It was a war that should never have happened. A war that saw one club bankrupt and the other on the brink of extinction.
Collingwood and Richmond have never gotten along.The cross-town rivals have shared a history that dates back to the 1920s, when the Tigers claimed their first premiership in the 1920 grand final.
Collingwood sought their revenge by trouncing the Tigers in three successive grand finals between1927 to 1929.
Tensions between the clubs were so fierce that Richmond immortal Jack Dyer confessed he could not watch black and white television because of his hatred for the Magpies.
But for all of their history, nothing would prepare the clubs for the bitter trade wars of the early 1980’s.
Richmond and Collingwood began the decade by squaring off in the 1980 Grand Final. In front of 113,461 fans, the Tigers defeated the Magpies by 81 points to win their 10th VFL premiership.
With a side full of youth, the Tigers were expected to dominate the decade and be become one of the most successful teams in VFL history.
However, the Tigers failed to make the finals in 1981 and sacked coach Tony Jewell.
Former player Francis Bourke was appointed coach in 1982 and guided the Tigers to the Grand Final. But in wet conditions the Tigers were no match for Carlton, who ran away with an 18-point victory.
While Richmond was mourning the Grand Final defeat, Collingwood were in the midst of an evolution.
For the first time in six years the Magpies failed to make the finals. The Collingwood board were criticised for being conservative and the lack of improvement saw rebel groups challenge the board for power of the club.
One of these rebel groups was the ‘New Magpies’, who were led by well know media identity and businessman Ranald McDonald.
McDonald and the‘New Magpies’ promised fans if elected onto the board they would embark on one of the biggest recruiting campaigns ever seen in VFL history.
An election was called and the ‘New Magpies’ gained power of the club.
Collingwood historian Michael Roberts recalls the ‘New Magpies’ early promises.
“They [the ‘New Magpies’] went out to spend big money and buy a premiership. It was a charged environment under that regime and that mean’t they were spending big money and that mean’t clubs who were poached by Collingwood got a bit more pissed off.”
Richmond was one of the clubs annoyed by the Collingwood recruiting strategy.
In the wake of the grand final defeat, club legends David Cloke and Geoff Raines asked for pay increases to compliment their service to the Tigers.
According to former player Dale Weigtman in his book ‘Saving our skins and other tiger tales’, the duo had requested pay increases after discovering 20-year-old forward Brian Taylor was on a larger salary.
Livid by the perceived lack of respect shown towards the club, Richmond secretary Graeme Richmond did not accept the request.
“Graeme Richmond had this attitude that you don’t tell us what you are worth, we tell you,” Richmond historian Bill Meaklim said.
News of the player unrest reached Collingwood and the Magpies offered the pair the money they were seeking.
Losing the well-loved players to their fiercest rival infuriated Richmond, who began plotting their revenge.
“Guys like Cloke and Raines were royalty at Richmond and Richmond were understandably pissed off,” said Roberts.
The Tigers tried signing Collingwood icon Peter Daicos, but a conversation with his father persuaded Daicos to stay at the Magpies.
With Daicos rejecting a move, the Tigers set their sights on Phil Walsh and John Annear.
Walsh was named Collingwood’s best first year player in 1983 and the move hurt Magpie fans.
“He [Walsh] was a very popular player,” Roberts said.
“The fans loved him and from that moment it was a realisation that this was a war.”
Collingwood hit back by securing Brian Taylor in 1985, while Richmond poached Wally Lovett, Neil Peart and Craig Stewart.
But the effects of the war were beginning to take its toll. While Collingwood were getting the best out of their recruits, Richmond’s signings failed to impress.
“What we did was dopey,” Meaklim said.
“While Collingwood were get- ting hundreds of games from Cloke, Raines and Taylor, we got ordinary players who played under 50 games.”
“The money we spent on transfers would have been enough to pay Cloke and Raines what they wanted.”
Collingwood returned to the finals in 1984, while Richmond struggled in the lower half of the ladder.
Over a four-year period, the ‘New Magpies’ spent $1.8 million on player acquisitions.
In 1986, the Magpies were on the verge bankruptcy, but found enough money to pay off their debts.
“We got a stay of execution of a couple of weeks and that gave us the time we needed to settle things down a bit,” Roberts said.
Richmond were not so lucky. Disappointing on-field results saw the club sack four coaches in a five-year period. In 1990 Richmond declared they needed to raise $1 million by October 31 or face extinction.
The Save Our Skins campaign was established and saw the club rattle tins for survival.
“Tins were taken everywhere to raise the money. A legend match was planned at Windy Hill and it got a crowd of over 23,000,” recalls Meaklim.
Amongst the many who donated to the cause was the Collingwood Football Club.
It is unclear why the Magpies donated to the Richmond fund. But what is clear is no matter how strained the relationship became, both clubs needed each other for survival.