VFL-AFL SuccessThe Changing of the Guard

VFL AFL success table

Beginning at 1897 (left) and working right, this completely overwhelming table shows every season played, when teams joined and which teams were and are the most successful when ‘years competed’ are divided by ‘premierships won.’ It’ll make more sense as you read on…I hope!

How do you measure success? Is it by sheer amount of games won? Because if so, that would make Collingwood the most successful team to have played in the VFL-AFL competition. Or is it simply by the number of premierships? Because then it’s Carlton and Essendon who are sitting pretty with 16 premierships apiece.

Well I don’t necessarily look at it that way, however I’m still seeing premiership glory as the measurement of success. A quick look at the history books shows you that Essendon did not compete in the 1916-1917 VFL seasons during World War 1. Now I’m splitting hairs, but as Carlton has had two more opportunities to win a premiership, does that not make Essendon’s 16 premierships ever so slightly more impressive?

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Let’s give that theory some form. Let’s calculate how often a team wins a premiership by dividing the number of years competed by the number of flags won. As it currently stands, Essendon wins a flag every 7.31 years, Carlton every 7.44 years. Slightly, yet still, more successful.

Well that is all good and well. However in 2015, using this system to measure success, there was a significant changing of the guard. We all know the Hawthorn story. The team that was let into the VFL in 1925 not on merit, rather due to geography. They then spent the best part of four decades as Mustard Pots, Mayblooms and easy beats. But with a name change to the predatory Hawks combined with the ruthless attitude change, the club has never looked back. The 1950s are the last decade that Hawthorn have spent without a premiership, a most remarkable feat.

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But how successful are they? 13 flags places them in fourth position on the VFL-AFL premiership table, however what must be remembered is that they only joined the league in 1925, some 28 years after the league was formed. Where Essendon and Carlton have participated in 117 and 119 season respectively, the Hawks 13 flags come from just 91 years of competition.

At the end of 2014, with the winning of their 12th premiership, Hawthorn averaged a flag every 7.5 years, slightly behind Carlton (7.38 years) and Essendon (7.25 years.) But here is the momentous part. After winning the 2015 flag, Hawthorn finally sits atop all other comers as the league’s most successful club, averaging a flag every 7 years, (see table below) skipping ahead of Essendon who now average one every 7.31 years and Carlton who average one every 7.44 years. At the other end of the spectrum we have poor old St.Kilda who average a flag once every 116 years. In that light I’ll take Richmond’s ‘flag every 10.8 years,’ even though I’ve seen none of them.

2014 2015 Success

HAWTHORN Success

Using the same table as before however highlighting only Hawthorn’s progress from 1925, you can see their rise to the top of the league

So while I did this research based on looking at Hawthorn’s success, there were a number of other interesting aspects to the tables. Firstly Fitzroy. Eight flags in one hundred seasons means that by the time were no longer a league team, the Roys averaged a flag every 12.5 years. However after 1922, they averaged a flag every 3.71, the leagues earliest power. We might look back and see that as a quaint old notion but at the time it was very real.

As Fitzroy have finished competing, along with University, their statistics will never change. They still sit mid table for VFL-AFL success, and I’m glad they’ve got something to show for all of their early dominance. \

VFL AFL FITZROY

Collingwood’s table also made for interesting reading. After taking over from Fitzroy in 1930 with their fourth successive flag, a record which is under threat from Hawthorn this year, the Carringbush sat atop the league until grand final day 1981, where Carlton not only defeated them but equalled them on the ‘success’ table, surpassing them the following year. Collingwood’s 52 consecutive years at the top is by far the longest reign in VFL-AFL football.

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VFL AFL COLLINGWOOD

However it was nearly interrupted. Melbourne came oh so close to knocking Collingwood off the number 1 position with their 12th flag in 1964. While Collingwood had won 13 premierships at the point in time, it was the three season’s that Melbourne had missed during world war 1 which made their premiership average slightly healthier as you can see below. But that’s as close as they would get. By Collingwood winning the 1958 premiership they not only defended their recording breaking 4 successive premierships, but also maintained their unbroken 52 years atop the league in terms of premiership success.

COLL MELB 1964

melbourne success

Melbourne’s last flag in 1964, when they almost caught up with the Pies. That 1958 Collingwood win not only protected their 4-peat.

Another very interesting part was to see the impact that the teams entering the league from 1987 onwards had on the table, in particular those that enjoyed early successes. Now that clubs such as West Coast, Adelaide and Brisbane have 30 odd years behind them, their premierships and years played statistics are of a meaningful sample size, remembering also that Hawthorn weren’t involved in the for three decades of league football.

After season 1994, West Coast had won two flags from just 8 seasons, giving them an impressive yet ultimately unsustainable average of a premiership every four years! You can see West Coast, Adelaide and also Brisbane race to the top of the table for a short time with the flags that they won, but with every season played since, a more realistic, yet still impressive story is told.

NEW TEAMS

Which leads us to Fremantle. No premierships from 21 years competed. It seems rather harsh to see them down there as they’ve shown great competitiveness over the last decade, however when compared with other sides who have entered the competition in latter years, Gold Coast and West Sydney aside, it is unfortunately an accurate reflection. One could argue however, and probably successfully, that at both Fremantle’s and St.Kilda’s 21 year marks, the Dockers record is far stronger than that of the Saints. Ross Lyon’s coaching career appears to be solely focussed on addressing the bottom end of the premiership success table. How close he has come.

NEW TEAMS

If you’ve made it this far then most likely you brain is swimming in a vortex of facts, figures and spreadsheets. I know mine is. Hawthorn have long been lauded as the most successful side of the modern game, but the numbers now stack up to place them at the top of the all time VFL-AFL table.

I know there are many who think that VFL and AFL premierships should be separated but as I see it, the league has always been continuous and fluid. Should they have started counting again when Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Footscray entered, the single largest injection of teams in any given year? I understand the argument but that’s why I believe that in counting the average years for premierships rather than the sheer amount gives us a more accurate reflection that rewards in particular the successes of Hawthorn, West Coast and Brisbane.

You can see each team’s historical success below, just click through the screens. If you’re keen for a copy of the excel spreadsheet then please contact me, I’m more than happy to share it.

Windy Hill- Essendon

Windy Hill- League Venue 1922-1991. League Matches: 629. Finals: 1. Record Attendance: 43,487 v Collingwood (1966)

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I’ve always been interested in the Essendon story. In the late 19th and early 20th century, a time in football of fierce suburban rivalries and territorial battles, the Essendon Football Club oddly called the East Melbourne Cricket Ground in Jolimont home, a two and a half hour, 10 km walk from Essendon. How peculiar that while we often now mourn the loss of locality and sense of place in football, Essendon played so far from home all through their formative years, from 1881 until 1921!

Due to the East Melbourne ground’s closure in 1921, the Essendon footy club finally came home to Essendon and did what most league clubs have done in some way shape or form…bullied a VFA club! Yes, they took the Essendon Recreation Reserve from VFA side Essendon Town who, groundless, ceased to exist, swallowed up by VFA team North Melbourne. And there the Bombers stayed for 70 years until progress saw this club move back to it’s traditional area, the MCG!

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This post is a continuation of a series I’ve been compiling over the past few years that I’ve called Home and Away. In the early 2000s I began documenting with my camera Melbourne’s decaying old league grounds, however Essendon’s is a ground I didn’t explore fully until more recently. I did however manage a few encounters with the old ground.

Windy Hill old pics

Mum is an Essendon supporter so I do sometimes stop and think what might have been. Here are some photos she took from I believe a 1975 game between Essendon, in red shorts, and St.Kilda. Mum’s work colleague Colin Carter lined up for the Saints that day which is why the camera was on hand. Below is a mash up panorama of the photos which shows policeman on the ground, during the match, as the Essendon team runs out!

Windy Hill old

 My first memory of Windy Hill is watching the 1988 VFA grand final on the telly and being rather confused as to who Coburg and Williamstown actually were; I thought it was Essendon and Richmond on the telly! I never saw a league game at Windy Hill however I was lucky enough to attend the Richmond v Carlton legends match in 1990, a fundraiser for the Save Our Skins campaign. With the crowd figure nearing 25,000, it felt real to me!

We sat on the members wing in a poky little seating bay, right in front of where the Windy Hill brawl took place! I didn’t appreciate it at the time but on reflection am thrilled to have watched Hart, Bourke, Bartlett, and Barrott in a game of footy, even Bull Richardson had a run. I also saw Syd Jackson, Vinnie Catoggio and Percy Jones play, and of course Barassi. Though he was beyond past it, I can say I saw him all the same. David Cloke played that day too, and in what must be a first, came out of retirement and played league footy the following year!

Richmond took Essendon’s good will in letting them use the ground and ran with it, signing off from Windy Hill with a surprise win the following season. David Cloke played in this game also.0

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The huge crowd at Windy Hill to see the Richmond v Carlton legends match, 1990

The other time I got out to Windy Hill was to see an Essendon FC side of 6 take on an Australian VI in a cricket match played before a very decent crowd. I of course had no interest in the game but was along to see and capture Windy Hill with a crowd, bravely wearing my Richmond polo. It was great to see the winning raffle ticket number being shown to the crowd and in the middle of summer, that footy in the middle of the ground was a sight for sore eyes.

Windy hill Cricket montage

The ‘working class stands’ at Windy Hill making use of themselves once more, albeit for a cricket match
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In the past few years, particularly living out this side of town these days, I’ve made a number of visits to Windy Hill for a snoop around with my camera. Thankfully I got some shots of the beautiful old Showers stand before it was criminally knocked down in 2007. Interestingly, built in 1939, it was the last major grandstand built in Melbourne before world war two. Whilst not quite as elegant as the art deco grandstand at Glenferrie Oval, I find it difficult to reconcile that it is gone and the concrete jungle on the wing still stands. That’s progress for you I guess!

WH Coleman edit finish 2A mash up of Coleman taking a big grab in front of the summer cricket crowd from a few years back. Click the photo to make it bigger

The Showers stand had a lovely shape to it and was made predominately using blonde brick. I loved finding this old Tavern Bar and Snacks sign which I’m sure has since been thrown into a skip. What I didn’t capture was how this stand looked from the street. It really set the tone for how I perceived Windy Hill and I’m sad that it’s gone.

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In front of the Showers stand on the terraces (now a grassy hill) sat these two turnstiles. I’ve seen them in a few different spots on my journeys to Windy Hill so I get the idea that they want to hang onto them but are unsure how best to display them. I’ll take one!WH Quirky 1 a

Another visit, another position for the turnstiles. I saw this magnificent old boot studding table the last time I visited, at least I assume that’s what it is. When I look at the nailed on cigarette tin I am transported to a different time, to dingy changeroom of any football club in Australia. Again I’m not sure what the plan is here, but hopefully Essendon see fit to place it in a museum or donate it to someone who will!Windy Hill Quirk

Down at the primary school end of the ground lies one of the makeshift scoreboards that was in use for a time during the 2000s for VFL matches. The main scoreboard was demolished with most of the outer after the ground stopped being used in the early 1990s. To read and see more about the old scoreboard, see Scoreboard Pressure’s great post on it HERE.WH Quirky 2

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The old Windy Hill scoreboard in all it’s glory. Photo courtesy of Jeff Lawton

Now this is one of my favourite parts of Windy Hill, walking through the bowels of the grandstand, the light of the playing arena beckoning you onwards. That’s what I love in old footy grounds, the contrast.

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Much of Windy Hill has been demolished however what has endured is a very solid collection of grandstands from the 1960’s and 1970’s, serving as a time capsule of sorts. They’re not pretty and there are no frills however that’s what footy used to be. Generally footy grounds reflect their area, and Essendon had a mix of one ‘fancy stand’ and three ‘working class’ stands. That sounds about right to me. Again it’s the nooks and crannies that I love. Footy grounds used to evolve. Now they come pre-fabricated.

Windy Hill nooks & crannies

I love coming across something interesting that you hadn’t picked up before. The photo on the left below is the back of the R.S Reynolds stand, a stand which I understood replaced the old stand on the right. But it dawned on me that the brickwork looked far too old for the 1970s stand that now stands there. Looking at the photo on the right, there seems to be a consistancy with the the grey band of concrete across the mid-section of the two stands, but the more I looked, the stands just appeared completely different.Windy Hill old and nucleus 1

I consulted many books and websites which all spoke of the Reynolds stand in a continuous fashion as if nothing had happened during the 1970s. So I made the assumption that the shell of the brickwork must have been retained to save costs and the new stand built over it. Finally I had this more of less confirmed in the book Flying High, a history of the Essendon Football Club.

“During 1976, the R.S Reynolds Grandstand renovations were completed at a cost of three hundred and thirty-one thousand dollars. The top of the stand had been renewed and extended.”

My itch, finally, scratched.

I know we often joke about the Essendon bowls club effectively standing it’s ground and forcing the Bombers to leave their traditional home, but I for one wish they’d been able to stay. Whilst it took Essendon a good 40 years to make it’s way back to playing in Essendon, Windy Hill will always be the club’s spiritual home. Thankfully the Essendon VFL team still uses the ground as it’s home, and I hope they continue to do so although the language used around this topic has been rather uncommitted.

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I love a good ‘hotch-potch’ of grandstands. These have a very Waverley Park/Moorabbin feel to them; wonderfully bleak.

In a way things have come full circle. There’s again an Essendon team wearing red and black (as the VFA side did) playing at Windy Hill in the old VFA (now VFL) and the league team plays home games closer to the city. I propose that the Bombers VFL side call themselves Essendon Town or the Dreadnoughts (Essendon Town’s moniker) to bury the hatchet all these years later. Would be a nice, quirky touch.

Finally, I took this still from the 1990 Richmond v Carlton legends game at Windy Hill as I believe, and I’m happy to be proven wrong, that this is the last time we ever saw those magnificent banners around the boundary fence. They have the new LED advertising displays well and truly covered in my book, but any digital club people reading this could do well to replicate these digitally before a match. It wouldn’t be the same but would be a nice touch.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.38.43 amI never experienced an Essendon game at Windy Hill but this is the ground through my eyes. I’d love to see and hear your photos and memories of one of league football’s most notorious venues.

Coburg v Richmond

As former partners Coburg and Richmond clash today in round one of the VFL, let’s take a look back at the second time these two great clubs met, back in the final round of season 2000.

To set the scene, this was the first year of the restructured VFL which was made up of VFA teams, AFL reserve teams and some VFL/AFL alignments. Coburg was actually sponsored by the Fitzroy Football Club and as such became the Coburg-Fitzroy Lions, a move which made sense as this was the emblem for both clubs. The team wore it’s Coburg jumper against old VFA teams and a Fitzroy jumper against AFL reserve sides. Upwards of 3,000 old Fitzroy supporters swelled Coburg’s attendances each week and the arrangement seemed to be kicking goals. Cob-Fitz v Rich 2001

Final round of 2000: The crowd was big and tense

But Coburg were broke. Entering the final round match against Richmond there was great uncertainty in the air. This was a very difficult time for both Coburg and Fitzroy people, bearing in mind that Roy fans had already lost their team just 4 years prior. Was this to be the last time a Coburg and or a Fitzroy side graced the Melbourne playing grounds?

As such there was great feeling at the City Oval that day. Though both teams were well out of contention there was a real finals atmosphere with just on 4,000 there to see the game. Coburg-Fitzroy as it turns out were never going to lose the game. It could well have been their last and they planned to enjoy it.

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Aaron James lining up at full forward for Richmond

I can’t remember a single passage of play from the day, who played well or who stunk, but football is deeper than that stuff sometimes because I very much remember the feeling of being there; a Richmond supporter hoping that Richmond would lose. It sounds awful I understand, but I don’t follow the Tiges in the VFA-VFL comp.

As the siren rang there was a great outpouring from Lion fans of all persuasions. Richmond fans, who didn’t care about the result, just went on with their kick-to-kicks, un-disturbed by defeat. The Coburg-Fitzroy boys however knew this might be their last hurrah, and the players congregated in front of the fans on the hill and together they belted out the Coburg song. Coburg Song

Above: The players belt out the song in front of the hill, pictured below

Cob Roys on the hill I still vividly remember leaving the ground with a flurry of supporters, and a bloke in a Fitzroy scarf responded to someone’s jubilation with ‘I just hope we have a fuckin’ side next year mate.’ There was very real concern on his face. Turns out they didn’t. Coburg leave the field It’s funny how things work out. I kept a close ear to the ground over the coming weeks to see what would become of Coburg-Fitzroy. Impatiently, I decided to phone the club and ask for myself. When the phone was answered with ‘Hi this is the Coburg Tigers football club’ I had to do a double take. Tigers? Had the person on the line suffered big-cat forgetfulness?

2000.16

No. It turned out that Richmond, whom it seemed may have been Coburg’s final opponents, had stepped in as some sort of white knight and ‘saved’ the club. The catch was, they were no longer the Lions. Whilst I was happy that the club was saved, I was very disappointed in my own club insisting upon the name Tigers. The colours remained red and blue and the Tiger made no sense at all. There was also anther bunch of Tigers kicking the footy around down at Werribee. And the Fitzroy fans? Would they have stayed on board it the name Lions remained? Hard to tell, but what a loss again for the loyal Roys. coburg

The Coburg Tigers logo…the sunburnt Tiger

There’s an odd symmetry with today’s games. Richmond plays the VFL and AFL Lions, both having had an affiliation with Fitzroy, obviously Brisbane’s is ongoing! I now hold a membership for both Richmond in the AFL and Coburg in the VFL, and as such will be wanting for a Burger win with no Richmond injuries!

And what would Coburg-Fitzroy look like now if they had been able to continue. We’ll never know sadly, but it all came down to money I guess. At least we have the name Lions back in the old VFA. And who knows, hopefully one or two old Roy boys pop down for a look.

Go the Burgers

Footy Smells

As I cut the grass in our backyard a few weeks back with our op-shopped, $10 push mower, the smell of cut grass, combined with the gradual pinch of warmth in the air made me think of one thing. Finals.

Though finals games at AFL level are more likely to be under lights than the sun these days, it’s still the notion of the sun coming out in spring, playing finals on grounds where the centre wicket has crusted over to become something akin to concrete, the smell of the afore mentioned freshly cut grass and many other wonders which excites this football writer.

And as such things do, it got me thinking about the different aromas I associate with football, the good, the bad and the downright stinky.

So I compiled a bit of a list and then asked my twitter followers for theirs. There were some popular ones such as the already mentioned (twice) ‘freshly cut grass’ to the more conceptual smells of ‘anticipation and excitement’ (@Shaebee22) and ‘the indefinable smells of hope, desperation and disappointment.’ (@Bulldog_Tragician)

First on my list was cigarette smoke. Now I’m not a smoker but the smell of a freshly lit cigarette, be it in the street, at the park, wherever, generally takes me straight to the football. Local footy still has it, and if you congregate near the exits at an AFL venue a cloud sits nicely over those ducking out for a Billy Rag during the breaks. But I do miss the smell at the MCG, so much a part of my formative footy experiences.

Robbie

My twit follower @justin1flynn added that he ‘Will never forget the smell of men smoking pipes in the outer when I was a kid in the 70’s’ and @Footy_Maths made mention of some ‘whacky tobaccy’ being consumed down the old scoreboard end at the Carlton ground.

Next I had the stench of stale beer on a punters breath. Yep it’s all class, cigarettes, stale beer and drunks! In the ‘real world’ this would repulse me, but get me into the unnatural surrounds of a footy ground and it’s somewhat of a comfort. Mixing this with the smell of wet duffel coats (@Bulldog_tragician) and damp cardboard, (@bob_ely) we have a footy feast for the nose.

There are the smells that individual footy grounds possess due to their location; the old soap factory smell at Port Melbourne, the poo farm out Werribee way and that fresh seaside smell at Williamstown. There’s the doughnut van smell outside the MCG and hot chips in the outer, which @BrotherAmos so elegantly describes as ‘the smell of fried oil permeating the air.’ There’s the ‘food from home’ smells as remembered by @bob_ely of international roast coffee in the thermos and footy franks, skins blistered and smothered in sauce. And of course there’s the magnificent smell of snags sizzling away at the local footy.

Anyone who’s played a game or two of football would know that smell in the middle of the ground where the cricket pitch lays dormant, the Merri creek mud whiff. It’s a thing of beauty, yet still worth washing off yourself should you be lucky enough to roll around it in the name of winning the pigskin. Or as @dugaldjellie puts it, the smell of ‘damp earth.’ And at three quarter time, as you’re sitting on that earth, the traditional smell of oranges (nominated by @watotiger) mixed with mud activates both smell and taste as you suck a few down, a tradition which many primary schools still maintain!

John mud

To the footy changerooms and there’s that wonderful smell of linament! As @MiltMonster remembers ‘I loved that smell of liniment you’d get as you walked to your seat past the Richmond rooms in the old Northern Stand.’ We still get to see our heroes each week at the ground, but the notion of actually smelling the stars has most definitely gone by the wayside, until someone can develop smellevision into something workable.

Still in the changerooms and @AndrewJohnEgan nominated the smell of Goanna oil, @BrotherAmos and @watotiger deep heat, and @dgunsberg and @dugaldjellie both drew upon the inspiration that is ‘stale sweat,’ a smell which much like beer, is sweet with victory, and bitter with a loss. And speaking of stale sweat, @coynejp mentioned the forgotten footy bag, that’s right, the smell of unwashed jumpers and boots from last weeks match. That stench can put hair on your shoulders.

And I loved this nomination from @ASpeedingCar, and I’ve experienced this, it’s the smell of ‘ciggies in the shower from blokes having a quick nerve settler before the team runs out.’ That in itself is an institution.

Moving from the changerooms we now come to the horror of the old suburban ground toilets. Stale piss, inexcusable body oder and drunks once filled these dank, unventilated pits. It’s a little better at today’s modern facilities, but it’s still a reminder to days gone by.

Vic Park loos

@Bulldog_tragician remembers the enormously whiffy loos at the Western Oval, and in particular when there was a dead rat in the ladies as being particularly memorable. And the less said about the Vic Park loos the better, so I’m told!

Turning to country footy and @Suburbia3121 loves the smell of ‘Woodsmoke from a fire in a 44 gallon drum…particularly at Romsey.’ I haven’t watched a game in such conditions and consider myself the poorer for not having done so. It’s on my list, a magnificent way to keep warm at the footy mid-winter no doubt and a far cry from the sterile Docklands television studio.

Finally, I’m glad that @BrotherAmos brought this up because it was one of the most important ‘footy smells’ to me whilst growing up, yet I’d foolishly overlooked it. It’s the smell of leather Sherrins, or any footy for that matter. I can still close my eyes and smell the magic that was my first leather football (Rossy Faulkner!) Sweet, almost edible, and just so darn new! As the footy aged, and mine aged rapidly due to excessive use, the smell changed. It became less intense, but no less comforting.

And the @Coodabeens take on all of this? That it sounds like a season of scratch and sniff from ‘Outside Football’ (their mock Inside Football magazine)! Make of that what you will, but it’s certainly profound!

In closing, there are some footy smells I’d like to know about. What does the MCC area smell like during a game? When your nose is rubbed into the turf at Docklands does it smell ‘earthy?’ Does Sam Mitchell’s shit actually stink, as I’m sure he thinks it doesn’t? And finally what is that elusive smell of success?

Please let me know what footy means to your nose. What are your footy smells?

You can take the family out of Richmond…

I first posted this in 2011 on Nick Maxwell’s blog, and secondly (with additions) on the footy almanac site. Here is my third posting, with further updates! You’ll just have to remember it was written in the context on football 2011. i’m posting this one last time as i’m off to punt road with my daughter molly to watch Port melbourne v richmond, as my family did back in the early 1900’s. Read on.

In case it escaped your attention last year, esteemed journalist Patrick Smith took the astonishing step of turning his back on four generations of Essendon-supporting tradition, trading the Bombers in for my club Richmond! Smith’s actions were in protest of his ‘former club’s’ handling of the controversial James Hird and Mark Thompson coaching appointments, using what he described as “shabby trickery unworthy of a league that aspires to be the best and most respected competition in the country.”

“It has become impossible to continue to support a club that acted so shamelessly.”

Whether a mere publicity stunt or pure stubbornness, it just didn’t sit comfortably with me. Firstly- what exactly did Essendon do wrong? I don’t particularly love the way in which they conducted themselves post-season 2010, but I’d love that ruthless nature should Richmond adopt it. I also get the sense that the majority of Essendonians are supportive, given the sudden spike we saw in 2011 membership sales.

Secondly- what will Patrick do when Richmond one day acts in a way he can’t respect? Surely it’s only a matter of time. Will he switch clubs again?

And thirdly- how can you turn your back on such a family institution and tradition? How can you push down that instinctive ‘urge’ for your team? I haven’t found the off switch yet! Perhaps decades of sports journalism is the answer?

I was reminded of these ‘antics’ as I read through the memoirs Fr Kevin Cronin, my first cousin, twice removed, or more simply, my grandmother’s cousin. Kevin passed away in 2007. His stories added to what I already knew of my family’s links with Richmond, both football club and suburb, yet from a different perspective. The Cronins were of Irish heritage as was much of Richmond’s population, and have been traced back by family members as far as my great great great grandfather, Patrick Cronin, who emigrated from County Cork in Ireland to Richmond in th1840s, during the period of the great potato famine.

The first thing that leapt from the pages as I read Kevin’s memoirs was simply a paragraph on his father, Thomas Cronin, brother of my great grandfather, Maurice.

“Dad was a Tiger supporter even as a boy and a young man. In those days, the Tigers were part of the Football Association. Whenever the team played an away match against Port Melbourne, the Tiger supporters would travel together by train, then form up in military fashion and march to the ground, a matter perhaps of intimidate or be intimidated! I seem to recall hearing from dad that on one occasion the umpire so incensed the Port supporters that, fearing the worst as soon as the final bell sounded, he raced for the exit and made off in a handsome cab. Some irate fans took off in pursuit, but the Cabby kept them at bay using his whip to good effect!”

In trying to locate some information about this match in Brian Hansen’s “Tigerland”, the Richmond Football Club history, I came across numerous spiteful clashes between Richmond and Port, and to pinpoint the specific afternoon is difficult. A fierce footballing rivalry was lost when Richmond joined the League in 1908!

I was fascinated to learn that my family’s link with the Richmond club pre-dates entry into the VFL in 1908. I can only assume that my great grandfather too watched Richmond in the VFA, as my father spoke of how he was a Richmond supporter and member of the cricket club. This all got me thinking, what about my great, great grandfather, Maurice Cronin senior? Surely as he lived in Richmond, and his children followed the club, he too would have been a Tiger, or a Wasp as they were known in the early days!

So I asked my own father again if he knew anything of it, and he pointed me in the direction of the Richmond cricket club, remembering that there had been some link, though unsure of its nature . So I scurried off to my library of all things football (with a smattering of cricket) and pulled out my copy of the History of the Richmond Cricket Club. And there he was, Maurice Cronin (snr), on page 122!

It turns out that Maurice Cronin hosted the players on their tours of the wineries during their 1921 rural trip in and around Rutherglen. The players “eventually staggered home after visiting the local vineyards and the Viticultural College, where Maurice Cronin, an old Richmond personality held sway as principal”. An old Richmond personality? I like the sound of that!

This story certainly rings true with family records, as my own Nana spoke of visiting her grandfather in Rutherglen. There’s also a copy of an electoral role from the time which listed “Cronin, Maurice, Viticultural College, Rutherglen, vineyard manager”.

It can only be assumed, and I don’t believe I draw too long a bow, that my family’s support of the Richmond Football club extends six generations, with my daughter now firmly entrenched in the Richmond camp. I’ve also made life as anything other than a Tiger for my 5-month-old son difficult, naming him Richmond Jack… Richie for short! Here’s hoping he doesn’t rebel like Patrick Smith and end this Richmond fanaticism.

Ed-July 2014: Since posting this piece, I have learnt through the help of Richmond historian Rhett Bartlett that my great-great grandfather, Maurice Cronin Snr was in fact a Richmond football club member in the VFA premiership season of 1905 and the following year 1906. Many thanks to Rhett for his efforts for locating and sending through some photos of these records. It has certainly given the family a thrill.)

Ed-August 2015: Adding to this and again thanks to Rhett, it now turns out that Maurice Cronin Snr was vice-president of the football club during the first world war years. An old Richmond personality indeed!

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Richmond Football Club’s membership records from 1905 (top) and 1906 (below) show that M.Cronin, my great-great grandfather, was a member of the club.

While my great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Cronin lived in Richmond from 1845 until his death there in 1896, I’ve no evidence to suggest he followed the club, which would make my children seventh generation Richmondites. My feelings are that he may have, but as the club was merely 11 years old when he passed, he may have had no time or interest for sporting clubs in later life. Besides, it would be too many bows drawn far too long.

But enough speculation, and back to Kevin Cronin’s memoirs.

In between stories of serving his priesthood in India and other family tales, he also touched upon his own following of the club, going to watch the Tigers play whenever they played at home, just over the road at the Punt Road Oval in the 1930s and 40s.

“I used to have a Scholar’s Membership Card” he recalled, and would often attend with his elder sister Teresa, the most passionate Richmond fan of the lot. “We would sit together in the stand while holding a place for a pal of hers who lived at the top of Richmond Terrace… while people near us grumbled about the amount of space we occupied!” Nothing has changed there, although reserved seating has taken such angst out of many a football fans experience!

I met Teresa, also my first cousin twice removed, when she was an elderly lady, probably three or four times. Never at a family function, rather in the lower deck of the old Olympic or Northern stand, the Richmond members area. Perhaps such occasions could have been classified as “family functions?” Teresa continued attending well into her 80s such was her devotion to the club. Kevin describes her as having a “one-eyed passionate interest in the Tigers” and spoke of her “devoted following of their fortunes whether at home or away.” My dad also mentioned that Teresa is clearly visible in the 1937 Richmond Team photo in front of the old stand at Punt Road. Here is my own daughter Molly in front of the same stand just last year. You can take the family out of Richmond…

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Then Kevin continued with some information which fascinated me no end. While Richmond’s current day song is oft regarded as the league’s best, Kevin spoke of a Richmond song in the 1940s, of which I’d never heard. According to Rhett Bartlett it would have been one of many ditties used by Richmond fans, not an official club song. That would come later.

“It it is true that I can still sing the Tigers song of the 1940s- and it is because of the thoroughness of Teresa’s coaching! Thus (to the melody of “Men of Harlech”) :

‘Bolger, Crane, O’Neill and Dyer,

Cocker Strang, the Albry Flier,

Sure to set the grass on fire,

Tigers on the ball!’ ”

Go ahead- hum it to yourself. It’s quite catchy! The names mentioned are for me almost fictional characters, having only read about them in books, representing a time and place in football and life that is long past. I can only bring them to life using a combination of faded black and whites and a vivid imagination.

Which brings me to “the scrapbooks!”

A visit to my nana and pa’s “little bit of Richmond” in Forest Hill was never complete without three things. Licorice all-sorts, watching old football videos and a fossick through the old Richmond scrapbooks my nana kept from 1958 through to 1969. Top cupboard, spare bedroom. Newspaper clippings yellowing with age, these scrapbooks had a unique aroma, a magical mustiness which permeated my senses. Each match has the selected teams from the Friday paper, results and any match reports or pictures, plus a ladder at the completion of each round.

There were pre-season pictures of players training in sand shoes and the odd shot of a new recruit at his work-place. The hours I’ve spent poring over these family treasures is immeasurable, yet I seem to come across something new upon each viewing. Once the Tigers finally broke the premiership drought of 24 years (current drought is 31 years strong) the scrapbooks began to wain slightly, until coming to an end in 1969, another premiership year. It appears that my nana was well satisfied with victory and lost the hunger! Though my grandparents are no longer with us, the scrapbooks are still in the family.

Now my grandparents were born and bred Richmondites; married at St. Ignatius atop Richmond Hill, Labour and then DLP voters and of course Tigers at heart. Remembering that Richmond was once referred to as “Struggletown”, it’s no wonder that they, like many others, eventually headed for the space and comfort offered by Melbourne’s east and south eastern suburbs. Firstly Carnegie, finally Forrest Hill.

My pa was old school. “Kick-it, KICK the dam thing….ahhhh!” He also had it in for Brendan Gale for reasons never explained, as if every Richmond loss was solely his doing! Whilst never admitting it, I think he disapproved of Benny’s curly locks! Yet a Tiger victory would see Pa humming away to himself, quietly satisfied as he poured himself a sherry.

My nana, a Cronin, was old school too. She was the most mild-mannered being you could meet, never a cross word from her lips and an ever-present smile. Yet the mere mention of ‘Collingwood’ would see a darkness emerge from her that very rarely saw the light of day. “It’s Collingwood on the front page, Collingwood on the back page…it’s all Collingwood, Collingwood, Collingwood!” she would spit with rare venom surfacing above her otherwise sweet demeanour! She was also a nervous football watcher, and legend has it that the further Richmond went ahead of the Pies in the 1980 grand final, the more nervous she got! “Oooh, we’re getting too far in front.”

My nana spent much of her childhood and married life living in Docker street, Richmond, a street which also housed Tiger and Australian Football great Jack Dyer. Younger than Jack, she frequented his milk bar on Church St. “He knew me by my first name” she often told us. It must have been quite a place to hang out. Can you imagine if Buddy Franklin ran a milk bar down on Glenferrie road?

Nana’s cousin Kevin also frequented Jack’s shop. After junior football on a Sunday he and his mates “used to congregate for shakes or spiders at Jack Dyers milk-bar on Church street. Jack was always an interested and courteous host.” It was simple. You live in Richmond, you barrack for Richmond. It’s unimaginable these days.

So to Patrick I say, football clubs are, to a lot of us like family. Or like mine, the two are so intertwined that you’re not sure what came first. I may not agree with or condone everything my family does, but I still accept and love them for who they are. The same goes for my footy club.

But Patrick, I’ll leave the last word on the subject to my late cousin, Kevin Cronin-

“…where once the Cronins, like many others were “parochial” in their tastes and loyalties, especially as regards political affiliations and social identities, over the years and through generations and by reason of migration to less-congested living areas, they have become less distinguishable from their neighbours generally. With one important exception, of course: whoever heard of a Tiger becoming a Magpie or a Demon?”

me

The following are comments from distant family members who added a great deal of information to the story. Included is a family member who played for the club!! This is a bit self-indulgent but it may interest a few of you!

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Below is a grab from the book Pioneers.
Wally Seitz

Uncle Wal’s AFL statistics! Thanks Australian Football
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Back to Suburban Footy

OPEN INVITATION 

 The producers of

boot

and

fmi
Invite you to join them at the first

#BackToSuburbanFooty Day

 5 April 2014  at the Whitten Oval

(10:30 first bounce)

for Footscray  -vs-  Richmond

in the VFL return of ‘Footscray’

to serious competition.

Current Whitten Oval Stand Configuration(Gent Stand on right, Whitten Stand on left)

Head on down to the Whitten Oval for a pleasant Saturday morning of football and and join @theholyboot and @Footy_Maths for the return of Footscray to the Western (Whitten) Oval. We will also be joined by @AndrewGigacz, editor of the AustralianFootball.com site (and keen Bulldog) as well.

Entry is free for Bulldogs members, and for non members it is (as described by the @Footscray_VFL account) a nominal fee.

@Footy_Maths There will be a nominal fee on the gate for non-WB members. Food and beverage outlets will be available.

— Footscray Bulldogs (@Footscray_VFL) February 26, 2014

WHY?

Well, @TheHolyBoot @AndrewGigacz and @Footy_Maths are football fans who have a deep feeling for the old suburban grounds of days past.

And with the Whitten Oval (joined in 2014 by Punt Road Oval) making a return to regular football service, we thought it would be good to turn up, watch footy and talk about it with people we had met on twitter (or read the blogs/sites), but are yet to see face to face

There is nothing else to the day, other than a game of footy and a face to face meet-up / tweet-up, and talk about each others footy experiences.

With the early start, it also makes it easy for all interested fans to get along and not miss any action of the round later in the day.

So, feel free to join us. We will be somewhere around the two players races in front of the Whitten Stand.

Hope to see you there!