Tonight, Richmond and Carlton footballers will play for Premiership points in an empty stadium . . .
. . . and yet, when competitors of the two teams met on the neighbouring Richmond paddock on the afternoon of Saturday, July 15, 1871, the match would be abandoned in disgrace, due to a pitch invasion of gamblers, thugs and various other undesirables aligned with the hosts.
Precipitating the move to call the game off was the Carlton captain Jack Conway, who led his undermanned group from the field after one of his players was coward hit by an unidentified Richmond devotee wielding a knuckleduster.
An unnamed correspondent for The Age wrote that more than 3000 spectators bore witness to a match sabotaged by “300 or 400 Richmond roughs”, in “one of the most extraordinary and disgraceful scenes ever witnessed in Victoria”.
The correspondent wrote in part:
Three thousand spectators witnessed a riot at this game when the playing area was invaded by a 400 Richmond roughs who refused to move.
The mob hindered the Carlton team at every opportunity and got between them and the ball whenever Richmond were near to it.
Almost every player on the Carlton team was bashed, wounded, tattered and torn, one player having thrown one of the mob to the ground turned to see how the game was going and was then struck with knuckledusters to the face knocking him out.
Conway called a count of his players, then with agreement with the Richmond side the game was called off. The Leader said “There is no doubt Carlton would have come off victorious had a fair field been given to them”.
It's been a big day. It's been a big week.
Tomorrow, we've got a game to play.#OwnTheFuture— Carlton FC (@CarltonFC) March 18, 2020
Match drawn. 0-0
Beneath the headline AN EXTRAORDINARY SCENE AT A FOOTBALL MATCH, the correspondent wrote the following in part:
The circumstances were these:-When the game commenced some thousand or so persons were present, and before four o’clock this number had increased to close on three thousand.
Amongst them were some three or four hundred of the roughs of Richmond, and about two dozen thimble-riggers and card sharpers. These latter announced their arrival by setting up in the very middle of the playing ground the boxes on which they customarily play their tricks, and here they remained in spite of all remonstrances, surrounded by a crowd of hobbledehoys (awkward, gawky youths), who were sporting their half crowns and crowns, till Conway, the Carlton captain, with half dozen of his heaviest men, charged the concerns and capsized the paraphernalia, to the great delight of the well-ordered persons on the ground.
But this was not all. From the first there was great difficulty experienced in keeping the ground clear. In vain the captains and umpires remonstrated - the confusion was becoming almost indescribable, when half a dozen gentlemen volunteered to keep the people back.
At first their efforts were successful, but only at first. Their endeavours in a very few minutes were laughed at by the leaders of the mob, and one gentleman as a reward was struck a blow on the face, and on retaliating was surrounded by half a dozen fellows, who would soon have put him hors de combat (out of battle) had not some gentleman present stepped to the rescue. As it was, he came out of the conflict with a bleeding face, a battered hat, and an indescribably tattered coat.
After this order ceased.
The centre of the playing ground was one mass of many-coloured struggling humanity. The players, hustled, torn, and many of them bleeding, bore themselves with wonderful and exemplary patience.
Carlton, it must be said, was very roughly handled, while the Richmond men, whenever they got the ball, were aided in every instance by the leaders of the mob, who threw themselves between the advancing Carlton men and prevented them getting near the goal. And now fights became of common occurrence - charges of half a dozen players were made into dense masses of people, and the toppling over was something to witness.
Every now and then there would be a rush to some particular spot, where a battle would be raging with a player and a rough. Blows, curses, cross buttocks (wrestling), were the order of the day, and the curses filled the air again and again as some stalwart footballer overthrew a rough.
One of the Carlton players had a tussle with one of them and threw him cleverly after the manner of footballers. As he was turning to see how the game was going, another of the crowd struck him a heavy blow on the face with a knuckle-duster which felled him to the ground senseless.
At last, no goal having been gained by either side, the Carlton captain called his men together, and having gone over the roll, found none missing, but nearly every man wounded, tattered and torn.
He then, at four o'clock, declined to proceed with the match, and, after an expression of mutual good feeling between the teams, the game was broken up.
A remedy for this state of things must be found.
The Australasian writer of the day, in closing, wrote of the match: “If anyone had doubted the popularity of this branch of athletic sports, a visit to the Richmond paddock on Saturday would at once have disabused his mind of that idea”.
The history books show that Carlton under stand-in captain Jack Donovan emerged with the season’s South Yarra Challenge Cup almost 150 years ago.
And yet, Saturday, July 15, 1871 remains a day which lives in football infamy.