When Lou Richards receives his final send-off at a State Funeral on Wednesday 17 May at St Paul’s Cathedral, you can be sure the black and white army will turn out in their thousands to farewell a beloved son of the club. As well as supporters, there’ll be lots of footballers, many of which will be ex-players. And although there may not be any of his teammates from the 1953 Collingwood team that he captained to a premiership, there may be a few of his teammates from the VFL/AFL Greek team of the century. But more of that later.
Lou Richards who passed away early this week at the ripe old age of 94 made his last public appearance in 2014 at the unveiling of his statue outside the Collingwood headquarters in tribute to his iconic status at the club.
But Lou, through his media career after his playing days were over with his sense of fun appealed to all sports fans and non-sports fans alike, to the ordinary man in the street, and to the high and mighty as witnessed by the flow of tributes following news of his death and the decision to offer a State Funeral.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave one of many tributes and said that Richards was “a legend and a larrikin whose irreverence, energy and good humour were as thoroughly Australian as the game he loved”. That coming from a New South Welshman was high praise indeed for a Victorian.
Richards himself recalled in his autobiography My Wonderful Life his meeting with PM Kevin Rudd at a 2008 ceremony to induct Richards to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
“Rudd said ‘Hey Louie’, shaking me vigorously by the paw,’I’ve always wanted to meet you. I am a big fan’. I didn’t like to deflate him by mentioning that he was the 9th PM since Bob Menzies to be part of Louis’s fan club.”
In Melbourne, where football reigned supreme, Lou was crowned King of Moomba and received an MBE in 1981.
Someone who knew him better than most, was former Saint and Brownlow medal winner Neil Roberts who was a colleague of Lou’s on World of Sport. Roberts said of Richards, “He was a natural talker, but he was also a natural thinker. He was smart, not educated smart, but blessed with perception. He could read or pick up a situation and have an answer immediately”.
Richards, together with his beloved wife Edna, was also successful in business, owning the Phoenix Hotel in Flinders St in the 1960s and early 70s. The Phoenix became a meeting place and popular watering-hole for many reporters and news people from the neighbouring Herald Sun newspaper. Roberts described it as the ‘Fawlty Towers’ of Melbourne.
Richards’s long, successful and pioneering career as a sports commentator and media personality may have overshadowed his earlier achievements on the sporting field where he played 250 games for Collingwood as a rover, at a time when the game was often brutal and tough. The fact that he led the Pies to the 1953 premiership speaks volumes for his leadership qualities. Outside Collingwood, many may not know that he wasn’t the first of his family to have a successful playing career at Collingwood. In fact he was part of the Pannam-Richards family dynasty, which included six players all up, beginning with Lou’s maternal grandfather Charlie Henry Pannam Snr, father of Lou’s mother Irene Pannam. Charlie Henry Pannam also had two sons Charlie Jnr and Alby, both of whom had decorated playing careers at Collingwood. Lou’s uncle Alby was also a champion rover and a model and mentor for young Lou as a footballer.
Lou was very proud of the dynasty and wrote in his autobiography, “Between the old bloke ( Charlie Snr), his two sons, and the Richards brothers (Lou and Ron) we accumulated 878 games in the Collingwood colours between 1897 and 1955, played in 17 Grand Finals and took part in eight VFL premierships, and I reckon we averaged 25 kicks a game. Our names feature on every honour board at Collingwood, and when I was named captain in 1952 we created a unique record in the Victorian Football League: three members of one family captaining a VFL club is a feat I won’t see equalled in my lifetime and something that I have always been exceptionally proud of”.
Charlie Snr was reportedly born in 1874 in Daylesford and was the son of one John Pannam, born in Athens in 1874. The name Pannam was in fact an Anglicised version of Pannamopoulos. In his autobiography, Richards says the name change took place late 19th century when “The roots of the family tree were severed. We haven’t been able to find out much more. It probably explains why Greek cab drivers love me. I get into a cab and the driver says, “Hey Louie, welcome aboard. You’re one of us.” At first I was mortally offended. I thought they meant I was an out-of-work cab driver, but in time I got to appreciate my ethnic roots.”
Lou Richards’s ethnic roots were further celebrated in 2004 when he and brother Ron Richards, together with uncles Charlie Jnr and Alby, and grandfather Charlie Snr, were named in the VFL/AFL Greek team of the century. Lou was appointed skipper of that team and Ron was appointed coach.
Lou may no longer be with us, but he and the rest of the Pannam-Richards football clan will forever have their place in the Greek Team of the Century.