Mention the football clubs Richmond and Carlton and you’ll get the usual response: halcyon days, the late 60’s and 70’s, Balme and Southby, Walls and Sheedy, Doull and Hart, fierce suburban rivals, Percy Jones and TJ…Helen D’amico.
The halcyon days
That is all well and good, but I’ve only ever read about those ‘good old days’ in books. The ‘Richmond v Carlton’ rivalry has been less glamourous yet no less intense in my years of following the yellow and black.
Being aged just one and blissfully ignorant as the Blues knocked off the Tiges in the 1982 grand final, my first memory of the two clubs is from 1988. Richmond by this stage was a basket case, while Carlton were the reigning premiers. The stage was a Friday night at the MCG, and I stayed up to watch the first half (on delay) at my nana and pa’s house. We moseyed home around the corner at half time, and as I had ‘footy clinic’ in the morning, I had to go to bed. I awoke to find a magical note on the end of my bed. My dad’s capital lettered print simply said;
‘Tigers by 17.’
I remember that vividly and it still puts a smile on my face. We would often beat Brisbane, St.Kilda and sometimes North, but Carlton?
Michael Laffy gets his handball away in the Tigers upset win in 1988
This ‘win against the odds’ has been the very basis upon which I’ve watched Richmond play the Blues over the years. Two years after the Friday night match, and with another wooden spoon in the bank, we piled into the old Kingswood and headed into the MCG to watch Richmond play the Blues in David Cloke’s 300th match. I distinctly remember my dad, as we wound through the back streets of Richmond, saying words to the effect of “Now John, you know we’re not a very good chance today, don’t you” as if to say ‘don’t get your hopes up son, don’t leave yourself open to being hurt.’
Michael Mitchell gives ‘full back of the century’ a full body ‘don’t argue!’ (1990)
I remember the game well. It was in what I remember as Richmond’s best ‘era’ under Bartlett. Wins against the previous years grand finalist Geelong at Geelong, Sydney and Fitzroy in a 5 week period was unheralded, and the win against Carlton was a ‘back-to-back’ victory. Rare as hens teeth back then. We followed it up with ‘loss, win, loss, win’ pattern to make it 6 wins in 10 weeks. This form was on the back of a young group coming through in Knights, Lambert, Free, Nicholls, Barry Young and the Ryan brothers, ably supported by stalwarts in Flea Weightman, the General, Cloke and Michael Pickering. The nucleus of a promising group which sadly never eventuate as the club’s attentions soon became focussed on keeping itself alive.
Key to our survival was another Richmond v Carlton match, this time a ‘legends match’ fundraiser played at Windy Hill. Just on 20,000 filled the ground, and as I reflect back as an adult I am tickled pink that I was able to see Hart, Barrott, Bourke, Clay, KB and co run around, albeit a little slower and with a little less hair. Except for KB of course. Interestingly, David Cloke played in that match having retired at the end of 1990. He came out of retirement for season 1991 and is possibly the only player to have played in a legends match before the end of his career. His final game in 1991 saw him kick 8 goals and collect the three Brownlow votes in another upset win against, who else, Carlton.
‘Not-so-Bustling’ Billy Barrot chases a loose ball whilst KB and Jon Ronaldson share a joke at ‘training.’
When 1992 rolled around the Tiges again had the pleasure of upsetting the fancied Carlton, sending them from the final 6 with a 3 point win at Waverley Park. Carlton went on to miss the finals by percentage only! Strangely, this was the only occasion our family went to an Essendon game instead of the Richmond, with mum happy to swap her red sash for a yellow one, another closet Richmond fan. I remember a lady with a little radio sitting next to us keeping my updated with the scores once she realised I was a little Richmond devotee. I was at the MCG physically but mentally I was in Mulgrave.
But it’s not just a one-way street of upset. The year 1994 saw Richmond enjoy their best season in years, certainly the first year I could remember us being competitive in a meaningful way. We even won six games on the trot! However, sitting 5th with just two matches to play, Richmond headed to Carlton for what was billed as an old-style suburban battle with the old foe. What unfolded was a 113 point drubbing at the hands of the old Navy Blues. And so began the ‘Ninthmond’ era, with the Tigers missing out on the finals by 6%; the same 6% we lost in that match against the Carlton or as my uncle refers to them, “the forces of evil.”
The following year, 1995, saw both teams improve to such a point where they met mid-season in a top of the table clash. Just two years prior a paltry 6,000 fans attended a Richmond v West Coast match at Princes Park. So the crowd of 84,000 blew this young teens mind, a throwback to ‘the glory days!’ In an enthralling tussle the Blues pulled away late as they steamrolled their way to the premiership. For Richmond, 1995 brought with it a long awaited finals appearance which should have been a foundation for future success. This sadly never eventuated, the club it’s own worst enemy once more as coach Northey left in acrimonious circumstances at season’s end.
The Gieschan years were far from glorious, however when he replaced ‘Carlton man’ Robert Walls as the Tigers caretaker coach in 1997, he propelled us to a series of late season wins, amongst them one of my favourite matches of all time.
In keeping with the theme, this time it was Carlton who simply had to defeat Richmond on their home turf to advance through to the finals. In the last truly ‘suburban battle,’ 35,000 fans crammed into the old ground to see Carlton jump out to a 40 plus point lead. I still pull the old video out every now and then and force myself to watch the first half. It makes watching the second half all the more enjoyable, especially as the commentators turn to talking about Carlton’s finals opponent the next week.
What ensued was a last man standing, nail-biting comeback in which former Blue Ben Harrison kicked the winning goal! Tiges by 2 points with the loudest ‘away cheer’ you’re likely to hear upon the final siren. Whilst we finished a lowly 13th, dragging Carlton down with us at the death presented great satisfaction.
Fast forward to the final match of 1999 and the Giesh had been well and truly unleashed (let go) by Richmond and would soon surface as coach of the umpires! The Blues were grand final bound whilst the Tigers were enduring another mediocre season, but in the spirit of this rivalry as I’ve followed it in my lifetime, the underdogs got up, although the game will forever be remembered as the ‘scoreboard fire’ match!
The final round of 1997 was soon evened up by the Blues, as in 2000 they thwarted Richmond’s attempt at a finals birth, again in the final home and away match of the season. The Tigers needed to beat Carlton to make it, with little percentage separating the Tiges from 8th place Hawthorn. The Tiges lost. The Tiges finished 9th. Again.
It took only a year for Richmond to exact revenge and this time in a footy match with meaning. Just as the teams will compete tomorrow, Richmond versed Carlton in a tough and scrappy 2nd semi-final in front of 83,000 fans. It was a sweet victory, the only finals win that Matthew Richardson and Joel Bowden would enjoy, whilst David Bourke was lucky enough to play also in the 1995 semi-final win against Essendon. Their fathers won 7 Tiger premierships between them.
Rory Hilton gets his big bum off the ground in his most important game for Richmond! Kicked the sealer!
However 2001 proved to be false dawn for a number of teams, and the two old ricals plummeted down the ladder to finish in the bottom 3. Both clubs have been slowly trying to claw back ever since. Richmond landed a large blow in 2005 under new coach Wallace, handing Carlton a near 100 point thumping in a false dawn of grand proportions. Then Nathan Brown broke his leg and Plough’s tenure headed steadily south.
A brutal blow was handed by Carlton to Richmond in the much-hyped ‘Ben Cousins’ match, where Richmond fans displayed how desperate they were for anything that could be claimed as a success. Pitted in front of a full MCG it was billed as the biggest build up to a non-finals match the game had seen. Carlton smashed the Tiges in demoralising fashion and I clearly remember a Carlton supporter behind me bellowing “Time for another 5 year plan Richmond!” It hurt because I knew it was true. That’s why I’m not looking forward to Sunday.
The two most recent blows handed to Richmond have actually come from the club formerly know as the Preston Bullants. Not once, but twice in the past 12 months a severely undermanned Carlton have beaten the more fancied Tigers, who in both instances had the match seemingly in their keeping. The fragility of Richmond on display for all to see. While last years loss, compounded with a loss against the Suns from another ‘unlosable’ position, saw us again miss out on finals action, this year’s loss to an undermanned Carlton fortunately was not enough to knock us out of finals contention. However the Blues still get their chance on Sunday, as do the Tigers for redemption.
I haven’t enjoyed this week to be honest. A loss to ‘ninth’ placed Carlton would be the ultimate insult and irony given the wretched run with ‘ninth’ Carlton inflicted upon Richmond way back in 1994. It’s also ironic that when we finally did make the finals, the 9th team also qualified due to Essendon’s disqualification.
Anyway, I’ll be anxiously watching on from level two of the Olympic stand with my keen six year old daughter beside me, the same spot my dad stood to watch the Tigers beat the Blues in 1969. Here’s to shaking off the shackles of failure, but my lid is still firm shut.
Carn’ the Tiges!