Fair Game

Sam Newman goes Head to Head with Graeme Richmond – The Sun, August 23, 1990.

Since 1909 Richmond Football Club has prowled the league scene and for 26 years before then, the association.  But now, like mentor Graeme Richmond, the club faces the ultimate challenge – survival.  When you think of Richmond, you think of Richmond.  Ironically, both are facing a future of uncertainty.  While the great club is ailing financially the great man is fighting to regain his health.  For almost a quarter of a century he was the inspiration behind it, overseeing seven grand final appearances, with flags in 1967, 1969, 1973-74 and 1980.  He’s done the books at Tigerland, been recruiting, coached, managed the team, been elected vice-president and been a selector – a talent he currently employs at state level.  Today GRAEME RICHMOND goes Head to Head with SAM NEWMAN about the problems of big game hunting.

It looks like the cage doors are about to shut at Tigerland.

Richmond:  It’s exceptionally grim and unless the Richmond people rally to the cause it’s possible a team, that eight years ago played in a grand final, will be the first victim of financial pressures.

Newman:  Can you see Richmond surviving?

Richmond:  Yes.  Many good people at Richmond would be concerned …

Newman:  ….. even though only 16,000 turned up to a survival game last Saturday?

Richmond:  It was disappointing, but I think next Sunday (rally at MCG) will be the litmus test.  That will give the club a direct indication as to its future.

Newman:  Would you be heartbroken if the inevitable happened?

Richmond:  It would be an absolute tragedy.  I’d be devastated.  It’s been such an enormous part of my own life – like it has for the thousands who have played for, and served, the club.  It’s a club with a magnificent history – we’ve won 10 premierships, many of them in recent times.

Newman:  In AFL circles your opinion would be highly regarded so …

Richmond:  … well, I’d regard myself as yesterday’s man, to be honest with you.

Newman:  You’re a current state selector.

Richmond:  Yes, but I’m not active on the administrative side so I’d say my opinions are not sought after and maybe not valid at the moment.

Newman:  Well, as the most experienced Richmond man ever, I’m seeking your opinion on where Richmond has gone wrong.  After all, they were grand finalists in ’82.

Richmond:  Richmond is suffering from an imbalance of inexperienced young players and competent, experienced ones.

Newman:  And whose fault is that?

Richmond:  It’s an administration fault that’s run over a period of between seven and 10 years.  The backbone of the successful clubs rests with the ability of the top seven or eight players who have played between six and 12 years of football.

Newman:  Is it just a coincidence that seven or 10 years is the period you’ve been away from the club?

Richmond:  I’m not saying that, but I’d say the administration at Richmond in the ‘80s have a lot to answer for because the team just hasn’t got the competency or depth of senior players which the whole show revolves around.  There’s very few Royce Harts or John Colemans that walk into football these days and are overnight sensations.

Newman:  You went down to Tasmania and got the young Royce Hart, didn’t you?

Richmond:  Yes, but you must realise Royce wasn’t an outright champion at that stage.  He developed through our under-19s and reserve-grade teams in 1966.  His remarkable leap forward occurred over the summer of 1966-67.  He worked very hard in the gym and came out in ’67 and matched his physique with his skills.

Newman:  Would you see a parallel between a side like Carlton today and Richmond in the early ‘80s?

Richmond:  Carlton has one of the best football administrators in the game in Ian Collins, but they are one of the first victims of the draft.  This is something supporters of the leading clubs are going to have to get used to.  The AFL’s charter is to conduct a well-balanced competition.  It was obvious it was becoming a gross imbalance because some of the clubs were so competent with their marketing and fund raising they were putting themselves into the situation where the cheque book ruled the roost.

Newman:  Like Richmond did.

Richmond:  Yes.  That could have been said of them in the ‘60s and ‘70s because we were one of the first to be able to raise money through more traditional sources and use that money to recruit players.

Newman:  Like when you went down to Tassie and offered Royce Hart two thousand quid ($4000).

Richmond:  No, we didn’t.  No, we did not.  Anyhow, this is no longer possible, of course.  This is where Carlton are feeling the pinch and ultimately Hawthorn will feel it too – where they no longer have the advantage of a magnificent country zone.

Newman:  I got the name wrong.  You offered Peter Hudson two thousand quid.

Richmond:  I did, most certainly.  That’s correct now.  Peter was always pretty keen to make every post a winner, but the principle prevailed and the magnificent work Ron Cook (Hawthorn) had done on the Hudsons prevailed when Peter’s form four ran out. 

Newman:  Did the Richmond club just load you up with money and chuff you off to all points of the compass?

Richmond:  We had a very good side, but our forward line was revolving around Pat Guinane and John Northey, so I thought Peter would be better suited at the MCG.  Little did I know that John Kennedy (then Hawthorn coach) was going to devise a plan for Glenferrie Oval by keeping the forward line virtually free of players to accommodate Hudson’s quick movements.

Newman:  So Richmond’s decision to procure Peter Hudson was, in fact, outside the league’s recruiting guidelines?

Richmond:  Seeing as none of these decisions are now retrospective, yes, we probably bent the system, but our charter was to do the best for our club – which we did.  One of the great things about our game is that we do breed a series of desperate men in charge who’ll virtually do anything they believe they can get away with.

Newman:  What tricks would they have up their sleeves at this particular stage?

Richmond:  Firstly, the public and corporate sectors must be approached.  If all else failed, concerned money people must be put into a position to form a financial backing.

Newman:  They may think they’d be putting good money after bad.

Richmond:  I think the board would have to be prepared to look at its position because people who are prepared to put up money in substantial lumps will want some say over the conduct of the club affairs.

Newman:  That’s more or less buying the right to decide the club’s direction.

Richmond:  Pretty much so, but that’s the disaster scenario they’re facing as a last resort.  It could be a benevolent ownership rather than a dictatorship, but there has to be some collateral available to the members.  That would seem to me to be in the form of a licence.

Newman:  Another privately-owned club?

Richmond:  There are all sorts of structures available that can circumvent private ownership as such.  It would also need a couple of years of pretty dramatic recruiting.  If other clubs are genuinely concerned about the Richmonds and Fitzroys, then benefits given to the interstate teams should be extended to those other ailing clubs.

Newman:  So you think the traditional clubs have been discriminated against, do you?

Richmond:  No, but the discrepancy hasn’t been pushed forcefully enough.  It needs reappraising.

Newman:  Can you see Brideshead being revisited and instead of the summer of ’89 embracing Fitzroy and Footscray, the summer of ’90 may well be Richmond and Fitzroy?

Richmond:  It’s not palatable to either club’s supporters, but in the absolute point of last resort, these scenarios have to be considered.

Newman:  At least the teams would be kept in the big cat family.  Is Kevin Bartlett the right man to coach Richmond?

Richmond:  I’d say he’s doing a remarkably good job.  To coach the Tigers for the past three years has been a real test.  He was really on a hiding to nothing when he took on the job.  He probably was a bit more optimistic in that he thought he could turn some things around.

Newman:  Like what?

Richmond:  I think he thought he could handle a few of the inconsistent players a bit better than his predecessor.  He had a good first year and the blokes who grizzled and groaned previously went under the blankets a bit but, when everyone got used to it, the age-old problems emerged – Geelong is a classic example this year.  The second year of coaching is the critical one.

Newman:  Do you think Richmond’s 12th spot is their true standard?

Richmond:  Every club has injuries but Richmond’s have been horrific.  Richmond should have at least held their ground from ’88 (10th) to ’89 (bottom).

Newman:  What is the first ability you’d appoint a coach on?

Richmond:  A knowledge of the game and his ability to impart it.  Many great players have been coaches but can’t communicate.  Jack Dyer had a very simple philosophy.  He said:  “you get the players and we’ll win the games – everything else will be put to rest.  We’ll get someone to look after the books and run the whole show.  It’ amazing how smoothly everything runs when you’re winning”.

Newman:  Meaning, if you had the right players, the coach was incidental?

Richmond:  We’d been very well handed by Len Smith (then Richmond coach) in the mid-60s.  Len virtually taught us how to play.  He took us from the prop and cop game to the game Geelong used to play in the ‘50s – playing on off their half-back line.  Len then went to Fitzroy and, when they played us, we didn’t know what hit us.  I used to go and watch Fitzroy train when I was Richmond’s under-19s coach and came to the conclusion we’d have to get someone to teach us some new tricks.

Newman:  So you went to Shepparton and got Tom Hafey.  What did you think his particular talent was?  

Richmond:  To everybody’s horror we went and got Tommy but Tommy was a much better player than his record indicated at Richmond.  He was a tremendous mark, a magnificent kick and iron tough but he made the fatal mistake of going into a milkbar and I’ve no doubt the long hours sent his football down the gurgler pretty quickly.  Tommy and Jack Hamilton were the first two players I knew to train on weights.  Everybody was terrified you’d become muscle bound and go stale but one of the so-called skills of being a coach was to judge when a player was fit and, thus, blokes would invariably get nights off training in case they got overfit and stale.

Newman:  And Tom changed all that.

Richmond:  Earlier, we’d brought in blokes like Harry Gallagher, Percy Cerutty and Franz Stampfl, who convinced us we weren’t training hard enough and that fear of training too hard was all rubbish – it was in the mind.  They said that, in a pecking order of fitness on a world scale, footballers were disgracefully unfit.  I don’t mind telling you our ears did prick up.  We’d had a fitness adviser called Barry Stanton, an Australian 400m hurdles champion, who’d been hammering on this point for a while.  In the end, we reckoned not all these blokes could be dills, so we introduced an extra training night on Wednesdays and a “running out” period on Sunday mornings.

Newman:  So, you were to blame for Sunday morning training.  I often wondered who was responsible for that.

Richmond:  All this was right up Tommy’s alley, as Len (Smith) was a brilliant tactician, but a gentle man.  Tom brought an edge of hardness to us and he went along with our style of handball and long kicking.  I’d also like to point out we tried to get Ted Whitten from Footscray after we’d failed with Peter Hudson.  I’d been tremendously impressed with Ted in the ’66 carnival in Hobart.

Newman:  Did you offer Ted the mandatory two thousand quid, or had we moved into decimals at this stage?

Richmond:  Ted had got the boot as coach from Footscray (’66) and was pretty sore about it, so I tried to get up his jumper a bit – I even rang him on Christmas morning to wish him well.  But full marks to Ted, I think he copped a bit of flak about Footscray’s recent revival because the people thought he was AFL-oriented, but no one went closer than me to get him out of the red, white and blue.  But, when the crunch came, he just couldn’t see himself playing for anyone else than the Dogs.  I’d also like to point out we had a very strong go at John Newman a few years ago and, to his credit as well – I mean Geelong weren’t going any good and we had plenty of dough …

Newman:  I should have taken it.

Richmond:  I know you don’t mean that.  If we trace Richmond’s predicament we get back to ’83 when, over summer, we lost Bryan Wood to Essendon, our captain David Cloke and our most naturally-talented player, Geoff Raines, to Collingwood. 

Newman:  Well, you sacked Raines.

Richmond:  We never did.  We didn’t pay him what Collingwood had offered in their financial stupidity of the day.  Not only did it make Collingwood broke, but it bankrupted Richmond of its talent in the process. 

Newman:  Are you saying David Cloke and Geoff Raines didn’t have the same ethics as Ted Whitten or Peter Hudson?

Richmond:  I think they were a bit sore about some other matters as well, but it was disappointing, particularly as they had developed through our junior teams.  People who changed their religion or politics were considered heretics in those days.  The closest thing in my lifetime to that would be to change Richmond to Collingwood and, while Victoria St divided the two, never the twain did meet.  Harry Dyke, our late and great president, would stand up on a Thursday night before we played Collingwood, take his hat off, and quote Lord Nelson:  “I expect every man to do his duty” – and they invariably did.  Cloke and Raines going was a very bitter pill to swallow. 

Newman:  Maybe you need Harry and his hat down there now.

 

Newman:  What mistakes did you make at Richmond?

Richmond:  Until the arrival of Cameron Schwab, we didn’t adequately replace Alan Schwab – who left us at the end of ’76 to return to the league.  He was the last of the great Richmond administrators .  Richmond has suffered since.  The basis of success in a club is a good president, secretary, coach and doctor.

Newman:  Could we take it from this that you don’t think Richmond has had a good president, secretary, coach and doctor since Alan Schwab left?

Richmond:  Neville Crowe is a well-received populist leader and the committee has several competent members.

Newman:  So competent they’re about to go out of business.  

Richmond:  The inherited deficit of the mid-80s has been impossible to overcome especially as the team had struggled onfield.  Richmond were very lucky in the halcyon times because Ray Dunn (ex Richmond president) organised the move of Richmond to the MCG and this launched the Tigers financially.

Newman:  Obviously someone has scuttled the ship.

Richmond:  Ray was succeeded by Al Boord as president.  He was president in ’73 when we won the flag and had formerly been chairman of our very powerful financial executive.  Then Ian Wilson succeeded him and “Octa” was almost peerless in his capacity as president of Richmond.  He gave the club style and flair.  

Newman:  He loved those walks around the boundary before the game – especially during the finals.  

Richmond:  He was a ferocious fighter for the club at the league.  His fights at the league table have gone down in its history and he’s become almost a mythical figure.  His fights were both physical and verbal, I might add.  You had to be a very good in-fighter in those days to make sure your club got a fair crack of the whip.

Newman:  This is maybe why there is an AFL Commission now.

Richmond:  But the success of any club is – you’ve only got to look at Hawthorn.  OK, we can all grimace over the zone they got and whereas the zones were meant to be redrawn every three years, that convention very smartly went down the gurgler when the clubs realised what a good wicket they were on.  They forgot about the next stage and decided to stick with the status quo.  But Ron Cook, another of the great football administrators I’ve known, was smart enough to have Hawthorn capitalise on what they had.

Newman:  Who has been the best football administrator?

Richmond:  Alan Schwab – by a street.  The best grass roots and practical administrator in the game.

Newman:  If he’s so good, perhaps he should have Ross Oakley’s job.

Richmond:  No, I think Ross is very, very good in his role.  Ross has grasped a very difficult portfolio and walked into the job in the tough times of interstate football, TV rights and the like.  I think he’s grown in the job and I think the league is very fortunate to have both doing the jobs they are.

Newman:  I assume, that as you’ve fought valiantly for the success of Richmond in a local competition, you’re opposed to a national league.  

Richmond:  I can tell you quite truthfully that I’ve been a proponent of the expansion of the VFL competition going back to the early ‘70s.  When Richmond and North Melbourne played practice matches two years in a row on the Gabba in Brisbane, which was a crook ground for our game, we were absolutely stunned at the enthusiasm they received.  We played in pouring rain both years and you couldn’t have got an ant into the place.  Sydney had to happen, but it would have been better if a pincer movement had tone to Queensland first – and not to the Gold Coast.  I’ve no doubt the national comp will continue to be an outstanding success as we move into the ‘90s.

Newman:  Meaning it already is?

Richmond:  Look, there were difficulties in 1926 when the league brought in Footscray, North Melbourne and Hawthorn.  They were an embarrassment.  They couldn’t beat an egg.

Newman:  And now Port Adelaide looks like compounding the situation.

Richmond:  South Australian football is going backwards and the standard of its game is not good.  Naturally they are looking to preserve their competition, but the exercise that’s been done on the financial viability of a team in Adelaide – well, all I can say is that if they want any shareholders, count me in.  I think it would be an outstanding success.  It’s a bit disappointing where, I believe, we’ve opened the door to SA and SA have continually slammed it shut.  There have been all sorts of machinations gone on from the SA side that haven’t amounted to anything when it’s come to the real crunch.  The AFL have forced them to the negotiating table by a very clever tactical ploy.  Now it’s up to wiser heads to prevail.

Newman:  Do you have any reservations abut today’s game?

Richmond:  It’s a changing, softer society than the one I grew up in.  We came out of depressions and wars, and it was an accepted way of life.  Currently, there’s tremendous apprehension about being knocked around too much outside the rules.  We must be pragmatic because the good old days are gone.  But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  The league is experiencing its most successful season, in terms of attendances, ever.  They must be doing something right.

Newman:  That’s of little comfort to Richmond and a few others, who are really struggling.

Richmond:  The point I’m making is that the structure of the game, introduction of the player draft and the salary cap have all had an effect on restoring people’s confidence in the game.  This confidence wavered drastically in the early ‘80s as player went from club to club, were paid outrageous salaries, huge transfer fees and it all put the game in jeopardy.

Newman:  So why do you think Ross Oakley boycotted a radio station last Saturday?

Richmond:  I suppose they (AFL) have to have an ability to register.  They’re in a position to be well and truly shot at, but people who are competitive by nature like to have some sort of comeback.  They’ve obvious taken umbrage to Peter Keenan’s comments which, frankly, I thought were unjustified, and that’s their protest.  They have very little other form of recourse.  I must say, if I was in their position, I would certainly have answered in some shape or form, but it’s not always possible to turn the other cheek.  I’d like to remind those who wonder about Oakley’s credentials that he was a very good St Kilda player who had the misfortune to be injured when St Kilda won its 1966 premiership.  He was also coach of Collegians in the A-grade amateurs so he’s no mug as far as football’s concerned.  The competition, with the exception of the bottom clubs, is in outstanding shape.

Newman:  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Richmond:  I’m quite certain help for the bottom clubs is already on the commission’s agenda.

Newman:  The trial by video and sterner tribunal approach have tended to highlight the violence.  How would you overcome this?

Richmond:  I’d conduct tribunal hearings on Sunday mornings and because of the reportage of the games in Monday morning’s papers it’d be lost in transit.

Newman:  Who made the most of their ability in your time?

Richmond:  Kevin Sheedy.  When he came to us from Prahran he couldn’t mark and he couldn’t kick.

Newman:  Why did you recruit him then?

Richmond:  He was highly recommended and when we put him into his first practice game we knew why.  It was one of the most memorable practice games I’ve ever seen.  We turned him loose on our star centreman Billy Barrot one Sunday afternoon at the Punt Rd Oval.  Well, we’d never seen a rougher, tougher, spitting, snarling bloke in our lives.

Newman:  What was he like on the footy field?

Richmond:  I hope that doesn’t get back.  Anyhow, we provided a kicking coach for him and with tremendous application he improved so much that he ended up being best man on the ground in two successive premiership teams (1973-74).

Newman:  Another man to fit the rough, tough, spitting, snarling Richmond blueprint was Neil Balme.

Richmond:  It was instinctive.  When he opened up he was a terrifying sight.  He took to Carl Ditterich one day on the MCG and poor old Carl was never quite the same afterwards.

Newman:  I suppose it would have been a banquet for your eyes when he attacked Geoff Southby in the ’73 grand final.

Richmond:  It was unfortunate.  The ball was there.

Newman:  Where?

Richmond:  In flight, when Geoff actually copped a round-arm whack.  I still feel a bit guilty because he really is a lovely bloke and a magnificent player.  Possibly one of the two or three best full-backs of all time.  I know he’s still hurt by the incident psychologically more than physically.

Newman:  Tom Hafey was criticised for taking his hard training ethic to Collingwood, especially the week before the grand final replay in ’77.

Richmond:  If people realised the enormity of the job he did – taking Collingwood from last to virtually top and to have put a succession of Collingwood sides – goodness gracious me, how they ever beat Geelong in the 1980 preliminary final is one of the wonder of the modern world.  Geelong beat Richmond, who eventually won the flag, with five weeks to go by six goals and I remember saying to my father as we left the ground:  “Dad, I don’t know that we’d do any better.  We had our best side and in-form players, an enormous crowd and still, bright conditions.”  We had no doubt we’d have to beat Geelong in the ’80 grand final to win the flag so we were stunned when Collingwood got up against the Cats.

Newman:  Don’t blame me, I got dropped.

Richmond:  Collingwood would have been 1000-1 to beat us the next week and we subsequently rolled them by 81 points … and blow me down, they bobbed up again the next year against Carlton.  It was incredible.

Newman:  You’re obviously a great rap for him, so why didn’t he coach Richmond again?

Richmond:  I felt he should have at some stage over the last eight years, but he needed an administration.  Tom’s very hard on administrations; he hasn’t a high regard for the pomp and ceremony.

Newman:  You’re a great judge of footballers, or let’s hope you are because you’re a state selector, so how long does it take you to recognise talent?

Richmond:  I’ve heard all these great coaches philosophise over the years but, basically, no team plan will work if you haven’t got the ball.  I understand there are carriers who won’t necessarily go into a war and win a Victoria Cross for you, but the engine room still revolves around those who’ll set the whole thing in motion.  Therefore, you’ve got to look at whether a bloke can get the ball and, when he’s got it, what he can do with it.

Newman:  If you’d just arrived back from Jupiter in late ’86 and saw Warwick Capper play for the Swans in ’87, would you have said he could play?

Richmond:  I’m not a great rap for blokes who can’t kick at least 50 yards.  Short kickers won’t prevail in finals.  Warwick is a hell of a nice bloke but he would always worry me if it was Richmond he was playing for.

Newman:  You mentioned earlier that “Octa” Wilson fought for Richmond but so did you, of course, out at Windy Hill on May 18, 1974.

Richmond:  It was an unfortunate thing on the day.  Circumstances always govern these things.  I was on the bench that day as teach manager of Richmond and when the fracas broke out between Mal Brown and Laurie Ashley (Essendon runner), the umpires had virtually left the ground for half-time.  My involvement was with an official of the Essendon club (fitness adviser James Bradley) because I took umbrage to his manhandling of Mal Brown.

Newman:  You said you thought he was an enraged spectator.

Richmond:  I didn’t know who he was.  He had a tam-o’shanter on so I didn’t recognise him to be who he was.  It’s no good preaching loyalty to players if you don’t react when something like that happens.  I suppose it was fair enough I got the big stick, but …

Newman:  … well, you got more than the big stick.  You got fined $2,000, which you refused to pay, and warned off, and barred from speaking to players on grounds until 1975.

Richmond:  I was pretty sour on the league at the time and it eventually went to court where I was exonerated.  Once that happened it made it pretty hot for the league to handle so they withdrew the whole matter.

Newman:  You, in fact are having as big a personal battle to survive as the Richmond Football Club is.

Richmond:  I’ve had a battle for several years.  I’ve had a series of major operations and am under pretty intensive chemotherapy treatment.  I’m holding my ground but I’ve learned a lot from football.  Football is the great lesson in life itself.  The support I’ve got from football people has been as close as that of my family.

Newman:  Do you think you have a better future than the club?  

Richmond:  We’re both capable of surviving if we fight hard enough.  Richmond has a future if the Richmond people want it.  Men can do almost anything if they gear themselves up to it.

Newman:  What’s wrong with you?

Richmond:  I have tumors in both lungs and I’ve had them removed from my bowel and liver.  At the moment I’m OK and I’m hoping they’ll go into remission or, at worst, will be manageable.  For every day you are kept alive, medical science has a better chance of keeping you in business – permanently.

Newman:  You and Richmond both, let’s hope.