With the recent decision to make all past and present premiership players life members, without a doubt the most fortunate recipient is Richmond’s 1920 premiership player Billy James. In 1920 James became the only footballer to have ever made his senior debut in a V.F.L. or A.F.L. premiership side – and equally as remarkably, the only player to have played in a premiership in his only game!
James’ day of glory came in 1920 when Richmond defeated Collingwood to win their first League premiership. Richmond had been interested in Billy James for some time, but could not attract him down to Melbourne. In the week leading up to the final Richmond lost key forward and leading Richmond player George Bayliss who was also ruled out through illness along with a couple of other players.
By this time, there were residential restrictions on what players clubs could recruit within the Melbourne area, but country Victoria was pretty much open slather and there was no fanfare of trumpets or major headlines when Richmond included James in the forward pocket. Prior to the First World War, League clubs didn’t rate country players all that highly, believing the time that they would take to adjust to the senior level wasn’t worth the effort, but with a number of “country bumpkins” fitting in nicely during the privations of the war years, a star from the bush suddenly became an attractive proposition.
James, normally a wingman with Kyabram, was named in the forward pocket – from surviving evidence, as to whether he played in the traditional role as second rover is unclear and contemporary reports of the final contain few references to James’ contribution other than his goal in the dying minutes of the match which cemented Richmond’s first V.F.L. premiership. The Tigers were eleven points up in a low-scoring game when “… James received a handball and whipped it through in the blink of an eye” as the tiger went on to claim our first premiership since joining the VFL in 1908.
James did not play again after he was wounded in the foot after a shooting accident when out hunting rabbits with friends “the following summer” and so the briefest and most fruitful VFL career had come to an end until now when he will be inducted as a Richmond Life member! . Nice work Billy!