93. Royce Hart

93. Royce Hart - ICONICON – Player Inductee

Clarence/Richmond/Footscray

> 187 games, 369 goals, Richmond, 1967-77
> Richmond premierships, 1967, 1969, 1973 and 1974
> Richmond best and fairest, 1969 and 1972
> Richmond leading goalkicker, 1967 and 1971
> Captained Richmond, 1972-75
> All Australian, 1969
> Coached Footscray, 1980-82
> Also played in Glenelg’s (SA) grand final team in 1969, whilst on National Service
> Represented Victoria (11 games, 29 goals) and captained the state
> Member of the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame
> Legend in the AFL Hall of Fame
> Member of the AFL, Richmond and Tasmania ‘Teams of the Century’

To many observers Hart was the living embodiment of the ideal centre half forward. Certainly few players in the history of the game have managed to weld supreme natural ability and resolute determination to such telling effect. The determination saw Hart—on the face of it far from the finished article as a footballer—leave Tasmania as a seventeen-year-old in 1965 to try his luck in the ‘big time’ with Richmond. At the time it was more usual for non-Victorian players to serve out apprenticeships in their own local competitions before embarking on VFL careers, but throughout his football career Royce Hart seldom did things according to accepted guidelines or standards.

Hart enjoyed a dream VFL debut season in 1967. Playing at the goal front he was a near unanimous choice as rookie of the year, kicking 55 goals, representing his adopted state, and playing in Richmond’s first premiership team for twenty-four years. There were to be no second season blues either: Royce Hart maintained an amazing consistency throughout most of the remainder of his 190 game league career, even in 1976 and 1977 when his knees had virtually ‘gone’.

In 1969, under a special lease arrangement, he played one SANFL game for Glenelg: the grand final, against Sturt. However, he was unable to prevent the Double Blues from winning comfortably.

Captain of the Tigers between 1972 and 1975, Hart played representative football for the VFL 11 times, won the Richmond best and fairest award twice, and was a member of four premiership teams in 1967, 1969, 1973 and 1974. There have been few more reliable marks or dynamic all round players in the history of the game.

There are many legendary tales about Hart, and none more famous than the story of how Richmond recruited him. In a meeting with club secretary Graeme Richmond,
Hart’s mother told the legendary administrator her son would need some new clothes if he were going to get a decent job after moving to Melbourne. Richmond signed Hart for the princely sum of a suit and six shirts. “There’s so much money in the game these days, they’d probably give me a whole clothing factory now,” he later quipped.

At the age of 19 Hart kicked three goals in his VFL debut for the Tigers against
Essendon at the MCG in round one of the 1967 season, and it soon became clear that the Tigers had secured one of the game’s great bargains. Seven games into
his VFL career, the teenager kicked seven goals for Victoria.

The boy from Tassie’s rise to fame was confirmed by his three brilliant performances late in 1967. He kicked six goals against Geelong in the season’s final round, then booted another six when Richmond defeated Carlton in the second semi-final. Two weeks later he bagged three vital majors as Richmond won its first premiership in 24 years with a nine-point victory over the Cats.

Hart counts the 1967 decider as the game that he looks back upon most fondly.
“There was so much riding on it, with all the supporters, who hadn’t witnessed
Richmond in a grand final for so long, wanting the club to break that drought. For it all to happen in my first year was way beyond my expectations.” By then Richmond’s game plan, devised by four-time premiership coach Tom Hafey, could be summed up as “long bombs to Royce”, and that style of play enabled Hart to take countless great marks during the remainder of his career.

Hart was conscripted into the National Service in 1969. He spent the best part of a year with the Royal Australian Artillery in Adelaide, during which he flew back to Melbourne on weekends to play for Richmond. Hart still kicked 31 goals for the
season, and the Tigers became the first team to win the flag from fourth on the ladder. While living in Adelaide Hart trained regularly with Glenelg and the connection led to an offer of $2,000 to play for Glenelg in the 1969 SANFL grand final, held a week after the VFL decider. The Tigers’ opponent, Sturt, was incensed and its experienced hard men took out their anger on the controversial import. Hart was concussed in the first quarter and Sturt won its fourth successive flag by 65 points.

Appointed captain in 1972, Hart led the Tigers into the grand final with a series of commanding displays, including a six-goal haul in the qualifying final against Collingwood. Although Richmond suffered an upset loss to Carlton in the highest-scoring decider in VFL/AFL history—the Blues won 28.9 to 22.18—he and his teammates rebounded in 1973.

It was the season that proved Hart was as tough as he was talented. Hart tore cartilage in his left knee during the Tigers’ round 15 clash with St Kilda but returned for the qualifying final against Carlton, booting five goals in Richmond’s 20-point loss. Hart then led the Tigers to a seven-goal win in the first semi-final against St Kilda, however he had to have a large amount of fluid drained from his knee after the match. He was initially left out of the team to play Collingwood in the preliminary final but Hafey included him on his reserves bench, just in case. Hafey’s fears were realised when his team trailed the Magpies by six goals at the long break. After a discussion with Graeme Richmond, Hafey decided to send his skipper into battle. A hobbled Hart booted two goals and set up numerous others as the Tigers came back from the dead and won by seven points. Hart kicked another three majors a week later as Richmond avenged its loss the previous year.

In 1974 Hart led the Tigers to another premiership. “It feels like a long time ago,” he says with a chuckle. “Particularly with the way Richmond have gone over the last 20-odd years. I wish they’d win another one and get the monkey off their back.”

The latter years of Hart’s career were interrupted by knee problems, which eventually forced him to retire, aged 29, midway through the 1977 season. A switch to coaching followed. Hart guided the Richmond reserves in 1979, then had an ill-fated two-and-a-half year stint as senior coach at Footscray, during which time the Bulldogs won only eight of their 45 matches.

An inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, Royce Desmond Hart is now one of just 25 official Legends of the game.