Tiger Turf - Roland's Story


I’ve been a member of Richmond Football Club for almost 50 years. I’ve missed one game in the past 41 years. Doesn’t matter where it’s played. I started following the Tiges in 1964. Parents both followed footy but didn’t push me one way or the other. The first week at school two kids had Richmond jumpers on and that was it. Within a year I was cutting out every Richmond article in the paper. Getting the cornflakes to get the Richmond badge out of it and fighting with my brother and cornflakes going all over the kitchen floor.

I’ve been pretty full on involved with RFC – I got involved 27 years ago, in one of the supporter groups. I was involved with the membership department for a long time. Used to head up my own membership team at the MCG until six or seven years ago. Was involved in the inaugural historical committee, which we started in 1991. It’s been a long haul.

There are only two of us left from that inaugural one. When we finally got a space, which was the old cricket club boardroom, at the time the CEO was Jim Malone and he said, 'We’ve found this space, guys, would you like to do something?' We said, 'Fantastic.' Then we had to find a carpet layer who barracked for Richmond, an electrician who barracked for Richmond, I did some painting and whatever but we got there. It leaked and the rats got in but it was something. Everyone who came there loved it. That was the start of it. 

Then with the Punt Rd redevelopment, the biggest redevelopment the ground’s ever had, we managed to secure this area here in the old Jack Dyer Stand. The stand’s just turned 100 years old so it’s the perfect place for a museum. 

Richmond first played here at the Punt Road Oval in 1885. The RFC as we know it. There would’ve been more games here during the war, of course. The MCG was used for the soldiers and covered in tents. Grounds like Punt Rd, the old Junction Oval, used to be St Kilda’s home ground, was also used. There were even finals played on some of those away grounds as well during that time. Other teams like Melbourne did play games here. The cricket has always been here – it started off as the Richmond Cricket Club ground. There used to be tennis courts here, a long time ago.

There was a big tree out to the side there. In the early days, they used to get up there and start screaming, 'Eat ‘em alive.' I’ve even got part of that original tree here in the museum. It was pulled down 85-90 years ago. When they chopped it down – it was a massive big tree – and when they were building the king stand, which then became the social club building, they were doing the excavation, there was this perfect red gum stump there so they carved off a few bits of it.

We moved to the MCG in ’64. To raise a bit of money the club had go-cart races out here on the ground. Wouldn’t have done the ground much good because it was basically a swamp out there most of the year. It’s seen a lot of things: functions, weddings, funerals. It’s the whole gamut of people’s lives around Richmond.

I don't remember my first visit to Punt Rd Oval. My dad says he brought me here for a game of footy when I was three or four. I’ve got no real recollection of it. My main recollection is hopping off at Richmond Station, walking across, and along Brunton Ave there was some of the old turnstiles. On the corner of Punt Rd/Brunton Ave was the old bar areas. They were falling down, the blackberries were over them. Sometimes I’d come down and watch training and go exploring. 

You get to the early ‘70s and Richmond was a powerhouse club. The steps up to the seats in the old Jack Dyer stand had rotted down. You couldn’t get up there. There were blackberries out the front. But geez you knew you were at the Richmond footy club. I can’t explain it – my arms are getting goosebumps – there was a buzz about the place: you were at Richmond. I can’t put it into words. You’re out there watching legends of the game training, the place was literally falling down. A couple of years later there was a fire and, rumour has it, one of the committee members set fire to it to get the insurance money. But it hasn’t been confirmed and I won’t mention his name.

My first memories are coming to a place that’s literally been let go and is falling down, because they’d moved to the MCG. So long as the grass was cut and the players could train, they were pretty much happy with that. I’ve lived through most of the changes and had a lot of involvement with a lot of them too. It’s been a good journey.

There were a lot of characters. A number of years ago before the Jack Dyer Stand was refurbished, I went up to the CEO of the time. I said, 'Can I have a look through the ceiling of the stand?' He said, 'That’s fine, come in one Sunday and have a look through.' Up in the changerooms there used to be a little trapdoor. So I climbed up and there’s all these mint condition beer cans from the 1960s. Turns out there were several players that used to get up there, hide from the coach, and basically get pissed. After the game and training nights.

Mal Brown was a character in himself, an interesting guy. He was champion in Perth, came across here in ’74, would’ve been a premiership player but he biffed somebody and got rubbed out. Mal thought, 'I’ll put Charlie on the spot.' Charlie was an elderly gentleman at this point and used to ride a pushbike. So Mal went and got Charlie’s pushbike and chained it to the front fence of the brothel. And photographed it. Poor old Charlie.

Around 1989-90 the club was in big trouble financially. We had an endangered species campaign over two years. And, at the time, Punt Rd was being widened. We came up with this idea, and it was one of the most successful fundraising ideas the club’s ever done. Let’s get the dirt, as they dug up what was the ground, let’s sell Tiger Turf. So we brought in 100,000 of these little jars. We all went down there for a couple of days and sat there for eight hours, putting dirt into jars, putting the cap on, wiping them down, then putting a label on them: Tiger Turf. And we raised tens of thousands of dollars. Just purely based on the love of the Punt Rd ground, from the supporters, they wanted their piece of Punt Rd. To this day, people will come into the museum and say, 'I’ve got my jar of Tiger Turf at home.' That’s what Richmond, Punt Rd is about. We’re here, purely because of the supporters, not the corporate people, it was the run-of-the-mill supporters that saved the club.  

The most moving time of my life was that time, you’d have kids come down with a money box, 'This is all I’ve got but will it help save the club?'

There was a rumour that someone was buried out there, 60 or 70 years ago. But it probably is a rumour. The club did have its own cat, Moggy, for a long time. When Moggy died a few years ago there was a little ceremony and she was buried down in the goal square. 

We’ve still got our home. We’ve never left. We’ve always been here. People come into the museum and they talk about Richmond, and it always gets back to Punt Rd. A lot of them live in Ringwood or Werribee now, but they talk about grandma who used to live in Richmond and that’s why the family follow Richmond. 

If you go back 100 years it was Richmond and that was the suburb and everyone stuck together. There were various football teams in Richmond as well as the RFC. It was all about your suburb. You had picture theatres, the Richmond rowing club, you name it. It was all here.

In the old days it was a working class suburb. Richmond had their own brewery. There was the Heinz factory. It was an industrial area. Bootmakers and all that sort of thing. They were their own little group and they employed their own people. It really was like its own little country almost.

Personally, I’d cut Punt Rd off, because all roads should lead to the Richmond Football Club.