Matthew Parker will line up in the 2021 WAFL grand final for South Fremantle, on loan from Richmond, 52 years after Tiger ‘Immortal’ Royce Hart did likewise with SANFL club Glenelg. Tony Greenberg takes up the story . . .
Throughout 1969, young Richmond star centre half-forward Royce Hart was based in Adelaide, doing his National Service training with the Royal Australian Artillery.
Under the regulations of the game’s governing body at the time, the Australian National Football Council, Hart was permitted to play in the SANFL as part of his National Service training.
Hart became a fly-in player for Richmond during the season, travelling to Melbourne late in the week, lining up with the Tigers on the Saturday, and then returning to Adelaide the following day.
Despite that seemingly difficult preparation each week, Hart was totally unfazed.
The then 21-year-old produced his trademark brilliance on a consistent basis and played a pivotal role in Richmond’s 1969 premiership triumph. He subsequently won the Club’s Best and Fairest award and gained All-Australian selection.
The Tigers defeated Carlton by 25 points in the ’69 Grand Final, Hart finishing with 16 disposals, five marks and a goal.
One week later, Hart pulled on the yellow and black guernsey of the SANFL Tigers, Glenelg, in their grand final against Sturt.
Glenelg had registered Hart to play, in a move that created considerable controversy within the SA football world.
Famous SA football identity Neil Kerley, who was then Glenelg’s coach, said: “Royce was an incredible player . . . I chatted with him well before the finals and talked him into playing for us if he was available. We were hoping to get Royce at the end of the minor round (home-and-away season) because Richmond had to do some miraculous things and win their last four games to make the final four – which they did! Instead of us getting Hart for all the finals, we didn’t get him until the grand final.”
Hart was paid $2000 for his one-off appearance with Glenelg, which was a huge sum of money at the time.
Unfortunately, it proved to be a forgettable day for Hart – quite literally.
He was knocked out early in the game following a collision and Glenelg lost the grand final by 65 points.
There were no concussion protocols in place back in those days, so Hart played on.
With 21 kicks, a game-high 10 marks and two goals, Hart was one of Glenelg’s best players, notwithstanding the fact that the first half of the premiership-decider was a total blur for him.
Here is what Hart had to say about the KO incident in his book ‘The Royce Hart Story’. . .
“Two thousand dollars for one hundred minutes may sound easy money, but take it from me, it isn’t. To make this sort of cash in football a star player must be prepared to take a lot of punishment. And that’s exactly what I got when I played for Glenelg in the South Australian Grand Final against Sturt in 1969 in Adelaide. In fact, I played most of the first half of that game without knowing it.
Only eight minutes after the start, I was the meat in one of the best made human sandwiches of all time. I recall going in to pick up the ball and a couple of Sturt players came at me, one from the side, the other from head on. The next thing I remember, I was in the hands of the trainers. I got up, was handed the ball, tried to take my kick, but I couldn’t recollect any more after that.
At half-time in the dressing rooms, Alf Brown, football writer of the Melbourne Herald, came in to see me and I didn’t recognise him. So apparently I played the first half without knowing what was going on. During the interval, trainers worked on me with smelling salts and I came out for the second half with only a headache.
There were no reports from the incident, but there was quite an outcry for weeks later as to whether Sturt had been out to get me. It seemed accidental to me, but to thousands of fans who saw a replay on TV, it looked deliberate. Many claimed that I held the key to Glenelg’s premiership hopes, and held it to be too much of a coincidence for me to be knocked out in the first few minutes. From then on the result was never in doubt; Sturt went on to annihilate Glenelg.
At the time I was a National Serviceman stationed in Adelaide and under Australian National Football Council rules, I was given permission to play for Glenelg . . .
It was said that the two thousand dollars I received was the highest fee paid to a player for one match. You might ask was it worth it? Too right! I’d get in the ring with Cassius Clay and get knocked out a hundred times for that sort of money.”