Jim Jess will be honoured as Richmond’s next Homecoming Hero for 2016.
The Tigers are set to pay tribute to Jess during the pre-game build-up at this Friday night’s Round 20 clash with arch rival Collingwood at the MCG.
Jess, who played 223 games and kicked 175 goals during 12 years with Richmond, from 1976-1988, will walk to the Punt Road end of the ground, where he’s sure to be warmly greeted by the Tiger Army.
He’ll kick a ceremonial goal, then sign the football and present it to a Richmond fan in the crowd.
Highlights of Jess’s illustrious playing career with the Tigers also will be shown on the MCG’s screens.
Jim Jess, dubbed ‘The Ghost’ by ‘Immortal’ Richmond coach Tommy Hafey, was a huge cult figure at Tigerland – one of the most popular players to ever wear the famous Yellow and Black guernsey on the field of battle.
As a young player with Victorian country club Avoca, Jess was residentially tied to St Kilda under the VFL’s then zoning rules.
He subsequently moved to St Arnaud, which was in Richmond’s country zone, and caught the eye of the Tiger talent scouts with his impressive form.
Richmond requested a clearance for Jess from St Kilda and, given the Saints had shown minimal interest in him, they agreed to release him.
It was to prove a substantial win for the Tigers . . .
After a slow start to his league career at Punt Road, (he was struck down with appendicitis following his first game in the reserves and sidelined for several weeks), Jess became an integral member of Richmond’s side as a valuable, versatile key-position player.
Although Jess, as a 21-year-old, mature-age recruit, won the Club’s Best First Year Player award in 1976, it was a match early the next season where he initially attracted the attention of the wider football public.
On Easter Monday, 1977, Richmond (seventh in ’76 under the final-five system) faced powerful reigning premier Hawthorn (some things never change) at the MCG in an important Round 2 encounter, with both teams having lost their opening round fixtures.
In the ‘77 season-opener against Fitzroy, Jess was hardly sighted, finishing with just six disposals, and subsequently coming under close scrutiny from the selectors as to whether he should retain his place in the line-up for the Round 2 match against Hawthorn.
Jess avoided the axe, but was selected as 20th man, and took his place on the bench, where he sat for three and a half quarters, watching an absorbing see-sawing contest, with both teams producing brilliant football in bursts.
Richmond was 34 points up at half-time, having trailed by 20 points at quarter-time, but by the last change, the Tigers’ lead had been cut to just 15 points.
Hawthorn, due to its edge in experience and all-round talent, continued to surge and, midway through the final term, hit the front for the first time since the second quarter.
With the game slipping away, Richmond coach Barry Richardson decided to roll the dice and swing Jess into the frenetic action.
Jess had an immediate impact . . . he goaled after taking a fine mark, and converted again a few minutes later from a free kick.
But the 22-year-old, in just his eighth game of senior league football, was saving his best for last . . .
The Tigers were down by four points, with the final siren imminent, when Jess, literally, rose to the occasion.
Richmond champion Royce Hart, in an unfamiliar key defensive role, received a handball from Tiger young gun Allan Edwards in the middle of the ground and slammed the ball forward as far as he could.
Jess, sensing the moment, soared high above star Hawk full-back Kelvin Moore to pull down a spectacular mark.
He then coolly slotted the goal, which put Richmond two points ahead and, although Hawthorn charged forward again, the Tigers were able to hold on to record a stirring one-point win.
With three goals from the only three disposals he picked up during his half-quarter of ground time, Jess’ impact was profound . . . and that was the day he started his climb to cult status at Tigerland.
Throughout the ensuing seasons, Jess established himself as a top-class centre half-back, utilising his mobility, strong marking, long kicking, toughness and aggression to full advantage for the Tigers’ team.
The 1980 season proved to be the best of Jess’ league career with Richmond.
He was a member of the victorious Victorian team in the State-of-Origin series that year, gained All-Australian selection and, most importantly, played a leading role for the Tigers in their Grand Final demolition of arch rival Collingwood.
Interestingly, Jess exerted a significant influence up the other end of the ground in the 1980 finals series.
With Richmond’s regular centre half-forward David Cloke unavailable for the team’s first two finals that year (the qualifying final v Carlton and second semi-final v Geelong) because of injury, coach Tony Jewell called on Jess to provide cover in the key attacking post. When Cloke returned for the Grand Final, he was slotted into a forward pocket, with Jess remaining at centre half-forward.
Jess was an extremely valuable contributor for the Tigers throughout their successful 1980 finals campaign.
In the qualifying final against Carlton at Waverley Park, he had 21 disposals, took four marks and kicked two goals.
In the second-semi final victory over Geelong at Waverley Park, he had 11 disposals, took three marks and kicked one goal.
Then, in the 81-point Grand Final triumph, Jess had 16 disposals, took five marks and kicked a goal.
Jess continued to provide Richmond with excellent service for another eight seasons, before announcing his retirement from league football in 1988.
Right to the end, Jimmy Jess, with his Viking-like looks and fiercely determined approach to the game, remained a firm favourite among the Yellow and Black faithful.
Jim Jess profile
Playing weight: 85kg
Recruited to Richmond from: Avoca/St Arnaud
Guernsey number atRichmond: No. 20
Debut at Richmond: Round 14, 1976 v Collingwood, MCG
Games at Richmond(1976-1988): 223
Goals at Richmond: 175
Honours at Richmond: Memberof the Tigers’ 1980 premiership side, winner of the Club’s Best First YearPlayer award in 1976, three-time Victorian State representative, All-Australian(1980)