Flown the Nest – Richard Baker

Name: Richard Baker

When did you play for the Falcons?
2001-2009

Position played?
Midfield

Favourite position?
Rover and wing

 Richard Baker

Why did you come down to the Mighty Falcons Nest?
I was in the UK at the start of 2001 and had had a year off footy—I’d been playing in Geelong—and was keen to find a club in Melbourne. My brother in law Shaun Venables and I were planning to join Fitzroy Reds and while I was overseas Shaun had a chance meeting with Phil Chambers Snr, who was on the Albert Park committee at the time, and I got an email from Shaun saying “change of plans”. The rest is history. I got back with zero fitness and the season was already four games in. But somehow our coach at the time John Ahern saw fit to pick me in the seniors after a training session and I had a good start with two goals with my first two kicks for the club. It did get a bit harder from there!

Who were the coaches you have had in your time at the club and can you tell us a bit about each of them?
John Ahern, aka Horse, was my first coach at the club. He was only in his early 30s and had come from an AFL/SANFL background. He’d coached Hamiliton to a flag in the country. I loved playing under Horse. He was intense but had a great sense of fun at the same time. Horse was the sort of coach you really wanted to play well for. He made me captain in 2003 and working closely with him that year taught me a lot about footy and relating to people in general.

Pete Smith was my next coach. Smithy had been the club captain when I joined. He and I were good mates and I loved playing with Smithy, as he was as tough as nails and consistent. Under Horse we’d had two really strong years in 2002 and 2003, making preliminary finals both years and being desperately unlucky in 2002 with season ending injuries to myself and Andre D’Mingo, who was another key onballer. I reckon if we’d been fit we would have won that year. The team changed a bit in terms of personnel when Smithy took charge and he didn’t have the same cattle to play with. I think it is hard for players to step straight into coaching at the same club as well. Smithy was and remains a terrific person.

Peter Bedford, the former South Melbourne champion and Brownlow Medal winner, took over from Smithy after two years. It was a real thrill to play under such a great guy as Pete and hear his stories from his footy days and cricket days playing for Victoria. Not too many blokes can say they scored 100 against Dennis Lillee and got the Chappell brothers out in the same over! Pete and I worked closely as I was still captain under him. Pete was of the old school and could give off some all-time sprays, usually at the same players who sadly couldn’t do anything right under him. I think the younger or more sensitive guys found this hard to accept. Pete did have some very sound philosophies on football though—such as repetition to build ball handling skills and touch. Sometimes players would get tired of “off the fence” work, but Pete would say “well if you can’t catch the f…..g thing yet, why would you start doing something more challenging”? He had a point. Pete was an absolutely cracking bloke and a gentleman.

Nathan Dallas was my last coach at the Falcons. He was younger than me and clearly a seriously good footballer and fierce competitor. I really enjoyed playing with Nath and he freed me up as a player in my last couple of years after I hit 30. I enjoyed getting out on a wing or off half back to cruise around and have less wear and tear on the body after many years at the coal-face. We had a really good side again under Nathan, with a mix of old and new. We made a preliminary final in 2008 and the Grand Final in 2009 where we were really unlucky to come up against a young Latrobe Uni side that ran us off our feet and went on to win the flag in the next division up the following year. Any other year, that 2009 side would have been good enough to win the flag without a doubt. Nathan improved our fitness and got us playing an aggressive style of footy. I retired in 2010, even though I probably had a year or two left. I’d had some bad injuries such as a broken wrist and a punctured lung and with two young kids at home the missus had had enough.

Can you give us a few of your highlights both on and off the field since being at the club?
Highlights are just playing with so many good people. I think the club has been fortunate in that dickheads are not tolerated and just getting so many good friends through process and having memories of big wins or playing finals with them were my highlights.

Off the field, I suppose just raising two kids who are rapidly growing up and having a pretty interesting job in journalism where you can occasionally put things right in society have been highlights. Winning 3 cricket flags at Flemington with former Falcons such as Venos, Beamer, Kayne Begbie, my brother Grant and Matt Naudi has been terrific as well. I now coach under 12s in footy and get a real buzz out of that.

What are some of the nicknames you have had during your time at the club, and where did they come from?
For the first few years I answered to “Barks” because of a spelling mistake when I joined the club. After that it was Bakes or Rich.

Greatest player you have seen (played with) pull on the mighty Red and Blue?
Tough one to answer…here’s a few in no particular order: Stu Maunder, Lachie Brown, Steve “Cowboy Bennett”, Rex McLellan, Simon Thompson, Sean Allan and for pure talent on his day my old mate Venos.

Greatest Falcons team you have been involved with?
Hard to split the 2002-03 team and the 2008-09.

Greatest victory you have been involved with?
Probably Pete Bedford’s last game as coach at St Mary’s on their tiny ground in 2007. They went on to win the flag that year and we knocked them off in a really tight and tough game after Pete pleaded with us at 3 quarter time not to let it slip.

Most memorable player you have played with?
Steel McKerrow. Unique individual and a really good player.

What would you say were your strengths and weaknesses of your game?
Strengths would have been running ability and being able to be creative due to kicking well on both feet.

Weakness would have been getting pushed off the ball at times by heavier players in the middle, particularly if it was wet. But you find ways to get around it.

What are you doing now?
Still working in journalism with The Age and expanding options for getting stories out through podcasts and co-productions with broadcasters and (hopefully soon) streaming services. Coaching kids footy and cricket and trying to get my surfing skills up to scratch after a relatively late conversion to that sport.

What is your greatest memory from your time with the Falcons?
Probably the days when Brian Bennett would bring a slab in to the rooms after a win and just sitting around with my teammates. Definitely not Brian’s Thursday night “stews”.