In the ninth of a special richmondfc.com.au nostalgic series celebrating Richmond’s 50 years at home at the MCG, Tony Greenberg takes a look at the Tigers’ historic 1970 season-opener.
Round 1 of the 1970 season is an occasion etched in Tigerland history, albeit not all for positive reasons . . .
On April 5 that year, Richmond played Fitzroy at the MCG in what was the league football competition’s first-ever Sunday match.
Special permission had been granted by the State government, to the then VFL, to stage the opening round game on a Sunday, in honor of the Royal Family’s visit to Victoria at the time.
And, due to the nationwide interest in the match, the VFL agreed to permit a direct telecast of the second half, without any rights fee involved.
Richmond was the reigning premier, having defeated Carlton in the 1969 Grand Final, to claim its second flag in three seasons. Fitzroy, on the other hand, had finished 10th in the 1969 season, with seven wins and 13 losses.
Tommy Hafey’s Tigers went into the match as the hottest of hot favorites, but soon found themselves with a major fight on their hands against the Bill Stephen-coached Lions.
Richmond held a slender five-point lead at the half-time break, which was extended to around 40 minutes, to enable players from both teams to be introduced to the Royal Family, and for Queen Elizabeth to then unfurl the Club’s 1969 premiership flag.
The Tigers’ captain, Roger Dean, had the task of introducing his team members to the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who all then watched the last half of the match.
Many years later, Dean told Rhett Bartlett, author of “Richmond F.C. A Century Of League Football”, how he felt about his Royal assignment . . .
“I was a bit flustered. I thought, ‘I hope I remember all the players’ names’,” Dean said.
“They don’t look real somehow. I don’t believe I am talking to Royalty.
“I used to play in a favorite old jumper and it had gone a navy blue, not black, and they made me change into a brand new jumper, so I’d look decent to introduce them all around . . .
“He (Prince Charles) seemed nice enough, he didn’t say much, just being courteous to the players, ‘Enjoying the game?’ and ‘It’s a very hard game, isn’t it’. It was pretty formal. It probably bored him to snores . . .”
Richmond’s 1967 premiership defender and 1980 Tigers’ premiership coach, Tony Jewell, provided his memories of the day in the Club’s ‘The Fighting Tiger’ magazine . . .
“We trudged into the rooms at half-time far from pleased with ourselves as we led by only a few points, when we were expected to wipe Fitzroy almost at will,” Jewell said.
“We just could not concentrate on the job at hand and, instead of being able to gather our thoughts during the break, there were all sorts of people running around the rooms at half-time.
“Some were trying to explain protocol, others were explaining how to line up, and others were handing out instructions. For example, we were told not to say anything – not a word – to the Queen, unless asked a question.
“She didn’t say anything to me, so my meeting with the Queen was nothing more than a very quick shake of her gloved hand.
“I also remember that we had to change into clean guernseys and wash our hands at half-time.
“You could tell there were many fans at the footy just to see the Royal Family and it was probably the strangest atmosphere I have ever experienced in a match.”
The second half turns out to be a right, royal shocker for the Tigers, with Fitzroy slamming on six goals in the third term and a further five in the last quarter, to pull off an upset win of gigantic proportions.
Richmond full-forward Eric Moore, with six goals, along with elusive half-forward John Northey, three goals, did their best to try and provide a spark for the Tigers in attack, Francis Bourke controlled his wing throughout, while defenders Kevin Sheedy, Barry Richardson and Colin Beard were rock-solid.
Fitzroy, however, was just too good for the reigning premiers on the day.
“We had a great theory we were going to make a lot of money (that day) selling membership tickets,” Richmond’s president in 1970, Ian Wilson, recalled in ‘The Hafey Years’ book.
“We had four Mayne Nickless vans strategically positioned outside of the MCG and I was stuck in one with Ron Garraway (former Tiger board member). We thought we were going to sell a million tickets!
“Ron smokes as much as I do and we were asphyxiating ourselves while two and a fat boy came and bought tickets. It wasn’t a great success.
“I said to Ron, ‘This has been a distinct failure, this membership drive’.
“He had a portable radio with him and said, ‘Don’t worry about that – we’re getting the hell belted out of us in the football’!”
As one Tiger wag commented afterwards, “We just don’t play well in front of the Queen”.
The youngest member of the Richmond side that day was Ron Thomas, who was playing his fifth game, at 21 years and 183 days of age, while Dean was the veteran of the side at 29 years and 340 days, with 176 games experience.
Fitzroy’s side contained players such as 1969 Brownlow Medallist and 224-game veteran, Kevin Murray, ruck pair Norm Brown and Russell Crow, full-back Harvey Merrigan, and eventual five-time Lions’ Best and Fairest winner, John Murphy, the father of Carlton’s current-day captain Marc Murphy.
Richmond never really recovered from that shock opening round defeat in 1970, suffering a further nine losses for the season and finishing sixth, two games plus percentage out of the final four. Fitzroy ended up ninth that year, with nine wins and 13 losses.
Richmond 3.4 6.7 9.10 14.12 (96)
Fitzroy 3.3 5.8 11.14 16.20 (116)
Goals – Richmond: Moore 6, Northey 3, M. Bowden 2, B. Brown 2, Bartlett.
Goals – Fitzroy: Wall 4, Murphy 2, Peoples 2, A. Ruscuklic 2, Thompson 2, Brown, Crow, Lazarus, Newnham.
Best – Richmond: Bourke, Northey, Sheedy, Beard, Richardson.
Best – Fitzroy: Wall, Merrigan, Andrews, Murray, Lazarus, Herrod.
The Richmond team, Round 1, 1970
B: Beard, Richardson, Sheedy
HB: Thomas, Burgin, Strang
C: Bourke, Barrot, Clay
HF: Dean, Hart, Northey
F: Ronaldson, Moore, Brown
R: Green, Bowden, Bartlett
Res: Bond, Jewell