LIFELONG Carlton supporter ‘Dick’ Merton, the former President of the Blue Diamonds coterie group and a father figure to the likes of Carlton Premiership players Jim Buckley and Wayne Harmes, has died after a long illness in The Northern Hospital in Epping. He was 76.
Born in Richmond, Richard Arthur Merton’s lifelong love for the old dark Navy Blues was forged through his relationship with one of his uncles - a rabid supporter who for years ferried the impressionable kid to Carlton contests.Traditional Saturday games, particularly at Princes Park, must have brought welcome escape to Dick, who was only a lad of 11 when his mother died.
In the wake of his profound personal loss, Dick relocated to Preston, where he was raised by his maternal aunt in a house in Tierney Street. The house still stands, not far from the Olympic Hotel where Dick’s wake is to be held.
At Tierney Street, Dick got on with his life - aided and abetted by his aunt's children who, according to Dick’s son Brent, "were like brothers and sisters to him”. He pursued his studies at Northcote High School, but was forced into the workforce sooner rather than later to support his newly-inherited kinfolk.
Dick first found work at the Huttons Bacon Factory off High Street. Not long after, he and a mate established their own meat business, first in Kingsbury and later Fairfield, where he took on aspiring young Carlton players like Buckley, Harmes, Greg Towns and Russell Ohlsen. To quote Brent: “Those boys of 1979, ’81 and ’82 had a very special bond with him”.
In 1967, after meeting his lifelong beau at a local Preston dance, Dick exchanged marital vows with Kath Symons. A daughter Leanne and son Brent followed as the family found their new digs at No.7 The Fairway in Kingsbury - the place Jim Buckley also called home from 1976 when he came down from Kyneton to try his luck in the big time. As Brent remembered: “Jimmy and I slept in the same bedroom”.
This week, Buckley, the three-time Premiership player and 1982 club Best and Fairest, remembered with affection his years at The Fairway.
“It was a great place to be,” Jimmy remembered.
“Kath looked after me with her home cooked meals, Dick got me work in the meat game and the Mertons gave me a place to live. They were exciting times, a lot of things were going down back then, because Dick was well-known,” he said.
“Dick was a big Carlton man who gave a lot of people a start. he had a heart as big as himself."
In 1981, Dick resolved to further his support for his beloved Blues by committing his energies to a recently-established club coterie he remembered as the 'Blue Chips’, but was formally known as the ‘Blue Sapphires’.
On the eve of the ’81 year, the Blue Sapphires morphed into the Blue Diamonds - so named after Caulfield’s famed Group 1 race for two year-olds - and prominent amongst the coterie was the jockey Normie Waymouth, who in the Carlton Premiership year of 1982 rode Rancher to victory in the famous race.
Assuming the Presidency of the Blue Diamonds, Dick hosted matchday Carlton functions with fellow coterie members including Colin De Lutis, Eric Salter and the late Sam Smorgon. Throughout the period, the Blue Diamonds contributed to the cause by assisting players with job placements or vocational advice.
In the aftermath of the Premiership season of 1987 the Blue Diamonds drifted into oblivion, but Dick’s love for the club never waned.
Two years ago, Dick was front and centre with former players and officials who gathered on Ikon Park following a training session involving the current group.
Then in August last year, he completed his final Carlton appearance when he joined mourners at the funeral of the club’s long-serving Property Steward Ken Kleiman in Doncaster.
Dick was recently admitted to The Northern Hospital as his health steadily deteriorated. He died last Friday (January 24) with Kath, his wife of 53 years, by his side. Together with Kath, Dick’s daughter Leanne, son Brent and six grandchildren survive him.
It’s fair and reasonable to assume that Richmond’s St Ignatius' Catholic Church will be packed to the rafters when the Diamond in the rough who was Dick Merton is farewelled at ten o’clock this Thursday morning (January 30).
As Brent said: “I’ve had poor people and rich people ring me to say ‘Your Dad helped so many'. He always wanted to do someone a good turn, particularly those who needed it most, and that’s because he grew up that way”.