I went back to my posts from the past several years regarding the Richard Riot which took place on St. Patrick’s Day 56 years ago. If you’ve already read these, hope you don’t mind.
When Clarence Campbell suspended Maurice Richard for the remaining games of the season and all of the playoffs in March of 1955, he was not a popular man. And that’s an understatement to end all understatements. Of course he wasn’t popular. How could you treat Rocket so unfairly when all he did was smash Hal Laycoe over the head with his stick and punch out a linesman?
Richard fans took to the streets, as we all know, and trashed several blocks of Rue Ste. Catherine’s which became widely know as the Richard Riots, or the St. Patrick’s Day Riot. But they did more than just riot, smash and loot. No, only ordinary greaseballs simply riot, smash and loot. A Habs’ fan came up with a much more creative protest – design, print and cover Campbell’s soup cans, which was no relation to Clarence, with Maurice Richard labels, and for a short time, some stores sold their tomato soup this way. That’ll teach that rotten English president bastard.
Yes, Clarence Campbell was not a popular man at this time.
(My Richard soup label isn’t an original, only a copy. Originals turn up rarely and sell for many hundreds of dollars).
This is Clarence Campbell being accosted by a thug the night of the Richard Riot of March 17, 1955. You know the story – Rocket was suspended for the remainder of the season and all of the playoffs for slugging linesman Cliff Thompson.
But Clarence Campbell either didn’t love his fiance Phyllis a whole lot or he wasn’t too bright even though he was a lawyer, a Rhodes Scholar, and a judge at Nuremburg.
Mr. Campbell surely must have known that a select breed of fan might be slightly upset that night. Things could go haywire, maybe even become extremely dangerous. This was not a night to bring a date. It wasn’t the most romantic thing Mr. Campbell had ever thought up, I’m sure.
But Clarence brought Phyllis, and when people started throwing things at him, much of it hit not only the target, which was you-know-who, but also his lovely lady. And do you think he’d get her the heck out of there? Nope. They sat and took it. Such a gentleman. Such chivalry. Such supreme stupidity.
Then a guy in a black jacket, as seen in the above photo, somehow made his way to Clarence and started pounding the bejeesus out of the NHL top dog, and Phyllis sat there (that’s her just behind the thug, with her eyes bulging), and took it all in. And do you think the prez would’ve got him and his sweetheart out of there then? Nope. They still sat there.
She should have said right then and there, “Clary darling, if you don’t get me out of here right now, I’ll have your balls for bookends.”
Shortly after, a tear gas bomb exploded and all hell broke loose. Only then did Campbell and his future wife get up and vamoose.
What a gentleman. The little lady could’ve been seriously hurt, but Clarence obviously wanted to make a statement, to show that he wasn’t going to be pushed around, blah, blah, blah. But Phyllis didn’t need to be in the situation at all. She should’ve been home knitting Clarence a toque and listening to the mess on the radio. In fact, Clarence should have insisted that that was what she would do.
And in fact, he should’ve been at home too, holding the wool for her. The Forum was the last place good old Clarence should have been at on this night. In fact, there might not have been a riot at all if this Rhodes Scholar would have stayed away. And imagine what this infamous night would have been like if you added a serious injury or worse to Phyllis?
It was headstrong stupidity from the NHL president.
No wonder the Rocket never stopped disliking this guy.
Good old St. Patrick’s Day. Green beer and other green things, leprechauns, jigs, barroom brawls, hangovers, and the Rocket Richard Riot which happened on this day back in 1955, which happens to be 56 years ago if my math is correct.
It was also long before taser guns, which might have come in handy that night.
As you know, the Rocket was suspended for the remainder of the season and the entire playoffs after slugging a linesman, and riots and boorish behaviour ensued on Ste- Catherines St. outside the Forum until the Rocket himself went on radio and pleaded with everyone to stop the madness, which they did.
This hockey lore will continue for another 400 St. Patrick’s days unless global warming puts an end to everything.
What I want to know is, who were those black-jacketed hoodlums that set it all off, and are they still alive?
Clarence Campbell and his fiancee Phyllis decided to attend the game that night after the suspension was handed down, and they were pelted with eggs and other garbage. Someone went up to Campbell and hit him twice before running off. And another set off a tear-gas bomb.
So who were these greaseballs? Who threw the eggs, who punched Campbell, and who set off the tear-gas bomb? I’d like to know.
I’d like to know if they were busted for any of this. If they felt badly afterwards. If they told their kids and grandkids as the years went by. If they became heroes in their neighbourhoods. If they’re still alive. Or if they kept their embarrassing secrets with them to their graves.
Were these people even hockey fans? And most intriguing, the tear-gas bomb was apparently a Montreal police force item. How did someone get their greasy fingers on a police item?
I know that 37 people were arrested for breaking windows and looting stores that night. But I’d like to know about the handful who got the ball rolling.
If you were where one of the hoodlums, please let me know. Get it off your chest. You’ll feel better.