Tony Greenberg provides a snapshot of the dual Tiger premiership hero’s strong and bold playing career in the No. 21 Yellow and Black guernsey.
1. He arrived in Melbourne from Perth with his family midway through 1969, as the result of a job transfer for his father.
2. He had attracted the attention of several league clubs, following some impressive performances at senior level with WAFL team Subiaco as a 17-year-old, including an eye-catching display against Australian Football ruck legend Polly Farmer, who was playing for West Perth at the time.
3. He was signed to play for Richmond by leading football administrator Alan Schwab, with one of the reasons behind his decision to join the Tigers reportedly being the lure of going on the players’ pre-season trip to the Gold Coast.
4. He spent the second half of the 1969 season playing under-19s football at Richmond, under the guidance of renowned junior coach Ray ‘Slug’ Jordon, and was a member of their premiership team that year.
5. He kicked four goals on senior debut with the Tigers in Round 20 of the 1970 season against North Melbourne at Arden Street.
6. He was a member of the Richmond reserves losing Grand Final side in 1970.
7. He won Richmond’s leading goalkicker award twice – in 1972 (with a league career-high 55 goals) and 1973 (34 goals).
8. He formed a potent partnership deep in Richmond’s attack with powerfully-built former Carlton forward Ricky McLean. The dynamic duo was affectionately known at Tigerland as ‘Biff and Bam’.
9. He kicked a team-high five goals in Richmond’s 1972 Grand Final loss to the Blues.
10. He kicked a team-high five goals in the Tigers’ stirring, comeback victory over Collingwood in the 1973 preliminary final.
11. He kicked 2.4 in the 1973 Grand Final triumph over Carlton and gave the Blues’ backs plenty of headaches throughout.
12. He kicked two goals in the 1974 Grand Final win against North Melbourne and was one of the Tigers’ best players that day.
13. The most goals he scored in a league game was six, which he managed three times – v Fitzroy, Round 20, 1972, MCG, v North Melbourne, Round 14, 1973, Arden Street, and v North Melbourne, Round 13, 1978, MCG.
14. The most marks he took in a league match was 10, which he achieved five times – v St Kilda, Round 17, 1972, MCG, v North Melbourne, 1974 second semi-final, Waverley Park, v South Melbourne, Round 9, 1976, Lake Oval, v South Melbourne, Round 15, 1977, Waverley Park, and v North Melbourne, 1977 first semi-final, Waverley Park.
15. The most disposals he had in a league match was 34 (16 kicks, 18 handballs) v North Melbourne, 1977 first semi-final, Waverley Park.
16. He averaged 19.9 disposals per game throughout the 1977 season, polled a career-high 10 Brownlow Medal votes, and also finished runner-up in the Jack Dyer Medal that year.
17. He was Richmond’s vice-captain in 1976.
18. He played his final game of league football in Round 13, 1979 v Carlton at Princes Park and retired at age 27 because of a chronic knee complaint.
19. He became a Richmond life member in 1979 and was inducted into the Club’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
20. His younger brother, Craig, played three senior games with the Tigers in 1983.
21. He had a 61.9 percent winning strike-rate throughout his playing career at Richmond.
Five-time Richmond premiership champion and Club ‘Immortal’, Kevin Bartlett, was as big a fan of Balme the player, as he is Balme the football administrator.In his book, “KB: A Life In Football”, Bartlett selected a side of the best Tigers he played with throughout his magnificent 19-season league football career.He named Balme in a forward pocket and was full of praise for the big bloke’s on-field ability . . .“Neil is one of the most talented big men I have seen. I’m not sure there has ever been a guy of his size who could kick so well with both sides of his body, snap goals from both sides, unleash a b
ooming kick and take such great marks.“I’m greatly disappointed when people focus on Neil’s fighting and the ruthlessness he showed against Geoff Southby and Vin Waite in the 1973 Grand Final. In terms of talent, ball-handling and agility, he was unbelievable. Unfortunately, chronic knee soreness dimmed his star towards the end of his career.
“Neil was a great teammate because no opponents ever gave me lip if ‘Balmey’ was near. Defenders would shake in their boots when he walked down to the forward line, which was a nice twist on the normal course of events, as defenders are normally the aggressors in these situations.“I didn’t like to be in any Richmond team without Balmey by my side.”