Long before Collingwood and Essendon established the AFL Anzac Day tradition, Richmond was involved in an epic April 25 clash of its own. Tony Greenberg reflects on the historic 1977 Richmond v Collingwood Anzac Day match.
There had been a substantial sprinkling of spice added to the intense traditional rivalry between neighbouring league clubs Richmond and Collingwood leading into their Round 4 clash of the 1977 season.
Four-time Richmond premiership coach Tommy Hafey had departed Punt Road at the end of 1976 and taken over the coaching reins at Collingwood, which was coming off a disastrous wooden-spoon season – the first in the Magpies’ history.
The Tigers had replaced Hafey with their triple premiership player Barry Richardson, who had been the Club’s assistant coach.
Both teams had a record of two wins and one loss for the season going into the Round 4 fixture at the MCG, which was being held on a Monday due to it being the Anzac Day holiday.
The massive crowd of 92,436 that filled the MCG stands that day was the catalyst for the modern-day Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day blockbusters.
That attendance was the then second highest home-and-away figure in league football history and, 43 years on, it’s the fifth largest ever.
There was a finals-like atmosphere reverberating around the famous ground, as the huge supporter armies of both clubs turned out in force on a superb autumn day to see if it would be the master (Hafey), or his apprentice (Richardson), who would emerge victorious.
The match lived up to the hype, too, with plenty of high-intensity football, top-class performances and highlights.
Unfortunately, however, the end result certainly wasn’t to the liking of the Yellow and Black faithful, with Collingwood winning by 26 points.
In keeping with the finals-type conditions, the opening term was a desperate scramble, with both teams striving to seize the early initiative.
The Magpies took a narrow four-point lead into the quarter-time break, but it should have been significantly more, as they managed just four goals from 11 shots.
By half-time, although they had increased their lead to 19 points, the match remained in the balance.
But right at the start of the third quarter, there was an incident that perhaps highlighted the state of mind some of the Richmond players were in, coming up against their much-loved and admired former coach Tommy Hafey.
Experienced Tiger star ruck-rover Kevin Sheedy took the ball from the opening bounce and booted the ball as far forward as he could, in a determined bid to get his team off to a flying start in the third term.
The only problem was Sheedy, inexplicably, had kicked it the wrong way – right down the throat of star Collingwood forward Phil Carman – much to the sheer delight of the Magpie Army and the utter despair of the Tiger Army.
Sheedy later recalled: “I've got a very sore tail, where I was kicked by about 5000 members for kicking that ball the wrong way. I just looked at Carman (who marked the ball) and said to myself: ‘What a bloody silly thing to do’.”
Tiger heads seemed to slump after that shocking Sheedy mistake and the Magpies swooped, slamming on four quick goals, to shoot 41 points clear.
Richmond, to its credit, though, managed to steady and reduce the deficit to 20 points at three-quarter time.
In the final term, although the Tigers pressed hard, Collingwood was able to keep them at bay and go on to record a comfortable victory.
Despite the disappointing result, one bright light for Richmond was the excellent senior debut of young forward David Miller, who kicked five goals.
Club historian Rhett Bartlett recently interviewed Miller, who provided an insight into what it was like to debut in a blockbuster clash between two of league football’s most traditional and fierce rivals, before of a crowd of such magnitude . . .
“I never even actually thought there would be a big crowd. I was probably caught up in the emotion of playing my first game, so I never really considered it,” Miller said.
“A few mates were going to go and watch me, and I said I'd give them a wave when I get out on the ground because I knew they were going to be out over near Bay 13. I don't think a lot of them got in till quarter-time . . .
“I was petrified.
“I was more worried about making a fool of myself or not getting a kick.
“But it worked out I had a pretty good game. I kicked five goals, and still, to this day, I still think I should have kicked seven.
“I remember going for one goal on the boundary and remember thinking, ‘Do I do the team thing?’ And it was touched on the line.
“A lot of people still talk about it or introduce me because I kicked five goals in one game.
“It's lasted a long time I tell you Rhett.”
That day, Miller also joined the exclusive club of players who scored a goal with their first kick in league football.
“It was at the Punt Road end and I remember I sort of read it off the top of the pack and ran into the open goal. It was a ‘gimme’ goal. It was probably in the 10-yard square,” he said.
Here’s how chief football writer of ‘The Age’ newspaper at the time, Ron Carter, viewed the original Anzac Day epic encounter in 1977 . . .
“After yesterday’s win, Hafey walked the familiar path back to the Punt Road ground for a cup of tea and a yarn with many Richmond friends at the after-match entertainment.
Hafey admitted: “It was a strange feeling playing Richmond because so many of them are my best friends . . . that does make it difficult . . . but that’s football and we can’t do much about it.
“I think the (Collingwood) players might have put more into their game just for my sake.”
As for Hafey’s former players in Richmond jumpers, it looked at times as though they were trying to help him win it.
Kevin Sheedy, of all people, grabbed the ball in the centre at the first bounce after half-time and kicked it the wrong way, straight to Phil Carman.
The Tigers seemed to have an emotional build-up before the game, knowing they were going against their old coach.
But coach Barry Richardson said this did not lose him the game.
“The players were tense and fumbled their way through the first half, maybe as a result of trying too hard . . . I’d like to think that,” he said.”
Richmond 4.3 7.4 12.9 14.16 (100)
Collingwood 4.7 9.11 14.17 17.24 (126)
Goals – Richmond: Miller 5, Heard 2, Lamb 2, Bartlett, Edwards, Hummel, Jess, Wood.
Leading possession-winners – Richmond: Bartlett 25, Walsh 24, Edwards 21, Bourke 20.
Goals – Collingwood: Bond 4, Carman 3, Dunne 2, Ireland 2, Kink 2, Moore 2, Wearmouth 2.
Leading possession-winners – Collingwood: W. Richardson 28, M. Richardson 22, Atkinson 20, Picken 19.