JOHN Perry couldn’t disguise his love for the Tiger Army if he tried.
Richmond will run onto the MCG on Saturday in a grand final for the first time in 35 years and a further 15 years since Perry started on the bench in the club’s 1967 premiership team which beat Geelong in front of 109,000 people.
Earlier this year, Perry became the last player from the flag win 50 years ago to be made a life member of the club when it decided to bestow the honour on every Tiger premiership player irrespective of matches played.
Perry, literally, was born into yellow and black.
His mum Edna’s brothers were local legends, Doug and Gordon Strang, who were both premiership players for Richmond in the 1930s and coaching rivals in the Ovens and Murray league at the end of their VFL careers.
Perry, aged 18, finished runner-up in the O and M’s Morris Medal in 1963 to Albury’s Ken Bennett and was immediately on the Richmond radar.
He joined the Tigers the following season, but broke his shoulder in round two and the following two seasons had his time at Punt Road interrupted by National Service which included a stint at the jungle training centre at Canungra in Queensland.
Perry was a member of the Tigers’ 1966 reserves premiership team as the club was about to explode as a force under the coaching of the late Tommy Hafey.
He played 13 senior matches in 1967, including a 30-disposal best outing in round 10, but bumping club icons Francis Bourke and Dick Clay from the two wing positions for a spot in the starting line-up was problematical.
The pacy left-footer settled for the 19th man role in the grand final team and finally got his run in the final quarter as the Tigers held on for a nine-point win with Royce Hart’s mark over Peter Walker and Fred Swift’s mark on the last line of defence lasting images.
“All I wanted to do was get out there,” Perry said.
“You’ve trained all year and you just want to play.”
Perry also played alongside cousin Geoff Strang in the 1967 flag team as did Barry Richardson, who grew up on a farm between Wodonga and Barnawartha and attended St Augustine’s Primary School before completing his education at St Patrick’s College, Ballarat.
Richardson’s son Dan holds a senior role in the present day Tigers’ football department.
Swift coached Corowa to an O and M premiership the following season and at the end of 1969 when Perry was an emergency for the flag win against Carlton, he accepted an offer to join North Melbourne.
He tallied 27 senior matches for the Tigers with his career not helped by a bout of hepatitis.
But his time was long enough to make lasting friendships and learn some business smarts in the pub game from legendary club administrator and future brother-in-law, Graeme Richmond.
Perry’s first job was at Richmond’s Vaucluse Hotel before managing the Junction Hotel in St Kilda, which later had to be demolished for a freeway extension.
The Perry family owned Wodonga’s Blazing Stump Hotel for 80 years and brother Bill built the Huon Hill Hotel with Albury businessman Colin Joss in recent years.
Bill also owns a favourite haunt for the Tiger Army, the London Tavern, near Punt Road Oval.
John once again made the mid-week trip to Melbourne for the annual Tigers’ premiership reunion with the event having an added sense of occasion with Richmond ending its grand final drought.
“We’ve all forgotten how powerful the Richmond supporters are,” he said.
“The army is frightening for even blokes of my age.
“Other clubs are jealous of Richmond, don’t worry about that.
“They still remember the loose elbows of Neil Balme and Laurie Fowler and the tenacity of Francis Bourke.
“Our club lives off that.”
Perry played a further 57 VFL senior matches for North Melbourne before rounding out his time in Melbourne with stints at VFA clubs Caulfield and Williamstown.
He was appointed captain-coach of his original club, Wodonga, in 1976, but the role was cut short when seriously injured in the first round of the season against Myrtleford.
It was the only match John and Bill played together in.
Perry spent three months in hospital recovering from major internal injuries which forced him to relinquish the position of coach.
Later, Perry was a driving force behind Wodonga Raiders’ entry into the O and M in 1989.
But, this is Tiger time for 72-year-old, Perry, who will be at the MCG today.
“Adelaide will bring its highly charged, well disciplined squad over in what will be a ripper game of footy,” he said.
“But I reckon we will have them by the throat at three-quarter-time and the Tiger Army will turn it on too.”
I reckon we will have them by the throat at three-quarter-time and the Tiger Army will turn it on tooJohn Perry