“Our coach Frank Dixon convinced us we could beat Victoria (in 1949)” – Jack Dean

A remarkable man lost in the history of football times. Rod Gillett profiles the nomination of Frank Dixon to the inaugural AFL – NSW Hall of Fame:

                 The former Frank Dixon Grandstand                                                   at Trumper Park in Sydney

South Sydney Rabbitoh, South Sydney premiership captain-coach, NSW player, captain and coach, Rat of Tobruk, Senior-Vice President NSW ANFL, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney

Frank Dixon did it all in a remarkable career in sporting and civic life stretching from the late 1920s until he stepped down as Deputy Lord Mayor in 1961, declining the opportunity to succeed Harry Jensen as Lord Mayor of Sydney.

“He was a charismatic leader. A great motivator. We respected him enormously” Jack Dean told me in an interview in 2008. “We trained for weeks in advance of the game with the aim of beating Victoria”.

NSW lost that game after a tight first half with the Vics only seventeen points up at half-time. However, with VFL stars Bob Davis, Bobby Rose, Les Foote and Brownlow medalist Don Cordner firing, the Vics ran away to record a resounding win.

At the reunion of the 1949 team at the 1990 NSW v Victoria game Frank Dixon walked into the SCG Trust Suite to meet his charges after being feted by the AFL at the pre-match official dinner and declared, “I’m like Mark Antony walking into Cleopatra’s tent, I haven’t come here to talk!”

Frank Dixon was born in Waterloo and grew up in the South Sydney district which was to remain central to his life in football and politics. He initially played footy for the Daceyville Junior Waratahs club and won the competition best and fairest in 1926.

However, like so many young men in the South’s district, Frank Dixon wanted to play rugby league for the Rabbitohs, and he did in 1928 and 1929.

In 1930 he returned to football and thus began his long and fruitful association with the South Sydney Australian National Football Club as a player, captain, and coach in the club’s most successful era.

Frank took on the role of captain-coach in 1934 and led Souths to its first premiership since 1914. The pen pic of Frank Dixon in the Football Record for the 1935 grand final read:

“Frank Dixon is an inspiring captain and has the whole-hearted confidence of his team-mates. He has outstanding knowledge of the game and should be able to keep command of the game in the position of follower and half forward”.

He was to lead Souths to another premiership in 1935 and to runner-up in 1936 and 1937.

Frank Dixon
               Frank Dixon

Frank Dixon captained NSW for the first time in 1935 when he led the Sky Blues against the Victorian Amateur representative team at the SCG. As skipper led NSW to home-and-away victories over fierce rivals Queensland.

He became captain-coach of the State team the following season and led NSW at the national amateur carnival in Adelaide where the Sky Blues beat South Australia and Tasmania.

The profile in the match day program for the carnival said of the NSW captain-coach:

“….possesses football personality on and off the field, and has the ability to bring the best from his men.”

Frank enlisted in the AIF in May 1940. He served in the 9th Division of the AIF in the western desert and New Guinea until 1945. After surviving the Siege at Tobruk, he was badly wounded at El Alamein and was evacuated to Australia but recovered to serve in the Pacific theatre.

After the war Frank settled back into civilian life and resumed work for the Sydney City Council. But the call to re-join football was strong and he was invited to join the state ruling body, the NSW ANFL, as senior vice president in 1947 as well as coach and selector of the NSW State team.

He took charge of the State team for the 1947 ANFC Carnival in Hobart. Under his tutelage, NSW beat Canberra and Queensland, lost by ten points to hosts Tasmania and were well beaten by the SANFL.

The 1947 Carnival team included players from Broken Hill and the Riverina as well as players from Sydney such as cricket star Keith Miller (Sydney Naval), Roy Hayes (Eastern Suburbs, Ossie Grose (Newtown) and former Henty player Neil Stevens (Eastern Suburbs).

Frank was again coach of the State team at the 1950 ANFC Carnival in Brisbane. NSW were placed in Division II beat Tasmania and Queensland but lost to Tasmania and the Australian Amateurs.

He finished his tenure as coach at the end of the 1952 season. Altogether as a player and coach he was involved in twenty-seven representative fixtures for NSW.

As a senior vice president of the NSW ANFL, Frank Dixon went to Melbourne by train to attend a meeting of the ANFC in 1947 to secure a grant to fund a licenced club in Sydney to promote the game. However, upon his return with a cheque of £5000, the league delegates resolved not to proceed. Frank always regarded this as “golden opportunity missed”.

                 1949 NSW Team v Victoria at the SCG

After finishing with football politics, Frank Dixon turned his attention to local government. A long time ALP member and party official he was elected to the Sydney City Council as an alderman in 1956 and served as Deputy Lord Mayor in 1960-61.

The Sydney City Council named the grandstand at Trumper Park in his honour.

Frank said, outside of football, his crowning glory to the community was the construction of the El Alamein Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens, Kings Cross in Sydney.  “That project was mine, I did that”  Frank told us.

 

Source:: Frank Dixon six-part podcast
interview with Ian Granland (a good listen)

 

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JACK DEAN ‘PRINCE OF PLAYERS’ IN SYDNEY FOOTBALL

Jack-Dean3-207x300In the 1949 interstate match between NSW and Victoria at the SCG nineteen year old East Sydney ruckman Jack Dean went up against veteran Victorian captain Jack Dyer at the opening bounce.

“He sat me on my arse!” Jack told me over a few beers. We were at Harry McAsey’s pub in Alexandra after a tribute lunch for our late mate and fellow NSW Football History committee member Ted Ray a few years ago. I put the tape on to record our conversation which was considerably enhanced by the consumption of schooners of Reschs.

“The Vics. cleaned us up that day, but it was a great thrill to play against them” recalled Jack. “We thought we were a chance, our coach Frank Dixon (later a Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney) was a great motivator and we trained for weeks in advance with a view to beating them”.

Victoria were ‘too polished’ according to Keith Miller’s report in The Daily Mirror. Yes, that’s right, the great Australian cricket all-rounder who had recently retired from football had taken up a new career as a journalist. Miller had represented NSW at the ANFC interstate carnival in 1947 after moving to Sydney to play cricket for NSW after the Second World War.

In addition to the grizzly old Tiger, Jack Dyer, other famous names in the Victorian team for that match were Bob Davis, Bobby Rose, Les Foote, Don Cordner and Bert Clay, who if state-of-origin rules were in place would have been wearing a sky blue guernsey. Clay was recruited to Fitzroy from Henty in southern NSW.

Jack Dean played 25 times for NSW in interstate matches and was voted the Blues best player at the 1958 centenary carnival in Melbourne in 1958. He must have been unlucky not to have been selected in the All-Australian team.

Born and bred in Paddington, Jack went down to Trumper Park with his brother Mal in 1944 and thus began a distinguished football career that took in almost 400 games until he retired in 1966.

His father Joe had played for East Sydney and Jack’s son Marshall also played for Easts. A handy rover, ‘Marsh’ is a raconteur who in tandem with Stephen ‘Bomber’ McClure (brother of Mark ‘Sellers’ McClure) provided their team-mates with many hilarious moments at their favourite pub in Paddington, the Grand National.

Jack was a star performer in the Easts teams that won a staggering six premierships in a row from 1952-59 firstly under captain-coach, Fred Pemberton, then Alf Penno with the last under club legend Roy Hayes. Following his stand-out performance at the 1958 carnival Jack took up an offer to coach Ardlethan in the South-West League in southern NSW.

“I was the only non-ex VFL player coaching in the league.”  ‘The Heap’ (former South Melbourne captain Ian Gillett) was coaching Coolamon, ex North Melbourne star Gerald Eastmure was in charge at Leeton, Footscray’s Brownlow medalist Peter Box was coaching Grongy (Grong Grong Matong), and Don Keyter (ex South Melbourne) was at Griffith. “It was a strong league”, recalled Jack.

“We struggled to match it with the clubs from the bigger places, but we always took it up to them. We had lots of good times afterwards particularly at the London (Ardlethan’s only pub). After 6 o’clock the publican would pull down the blinds and we’d have a great sing-along around the piano. The other clubs used to love to stay back after a game at Ardlethan”

“We made lots of good friends down there and still in contact with them”, but Joy (Jack’s wife) was a city girl and was pretty keen to return to Sydney to be near family, so we came back.”

Jack returned to his old club, East Sydney for the 1961 season. But the next season Jack was enticed to join local rivals Sydney Naval that shared Trumper Park with Easts, but trained down at Rushcutters Bay.

“I’d formed a close friendship with (rover) Danny Wilson through playing together in state teams. Plus, of course, there was a bob in it for me. They were a well run club at this stage and were well supported by some of Sydney’s biggest bookmakers who fielded at the races on Saturdays and came to the Aussie Rules on Sundays.”

Sydney Naval beat Newtown for the 1962 premiership in Sydney of which Jack was part. He played out his career with Sydney Naval until he retired in 1966.

Following this, Jack then turned his hand to administration and after joining the East Sydney committee became club president from 1970 till 1982.  He presided over another golden period for the Bulldogs during which they won six premierships. The most satisfying was for the club’s centenary year, 1980, when under Austin Robertson they thrashed North Shore in the grand final at the Sydney Showgrounds by 121 points.

“After going through the previous season undefeated we got beaten in both finals, which was terribly disappointing. We got ‘Oscar’ to take over from Alex Ruscuklic. We had assembled a very good team with players like Wayne Goss, Ian Allen, Grant Luhrs and Jim Richardson, plus we had retained Peter Ruscuklic as full-forward.”

Ruscuklic was a prolific goal kicker for Easts booting huge tallies of 136 (1979), 156 (1980), and 213 (1981).

A big let-down was expected the next season after the centenary triumph, but Jack had the inspiration to appoint local player Greg ‘Huey’ Harris, who had returned to footy from rugby union in 1979 and missed the premiership season with a knee injury.

Harris master-minded one of the great comebacks in Sydney footy history by leading the Bulldogs to a 89 point win over Sam Kekovich’s Newtown in the 1981 grand final. Easts had been down by 90 points at ¾ time in the second semi but came back to lose by only 10 points.

“Greg was a natural leader. He possesses great people skills, he can lead men. I had become a good friend of his father Col, who I played against when he coached St George. I just knew he would make a successful coach”

“Huey’ sure did he led East Sydney to premierships in 1981, 1982 and 1983 moulding a bunch of eccentric characters and ace footballers into an almost unbeatable combination. Easts won another premiership for good measure in 1984 under Wayne Goss“ Jack Dean was chairman of selectors.

Jack was a selector for many years for State teams and was Alan Jean’s trusted chairman of selectors when Jeans coached NSW in the Escort Cup in 1979-80 when the Blues almost upset the highly fancied Fitzroy (remember the ‘fat full forward for NSW’ Laurie Pendrick kicking 7 goals on then Victorian full-back Harvey Merrigan?) and Richmond in its premiership season.

Jack would go out to the airport in his plumbing truck and pick up Jeans for training. “He is a terrific fellow (Alan Jeans), a great football brain, but more importantly he had the ability to pass it on” according to Jack.

He continued on as chairman of selectors under Sam Kekovich and later, Greg Harris. It was in this period that I got to know Jack as I was the Country team manager for the state squad. Sam and Jack would fly down to Wagga on weekends to conduct training. Following a brisk, light training run we would head off with fellow selectors local legend Greg Leitch and former Essendon star Bobby Greenwood (who would drive over from Griffith in his Pontiac Parisienne) for a long lunch to discuss team selections.

In those days most people in Wagga stayed at home for a roast on Sundays so I used to get a Chinese restaurant to open up especially for us. Sam would always order up big, then feign that he’d forgotten his credit card and ask Jack if he could pay for the meal and claim it back from the league. Jack would always pay and never make a claim.

These days Jack is highly involved in the NSW Footy History Committee and he heads up the committee that selects the members for the local Hall of Fame each year.

Jack was the first player elected to the NSW Hall of Fame in 2003. The Eastern Suburbs-UNSW best and fairest trophy is also named in his honour. He is also a life member of the club.

This year Jack has been nominated for the AFL’s Hall of Fame. In recent years players and officials from the other states have been justly honoured but there is yet to be a non VFL/AFL player from NSW elected. Unlike the other nomination from North Melbourne via North Wagga, there are no issues about character. Jack Dean is True Blue.

Story by Rod Gillett – former Commissioner NSWAFL and former History Society Committee person.