Jack Dyer reflects on Richmond
DON 'MOPSY' FRASER was the most hated player to ever pull on a football boot. I doubt if he ever played in a match without being the centre of controversy.
I was supposed to be a football badman and was rubbed out for only four matches in 19 years. Mopsy lost 86 matches from his playing career. But don’t get carried away by his record, he was a football sensation and must go down as one of the greats of the game and of the Richmond club.
He was a breathtaking mark, a brilliant kick and had a beautiful baulk. If he could have controlled his ﬁery temper he would have won a Brownlow—but there was no known way he could control himself. When he went berserk he went deaf. I couldn’t get through to him at all. He was the most rugged and vicious footballer I have encountered.
Yet the ﬁrst day I saw him play I branded him a squib. He wouldn’t get into the game, he seemed scared stiff, but that was the one and only time I saw him funk out. He was a different man the next time he met Collingwood. He ran amok and ended by challenging the three Twomeys—Pat, Mick and Bill—to ﬁght. They accepted the invitation with alacrity.
In the struggle the umpire signalled a free kick for Mopsy. I was sitting on the boundary with trainer Scotty McDonald and the reserve umpire. The reservist shouted out it was not Fraser’s kick and Scotty turned round and hit him in the eye. I got the blame, but I was completely innocent. Another brawl broke out and a couple of soldiers, followed by two civilians, leaped the fence and headed for Mopsy. I moved in to help him, but one of the civilians yelled back, ‘It’s all right, Jack, we’re off-duty cops, we’ll look after it.’
I went back to console the reserve umpire, who was still holding his head and blaming me. He needed plenty of consolation; in fact, too much. Scotty was eventually rubbed out for 12 months.
The crowd gathered outside the rooms after the game was one of the biggest and ugliest I had seen. Mopsy and I left under police escort, followed by the horde. We decided against a drink in Collingwood, it wouldn’t have been politic, and we headed for Fitzroy.
We struck trouble when a group of young Collingwood louts in red sweaters and cropped hair picked on us. We were in plenty of trouble when a big wharﬁe type with a stutter pushed from the bar. ‘W-w-w-w-what’s t-t-the t-t-t-trouble, Jack?’ I explained and he waved a great ham ﬁst under the louts’ noses. Without a stutter he snarled, ‘Fighting, now that’s me caper.’ They left in a hurry and we shouted him plenty of beer.
Mopsy was never popular with football scribes and some of them used to get right under his skin. And if you could get under Mopsy’s skin just imagine how the critics can rankle the beginners and the battlers who are even more sensitive than Mopsy.
Alf Brown of the Melbourne Herald was one to fall out with him. Alf had given him a pretty thorough roast over a period of weeks. He walked into our dressing-rooms before a match and Mopsy, who had been resting on a table, jumped up and grabbed him by the shirt. ‘You glass-eyed —— I’m going to knock your damn head off,’ Mophead screamed.
I broke it up. ‘Get back on the table, you mug,’ I ordered Mopsy, ‘and you get out,’ I ordered to Brown. Alf was only pygmy size compared to Fraser, but he certainly didn’t lack courage. He took about 15 paces before turning round and running back at Fraser, still red with rage. He whipped off his glasses and roared: ‘Come on. I’ll have you, you big ——. You can knock me down again and again, but I’ll keep getting up and I’ll keep writing about you, only worse.’
I shot Brown out of the room again, the only time I have done it to a pressman, but I ﬁgured the odds were too much Mopsy’s way. I warned Fraser to be careful with the Press. ‘They can make you or break you.’
Fraser’s rough play worried not only the opposition but the umpires as well. Before one match an umpire approached me. ‘Tell Mopsy to break it down today and I’ll look after him.’
‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I tipped Mopsy to behave. On his form he had a good Brownlow chance. ‘Play the ball and he'll give you a feast.’
‘Right,’ said Mopsy. But he was hopeless. Five minutes after the ﬁrst bounce he was threatening to kill the umpire. He went berserk.
I claim the credit for turning Fraser into a champion centre half-back. In the early game he was centre half-forward and against St. Kilda he was opposed to Test cricketer Keith Miller. He took some fantastic marks, but missed his kicks for goal again and again. Disgusted after he missed his 10th straight, I roared at him, ‘Ratbags to the back line,’ and shot him straight into defence. He clicked immediately and had a rapid rise into interstate football. It is a remarkable thing about long, beautiful kicks like Fraser. Put him in front of a goal and he couldn’t kick, anywhere else he was faultless.
He applied psychology to his football and always had the measure of South’s Brownlow winner Ron Clegg and Geelong champion Fred ‘Troubles’ Flanagan. Troubles was a terrible worrier and Mopsy would say to me, ‘No worries today, I’m on Troubles.’ He would approach the Geelong champion and say: ‘Gee, Fred, you’re not looking well today. Do you feel up to it.’ Flanagan always tumbled right in: ‘Do you think so, Don. I do feel a bit off.’ It would be Mopsy all the way.
I don’t know what he used to say to Ron Clegg to beat him, but he can still rankle him. He scoffs at Clegg‘s Brownlow year. ‘You couldn’t have been so good that year, you were only 19th man in the state side and I played.’
Fraser had the ability to beat his opponent without resorting to anything but football ability, but didn’t seem to realize it. Against Melbourne, Geoff McGivern was giving him a bath, playing in front and beating him to the ball. At half-time I blew up. ‘I always told you to get in front— do it.’
As soon as the ball bounced he went running downﬁeld, ﬂattened McGivern with a hay-maker and kept running with the umpires after him. He had to be reported. He was, and his suspension was heavy. I said, ‘What on earth did you do that for?’ Quite genuinely he answered, ‘I thought you wanted me to.’ As coach I have often told players to go out and soften up an opposition player with bumps and hard, close play, and you can’t tell me any good coach doesn’t. The object is to win. If you play a more talented side you don’t meekly step aside and say, ‘It is your game sir.’ You soften them up, you look for a weakness. Hit them with everything you legally can. Nobody has ever been killed in senior football. Well, Mopsy was one player I never had to instruct to commit mayhem, it was reﬂex to him.
While I claim to have made Mopsy, he claims he won the Brownlow for South’s Fred Goldsmith. South supporters still claim Mopsy kicked Goldsmith and broke his ankle and they still hate him. Their story is that Goldsmith was playing his second match in League football, and kicked his ﬁrst goal. Mopsy is alleged to have said, ‘Kick another and I’ll see they carry you off.’ He kicked another and was carried off. The crowd was in uproar as Goldsmith writhed on the ground. I thought Mopsy would be lynched. They screamed at him and abused him all day. I believe Mopsy’s story that he only tried to trip Goldsmith and he must have fallen awkwardly. The upshot was that when Goldsmith returned to football he played in defence and made football history by being the ﬁrst and only full-back to win the Brownlow.
The late Bill Morris (left) was an unforgettable footballer. He was a football purist and a complete contradiction of Mopsy Fraser. The umpires loved him, the Richmond players fought for him and the opposition wouldn’t touch him. He was a player who always felt he was in ill health, but once you got him on the ﬁeld he gave you 100 per cent effort.
In a crucial match he was giving a great exhibition against Melbourne, although stricken with inﬂuenza. At half-time he was sick and dizzy. He asked for something to keep him going and I gave him benzedrine and he went out and sparkled. But after the match which he had done so much to win he collapsed in the rooms and had to be rushed to hospital.
He was one of those strange gentlemanly footballers. If he knocked somebody down he would stop and pick him up. There was nothing you could do about it. One day I burst through a pack and skittled an opponent. Bill stopped in his tracks to help him to his feet and Dick Harris, as hard as nails, snapped at him: ‘Let him die. Do you think Dyer’s knocking them down for you to pick up? When they’re down keep them down.’
It was water off a duck’s back to Bill. You could not get him to play tough football and I didn’t try, his value was in his artistry. I was the protector he was the craftsman in much the same fashion as Hefner had been my protector in my heyday. A good side must have a protector and he must be an experienced player awake to all the tricks.
Morris was a football artist. His ruckwork, palming of the ball and marking was a delight. He was idolized by the Richmond crowd and in a game against Collingwood I thought they would lynch me. I set myself to get Alby Pannam. He used to do a lot of sly little things on the ﬁeld and I ﬁgured his day of reckoning had come. He was clearly in my sights, for the ﬁrst time in his life he came out of the pack on his wrong foot and unbalanced and there he stood, a hopeless Magpie in my path.
I could see the whites of his eyes and the horror registering on his face as I bore down on him with my shoulder forward and tensed for the impact. He still had the ball. I felt as though I was travelling at 100 miles an hour with everything just right for the kill. It was going to be my best shirt-front ever, then to my horror the ﬁgure of Bill Morris suddenly blocked out my vision of Pannam. He let out a squeal, ‘Jacccckkkk . . . ahhh!‘ and CRASH. I had to leave him there in a crumpled heap and keep going after Pannam.
The crowd screamed for my blood and it was one of the few times a Richmond crowd turned against me.
The ability to ride a knock was a feature of Bill’s play. Many a time I’ve seen him in dire trouble. But he could take the knock and use it to position and balance himself. He could even baulk in mid-air. He was a football freak who comes but once in a lifetime.
Against Essendon he gave the most tremendous display of stamina I have seen. I rucked him throughout the ﬁrst three quarters. There was a wind blowing and favouring the Essendon goal in the ﬁnal quarter. He was exhausted, but we had a very slender lead and looked no-hopers kicking against the gale. He wanted a spell and I gave him ﬁve seconds. He went back on the ball and ran himself into the ground but saved the game. We had to help him off the ﬁeld.
Bill Morris was known as Paleface to his friends. His face was always as white as a sheet. His untimely death was a shock to us all. Morris was not only a great footballer but a great personality.
In my closing years as a player with Richmond I was a protector more than being a dangerous ruckman. When you are a protector you can expect a hostile crowd. A lot of my friends have en-countered hot spots of trouble by defending me to hecklers in the crowd. One of my staunchest supporters has always been my mother.
Against Footscray a character cut loose and called me for everything. 'You big rotten mug,. Dyer. You'll get yours, you big heap.' My mother spun on him. 'You wouldn't say that if his father was here.' He wasn't lost for a word. 'I wouldn't think he'd have a father, lady.' From then on my mother gave silent support.
This article is an excerpt from Captain Blood: Jack Dyer as told to Brian Hansen. Published in 1965 by Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd.