Ross Dillon: Dees and Redleg royalty

http://www.redlegsmuseum.com.au/ON_FIELD/PLAYERS/DILLON__Ross.aspx 

Ross Dillon – tough uncompromising centre half forward. Winner of the Best and Fairest for Norwood Football Club in 1975, third Place in the ’75 Magarey Medal, Advertiser Team of the Year and, of course, part of the magnificent 1975 premiership side, breaking a 25 year drought

The 1975 ’tiser Team of the Year in their ’70s finest. Pick the players

But we return to the beginning.

Ross grew up in Kyabram, dreaming of playing cricket for Australia and footy for the Melbourne Football Club. He was a gun junior but was bestowed tragedy as an adolescent when, on Christmas day in 1963, his brother Graeme and Ross were assisting his father Arthur with some extension works on their family home. Arthur rewired a drill incorrectly and as a result electrocuted himself when on a ladder on the back of their house.

In everyone’s life there is a story to be told and a jigsaw to be put together. Ross was forced to grow up quickly and, just maybe, a tough uncompromising attitude was born. Ross’s mum Madge brought up Ross and his brothers Graeme and Douglas, and sister Meredith. Madge loved golf and was extremely supportive of her children’s sporting endeavours.

Ross was an extremely promising junior cricketer, playing in the victorious country colts Victorian cricket side; making 38 versus the combined schools. Ross, also the gun junior footballer, played in the senior Grand Final for Kyabram against Shepparton  in 1965 (Tom Hafey was the playing coach of Shepparton, kicking two goals and then went from there to his legendary coaching career at Richmond). Kyabram lost by seven points and Ross admits missing a crucial goal, hitting the post during the last quarter, is one of his biggest sporting regrets.

Ross was chased by 10 of the 12 Victorian clubs but the lure of playing cricket for Melbourne and football under the coaching of Norm Smith won. Though the chase of Ross had its amusing moments. Richmond visited Kyabram to recruit another player, Dick Clay, but also to visit Madge on the Golf Course to sound her out about the possibility of Ross also going to Richmond. The Richmond officials were Secretary Graeme Richmond and Jack Dyer.

On his way to play golf in 1965 at Kyabram on his bike, Ross was met by two Geelong officials, coach Bob Davis and Secretary Leo O’Brien, who offered Ross the opportunity to accompany the Geelong team that year on an end of season trip to Hawaii. Ross spoke to his Senior Master at Kyabram High School, Ossie Nelson (who he was playing football with and was his cricket captain) re. what he should do. His advice was that if he did not intend to select Geelong to play VFL with then he should decline their kind offer. For a lad never having been out of Kyabram it was a huge lure but honesty in wanting to play for the Dees Won through.

Ross attended Melbourne boys high school and debuted at the age of 17 in the first round of the 1966 season (running down the race in front of 66,000 at the ‘G is one of Ross’s three career favourite moments and achievements) and playing centre half forward in his debut as well!

Ross made a huge early impression on the VFL competition in general, alas only to hurt his knee  at training after his sixth game. He was restricted to 14 games in the following three seasons. Ross played 85 games for the Dees topping their goal kicking in ’69 and ’70 and playing for Victoria in their star studded side in the ’69 carnival dominating for the bloody Vics. He replaced the injured Royce Hart in the final against South Australia kicking three goals.

Amusingly, and to highlight how footy has changed, Ross received a letter and cheque from Melbourne for $20 congratulating him on making the Victorian side.

Footy wasn’t so much a lucrative business in the ’70s

Another highlight of Ross’s career was in 1970, after being best afield for Melbourne in their win against South Melbourne, Ross was chosen by the VFL along with Ross Smith the St Kilda captain and Brownlow Medalist, and Footscray ruckman and Brownlow Medalist John Schultz to entertain and commentate for the royal visit of the Queen, Prince Phillip and Princess Anne at the Richmond versus Fitzroy game in 1970 (geez they picked the good looking geezers, Roscoe!)

Who hasn’t tried to explain footy to their head of state?

Ross had achilles problems in ’72 (through too much road running) and, despite being one of Melbourne’s best players, was not offered a contract at the end of the season (there were a limited number of contracts offered). Ross was approached by Norwood, specifically Rex Wilson and Wally Miller, and never having loved living in Melbourne decided to move to SA. The Dees’ loss was definitely the Redlegs’ gain!

My first memory of Ross is through cricket when I scored for Kensington as a youngster. Ross was a elegant upright middle order batsman and seam up opening bowler. He was a very good cricketer for the Browns (he would be in huge demand and perfectly suited to today’s cricket).

On his arrival at the Norwood Football Club in ’73 Ross duly topped our goal kicking with 46 goals. However, it was in 1975 that he dominated, finishing third in the Magarey Medal, making the Advertiser Team of the Year, and winning the club’s Best and Fairest and leading goal kicker awards with 66 goals.

Ross had played very well against Glenelg at the Bay towards the end of the minor round so come the Second Semi Final Wayne ‘Butch’ Phillis was assigned to stand Ross. Well, he held and harassed Ross all day (if Ross had been payed the free kicks he deserved Robin Bennett would still be blowing his whistle) and Glenelg ended Norwood’s 16 game unbeaten run. In the Preliminary Final against Port Adelaide Ross was a solid contributor.

Again, in the Grand Final, Glenelg employed the same tactics until at three quarter time, with Neil Button and Michael Gregg dominating in the ruck, Neil Kerley moved Butch into the ruck and away from Dillon. Ross standing Colin Anderson in the last quarter suddenly had the chance to run and jump at the footy and, geez, didn’t he deliver!

 

 

Ross received a lucky free kick in the last few minutes (he was due) and, going back to have the shot for goal, admits he thought of the missed goal for Kyabram in ’65. Ohhh, the mental demons in sport! He duly kicked the vital goal – what fantastic memories and emotions in our first flag in 25 years. I remember my dad, Ray, kissing this stranger in the crowd (with her consent) and she was very, very attractive – well played by the old man.

And the commentary: “Gallagher’s killed McFarlane”, “Johnny Wynne: he might have given out plenty but by god he’s copped plenty as well”, “Rod Pope he’s got my vote for the Seiko” (I may have watched it once or twice). It was sensational and just so emotional. Ross rates it with his first VFL game and the ’69 carnival playing for Victoria as his three favourite footy moments and achievements.

At the end of 75 Ross was approached by Melbourne and North Melbourne to return to Victoria which Ross rejected and does not regret one bit. In ’76 Ross finished the year strongly kicking eight goals against Glenelg at the Bay.

 

 

He also kicked six goals in our Elimination Final win against West Adelaide and four against Sturt in the First Semi Final loss (Michael Graham is still running bloody laps of Footy Park without bouncing the ball… I don’t hold a grudge).

In ’77 Ross kicked 20 goals and with his body catching up with him decided to accept the offer of Reserves Captain/Coach in ’78. The intention was not to play league footy whatsoever but through injuries and his own good form in the Reserves, Ross played towards the end of the year and during the early finals but was back to captain/coach a convincing win against West Adelaide in the Reserves Grand Final. He kicked 42 goals for the reserves that year. Ross played two more Reserves games at the beginning of ’79 then promptly retired.

Outside footy, Ross when he first arrived in Adelaide worked at Ensign Holdings who were purchased by Spotless. Without really enjoying working life and feeling unfulfilled an opportunity arrived re. a new shopping centre on the Parade to open a newsagency. Ross is indebted to ex-Norwood Mayor Jack Richards (a very keen Norwood supporter) for his help. Ross studied the newsagency industry thoroughly and with his customary determination and attention to detail succeeded. Within two years he had expanded and acquired the building next door; within three years an opportunity presented to buy the West Lakes newsagency, which he did through the sale of the Norwood newsagency.

Ross has been a huge success in the newsagency and book game (a bloody hard field to succeed in). Since starting the Norwood Newsagency in 1978, Sue and Ross have either started or purchased 17 retail businesses throughout suburban Adelaide, built them and sold them except for their best business – Dillon’s Norwood Bookshop on the Parade which they have retained. This 32 year old business will have it’s seventh expansion in mid-2018, which will further enhance its reputation as a Norwood icon.

Ross Dillon’s iconic Norwood bookshop

Ross was appointed to the Adelaide Football Club board towards the end of ’97 and served to the end of 2000. Bob Hammond approached Ross to take over as Chairman in 2001. Unfortunately there is often more politics in sport than in politics. Ross is a man of class and honor – I will say I firmly believe Ross being chairman would have been in the best interests of the Adelaide Football Club and the SANFL. Alas, it was not to be.

Ross has also been captain of Kooyonga Golf Club and a leader in business, receiving incredible support from his wonderful wife Sue. I wish to congratulate and thank Sue and their children Alexandra, Hamish (aka Thrasher), Alistair, and Angus for making his newspaper clippings into a brilliant book on Ross’s fantastic career (I have been as happy as a pig in you know what borrowing it for the last few weeks).

Ross has suffered further tragedy in his life, with his older brother, Graeme, passing away from cardio myopathy (https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/heart-conditions/cardiomyopathy) in 2002 and younger brother, Douglas, taking his own life in 2003. Douglas played three games for West Perth in ’87 with John Wynne being the coach.

Ross’s significant influences on his career are Kyabram mentor Clive Fairbairn, Norm Smith and Bob Hammond (I love that Ross calls John Wynne ‘Digger’ in that he is the person you would most want next to you in the trenches).

Kyabram Highlights
– Hall of Fame Membership of the Kyabram Football Club (19 Games plus what followed)
– Member of Kyabram Cricket Club Team of the Century (alongside Test Players Matthew Elliott and Jim Higgs)
– Named in Top 10 Kyabram sportsmen of last century (including World Champion Sprint Cyclist Steven Pate, footballers Dick Clay and Gary Lyon, and Test Cricketers Higgs and Elliott)

 

I wish to congratulate Ross on a fantastic career, in both sport and business, and thank him for the odd quiet bit of advice over the years. It’s time to make the almanac Red and Blue Blooded!

 

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Comments

  1. Great read once again Malcolm, brings back some wonderful memories. I don’t think I will ever experience the emotion of that night in 75 at the oval ever again. I would have liked to see Ross involved more with the club, but I guess due to pressures of business that would have been difficult.

  2. Nice one Rulebook. I remember Dillon as being medium height for a key forward but vice like hands.
    I’ll kick off:
    Back 2 John Wynne; 4 Russel Ebert; 5 Peter Woite; 6 Peter Marker; 7 Ross Dillon; 8 Sandy Nelson; 10 Colin Casey
    Front 1 Peter Carey; 5 Paul Bagshaw; 6 Mick Nunan

  3. Really great article. I love the photos too. I don’t remember him in his playing days. I was a bit too young.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Fred Phillis, John Wynne, Bob Keddie, Russell Ebert, Peter Woite, Peter Marker, Ross Dillon, Sandy Nelson, Bruce Winter, Michael Taylor, Colin Casey

    Peter Carey, Greg Bennett, Brian Colbey, Snout McFarlane, Paul Bagshaw, Mick Nunan

    (Sonny Morey, Dean Mobbs, Peter Vivian and the late Tony Casserly were caught in traffic no doubt)

    Another fantastic contribution Rulebook.

  5. Bill Drodge says:

    Some of you best work there Malcolm!

    Ross was a player just a bit before my time, so I don’t really have any match day memories of him. But I know his reputation at Norwood was right up there with the best!

  6. Well written, I loved watch Ross as a kid boy could he take a good mark and was a great go to man up forward
    Also love his loyalty to Norwood in sport and business

  7. I loved watching Ross as a kid boy could he take a good mark and was a great go to man up forward
    Also love his loyalty to Norwood in sport and business

  8. Elliott Noad says:

    Money is the name of the game now sadly. When most players dedicated themselves to one club. Many great players had the chance but stayed remained loyal to end of their careers. Yes were a few that took on new challenges but now days they are there one season gone the next

  9. Campbell says:

    Very well written and a great insight for those of us who never got to see him play

  10. Martin Rumsby says:

    Excellent article, Malcolm and an interesting perspective on how the game has changed since the early 70’s. I’m not sure that too many of the frees paid in the ’75 GF would be paid today. Ross gave great service to Norwood.

  11. Good read Malcolm. I met Ross at a very flash party he put on for his daughter back in 96 at his lovely home in Hyde Park – the cold VB long necks being handed around by the hired staff were special!! It was a nice welcome to Adelaide anyway. Thanks Rosco!!

  12. Jeff Milton says:

    He was a highly skilled exceptionally talented forward who was one of a number of experienced players that Norwood recruited in the early 1970s to add to a playing group that was very talented but lacked a little experience. He really come to the fore in 1975 when he almost won the Magarey Medal and yes what a last quarter in the 1975 GF after he had been continually hit from behind in the first 3 quarters in what was avery physical game by both teams. A totally fair and courageous player who always had eyes for the ball despite being constantly thumped from behind by lesser skilled backmen.
    His contribution to NFC and the state in general has been significant. Glad he maintained his red and blue loyalty when moving states.

  13. Michael Rehn says:

    An excellent read Malcolm Ashwood, about a real Redleg champion. It always pleases me that our Champion Men of Norwood all seem to be champions in the community as well. Character and talent are the keys to success and Ross Dillon had both in spades !!!

  14. Nathan Watson says:

    Yet another tremendously written article Malcolm. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of him before, he was ahead of my time as I was born after he retired. Another one for that team of cricketers that had brilliant football careers. Very successful business post football. It would be amazing for any kids that read this today, footballers back then had to make money after football, unlike now were they make money playing the game. That’s more than one man should have to deal with in a life time with all the tragic events that have happened.

  15. Grenville Dietrich says:

    I used to kick the footy out the front with a neighbour in Mildura between our driveway’s as our goals. I used to be Alan Noonan and he used to be Ross Dillon, certainly brought back many childhood memories Mal…….

  16. Andrew Bishop says:

    Nicely done, Malcolm; I remember Ross’s first A grade game for the Browns against Adelaide University at the University Oval. He took something like 5 for 60 odd. And he was de facto on-field coach for the Legs, directing traffic and communicating strategy to his team mates. Always gives time to his old sporting acquaintances when he sees them on the Parade.

  17. A fascinating bio! Ross was a great sportsman and clearly excelled off the field too! Excellent article Rulebook.

  18. Dwayne Fuller says:

    Ross was one of many players as a young bloke I just loved to watch playing footy for NFC it was a fantastic time to be around the club so many legends and RD was right up there with the best of them another great article Malcolm cheers.

  19. Pamela Sherpa says:

    A wonderful article to read . Many thanks

  20. Arguably your best yet Book….Although I must admit I knew very little of Diions life outside of business and footy.
    Great read about one of my all time favorites.

  21. Kevin Martin says:

    Great read Malcolm

    Didn’t know he was that successful as a newsagent

  22. Rocket Singers says:

    Terrific piece about a terrific person. Well written.

    Knew the family in Ky as the Dillons as I used to go to the local footy with the Hiltons who sat with Madge Dillon.

    It was great to have a chat with Ross at the 2015 GVL Grand Final. He makes a major effort to come over from Adelaide whenever Ky are in the grand final.

    Norm Smith’s family thought so highly of Ross that he was a pall bearer at Norm’s funeral along with Peter Smith, Rick Quade and Ron Barassi.

  23. Thanks for that Rulebook. I like the update on the life since footy. Glad to see he has done well in the community

    I see that all the Sturt members of the team were on the right hand side.

  24. One of the strongest and most consistent overhead marks I’ve seen. It was a great era of football when SANFL clubs could steal quality players from the VFL. As for Dillon’s Bookshop, I’ve bought that many books from Ross over the years I can just about open my own store :)

  25. Michael Aish says:

    Another great insight Malcolm. One thing stood out for me watching Ross was his enormous work ethic . Had Ross as a coach in my first few games and the confidence he instilled into the young players was outstanding . Best of all Ross is a quality person and another who loves the Red and Blue.

  26. Wayne Schmaal says:

    Always a good read Book done well again found out things about Rosco I didn’t know.

  27. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Thanks folks Ross is a great man which hopefully I have done justice
    ( problems with the site and my I pad re commenting is proving frustrating

  28. Luke Reynolds says:

    Fantastic read Malcolm. Really enjoy how you blend the on-field stories of these players with their off-field stories too.
    Enjoyed the YouTube clips, Dillon looked a wonderful player.
    Will definitely check out Dillons Bookshop next time I make it over to Adelaide.

  29. Cameron Glenn says:

    Another great article. :)

  30. Garry Davis says:

    Good one Book. Ross had a great pair of hands as an outstanding “traditional ” CHF. Ross, I didn’t know about your cricket exploits but will have a chat down at Kooie one day. Good days when we could play footy AND cricket in the same lifetime!

  31. Amazing story brilliant reading well done RB

  32. Stirring piece RB. Gee he’s had his fair share of hardships. Some blokes just need that little piece of luck to become a “star”, but sounds like Norwood provided Ross with his opportunity.

  33. Great piece, Rulebook – a really good and informative read.

  34. Brett Zorzi says:

    Great article Rulebook
    I met Ross a few times and he was extremely passionate about the side returning to the finals and winning the cup. Many people used to compare a young Tex Walker to Ross Dillion which is a fine accolade. Just recently I heard him interviewed by SEN in Melbourne talking about his footy career for the demons. Must have been some sort of player! I feel privileged to be in the gym after Stazza funeral and Ross was absolutely brilliant in chairing the discussions about Stazz.
    All class on and off the field.

  35. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Love the comments,Rocket Ross is still a huge part of Kyabram,Aishy work ethic always a huge strength.
    Zorza being in the change rooms after,Stazzas funeral was a privledge and couldn’t agree more,Ross was brilliant getting every one to tell there favourite Stazza story it was a v appropriate wake

  36. Geoffrey Wilson says:

    Great read Malcolm, quite possibly your best work yet. Ross Dillon, what a fantastic player. One of my first memories of Ross playing for Norwood was against Port on a holiday Monday, early on in 73 at The Adelaide Oval.
    There was well over 30,000 in attendance, I was there with Mum and Dad and what a game he and Norwood had.
    Robert Oatey played him across half back this day and he marked everything, boy could he take a mark and was one of our best in a 10 goal victory.
    He went on to have a great career for Norwood, being one of the heroes in the 75 premiership after having a great 75 season.
    He is another Norwood person who is respected as much of the field as he was on it and as we know he is a very successful business man.
    Also thanks for reminding us about how good a cricketer he was. I had almost forgotten about his exploits at Kensington.
    Congratulations Ross on a great career and a great bit of work Malcolm.

  37. Ross Dillon says:

    Malcolm
    Many thanks for your effort to initiate and complete the article .
    I am humbled by the comments of your many contacts .
    Grenville reminded me of the game at the MCG ( Melb v Essendon ) in the 1960s when Alan Noonan and I played against each other ( CHF /CHB ) .
    As a kid in Kyabram , at half time of the VFL radio broadcast , my mate and I would be out in the back yard with the paper footy living the dream as Murray Weideman and Ken Fraser .
    The comments of Michael ( after his first training night , I recall stating to Bob Hammond that I believed we had another Russell Ebert here /I do not think Aishy needed any example from me re work ethic ) and Brett are much appreciated as they are players who travel inside the Norwood jumper .
    As with JC who obviously is in debt for a long neck or two .. his close mate Todd Davey also !
    I have rewatched the games a few times .. Turbs , Mike Olsen , 28 , Poults ( how good was his last quarter ?)
    , Seekers , Rocket , Rixy , Dr Lock , Butto , Gags , Duck . Some said Glenelg were unlucky … but difficult to beat a team with that intent
    Thanks .. there are many memories .. and you have caused me to be reminded of many
    including all the good people sport has brought me in contact with .
    Thanks
    Roscoe

  38. Good story Rulebook. Well written. Interesting character. Keep em coming.

  39. Elliott Noad says:

    My connection with the Dees goes back over 60yrs when my grandfather put me down at 6 weeks old. Tried to get into school footy team it was close not all i manage to do was boundary umpire. I then played school hockey. Don’t worry Ross I followed them with a passion. Saw a few flags as a young adult ended up playing hockey for MIX my grandfather accepted that as it was dees top. This my 50th year as a member I still follow now thru the good and bad but hopefully this year may be our turn. On the hockey again living in Benalla I splayed against Kyabram on quiet a safe field at the school there was limb hanging over the field. As coach of the U/16 first season played Kyabram GF sorry Ross my boys played awesome game with a 7-1 win. That’s all my waffling on but do you remember as great player for Melbourne well done Ross
    Elliott

  40. Among your best ‘Book. Love hearing the stories behind the players.

    The eponymous bookshop on the Parade is a beauty too, with a great range.

    Thanks.

  41. What another fantastic read Malcolm! I remember as a young buck my old man telling me on a daily basis, how good Ross was (actually spoke a lot about Dick Clay too). I remember when I first watched the 75′ GF (several years after the actual game) thinking “He must be as good as dad says because the Bays keep trying to knock his block off”! Growing up in West Lakes I’d regularly see Ross at the Mall, but was too shy to say anything (how times have changed haha) to the great man. Wish I’d been able to see plenty of our Red and Blue heroes of the past and Ross has always certainly been one that fits that category. Thanks for the read RB!

  42. Matt Zurbo says:

    Rulebook you are a freak! Your pieces just get better and better. These peices take an awful lot of work For Chist’s sake, will someone in SA footy employ this man as a statesman/historian/custodian of your culture and pride!?

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