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Punchy tale of a footy great

28 September 2013 385 views No Comment

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 inner-Melbourne 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.

Finding Jack Dyer: The Remarkable Story of ‘Captain Blood’
By Tony Hardy
Slattery Media, 295pp, $34.95

Ross Fitzgerald is co-editor of ‘Australia’s Game: Stories, Essays, Verse and Drama Inspired by the Australian Game of Football.’

THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN, SEPTEMBER 28-29, 2013, Review, BOOKS p 25.