Backroom Boy in Tigers' Den

Backroom Boy in Tigers' Den

A 1951 profile of Richmond administrator Maurie Fleming. (annotated by Rhett Bartlett, refer to footnotes ('fn') at bottom of page)
Written by Jack Cannon, published in The Argus, June 5 1951, page 10
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In a small office, beneath a grandstand that rumbles with the thunder of barrackers' boots every other Saturday, sits James Maurice Fleming, "backroom boy" of the Richmond Football Club. 

One of the best-Iiked men in League football, Maurie has never been cheered by excited Tiger fans or pursued by autograph collectors but he is the most vital member of the Richmond camp. His football job calls for mental capacity rather than brawn, and because of his alertness he is one of the star secretaries in big time football.

The key man behind the scenes of a leading football team must be a sound business administrator, part-time psychiatrist, publicity agent, talent scout, housing officer, and big brother to all footballers. Genial, kindly Maurie Fleming fills all these roles with, ability and tact, working seven days a week, 50 weeks a year.

He was born in Richmond 47 years ago (fn1) and has been a dyed in the (black and gold) wool Tiger fan ever since. (fn2) He is proud of the fact that he has never lived outside Richmond territory.

Never an outstanding player, Maurie had a brief football career, which ended when at 19 he "bounced" away" a championship challenge match. The match in which Maurice Fleming the footballer made his final appearance was played on a ground at Coburg near Pentridge.

Maurie was playing in a back pocket for Richmond C.Y.M.S., B grade champions, against Thornbury C.Y.M.S. premiers of A grade. Richmond were leading by five points when Thornbury launched their final attack with less than a minute to play. Maurie broke clear of his opponent, took a mark in the mouth of goal, and, as he was unguarded, decided to go for a run. He dashed towards the half forward line five yards clear of a Thornbury forward. Then he bounced the ball. It shot high into the air, and into the arms of the forward, who turned and kicked a goal on the bell. (fn3)

"As the ball sailed through I wished the ground could have opened up and swallowed me," Maurie says of his final football match.

But Maurie's natural organising ability had been recognised. He was appointed organising secretary of the Manufacturing Grocers' Union and was one of the youngest officials ever to hold a senior post at the Trades Hall. (fn4)

During his early days at the Trades Hall Maurie's sporting life was confined to watching the Tigers and acting as a talent scout for them. It was Maurie's wife, Mrs. Ivy Fleming, who persuaded him to become officially associated with the Richmond F.C. (fn5)

Mrs. Fleming was a "one eyed" Fitzroy supporter before she married Maurie, but he talked her into switching. In 1937, after they had been married a year, Mrs. Fleming was asked to become "Queen of Supporters" in a queen competition to raise funds for the Richmond club. With Maurie as her contest secretary, Mrs. Fleming won the contest by raising £556/13/ out of a total of £1,111/1/1. The handsome grandfather clock she received as first prize is the Flemings' most treasured possession. It has not lost a minute since it entered their home. (fn6)

Maurie became vice-president of Richmond F.C. in 1938, and the following year, on the retirement of the late Mr. Jack Smith, contested the vacant position of honorary secretary. Former champion Richmond full back Maurie Sheahan defeated him by five votes. (fn7) Maurie tried again in 1940, and this time he won.(fn8) He held the position until 1948, when he was appointed full time secretary. (fn9)

During the war Maurie worked at least 16 hours a day. As well as his Trades Hall and Richmond F.C. positions, he held important honorary posts on manpower committees, and the Board for Food Production and Supply for the Forces. As a sideline he became chief organiser of numerous patriotic and charity appeals. Since 1935 he has been associated with various efforts, which have raised more than £150,000 for hospitals and other local charities. He and Cr. Wally Crichton, Essendon F.C president, were two of the main workers in the establishing of two sportsmen's wards at Prince Henry's Hospital. Each ward cost £25,000, and a third is now proposed.

Maurie says his success as a football secretary and organiser could not have been possible without the whole-hearted support of Richmond president, Mr. Harry Dyke, whom Maurie describes as the most tolerant and understanding football administrator he could hope to meet. (fn10) He also gives the highest praise to the many honorary workers who give up most of their spare time to Richmond F.C. They are keen and willing, and would do anything for the Tigers - they make team spirit, he says.

Richmond's "Big Three", Maurie, Harry Dyke, and coach Jack Dyer, have all been at the helm for about the same time. (fn11) They are responsible for the magnificent club spirit. Even in the "slump" years, they kept the Tigers' name to the forefront of the football world.

Any pressman or radio commentator is always welcome in Maurie's neat little office beside the eucalyptus perfumed dressing room. (fn12) In this nerve-centre of Tigerland the phone rings at least 50 times a day.(fn13) The desk is piled high with some of the 6,000 letters Maurie receives each football season from prospective players, autograph hunters, country clubs, and Richmond supporters in Victoria, interstate, or abroad.

Maurie says Ivor Warne-Smith is the greatest footballer he has ever seen.(fn14) He names Jack Dyer as the best big man he has seen in the game, and claims no player could influence a game so greatly as the Tigers' own "Captain Blood." His selections for the two most sensational players are Alan Hopkins, former topline Footscray centreman, and Alan Geddes, former Richmond wingster. (fn15)

Maurie says the best player he has seen this season is Tiger centreman Ray Stokes who must be given a great chance of winning another Brownlow Medal for the Tigers, he adds. (fn16)

"In my years as secretary of the club, Richmond have won only one title, in 1943, but this year we will win the Jubilee pennant and fly it alongside our Centenary pennant," says Maurie, with a knowing look.(fn17)


fn1 As per his death notice, he was born in Richmond in 1902 to Julia Ann Lynch and Patrick Kevin Fleming, not 1904 as this article states (1951 year of article minus "47 years ago")

fn2 Whilst supporters today only know of the phrase "Yellow and Black", it wasn't uncommon in the press for the club colours to be called "Black and Gold". In Barney Herbert's 1936 Sporting Globe reflections on his career he would reference it often, eg: "Money did not matter to me or to my in those days. The honor of the old Black and Gold did. It was the club first, last and always" (1936, 4 April, p. 8.)

fn3 His memory is pretty sharp. The game is played on September 20 1924 on the old Coburg ground, though it appears Richmond CYMS is the A Grade premiers, and Thornbury CYMS the B Grade premiers as per this Sept 18 article.
Thornbury 7.7 def Richmond 6.11 by 1 pt for the 'Tribune Cup'. A (poorly scanned) photo exists of the Richmond CYMS and Thornbury CYMS sides playing this day. Maurie Fleming, unidentified, would be in this photo.
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fn4 Fleming was appointed organiser of the Manufacturer's Grocery Union at the start of April 1924. He was circa 22 years old. He had an association with them until circa 1952.

fn5 Ivy Gladys Warburton married James Maurice Fleming on 16 May 1936 at, where else, but St. Ignatius Church in Richmond. She was born in Fitzroy, hence the team she followed, and died on Feb 5 1987.

fn6 The "Queen of Supporters" competition began at the start of the 1937 season and ended on Sept 8 1937 and was designed to raise money for the club who "discovered an unfortunate drift in the Membership Roll" (1937 Minute Book)

fn7 Fleming was one 6 Vice Presidents appointed at the club's Annual Meeting at the Richmond Town Hall on Feb 9, 1938 He received the most votes (617). In January of 1939, Jack Smith announced he would retire as secretary at the Feb 8 1939 Annual Meeting, and Maurie Fleming and Maurie Sheahan nominated for the position. Sheahan (324 votes) defeated Fleming (316 votes) by 6 votes.

fn8 On Feb 14 1940, Fleming was appointed Honorary Secretary at the Annual General Meeting. Fleming received 439 votes, and Sheahan 265 votes (who was up for re-election)

fn9 Fleming resigned as organiser and assistant secretary of the Manufacturing Grocers' Union at the start of April 1948 to take up a permanent position of Richmond FC Secretary. He resigned as RFC Secretary at a committee meeting on Oct 18 1954 on doctor's advice to take 12 months rest. His resignation was date by the club from the February 10th Annual Meeting in 1955. Upon returning to the club Fleming was appointed President from 1958 to 1963, and then was a Patron of the Richmond Football Club until his death on Oct 6 1980.

fn10 Harry Dyke was club President at the time of this article. He held the post from 1940 to 1957, when Fleming was appointed President.

fn11 It's a fair observation. Dyer was coach was from 1941-1952, Dyke was President from 1940 to 1957, and Fleming was Secretary from 1940 to 1954

fn12 The eucalyptus smell would have come from the Bosisto's Eucalyptus Oil that was used by the clubs for decades. Joseph Bosisto himself was a club Patron in our first year in 1885, and again from 1892 - 1898.

fn13 Maurie Fleming's phone number at work was JB 2222. His residence phone number was JA 2818. Both numbers were printed in the Annual Reports for members to call.

fn14 Ivor Warne-Smith played for Melbourne in 1919, then 1925-1932, winning two Brownlow Medals. Fleming was 23-30 years of age during Warne-Smith second stint at Melbourne FC.

fn15 Dyer played from 1931 - 1949, Allan Geddes from 1925-1935 (the article spells his name wrong), and Allan Hopkins from 1925-1934 (the article spells his name wrong). Only Dyer played when Fleming held an administrative role at Richmond.

fn16 Ray Stokes would poll 7 votes in the 1951 Brownlow Medal. Des Rowe (13), and Ray Poulter (15 votes) are ahead of him. Bernie Smith of Geelong wins on 23 votes. Stokes however did finished 3rd in 1951 Best and Fairest just 4.5 votes behind the tied winners of Des Rowe and Roy Wright. Coincidentally the 3rd place recipient in Richmond's Best and Fairest today receives the ... Maurie Fleming Medal.

fn17 Fleming's wish doesn't come true. At the time of this article's publication though Richmond were top of the ladder, but then only won 5 of their next 12 to finish in 6th position, 8 pts out of the Final Four

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