Alfred Ronald (Jack) Jennings
Football administrator, hotelier, shopkeeper, businessman.
Born 1 July 1908 Died 10 June 2000 Aged 91 years
During the last years of his long and active life, Jack Jennings received a lot of visitors. Many would come to his home in leafy East Geelong just to say hello, and to talk to the man who had done so much for the Geelong Football Club. He would usually invite his guests into `the den’, a room which was like a footy museum. It was a shrine to his beloved `Cats’. Jack had collected photographs, posters, signed footballs, ornaments, badges, flags, pennants and any other form of memorabilia, which filled every available space. Those who were not of the Geelong faith would have described the objects as clutter, but to those who know and love the footy club it was all treasure which conjured up rich memories.
Perhaps his favourite object was a high-backed armchair; the type one might expect an archbishop to sit in. It was the chair from which Jack led committee meetings during his long and successful presidency of the club from 1945 to 1970. Bearing the letters `GFC’, it was eventually presented to him and he loved to sit in it and tell stories of the glory days of Geelong. He was often visited by local school-children who were working on oral history projects and he always had plenty to tell them.
Alfred Ronald Jennings spent his childhood on the family’s farm at Drysdale. He attended the local primary school for just enough time to cop the name `Jack’ leaving when just 11 to help at home. By his own admission, he wasn’t very good at football. He once said: “I was a poor type of footballer – I really had no ability at all!”
But Jack loved footy all the same. It was very much part of the life of Geelong and district. As a teenager, he shifted to Barwon Heads where he set up a football team. He was the playing president at the age of 19. Their home ground was a paddock on a farm.
He began a transport business. He bought into shops and owned two hotels in Geelong. He was always civic-minded, involving himself on the South Barwon Council, eventually serving as its president.
He was always a mad supporter of Geelong. He saw some of the great players, like Carji Greeves (the first Brownlow Medalist). He was at the MCG the day that Geelong won their first premiership in 1925. In 1936 he was present for the reunion of players from the all-conquering Geelong side of 1886. He loved history.
In 1930, he joined the committee which administered the Geelong Second XVIII. By1945 he was president of the whole club. During World War II Corio Oval (then Geelong’s home ground) had been required for military training. In addition, a shortage of players and transport restrictions had necessitated Geelong withdraw from the VFL competiton. Many Geelong players went to other clubs. At war’s end, some Melbourne clubs seemed intent on keeping Geelong out of the league. (Old-timers in Geelong still hold a grudge against Essendon.) Some Melbourne clubs didn’t think one team outside Melbourne was appropriate; some thought the travel inconvenient and expensive; some knew it was hard to win at Geelong. Jack Jennings understood how important the club was to the community.
He knew how much the people wanted their team in the Melbourne competition. At that time, Geelong owed £1000 pounds to the league and, when fund-raising fell short, Jack and a few others found the money out of their own packets. Jack also enlisted the support of some of the other Melbourne clubs (particularly North Melbourne) and the team survived. Their was much gratitude in the town.
Jack set about rebuilding the team. He led an enthusiastic committee and worked closely with Reg Hickey, a great player during Geelong’s successful years in the 1930s. Hickey was appointed coach and he and Jack became close friends. They recruited judiciously, and Hickey’s boys developed a fast open style of football which resulted in back-to-back premierships in 1951-52. They won another flag in 1963 under Bob Davis (and haven’t won one since).
Jack loved the limelight. He was outspoken on club affairs. He instituted the President’s lunch, usually a buffet of the best Barwon Heads crayfish. He encouraged the relationship with the Ford Motor Company, particularly through its Geelong-based Managing Director, Charles Smith, an English Canadian who became fanatical about The Cats during his time in Geelong.
Jack was also a delegate to the VFL for fifteen years and served as its vice president under Sir Kenneth Luke. As businessmen, both could see a direction for the VFL, although they held the reins during something of a transitional period where the relationship between sport, the media, and commerce was still rather innocent. They were proud of their achievement to build VFL Park at Waverley. Jack was also honoured to host the match witnessed by Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh at the MCG in 1970.
In ,some ways Jack thought he would lead Geelong forever and he was disappointed when he lost the presidency. But he was always welcome at the club, and he never lost his enthusiasm. He was on the History and Tradition Committee at the club.
He will live long in people’s memories. The A.R. (Jack) Jennings Stand was erected and named in his honour in 1956 and continues to seat fans who love the club as much as he did. He just loved people and football, and was someone who did much to bring them together. Throughout his busy life Jack found great support in his wife, Anne, who predeceased him. They were married for 65 years. He is survived by his son and two grandchildren.
(Author of Confessions of a 13 Man.)
Reproduce with permission.