|Date of birth||25 October 1890|
|Date of death||1 October 1941(aged 50)|
|Original team(s)||Beverley FC|
|Height||178 cm (5 ft 10 in)|
|Weight||82.5 kg (182 lb)|
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1925.
|Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com|
Nicknamed "Flippa", Thorp was the first true champion player to emerge at Richmond after their admission to the VFL in 1908. A natural defender who showed great judgement, superior ball skills and fierce concentration, Thorp was considered the best player in the game at his position, full back. His battles with Collingwood forward Dick Lee were a highlight of the era. Thorp was one of many great players who grew up in the shadow of the Tigers' Punt Road Oval and served the club loyally for many years, thus influencing the development of the parochial culture of the Richmond club.
As a child, Thorp attended the Yarra Park School (now defunct), just a few hundred metres to the north of Punt Road Oval and played his early football there. After leaving school in 1907, he joined Beverley, a club in the Metropolitan Football Association. At this time, the VFL didn't conduct a reserves competition, so district clubs (such as Beverley) acted as a de facto reserves teams. Also non-existent was any form of zoning, so Thorp was free to accept an invitation to trial with St Kilda. The Saints made one of the great errors in rejecting Thorp, who went to Richmond in 1910. In its early seasons in the VFL, Richmond frantically turned over dozens of players looking for a combination that could compete with the best in the competition. It would prove a long, drawn out process. While most failed and disappeared quickly, the Tigers knew immediately they had a find in the nineteen-year-old with the swarthy complexion.
In his debut season, Thorp walked straight into the team and played all eighteen games. As a full back, he impressed with his fine judgement when going for the ball. He instinctively knew when to play from behind and when to position himself in front, when to mark and when to spoil and read the play so well he never seemed to be caught out of position. Although only of average height (178 cm), Thorp was very solidly built at 83 kg and his kicking skills stood out. Charged with the duty of kicking in after the opposition had scored a behind, Thorp regularly thrilled the crowd with glorious long drop kicks to clear the Tigers' defensive area.
The War era
When numbers were first used on players' guernseys in 1912, Thorp received the number 5. By the outbreak of World War I he was a veteran of five seasons, during which he had missed just four matches. Although considered one of the best defenders in the game, Thorp had not yet been chosen for Victoria when state matches went into recess because of the war. Perhaps Thorp's failure to win representative honours was influenced by the mediocre performances of his team. Despite producing a number of brilliant individuals, the best of whom was Thorp, the club couldn't create a synergy between its off-field and on-field personnel, and constantly turned over its leadership positions and endured several take-overs at committee level.
Unlike many of his teammates, Thorp decided against enlistment for the war. In 1916, the VFL competition was reduced to just four clubs, but still played a finals series. Richmond decided to compete and were guaranteed a place in the finals for the first time, and went on to an unlucky semi final loss to Carlton by three points.
In another truncated season, Thorp won Richmond's best player award for the first time in 1917, but the Tigers finished the season last of the six teams. The following year was little better for the team, but at least the war finally ended on 11 November and football could look forward to a return to normal.
Success at last
With the appointment of ex-Carlton premiership coach Norm Clark and many of the Tigers' best players returning from military service in Europe, 1919 proved to be the turning point for Richmond. Thorp was in career-best form, gaining life membership of the club and representing Victoria for the first time when interstate fixtures were resumed. The team made the Grand Final, to the surprise of many, only to lose to Collingwood. In the following year, Richmond stirred the rivalry with the Magpies by appointing ex-Collingwood skipper Dan Minogue as playing coach. After winning the minor premiership, Richmond went on to defeat Collingwood for the flag. With Dick Lee injured and unable to take his place in the Magpies side, Thorp was able to easily blanket his replacement, Harry Curtis, and contribute significantly to the result.
Richmond followed up with a second flag in 1921. At the business end of the season, Thorp dominated the semi final thrashing of Geelong and was instrumental in two upset victories over Carlton by winning his duels with the Blues' captain Gordon Green. The team slipped backwards in 1922-23, due to retirements and transfers, but a highlight came on 22 June 1922, when in a match at Fitzroy, Vic Thorp became the first Tiger to play 200 VFL games.
Richmond returned to finals action in 1924, when Thorp won the Richmond best and fairest for the second time. The Tigers won their last final, against Essendon, but didn't win the premiership as the Grand Final was abolished and a round robin tournament played in its stead. This controversial system was never used again to decide the premiership, which was little consolation to the disenfranchised Richmond players.
Retirement and after
After the belated start to his representative career, Thorp had racked up an amazing fourteen appearances in the Big V in only six years. Heading into the 1925 season aged 34, Thorp played every week and then decided to retire, still on top of his game. In sixteen seasons, he had missed just ten matches, with his worst injury a broken wrist that cost him three games in 1914. Overall, it was a tribute to his sportsmanship and integrity as a player. During his career he had played a major part in the Tigers' rise from mediocrity to the dizzy heights of winning successive premierships that cemented their place as one of the powerhouses of the competition. Thorp appeared in every big game and final the Tigers played, and was always a steady influence when the chips were down. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they couldn't find an adequate replacement for him until the early 1930s, by which time they had lost a succession of Grand Finals when the weakness at full back was often exposed.
Thorp was elected to the Richmond committee in 1927, after a brief sojourn at the VFA club Prahran, where he ironically played as a forward and led the club's goalkicking. Thorp remained a stalwart of Richmond all his life, running a tea merchant business in the suburb and serving as committeeman until 1935. He also wrote regular articles for Melbourne's Sporting Globe. When Thorp died in 1941, aged only 50, he was still Richmond's games played record holder.
AFL Team of the Century and Aboriginality
It has been speculated in modern times that Thorp was aboriginal. Thorp had a noticeably dark complexion, but there is no evidence extant that he identified as aboriginal. Colin Tatz, academia's authority on aboriginal sportspeople, has listed Thorp as "possibly" an aborigine.
Thorp's maternal grandfather, George Bryden Brandon, was born in Jamaica in 1824 to a Sephardic Jewish father and an African former enslaved person mother.
- "AFL Tables - Vic Thorp - Stats - Statistics". AFL Tables. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- Hogan P: The Tigers Of Old, Richmond FC, Melbourne 1996
- Holmesby R & Main J: The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers, BAS Publishing, Melbourne 2004
- Hansen B: Tigerland, Richmond Past Players and Offricials Asoc., Melbourne 1992
- Atkinson G: The Complete Book Of AFL Finals, Five Mile Press, Melbourne 2002
- Tatz, C: Obstacle Race, UNSW Press, Sydney 1995
- Ross, J(ed): 100 Years Of Australian Football, Penguin Books, Melbourne 1996
- Hess R & Stewart B: More Than A Game, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1998