It’s doubtful if any Richmond recruit has made the step into league football amid more fanfare, publicity and controversy, than Dick Clay did back in 1966. Clay, a gun key forward with Victorian country club Kyabram, had originally signed to play for North Melbourne. He’d become the first player in the Goulburn Valley League to kick 100 goals in a season, finishing with 116 in 1964 and winning the competition’s Morrison Medal the same year.
The Kangaroos were convinced Clay was a future VFL star and were delighted to have secured his signature on a Form Four agreement, which was valid for two years.Richmond, however, along with several other league clubs, also was extremely keen on the super-talented Clay.
With ruthless football secretary Graeme Richmond at the helm, the Tigers hatched a bold plan to remove Clay from North Melbourne’s clutches and steer him to Punt Road.Clay played one practice match for North, but subsequently went cold on the idea of a league career with the Roos.
All the while, in the background, GR was doing his best work to convince Clay that Tigerland was where his football future lay.Elliot Cartledge, in his excellent book, ‘The Hafey Years’, wrote: ‘Courtesy of (Richmond) committeeman Ron Carson, GR (Graeme Richmond) had a new Holden delivered to the Clay household in the dead of night, while Dick was still tied to North Melbourne. Once the shock had worn off, both father and son realised it was a signing-on gift courtesy of the Tigers, for in the meantime GR had wheeled out the great Jack Dyer to pay a visit to tell and sell the great Richmond story.
’Clay recounted how Richmond eventually won the race to secure his services . . .“Jack and Graeme came up to see me and Tommy (Hafey) came over as well when he was coaching Shepparton. I didn’t know if I was ever going to be big enough or good enough to play League football, so when the clubs started chasing me it was exciting because it made me think that maybe there is a chance.
“But Tommy going to Richmond was the clincher, because at Kyabram we could see what he was doing at Shepparton. They were looking for tall, running players who could mark and kick. When Jack Dyer walks into the kitchen at home to meet mum and dad, dad said, “He’s not a bad bloke that Jack, so you better go to Richmond!” I never rued that decision, that’s for sure.”But Clay’s decision to join Richmond wasn’t the end of the saga.
Elliot Cartledge reported that: “North Melbourne’s hold over Clay expired at midnight on Friday, April 22. Hours later, on the Saturday morning, he signed with the Tigers . . .“North’s disappointment turned to outrage. Early the following week, the club’s president Tony Trainor called for a “full League investigation” of Richmond’s tactics.
He told the press: “Richmond’s approach and signing of Clay is a direct contravention of League rules”. Under the rules of the day, the VFL could not act in any way until the player in question presented a clearance or match permits from his home club – in this case Kyabram.“For its part, Kyabram promised there would be no hold up in granting Clay his desired match permits. Sure enough, the permits were granted the very next day and GR made a flying visit to Kyabram to collect them.
North accused Richmond of pirating Clay and the Tigers responded – in a style which would become trademark in the years to come – by immediately naming Clay in the side to play on Saturday. The VFL called him late in the week to appear before its permit committee.“North, via its president Trainor protested vigorously and left the VFL body with two choices: grant Clay a permit to play or find that he and the Tigers have a case to answer. In a decision that had far-reaching consequences for both clubs over the years to come the VFL found in Richmond’s favor.
Nice work Tigers!!