Fifty-nine years after he last graced the Albury Sportsground, Jack Jones is still a revered figure at Tigerland.
He’s remembered for the part he played in a Golden Era of Ovens and Murray football …..when VFL champions in their prime, were lured by attractive financial packages and the opportunity to coach in the best country competition in the land.
Billy Stephen vacated the job as Fitzroy’s playing-coach to take over at Yarrawonga; Bobby Rose (“Mr.Football”) rejected a rich offer from East Perth, preferring instead to throw in his lot with Wangaratta Rovers. His Collingwood team-mate Des Healey headed to Wodonga; Sturt’s dual Magarey Medallist and All-Australian, Len Fitzgerald opted to take charge at Benalla. The brilliant Jimmy Deane, also a dual winner of the Magarey, shocked South Adelaide when he moved to Myrtleford…………
And Jones, who had been a key figure in a decade of Essendon dominance, was persuaded to ‘pull up stumps’ in the big smoke and bring his growing family to the relative serenity of Albury.
You may have heard the yarn about Jack passing through Albury one week-end late in 1954. As they hunted around for somewhere to prop for the night, he noticed a vacancy at a small Bed & Breakfast, and suggested to his wife Mary that it might might suit them.
“It belonged to Jack Adams, who was tied up with the Albury Football Club, and recognised me straight away. Instead of staying at the B & B, he invited us to share the hospitality of his family home.”
“The conversation naturally turned to footy, and Jack happened to mention that there was a coaching position available.”
A couple of weeks later, back home in Melbourne, he received a deputation from a couple of Albury officials. He’d already been approached by Moe, but, thanks to the contact he’d had with Jack Adams, was leaning towards Albury.
“I’d been getting the standard rate for a League player, which was, if I remember rightly, 8 quid a game. The Tigers’ offered 25 pounds per week.”
“I decided to take the job on.”…………….
Jack Jones was just eight when he tagged along with his dad, a fervent Essendon supporter, to watch Dick Reynolds make his debut against Footscray in 1934.
The dream of wearing the Red and Black was, if not already embedded in the youngster’s psyche, re-inforced from that moment on.
He played his junior footy with Ascot Vale CYMS. Perfectly-built and with plenty of pace for a lad who was a touch over 6 foot, the next step would naturally have been to Windy Hill.
But at 19 he was called up to serve in the Army, and was to spend the next 22 months exposed to the atrocities of World War II, in the jungles of New Guinea and Bougainville.
“It was outrageous, the war,” he once said. “No-one wins a bloody war. “ Of his company, 91 were killed, 197 wounded. “I was just lucky. The bullet or shrapnel just didn’t have my name on it.”
Jack had to wait another four months for a boat to take him home after peace had been declared.
In the early days he’d line up on a forward flank, then take an occasional ‘chop-out’ in the ruck. But he could be swung into key positions and shine with his high marking and long kicking. And with his pace, he was even used on a wing.
So the dream that began to form all those years ago, came to fruition when he ran out behind his coach, hero and triple Brownlow Medallist Dick Reynolds, in the 1946 Grand Final.
Jack was a reserve in that Premiership side, but was in the familiar role of centre half forward when Carlton’s Brownlow Medallist Bert Deacon picked him up in the 1947 decider.
The Bombers had 30 shots to the Blues’ 21, and were pipped by a point.
Essendon famously kicked 7.27 in the 1948 Grand Final, to dramatically tie with Melbourne (10.9). Spearhead Bill Brittingham, with 2.12, shouldered some of the blame for their woeful inaccuracy, but the Bombers just couldn’t find the big sticks.
The Demons comfortably won the replay.
Jack had a front row seat to the ‘John Coleman Show’ for the next few years. The arrival of the champion full forward put the icing on the cake, as the brilliant Bombers clinched the 1949 and ‘50 flags. And his absence, through suspension, for the ‘51 Grand Final, is blamed for their 11-point loss to Geelong.
After 175 games (133 of those consecutive), Jack Jones pulled down the curtain on his storied VFL career at the end of the 1954 season. He’d played in seven Grand Finals, for three flags, was adjudged Essendon’s best utility player in 1946, ‘47, ‘49 and ‘54, and the Best Clubman of 1953.
He had, one report said ‘….thrilled supporters with his marking and open play on the half forward line, and had been one of the fastest big men in the game, as well as taking a fair share of the ruckwork………..’
Jack shifted his family to Albury early in 1955, and landed a job at Rupert Hines’ Butchery, opposite the Albion Hotel.
The Tigers, under their new leader (wearing the number 24 that he’d made famous at Essendon, and the number of his army battalion) were tipped to be the big improvers. But after a solid opening-round win, they dropped their next five matches, to be in dire straits.
“I’d been playing at centre half back, but the selectors suggested I shift to centre half forward,” Jack recalls. “It was one of the moves that worked. We won 10 of the next 12 games.”
“We needed to win the last game and rely on another couple of results going our way to sneak into the finals, but it wasn’t to be.” ( Albury belted eventual runners-up, Wangaratta by 65 points, yet finished outside the ‘four’, with a percentage of 146.3, by far the best in the competition.)
“We had a very good side. I reckon we could have won it had we got in,” he says.
But there were to be no hiccups the following year. They lost just two games, en route to dismantling North Albury in both the second-semi and Grand Final.
It was a side that contained stars of the calibre of Lance Mann (who’d returned from Essendon), Dr.John Stoney ( a Bendigo 10,000 winner), ex-State rep Jimmy Robison, Leon Pain, Keith Thomas, and big ruckmen Barry Takle and John Ziebarth.
At 18, David Tighe was in his football infancy, and lined up on the flank, alongside Jones. He witnessed at first-hand the influence that he could have on a game.
“He was a prolific mark – nearly unbeatable in the air up here. I saw Jack mark six consecutive kick-outs from Neil Currie (the long-kicking Myrtleford full back), one day. He sent each one of them over his head. I think he ended up with seven goals for the game.”
Jones saved some of his finest football for the big occasions, and was the Tigers’ best in the two lead-up finals which preceded their 1957 Grand Final clash with Wangaratta.
It was a flag they should have won. Leading by 27 points at three quarter-time, the margin had been whittled down to less than a kick with a minute remaining.
“The fellah we had tagging Lance Oswald had done a great job – had kept him to three kicks for the day. Suddenly Oswald broke free and bobbed up in the pocket. He’s snapped the winning goal in the dying seconds,” Jack recalls.
Jones’s four goals in the Grand Final gave him 59 for the year. He followed up with another 49 in 1958, also finishing fifth in the Morris Medal. The season finished in disappointment, however, when Albury lost a gripping, sodden Prelim Final to Wodonga by four points.
He suffered a broken jaw mid-way through his final season with the Tigers (1959). “I wanted to get back out on the ground after a couple of weeks, but (Dr.John) Stoney wouldn’t have a bar of it, “ he says.
Jack had played 75 games and booted 171 goals in his five seasons at Albury. He played in O & M Country Championship-winning teams of 1955 and ’57.
He coached Kergunyah in 1960, then joined the Albury Umpires Board for a couple of years, before he and Mary and their growing family returned to Melbourne.
He spent 35 years with Gilbertson’s Meats, managing and doing financial planning for some of their 85 shops. That, and raising their six kids – Lynne, Peter, Brian, Tony, John and Anne-Marie – kept Jack and Mary busy.
Sons Tony and John both made an impact in football. John’s a member of the VAFA Hall of Fame, captained the Vic Amateurs and he and Tony also represented the VCFL in rep fixtures.
Jack, of course, became a familiar figure at Windy Hill during his retirement years, conducting guided tours for supporters and acting as an Ambassador for the Club.
He doesn’t do so much of that now. After all, he turned 93 on Cup Day last year, but he still attends all of the Bombers’ matches in Melbourne. And he wouldn’t dream of missing an Anzac Day march, to honour his fallen, and long departed Army comrades.
Colin Joss, he says, offered to fly him up for an Albury function a couple of years ago, but it clashed with something he’d been helping out with at Essendon.