The closest I ever came to meeting John Elliott was about ten years ago. At the time, I used to go to the footy at Docklands every now and then with someone who had some business dealings with John Elliott. He once suggested that I join him sometime when he was going to the footy with Elliott. He did warn me that John Elliot could be rather full on.
It never happened, probably because I got distracted by a health scare and a busy time at work, which leaves me without any opportunity to form a personal impression of John Elliott, who died overnight just short of 80 years old.
For Western Bulldogs supporters like myself, I suppose the former Carlton president is best remembered for his comment about the Western Bulldogs’ ‘tragic history’, which, in the context of Carlton’s salary cap dodging on his watch and a general sense of fair play, still comes across as rather crass and unsportsmanlike.
I expect, for a lot of people, John Elliott’s public persona would have come across as crass and overbearing, lacking in humility. I suppose that he never got around to reading Dale Carnegie’s ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’.
He did seem to be the archetypical cashed up bogan in the way he spoke and the things he said, except that I do not think cashed up bogans get their educations at Carey Grammar and Melbourne University, even if they do spend much of their business career running a brewery and plotting to ‘Fosterise’ the world.
But for many, this is the image which John Elliott presented, either intentionally or subconsciously, and I strongly suspect that there was a lot more to him than that.
My understanding is that he could be extremely generous to his close friends and to former business associates. The proof of this was when he was declared bankrupt several years ago. His friends ensured that he was looked after and continued to have a comfortable life. He had earned their loyalty, and their love, and that reflects someone who has more substance to them than mere material possessions.
But that boorish public persona did ensure that when fair weather ended, many others were prepared to bundle him out the door. When, after their maiden wooden spoon, Carlton Football Club’s supporters blamed him and ended his 19 year reign as club president, they went one step further and removed his name from the eponymous grand stand built during his presidency.
In the same vein, bankruptcy opened the opportunity for the Savage Club (the most quirky of the private clubs for the gentry in Melbourne) to end his membership. I do wonder why they would have done that, and how he might have behaved in the confines of their clubrooms.
Similarly, a lot of people who resent wealthy people could not help but gracelessly gloat at his bankruptcy. In the thinly veiled anger and class hatred that frequently litter the pages of street magazine The Big Issue, the editors of said magazine smugly suggested that he might get a job selling their rag on street corners.
Such reactions, perhaps, reflect more poorly on those people, than on the subject of their ire. But I suppose John Elliott did not think of sparing their feelings in advance, and nor did he probably care. Many supposed saints are second rate people, and many sinners are far more interesting.
But the irony of his passing, just on Grand Final Eve 2021, where the Western Bulldogs are about to square off against Melbourne Football Club, and Elliott’s beloved Carlton is in a 26 year premiership drought and about to start another reboot, is not lost on me. Tragic history indeed!