Mourning more than a legend

By Caroline Wilson, August 28 2003, The Age

Mourning more than a legend

By Caroline Wilson, August 28 2003, The Age

There was always going to be a level of discomfort at Tigerland this week when Jack finally went. Because Richmond is no longer the great club he helped create and the 24-year drought that followed his last flag in '43 has now been matched.

Not that the Tigers put a foot wrong in the way they orchestrated their dignified but haunting goodbye to the club's original legend.

The thoughtless disrespect that almost two years ago led to Paul Hudson being presented with a Richmond guernsey bearing the No. 17 appears gone from the club. At the MCG on Sunday every Tiger player will wear Jack Dyer's number, but next season no one will.

There was talk of Mark Coughlan switching from No. 24, but as a gesture it would have proved premature and foolhardy, pressuring a potential champion of the future when the club so clearly lacks them.

No, the discomfort yesterday lay in stark realisation of all the great things the Tigers have lost.

Dyer revolutionised football but, when the national AFL revolution took place, Richmond failed to recognise its proper place in it.

Of all the champions of the great post-Dyer era, Jack was closest to Kevin Bartlett, but somewhere along the way Richmond lost him, too.

And Dyer died in late August when you could almost smell the spring. But September holds little meaning for Tiger fans these days.

And Captain Blood passed away in a year that the club's current captain, tremendous player that he is, was sidelined by injury along with his deputy.

And the club realised finally, that Matthew Richardson would never be a leader.

The tributes will roll on until Sunday, when the Tigers run from their MCG changing rooms in the soon-to-be-rebuilt Northern Stand for the last time. Former players, including every former premiership player, have been invited into those rooms before the game.

Kevin Sheedy, Mick Malthouse and Neil Balme - for whom September has meaning - have all been invited.

The ceremony yesterday at Punt Road ended officially about 2pm when 312 black and yellow balloons were released, symbolising Dyer's games for his club. The Tigers' last premiership coach, Tony Jewell, noticed their strange human shape as they flew into the clouds and observed it could have been "old Jack himself" fading from view. Nearly 2000 supporters traipsed from the turf, leaving it bare but tantalisingly lush and green. This oval has celebrated many Septembers, but this year, again, the Punt Road field will lie bare.

The club song was sung, but it was a hollow rendition. It only works when the team is winning and the only side Richmond has beaten since round eight is the Bulldogs.

The football community had said goodbye earlier to Dyer at St Ignatius and you couldn't have asked any more of a funeral or its speakers. But for Richmond supporters, Bartlett's wise and emotional eulogy again brought home how much the club and its playing group are missing by his ongoing boycott of the Tigers.

So the football community would have departed Dyer's funeral enriched by the experience. Richmond's new chum Greg Miller said he had learned more about the club in one day than in his previous 10 months.

For the Tiger faithful, into which Miller appears determined to immerse himself and rebuild the club, several hours later there was a nostalgic appreciation for everything that Captain Blood had stood for.

But it was a celebration thick with melancholy. And walking from the Punt Road grass and the giant, painted No. 17, the sadness was as tangible as it was unbearable.