September 27, 1980 will always be a day remembered in the history of the Richmond Football Club.
Richmond defeated arch-rivals Collingwood, by a then Grand Final record of 81 points to claim their 10th VFL premiership.
It was the clubs 10th premiership in 72 years and with a premiership coming at a rate of every 7.2 years, the Tigers were one of the most successful and revered teams in the competition.
After the premiership to start the decade, many pundits suggested the Tigers would be the dominant force in the 80’s, winning premiership after premiership and becoming one of the greatest teams ever in the Victorian Football League.
But in the space of a decade, Richmond would collapse from a once powerful club, revered by many to a team on the brink of extinction and the laughing stock of the competition.
The tumultuous period in the 1980’s still to this day has an affect on the Tigers, who have not won a premiership since that iconic day in 1980.
Richmond’s 36-year premiership drought isn’t the first time the club has experienced a substantial period of time without premiership success.
Official club historian and former club statistician, Bill Meaklim can vividly recall the clubs 24-year premiership drought between 1943 to 1967.
For 82-year-old Bill, the 24-year drought was much more frustrating than the recent lack of success.
“I started supporting Richmond at age 10 in 1944 and didn’t see any success until 1967,” said Bill.
“The drought now is tempered by me because I have seen five premierships between 1967 to 1980.”
The 13-year period between 1967 and 1980 is considered the golden era for the Richmond Football Club. The Tigers won premierships in 1967, 69, 73, 74 and 80 and lost the 1972 premiership to Carlton, in a match where Richmond’s score of 22.18 (150) would have won any previous Grand Final.
The highlight for the older Richmond supporters will always be the 1967 flag because of the rich history behind the game.
It was the clubs first premiership since the Jack Dyer led 1943 side and consisted of a side with 11 players, having played less than 50 games of senior football.
The centre line of Francis Bourke, Bill Barrott and Dick Clay is recognised in Richmond’s Team of the Century, while Michael Green, Roger Dean, Kevin Bartlett and Royce Hart all feature in the Team of the Century, as well as coach, Tommy Hafey.
A man who must take credit for Richmond’s 13 years of success is Graeme Richmond.
“Richmond by name, Richmond by nature” is how former coach Tommy Hafey described Graeme Richmond.
Simply known as GR, Richmond was a recruiter, committeeman, treasurer, vice president and secretary at the club.
Bill Meaklim recall’s the tales of how Richmond would travel around Victoria searching for the best young talent to play for Richmond.
“Graeme would go down to the country with Jack Dyer and they would visit the family of a young guy they wanted to bring to Richmond. Graeme would compliment the mother on her garden and then try to entice the family to allow their son to play for Richmond by bringing a bag full of money and pouring it onto the kitchen table.”
But for all the success Richmond brought to the Tigers, he is also at the forefront for the demise of the club.
“He (Richmond) resurrected us, but he also crucified us,” said Bill.
In 1982, the Tigers were favourites to claim their 11th flag after ending the season with 18 wins and four losses.
But on Grand Final day the Tigers fell short to a rampant Carlton side.
Football was changing in 1982, as money was becoming more relevant in the game and players wanted their fair share of the pie.
Graeme Richmond lived by the mantra of “us against the world” and believed poor facilities and being underpaid would make the players work harder for success.
At the end of 1982, club champions Geoff Raines and David Cloke asked for more money to compliment their value and service to the club.
Richmond wouldn’t allow his players to dictate their value so he didn’t budge on giving Cloke and Raines new contracts, resulting in both players moving to Collingwood.
The departures to Richmond’s arch rivals didn’t sit well with Richmond and this began the ‘trade wars’ between the clubs, which would see both teams poach each other’s players and lead to financial turmoil.
In return for losing Cloke and Raines, Richmond recruited John Annear, Phillip Walsh, Wally Lovett, Neil Peart and Craig Stewart from the Magpies, with only Annear playing over 50 games for the Tigers.
Ironically, the money Richmond spent poaching Collingwood players could have easily have paid Cloke and Raines the money they requested.
Bad administration saw coach after coach sacked, as the board laid blame for the Tigers on-field failures solely on the coach.
In the space of 10 years (1980 – 1990), the Tigers had six coaches, with only three given more than one season at the helm.
But the dark times would all come to a head for the Tigers in 1990, as the club finished a lowly 11th on the ladder and announced they were on the brink of extinction.
Years of poor administration saw the club accumulate a debt.
Under coach Kevin Bartlett, the club were unable to pay the entire league salary cap, meaning they could not recruit the best young talent available.
Between 1986 to 1990, Richmond recruited 48 players in the draft. Of those 48 players, 27 never played a game and only five played over 100 games for the club.
The realisation that the club was in a dire strait was when they trained at a gymnasium and could not afford to pay the bill for a broken window.
“The players trained at a gymnasium and they busted a window and the money had to come out of a persons pocket, because the club had nothing,” recalled Bill.
On August 15, 1990, the club announced that it needed to raise $1 million by October 31, or it would cease to exist.
The club set up the ‘Save Our Skins’ campaign and set out to raise the $1 million required.
Bill recalls the great vibe around the club at the time.
“Tins were taken everywhere to raise the money. A legend match was planned at Windy Hill and it got a crowd of over 23,000.”
“Everything that was planned got a response… it was something to be caught up in.”
“It was exciting because you knew you were going to save the club.”
The Save Our Skins campaign worked and the club was saved from extinction.
Richmond of today looks a lot different to that of 1990. The club has over 72,000 members, zero debt, a stable board and state of the art facilities.
But one thing remains at the club, a lack of on-field success.
Since 1982, the Tigers have played in only five finals series, winning a merely two finals. In the same period of time, every other team, apart from the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney have played in at least one Grand Final.
To put this into perspective, Fitzroy have won two finals since 1982 and they have been extinct since 1996.
The club also continues to make recruiting errors. In 2004, Richmond had five picks within the top 20 of the draft and overlooked the likes of Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Jordan Lewis, three players who would go on to win premierships with Hawthorn.
The old saying, ‘a tiger never changes it stripes’ seems to ring true for the Richmond Football Club. No matter how hard they try, the Tigers never seem to unshackle themselves from the troubles of the 1980’s.