JACK DEAN – PRINCE OF PLAYERS IN SYDNEY FOOTBALL

In the 1949 interstate match between NSW and Victoria at the SCG nineteen year old East Sydney ruckman Jack Dean went up against veteran Victorian captain Jack Dyer at the opening bounce.

“He sat me on my arse!” Jack told me over a few beers. We were at Harry McAsey’s pub in Alexandra after a tribute lunch for our late mate and fellow NSW Football History committee member Ted Ray a few years ago. I put the tape on to record our conversation which was considerably enhanced by the consumption of schooners of Reschs.

“The Vics. cleaned us up that day, but it was a great thrill to play against them” recalled Jack. “We thought we were a chance, our coach Frank Dixon (later a Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney) was a great motivator and we trained for weeks in advance with a view to beating them”.

Victoria were “too polished” according to Keith Miller’s report in The Daily Mirror. Yes, that’s right, the great Australian cricket all-rounder who had recently retired from football had taken up a new career as a journalist. Miller had represented NSW at the ANFC interstate carnival in 1947 after moving to Sydney to play cricket for NSW after the Second World War.

In addition to the grizzly old Tiger, Jack Dyer, other famous names in the Victorian team for that match were Bob Davis, Bobby Rose, Les Foote, Don Cordner and  Bert Clay, who if state-of-origin rules were in place would have been wearing a sky blue guernsey. Clay was recruited to Fitzroy from Henty in southern NSW.

Jack Dean played 25 times for NSW in interstate matches and was voted the Blues best player at the 1958 centenary carnival in Melbourne in 1958. He must have been unlucky not to have been selected for the All-Australian team.

Born and bred in Paddington, Jack went down to Trumper Park with his brother Mal in 1944 and thus began a distinguished football career that took in almost 400 games until he retired in 1966.

His father Joe had played for East Sydney and Jack’s son Marshall also played for Easts. A handy rover, “Marsh” is a raconteur who in tandem with Stephen “Bomber” McClure (brother of Mark “Sellers” McClure) provided their team-mates with many hilarious moments at their favourite pub in Paddington, the Grand National.

Jack was a star performer in the Easts teams that won a staggering six premierships in a row under legendary coach Roy Hayes from 1953-58. Following his stand-out performance at the 1958 carnival Jack took up an offer to coach Ardlethan in the South-West League in southern NSW.

“I was the only non-ex VFL player coaching in the league – “The Heap” (former South Melbourne captain Ian Gillett) was coaching Coolamon, ex North Melbourne star Gerald Eastmure was in charge at Leeton, Footscray’s Brownlow medalist Peter Box was coaching Grongy (Grong Grong Matong), and Don Keyter (ex South Melbourne) was at Griffith. It was a strong league”, recalled Jack.

“We struggled to match it with the clubs from the bigger places, but we always took it up to them. We had lots of good times afterwards particularly at the London (Ardlethan’s only pub). After 6 o’clock the publican would pull down the blinds and we’d have a great sing-along around the piano. The other clubs used to love to stay back after a game at Ardelthan!”

“We made lots of good friends down there – still in contact with them, but Joy (Jack’s wife) was a city girl and was pretty keen to return to Sydney to be near family, so we came back”

Jack returned to his old club, East Sydney for the 1961 season. But the next season Jack was enticed to join local rivals Sydney Naval that shared Trumper Park with Easts, but trained down at Rushcutters’s Bay.

“I’d formed a close friendship with (rover) Danny Wilson through playing together in state teams. Plus, of course, there was a bob in it for me. They were a well run club at this stage and were well supported by some of Sydney’s biggest bookmakers who fielded at the races on Saturdays and came to the Aussie Rules on Sundays”.

Sydney Naval beat Newtown for the 1962 premiership in Sydney. Jack played out his career with Sydney Naval until he retired in 1966.

Jack then turned his hand to administration and after joining the East Sydney committee became club president from 1970 till 1982.  He presided over another golden period for the Bulldogs during which they won six premierships. The most satisfying was for the club’s centenary year, 1980, when under Austin Robertson they thrashed North Shore in the grand final at the Sydney Showgrounds by 121 points.

“After going through the previous season undefeated we got beaten in both finals, which was terribly disappointing. We got “Oscar” to take over from Alex Ruscuklic. We had assembled a very good team with players like Wayne Goss, Ian Allen, Grant Luhrs and Jim Richardson, plus we had retained Peter Ruscuklic as full-forward”.

Ruscuklic was a prolific goal kicker for Easts booting huge tallies of 136 (1979), 156 (1980), and 213 (1981).

A big let-down was expected the next season after the centenary triumph, but Jack had the inspiration to appoint local player Greg “Huey” Harris, who had returned to footy from rugby union in 1979 and missed the premiership season with a knee injury.

Harris master-minded one of the great comebacks in Sydney footy history by leading the Bulldogs to a 89 point win over Sam Kekovich’s Newtown in the 1981 grand final. Easts had been down by 90 points at ¾ time in the second semi but came back to lose by only 10 points.

“Greg was a natural leader. He possess great people skills, he can lead men. I had become a good friend of his father Col, who I played against when he coached St George. I just knew he would make a successful coach”

“Huey” sure did – he led East Sydney to premierships in 1981, 1982 and 1983 moulding a bunch of eccentric characters and ace footballers into an almost unbeatable combination. Easts won another premiership for good measure in 1984 under Wayne Goss – Jack Dean was chairman of selectors.

Jack was a selector for many years for State teams and was Alan Jean’s trusted chairman of selectors when Jeans coached NSW in the Escort Cup in 1979-80 when the Blues almost upset the highly fancied Fitzroy (remember the “fat full forward for NSW” Laurie Pendrick kicking 7 goals on then Victorian full-back Harvey Merrigan?) and Richmond in its premiership season.

Jack would go out to the airport in his plumbing truck and pick up Jeans for training. “He is a terrific fellow (Alan Jeans), a great football brain, but more importantly he had the ability to pass it on” according to Jack.

He continued on as chairman of selectors under Sam Kekovich and later, Greg Harris. It was in this period that I got to know Jack as I was the Country team manager for the state squad. Sam and Jack would fly down to Wagga on weekends to conduct training. Following a brisk, light training run we would head off with fellow selectors local legend Greg Leitch and former Essendon star Bobby Greenwood (who would drive over from Griffith in his Pontiac Parisienne) for a long lunch to discuss team selections.

In those days most people in Wagga stayed at home for a roast on Sundays so I used to get a Chinese restaurant to open up especially for us. Sam would always order up big, then feign that he’d forgotten his credit card and ask Jack if he could pay for the meal and claim it back from the league. Jack would always pay and never make a claim.

These days Jack is highly involved in the NSW Footy History Committee and he heads up the committee that selects the members for the local Hall of Fame each year.

Jack was the first player elected to the NSW Hall of Fame in 2003. The Eastern Suburbs-UNSW best and fairest trophy is also named in his honour. He is also a life member of the club.

This year Jack has been nominated for the AFL’s Hall of Fame. In recent years players and officials from the other states have been justly honoured but there is yet to be a non VFL/AFL player from NSW elected. Unlike the other nomination from North Melbourne via North Wagga, there are no issues about character. Jack Dean is True Blue.

Comments

  1. Tony Robb says:

    Rocket,
    Great read mate. You have listed a few names that brought back some memories.
    cheers
    Tony

  2. Ian Granland says:

    Great stuff Rock-it. Jack would love that. I will let him know its here. He is not too well these days but LOVES talking footy. Keep up the great work Rod.

  3. Tracy McDonald (Dean) says:

    Dad will love that this is on another website, Ill print it for him to read. He does love talking about the good old days of footy. Thanks

  4. Blokes like him are the lifeblood of sports – and we need people like you to tell their tales so magnificently. Thanks Rod. Really enjoyed it.

  5. Great man. Great yarn. Thanks Rocket for writing it, and Ian/Tracy for bringing it to our attention after all this time. Makes me wonder how many other gems are locked away in the Almanac basement?
    What about we start a thread to allow anyone to nominate a golden oldie – but the piece must be 2+ years old?

  6. Brad Wilson says:

    Great story,
    I’m the son of Danny Wilson mentioned in story & have great memories of Trumper Park.
    Still getting down there, with my son now playing Australian Rules !

  7. Richard Jones says:

    WELL, Rocket, as you know I played for Sydney Uni. in the pale blue and gold strip in 1962-1963.
    Forgotten that Sydney Naval won the flag in ’62 but do recall being knocked out at Trumper Park by a Naval in-and-under midfielder (didn’t we call them ruck-rovers Back In The Day?). Needed an iced towel around the scone to recover.
    Not a very clean towel at that if I remember the Uni. trainers.
    Played at Trumper Park a number of times in my 2 seasons.
    Don’t recall Jack Dean but there was another Jack — Jack Armstrong if memory serves — who was also from a Sydney-based family of Aussie Rules people.
    We Mexicans from south of the border found it hard to believe that there were Sydney families who had grown up with Aussie Rules and not with either of the rugby codes.
    But they had, and did.
    Jack Armstrong was by the early Sixties a central umpy, I think.

  8. Steven Chichester says:

    What a wonderful recount Rocket, thank you very much. An amazing man who always seemed to have time for a chat and make you feel welcome.

  9. Dr Rocket says:

    Thanks Chitty, he is a great story.
    Very sad to have him pass away last week.

    Look forward to joining you and many others who were touched by Jack at the celebration of his life, fittingly at the SCG this Friday. A scene of many triumphs and enjoyment for him over the years.

  10. Great story
    Jack was a great mate played with him at Ardlethan and was well respected by all who came in contact with him,.My wife and i had many great moments with Jack and Joy, we have kept over many years

  11. December 9 2015
    Thanks For the story.
    Played with Jack at Ardlethan 1959 1960 in the Riverina South West League. Jack was a great mate and well respected by all who came in contact with him. My wife and i had many great times with Jack and Joy during the time he coached the club and we continued that freindship over many years

  12. Thanks Ray, hope you are keeping well.

    We had a great send-off for Jack at the SCG last Friday – so many there, all with a story to share how Jack Dean influenced their lives and provided them with support and encouragement.

    Jack loved his time at Ardlethan- he always spoke so fondly of his time at the Stars as did Barry Connolly, Bruce Stewart et al. Must be something about the beer on tap at the London Hotel.

    I have passed your message onto the family.

  13. Tracy McDonald (Dean) says:

    Thank you to everyone, the Dean family really appreciate your support . Dad would be very chuffed. It was a fabulous send off fitting of a great man.

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