If you don't mind, umpire

By NEIL KEARNEY
25aug03

THE midday news came on the car radio, and Jack Dyer was snorting
indignation over the headline item.

A shonky detective had gone down for taking kickbacks and - being a former
member of the Victorian constabulary - Jack was so irate he started making
a continuous tut tut tut sound with his tongue against the roof of his
mouth.

"Jeeeez," he fumed. "What's the world comin' to? Can't a copper make a few
bob without some bludger knockin' him off?"

A few seconds passed, he slapped one of his monstrous hands on to his right
knee and chortled: "If ya don't mind, umpire, please!"

We had left his Frankston unit a few minutes earlier, and I was already
blessing myself for bringing a tape recorder.

"If ya don't mind, umpire," was Dyer's mantra.

He hated whistleblowers, as he loathed dobbers and wowsers and those
henpeckers who busted some ethically challenged copper just because he was
subsidising his modest stipend.

We were due at Punt Rd oval by late afternoon on that April day in 1996 to
film Dyer for a television special to mark a centenary of VFL/AFL.

Jack was 82 and had pretty much retreated from the media, only coming out
for special occasions, such as every time Richmond needed him.

He had been a legend since Phar Lap's glory years, the 1930s, when boys
swapped six cigarette cards to get one Jack Dyer, and footballers became
legends on 30 bob a week.

As each generation of fans has came along, each has rediscovered him,
because Jack's wit and charm were so innate that he never needed to perform
to become a star on radio and television.

He was a comic without knowing it, uncontrived and unrehearsed.

His Dyerisms murdered the language of Shakespeare as effortlessly as he
fractured opponents' collar bones.

Boys of my generation acquired our insight into footy from reading Dyer's
perceptive analysis in his Truth newspaper column, Dyer 'ere, while we
sneaked a glance at Heart Balm on the facing page.

But it was the spoken word where the Captain stood out like two giant
testicles, as he famously described one footballer's arms.

No one could assess a passage of play as lyrically as Dyer did when 3KZ was
football, even if he always failed to mention the name of the player with
the ball, which team he played for, and where he was on the ground.

When he declared he loathed Collingwood so much he wouldn't even watch
black and white television, we all nodded.

HE was mocked for calling Peter Bosustow a good, ordinary footballer, but
there was nothing ordinary about Captain Blood. He was the football
personality of the 20th century, and he had the tie to prove it.

The night before I picked him up, he and a handful of the AFL's honoured
legends had been presented with a commemorative tie, which his partner
Dorothy had tightened in a windsor knot to wear in our centenary
documentary.

The legends reunion had brought old memories to the surface, and I was
hardly going to douse the fire within.

He told me about his boyhood at Yarra Junction and how his family was so
poor he played barefoot for six years - until he earned the price of a pair
of boots from painting a house.

He came to live in Struggletown, as Richmond was then known, at 13 on a
football-driven scholarship at St Ignatius - but being a college boy in
Richmond in those days was hazardous.

"If you didn't have a record, you didn't belong," he said, admitting he
frequently walked many miles to avoid the toughs.

He started work as a packer at 14, playing footy for the Richmond Hill Old
Boys in a bruising competition against the other industrial suburbs.

"I did a bit of runnin' in those times," he cackled, recalling a riotous
final against the Yarraville Stars. "We won the game, they won the fight.

"They cornered us on the North Melbourne railway station, and blokes were
hit over the head with iron bars and anything they could find."

While playing for the Richmond Hill Old Boys, Jack picked up a few extra
quid doubling up with the Yellow Cabs team in the Wednesday league.

The competition was so violent the police and fire brigade withdrew,
leaving the wharfies to give Richmond Hill Old Boys some merciless
thrashings.

When he started with Richmond, each young player was assigned an enforcer.

But money was so scarce in the Depression that, when the spindly lad played
in the Richmond seconds, he was more likely to get whacked by his teammates
trying to secure their place.

When still just a boy, in his second season, he polled 12 votes in the
Brownlow Medal, finishing fifth, and scored four best-on-grounds from only
seven games.

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it with my own ears, but he
said his greatest regret was that he didn't win a medal.

"BROWNLOW medallist and Captain Blood -- that would have been a nice
double, wouldn't it?" he said.

"But I wasn't the sort. I had lots of rough edges.

"Brownlow medallists don't have edges; they're all smooth - that's what
they are.

"I loved testing blokes out. They'd test you out and, if you went all right
with the test, they might leave you alone a bit."

The way Jack told it, he ran into players only because his knee was so bad
he was unable to shift direction once he mustered speed.

I almost drove off the Nepean Highway when he made that outrageous excuse,
and Jack's big puppy dog ears shook up and down as he giggled.

In 1934, he joined the police force for no other reason than the cops paid
six shillings a week more than the fire brigade.

He was on the beat in the western suburbs during the most violent era in
Melbourne's history and, though he ummed and aaahed about the details, he
was involved in one gangland shooting.

Football in Melbourne was just as lawless.

After Captain Blood decimated the Shinboners in a wild game at North
Melbourne, angry North supporters milled around outside the change rooms
for an hour, baying for Dyer's blood.

Women filled their handbags with rocks and screamed: "We'll kill you,
Dyer."

Eventually Jack flung open the door and stormed out - wearing his police
uniform, with pistol in one hand, and police baton and Gladstone bag in the
other.

Captain Blood didn't wield a cutlass, but he might as well have.

The crowd opened up and he passed through a sea of hostile faces, ugly and
silent.

When Jack's car wouldn't start, they rained rocks on the roof, and he
thanked God when it spluttered into life, enabling him to beat a hasty
retreat.

Our trip from Frankston got us to Richmond a couple of hours early, and he
suggested we go to one of his old haunts, a pub in Lennox St, near St
Ignatius, where he'd been an altar boy.

He reckoned his players got on the grog so much during the war years that,
as captain-coach, he had to warn the team during training for the 1943
finals that any player caught drinking was out of the Richmond club for
life.

The next morning he walked into a Richmond pub and saw three of his star
players - Edwards, Waldron and Broadstock - downing pots of Richmond ale.
It was 9am, and Dyer slipped out without them seeing him.

"I couldn't afford to sack them," he said. "We wouldn't have won the
premiership without 'em."

The next night at training, without mentioning what he had seen, Dyer
flogged the three so mercilessly that Broadstock eventually staggered up to
him, dead on his feet, and gasped: "I was drinking beer, not petrol - I'm
not a bloody car!"

OVER the next couple of hours Jack's yarns raced from the long ago past
(one day he thought he had killed a bloke) to his frustration with the
modern era, and how officials have cleaned up his game.

"These fellas sitting at the top now, they're fair dinkum taking all the
thrills out of the game and making it basketball," he said.

"There's nothing more exciting than one of those - what do they call 'em
now? - a melee. One bloke pushes another and there's a melee, and it's the
biggest joke I've ever heard in my life.

"There's hardly one good punch thrown in four melees."

We filmed with Dyer that evening and, as always, he generously gave his
time to adoring fans.

When we got back to his unit that night, his lovely friend Dot made us some
cheese on toast and a cuppa, and Jack got out a bottle of beer -
long-necked, of course.

Football trophies and memorabilia were noticeably absent from his unit.

"All I want is good health. I never a wanted to be a millionaire - you lose
a lot of friends, being a millionaire," he said. "Good health will do me."

I asked him which champions he rated, and he said the only champions were
the ones who had their pictures on jam tins. As I was leaving, he thrust
his hands around his neck, untangled the tie, and slapped it into my hand.

"D'ya wear these things?" he asked, and I said I didn't. "Keep it, in case
one day you have to."

They say the years can mellow the most villainous of tyrants, but it's hard
to believe he incited riots and was once the most feared man in Melbourne.
He was a gentleman, Jack Dyer. He was fit for jam tins.

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