Jack Clancy: man of substance

Jack Clancy Tribute Speech

Most of the tributes to Jack have emphasized his extensive range of disciplines and interests. But we at University Blacks, given his 59 years of commitment to the club, could be forgiven for thinking it was his sole passion. Sort of an upmarket version of Collingwood’s Joffa.

With others covering Jack the family man, Jack the academic, Jack the innovator in film studies, Jack the crusader for the ABC, Jack the bon vivant, to name a few of this extraordinary man’s extraordinary talents, my focus falls to Jack and football.

First some facts. After a couple of seasons starring for the Blacks, one week mid season in 1957 Fitzroy selected him in the senior VFL team as a reserve. No interchange then, and Jack never took the field. A knee injury conspired to make it his only game. His coach Bill Stephen spoke at a luncheon in 2006 for Jack’s 50 years of service, and Bill reported that “no-one ever sat on a bench as well as Jack Clancy”.

He returned to the Blacks, played seniors for a few years, and in the University Reds and Blacks Reserves for what seemed forever. He won two best player in the competition awards, and captained and coached teams to premierships. He is in the Reds, now Fitzroy Reds, Team of the Century, and is honoured in the Melbourne University Team of the Modern Era, the period post 1945. Once retired, he held every possible office at the Blacks and the umbrella MUFC from chairman down. As he moved from being a contemporary of young players to an elder statesman, his ability to communicate with, understand and mentor them was amazing. It was all delivered with the hand of friendship and respect for the individual, no matter if it was the star player in the Seniors or the trainer for the Clubbies. I am so pleased my sons Tony and Ned, who are here today, knew him so well. A parent can’t buy that sort of help.

It is commonly said the test of a person is not in times of triumph, but adversity. Jack was one of only two long term supporters who, week after long week, followed the club in its 17 year slide from A Grade to E Grade by the 1990’s. Heroics of A Grade clashes with Old Xaverians and Old Scotch must have been distant memories while watching Blacks players being pulverized in the winter mud at Fawkner and Thomastown. Around such men is a culture moulded.

On the morning of the Blacks winning B Grade Grand Final in 2012, The Age carried a piece on the competing clubs. It quoted AFL legend David Parkin, who has stayed involved with the Blacks since his son coached us 10 years ago, as saying ”I’d have to say that the culture at the Blacks is the best culture of any footy club I’ve been involved with, including Carlton and Hawthorn.” On Jack’s tribute page 1980’s player Nick Heath has written, “Matthew Arnold said ‘Culture is the acquainting of ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit.’? Nick added “Seems like he knew Jack pretty well”.

Now Jack was no short term operator. For 33 years the Blacks’ best player count was held in the backyard at Acheron St. Patsy, the award winning translator could accurately translate the French word for tolerance as “Patsy Clancy”. For thousands of men that backyard holds some of their warmest, if foggiest, memories. And for most it is their only acquaintance with the complete works of George Eliot, or Schubert’s Trout Quintet in A Major.

The Blacks descent saw the historically mighty Blacks and the historically sociable Reds in the same grade, so Jack donated a cup. Paul Daffey’s book about grass roots football, Local Rites, records it “In 1998, the Rouge et Noir Cup was struck. The cup was named after the flamboyant 1836 novel, Le Rouge et le Noir by French writer Stendhal. Only in the Amateurs could football and French literature be mentioned in the same sentence.” What Daffey didn’t record was at a lunch to announce the cup Jack made the speech entirely in French, using an Irish accent.

Jack is the central character in a legendary story from intervarsity trips. The University of Tasmania players were on the same overnight train to Adelaide, and a cocktail of youthful competitiveness and youthful incapacity to handle alcohol caused a card game to cease being conducted with the participants remaining seated. The ensuing disturbance led to the police boarding the train at Ararat. A Tasmanian was quick to point to Jack as the instigator, and he was promptly bundled off the train and spent the night behind bars. Days later as the two teams lined up, some Melbourne players informed the Tasmanians that Jack was an absolute animal on the field, and was hell bent on retribution for his jailing. Amazingly his direct opponent was the police informant, who suitably terrified, never set foot near Jack all day, leaving him to kick six easy goals.

I’ve been back at the Blacks for just 15 years. We have won three senior premierships in the past 10 years and were a finalist in A Grade last year. I know that would have warmed Jack’s beautiful heart, by then housed in his failing body. From time to time I’m asked why I do it. I usually answer that a 160 year old club with such an admired culture, a culture which Jack Clancy helped mould in his own image and which has been such a positive influence on thousands of men, is worth the effort. What I hope I told Jack often enough is that his loyalty through the dark days was, and remains, such a powerful motivation that I and others would be ashamed not to follow his lead. All AFL clubs these days have leadership groups. The Blacks had Jack Clancy. I reckon we’ve had them covered for true leadership.

Rob Clancy rang me three weeks ago to ask about holding this function at the new Pavillion at the Melbourne University Oval. Jack would have loved that. But it is not available until May. But it is planned to take Jack back to the oval for a final visit, which fittingly for Jack will last for an eternity, as will his memory at University Blacks.

I have liked, admired and respected so many men and women I have met through football, but I loved Jack Clancy. I’ll miss him so much.





  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Superb Ray you made us all feel like we knew Jack brilliant ! Thank You

  2. Thank you, Ray. I always knew you loved Jack, but it wasn’t until I heard you deliver this speech at his wake that I realised quite how much. The pain of his loss has been quelled by the many, many beautiful expressions of love for my father.

  3. Thank you Ray for those beautiful words. I met Jack fleetingly during those years in the early 70’s when I trained with the Blacks. He was one of those people who seemed significant but I didn’t quite know how significant. Now I know. And isn’t it strange how it takes until somebody dies for their real story to come out. I now get the whole picture. Greg Baum started sketching it for me in The Age on the weekend and you have coloured in the blanks. A special man in every way. Renaissance man? -whatever that means, he was pretty close to it.

  4. Peter Temple says

    Ray, thank you for a wonderful piece. I taught in Jack’s department at RMIT for a few years. In both an intellectual and personal sense, he was far and away the best head of department I ever had. And I don’t think I’ve ever known a better man. My lasting regret is that I suspect that in the end I took unfair advantage of his great kindness and generosity of spirit. I am consoled only by the strong possibility that he would have forgiven me.

  5. Peter, he not only would have, he did. He was also quietly very proud of having part of himself in Jack Irish.

  6. Peter Temple says

    Rob, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have you say that. What is admirable in the fictional Jack Irish owes a great deal to the writer knowing the real Jack Clancy.

  7. Jim Radford says

    Superb Ray. Thank you. Captured the essence of Jack beautifully. As one who experienced the decline of the once mighty Blacks first hand from B to E, I was so often comforted by Jack’s mere presence. He didn’t have to say anything (though he often did of course) but just to know he was there and by our side was reason enough to get off the floor and try again. A truly great man.

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