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Jack Dyer

John Raymond Dyer senior (13 November 1913 - 23 August 2003), always known as Jack Dyer, was one of the colossal figures of Australian rules football during two distinct careers, firstly as an outstanding player and coach of the Richmond Football Club in the Victorian Football League between 1931 and 1952, and later in the broadcast media for more than four decades.

Universally acclaimed as the greatest player of his day, Dyer's physical style of football polarised the followers of the game - he was either loved or hated. Dyer combined brilliant skills with a ruthless approach to winning the ball and was prepared to take on anyone who stood in his way. During his lengthy career, he came to symbolise not just the Richmond club but the entire working class area of Richmond during the privations of the Great Depression and World War II.

Off the field, Dyer was a sociable and courteous man beloved by most who met him. His genial nature shone through in his media work, which he began after resigning from the coaching position at Richmond. Dyer, along with ex-Collingwood captain Lou Richards, became a pioneer of television commentating on Australian football after the medium was introduced to the country in 1956. Combining television, radio and newspaper work, Dyer and Richards set the style for the modern coverage of football and created a template for many ex-players to emulate when they attempted to re-create themselves as media celebrities.

Early life

Dyer was born in Oakleigh, now a south-eastern suburb of Melbourne but grew up in the small farming hamlet of Yarra Junction on the Yarra River, approximately 60 kilometres (35 miles) east of the city. His parents, Ben and Nellie, were of Irish descent. The second of three children, Dyer had an elder brother, Vin, and a younger sister, Eileen. Dyer first played football at the Yarra Junction primary school. For his secondary education, Dyer was sent by his parents to St Ignatius in Richmond. He boarded in the city with an aunt. Dyer's sporting ability was instantly noticed by the brothers running the school, and one of them offered Dyer a sporting scholarship to move to the highly prestigious De La Salle College Malvern. After leaving school with a swag of sporting trophies, Dyer played with St Ignatius on the Saturday and Richmond Hill Old Boys in a mid-week competition. Dyer's burning desire was to play for Richmond in the VFL as he idolised one of the Tigers' star players, George Rudolph.

In 1930, Dyer won the Metropolitan League's award for the best player at the age of 16. This was a significant achievement for a player so young, and must have come to the attention of every VFL scout. Growing impatient as Richmond officials had not yet attempted to sign him, Dyer applied for a clearance to play with the Tigers' arch rival, Collingwood. The gambit worked; the Richmond hierarchy wanted to see him in action before any decision was made and Dyer was in training with his heroes for the start of the 1931 season. He had the task ahead of him as he was joining one of the league's strongest clubs with a very tough culture. Richmond's coach 'Checker' Hughes pitted the youngster against hardened veteran Joe Murdoch in a practice session. Dyer hardly touched the ball and was disheartened about his prospects until Hughes consoled him by explaining the pairing with Murdoch was a trial of courage, not skill. No one doubted Dyer's skill.

Hughes was confident enough about the teenager to select him for his debut in just the second game of the season against North Melbourne. Dyer was made a reserve and he watched on as the team racked up a VFL record score of 30.19 (199) in one of the biggest wins in VFL/AFL history. With his team cruising to the easiest of wins, Hughes decided to save some money by leaving Dyer on the bench all day. It was the height of the Great Depression. The going rate for the players was 3 pounds per match, but Richmond only paid half that for unused reserves, so Hughes saved the club thirty shillings on the day. Dyer got another couple of chances and showed a bit of form, but by mid-season found himself in the seconds. The seconds team was filled with players who were not quite league standard, but desperate to stay on at the club and earn an extra few shillings per week to support their families. They were not so amenable to sharing the ball with the new wonderboy. Dyer felt ostracised by their attitude.

At one point, Dyer walked away from Richmond for a few weeks and returned to suburban football. Club secretary Percy Page persuaded him back by promising to clear any recalcitrant players. In the run up to the finals, with Richmond sitting second on the ladder, star ruckman Percy Bentley went down with an injury that ended his season. Hughes decided to take a gamble with his young protege, and included Dyer in the Tigers' team for the second semi final against Geelong. Playing mainly up forward, the unknown Dyer sneaked under the Cats' radar and played a great game, capped with three goals. However, circumstances were different in the Grand Final a fortnight later, again against Geelong. This time Geelong used their veteran hard man, coach "Bull" Coghlan on Dyer. Coghlan roughed up the youngster and gave him a footballing lesson — Dyer had only four touches for the day and admitted many years later to being totally intimidated. It was an experience he would not forget.

A Star is Born

The following year, Dyer was a sensation. Partnering Bentley in the ruck, Dyer dominated the first half of the season before suffering a serious knee injury that put him out for the rest of the year. In only ten matches, Dyer received four best afield Brownlow medal votes, collected enough votes to win the Tigers' best and fairest and was chosen for Victoria after less than a dozen league matches. But on Grand Final day, Dyer sat on the sidelines watching his teammates break a long sequence of finals failures and win Richmond's third premiership, unsure if he would be able to rejoin them.

Dyer did reappear in 1933, sporting what would become one of the game's most famous pieces of apparel - his dirty knee bandage. Hardened by the tribulations of his early career, a new Dyer emerged. Physical and ferocious, he became renowned as a man who did not deviate regardless of what was in his path, an approach that Dyer attributed to the knee injury. In his own phrase, Dyer was unable to "turn off" or "pull up" and he sometimes collected a teammate if his timing was out. Dyer was a key player in the Tigers' push for back to back flags. In the Grand Final against South Melbourne, Richmond was found wanting and lost by eight goals, but Dyer managed thirty touches in a fighting effort. In the following year's Grand Final, the Tigers gained revenge in a rematch with the Swans. Dyer was one of the stand out players in his first premiership side. Richmond's ruck combination of Bentley, Dyer and rover Ray Martin was by now considered the best in the business.

Captain Blood

Many were now prepared to concede that Dyer was the most valuable player in the game. But the number of on-field incidents grew and after a particularly torrid game during 1935, a newspaper cartoonist drew a picture of Dyer as a pirate and a journalist dubbed him 'Captain Blood' after an Errol Flynn movie of the same name. The name quickly stuck. Initially, Dyer was furious at the connotation and the implied slur on his sportsmanship. Dyer preferred the 'hip and shoulder' method of meeting an opponent rather than grabbing him in a tackle. The force of being hit by the athletic, 89 kg frame of Dyer was often enough to leave a player prostrate and not wanting to re-enter the fray for a while. Occasionally, the hip and shoulder could go awry and Dyer's forearm would come into play, which was a reportable offence. However, in a nineteen year career, he was reported only five times and suspended just once. Undoubtedly, in the modern era, Dyer's style would not be tolerated, but the same can be said of many past champions. In the main, Dyer won admiration from opposition players for his vigor and, in particular, his protection of smaller teammates.

He went on to play 312 games for Richmond, being voted the club's best and fairest player in 1932, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, and 1946. He played in seven Grand Finals for two premierships in 1934 and 1943, one as captain and playing coach of the side. Dyer was a ruckman; and, at 6'1" (185 cm), he was not particularly tall for that position, even in that era.

His on-field characteristics were summed-up in the nickname "Captain Blood", which he received from cartoonist John Ludlow in The Age in 1935, after the title character in an Errol Flynn film of the same name.

In an era where football was considerably rougher than today he was regarded as a "hard at the ball" player — a football euphemism for a player who is prepared to use strength, size, and momentum to simply run through and flatten an opponent to get the ball. Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, Dyer always attributed his style of play to a severe knee injury that reduced his ability to make quick turns. Despite this reputation, he was only reported five times in a long career, and only suspended once.

In 1947, Jack Dyer crashed into Melbourne's Frank Hanna in round 15. The umpire cleared him for rough conduct. Hanna was out cold. Don Cordner checked his pulse and Hanna was covered with a blanket, including his head, and was carried off on a stretcher. Dyer thought he had killed Hanna. By three-quarter time, he still believed he had killed him until he asked a Demon player about Hanna's condition. He had actually recovered.

He was not simply a "tough man", but also a very talented footballer. Most of those who had seen him play at his peak assert that he was one of a very small number of players from his extended era that would still have been picked to play in the 1990s (this view is supported by his selection as an interchange player in the AFL's 1996 Team of the Century"). He gradually played less as a ruckman and more as a forward later in his career. He is credited with inventing the drop punt, a kicking style that gradually gained popularity over the intervening decades and is now almost universal, and has now spread to Rugby union and rugby league. He kicked 443 goals, fifth on Richmond's list of all-time goalkickers.

The "Jack Dyer Medal" is awarded each season to the winner of the Richmond Football Club's Best and Fairest count.

Personal life

After an assortment of jobs in his early adulthood, Dyer joined the police force in 1934 and married shortly after. He served in the police for almost a decade, and then became a publican in Port Melbourne, then later owned a milk bar.

On 8 March 1940, Richmond announced that they had refused the recently-married Dyer a clearance to coach VFA club Yarraville; and Dyer stated that he would not cross to Yarravile without a clearance.

He and his wife Sybil had two children, Jack junior (Jackie, born 15 December 1940) and Jill (married name Devine). Jackie had a brief career at Punt Road from 1959 to 1961, playing three games, but retired from all football aged just 23. Following Sybil's early death in 1967, Dyer spent many of his remaining years living with his daughter Jill, and never remarried.

Media career

After retiring from coaching, Dyer turned to the media, where he became a respected commentator and football media personality. He happily contributed to two tongue-in-cheek sports/comedy offerings on Melbourne television, World of Sport, a Sunday morning panel show, and later League Teams, a Thursday night variant which clearly inspired the current Footy Show. He also had a regular column which went under the name "Dyer'ere" in Melbourne's Truth newspaper.

Dyer also was a radio broadcaster - for many years he and Ian Major called football matches for radio station 3KZ (KZ-FM after the station converted to FM in 1990) as The Captain and The Major.

"Dyerisms"

Not the most articulate on-air personality, Dyer's malapropisms became legendary. According to press obituaries, he was responsible for such gems as

  • "Yes, we had an enjoyable time on the French Riverina" (The Riverina is a highly productive agricultural region of south-western New South Wales) and describing the problems with younger players by saying that "All they want to do is sit around and smoke marinara".

Other moments include

  • "I won't say anything in case I say something."
  • "Bartlett's older than he's ever been before."
  • "Johnston missed one from the 10 yard square - it was impossible to miss that."
  • "The only way to tackle Justin Madden. I don't know."
  • "That's the beauty of being small - your hands are close to your feet."
  • "Bamblett made a great debut last week, and an even better one today."
  • "The ball goes to Marceesie ... Marcheson ... McKann, er ..." before co-commentator Ian Major interjected: "Actually, Jack I don't think Marchesani was in that passage of play."
  • "Mark Lee's long arms reaching up like giant testicles."
  • "It's as dark out there as the Black Hole of Dakota."
  • "The goal posts are moving so fast I can't keep up with the play."
  • And on World Of Sport, Dyer declared that Fitzroy had "copulated to the opposition".

Retirement and death

Retiring from the media in the early 1990s, when KZ-FM stopped broadcasting football, Dyer had one last impact on the game, successfully leading a fight to save his old club from a merger with St. Kilda.

Dyer married Sybil and had two children, Jackie (b. John R. Dyer Jnr 15 December 1940), who played 3 games for the Richmond Football Club in 1960, and Jill.

Error in 1996 John Balmain painting

In the 1944 Preliminary Final, which was held at the Junction Oval, between Richmond and Essendon on Saturday 23 September 1944, Dyer played at full forward. Led by a four goal burst by Dyer, Richmond had an amazing first quarter, from which Essendon never really recovered, scoring 8.2 (50) to 0.5 (5). Although Essendon outscored Richmond 12 goals to 8 in the last three quarters, Richmond went on to win the match 16.12 (108) to 12.15 (87).

In the last quarter, Dyer fearlessly burst away from the pack and, freeing himself from three opponents, ran towards the Lake end of the ground, kicked a goal. It was his ninth goal for the day.

The moment of him breaking away from the pack, with his eyes so firmly fixed on the goals, was captured in the now famous newspaper photograph. It was also the basis for the logo of The Footy Show. It is very clear from viewing the actual press photograph that, in addition to some white strapping on his left thumb, Dyer was wearing his trademark dirty knee bandage on his left knee.

In 1996, the year the AFL celebrated the VFL/AFL centenary, it issued a set of four magnificent paintings by John Balmain of Ron Todd, Jack Dyer, John Coleman, and Alex Jesaulenko. All were taken from famous photographs; Dyer's was taken from the famous photograph of his break to score his ninth goal.

Unfortunately, despite the importance of the painting to the AFL in its 1996 centenary year, a very serious and glaring factual error was left unchecked in Balmain's painting of Dyer in full flight. Driven by a lack of knowledge of Dyer and his knee injury, and the difference between the 1996 and 1944 treatment of sports injuries, Balmain totally misinterpreted the photographer's image of the natural whiteness of Dyer's post-long-winter leg, and the grubbiness of his favourite knee bandage, and went on to paint Dyer's left leg as if he had no knee bandage at all and, as well, as if he was wearing an elastic thigh bandage of a sort that AFL footballers were not to encounter for at least another 30 years.

Balmain's painting also appears on the front cover of Brian Hansen's 1996 book, The Jack Dyer Story: The Legend of Captain Blood.

Notes

References

  • Dyer, J., Captain Blood, as told to Brian Hansen, Paul, (London), 1965.
  • Dyer, J. & Hansen, B., "'Captain Blood': Jack Dyer", pp.205-302 in Dyer, J. & Hansen, B., Captain Blood's Wild Men of Football, Brian Edward Hansen, (Cheltenham), 1993. ISBN 0-646-14782-X
  • Hansen, B., The Jack Dyer Story: The Legend of Captain Blood, Brian Hansen Nominees, (Mount Waverley), 1996. ISBN 1-876-15101-3
  • Hansen B: Tigerland: The History of the Richmond Football Club from 1885, Richmond Former Players and Officials Association, (Melbourne), 1989. ISBN 0-731-65047-6
  • Hansen, B. & Dyer, J., The Wild Men of Football, Volume III: If Ya Don't Mind Umpire!, B.E. Hansen, (Mount Waverley), 1995. ISBN 0-64623-042-5
  • Hogan P: The Tigers Of Old, Richmond FC, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-646-18748-1
  • Ross, J. (ed), 100 Years of Australian Football 1897-1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported, Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN 0-670-86814-0
  • Wilmoth, P., Up Close: 28 Lives of Extraordinary Australians, Pan Macmillan, (Sydney), 2005. ISBN 1-405-03657-5
  • Richmond Football Club - Hall of Fame

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