It is 50 years since Richmond made the pivotal move to the MCG to play its home games. Since that time in 1965, there have been numerous highlights for the Tigers at the iconic ground and, over the next couple of months, richmondfc.com.au will relive many of those key happenings. In the first of this special nostalgic series, we reflect on Richmond’s first home game at the ‘G, in Round 1, 1965, against Melbourne.
Richmond’s move to the MCG to play its home games from 1965 was prompted by a couple of key factors.
Firstly, the Punt Road thoroughfare had been earmarked for widening to accommodate increased traffic flow, which meant the Club’s Punt Road Oval home ground would become even smaller in area, and therefore unsuitable to host league games.
Secondly, when Len Smith took over as Richmond’s coach in 1964, he had a firm philosophy on the brand of football that could enable the Tigers to attain sustained success.
Smith strongly advocated a fast, play-on style, which was in complete contrast to the static mark-and-kick fashion of the day.
To ensure this game plan was properly executed, Smith wanted tall, quick, long-kicking players in his line-up.
Smith’s main aim was to build a team that would be successful on the spacious MCG, where all league finals at the time were contested.
So, with the astute Smith striving to make a major change to the way Richmond went about its on-field business, and Punt Road Oval on the way out as a viable venue for league matches, the Tigers, under the strong leadership of president Ray Dunn and secretary Graeme Richmond, hatched a bold plan to play their home games at the MCG. They would share the famous ground with Melbourne, while maintaining their Punt Road headquarters for training and administration purposes.
Initially, there was opposition from rival league clubs, who felt such a move would provide Richmond with an unfair advantage should it make the finals (albeit something the Club hadn’t managed to do for a couple of decades). Eventually, however, the compelling case put forward by the Tigers convinced the League directors to approve the move.
When the 1965 VFL fixture was announced, Richmond had been scheduled to play its first home at the MCG in the opening round of the season, against reigning premier and now ground co-tenant Melbourne.
Since Richmond had last played finals football in 1947, Melbourne had won seven premierships, and earned an awesome reputation as the powerhouse of the competition, with a playing style ideally suited to the MCG.
The Tigers, who had finished ninth (of 12 teams) in 1964, with just six wins, were clear outsiders going into that 1965 season-opener against the Demon champions, but there was a fair amount of interest in the contest, given the new ground-sharing situation, and the fact Richmond’s Len Smith would be pitting his coaching skills against his brother, Melbourne’s legendary coach Norm Smith.
Richmond named two new players in its team for the Round 1, 1965 clash with the Demons – a lanky 19-year-old forward from St Pat’s College, Ballarat, Barry Richardson, and dashing 20-year-old defender from Albury, Geoff Strang, the son of the Tigers’ 1932 premiership player and goalkicking star Doug Strang.
It was a star-studded, seasoned Melbourne side, brimming with premiership players, while only two members of the Richmond line-up had played more than 100 games – captain Neville Crowe (104) and Fred Swift (105).
The match took place on the Easter Monday holiday, April 19, before a crowd of 36,282, in soaking rain.
Defying the terrible conditions, the Tigers seized the early initiative, kicking 3.2 to Melbourne’s single goal in the opening term.
But in the second quarter, the Demons flexed their renowned muscles, booting 5.2 to just two behinds, to take a comfortable 16-point advantage into the half-time break.
Just when it looked like Melbourne would pull right away in the second half, Richmond responded superbly.
The Tigers restricted their highly-fancied opponents to just one behind in the third term, while scoring three goals straight themselves, to hold a one-point lead at the last change.
In a tough, tight, tense last quarter, the Demons had to muster all of their considerable football experience and expertise to stave off the tenacious Tiger challenge.
When the final siren sounded, the reigning premiers had prevailed by six points. Richmond, however, had won plenty of admirers with such a plucky performance in its first home game at the MCG.
Here’s how chief football writer of ‘The Age’ newspaper at the time, former Melbourne champion, Percy Beames, assessed the events that unfolded on that historic day in April 1965 for the Tigers . . .
“Melbourne’s success in sneaking home by six points against Richmond at the MCG yesterday was a tribute to its “know how” in a tight finish, rather than a compliment to its 1964 premiership ability.
In the atrocious conditions, naturally skill had to fall away and the more players were able to draw on physical endurance, strength and courage, the greater became their value to their sides.
Richmond could scarcely have drawn more deeply on these qualities, and if lady luck had smiled where she was entitled to, the Tigers would have taken the points.
There is no disputing the fact that the honors of the match belonged to Richmond. Melbourne coach Norm Smith readily acknowledged this when he said after the game: “We were lucky to win.”
But for the patience and coolness of Barry Vagg, who calmly waited for a chance shot to come out to him, and kicked the winning goal, Melbourne possibly would not have turned threatened defeat into victory.
The unlucky man yesterday was Richmond’s shrewd coach Len Smith. Weeks ago he set about laying plans for what he hoped would be the upset of the season.
Len Smith knew Melbourne would have an edge in ability, and he decided the way to offset this was to outlast the opposition.
For three weeks he trained Richmond three nights a week, and he had the satisfaction of seeing the Tigers decisively outstay Melbourne in the second half, but luck was against him.
To give greater effect to this physical fitness, the Richmond coach shrewdly offset Melbourne strengths with counter moves.
By far the most successful was the pitting of captain Neville Crowe against Melbourne’s tireless ruckman Graham Wise.
Crowe was on the ball all day. He dominated every bounce and throw in, and shut Wise out of the game.
Another highly successful move was the recall of Reserves captain and coach??? Alan Richardson to the senior side. Richardson used his great strength in telling fashion around the packs.
The only department where Richmond did not get value was in attack. Its forward work was not nearly good enough, and players failed to take advantage of the numerous opportunities that came their way.
It would be wrong to suggest that without Barassi, Melbourne is not the force it was last season, but it can be said the Demons missed his presence and drive.
The game was also useless as a guide to whether Richmond is capable of producing a higher class of football than last year.
But the Tigers can feel sure of one thing – no game is going to be handed in meekly this season.”
Richmond 3.2 3.4 6.4 6.5 (41)
Melbourne 1.0 6.2 6.3 7.5 (47)
Goals – Richmond: Barrot 3, Dimattina, Sheahan, Warner.
Leading possession-getters – Richmond: Dean 27, A. Richardson 21, Hogan 20, Barrot 18.
Goals – Melbourne: Bourke 2, Vagg 2, Jacobs, Lord, Townsend.
Leading possession-getters – Melbourne: Mann 23, Dixon 18, Williams 18.
The Richmond team