Punchy tale of a footy great

Find­ing Jack Dyer: The Re­mark­able Story of Cap­tain Blood’

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald Ross Fitzger­ald

By Tony Hardy Slat­tery Me­dia, 295pp, $34.95

TONY Hardy’s punchy bi­og­ra­phy of leg­endary Aus­tralian rules foot­baller Jack Dyer, pub­lished to mark his cen­te­nary, plays a bit fast and loose with re­al­ity. Right up front Hardy ad­mits he has ‘‘ in­vented some con­ver­sa­tions, cre­ated mi­nor char­ac­ters and very oc­ca­sion­ally shifted chronol­ogy’’ to pro­duce ‘‘ a mostly truth­ful telling’’ of the Rich­mond Foot­ball Club cham­pion’s life story.

In­deed he con­fesses that one char­ac­ter who ap­pears through­out the book, called The Pa­tient, is in­vented. This is an ex­tremely pa­tient, al­ways hop­ing, dyed-in-the-wool Rich­mond sup­porter whose on­go­ing ob­ses­sional night­mare is the hated ri­val club Colling­wood.

Of course when Dyer (1913-2003) was a teenager, the mighty Colling­wood Mag­pies ap­peared in six con­sec­u­tive grand fi­nals from 1925 to 1930, win­ning the fa­mous four in a row (1927-30), a record that has yet to be equalled.

Hardy’s ap­proach un­der­mines a num­ber of his claims, in­clud­ing that Dyer once ‘‘ for­got Colling­wood great Lou Richards’s name, de­spite them be­ing mates for more than 20 years’’. I find this hard to be­lieve.

Nev­er­the­less Find­ing Jack Dyer does ap­proach con­sid­er­able verisimil­i­tude when it deals with the then strug­gling in­nerMel­bourne sub­urb of Rich­mond dur­ing the De­pres­sion.

Hardy es­pe­cially il­lu­mi­nates the piv­otal role of a tough-as-guts teacher, Peter Duffy, first at St Ig­natius Col­lege, Rich­mond, and then at the up­mar­ket De La Salle Col­lege in the mid­dle-class sub­urb of Malvern, in mould­ing Dyer as a fu­ture fear­less star ruck­man, and then cap­tain and coach at Rich­mond, for which he played 312 games.

Dur­ing his play­ing ca­reer, the hard man Dyer, who earned the nick­name Cap­tain Blood, al­legedly broke 64 col­lar­bones. Or, as the blurb for the book puts it: ‘‘ Well, so he said.’’

Hardy is on stronger and ar­guably more truth­ful ground when he moves from Dyer’s play­ing and coach­ing days to his time as a foot­ball writer and, es­pe­cially, a ra­dio com­men­ta­tor and TV per­son­al­ity. Along with Richards and for­mer Gee­long cap­tain and coach Bob Davis, Dyer was one of the ‘‘ three wise mon­keys’’ in the long-run­ning TV show League Teams.

As it hap­pens, the most re­veal­ing pho­to­graph in this book, taken in black and white in 1978, fea­tures Dyer (‘‘See no evil’’) with his hands over his eyes, Davis (‘‘Speak no evil’’) with his hands over his mouth and Richards (‘‘Hear no evil’’) with his hands over his ears. As Hardy points out, this hugely pop­u­lar pro­gram, broad­cast on Chan­nel 7 in Mel­bourne, was a fore­run­ner to a mul­ti­tude of late-night footy shows.

As a broad­caster, Dyer had a way with words. I will never for­get, as a child, lis­ten­ing to the footy on the ra­dio with my fa­ther Bill (‘‘Long Tom’’) Fitzger­ald, who played for Colling­wood, and hear­ing Dyer say of a then young Mag­pie wing­man: ‘‘ They say you’re a star, son. You won’t be shin­ing to­day.’’ And when Rich­mond was on a roll he would scream into the mi­cro­phone: ‘‘ Eat ’ em alive!’’

While a rol­lick­ing tale, Find­ing Jack Dyer is not quite on a par with ear­lier works about Rich­mond’s great­est en­forcer, headed by Brian Hansen’s mag­is­te­rial Tigerland: The His­tory of the Rich­mond Foot­ball Club from 1885, pub­lished in 1989.

Jack Dyer, right

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