DOB: 15 January 1952
Balme joined Richmond from Subiaco in 1969 and earned a reputation as a fearsome on-field enforcer en route to two premierships with the Tigers. After 159 games and a number of trips to the VFL Tribunal he retired from VFL football after suffering a knee injury and took up an offer to coach Norwood in the SANFL in 1980.
Balme steered the Redlegs to two premierships in 1982 and 1984 and remained as their coach until 1990, never once missing the finals in eleven seasons. His first link with a VFL job was with Richmond in 1984, turning them down both then and again in 1987. He next declined the Sydney role in 1985 that was eventually snapped up by his Melbourne predecessor John Northey. He had also been pursued by Fitzroy and Collingwood, and unsuccessfully interviewed to become the inaugural Adelaide coach. In 1991, Balme took charge of the newly merged Woodville-West Torrens, leading them to finals in his two seasons in charge.
Despite having a full time job in addition to his coaching in Adelaide, success at the new club convinced Balme to take up an offer to coach Melbourne in 1993. He was given a three year deal, taking over a side that failed to make finals for the first time in five years. He introduced a possesion-based game plan, and while the club only improved one place on the ladder in his first year, they improved in 1994, making the Preliminary Final. Balme was named coach of the All Australian side.
That year was his high point, the club struggled in 1995 and missed finals after a last round loss, then struggled through 1996 against the backdrop of injuries, and the prospect of a merger with Hawthorn.
A shock win over premiers North Melbourne in Round 1, 1997 seemed to indicate that the momentum was shifting but his side didn't win another game until the week after he was sacked. A terrible first two quarters of the Round 6 match against St Kilda caused new President Joseph Gutnick to go on radio and announce that change was in the air.
Balme may have been sacked in the week after the match but survived narrowly with the support of captain Garry Lyon and new CEO Cameron Schwab. Gutnick pledged his loyalty to Balme for the rest of the season but two more big losses - including a three goal performance against Port Adelaide in their first senior match against the Demons sealed his fate. Despite the support of Schwab in a radio interview on the morning of his sacking, he was met by the CEO later in the afternoon and asked to resign. When he refused he was sacked and replaced by Greg Hutchison for the rest of 1997.
Appointed as a ruck coach by Essendon in 1998, Balme later served in the football departments of Collingwood, Geelong and Richmond, winning a premiership at all three clubs. His brother Craig played three games with Richmond in 1983.
Neil Balme - A Tale Of Two Men by Anson Cameron. Viking Publishing, 2022.