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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Other moments include
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.
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.