The heart of Tigerland

28 August 2003, Herald Sun

The heart of Tigerland

28 August 2003, Herald Sun

TIGER great Kevin Bartlett gave the eulogy at Jack Dyer's funeral yesterday. Here is an edited extract.

MUCH has been said about Jack Dyer over the past few days. Most of it has been true, although there have been a few stories I think have been embellished.

But what is true is that he is the greatest player in the history of the Richmond Football Club, arguably the greatest player of all time.

He has been an icon of the club, he has been the symbol of the Richmond Football Club. He's been the inspiration, the motivator, the force behind the club. He's been the spirit of the yellow and black.

To that famous catch-cry: "Eat Em Alive". Carrying what has got to be the most famous nickname in the history of the game: Captain Blood.

He lifted the spirits through a depression and a world war, he gave the masses something to cheer about, something to smile about, something to talk about. He even gave them something to boo about.

Jack had wonderful timing: 54 years ago on this very day, Jack Dyer played his last game for the RFC against Geelong. Round 19, 1949, August 27. In his last game he kicked six goals on the state fullback and kicked a goal with his last kick.

We are gathered here at this famous Richmond landmark where Jack went to school next door, St Ignatius.

We are in the heart of Richmond to reminisce about the heart of the RFC.

Jack was more than a footballer: in fact, he was a tennis champion of the district. He was also a snooker champion, which didn't please his dad.

At one stage, he made 200 not out as an opening batsman against a NSW side.

The family moved to Richmond when Jack was just 14. He played football with his brother Peter, who came from a rugby background and instilled in Jack the skills of tackling and hard hitting.

At 17 years of age, Jack Dyer made his debut versus North Melbourne and we should have realised then that we were in for something special.

The Tigers that day kicked a record score - that was the start of a legend.

I first met Jack in 1963. It was quite strange circumstances. I was playing in the under 19s and we were playing against Geelong at the MCG. In those days we started about 8.30am and it was cold and miserable. But I was excited: 16 years of age playing in my first game on the MCG.

The very first bounce of the ball . . . it was a crooked bounce. I went with the flight of the ball and was smashed from behind and went down.

I lasted three seconds: that was my entire contribution to the game.

I was carried up the race and they called an ambulance. I was lying on a bench; it was cold, miserable and dark, and I was feeling sorry for myself.

I looked up and who should be there but Jack Dyer. I'd never met Jack Dyer, I only knew him by watching him on television. He looked at me and said: "How you feeling, son?"

I think I called him Mr Dyer. I said: "I'm pretty sore. I don't feel very well."

But he said: "You'll be OK." And he sat there for about 15 minutes talking to me.

Now I've often wondered: "Why was Jack Dyer there?"

What a boost it was for me.

I think maybe he saw a young player go down, maybe he thought I needed some consoling, maybe he realised my parents weren't at the ground. Maybe he just wanted to come around and give me some confidence. What a fantastic thing for a bloke to do.

When the ambulance came, Jack was with me and he patted me on the head and he said "You'll be right, son, tomorrow you will be as good as gold; you'll be up and running."

When I was in hospital for two weeks, lying on my back with a 30cm scar on my side, I thought: "I don't think Jack Dyer was telling the truth."

Years later, when I broke Jack's record number of games, he was the first person to congratulate me and tell me how proud he was. We sat and we laughed. I reminded him of that time when he helped me into the ambulance.

I said: "Jack, I was in hospital for two weeks lying on my back". And he said to me: "I don't know much about hips. I know a lot about collarbones."

Jack played a huge role in the renaissance of the RFC.

In 1943, he captain-coached a premiership. In 1944, we were runners-up to Fitzroy. We didn't play in another final until 1967. They were tough times.

Graeme Richmond came on the scene recruiting the best young players. He took a brown-paper bag full of dollars and a TV set with rabbit ears. He'd go around and chase the best young players. But the ace in the pack was that travelling with him in the car was Jack Dyer. How could you refuse?

I remember in the mid-1980s there was a story in the Sun saying Richmond was going to Brisbane. A group of us were very disappointed to read that ... among us was Jack himself.

He had fire in his eyes, a bit like Mike Brady when he said: "Infamous Jack Dyer, breathing smoke and fire."

He was ready for a fight ... Richmond supporters becoming armchair TV barrackers - that wasn't going to happen.

Jack went down to the club ... every word coming from his heart, the stories of struggletown - he turned the tide. The subject was dropped and Richmond stayed in Melbourne.

Most of us can also recall 1990 when Save Our Skins was so important to the RFC. A lot of money had to be raised by the club - $1.5 million.

A lot of people didn't think it could be done. The Bulldogs had struggled to survive, South Melbourne had been shipped off to Sydney, Fitzroy were struggling and here was Richmond asking its supporters to put money into tins.

I wasn't quite certain myself . . . most people didn't think it could be done.

Jack spoke, he talked about his time at Richmond, what it meant to the people, to struggletown, to the masses. I knew then that the RFC was going to be saved by Jack Dyer.

What a pleasure it would have been to have seen him play. I can only assume it must have been a mixture of Wayne Carey and James Hird.

Jack was an apprentice panel beater; well, the beating part was true. He was a police officer for 10 years, ran a milk bar, a flower shop and was also a publican.

He played 312 games for the Tigers, kicked 443 goals and broke 64 collarbones. He won six best-and-fairest awards - the greatest effort by any Richmond player. Those who saw him say he was unbelievably quick.

At the end of his career he kicked eight goals against the black-and-white enemy at Punt Rd, He would have loved that . . . he loathed Collingwood. The stories about not watching black-and-white television were true.

Jack played at a time when players played for the love of the game. And the game loved Jack Dyer.

  • Published
    Sep 2, 2019
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