SOUTH Fremantle champion full-back Ray Richards' career will be honoured on Wednesday night when he is inducted into the WA Football Hall of Fame.
Richards won't be the only South Fremantle player inducted either with 2009 premiership player Peter Bell to also be honoured on the night.
Richards had a remarkable career with South Fremantle and will go down as the club's greatest ever full-back with his toughness and courage, combined with his brilliant marking and kicking skills making him a standout performer in the club's golden era.
After making his debut in 1951, the man affectionately known as 'Lizard' went on to play 148 games with the Bulldogs and was a key contributor in the premierships of 1952 and 1954 and was captain of the club in 1958.
Richards was then made a life member of the South Fremantle Football Club in 1965 and inducted into the club's Hall of Fame in 2011, and now deservedly will enter the WA Football Hall of Fame.
On top of his performances for South Fremantle where he deservedly goes down as the club's greatest full-back, he went on to captain-coach Claremont in 1959 and 1960 to take his WAFL games total to 195 while also representing Western Australia on 13 occasions.
Looking back now, Richards finds it hard to separate the winning premierships and state matches against Victoria as his career highlights.
"Undoubtedly the premierships of 1952 and 1954 stand out, but I also loved playing for Western Australia particularly against the Vics on a damp day," Richards said.
"They had the reputation of being the tough guys of footy. In fact, I thought many were wimps."
Richards arrived at South Fremantle from Deanmill, the same south west town as Sir Ross Hutchinson and John Todd, after being born in Pemberton.
At just 18, he won his club's fairest and best award as a centre half-forward before being encouraged to come to South Fremantle at the end of 1949 by Hutchinson.
After spending 1950 in the reserves, he received his chance the following season after the retirement of Bob Mason and immediately made the full-back position his own.
Aged just 21, he became a premiership player in 1952 when South Fremantle beat West Perth in the grand final but his 1953 season was hindered by a broken ankle. He missed the rest of the season and missed the club's premiership of that year.
However, he was back strongly in 1954 and starred in the premiership win of that year and also became a regular member of WA's team as its full-back. He played 13 games for WA in total, several as vice-captain, between 1955 and 1959.
Whether it was playing for South Fremantle, WA or Claremont, Richards was virtually unbeatable as a full-back because of his tremendous closing speed and ability to spoil his opponents from almost any position.
On top of that, he had a tremendous leap and his high-marking was a great highlight of his game as was his ever-improving kicking skills.
Richards was named captain of South Fremantle in 1958, but at the end of the season received an offer he couldn’t refuse to leave for Claremont and become captain-coach.
"It was a very good feeling being named captain and it made you feel wanted, that's for sure," Richards said.
"I then went to Claremont in 1959, though, when I was asked to join them. I said I could not leave South but they told me that Todd was going to be coach of South, and has the job even though it hadn’t been announced yet.
"Claremont told me that if I put my name down to be Souths coach they would knock me back and they did. Then I put my name down at Claremont. They said I could have the job and that's how I got to Claremont."
"It was pretty bad in those days because you had a fair few people trying to tell you how to coach the place," Richards said.
"It wasn’t the same as it is today. That's why I only stayed until 1961. I think it wouldn’t have been better if I was just coach and not playing though."
After two years and 34 games with the Tigers, Richards headed to Geraldton in 1962 to become playing-coach of Towns where he won the club's fairest and best in 1963 and was runner-up for the Clune Medal in 1963.
He retired soon after, but his contributions to football and interest in it have never died off. He served on the South Fremantle committee and continues to regularly attend home games at Fremantle Oval along with his daughter Susan, and granddaughters Kristy and Emmie.
He does think he would hold up quite well playing the modern game, though, up against even someone like Fremantle's Aaron Sandilands and without needing gloves or to overtrain.
"I still go to every home game," Richards said.
"I think the modern game is very good, but I still think that they change too much. And gloves. Anyone who can't mark a footy without gloves should be playing volleyball. Players are also overworked. They don’t get enough rest between training sessions.
"Now don't get me started on that silly handball game. And someone like Sandilands, well I wouldn’t have a problem. I wouldn’t get involved in the pushing and shoving. Simply I would stand well away and use my natural spring and leap over him. I'd kill him."
By Chris Pike