Almanac (Footy) Memoir: The day I met Captain Blood

by Murray Walding

 

 

The old kitchen lino came up and revealed a layer of musty newspapers from the thirties. The  yellowing sports pages had reports of that weekend’s Tiger’s games and made fascinating reading, even if I was still in primary school.

 

One of the feature articles was titled Curbing Rough Play. Rough play was big news when I was a kid and St Kilda’s tough backman, Eric Guy had shirt-fronted Bobby Skilton  at the Lakeside Oval just a few weeks before. Biffo was as common on the muddy ovals around Melbourne as it was in the public bars of pubs throughout the city. The controversy about rough play was fuelled by football commentators such as Alf Brown and helped along by football personalities like Richmond’s Jack ‘Captain Blood’ Dyer.

 

The controversy about rough play dated back to the earliest days of the game and in Dyer’s playing days, it was still of some concern, so as a precocious football supporter I thought Captain Blood might find the yellowing piece of sports coverage worth reading, so I cut the feature out carefully mailed it to him, care of Richmond Football Club. I never  expected  a reply from a figure as legendary as Jack Dyer so I wasn’t disappointed.

 

Our family had connections. Connections that dated back to when my grandfather and his brothers played for Richmond. Connections that made it easier to gain access to the dark and mysterious rooms under the old grandstand at the Punt Road oval, so when a cousin- an ex-player at Tigerland, offered to show me through the rooms at Punt Road a few weeks later, I was excited…and a little apprehensive too.

 

I met my cousin at the side entrance to the clubrooms before a home game against Graham Arthur’s Hawks. He ushered me along a dingy corridor that led under the stand and into the club’s boardroom. Rows of  team photos  hung from the walls around the rooms. Pennants hung  in the corners, gathering dust. A tiger-skin lay draped across the board room table and my cousin happily pointed out the bullet hole in the side of the Tigers head, but the skin was faded and looked decidedly mangy. My cousin  pointed to an aging photo hanging far above me and pointed out my grandfather standing in the back row, a sombre look on his face.

 

The sound of the nearby change rooms echoed down the old wooden corridors as my cousin ushered me through the crush of busy grown-ups until we reached a door painted in bright yellow. We pushed the door open and walked into the hustle and bustle of the Tigers changing rooms. My cousin eased me into a corner between some lockers and a row of benches and told me to wait until he came back.

 

The tang of eucalyptus and liniment was bracing and intoxicating, and even as a young kid I could sense the tension in the air as players pulled on their jumpers, tied their boot laces or climbed onto the wobbly trestle tables for a brisk rub-down. I stood there gobsmacked. Some players were wearing strange underwear with no fabric covering their behind and others wore nothing but their Richmond  jumpers as they climbed onto those trestle tables. I was too shocked to be embarrassed, especially when I looked around the change-room at the crowds of supporters standing around the walls. Old men, ex-footballers, rusted on supporters, injured team members all  looking on in glum anticipation but I was shocked. There were women there too. Scattered through the crowd of onlookers were women; grown-up women, watching the goings-on.

 

My cousin got to me before all the blood drained from my face and pushed me through the crowd and prodded a man in a brown suit jacket. The man turned. It was Jack Dyer.

 

‘G’day Jack, this is my young cousin. This is the kid I was talking about.’

 

Dyer peered down at me. The gathering of ladies in the change room had already shrunk me to half my height. Meeting Captain Blood face to face made me shrink even more.

 

‘Oh. So you’re the young kid I’ve heard about!’

 

I gulped.

 

‘Yeah, I’ve been looking for you. So you’re the cheeky young bugger that sent me that letter with the article about rough play are you?’

 

I nodded…and quaked.

 

Dyer stuck out his hand and I reached up to shake it. My hand disappeared almost up to my wrist in his giant paw. He shook it firmly and for the first time he smiled at me. A big genial smile.

 

‘So you’re Joe’s grand-kid are you? Joe was a nice chap. A real Tiger.’ He patted me roughly on the head. ‘Very nice to meet you, youngster.’

 

Then he turned and ambled back through the crowd. Things were getting serious in the change rooms now and he didn’t want to miss it.

 

That sense of excitement got right under my skin and I broke out in goose-bumps, but deep down inside I knew that the dream I had of one day playing for the Tigers had suddenly faded away. There was no way I was going to play for the Tigers. Especially if that meant having a rub down on a rickety table in front of a smattering of women, while I wasn’t wearing my footy shorts. Not ever.

 

 

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Comments

  1. A truly larger than life figure at Punt Rd; I can only imagine just how large he must have seemed as a little tacker, Murray…

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