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Richards, Lewis Thomas (Lou) (1923–2017)

by Gerry Carman

Lou Richards, by Bruce Howard, 1972 [detail]

Lou Richards, by Bruce Howard, 1972 [detail]

National Library of Australia, 43000516

"They don't talk much about people when they're dead, do they?" said the George Burns look-alike with dismay as he reflected on the fate of his favourite author, John Steinbeck, almost 40 years ago.

But Lou Richards, a born extrovert who loved the limelight – which masked the fact that he was an eternal hypochondriac mortified by death – didn't need to fret about his own legacy. At least not with the Australian football world, and even beyond.

The former champion Collingwood rover and captain, who cashed in a 250-game career to become a newspaper columnist and radio and television personality like no other, has died aged 94.

Richards, who was renowned for his witty observations and quick retorts, in turn had to cop plenty of good-natured ribbing from his media colleagues, who were aware that his confident, even brash "on air" persona belied a vulnerable streak of self-doubt.

Richards was born in tough surrounds and circumstances in Collingwood.

It shaped his "alley cat upbringing". He and his brother Ron learnt some basic lessons early: to stick up for themselves; thriftiness; and to exploit the moment.

Years later, Richards' long-time sparring partner and another football legend, the late "Captain Blood" Jack Dyer, said of him: "He's been like a rat in a famine, and he still has those characteristics of native cunning. He'd survive where a lot of people would turn it up. He's resourceful. If he went to the moon, he'd find five cents there for sure."

Richards' father, Bill, an electrician, went broke in the Depression and the family relied on the "two quid a week" earned by his mother, Irene, a boot machinist at a shoe factory. Bill drowned in Gippsland on his son's 21st birthday.

Richards played for Collingwood for 15 years, was captain between 1952 and 1955, and led the Magpies to the 1953 premiership.

He lit up his 250-game club career with 423 goals and was its leading goal scorer in 1944, 1948 and 1950. He also wore the Big V in 1947 and 1948.

He always wanted to be a performer and had the gift of the gab from an early age, which often got him the strap in school.

As a boy he had Broadway on his mind, as a tap dancer or comic, but he was destined to chase pig leather.

Richards was part of a footballing dynasty: his maternal grandfather, Charlie Pannam – of Greek heritage and originally named Pannamopoulos – played for Collingwood for 14 years before switching to Richmond. Pannam's two sons (Richards' uncles), Charlie jnr and Alby, also played for the Magpies; Charlie later coached South Melbourne and Alby coached Richmond. And Richards' brother, Ron, also was a Magpie and starred in the 1953 premiership side.

After truncated schooling, Richards worked first as a fitter and turner before joining the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, where he went around tapping pipes to find faults. The MMBW gave him time off to study for his intermediate certificate and he became a technical drawer designing public toilets.

Unsurprisingly, he called it his "shithouse" job, but his friend and Brownlow medallist Neil Roberts, took another tack: "It was at the Board of Works that he learned to mix the Yan Yean shandies he served in his pub."

And speaking of Richards' publican persona, his long-time sparring partner Jack Dyer, would say: "The scotch in the Phoenix doesn't even stain the ice."

Richards, in fact, operated two pubs after hanging up his boots. The first was in Erroll Street, North Melbourne, and later, the Phoenix, in Flinders Street.

Immediately after he retired from football, he broke into the media in 1955 with a job as an expert comments scribe with the now defunct Argus newspaper, and radio commentator with radio 3XY.

Later, he moved to the Sun and radio 3DB, and much later to the Sunday Age; he was part of the Channel Seven team that launched World of Sport in 1958, and League Teams, which became Melbourne sporting institutions for more than two decades.

Richards then moved to Channel Nine and Wide World of Sports and Sports Sunday. His last regular television spot was handling the somewhat chaotic handball segment on the Sunday Footy Show, from which he retired at the end of 2008.

On each show, his mischievous humour was pivotal to the informed coverage/hilarity/nonsense that perennially rated highly.

On the newspaper side, Richards and his cohorts dreamt up all manner of publicity stunts to keep "Loui the Lip" in the news. Frequently he became the news.

Not for nothing did he agree to be dubbed Kiss of Death for his match-day tips.

In 1978, one ill-fated prognostication ended up with him, all 170 centimetres centimetres and 73 kilograms, carrying North Melbourne ruckman Mick "Galloping Gasometer" Nolan, about 113 kilograms, piggy back along Erroll Street.

Earlier self-inflicted (publicity attracting) penalties included sweeping Collins Street with a feather duster, cutting the lawn of "Mr Football" Ted Whitten with a pair of scissors, and rowing then Geelong coach Billy Goggin across the Barwon river in a bathtub in 1980.

Yet another stunt saw him jump off St Kilda Pier into freezing water on a frosty winter morning. The latter experience, he quipped, put him in hot water with his wife Edna for three weeks because he forgot to zip up the fly on his wetsuit.

In 1973, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks moved across the Yarra into a smart apartment in Toorak, marking yet another indicator of his upwards trajectory. Friends ribbed him about being a class-turncoat.

As ever, it was like water off a duck's back. He also had 22 hectares on the Mornington Peninsula, where a manager maintained a heard of Black Angus, and part-owned the country radio station 3CV.

Richards had entered the business world early in his media career when he bought the Town Hall pub in North Melbourne; later he took the lease on another watering hole, the Phoenix, which he ran with his wife, Edna, who called the shots with a mixture of charm and gentle but firm persuasion.

He never won Collingwood's best and fairest (Copeland Trophy) award, but several community awards awaited him.

In 1975 he was named Football Personality of the Year; in 1981 he was crowned King of Moomba; and in 1982 the National Trust classified him a living treasure to be protected against demolition. With typical humour, Richards said that when he received the call, he feared he was going to be "certified".

He was awarded life membership of the VFL but at the end, elevation to a legend of football's Hall of Fame eluded him, causing controversy. Perhaps now that honour will be posthumous.

Edna, Richards' beloved, devoted and understanding wife of 60 years, who was happy to be the butt of some of his jokes, died in March 2008. He is survived by his daughters Nicole and Kim, and five grandchildren.

Lou Richards' football career

  • Collingwood Technical School
  • Abbotsford
  • Collingwood reserves premiership 1940
  • Collingwood seniors 1941-55
  • Club captain 1952-55
  • Premiership captain 1953
  • Runner-up in Copeland trophy in 1947 and 1950
  • Club's leading goal kicker 1944 (28 goals); 1948 (44); and 1950 (35)
  • Total goals for Collingwood 423
  • Represented Victoria three times

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 8 May 2017

Additional Resources

Citation details

Gerry Carman, 'Richards, Lewis Thomas (Lou) (1923–2017)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/richards-lewis-thomas-lou-27239/text34756, accessed 22 May 2019.

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