By Christopher Chrysostomou of Sportdot (article originally published on https://sportdot.blog/)
It was a war that should never have happened. A war that saw one club bankrupt and the other on the brink of extinction.
Collingwood and Richmond have never got along. The cross-town rivals have shared a history that dates back to the Tigers claiming their first premiership, in 1920.
The Pies sought their revenge by trouncing the Tigers in three successive grand finals, between 1927 to 1929.
Tensions were so fierce that Richmond immortal Jack Dyer said he could not watch black and white television because of his hatred for the Magpies.
But for all of their history, nothing would prepare the clubs for the bitter trade wars of the early 1980s.
Richmond and Collingwood began the decade by squaring off in the 1980 grand final. In front of 113,461 fans, the Tigers defeated the Magpies by 81 points to win their 10th VFL premiership.
With a side full of youth, the victors were expected to dominate the decade and become one of the most successful teams in history. However, the Tigers failed to make the finals in 1981 and sacked coach Tony Jewell.
Former player Francis Bourke was appointed coach in 1982 and guided his charges to the grand final, but in wet conditions they were no match for Carlton, who ran away with an 18-point victory.
While Richmond was mourning the defeat, Collingwood were in the midst of an evolution.
For the first time in six years, the Magpies failed to make the finals. The board were criticised for being conservative and the lack of improvement saw rebel groups challenge for power of the club.
One of these rebel groups was the ‘New Magpies’, led by media identity and businessman Ranald Macdonald, who promised to embark on one of the biggest recruiting campaigns ever seen if elected.
An election was called and they gained power. Collingwood historian Michael Roberts recalls the New Magpies’ early promises:
“They went out to spend big money and buy a premiership. It was a charged environment under that regime and that meant they were spending big money and that meant clubs who were poached by Collingwood got a bit more pissed off.”
Richmond was one of the clubs annoyed by the recruiting strategy.
In the wake of the grand final defeat, club legends David Cloke and Geoff Raines asked for pay increases. According to former player Dale Weigtman, in his book Saving our skins and other tiger tales, the duo’s request came after discovering 20-year-old forward Brian Taylor was on a larger salary.
Livid by the perceived lack of respect shown towards the club, Richmond secretary Graeme Richmond did not accept the request.
“Graeme Richmond had this attitude that you don’t tell us what you are worth, we tell you,” Richmond historian Bill Meaklim said.
News of the player unrest reached the Pies and the pair were offered the money they were seeking.
Losing the well-loved players to their fiercest rival infuriated Richmond, who began plotting their revenge.
“Guys like Cloke and Raines were royalty at Richmond and Richmond were understandably pissed off,” said Roberts.
The Tigers tried signing Collingwood icon Peter Daicos, but a conversation with his father persuaded Daicos to stay at the Magpies. So the Tigers set their sights on Phil Walsh and John Annear.
Walsh was named Collingwood’s best first-year player in 1983 and the move hurt Magpie fans.
“He was a very popular player,” Roberts said.
“The fans loved him and from that moment it was a realisation that this was a war.”
Collingwood hit back by securing Brian Taylor in 1985, while Richmond poached Wally Lovett, Neil Peart and Craig Stewart.
But the effects of the war were beginning to take their toll. While Collingwood were getting the best out of their recruits, Richmond’s signings failed to impress.
“What we did was dopey,” Meaklim said.
“While Collingwood were getting hundreds of games from Cloke, Raines and Taylor, we got ordinary players who played under 50 games.
“The money we spent on transfers would have been enough to pay Cloke and Raines what they wanted.”
Collingwood returned to the finals in 1984, while Richmond struggled in the lower half of the ladder.
Over a four-year period, the New Magpies spent $1.8 million on player acquisitions.
In 1986, the Pies were on the verge of bankruptcy, but found enough money to pay off their debts.
“We got a stay of execution of a couple of weeks and that gave us the time we needed to settle things down a bit,” Roberts said.
Richmond were not so lucky. Disappointing on-field results saw the club sack four coaches in a five-year period. In 1990, the club declared they needed to raise $1 million by October 31 or face extinction.
The Save Our Skins campaign was established and saw the club rattle tins for survival.
“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,” recalled Meaklim.
Among the many who donated to the cause was the Collingwood Football Club.
It is unclear why the Magpies donated to the Richmond fund. But what is clear is no matter how strained the relationship became, both clubs needed each other for survival.