A Tribute To Tommy Hafey

The following is the foreword to the book, A Tribute to Tommy Hafey, produced by the Tommy Hafey Club for the “Tommy’s Life in Football” event which celebrated Tommy's life in football at a Tommy Hafey Club event attended by over 500 people at the Grand Hyatt in August 2005.

tommy1“Tommy Hafey you are a legend”. What an accolade! But when so many use such simple but awe inspiring words to describe another, one knows immediately we are dealing with a very special person.

Thomas Stanley Raymond Hafey was born in Richmond on 5th August 1931. He grew up in East Malvern where he attended Lloyd Street Central School, then Melbourne High School, and went on to play football for the East Malvern Football Club.

A school-mate and life friend describes Tommy as some-one who could do everything – “a terrific footballer, the best drop kick going around but above all, he was a wise kid”.

From his earliest days Tommy was into physical fitness. He’s never smoked nor drank, notwithstanding strenuous efforts and temptations along the way. As one of the Shepparton boys recalls, “all the premierships we won ... and we couldn’t get a beer into you”.

From very early on Tommy was “not just a wise kid but someone you would listen to” and who could exert a positive influence on others lives.

One life time friend ascribes the “turning point in my life” to Tommy.

In later years Tommy’s players would refer to him not only as their football coach and mentor but as their “life coach”. The principles and values he instilled in his players and which won premierships were the same principles and values his players took with them into life after football; loyalty, determination, dedication, discipline, honesty, passion and   integrity, but above all respect! If one word characterises Tommy it’s respect, in fact one could say without fear of contradiction that Tommy Hafey epitomises the word respect.

This respect of course worked both ways; Tommy respected his players and they respected him. It created a unique and formidable force which produced premierships, life time bonds of love and loyalty, admiration and respect from opponents. As one great opposition coach observed “doing extra for the coach is a handy card to be able to play and opposing coaches always knew that Tom’s teams would be hard to subdue”.

Tommy’s players knew they had his unswerving loyalty if they gave 100% and that he would always stand by them if they did. This produced reciprocal loyalty which gave Tommy’s teams a unique never say die quality and a crucial edge over their opposition.

“Tommy didn’t ask you to do what he said .. he asked you to do what he did”.

“You would only give him your respect by playing with all the qualities he showed you”.

“Tommy stuck with me and his faith created the scenario where there was no way I was going to let him down”.

“We played for the team and Tommy”.

tommy2Tommy graduated through the East Malvern Football Club from juniors to seniors where he enjoyed great success as a player. He won the EMFC (seniors) best & fairest award in 1951 and 1952, while in 1952 he also took out the WJ Wilde Cup award for best & fairest in the Caulfield Oakleigh District League.

Tommy’s Dad barracked for Collingwood and so did Tommy. But East Malvern was in Richmond’s zone and although both Fitzroy and Collingwood sought his services, Richmond were determined he should go to Punt Road. So Tommy started his VFL career with the Tigers in 1953 and made his senior debut in Round 6, coincidentally against the Magpies. Tommy kicked a goal with his first kick for the Tigers and went on to play over 100 games in the Yellow and Black between 1953 and 1958 (67 senior games). He was a member of the 1954 Reserves premiership team and a regular member of the senior team in 1955 and 1956. 

His team-mates of the time recall his great enthusiasm, determination, ability to encourage others and full-on commitment to training and the game. His hard work ethic, willingness to listen and learn inspired support from senior players and provided inspiration to young players coming through.

In 1959 Tommy was de-listed and although hotly pursued by South Melbourne, he already had developed a strong sense of loyalty to the Tigers. The Hafey Milk Bar in Bridge Road Richmond was also a factor in his decision to play for Richmond Amateurs. In fact Tommy played Saturday football for part of the season in Gippsland and the whole season for Richmond Amateurs in the Sunday League. Tommy was a member of the Richmond Amateurs premiership in that year but also played one game for East Malvern, the Grand Final which they also won. Two premierships in one year must have given Tommy that premiership feeling!

In 1960 the Hafey family moved to Shepparton where Tommy had been appointed playing coach of the Shepparton Football Club. He had an immediate impact taking Shepparton to the preliminary final in his first season. A grand final defeat followed in 1961 and a sixth place finish in 1962. But then Tommy and Shepparton struck gold winning three consecutive senior premierships in 1963, ‘64 and ’65 plus the reserves flag in 1965. The Hafey name lives on in Shepparton with a street and a park named after him representing a lasting tribute to the Hafey impact not just on football in Shepparton, but on the whole community.

After 104 games and six sensational years in Shepparton Tommy was called to duty at Punt Road. Richmond had played finals football only once since 1944 when they had finished runners up. Charged with the challenge of restoring the club to the feared “Tiger of Old” the record speaks for itself. In eleven seasons as senior coach, Tommy and his “boys” played finals footy seven times for five grand finals and four premierships, representing 40% of the total premierships won by the Richmond Football Club in its entire VFL/AFL history.

Tommy went within a whisker of instant success in his first season as senior coach when the Tigers finished fifth in 1966. The next year however the Tiger roar was restored, finishing top of the ladder and taking out their first premiership since 1943 beating Geelong in one of the great grand finals of VFL/AFL history.

tommy3While his players celebrated, Tommy sipped a cup of tea and contemplated 1968. Now Richmond was back on top his responsibility was to make sure they stayed there. However, 1968 proved to be a year of frustration and disappointment with the Tigers finishing in 5th place and left to contemplate what might have been.

The setback of 1968 ensured that 1969 would be a season in which no stone would be left unturned in the quest for another premiership. The season was a roller coaster ride. After a great start (five wins out of the first six games) the Tigers form slumped and by mid season the pressure was on coach and players as a finals place looked like slipping away again. 

But from that moment the players responded with a steely resolve to succeed and although finishing in fourth place, Richmond’s superior fitness and resolve saw them storm home to take out the ’69 premiership.

Another post premiership slump saw Tommy’s Tigers slip to sixth place in 1970 but then improve to finish third in 1971 and then runners up to Carlton in 1972. The ’72 loss gutted coach, players and club and ensured that 1973 would be “the year of atonement’.

That the Richmond Football Club enjoyed a stellar year in 1973 winning all levels of the competition is now history. The Tigers also won the Australian Championship in 1969, 1973 and 1974 and although they won the VFL premiership in 1980 and finished runners up in 1982, the back-to-back premierships of 1973 and 1974 arguably marked the high point of the Tigers’ restoration as a league force. Under Tommy, Richmond had again become the feared “Tiger of Old”.

Internal troubles at Punt Road however saw the unthinkable actually happen and in 1977 Tommy left his beloved Tigers to take on the senior coaching position at the old enemy, Collingwood. He was the first ‘outsider’ to coach Collingwood – the only man who’d never played for the club before taking on the coach’s role. But such was his impact at Victoria Park that Magpie fans soon adopted him as “one of them”. They loved his honesty and earnestness, his full-on and disciplined approach to training and the straightforward, aggressive style he engendered in the team on match days. The players took to him as warmly as they had at Punt Road, and the playing group quickly formed a bond with their coach that consistently took them further than natural talent might have deemed likely. These weren’t necessarily the most talented Collingwood teams of all time, but nobody ever doubted their spirit, a spirit fostered largely by Tommy, and which flowed through all levels of the club. Collingwood had been in major trouble both on and off the field in 1976, but Tommy turned things around, reuniting and refocusing the team and galvanising the entire club. This was no mean feat, and Magpie fans have never forgotten the pivotal role he played in the revival not just of their team but also their club.

His record at Collingwood was every bit as impressive as at Richmond except for one thing; in five complete seasons at Victoria Park, Tommy took the Magpies to four grand finals but not one premiership. From last position in 1976 he took them to the grand final in his first year (1977) after which the Pies finished third in 1978 and runners up in the next three years, 1979, 1980 and 1981. With a little luck, he should have snared at least two flags. The only consolation was their 1979 Night Premiership success.

The Collingwood revival ended with Tommy’s abrupt (and many would argue poorly handled) sacking mid season 1982, but his time in charge is still fondly remembered by the Collingwood faithful with whom he remains a much loved and revered figure.

By season 1983 the Hafey family had re-located again, this time to Geelong where as senior coach Tommy made an immediate impression on players and staff alike. His unique people skills were well to the fore as he met every individual and considered their point of view. His marvellous memory for names, willingness to spend time with football people throughout the Geelong district ensured his immediate acceptance at Kardinia Park. Tommy again managed to extract the best out of a playing group generally regarded as deficient in talent when he arrived.

The Cats had finished 9th in 1982 and in Tommy’s first year they finished 9th again. Tommy’s job at Geelong had not been made easier by the removal of the Committee which had appointed him coach by a reform group whose support of the new coach was less enthusiastic. However, in 1984 they missed the final five by percentage only, with the mercurial Mark Jackson heading their goal-kicking with 74 goals. 1985 saw a repeat of the previous year with a 6th placing, this time just one and a half games out of the final five. Gary Ablett headed the goal-kicking with 82 goals.

Twenty years later, in 2004 the Geelong Football Club acknowledged Tommy’s contribution to their club by honouring him with the RJ Hickey Award for services to football.

Meanwhile Geoffrey Edelsten was looking for a coach who could bring on-field success and help market our great game in Sydney. Acting on the advice of one Kevin Sheedy, Edelsten appointed Tommy coach of the Sydney Swans in 1986 and once more the Hafey family folded their tent, destined this time for the harbour city. This time however, brother Peter did not make the journey. Peter had been Tommy’s runner at Richmond, Collingwood and Geelong and experienced all the highs and lows of these eventful years.

tommy_swansHistory will confirm that the Sydney Swans were not in great shape when Tommy took over. The truth is they were in a parlous state. But as was his wont, Tommy immediately went to work to turn the place around. Again, his record speaks for itself. From 10th position with 6 wins the year before he took over, the Swans rocketed up the ladder to finish in 2nd place with 16 wins. Unfortunately their finals campaign didn’t go the way they would have liked, losing both finals to finish the year in 4th place. However, the Swans produced the joint Brownlow medallist (Greg Williams) and Warwick Capper burst on the scene with a 92 goal haul to finish 2nd in the AFL goal-kicking.

The Swans were humming under Tommy and 1987 saw them finish in 3rd place at the end of the home and away rounds with 15 wins. However the finals campaign was no better than the previous year with losses in both finals. Capper kicked the “ton” (103 goals) and the Swans again produced the Brownlow medallist, this time Gerard Healy.

Tommy’s final year with the Swans, and his last as an AFL coach, saw them finish 7th with 12 wins.

But reflect now on his magnificent VFL/AFL coaching record:

Played    Wins    Draws   Losses   Win Ratio

Richmond (1966-76)             248        173         2           73             70%

Collingwood (1977-82)         138         89          2           47             65%

Geelong (1983-85)                 66          31          0           35             47%

Sydney Swans  (1986-88)     70          43          0           27             61%

TOTAL                                    522        336        4          182            65%


Tommy also coached Victorian interstate teams in 1971, 1976 and 1980 against Western Australia; in 1971 against South Australia; in 1978 against Tasmania and in 1981 against Queensland.

Tommy was awarded Life Membership of the Richmond Football Club in 1967. He was named coach of the Richmond Football Club’s Team of the Century, inducted into the Richmond Football Club’s Inaugural Hall of Fame in 2002, and elevated to Richmond Football Club Immortal status in 2004. He is a Life Member of the AFL and in 1996 was inducted into the AFL’s Hall of Fame.

During his VFL/AFL coaching career Tommy coached in 42 finals games for 24 wins, 2 draws and 16 losses. During his entire football career he has been involved in twelve   premiership teams as either player or coach.


Twenty of Tommy’s former players have gone on to coach at senior VFL/AFL level:

• Barry Richardson - Richmond

• Tony Jewell - Richmond

• Kevin Bartlett - Richmond

• Francis Bourke - Richmond

• Paul Sproule - Richmond

• Mike Patterson - St.Kilda, Richmond

• Ian Stewart - South Melbourne

• John Northey - Sydney Swans, Melbourne, Richmond, Brisbane

• Neil Balme - Melbourne

• Royce Hart - Footscray

• Kevin Sheedy - Essendon

• Michael Malthouse - Footscray, West Coast, Collingwood

• Mick Erwin - Collingwood

• Des Tuddenham - South Melbourne

• Tony Shaw - Collingwood

• Mark Williams - Port Adelaide

• Damian Drum - Fremantle Dockers

• Brett Scott - Sydney Swans

• Michael Nunan - Fitzroy

• Allan Davis - St.Kilda

Tommy was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1981, he received an Australian Sporting Achievement medal in 2000, a Centenary Medal (commemorating the Federation of Australia) and was named Victorian Father of the year in 2003.

Tommy continues his involvement with AFL football, travelling widely to address clubs and take training sessions. He’s also involved in the after-dinner speaking circuit and as a motivational speaker to business and schools where he continues to inspire both adults and children with his zest for life and his recipe for success in sport and in life: Desire, Dedication, Determination and Discipline equal Destiny.

Tommy Hafey, you are indeed a legend!


Written by Bruce Smith, President of the Tommy Hafey Club with sincere thanks to the following people and sources who contributed to this foreword:

• Maureen Hafey
• Peter Hafey
• Ian Beard
• Col Hutchinson
• Michael Roberts
• Bill Meaklim
• Jim Main
• Col Scripps
• Ron Barassi
• Tommy’s players
• Hogan, P, “The Tigers of Old”. A Complete History Of Every Player To Represent The Richmond Football Club Between 1908 and 1996
• Hansen, B, “Tigerland” The History of the Richmond Football Club

All images courtesy of Roland Weeks.


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