A tale of two ruckmen (and two Bernies)
In 1981, Don Scott took a vow of silence within the walls of the Hawthorn Football Club. Another big, affable Hawk, refused to notice.
Last year, I sent this photo to our family friend, Hawthorn legend Don Scott, complimenting him on his leap. I mentioned in the message the whole-of life-symmetry of future Brownlow Medallist Bernie Quinlan sharing the frame, just as they now share mowing duties in a Mornington Peninsula maintenance business.
Don rang immediately, as is his habit.
‘It’s Bernie, not me,’ was Don’s typically matter-of-fact opening.
‘I know it’s Bernie,’ I said, (meaning Quinlan of course). ‘But you’re jumping for the ruck, aren’t you? The people on facebook reckon it’s you.’
‘It’s Bernie Jones!’ Don boomed. ‘Tell them on facebook I didn’t play that day at Footscray. I had an ankle injury! It’s Bernie Jones!’
Big, affable Bernie Jones was Don’s ruck understudy for much of the seventies. He played 65 games for the Hawks between 1973 and 1977 including the 1976 premiership, spent a year at Essendon in 1978, and then eked out another 8 games back at Hawthorn between 1979 and 1981.
I never met Bernie Jones, myself. I was four when he played in his premiership. By 1980, he was mainly a reserves player. By 1981, exclusively so. For me, he was probably more important as a footy card than he was as a footballer. But Don always raved about Bernie, they remained close friends, and one of my father’s most oft-told stories has Bernie at the centre.
It was 1981. David Parkin was sacked by the club he’d coached to a premiership just 24 months earlier and replaced by Allan Jeans. Don was livid. Parkin was 1971 premiership brethren, and Don is nothing if not fiercely (manically?) loyal. He expressed his anger and frustration to the board. Leigh Matthews replaced Don as captain.
Don decided to play on, but everyone suspected 1981 would be his last year.
Then Don did a very strange but very Don thing. He took a vow of silence.
Throughout 1981, Don Scott did not speak to teammates, coaches or officials within the walls of the footy club. He just didn’t speak. To anyone. As he inched towards 300 games, there was much speculation as to whether he’d make it, but in round 20 against St Kilda, Jeans picked his disgruntled ruckman for the milestone, and Scott played and played well, winning 23 disposals.
Bernie Jones ran out in the twos that day, as he had all season. That night, Don invited his friend and understudy to the 300 game celebratory dinner at the Italian Waiters Club. Given frosty relations at the club, this was a tiny, privately organized event, not a club function in any way. Bernie Jones was the only current-listed player of the dozen or so invitees. The reason I’ve heard about it is that my father Ray (Wilson) was there too.
Towards the end of the night, Don rose and addressed the table. He thanked them all for attending, and then went around and explained why each of them had been invited. ‘John (Sam) Newman, you’re here because we ruckmen stick together, and you always played it the right way, tough and hard … Ray Wilson, you’re here because in 1971, when things were not going well, you ran your 10 stone body straight at Big Carl Ditterich and you put him on his arse … ‘
He went to each guest, one-by-one. And finished with Bernie Jones.
‘And Bernie you’re here because at the start of the year I decided not to speak to anyone, and I’ve stuck to that, and yet every night at training you’ve come up to me and said, ‘Gidday Don, how’s it goin’ Don? Did you have a good day? I had a good day ...’ And you’d talk to me, and you’d ask me how I was, and you’d tell me what you were up to, and you’d ask me what I was up to, and I didn’t reply once, but that didn’t stop you, because you’re one of the nicest and friendliest blokes in the world. And you always have been. And that’s why you’re here.’
Bernie Jones died this week after a long illness, aged 69. The footy world might not pause, because 86-gamers don’t demand the same send-offs champions do, but inside clubs, there are other hierarchies, ones where the quality of the person is raised above the skill of the footballer.
And Don was right. On all those hierarchies, Bernie Jones was a champion.
I wrote an article about Don Scott for Hawks Insiders when he was elevated to legend status at Hawthorn.
Great story Tony about Bernie Jones of whom I was a great admirer having seen him play many games in the 70s. Love your writing and recounting of tales whether footy or soccer related. Just finished 1989.
Gee, I've stumbled across this today. I was searching for any trace of Bernie Jones. I worked for Bernie and his then partner Jayne Ellis in the 90's. It's a sad day that I have discovered both these great people have passed away. Everything that is said about Bernie being the friendliest, most lovable and affable person is true. He was a wonderful man, kind, generous, funny....so funny.