, ‘Goodness me. Have a look at this’! And I spun around just in time to see a civilian lean across Mal Brown and give him a whack. At that stage Mal Brown was flat on his back with (Essendon player) John Cassin sitting on top of him. Well, there were no policemen in any evidence at that time and you can understand that when you’ve been involved in football as I’ve been for so long, you took great exception to unauthorised people . . . a bloke showing up out of the blue, taking to one of your players, was not on. So, I took off in hot pursuit of this particular fellow. I wasn’t to know he was actually an Essendon official. Anyway, there was all sorts of going-ons, with the result that a number of us were reported and charged and went through a long, exhaustive investigation by the league. Then, unfortunately, there was a follow-up with proceedings by the police and we wound up in court. Fortunately, that matter was dismissed, which then put the pressure on the league to review its own position on the matter. I was fined quite heavily and also suspended, I think, for two or three years. Anyway, fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed at the end of the season and the matter was reviewed and put to rest.”

On the 1974 Grand Final v North Melbourne

“They (North Melbourne) probably weren’t ready for the position they achieved that year in playing off for the Grand Final. But anyway, good luck to them, they made it. But they were comparatively easy meat for us in the Grand Final of that year because they were just a bit too green.”

On Tommy Hafey’s sacking as coach at the end of 1976

“We went through ’75 with a reasonable side. We were beaten in the preliminary final by North Melbourne at Waverley. At the end of that season, we lost one of our most valuable players in Paul Sproule who, together with Kevin Bartlett, was really the crux of our running game. And we had very little luck in replacing Paul through our own ranks as it were. Indeed, we made a dive at John Pitura, who’d made it known he wasn’t happy at South Melbourne . . . And, ultimately, he did come to us. It was felt at Richmond at the time that the Club was in a decline. We were all aware of that. Although we still had players like Bartlett, Bourke, Hart and Sheedy with us. It was felt by a number of committee that probably Tom had lost his edge with the players a bit. We argued back and forth that if we were able to get fresh players, then that probably wouldn’t be the case. They’d bring renewed enthusiasm. But the recruiting had wound down . . . We were finding it very difficult to come up with the numbers to bring in to stimulate the team. So, a decision was made to dismiss Tom Hafey, which was a sad decision. It was not one which was made easily . . . We were very close friends. We’d been junior footballers together. I sort of stuck my neck out a bit over his appointment. He was an unknown quantity. We’d been very successful. And, unfortunately, it did fracture our friendship at that particular time. I’m glad to say that matter has now been restored. But it was a traumatic time for all concerned . . . It’s also fair to say that North Melbourne had brought a new trend into league football of transferring play, of overlapping-running, of high emphasis on skill on both sides of a person’s body. They were really the most completely-skilled team that we’d struck in league football at that time. Our emphasis was on a different style, and we were going to have to, in other words, learn new tricks, besides getting new players. But I think, really, we should have persuaded Tom to try and learn new tricks, rather than get rid of him.”

On the 1980 premiership triumph

“We’d gradually built up again . . . Losing Alan Schwab as secretary was a major blow in between. Alan had been offered a job at the league. He was tired of the club scene . . . Our recruiting ran down a bit following him going. It was only over the ’78-’79 period that we were able to get it together again. We were able to get the squad of players together that we needed, and we came out and had a very good team in 1980. In fact, if you look back over our performances of that year, I’m not sure that any of our previous premiership teams could have surpassed them.”

On Kevin Bartlett’s transformation into a star half-forward

“He was finished as a league rover, a matter that Kevin debated hotly, I might add. He was terribly upset with Richmond at the end of ’79 when he felt that there were moves inside the Club to replace him, I suppose, is the best way of putting it. But what we were trying to do was to get him to recognise the fact that he was no longer able to play the game the way he used to play it. He had to improve his level of skill. He had to be prepared to accept a new position in league football. Fortunately, he did, and I’d say that he probably, in two finals series that we were engaged in after that, put in some of the finest displays I think the finals series have ever seen. In 1980, he had three matches in which he kicked 21 goals (in total). If a full-forward kicked 21 goals in a finals series, you’d be more than happy. For a skinny, old bloke to kick them off a half-forward flank, was little short of unbelievable . . . He wasn’t too happy with me. You didn’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to work that out. But after the premiership was won, and he personally achieved such magnificent form, I think he might have realised that we weren’t so silly after all.”

On Richmond’s ruthlessness at the time

“The only way we were going to be able to squeeze the absolute last drop out of ourselves was not to accept anything but the highest possible standard . . . Zoning had a very drastic effect on Richmond. We’d been very high-powered recruiters. We’d always been able to come up with 12-14 players to replace 12 or 14 off the previous year’s list. In other words, keep the youthful enthusiasm coming in. That had been eroded by the impact of zoning and we had to virtually take ourselves to task, to hang on as long as we could. And I suppose any test of anyone is that you can really only get the best out of what you’ve got. Our methods may not have been widely accepted, but in actual fact, when people look back over what we had, and what we did, I think they could honestly say that the Richmond administrations of those times did get the best out of what they had.”

On the best achievement in his time at Tigerland

“To sign Len Smith as coach at the start of season 1964. I believe he set the whole philosophy, the whole style of game, gave us fresh thoughts, gave us fresh ideas, just regenerated a rundown Richmond Football Club.”