Richmond has long been a footy mad suburb so it’s not surprising that its walls are adorned with a few footballers. Nothing quite as lavishly over-the-top as the shrine to Diego Maradona which I once saw in the streets of Naples, but striking enough. As you leave Richmond station at the east end of Swan Street, you are greeted by this long-legged giant of a Richmond player bestriding the suburb (above).
Further down and just off Swan Street, on the side wall of the former Dimmeys store, a mural in Green Street depicts the history of Richmond and Australia. Painted by Hayden Dewar, and commissioned in 2003 for the 150th anniversary of Dimmeys, it features dozens of well-known characters and is well worth a view. I noticed the legendary Kevin Bartlett, Richmond footballer of the 70s and 80s, winner of multiple premierships and best-and-fairests, as he dodged his way through a pack including Gough Whitlam, Germaine Greer, Evonne Goolagong and some bloke holding a big stubby.
But my favourite footballer on the walls of Richmond is found on the rear of a wall in Cubitt Street, though a good view of it is also to be had from the train line. It shows a player in a big V jumper (meaning he was playing for the Victorian representative side, a tradition that went by the wayside a couple of decades ago). He is pictured mid-kick, has impressively bulging thighs and small pointed toes like a ballet dancer.
This ghost sign was once an advertisement for Champion Footwear Components, a company that no longer exists – as I wrote in my post about the bootmakers of Clifton Hill, the footwear industry was pretty much wiped out in the 80s. This sign, then, is another relic of that long-gone time when the economy of Melbourne was very different. These days, like many other places in Richmond, the former factory has been converted into a residence or studio, and it’s good to see that the current occupants have retained the sign.
I was intrigued by the identity of the footballer, and spent ages trying to decipher the lettering around the figure. If you look closely you can see the faded name V. CAPONIO underneath the player’s grounded boot.
Only problem is, there is no trace of any player called V. Caponio. So the identity of the player was unknown – until I was contacted by the Richmond and Burnley Historical Society, who put me in touch with the son of the former factory’s owner.
Fabrizio Caponio told me that his late father, Vince Caponio, ran the family business, Champion Sporting Goods, which made components such as soles and studs for footwear manufacturers. So the name ‘V. Caponio’ on the sign was not the player but the owner of the company.
The sign was painted around 1970, and was an artist’s impression of Alan Martello. Martello played for Hawthorn in the 70s, then switched to Richmond for three seasons – presumably he came up against Kevin Bartlett a few times, then played alongside him. According to Wikipedia, Martello was “a prodigious kicker of the football” and he certainly looks it in this photograph from a newspaper of the time – Fabrizio tells me he was wearing boots with Champion studs.
Fabrizio kindly shared with me some of the company’s advertising material, including this preparatory drawing of a footballer based on the photograph. The position of the left arm has changed and doesn’t look quite natural to me, but the studs are certainly prominent. The jersey has changed from the stripes of Hawthorn to ‘the Big V’.
Here’s the artwork transformed into the company logo. The player is now placed within a large letter ‘C’, not a circle as I first thought. This is how it would have originally looked on the Cubitt Street wall, though the fading ad on the wall is blue and white rather than red. I suppose the boomerang is meant to denote Australia.
And here is an advert from a magazine that shows the range of Champion products, with the footballer now part of its registered trade mark:
When the figure of Martello was transposed onto the Cubitt Street wall, something happened to him – his thighs bulged out like chicken drumsticks and his boots – originally the focus of the picture – shrank away to almost nothing. He is certainly unrecogniseable as Martello – in fact he looks more like a can can dancer than a footballer. Nevertheless, he is still there, after some 45 years.
After the footwear industry went offshore, Champion ceased trading. However, the Caponio family adapted to the changing economic conditions and set up a successful game and toy manufacturer called The Little Architect, which is still in business today.
The ghostsign on the Cubitt Street wall is a relic of a lost chapter in our economic history, and a reminder of a time when advertising and football were both significantly different.
Do you know of other footy-related murals or ghostsigns around Melbourne? If so, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks to Fabrizio Caponio of the Little Architect for sharing information about Champion Footwear with me.
More about the Dimmeys mural by Hayden Dewar.
For more about the history of this area, including some great old photos, check out the Richmond and Burnley Historical Society.