Tommy Hafey might have immortalised the words, “There’s nothing more tigerish than a wounded tiger”, but it was Jack Dyer who embodied these words more than any other player that donned the yellow sash. In today’s era of nine-year multimillion-dollar contracts and antler-deer-spray, revisiting the good old amateur days and the characters who helped shape each club’s identity for better or worse, is like relishing a spot of whiskey in front of the fire.
Jack Dyer’s life has been recounted numerous times through a combination of myths, legends and half-truths. We all cackled at the Dyer-isms and marveled at “Captain Blood’s” ruthlessness on the football field. The Richmond hordes all lovingly knew Dyer as “Captain Blood” but who was the man? Were “Captain Blood” and Jack two different entities or were they more intrinsically connected? Tony Hardy’s book, Finding Jack Dyer, uncovers the man and the legend.
Hardy’s account of Dyer’s life, from his school days at St. Igs to his role in “Save our Skins”, is laced with insightful perspectives from Richmond heavyweights, like Tom Hafey, Kevin Bartlett, Francis Bourke and Paddy Guinane. Yet, the book is no definitive encyclopedia of Dyer facts. Instead, Hardy stays true to Dyer’s famous knack of embellishing the truth by occasionally inventing conversations, characters and sometimes shifting chronology. Importantly, Hardy’s imaginative style doesn’t impact on the book’s overall ability to depict a genuine and accurate depiction of Dyer.
While Jack is the book’s obvious protagonist, Sybil Dyer is the headline-supporting act. Sybil is the steadfast wife, mother, businesswoman and the Dyer family’s plucky fullback. It’s through Hardy’s account of Sybil’s sudden death at the age of 50 that we get a raw insight into Captain Blood’s heart and vulnerability.
Jack’s larrikin tone and off-the-cuff storytelling defined his media career at Wide World of Sports. In Finding Jack Dyer, the power of storytelling conveys the challenging climate of post and pre-World War Two Australian life, and in particular, the working suburb of Richmond. For instance, Hardy tells the story of Jack’s compassion for Richmond’s impoverished and struggling citizens. Each night, Jack left his car unlocked at night for a homeless man to sleep in – much to the bewilderment of his daughter, Jill. Jill recalls Jack’s lecture to her about showing respect and giving time for the Richmond strugglers: “It was my Richmond supporters that put you through college because they saw me on the ground playing football… I’ve had a terrific ride, and I’ve had that ride because people like that drunk yelled for me”.
Any football enthusiast will enjoy Hardy’s easy conversationalist style and constant reference to a character named ‘The Patient’ who represents all long-suffering Richmond supporters. Collingwood fans may take a more perverse pleasure in reading that “Collingwood, Collingwood, Collingwood is The Patient’s ongoing nightmare”. Yet, for those Tigers fans who still seek solace from Carlton’s destruction of Richmond in this year’s elimination final, then advice is plentiful: “His legs are crossed, forearms resting on his inner thighs, thumb and index fingers pressing. The match is bad for his and every other Richmond’s supporter’s health, but he focuses on his breathing and manages the anxiety,” (relaxation technique duly noted!).
However, Finding Jack Dyer is not without its imperfections. For example, Brother Peter Duffy, who played a key mentoring role in Jack’s childhood at St Ignatius, was not a Jesuit brother as stated in the book, but a De La Salle brother (a religious order based on the teachings of Jean-Baptiste de la Salle). Furthermore, Hardy tends not to take a definitive stance on contentious issues, such as Dyer’s 1932 Best and Fairest. Despite Punt Road’s Jack Dyer statue and the club’s Honour Board stating that Dyer won the 1932 Best and Fairest, there is no evidence to suggest that any player won the award. MCC librarian and football historian, Trevor Ruddell, asserts in the book that Dyer’s “win” was a fiction concocted years later.
Jack Dyer played 312 games, kicked 443 goals for the Tigers, and broke 364 collarbones. As a Richmond supporter and pessimist (both go hand in hand), reading the tales of Captain Blood gave me comfort that there was a time when the Punt Road boys would not embrace mediocrity and surrender a comfortable five-goal lead in an elimination final!