I started following Richmond in 1943. I’m 80 years of age now. 1943, I was a 10-year-old at school. A classmate said, 'Who do you barrack for?' I thought, oops... Richmond had just been premieres so I immediately said Richmond. A couple of other guys said Richmond. Whilst 1943 we’d won the premiership, this was post the premiership, I didn’t know I was going to wait another 24 years till we saluted again. But my friend, named Bruce, nominated Richmond as his club, and he lived nearby.
We then went to every Punt Rd game. I’m 11 at this stage. It was easy to get to Punt Rd on public transport – we lived in Caulfield. We’d get a tram that took us down to Acland St where the bus came straight to the ground. And, apart from two years when I played football, I missed three games only in 50 years. Of which, all those years post war, till we moved to the MCG, which was 20 years, I missed three games of footy, but only one of them was at Punt Rd.
So on the journey I saw every game at Punt Rd which was Saturday afternoon. Always. Every second week. No-one would have seen more games here, in that period. My origins started because of the ’43 premiership. In those 50 years where I did miss three games, I was appointed to various jobs here. One as a statistician. And in 25 years as a statistician I didn’t miss a game. Seconds, firsts or practice games, interstate, everywhere. So that accumulated nearly 1200 games without a miss officially. So my involvement as a statistician developed from my early interest. I’ve always kept details, stats and scrapbooks. So the club identified me, and appointed me club historian in 1986. Which is getting towards 30 years ago. And the origins of the museum and where we’re at now, and the history, had a bit of a starting point.
Initially when we started getting goodies coming in, the club announced that we now have a club historian, and we’d be happy to collect bits and pieces. We had many players say, 'Oh that’s good, I’ve got it in the garage or under the bed or when I go it’ll go with me.' So there was a couple of cubby holes in the old building. One was a disused toilet where we stacked boxes. Those places got filled. And I did give up a room at home. And in the end, before we got the museum, I could only sidle my way in and out of the room with boxes and bits and pieces.
The origins of our collections, or donations, really started when I was appointed, because there was someone official, recognised by our supporters, and the bits and pieces that have come since is a flow-on from knowing there is a resting place, where it can be shared, by supporters. The supporters love it. One of our famous guys, Jack Dyer, in our former museum, he spent nearly one day going down just one wall. Long before we had something established quite like this. Players love to see bits and pieces. You could have a player say, 'What do I got to do to get my jumper?' The answer is, 'Give us one.'
The beaut thing is we endeavoured to get a team photo of every year. When the team photos were taken, on that day there may have only been the 18 or 19 selected. Some would be in the seconds or injured. But the team photo wasn’t inclusive of the whole list for that year. We had footballers coming in, with grandsons, showing them the photo with grandpa in or dad and, oops, on the day of the photo… So what we did then we researched everyone who played in that year, we identified everyone in the photo, and they went way back. We also had underneath: ‘Also played’. So if grandpa was injured on that day, grandson wasn’t disappointed: 'You told me Grandpa you played for Richmond and you’re not in that photo.' So little things like that where former players are proud of it, proud to show off to their children, grandchildren, and the supporters. And even a lot of staff here now who don’t have Richmond origins but our history is here. We did have one group of management here said, 'We’ve got no interest in the history – it’s today or tomorrow.' But I’ve never seen a house or anything built that didn’t have a foundation. So we’ve got a good example here, back to 1885.
I can remember my first visit to Punt Road Oval in 1944. The bus pulled up out here and with a child’s member ticket you came in the grandstand area. And it had a smell: the ground was one-third quagmire type. You could see patches of green, patches that weren’t mud anyway. As you ran down the race you were straight away covered in mud. This was in the middle of winter. It had a smell of, a sour smell, like damp. Yet that was Punt Rd.
Down the end of the grandstand there was a bar area. We used to have halftime entertainment here, better than the halftime entertainment they had over there. There was one older fellow, I was young so everyone was older, he had a long coat on and a hat. At halftime he took it upon himself to enter the ground and protrude onto the ground. He wasn’t supposed to be there. He’d run out on the green bits, which wasn’t easy. And the ground would erupt, 'Here he is!' Then the police would come to chase him. This was like those Keystone Cops. The nearer they got to him, he’d slip and slide and they’d slip. And we used to look forward immensely to this fellow, you’d get a half the game start at the bar, so his courage was there.
I remember when the guy went round the ground with peanuts for thruppence a bag. At halfway he’d walk round. Say they had an end of season trip coming or a wedding, they used to march around with a big tarpaulin, say four people, one each corner. They’d march round the ground and you’d throw coins. If you were near the boundary, come this opportunity of the canvas collection thing, you’d get hit on the head with a 20c piece. So that was a bit of comedy and you’d see kids running round hoping that two shillings didn’t make it in.
It was just such a 'look forward' routine. You knew which bus you got on, every second week, and if it was Collingwood, Fitzroy, Carlton or St Kilda. There was a tram you could get. We went on trams to virtually every game. Saying I didn’t miss a game, that included their away games. Looking forward to this Saturday afternoon, growing through my adolescent years, right up until they moved.
As the bus gathered passengers on the way, you’d see these regulars get on in their Richmond regalia. I can still visualise this bus – it was a green bus – you nearly had the same seat. It was this Saturday ritual. It pulled up right out front the oval. You were there at the doorstep. The bus was just ideal.
I guess I liked the bus trip too. I was 11 initially. We used to get on a tram, then a bus that got us onto Acland St, so it was really two buses. My friend Bruce lived on the bus route. You’d nearly see the same people on the same bus. 11-years-old, your parents say you can go to the footy, it was safe to go in those days. You don’t probably think of any danger in those years.
On the way home, you did it in reverse. And most times it was a loss. But we always had Brownlow Medalists in that time. We always had some star players. Collectively we only made the finals in 1947. In 1947 we played the first semi-final against Fitzroy and got beaten. We didn’t play another final till ’67.
More often we lost than won, but we had some icon players who stood out. I remember sticking up for myself and Richmond: often the better of the two teams may not have played the best game. We’re a pretty rugged lot here. We had some wild men. We had a guy named Mopsey Fraser who was mad. The lovely individual thing about Mopsey Fraser, rightly named because all his hair went out curly, at the start of the match, he wet it, so he came out looking spivvy. And then all of a sudden, as the game progressed, it’d… Beautifully nicknamed, beautifully cartooned. He actually got reported in his football career to the point where he missed 83 games. Not all of them here – he went on to coach Port Melbourne.
What kept you interested back then: the personalities. We had another guy named Jeff Patterson. He became an entrepreneur, he rigged an Australian boxing title, he did everything that was a bit different. He drove big Cadillacs or something. He went into a hotel in Tassie. He was one of the first people to introduce overseas artists to this hotel in Tassie. Mopsey Fraser became a partner with him. On three occasions they stole their own safe and claimed the insurance.
To get into the footy ground, there was a plan adopted by young children. I didn’t do it but I did see them do it. Gather up a player as he’d be walking to come to the match, with a kit bag, every player had a kit bag. And they came by public transport the same as us, a lot of them. A lot of them lived around Richmond. So the plan was, and Charlie Calendar developed it, say to the player, 'Can I carry your bag?' And of course that got him in for nothing. And that was a thing you did back then.
There were holes round the fence you could climb through anyway. And I knew of them too. I can honestly say I never did. I always had a season ticket. But the kids that were short of thruppence, which was what it cost to get in. Charlie did that way, way back, this would be the ‘30s. As a result he was always round the rooms and he developed the role that they now call the Property Steward. Insomuch as he wheedled his way in and looked after the chewing gum. He was very thrifty, he cost the club little, because just using chewy as an example: he’d cut them in half and then if you wanted the other half you had to trade in the first bit.
Charlie was the inaugural because, when the interstate teams developed, they were annual games, Charlie got appointed as the Property Steward to travel with them. The other terrific thing about him, he was so ‘cartoonable’. He had an extended nose, he always rolled his own cigarettes, he could keep it in his mouth till it got right down to the burny bit, his chin nearly went up to his nose. I’m not trying to paint him as ugly – he just had the right face for the job.
The players had to bring their own socks and shorts and take it home. Charlie’s wife, for many years, washed the jumpers. He saved them money. He got all these interstate trips – some of this collection of goodies, some of the stories he could tell, his initiatives to get into the ground for nothing. He died, he got to about 80. In his later years they gave him a title of Property Adviser here. He was just so much of Richmond for 60 or 70 years.
I can remember Punt Rd, in the ‘60s, I would come with my father and Uncle Tom (not an uncle but a close friend). We would drive from Caulfield, up Punt Rd, to an area that’s between Swan St and down at the freeway. There was a big hotel down on the corner – it’s gone now. We’d park the car as near as we could to the pub because, in 1966, prior to that it was six o’clock closing. You could park on Punt Rd all day and we’d get on the other side, about equal distance to the ground, so we had to walk to the ground, but then we’d walk straight down to the pub.
The game would finish at around five o’clock. By the time we got to the hotel it’d be quarter past, we knew we had three-quarters of an hour, and our car was nearby. Often I can remember a bit before, this side street that’s up beside the pub, if you got here early enough, we could park the car there, and we had a car you couldn’t lock, it had a dickie seat in the back and the canvas. We’d park there conveniently. It’s a clearway now, you can’t get anywhere near it.
The lovely other thing here, Alice Wills is the only lady we’ve had as a life member of this club. She sadly died about a month ago. She ran a supporters club here – she ran this grandstand, the front six or eight roles, Alice controlled. This Uncle Tom, in the early ‘60s, I used to bring him in my car then. He was getting fragile in walking. We’d get a standing pozzie in front of the grandstand. And one day Alice Wills spotted me, who she knew reasonably well, not so much Uncle Tom. She said, 'Billy, your friend down there, he’s having difficulty standing down there all day, isn’t it? I’m going to ask all the ladies to move up one and Uncle Tom can come and sit up amongst all these ladies. There’s only one thing he’s got to do: every day we put in a shilling and vote on our best player.'
We had a player in the ‘60s, Paddy, whose dad also played for Richmond in the ’30s. I hear the yarns from Paddy who tells me yarns from his dad. Everyone who lived in Richmond barracked for Richmond. A lot of the players lived in Richmond. So two o’clock on Saturday Richmond moved from the residential, across Punt Rd, to the ground. And the rivalry, which is unique in the world, for a city where there used to be 12 teams, or 11 plus Geelong, to sustain a competition, with a population and a following, is world unique. If you cross Victoria St, from the Richmond location into Collingwood, well that was enemy territory. Every second Saturday afternoon, everything in Richmond stopped to attend the game.
I can remember Graham Richmond, who became a powerhouse here, back in the ‘60s towards the ‘70s, he started buying up homes in Richmond. They were rundown. He had a group of tradesmen doing them up. So the suburb started to change from these, not flash homes, and it’s one suburb from the city, it’s got transport everywhere. So it’s a tiptop bit of geography to develop. The content and the people changed, as the pioneers of the suburb moved away, their families moved away a bit. Demographics changed.
There were no seatbelts back then. Deaths were a thousand a year when there wasn’t that many cars on the road. The dopey thing we used to do… The fact that we could conveniently park not far from the game, not far from the pub, we had an hour between the game finish and six o’clock closing… You could almost walk along Punt Rd faster than you could drive along it. Even though they have widened it, it’s still this conduit between north and south. You’ve got to get over the river.