The late Lou Richards’ senior playing career encompassed 250 matches through 15 seasons at Collingwood – beginning and ending under the watch of Jock McHale and Phonse Kyne, both Old Paradians.
In this glorious image snapped by a newspaper photographer, Kyne, Jack Green (in dark top) and another Old Paradian the late Bernie Shannon each cast a reverential gaze at McHale, during a brief break in training at Victoria Park in 1949. Back in 2010, Bernie recalled: “They used to tell me about Jock that if you played a good game he’d talk to you and if you had a bad game he wouldn’t speak to you until you put a good one in”.
In Jock McHale and Phonse Kyne, Lou’s on-field years were indelibly shaped, as he recounted in the book Boots And All!, co-written with the Sporting Globe journalist Ian McDonald way back in 1963.
Here, Lou opens with an account of his demise at Victoria Park and Phonse’s role in it;
Whoever said ‘There’s no sentiment in football’ couldn’t have coined a truer phrase – but it took me fifteen years to find it out. One of the hardest decisions for any footballer – and for that matter any sportsman – is to make up his mind when to retire. After fourteen years with Collingwood I knew I was getting near the end of my tether. It was inevitable that I would have to retire soon, but I felt I had one more season left in me.
So at the start of the 1955 season I turned up at Collingwood’s Victoria Park Oval for the pre-season practice games. I won my share of kicks in these games and played particularly well in the last one. The result was that the players unanimously elected me captain again. I knew this was more than a slight embarrassment to the committee, so I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be a dead loss to them and that I would go flat out to ensure that I didn’t cause them any more embarrassment.
After the meeting coach Phonse Kyne and I had a chat and I told him that if he felt I should give the game away before the season finished he should tell me, and we came to that agreement. I didn’t last the season out. I played fourteen games and in my second last game I kicked six goals against St. Kilda and thought I was set to play in the finals because Collingwood was entrenched in the final four.
The following week we went to Essendon and everything was set for a great match. We were favourites to win, but it had been proven in the past that quite often Collingwood never played well at windy Hill. The game started off well enough, but in the first quarter I didn’t get a kick . . . in the second quarter I still didn’t get a kick and in the third quarter it was the same result – in the meantime Essendon were going farther and farther away. We had only one player going well and that was Des Healey, who was starring on a wing.
Finally, half way through the last quarter, I got two marks near the centre of the ground and I received the raspberry from the crowd, especially Collingwood supporters. They were ironical cheers and I thought: ‘This is it for little Lou Lou’.
When I got home that night I said to my wife: ‘I think I should give the game away’.
Edna replied: ‘If you feel that way it’s no use playing’.
I went down to training on the Tuesday night, stripped, and pranced out onto the ground like a little fairy straight up to Phone Kyne, always hoping that he would say to me: ‘See if you can last another week out’.
I said to him: ‘I think I’ll give it away, Phonse’.
‘O.K. Lou,’ he replied without blinking an eyelid.
It happens to all players like this – perhaps not so dramatically as my departure, but the big problem for top-line players is that they never know when to retire.
I walked away from Collingwood that night carrying my togs for the last time and with 250 Victorian Football League games behind me. I’d played interstate and carnival football for Victoria, captained Collingwood for four years and led them to their 1953 Premiership win.
In the following story, Lou recalled a meeting with Jock moments after he had represented Collingwood in its reserve grade Grand Final victory in 1940;
I’ll never forget that Jock McHale came up to me after the Grand Final and said: ‘You’ll be playing for Collingwood one day, son’.
That night I couldn’t get out the ground quick enough to rush home and tell my mother and father that the famous Jock McHale had told me I would be playing with Collingwood.
We always looked up to old Jock, particularly the younger fellows, because we were very scared of him, mainly because of his very gruff manner. His prediction proved right. The next year, after five games in the seconds, I went into the seniors and from that time on I wasn’t dropped out of the side for fifteen years until Phonse Kyne threw me out on the eve of the 1955 finals.
Save for the welcome contribution Jock penned by the Melbourne football writer Glenn McFarlane, accounts of Jock’s life and career are all too few. But Lou did offer some insight in Boots And All!;
Just on every winter Saturday for thirty-seven years, an average-sized, fresh-faced man, invariably dressed in a blue single-breasted suit, and with a hat with its brim turned up, perched jauntily on his head, would walk out of the Collingwood dressing-room and amble down the enclosed ‘race’ to the coach’s bench inside the arena.
As he made his entry before the crowd, the Collingwood supporters would call out: ‘How many goals will we win by today?’ . . . ‘Are the boys fit?’ . . . ‘We’ll kill ’em, won’t we?’ and all the usual enthusiastic chit-chat that flows from a crowd of expectant barrackers.
Throughout the game he sat there, fighting out every kick by wrenching and twisting his hat in his hands, while every Collingwood player on the ground would have given more than a penny for his thoughts.
Because on what this grey-haired man thought rested the ambitions not only of the players but of the entire Collingwood Football Club . . . that is why they called Jock McHale ‘The Prince of Coaches’.
When people ask: ‘What is the Collingwood secret?’ . . . ‘Why have they been so successful?’, I feel the answer is extremely hard to pin-point, but in finding the reason, one of the starting points must be Jock McHale.
Tradition is one of the foremost ingredients of the Magpie formula, and old Jock not only kept tradition going, he created it himself.
Once a player joins the club he becomes imbued with this spirt, and he comes to automatically feel that he has let the side down when they lose . . . McHale was one of the men who were instrumental in Collingwood adopting this attitude towards football.
One look at Jock was enough to tell how the team had fared. At the end of the game he would wait at the top of the player’s race – if you won he would be all smiles, and his face would be lit up like Luna Park – but if you lost he would still be standing at the race all right – with his back to you and a look of utter disgust on his face. It was folly to walk past him, a wiser tactic was to run past as quickly as you could, unless he turned round and said something to you.
In my early days at Collingwood we were having a bad trot, so three players – Jack Burns, who is the present secretary; Mac Holten, now a Member of Federal Parliament, and I – decided that it would be a good idea if the players had a meeting. We felt that it would help the players to get better acquainted, and we could thrash out why we were playing poorly.
It was highly secret, and only the players were supposed to know, but old Jock got to hear if it, and when we arrived on the Tuesday night to have the meeting he was there waiting for us. He accused the three of us of being Commos trying to cause a revolution in the club, and told us it had never happened in his forty years with the club, and it wasn’t likely to happen while he was still there.
He polished us off by saying: ‘Now buzz off!’, with which he kicked us out of the room, and there was no meeting. This was the way Jock worked. He ruled the club with an iron hand, and stood over the players, yet behind it all he was a very fair-minded chap.
Jock was a brewery foreman. If we won he’d take the players who he thought went well up to the brewery, where he would produce the keys to the brewery bar, and ‘shout’. If we lost he would often still take some of the boys up, but he refused to talk to anyone until after he had had about six pots, and then he became a little more expansive and even managed a friendly word or two!
Was Jock’s reputation as a coach justified? I think it was, because Collingwood’s record while he was in charge of them was outstanding. He certainly didn’t believe in the theory that you could learn something on the ground, irrespective of what age you were, which was a flaw in his make-up, in my opinion, because it doesn’t matter what age you are in football you can always learn something.
He felt he couldn’t teach you anything because you should have learned how to play before you arrived in senior football. He never ever tried to teach me anything; perhaps he thought I was a genius when I arrived, as he did with many other players. Whether this was the secret of his success I don’t know, because he did allow players to learn for themselves by following the advice of the big names at the club.
He also had the reputation of being able to pick when a player was perfectly fit, and he had the happy knack of resting this player so that he would come up fresh for the Saturday.
During a game he often made some fantastic moves. The theory he worked on was that if a player was not going so well in a certain position then shift him somewhere else and he may do better there.
Jock’s first love after his family was Collingwood. He lived for the club, and I know that on many occasions he was offered fantastic sums of money to leave and coach other sides, but he always refused, and continued to take £3 a week, the same as the players.
Although he felt life wasn’t worth living for the first hour or so after a defeat, he very rarely got a ‘set’ on players. This was very much in his favour, because even though a loss upset him far more than the average person, he was tremendously loyal to his players, and he always stuck up for them.
He could say what he liked about them, but let anybody else criticize them and Jock would be the first to rush to their defence.
Most players feared Jock McHale, yet respected him. He would never let the players stand over him, but he was very kind, considerate and fair when it came to a serious decision as far as the player was concerned, particularly when a player wanted to leave the club. If he felt the player had a little more football left in him he would want him to stay, but if the player was still determined to go somewhere else Jock would make sure that wherever the player went he got the best of deals.
And that’s what old Jock always strived to get Collingwood – the best of deals. He was as much Collingwood as Collingwood itself, and through his knowledge of the game, built up over a long period of years, he gave tremendous service to the club – and to football.
The following is Lou’s take on Phonse the coach;
It was a belated appointment, but Phonse Kyne finally became coach, and he stepped into a very hard job, because after the row he was wide open for criticism if he didn’t succeed, which in itself was a tough job for a man in his first season as coach. But they finished fifth or sixth – a good effort after such a big internal fight.
Phones also had the problem of coaching players he had played with. It was only that they found it very hard to take orders from a man who had been a fellow player. A new coach can’t help but feel a little self-conscious when he first starts to ask players he has been ‘one of the boys with’ to do something for him. He has to ‘kid’ them a little, yet still maintain their respect. A coach taking over a team with a lot of young players who don’t know much about his background has the advantage of a better start than Kyne did, because he could tell players what he wanted and expect them to do it without any mucking about or kidding.
Phonse rode through his stormy start, and since the war he must rank with Norm Smith and Dick Reynolds as one of the three leading coaches. Since 1950 Kyne has had the side out of the four only on three of four occasions, and he coached them to two Premierships, so he must be classed as successful – there are coaches of weaker clubs who would be proud enough just to have got their side into the four!
Another Old Paradian Bill Serong also made the pages of Lou’s tome. Here Lou defends Bill, Collingwood’s 98-game midfielder through six seasons, whom he (Lou) believes was poorly treated by the club;
Perhaps one of the biggest upsets at Collingwood in their rebuilding programme over 1961-2 was the sacking of vice-captain Bill Serong. Collingwood felt that Serong had become a spent force, and when the 1962 list was announced his name wasn’t on it.
Most people felt Bill was treated very unfairly, and I support this feeling. Serong had given great service to Collingwood, even though he had a poor season in 1961. On top of this, he needed only two more games to receive £100 in cash for playing 100 games, and added Provident Fund money.
Disappointed, he nearly gave the game away, but north asked him to join them, and just to prove Collingwood wrong he has won North’s best-and-fairest award.
Serong’s sacking proved once again that Collingwood don’t worry about big names.