Alice in Tigerland

ALICE WILLS, Our first female “Hall of Famer!” and legend at Tigerland!! Alice Wills was the first female inductee to the Hall of Fame of the Richmond Football Club, in its inaugural year of 2002, where her remarkable contributions at Tigerland were officially recognised. Alice was a founding member of the Richmond Ladies Committee (1950); a founding member of the Richmond Cheer Squad (1959) and the founding member of the Richmond Supporters’ Volunteer Group (1962).In 1974 she opened the “Tiger Den” (forerunner to the Tigerland Superstore) and operated it until 1981. This dedicated Tiger finally gave up her official positions with the Cheer Squad and Supporters’ Group, at the ripe, old age of 92. For more than 70 years, Alice Wills was involved with the her beloved Richmond Football Club in a voluntary capacity in one way or another and her unstinting devotion to the Tigers was legendary. Alice was involved with the first ever cheer squad for 51 years.

ABOUT ALICE

Alice Wills was born in 1919 and before her first birthday the Tigers had won their first premiership, taking out the flag in 1920. They won their second the following year, a sure sign that Alice was meant to be a Tiger and she lived through all Richmond’s 10 premierships – 1920, 1921, 1932, 1934, 1943, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1980. Alice, who had seven brothers and three sisters, moved to Richmond when she was five. She lived there until she was about 12, leaving for a shot period and returning permanently in her 20’s.

ALICE STARTS TO GO TO THE FOOTY

Alice attended her first match at Punt Road in 1931, aged 11 which was also Jack Dyer’s first match.. At the time, nobody had any idea how big a name in the game he would become. Back then, new recruits attracted little media attention. “There wasn’t any of that in those days,” Alice said. “He was Jack Dyer, another player, another footballer. He learned to make his mark. He used to be a very strong player, but I mean, there was a lot of Richmond boys that lived in Richmond and played with Richmond.”In the early days, Punt Road Oval had a cricket club stand and a badminton court. There were few social functions and the main events were training and games. “After the home-and-away game, they used to have a thing at night in what was the visiting players’ rooms. They had a fellow playing a piano and the ladies would be there and they’d serve drinks and this sort of thing. But I never went to those because they were for the adults,” Alice said.

ALICE AT SCHOOL WITH THE TIGERS

Alice went to the same school as another tough Tiger player, George Smeaton, in Brighton Street, Richmond. “His sister (Kathy) and I were in the same grade,” Alice said. “They (the players) used to come and visit and they’d talk to us and play games with us. Football was different in those days . . . “We didn’t take any notice of it. Today, you’re sort of carrying on. In those days, they came and they played volleyball or whatever it was and off they went. They were mostly local players, those who played for Richmond, mostly lived in Richmond.

”MARRIED TO THE TIGERS

When she was in her 20s and 30s, Alice gradually increased her role at the Club, helping with mail-outs and administrative tasks. She worked in the city and never married, so was able to devote plenty of time to her beloved Tigers. Apart from the president, secretary, coach and trainers, there were few other Club employees. Media and marketing staff were decades away. Most helpers were volunteers. Alice worked closely with Club secretary Maurie Sheahan and president Harry Dyke, setting up the cheer squad and her own Supporters’ Group.

THE CHEER SQUAD IS BORN

The cheer squad emerged in the late 1950s and was formalised in 1963. Alice and her friends used to sit in the old Punt Road stand and observe a group of teenagers, who stood behind the goals watching the full-forward, changing ends each quarter to follow him. “And they got called the Richmond Cheer Squad, that’s how they started,” Alice said. This was the AFL’s first ever cheer squad. “They came to me one day and wanted to know could they be part of the Club. So I went to Graeme Richmond . . . and he said ‘Yes, as long as they have you for chairman and have a committee and a constitution and have everything correct, then we will do it’. And they did, so it’s been like that ever since.” In the early days, there were no floggers or giant run-throughs, but they did have flags.

“They had flags and there used to be banners that went around the fence and one of the committee- men bought the first material for that for us, for the cheer squad,” Alice said.“It was ‘Ruthless Richmond a Team of Talented Tigers’. ”Run-throughs, as we know them today, didn’t emerge until the 1970s. Before then, cheer squads decorated the players’ race with crepe paper. At the 1967 Grand Final, the Richmond players almost ran through a giant tiger head, but a step that could have tripped them up, put paid to that idea.

“Kyneton, the Tigers, had won the grand final the day before. I rang Kyneton and they sent me down their tiger, which was a big tiger’s head that the players ran through,” Alice said. “Then we found out it had this step, and the players wouldn’t have known, so we couldn’t use it.”“I feel sorry for the kids in the cheer squad today,” Alice said. “They’ve never seen success. I’ve seen years, where we’ve worked all night making banners, we’ve worked all night painting things around the fence, we’ve worked all night doing all sorts of things for the Grand Final or the finals. The kids wouldn’t know what it was today.”The dedicated Tiger finally gave up her official positions with the Cheer Squad and Supporters’ Group, at the ripe, old age of 92. Gerard Egan, whom Alice has known since he was a child, has taken over most of her Cheer Squad duties.

ALICE STARTS UP THE RICHMOND SUPPORTERS GROUPThe Richmond Supporters’ Group had more mature fans, who enjoyed meeting socially and voting each week for a player award. They still meet today. “We had a sealed tin and we used to put a dollar in with a player’s name, who we thought was the best player,” Alice said. “It might have been $20 a game and there might have been 10 games, so it might be $200.” “I used to go around to the club on Thursday nights, when the under 19s trained. We used to do a tea for them, scones and coffee and whatever there was, and we got to know every one of them,” she said.

For many years, Alice and her Supporters’ Group friends, like Marlene, helped at Richmond social events, such as family days. Marlene remembers lugging urns onto the ground, powered by a long line of electrical cords coming from the rooms. “They were extended and extended and extended,” she laughed. Before family days started, the Club had pleasant Sunday mornings, which often involved a keg of beer. Alice heard some great stories about players in the 1960s and 70s ending up the worse for wear.

Luckily for them, there were no iPhones or YouTube and Alice refused to name names. “I know one player, who shall remain nameless,” she confided. “They got back to the rooms and they couldn’t find him. They knew he’d had too much to drink, so they searched all night, the whole of South Melbourne and all around. They found him in the water viaduct, curled up asleep.

”ALICE IS THE TIGERS OWN TIKETEK!

When Richmond made the Grand Final in 1967, Alice was charged with organising tickets. It was the days when fans would line up at the ground for days to secure their place. “People were coming down 10 days before and putting things in queues to mark their spot. They’d come back every night, and this got out of hand,” Alice said. “So . . . I got raffle tickets and, as people arrived, I gave them a raffle ticket and told them to produce this. We organised the queues and this went on every time we sold tickets. It worked very well. “I got all very expert later on and I had little cards printed with a number on and I’d give one to each person. They’d put their things there when they wanted to and then they didn’t have to come back until six o’clock in the morning they were sold. There seemed to be endless (people).

”LIFE MEMBERSHIP In 1988, Alice became a life member of the Richmond Football Club, and to this very day remains the Clubs only female life member. She was inducted into the Clubs Hall of Fame and when the club celebrated its 100th season in the V.F.L./A.F.L was named as a Club Treasure. As the club’s only woman life member, a Richmond girl whose love for her club stretched back most of her 94 years, Alice had little time for authority or dictates from above. She had time only for her boys – for cheering their successes

SAVE OUR SKINS

In 1990 with Richmond facing extinction, due to a dire financial crisis, it was Alice Wills who successfully rallied the troops during the famous Save Our Skins campaign. The management of volunteers, collection tins and letter mail-outs, all came under Alice’s jurisdiction. She worked tirelessly in the background throughout the SOS campaign, seeking no personal accolades or publicity. The end result was all Alice wanted – her beloved Tigers to be saved. It subsequently raised $1 million, much of it from grass-roots fans, saving the Tigers from going under and enabling them to claw their way back, on and off the field.

Alice and other Richmond stalwarts, who had had seen the good times, wanted to ensure younger Tiger generations would also enjoy them in the future. When Club president at the time, Neville Crowe, launched the Save our Skins campaign in 1990, Alice rallied about 70 volunteers to rattle tins and raise thousands of dollars. “I was there day and night and I would spend all day counting money,” she said. Fellow volunteer Marlene Garrett would go after work and when Alice called her in. “She’d tell every one of us what we had to do,” Marlene said. “I got home one Friday night from work and there was a message to ring Alice. I rang her and she said, (it was a long weekend) ‘You working Monday’? No. Well you are now, nine o’clock at the Club and bring your lunch.

”2002 HALL OF FAME INDUCTEEIn 2002, Alice was further honoured by the Club, being one of the inaugural inductees into Richmond’s Hall of Fame. To this day, she is the only female Life Member and Hall of Fame inductee in the Tigers’ history.

2008 TIGER ALL TIME SERVANT

In 2008, when the Club celebrated its league football centenary, Alice was named as one of the Tigers’ all-time top 10 servants. Alice Wills would go on doing what she could to help Richmond, in any way, shape or form, for the rest of her life, despite her failing health over the past few years. “The legacy that Alice Wills leaves behind at Tigerland is enormous,” said Richmond’s CEO Brendon Gale. “It’s fair to say that Alice was the matriarch of our club, such was her incredible influence throughout so many years. “On behalf of the Club, I extend deepest sympathy to Alice’s family, and the numerous friends she made through her tremendous connection to the Tigers.

”ALICE AND THE TIGER FANSAlice thought Richmond fans are right up there among the most loyal in the competition, and urges them to buy memberships, reminding them that footy is easier to watch now.“Our supporters stood from the beginning of the game to the end of the game in the pouring rain,” she said. “I can remember we played Geelong once and the players were in mud up to their ankles. That was at Punt Road. It poured.” Alice never let the club forget just who it was who gave the game and the club its spirit: the fans.

In Conclusion

Alice died in April of 2014 and I never met Alice and only heard stories about her and her achievements so when I dug a little deeper and researched her a little more thoroughly I can’t helped be moved that someone could be so selfless for a club her friends and family.From what I read you never messed with Alice and she was a lady never to back down from anything and she was blessed with an ability of being able to get a job done. Alice was the epitome of the old saying of “if you need something done then give it to a busy person. “You can rest assured that from now on whenever I talk tigers you can be sure I will bring up the legend and the heroine that is Alice Wills.

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