There is some symmetry to my first game of competitive football. It was played on the ground opposite the Mordialloc Pier. My footy at this stage was mostly a fishing expedition.
I was 11 and playing for the 5 th Mordialloc Cub Group. Don't remember much about it other that I didn't get a kick.
My first footy was made of newspaper, an old Herald and a Sporting Globe wrapped up tight. My first real footy was a battered old one from Parkdale Football Club. I used to hand out chewing gum and cut oranges for the senior teams so the club gave me the football as payment.
Football began to be more than a gallop around the park when I joined Mordialloc and started to play in their under 13s teams. We were not the best but there was a lot of parent involvement and lots of good times.
When I became too old for the under 13s with Mordialloc, I moved on to Parkdale. I had to play in the under 15s there even though I was yet to turn 14. My brother Bill was the star of the under 17s. He was a ruckman, very big for his age group, and he really understood the game. He was under the eyes of all the scouts but got cleaned up very badly in the 1963 Grand Final. He was carried off unconscious and never played another game.
Not long after this time I started to grow – up, not out, thankfully. At least 6 inches in one year. Now I was cooking with gas. Now I could start matching dreams with reality.
Playing in the ruck and changing at center half-forward, I started to take towering marks. The kid who used to run the boundary was now running the show. I suddenly became the leader of the pack and was made captain of the Under 17s in 1965.
Because football was the only game in town in a Melbourne winter, my games were pretty big news. So it got around that this kid at Parkdale could take a good mark. In those days the League scouts were all over suburban leagues looking for potential VFL players.
So in 1965 at age 16 I was invited to train at Richmond . It didn't matter that I'd barracked for Collingwood after being brainwashed by Mum to follow the Woods!
I was given the chance to play for Richmond 's Under 19s team. We played Collingwood at Victoria Park in the mud and I lined up at center half-forward. I should say I stood at center half-forward and watched a guy called Lee Adamson just destroy my confidence. At that stage my game was built around marking alone and in the wet I couldn't even catch a cold. The coach of the Under 19s was Ray Jordon. Affectionately known as “The Slug.” He told me to have another crack later in the year when it was dry. I firmly believe that was a soft line for, “go away son, you are not good enough.”
I did get another chance with Richmond Under 19s, against Carlton , the game was played in optimum conditions. Not a breath of wind and the ball literally followed me. After the game I was awarded the best player for Richmond . I got 3 votes in the Sporting Globe, I had made the most of my second chance.
I then received an invitation to go to Canberra with the Richmond Under 19s to play a combined Australian Capital Territory team as the curtain-raiser to the ACT Grand Final. I did okay in Canberra and was asked to join Richmond the following season in 1966.
In 1968 I played the first four games in the reserves, mostly at full-forward but occasionally in the ruck. In round 4 I was on song against St Kilda and booted eight goals. The seniors, who had won the premiership the season before in Tommy Hafey's second year as coach, had made an indifferent start to the season. They won the first two and then got done twice.
When a photographer came to my house on the Thursday night before round 5, I could only presume I was going to be in the senior side for the first time. Looking back, it is quite incredible to think that no-one at Richmond told me I was in the seniors. After the photographer left, I listened to the radio where it was announced that I was in the team.
My League career was up and running. I felt the difference between the reserves and seniors and it was pressure. You were cramped for time and space to execute your skills. Only being in the line of fire and experiencing that sort of pressure could explain it properly.
As time went by, the records show that I played in the side that won the premiership in 1969. It also shows I kicked 55 goals in that year. Thank you very much.
We missed the finals in 1970. That is always big news when the reigning premiers miss the September action the following year and the Tigers were getting good at it – premiership in 1967, nothing on 1968, premiership in 1969, nothing in 1970.
1971 was probably my best year in footy. If not for Ian Stewart, I may have won the Best and Fairest. I didn't. I had to settle for the Outstanding Player trophy, miles behind Stewart who won his third Brownlow. The trophy is still in my study, a cake dish with an inscription. I never checked what the runner up got. Probably a packet of cake mix. The cake dish also came with $50 and I think I bought a fishing rod and reel with it.
In 1972 we won 18 games of the 22 played that year and still could not get first place on the ladder, which went to Carlton . Before the Grand Final the Tigers were red-hot favourites to win the flag, but the Blues kicked an amazing 28.9 to blow us out of the water. I can still remember the after-match entertainment. There would have been more laughter at a funeral parlour. It was then that the players and Tommy Hafey made a pact to not rest until we won the 1973 flag. I am firmly convinced that there was no way Richmond would have forgone the flag that year. Looking back, the other clubs didn't stand a chance.
The Tigers won the 1973 Grand Final and the following year 1974 would be my last at Richmond . I struck a deal to play with the Tigers until round 7, after which Royce Hart would be back and I was then free to go. I signed with Geelong and Gareth Andrews got my No. 5 and a premiership medallion as the Tigers went back to back in 1974.
And so I left my beloved Tigers and headed down the Geelong road. In retrospect it was a big mistake and, while I certainly was better off financially, success in football is measured in premierships. I would never play another finals game.
My days at Richmond were up and down. Victories and defeats. But I would not have missed it for the world. It was the making on me.
By 1976 my priorities had changed and the weekly travel to Geelong had become an overriding issue. I explained to the club that I wanted to continue playing league footy but I didn't think that it was possible if I remained a Geelong player. I said I wanted to go to St Kilda. Ian Drake from St Kilda took up my cause and just before the final practice game my clearance came through. So there I was at my third club, fresh and keen. It rubbed off on the field and I had a good season. I finished second in the best and fairest and took my best ever tally of marks in a game – 21. Naturally it was against Collingwood at Victoria Park.
My three years at St Kilda were exciting but the last game of the 1978 season was to be my last. I was 29 years old and the game was passing me by. I had lost my leap and I couldn't take the big grabs anymore.
What stands out to me about my five years at Geelong and St Kilda is that I did not play in a final. Apart from great individual efforts, different characters and some exciting home and away games with plenty of rough and tumble, there was no team success. And that is all that matters, folks – team rewards. And that is why I have devoted so much to Richmond . We had the sort of success at Punt Road that is a benchmark for the rest of your life.
Rex retired from football in 1981