While Sunday afternoon footy is a staple of the sports calendar today, it took a visit from the late Queen Elizabeth II in 1970 to inspire Aussie Rules to play on the Sabbath.
Before then, Sundays were still considered a day of rest and businesses remained closed, while footy grounds, including the MCG, were firmly padlocked.
That all changed in the opening round of the 1970 season on Sunday, April 5 at the code’s most famous ground, when the then VFL made history to house the royals.
Reigning Prime Ministers Richmond played Fitzroy to open the season that day in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
Another first for the code was that players were required to wear fresh jerseys during halftime, comb their hair and wash their hands so that they would be presentable when meeting the royals during the main break in the game.
Former Demons coach John ‘Swooper’ Northey played for the Tigers that day, with his team glowing favorites after winning the league the year before.
But things didn’t go according to plan, as Fitzroy reversed a five-point deficit at half-time to take a 20-point royalty win.
“I think we were more interested in meeting the Queen than playing football,” Northey said.
The cover of Football Record featured the Queen when she attended the game in 1970
The royals arrived in a procession and strict instructions were followed – for the most part. Northey explained how Richmond President Ray Dunn was a little taken aback by the occasion when he introduced the players to the Queen and her companions.
“When he came to me, he forgot my name and you weren’t allowed to stretch out your hand until the Queen does,” Northey said.
‘He said, ‘Your Majesty this is, is, is…’ and Billy Brown was standing next to me, and little Billy said, ‘He’s John Northey, I’m Billy Brown, how are we today?’
However, a 19-year-old Princess Anne seemed more interested in the gladiatorial aspects of the sport than in protocol.
She reportedly asked Tigers star Billy Barrot, “I understand there were a few punches before we arrived. Will there be more?’
Anne also continued to question referee Jeff Crouch who admitted that some blood had been spilled during a second-quarter brawl.
Roger Dean was the captain of the Tigers that year and remembered how nervous he got when he had to introduce the players one by one to the royal family.
“I thought, I hope I remember the names of all the players,” Dean said.
“They don’t look real somehow. I don’t believe I’m talking to royalty.
“I used to play in a favorite old jersey and it had gone navy blue, not black, and they had me put on a brand new jersey, so I’d look decent to introduce them to everyone.
‘He [Prince Charles] He seemed nice enough, he didn’t say much, he was just courteous to the players: “Enjoy the game?” and “It’s a very hard game, isn’t it”. It was quite formal. The snoring must have bored him.’
Richmond’s premiership defender and Tony Jewell, the club’s 1980 prime minister, actually blamed the presence of the Queen and other royals for the shock loss.
“We trudged into the rooms at halftime, far from pleased with ourselves as we were only a few points ahead when we were expected to wipe out Fitzroy almost at will,” said Jewell.
“We just couldn’t concentrate on work and instead of organizing our thoughts during recess, all kinds of people were running around the rooms during recess.
Queen Elizabeth II on walkabout in Launceston, Tasmania, during her tour of Australia in 1970
“Some tried to explain protocol, others explained how to queue and others handed out instructions. For example, we were told not to say anything – not a word – to the Queen unless a question was asked.
‘She didn’t say anything to me, so my meeting with the Queen was nothing more than a very quick shake of her gloved hand.
“I also remember that we had to change and wash our hands during halftime.”
Richmond would eventually miss the top four that season, finishing sixth, while Fitzroy finished ninth.