Digitally altered image.

Digitally altered image.

Jack Clancy played one game for Fitzroy, sort of. He was picked as 20th man for the first game of 1957, in which the Lions downed Melbourne, the reigning premier, at Brunswick Street. He remembered coach Bill Stephens' rousing pre-match address, also that the dressing gown was scratchy. Stephen remembered that no man ever sat on the pine as impressively as Clancy.

Though Clancy didn't get on that day, he was sure his time would come. But six weeks later, he did his knee in a reserves game against Collingwood. Two years later, back at Uni Blacks, his alma mater, he did his other knee.

Not in the least disenchanted, he played on for the then formidable Blacks, and later for more social Reds, and at length filled every imaginable postion at both clubs, also for the umbrella Melbourne University Football Club, from decorated player and president to coach of the under-19s, sometimes doubling on match days as boundary or goal umpire. For more than 30 years, he hosted the Blacks' best and fairest count at his Camberwell home. His involvement with the club stretched almost to 60 years.

Clancy was large in life, and larger than it. A schoolmate remembers him protesting the preoccupation with science. At RMIT, says art historian and contemporary Vincent O'Donnell, he taught English to engineers, fitters and turners and boilermakers, "to let them see a life beyond the lathe".

As head of humanities, he pioneered courses in media, cinema, communications and semiotics. He also became secretary of the Friends of the ABC. His spectrum of interests was broad, but fine. A friend remembered their conversations thus: "We ranged more widely, and occasionally deeply, into drama, the arts, the perfidies of the worlds of arts and publishing, football, cricket, the political angst of the left and the iniquities of global capitalism."

At RMIT, he never missed a boozy annual celebration of Karl Marx's birthday. Can't you just hear Andrew Bolt turning in his swivel chair?

Wine was a particular passion, also music. Another friend recalled that his aim in retirement was to listen to all the Schubert lieder. One a day, it would take him two years, he figured. Clancy hosted memorable Melbourne Cup parties, appeared on Sale of the Century, wrote a book on the 1956 Olympic torch relay and loved his garden.

"I remember him grumbling about misuse of nouns as verbs and making scathing denunciations of injustice and meanness," said another old friend, "But I don’t remember him ever using his wit unkindly." Hawthorn premiership player and Blacks stalwart Ray Wilson called him a bon vivant, a Renaissance man, but also "an upmarket version of Joffa".

This bemused O'Donnell when they first met. "At Sydney university, where I had studied, such an adherence to a football code would be unacceptable unless you were an engineer," he said. Rugby union would hint at "lingering immaturity", league to a "quite unsatisfactory social background". "But Jack was an eye-opener. In one moment, he was discussing the French Nouvelle Vague, or the films of Howard Hawks, the next the prospect of a flag for his beloved Fitzroy."

In Melbourne, blessedly, this established Clancy not as unusual, but foremost of a kind, who perceive beauty in sport as they see it in the arts. Two years ago, David Parkin - whose son Anthony once coached the Blacks - wrote that the club's culture was the best he had known, including Hawthorn's and Carlton's. Clancy personified it. It was not entirely innocent. En route by train to an intervarsity carnival in Adelaide, Clancy ended up spending a night in the Ararat lock-up, consequence of a card game. Another time in Perth, a steamroller somehow ended up in a canal.

Clancy regretted the decline of the powerhouse Blacks in the `80s and `90s, but almost alone did not waver in his dedication. When Blacks and Reds found themselves improbably together in E grade, Clancy donated a cup. Clancy's wife, Pat, is a world-renown translator of French literature, rarely seen at the football, but doubtlessly was the inspiration for the name of the Rouge et Noir Cup, named after a Stendhal novel. Inaugurating the cup, Clancy made his speech entirely in French!

"As he moved from being a contemporary of young players to an elder statesman many decades their senior, his ability to communicate with, understand and mentor them was amazing," said Wilson. "Whether a player’s interest was sport, literature, theatre, music, politics - or in just growing up a little - Jack was a go-to man for all seasons. All delivered with the hand of friendship and respect for the individual, no matter if it was the star player in the seniors or the trainer for the clubbies."

Clancy quietly rejoiced in the Blacks' rehabilitation to A grade, even as a long illness slowly overtook him. He died last week, aged 79. When he retired from RMIT, a lecture was instituted and named in his honour. "It's not the Jack Clancy memorial lecture," he would growl to O'Donnell, who added: "I guess he won't mind if the name is changed now."