Home & Away – Punt Road Oval

Punt Road writing

Senior league football returns to Richmond Paddock today in what will be the final dress rehearsal for the Essendon and Richmond football sides for season 2014. A total capacity of 2,100 will however rank as one of the lowest Punt Road crowds of all time, a far cry from the 46,000 whoe squeezed in to see the 1949 clash between the Tigers and the Blues.

Punt Road r9 1949 49,000

But I don’t wish to dwell on present events. This post is going to look back at the old Punt Road oval, often through the lens of my own families eye. As all of my home and away posts have aimed to do, this is to showcase essentially what has survived from yesteryear…an old sign here, and grandstand there, a ticket booth somewhere else.

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Punt Road circa 2006

We’ll start back in 1966, and much like today, the theme is pre-season. Dad ventured to Punt Road Oval, camera in hand, for an intraclub practise match. The reason he attended? To see new recruit Royce Hart who’d received rave reviews upon his arrival from Tasmania.

Punt Road 2 pics

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These shots were taken from the Cricketers Stand, a place where dad had never watched the footy from, hence the fascination. Similar I guess to when I’d sit on the members wing or even the super boxes at VFL Park for practise matches. These photos offer a great view of the Punt Road end of the ground, the Royal Hotel and the classic Richmond skyline, dominated by the St.Ignatious spire.

The outer hill remains largely intact today, although at the Punt Road (the actual road) end it suddenly narrows. This was due to the widening and adding of lanes to Punt Rd, one of many factors contributing to the Tigers leaving the ground for the near-by MCG in 1965.

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On the right is a very interesting photo, taken again from the cricketers stand. Visible is the outer side scoreboard and if you look closely you can see the old concrete fence which once surrounded the oval. There’s also the overgrown terraces behind the goals, which are no longer. The outer side however is still very recognisable today.

CLICK HERE FOR A 1966 PANORAMA

Some more fossicking around recently led dad to stumble across some old slides. See dad is Richmond through and through (and through) but also followed Prahran in the old VFA competition. And so it was the dad journeyed to what was familiar territory (the Richmond ground) to see them take on Preston in the 1968 VFA grand final. (The 1967 final between Port and Dandenong also at Punt Road is widely regarded as one of the more brutal football games there has been.)

Again dad seemed attracted to the Cricketers stand, and is himself suprised that he’s taken this photo from inside the arena as the ‘two-blues’ entered the field of battle. Punt Road had hosted it’s last VFL match just 4 years prior, so the ground was still ‘complete’ and able to cope with a large crowd.

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The second slide dad uncovered is of the Liston Trophy being presented to Preston player Dick Telford, who after stints at Collingwood and Fitzroy took the VFA competition by storm, also winning his club best and fairest and helping guide Preston to the premiership. Also number 1 for Prahran you can see is former well known Collingwood player Kevin Rose, who captain-coached the two-blues at the time. Also note the wonderful banners adorning the boundary fence, although they have a rather Coburg/Port Melbourne feel to them, perhaps from the curtain raiser?Punt Road 68 GF

Other things I love from this photo are the brass band mid ground, the ‘stuffy and important’ looking men along with the late 60’s Richmond in the background.

Now my first visit to Punt Road was for the 1989 Richmond best and fairest barbecue, a far cry from last year’s Brownlow style best and fariest awards which I live streamed on my laptop! I had my photo taken with winner Tony Free and Matty Knights, hoisted up on their shoulders! The photo, taken in a tent, never turned out. What did however was my less exciting meeting with former player and assistant coach of some description Barry Rawlings. How is our body language?! But it does offer a better look at what was a very tired and run down Punt Road oval.
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The metal pipe seating, the same industrial seating which also surrounded Arden St and parts of Preston’s Cramer St Oval, looks about as inviting as a trip to the dentist, and surely on a cold day, standing huddled with the masses provided a more comfortable experience. Below is a shot from the same day perched up in what I believe at the time was just named ‘the grandstand.’Punt Road 91

Again there’s a great view of Richmond the suburb. I love the ‘plush’ best and fairest venue, and what appears to be an old scoreboard lying on it’s face. I’m not sure of it’s origins as the old footy scoreboard was on the outer side of the ground, however these  team shots below at Punt Road definitely show a scoreboard, complete with cigarette advertising, at the Punt Rd end. I’d be interested if anyone knows more about this.

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1983 and 1988 team photos

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This is actually one of my favourite views of Punt Road, the back of the old grand stand. In my life time it’s been the dramatic back drop to news of sacked coaches, secret board meetings, and has even been the recipient of a pile of steaming chook poo! I just love the feel of the red bricks and make it a point to walk past it on my way over to see Richmond play at the MCG. It also now houses the Richmond Football Club museum which was originally in the bowells of the since demolished cricketers stand come social club. It’s open Mondays and match days at the G, so make sure you get along!
punt rd grandstand

I’ve always loved this photo of Jack Dyer arriving at Punt Road oval with the local Richmond lads carrying their idol’s bags. It’s a great portrait of what football once was, accessible, local, even a tad tribal. To the right is a photo I took around 2006 of the same spot where Captain Blood entered Yarra Park. The above structure has since been demolished save for a sceric of old standing room which I’m most thankful has been kept. 
Dyer Punt Road

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The since demolised entrance gates

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And here is that little piece of yesteryear which still stands today. No more than 50 or so patrons could have squeezed into this tiny bit of standing room, but it looks like it would have been a great spot to watch the footy from. I took a panorama shot from up there so I could let my imagination run away with itself!

Punt Rd panorama from awesome standy thingy

It’s time to turn our attention to what is now named the Jack Dyer stand, the ‘main attraction’ if you like. Although in the midst of having coaches boxes installed and thus reducing it’s capacity, it’s one of those classic footy grandstands that feels much bigger when you’re in it than when looking at it. My nana used to talk about sitting in it with her cousins nd how they’d stamp their feet on the wooden boards each time a goal was kicked. Below is actually a shot from the last VFL match to be played at the ground bewteen Coburg and Williamstown in 2005. It was a sodden day and this was the entire crowd, but it does look nice to have Jack’s stand full of Tiger supporters. Can you spot David Cloke keeping a close eye on however many Clokes were playing that day?Punt Road in the wet

It’s a ‘classic’ grandstand, and a feature that I love is the side glass windows. I’m not sure what it is about these but I love them. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being ensconsed by the stand, protected from a wintery Melbourne day.GRANDSTAND PICS

Whilst I completely understand that the footy club needed to revamp and expand the playing surface (a great thing for the club) it has made a bit of a mess of the natural contours the ground had going for it. I eagerly await the finished product.GRANDSTAND CONGLOMERATE

A little gem which I discovered in one of the narrow gaps I often find myself in whilst exploring a football ground was this ‘Gin Bar’ sign which was on the side of the old grand stand. With the wall in front of it since removed it is now easily seen, and worth having a look at for a glimpse of the past.Gin Bar

It would be remis of me not to mention and photographically demonstrate Punt Road’s location in relation to the mighty MCG. This will be the Tigers 50th season at the ‘G, having shifted it’s home games there in 1965, a masterstroke. The club’s most successful period came on the back of the move, and while progress can at times be hard for the footy fan to accept, premierships help.
Punt Rd & 'GWhich brings me finally to the cricketers stand-come-social club, where my dad did some of his finest camera work back in the 1960’s. This old building intrigued me greatly; from some angles it still looked like an old grandstand, from others it looked like a rundown block of flats. On venturing into the old museum that was tucked away in there you really got a sense of being in the bowels of a grandstand, a wonderfully authentic location for a football museum. I sneakily souveneered a brick when this building was demolished, something which seems silly yet I treasure it.

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Punt Road Cricketers stand

The rundown old footy ground I first ‘met’ in 1989 is no longer that. With a new surface and elite training and social facilities, the ground would be unrecognisable if it weren’t for the old grandstand keeping things rooted in the past. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the ground in use again for the Richmond VFL team, and the seniors practise match against Essendon sure has great lot of novelty factor. I only wish I could have gone!

Punt Road brick

Said brick

Punt Road Oval – 1922

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The fact that fans can still use the social club on game day, get off at Richmond station and walk past the ground on the way into the ‘G makes us very lucky when you consider what has been lost in the modern game. Richmond essentially still plays in Richmond, and Punt Road is very much our home, though it was one of the first league grounds to bite the dust. I’m glad she’s being looked after…now let’s start working on her trophy cabinet.

Eat em alive

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Richmond v’s Carlton

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.

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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?

1988 TIGERS

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!!

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.

Legends Match 1990

‘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!

MCG fire

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

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!

The day I saw the Tigers win the flag

VFL Park 1989I can hear the questions in your head. A Richmond flag? At VFL Park? Something’s not quite right. In fact the year I’m focusing on is 1989, when my beloved Tigers won the wooden spoon, barely seeing out the following year, 1990, due to hemorrhaging finances. But there was a ray of sunshine, a light at the end of the tunnel. The 1980’s are bookmarked with Richmond premierships.

Yes that’s right, we won the under 19’s flag!

Boots Rich v NM record 1

The game was meant to be played as the first of three matches on arguably the most famous grand final day of them all, when Ablett thrilled us with his wizardry, Brereton with his courage and the Hawks with their tenacity to make it back-to-back flags. However the Richmond under 19’s played a draw in the finals series which back then meant coming back the following weekend to resolve differences, meaning that on grand final day, the curtain raiser to the main event was in fact the under 19’s preliminary final.

As you can see below, the record noted ‘…the one sad thing is that there will not be the build up to a 95,000 crowd to watch the skills of these brilliant youngsters.’

BOOT RECORD COMPILE

And so it was that 10,000 fans headed out to Waverley Park the following weekend, of which around 9,500 wore yellow and black. I was there with my family, and as an added extra my nana and pa were there too, the only game I ever went to with them. As I have mentioned before in these pages, they were a huge influence on my love of Richmond. Here’s a shot of yours truly with my nana and pa in their Forest Hill home, pa with his Tip Top work gear on.

Nana and pa tip tops

I also look back on the day fondly because, unwittingly, it would be my first sighting of Stuey Maxfield, a favourite of mine, in a Tiger guernsey. He wore number 9 that day and was one of a handful to go on to wear the yellow and black in the seniors. Ash Prescott, Matt Francis and Ty Esler the other notables.

A look through North’s under 19’s list is also interesting, in particular Brad Sholl and Anthony Stevens, whilst Glenn Kilpatrick would also carve out a nice little career down at Geelong. Oh, and the North coach of the day turned out to be pretty handy also! Given North had won the two previous under 19 grand finals, this result was all the more pleasing.

What a great institution the under 19’s was. North used it to perfection, with many of their 1996 and 1999 premiership team having come up through the junior ranks. It’s now just a distant memory.

Not one passage of play remains with me from that day, but I can chalk it down as having seen a Richmond premiership, in the flesh. The only memories I have are that we entered via the members wing which we’d never done before, that we walked into the ground alongside Mil Hanna, where we sat (members wing-ooh ahh!) and a kick on the ground after the match. I also remember sitting in nana and pa’s old falcon post match on our way back to their house for dinner.

Rich v NM 1989 score

Tiger fans celebrated that day like no other club would celebrate an under 19’s grand final win. Though our last flag was only 9 years prior to this, the club was really down and out, a shell of our ruthless self. Little did we know that we’d still be waiting for a senior flag some 24 year later!

Cory Young of Richmond was named as Richmond’s best on ground. Tiger fans foamed at the mouth about Cory Young, much like the way Justin Plapp became a cult hero down at Punt Road in the reserves. Having played seniors in the final 3 rounds of 1989, Young came back to the under 19’s for the finals, helping the Tiges lift the premiership cup on the first Saturday in October.

Alas, Young never kicked on, playing just 4 more league games, three at Tigerland and one for West Coast. He did however win a Liston Trophy in the VFA with the old Oakleigh footy club, so the kid could play.

boot-records-1989These lists make for some interesting reading, Peter Filandia the most notable player in the goal-kicking list!

  I’m still waiting to see another Tiger flag, a reserves win over Hawthorn in 1997 all that now keeps me going.  But back to that glorious day of which I have little to no memory, and what better way to conclude a day at the footy than with a kick on the spacious playing surface of VFL Park.

Glorious

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My dad is just inside the boundary line wearing a red top and jeans. Directly in front of him is my sister and about 10 metres to his left is a little me, waiting for the ball to come my way

NOTE-This was the last official match under the Victorian Football League (VFL) banner, the league changing to the Australian Football League (AFL) the following year. This does not include any exhibition matches which may have been played at the Oval in London! And thanks to @Crankie82 on twitter for help on the final score, and @footyjumpers for finding the grab from the Age. VFL Park photos taken by my mum.

Footy Books

Holy Boot blog-Books

Footy books. I have hundreds of them. Sourced from op-shops, fetes and second hand book stores. I even shell out for the odd new book. My books don’t just sit their gathering dust either, I give them a good working over where possible.

Nana and pa

My nana and pa in their Richmond days

My love of both footy and its reading material stems back to my nana and pa’s house in Forest Hill. Old Richmondites, they ‘migrated’ like many from the suburb labelled ‘Struggletown’ to the south-east and finally eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Amongst books on gardening, Australian history and the odd Agatha Christie novel sat a clump of books on our great Australian game. I spent many hours poring over these books, and they have shaped my love of the game, it’s history, it’s social meaning, it’s sense of humour.

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Some of my nana and pa’s footy book collection

I’m going to focus this post on the two books which most captured my imagination; The Courage Book of VFL Finals-1897-1973 and Grand Finals, Victorian Australian Rules Greatest Moments. Both are similar in that they move chronologically through the history of the VFL, and I often read them in tandem. They say a picture tells a thousand words, and as a young boy, it was mostly the pictures I focussed on, along with the match details. As such I’m still yet to read much of the text!HOLY BOOT Books combine

When my grandparents sadly passed, I snaffled the Courage book of Finals , and the below photo is a great memory I have of my nana. You could hardly touch one of her books without a plethora of related news clippings tumbling forth.
Holy Boot Blog nana boook

Below is a photo of the 1907 grand final between Carlton and South Melbourne which sits on the back cover of the book of finals, opposed to the ‘current’ image (1973) on the front. I looked at this photo endlessly as a boy, trying to comprehend just how the marquee styled pavilion and treed terraces was in fact the same MCG I grew up with, a concrete jungle.

What strikes me is the carnival atmosphere this photo captures. People up trees to gain a better vantage point, trees which are positioned in front of the pavilion and grand stand, the warm September sun as Melbourne emerges from the depths of winter. What you’re looking at is in fact the precursor to the old and new Southern Stands. I’m still mesmerised  by this photo.
1909 2This photo of the packed footy tram is a classic, though not necessarily connected to Essendon’s 1897 flag. It says to me that as much as things change, they also stay the same. Stripped back, it’s a photo of football supporters on their way to the footy by tram. I did that myself a number of times last year.1897Something that of course made me snicker as a youngun’ was the fact that the bulk of early grand finals in the VFL were umpired by Ivo Crapp. Still raises a grin. To the untrained eye it may appear however to be a brief report on the days work by the man in white.

1900

From sifting through these old pictures, scores and words as an impressionable child, a deep impact has been made. I was intrigued that Fitzroy was the early powerhouse of the VFL, was amazed that St.Kilda took years to actually register a single victory, and even more amazed that the two clubs played off the the 1913 grand final! How different things could have been had the Saints gotten up? The below photo also shows a great shot of the scoreboard which sat in the forward pocket a the punt road end of the MCG, not all too far from where the kids play up at the cricket these days.

For more reading on the MCG scoreboards and 1913 grand final, these are some fantastic posts on the scoreboard pressure blog.

HB Fitz v St.K 1913As a young Tiger growing up in a Tiger household, I stopped often at the Richmond premiership years, and 1920 in particular. The phrase ‘We Ate ’em Alive’ was born after beating the hated rival Collingwood, who’d the previous year downed the Tiges in the big one. My nana still lived with a hatred for Collingwood born from the streets of Richmond, and as both my grandparents were born in 1920, I always found this page a bit special.1920A quick peruse of this site should quickly reveal that I have a thing for old footy grounds. Well much of that too can be traced back to hours spent trawling through these books, pouring over grainy old photos such as these.

HB footy grounds books

The photo on the left is of the Junction Oval on grand final day 1944, Fitzroy defeating the Tiges to claim their final league flag. It’s hard to spot them, but my grandparents, my nanas sisters and cousins, they’re all there. And why a grand final at the Junction Oval I hear you ask? Well the MCG was out of bounds, home to American and Australian troops amid World War 2.

The photo in the top right corner takes us to Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street Oval for the 1903 semi-final between local rivals Carlton and Collingwood, at a time when the MCG wasn’t the assumed home of finals footy that it was soon to become.

And below that is a wonderful still from the 1950 grand final between North and Essendon, another ‘forgotten’ grand final given North’s lack of success until the 1970’s. Imagine if Waverley Park could have seated people between the boundary and the fence!? Would have doubled the capacity!
1939The composition of this photo always appealed to me, the fickle ball leading the players a merry dance as it tumbled this way and that. The Richmond player is Charlie Priestly, the Melbourne player more noted as a master coach, Norm Smith.

HB combined

Whenever the 1977 drawn grand final is mentioned, as it often is, the image in the top left hand corner is what comes to my mind first. The exhaustion and demoralisation is palpable, though it turns out simply to be Len Thompson receiving a 3 quarter time mouth wash, a fact I only realised as I read the caption for the first time yesterday!

To the right of that is one of the most dramatic pictures in Australian football history. Essendon champion, John Coleman, tearily walking away from the tribunal a shattered young man, a four week suspension ending his 1951 final series before it began. Geelong defeated the Bombers by 11 points come grand final day, surely Coleman would have made the difference? We’ll never know.

 Below Coleman we find the old MCG fence, unable keep the bumper 1908 grand final crowd of 50,261 at bay. However it has lived to tell the tale. Between the two 50 metre arcs on the southern wing of the MCG, the very same 1884 boundary fence, with some slight modifications, still stands, making it clearly the oldest part of the MCG, not so closely followed by the 1985 fly-swat light towers.

HB Grabs bookThe photo on the left shows action from the Geelong v Collingwood grand final in 1937 in pretty much the same position that the 1907 Carlton v South photo was taken (above). The Southern stand was brand spanking new in 1937, and as you look through these books, the action suddenly becomes recognisable with the arrival of the grand stand, suddenly looking ‘modern’ compared with the treed MCG, the knickerbockers and numberless jumpers.

To the right of that photo sees St.Kilda’s Bob Murray, taking what I see as the most graceful of marks in the 1966 grand final, while further right we see EJ the showman in the 1961 semi final against the Saints, triumphantly holding the ball aloft, giving the appearance that he’d just performed quite a feat to secure it.

Finally, as the books were published mid 1970’s, the arrival of glossy coloured images filtered their way into the production. The book on Grand Finals comes complete with an ‘Action Packed 70’s’ colour section, wedged in between the years 1945 and 1946, akin to a Cleo sealed section. Again we see the characterful old Southern Stand, packed to the hilt, as Carlton and Richmond battled it out for the 1972 premiership.

HB70'w
I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down memory lane. You may even recall these books, or have more recent copies which were reprinted in later decades. While the old days of footy are at times difficult to connect with the game we know today, it’s good to know where footy has come from, that during the 1920’s, the 50’s or the 70’s, the game was always seen as we see it today, quicker and more skilled. We may look back on today’s football in 100 years with a nostalgic glance to a funny looking game they used to play on real grass! Who knows?HB Dad's writing

The Courage book of VFL Finals may have come to a halt in 1973, but my father, in his early 20’s, utilised the several ‘Further Results’ pages at books rear, maintaining detailed finals results up until 1976, along with a cameo appearance from the 1980 grand final.

Bendy Crowd Statistics

People just love to go to the footy, support their team, vent their spleen, and become one with the action on the field for a couple of hours a week, much like WEG’s depiction below. And attendances at AFL matches are at an all time high. Though the figure dipped slightly the past two years with new franchises the Suns and Giants, this was to be expected. Add to that the large sections of redevelopment occurring at the SCG and Kardinia Park, and the dip in attendances is merely a blip on the radar.

In the year 1980, with football yet to go national, the total attendance figure for VFL home and away matches was 3,280,129. From 2005 to 2012, it hasn’t been below 6 million, meaning in effect, league attendances have doubled with the introduction of the national competition. Case closed, Australian Football goes from strength to strength, and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

…Oh, you’re still reading? Well perhaps that’s not exactly right. There are a few questions now you mention it. Is the AFL (that’s the Australian Football League, not a reference to the sport; Australian Football) more popular than it’s ever been as the attendance figures suggest? Is the AFL an ever expanding juggernaut which will never stop? And just how accurate are these figures? Can they be bent to appear more impressive than they actually are?

Let’s look at some obvious differences between the years 1980 and 2012, and how they may have impacted the attendances.

WEG Footy crowd

-In 1980, games were played simultaneously on Saturday afternoon at two o’clock. If you wanted a second footy fix in 1980 then it was to the VFA on a Sunday! Come 2012 and it is rare to have any matches played at the same time, with Friday night, Saturday arvo, Saturday twilight, Saturday night, Sunday early, Sunday arvo and Sunday twilight filling each round. The point? You can attend 2, 3 or even 4 matches a week if you’re particularly keen.

-Round 1,1980. The previous years grand finalists, Collingwood and Carlton, were matched in a blockbuster fixture. However only 29,593 could cram into Victoria Park. The return match saw 43,903 shoehorned into Carlton, giving the fierce rivals an aggregate of attendance of 73,596 for the year. Fast-forward to 2012 and the two clubs boasted crowds of 84,259 and 75,890. The moral? In 1980, Collingwood, Carlton and Essendon played at suburban grounds, severely limiting their attendance figures. In 2012, more people can go. Simple. Crowd figures are becoming bendier!

Now we get serious…or silly, I’m not quite sure. There’s no doubting that footy now has a presence in rugby league strongholds NSW and Queensland that could only be dreamed of in 1980. Weekly footy, multiple premierships to Brisbane and Sydney with state of the art stadia. But what about the traditional footy states-Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania? Sure, attendances in the Apple Isle have risen 100% since 1980, but that’s yet another bendy stat.

SANFL WAFL VFL

Top level footy in the SANFL, WAFL and VFL brought plenty of people through the gates! Left to right, Sturt’s Rick Davies, Claremont’s Warren Ralph, and Footscray fans, I might need your help with these two!

In 1980, the top level of footy you could watch in South Australia and Perth respectively were the SANFL and the WAFL. In Victoria of course it was the VFL, precursor to the AFL. The average attendance figure for a weekend of SANFL matches in 1980 was 40,928. The WAFL, 37, 356 and the VFL 149,096. Combined, the three states on average attracted 227,380 per week.

Fast forward to 2012, and South Australia’s average weekly AFL attendance is 28,369. In Western Australia it is 35,516. Only Victoria has seen an increase to the weekly attendance of top flight footy, now averaging 171,836 patrons.

Interestingly, the weekly average attendance in 1980 for the three states combined, 227,380, has risen only slightly in 2012 to 235,721 patrons weekly. The table below will hopefully shed some more light! Suffice to say, perhaps the current figures aren’t as healthy and as amazing as they seem.

Agg VFL SANFL WAFL

But let’s take things up a notch and get a little crazy! In 1980, Perth’s population was 898,000. With 37,456 on average attending the WAFL weekly, this meant that 4.17% of Perth’s population was heading to the footy. Perth now has 1,832,114 people, meaning that with an average of 35,516 attending AFL matches weekly, just 1.93% of Perth residents attend top level footy weekly.

Adelaide’s population in 1980 was 943,000, meaning that 4.34% of Adeladians went to the footy of a weekend. With the population now sitting at 1,262,940, just 2.24% of Adelaide’s population attends the AFL weekly. Finally Victoria. 1980 population was 2,806,000, and 5.31% of the population would attend the top level footy on a weekend. In 2011 it sits at 4.12%, still a large number, yet still a lower percentage.

So the three strongest footy states in Australia combined saw 4.8% of their combined population going to the footy in 1980, and just 3.24 in 2012? Where’s the growth? What happened to the record attendances the AFL often beat their chests about?

VFL WAFL SANFL tables

For some longer term perspective, 1965, a momentous year for Australian Football, saw just 2,458,697 through the gates in Victoria for home and away matches. But with just 18 rounds played, it still saw 141,594 Melbournians attend the VFL weekly, and with the population sitting at 2,068,000, this meatn that nearly 7% of the population were at the footy on a Saturday! (6.84%).

Even further back to 1924, a year before the VFL’s expansion from 9 to 12 teams, and the VFL, with just 4 games a weekend, still averaged 81,974 patrons each round. The population of 800,000 meant that a whopping 10.24% of Melbournians attended the VFL weekly, a most remarkable figure. I’d go back further except that reliable records have not been kept prior to 1921.

Ok, so I’m going way over the top and am now bending stats to say just what I want, but that’s the point of this piece, to show that figures can be manipulated to say what you need them to say. The AFL themselves have said on numerous occasions that they fixture games to maximise attendances, and I’m not saying this is a bad thing (unless it compromises a fair fixture.) But it should be taken into consideration when we hear that the game is more popular than ever due to record attendances.

(The author does still acknowledge that AFL crowds are somewhat a phenomenon when compared world wide)

With a little help from my friends – Image of Rick Davies from bigfooty, while images of Claremont and Footscray games from ‘The Australian Game of Football-since 1858’

And as per usual, thanks to http://www.aflstats.tk for your comprehensive VFL/AFL stats!

Farewell to Footy Park

FOOTY PARK WAVERLEYc/o Football Invective-Commentary with Balls

West Lakes and Waverley. Football and VFL Park respectively. They are 100’s of kilometers apart, yet the two are so close in many ways. They’ve even been referred to as ‘sister’ stadia. While VFL Park is long gone as a league venue, the last match for premiership points played in a previous millennia, upon entry into 2013, Football Park is too on the cusp of sharing the same fate. Next year, Footy Park will become a former league venue.

Footy Park farewell

Image courtesy of Adelaide Now

Both grounds were built by respective football leagues, the VFL and the SANFL, looking to break away from their respective ‘home’ bases, the MCG and the Adelaide Oval, which were both controlled by local cricketing authoriteis. Waverley opened in 1970, West Lakes 1974. The move for the SANFL was described as the “most exciting and momentous since the SANFL was formed almost a century earlier.”

Both grounds were built ‘out of town…’ VFL Park some 23 km’s from the heart of Melbourne, and Football Park 14km’s, in the much smaller city of Adelaide. Both also began with grandiose visions, the VFL’s original plans catered for 166,000 patrons and a stadium ‘equal to any in the world.’ The capacity reached the mid 70 thousands, although 92,000 did cram in on one occasion. Similarly, Football Park was designed to cater for 80,000 patrons. It too, never got close.

Footy Park v VFL Park comparison

Plans for Football Park on the left (80,000) and VFL Park (166,000). Looking quite similar!

The ‘sister’ stadia shared the same basic design; concrete and bench seats all the way around,  with an elevated stand opposed to ‘the outer.’ VFL Park ‘boasted’ wooden plank seats, Footy Park aluminum, a feature of many Adelaide football grounds. The plastic bucket seat has however won the day.

Unley

Aluminum seating-still alive an well in Adelaide! Unley Oval image from austadiums.com

The West Lakes oval shape is less rounded and not as expansive as Waverley Park, which could comfortably host little league matches between the fence and the boundary line. Here are the two grounds under construction, can you tell which is which?

footy vfl

Image on the left courtesy of Adelaide Now

Here is what ringed (I’m referring to Football Park in a past tense I know) the outer of both grounds. Whilst Football Park is clearly smaller, both share near identical features; larger lower section, smaller ‘upper’ sheltered section with the same roofing/advertising hoardings.Footy Park comparison

Here’s an aerial shot which gives a clear look at the similar set up of both stadia.

FPVFLPK

Both grounds even had a gap between their stands where a small scoreboard was situated. While VFL Park boasted the notorious ‘Big V’ scoreboard, this ‘small’ one was Football Parks main board until recently.FOOTY PARK sc

Well it’s nearly curtains for West Lakes, both it and Waverley conquered by the very cricket grounds they sought to replace. But they have played their roles admirably, and football now resides at the MCG and Adelaide Oval (as of 2014) in a more powerful position. I hope the South Australian footy people can send the old girl off in style. Ugly as she was, she had character.

FP -The Future

And in a final twist of synchronisation, Football Park will join Waverley in becoming both a housing estate and elite AFL training venue…..together forever.  

Happy Snap #19 Punt Rd, Dan Minogue & some pencils

My five year old daughter the other night asked whether the olden days were in black and white. I think we may have all had that moment as children, our only links with the past being the old black and white photographs we peered at curiously. Well sifting through some old things at my parents the other day, I came across this drawing I did as a teen, and was reminded of my reasons for drawing it. I wanted to bring to life an old black and white photograph of a Richmond v Fitzroy match from 1922, with captain Dan Minogue taking a mark in outstretched arms.

Whilst I’m not particularly pleased with the ‘trees of Yarra Park’ (I clearly had lost interest by this point, a common theme with myself and drawings) I made amends, in my mind at least, with the detail on the old grandstand, when my interest in the project was clearly at a peak. Below is the original snap, photographer unknown.

The result that day was Richmond 5.10.40 to Fitzroy 3.14.32, an aggregate of 8.24! Perhaps goalkicking accuracy isn’t so bad these days. Richmond having won the previous two VFL flags, and Fitzroy claiming their 7th later this year, it was fair to say the two clubs were a big deal at the time!

Punt Road 2000's

I took a photo from the same spot-Williamstown v Coburg, mid 2000's

Note: The grandstand…since renamed the Jack Dyer Stand, was opened in 1914, with a substantial addition in 1927. And Tiger fans…look out for my upcoming post on the Punt Road Oval! The more recent photo shows where the stand extenstion begins to the left.