25 August 2003
As the tributes have flowed for the late Jack Dyer in recent days we have heard the retelling of yarns about his toughness as a player, uniqueness as a commentator and admirable qualities as a human being. Noted football historian and editor of Inside Football magazine, Russell Holmesby, looks back on Jack Dyer’s early days, that built the basis of one of the game’s mightiest legends.
Sometimes it was hard to reconcile the kindly old gent in the Waverley press box with the fearsome reputation of his playing days.
In the latter stages of his time writing for the Truth newspaper, Jack Dyer would be a regular at Waverley, as it was the nearest ground to his home. He always had a genial ‘G'day, how are you?’ for everyone that walked by and was not the ferocious “Captain Blood” that had left a trail of broken collarbones in his wake on our suburban footy fields.
It was no surprise that he was a friendly type of bloke. Any reporter or footy fan who had grown up watching 'World of Sport' or 'League Teams' knew the Dyer style – always ready for a laugh or able to mangle part of the English language in much the same way as he had left opposition teams in disarray.
There is something ironic in the fact that the first time he appeared on a Richmond teamsheet -- on May 9, 1931 -- Dyer played the most minor of roles. The 17 year-old sat on the bench as 19th man and watched his 18 Tiger teammates slice up a hapless North Melbourne side and establish a new VFL record score of 30.19. Doug Strang bagged 14 goals, but the new kid from Richmond Hill didn’t get a chance to be part of the action. In those days the sole reserve player received a full match payment if he came off the bench and the Tigers were content to save their three quid rather than toss it away by giving the new boy an easy ride in a one-sided game.
It was no easy matter pushing your way into the Tiger side that year. Over the course of 18 games plus two finals they fielded just 29 players. And you don’t change an 18 that has just kicked a record score. The hapless 19th man found himself replaced on the bench by Carl Watson, an experienced winger who already had two Grand Finals under his belt.
Ten weeks would pass before Dyer had another glimpse of the action – this time as a fully fledged member of the side, courtesy of a convenient hand injury suffered by Jack Bissett, who stood aside to give the youngster a chance. Dyer seized the opportunity and played a mighty game, but a week later was hammered by the tough Footscray rucks and again found himself out of the side. He had another bench-warming afternoon in the second last round. Fate then smiled on him, when Richmond had to seek replacements for injured stars going into the second semi-final. Ruckman Percy Bentley, who would subsequently work in tandem with Dyer for many years, broke his hand in the final game of the year and paved the way for Dyer to get another chance.
In the meantime, he played a midweek game for Yellow Cabs – the company he was working for at the time. He wrote in his autobiography that he was petrified of getting injured, but in the end something worse happened when he was one of 13 players reported. Luckily the president of the tribunal was also the Richmond president!
Whereas others copped sentences of six weeks, eight weeks and so on, young Dyer was miraculously cleared of a kicking charge.
Free to play in the semi against Geelong, Jack booted three goals, had 13 kicks and six marks in the Tigers' win that earned them a place in the Grand Final. Naturally he held his place for the Grand Final, but this time Geelong made sure he didn’t sneak under its guard and assigned the bruising “Bull” Coughlan to mind him. He had just four kicks for the day and Richmond was soundly beaten.
It was a disappointing end to Dyer’s debut year, but never again would he sit on the pine as an on-looker busting for a game. In 1932 the brilliant teenager made the football world sit up and take notice as he played dynamic football week after week.
And, as we mourn his passing, we should look beyond the legend and realise that aside from all the bravado and the bluster about his toughness, Dyer was a magnificent footballer.
As he began to bloom early in the 1932 season, the 'Sporting Globe' wrote that he had occasionally shown signs in 1931 of becoming a fine player and now it was all coming to fruition. “Tall and well built, he is a good judge of a mark, kicks neatly and plays cleanly.”
Eleven games into the 1932 season everything was going right for Dyer, but then his footy universe came crashing down around him. We return to his book: “In baulking and turning, the bone shot out from my knee and over I went. The trainers in those days were really up on their medicine. One came out, punched the bone back into place and told me to get on with the game. I hate to think what he did to the ligaments.
“For the moment it did the trick. I went on playing. The leg had not cooled down and I was not feeling much pain. It lasted until late in the game when I made another turn for an angle kick. There was a sound like tearing paper and I was gone again. This time I was finished and in traditional Richmond style I was carried off.”
It was a landmark moment in more ways than one. Dyer missed the rest of the season and although he had played just 10 games, including the one where he left the field, he polled 12 votes in the Brownlow to run fifth to the winner Haydn Bunton, who scored 23 votes. Had Dyer won the Brownlow, he may have been judged another way by history and his subsequent style of
play may well have been differentHe records in his book from that moment the injury affected his football. “Never again in my next 17 years did the leg fail to swell up after a match. It was the fact that I couldn’t turn or baulk that developed my straight-through game and was to earn me the title of Captain Blood.” He then offered a frank assessment of his altered style that concluded with chilling simplicity.
“In the years that followed many opponents stood in my path. Having lost my baulk I had to go straight through them or get out of the game. I went through.”
And he kept “going through” for the next 17 years, wearing the trademark knee bandage that had become necessary because of that fateful injury in 1932.
There will truly never be another like him...
Jack Dyer’s date of birth was wrongly recorded in an early reference as being November 13, 1913 and was picked up by myself and others such as Paul Hogan in “Tigers of Old” in subsequent years. That date has been recorded in the Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers, but the correct date is November 15, 1913.
For many years Jack Dyer was listed as having played 310 games for the Tigers. But a check of early records showed that in his first season he was twice 19th man and did not come onto the field. In those days a 19th man was only credited with a game if he actually ran onto the field and replaced another player. As we see in the adjoining story, Jack cooled his heels twice.
Under a revised AFL ruling, all such games are credited and Jack’s total increased to 312.
He won the Richmond best and fairest in 1932 despite playing just 11 games before being injured. He won it again in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1946 a total of six times and spanning the ages of 18 to 32.
Although he missed the 1932 flag due to injury, he played in the 1934 and 1943 flag sides.
He kicked six goals in his final game in the closing round of 1949. He had been captain-coach since 1941 and continued as non-playing coach until the end of 1952.