TONY Jewell decided at the age of 10 that he wanted to be a League footballer – but not necessarily for the reason his mum was expecting to hear when he told her of his burning ambition.
And play in the big League, the VFL, he did: 80 games for Richmond between 1964 and 1970, none of them memorable for the quality of his contribution. Asked if he could recall even one game where he had been “in the zone”, playing like a champion, he said bluntly: “No, never.”
But he’s still a Tiger hero, officially recognised as such at a ceremony before a match last season.
That’s because one of those games was in a winning Grand Final against Geelong in 1967 and because he also coached a premiership team, the one that thrashed Collingwood by a then-record margin of 81 points in 1980. This double is unheard of since the mists of time at Tigerland. Jack Dyer, in 1943, Percy Bentley in 1934 and Dan Minogue in 1920 and 1921 were all Richmond premiership captain-coaches, so Jewell is the only man to do it in both roles separately.
He admits he might have been a bit lucky to have got a game in ’67.
In a pre-finals match he “accidentally” – ha! – broke Carlton star John Goold’s nose, much to the delight of Tigers powerbroker Graeme Richmond, who was a more powerful figure at the club than the president Ian Wilson or the coach Tom Hafey.
“GR hated Carlton with a passion. He would patrol the rooms before games against them, shouting about these Jewish, Italian, filthy-rich bastards – we’re just working class,” Jewell says.
“If I hadn’t whacked Goold I don’t think I’d have played in the Grand Final.”
But there was more to come from the legendary administrator. “After we beat the Blues in the semi-final, GR called me and said he expected to meet them again in the decider and if so I would be expected to knock out their captain-coach Ron Barassi at the first bounce.
“For the next week I couldn’t concentrate on anything I was doing, all I could think of was what John Nicholls and Serge Silvagni would do to me if I obeyed that order.
“As it turned out, Carlton didn’t make it to the Grand Final so I didn’t have to do it.
“But I think if I had my time over again, I would probably say no. I used to do it during a game if you did your block or something, but to cold-heartedly just knock a bloke out is a very difficult thing to do.
“In those days if you couldn’t play and were a bit mad and didn’t mind whacking blokes they put you in the backline, and if you were clever and smart – and a bit timid – it would be the forward line. So I played in the back pocket.”
Jewell, 75, was recounting all this on Friday at the fortnightly lunch hosted by former Carlton ruckman Percy Jones, 72, at the North Fitzroy Arms pub, which –as fans of both their clubs with long memories would instantly understand – was an appropriate environment for any discussion of the old Tiger’s willingness to throw a punch or two in the direction of anyone in navy blue.
The pair were still dining out, literally, on the infamous occasion when as opposing coaches they had a few swings at each other during the quarter-time break in the 1980 elimination final at the now defunct VFL Park, Waverley.
Jewell says he is still asked about it all the time and says Jones told him to bring his mouthguard to the lunch, but any lingering ill-feeling dissipated many eons ago. They can’t remember whether any blows actually landed, but Jewell had the last laugh with Richmond winning easily and proceeding to turn him into a premiership coach.
The next year, they didn’t make the finals – and he was unceremoniously sacked. He went on to coach St Kilda and then Richmond for a second stint and was sacked from both those jobs too, before also serving as a chairman of selectors and a board director. Not bad for a bloke who reckons he never played a good game.
So what made him so keen to be a footy star?
At 10 he was getting a few games with an under 16 team coached by colourful former Carlton goalkicker Harry “Soapy” Vallance.
“In my first year, Soapy said something that changed my life forever,” he said. “He said, ‘Boys, because I was a VFL star I have been able to get a root in every town between here and the South Australian border, and two in some.’
“I had no idea what a root was but by the reaction of the 15-year-olds, it must have been something fantastic.
“So I told my mum that when I grew up I wanted to be a VFL footballer.
“She said ‘That’s nice, why?’ – so I told her what Soapy had said.
“She couldn’t believe her ears and told me to go and tell my father, who just started pissing himself laughing. So I knew then it must be fantastic.
“Unfortunately I played a VFL game before I got the root.”