It was the day the Brownlow Medal count turned nasty. Our Champion Richmond rover Kevin Bartlett, winner of 11 of 12 media awards for the 1974 season, was beaten for the Brownlow Medal by North Melbourne wingman Keith Greig, who won it for the second straight year after starting as an unbackable favourite. The Tiger Army were up in arms and it was considered it an outrage that our beloved KB didn’t win! Fair to say we didn’t take the result lying down.
But the story behind that Brownlow count is one of the powerful Tigers jealously guarding their turf against the brash, upstart Kangaroos. Here is how that infamous night unfolded….North, under the leadership of ambitious president Dr Allen Aylett, had brought footy’s biggest name, Ron Barassi, to the club as coach, milked the 10-year rule brilliantly by signing big-name recruits and changed the way footy clubs operated, with a focus on marketing and brand-building.
The Tigers were ruthless and arrogant and why wouldn’t we be? We were at the peak of our powers in 1974, coming off premierships in all three grades of the VFL the year before. President Ian Wilson, secretary Alan Schwab and powerbroker Graeme Richmond had their way of doing things and it worked.But heading into that year’s Brownlow Medal count (the event was held after the final round of the home and away season until 1978), the Tigers were the most disliked club in the League, partly due to our success, our lack of humility (from the administration) and our part in the Windy Hill brawl earlier that year.We were despised even more after the count, beautifully stage-managed by the League when Greig won with the last vote of the night.
As soon as the count was over, Tiger secretary Schwab and committeeman Charlie Priestley booed and hissed. Once outside the ballroom, Joseph, the North secretary, challenged them and he and Priestley, a feisty former Richmond premiership player, then scuffled and nearly came to blows. Schwab summed up the mood at Tigerland, telling The Age’s Mike Sheahan: “It’s a joke. Greig deserved to win a Brownlow but not this year.
“The behaviour of the Richmond officials outraged the rest of the League. Terry Vine, the sports editor of the afternoon daily newspaper, The Herald, wrote in the next day’s edition: “There is a sickening sensation in the gut today over Richmond’s reaction to Keith Greig winning a second Brownlow Medal last night…an outburst of sour grapes and wretched sportsmanship not from the players but the responsible officials.
“Bartlett told the AFL Record he was embarrassed by the outburst from the Richmond officials, for which they would later apologise.”I was favourite to win, but they (the League) shuffled the votes and I lost and that aggravated Wilson and Schwab. They took it as a slur on Richmond and were pretty outspoken and called it a disgrace. But I never thought that,” Bartlett said.”Keith was a champion and a fantastic player so I was a bit embarrassed about it. A lot of people said the Tigers were arrogant but I didn’t want people to think I was arrogant and that I deserved to win the medal and not Keith. So that was a little disappointing.
“The post-script came four weeks later in the Grand Final, with the Tigers striving for back-to-back flags and the Kangaroos their first. North was the overwhelming sentimental favourite, but the Tigers won easily by 41 points, 18.20 (128) to North’s 13.9 (87). Had we kicked straighter, it may have been a slaughter.
“Everyone wanted to see Richmond get its comeuppance,” Bartlett said.”North was the Cinderella story. Keith Greig won the Brownlow, Doug Wade the goalkicking and standing in their way of the hat-trick was Richmond. I think that galvanised us.”The Tigers were at the top of the tree once again and were feeling triumphant at their function that night, with coach Tom Hafey telling the crowd at the Melbourne Town Hall: “It was Richmond against the world today – and we won.
“Schwab echoed that sentiment, telling The Age: “I will never forget the looks on the faces of (VFL president) Sir Maurice Nathan and Eric McCutchan when that cup was presented.”Tellingly, the two most powerful football administrators of the time declined an invitation by the Tigers to attend their function.