3 April, 2014, The Boulevard, Kew, Melbourne, Australia
Read as part of a memorial event for Jack Clancy. Posted on the tribute site by novellist John Clanchy.
As a lanky, shy, stripling teenager entering Melbourne Uni in the early sixties, I was keen to make new friends by joining the MU Football Club. I set out for the ‘Pavvy’ one March evening with a pair of boots, shorts and a school footy jumper and was welcomed into the warm and lively company of the under-age first year players (the ‘Juniors’). No coach had been appointed for the Juniors at that stage of the year, but a friendly giant had volunteered to coach and look after us in the meantime – a typical gesture of generosity which marked all my interactions with Jack in the ten years which followed.
After our first training session, this gentle-tough giant handed out application forms for joining the Victorian Amateurs Football Association.
‘Fill them in now,’ he told us. ‘We want to make sure you’re signed up and eligible for the first game of the season.’
I didn’t know that Jack was still playing competitive footy himself (captaining the UniReds ‘mixed-age’ team). So I was surprised when he took a form himself and standing bent over the table next to me began to fill it out. I was even more surprised when out of the corner of my eye I saw he’d filled in the first line (Name) and had written J. Clancy.
I was in a terrible dilemma. Did a long drink of a pimply adolescent tell this gentle giant that he’d got my name wrong – that he couldn’t spell – in the face of the astonishing fact that he was so careful of his new charges that he wasfilling in my form for me, and the even more astonishing fact that, among us all newbies whom he’d just met, that he’d remembered my name? Or did I just stay mum and accept the fact that I’d be registered under the wrong name and would have to live with it for as long as I played footy?
I said: ‘Sorry, sir. That’s not how you spell it.’
Jack looked up, laughed, and said, ‘Maybe but that’s how we’ve spelt it for a couple of hundred years.’
‘Perhaps, but it’s not right,’ I said.
‘Don’t be nervous, son,’ he said. ‘You know how to fill in a form?’
I saw in his eyes he was thinking, How did this idiot ever get into University? But also saw that it was immediately blocked out by a second thought: This kid’s so stupid, it’s possible he could actually play football.
‘Okay, son,’ he said, ‘just relax, and do exactly as I do.’
He went back to filling in the rest of his form, and I started on mine.
Moments later I saw him look across and check on my progress and note that I’d filled in the first line (Name): J. Clanchy.
Our eyes met – and I read in his a sudden terrible concern.
‘I didn’t mean it literally, son,’ he said, one hand on my shoulder, the other already reaching for a fresh form.
Vale Jack Clancy. A gentle giant, if ever there was one.