Jones Files: George Ogilvie, ex-Echuca and Rochester, a true Bendigo league great

By Richard Jones

ECHUCA’S between-the-wars centre half-forward George Ogilvie rates as one of the greatest players the Bendigo league has seen.

Amazing as it might seem, Ogilvie didn’t start playing in the BFL until he was 29.

He’d seen service in World War 1, played with Richmond in the VFL and Port Melbourne in the old VFA before transferring to northern Victoria.

It was only when he decided to quite the Melbourne scene in 1927 that Ogilvie arrived in Echuca to study accounting.

He enrolled at the Echuca Technical School and was immediately snapped up by officials of the Echuca Football Club.

Ogilvie was always a robust, hard-hitting player and his physical clashes with some of the other great players of the era — Sandhurst’s Bob McCaskill, Eaglehawk’s “Moots” Esposito and South’s Percy Forbes — were what the huge crowds of the time waited to see as each match day unfolded.

The Echuca star was a noted exponent of every form of kick: the drop, the punt and the then still-in-vogue place kick.

BUT let’s start at the beginning of the Ogilvie story.

He was born in Bendigo, indeed as one Bendigo Advertiser reported noted “in the shadow of the Upper Reserve”.

His father had been a star player with South Bendigo and had later gone on to reach interstate footy standards.

George, however, was something of a stormy petrel. His career was underscored by controversy of one sort or another, although his talent was never dimmed by suspension or disqualification.

At the age of just 17 George Ogilvie enlisted in the AIF. It was 1916 and it was while he was overseas on active duty his football talent really blossomed. Ogilvie played with the First Division team in the AIF competition and that side won the AIF premiership in the final, played in Belgium.

Danny Minogue of Bendigo and Richmond fame captained the First Division team and he quietly noted that here was a player for the VFL’s Tigers.

Upon return to Australia, Minogue signed Ogilvie and the young man, then just 20, played two matches for Richmond.

It was then that Ogilvie’s first of many brushes with football’s  officialdom occurred.

Before the Tigers took to the field for the 1920 second semi-final against Carlton, a protest about his eligibility was lodged. His playing permit was reviewed and Ogilvie was disqualified.

He’d lived in the Yarraville area (first playing footy at the Yarraville State School) so the ruling was handed down prior to his departure for the Great War Ogilvie was actually an Essendon player.

As he’d not been away for the required period of three years the disqualification was for an indefinite time. Ogilvie had actually been on war service for two years and 10 months, so had fallen just two months short of the statutory period.

Nevertheless and in a strange quirk of fate, Richmond Football Club records still include Ogilvie as a member of the Tigers’ first VFL flag-winning side in 1920. (Richmond 7.10 (52) def. Collingwood 5.5 (35). Attendance: 53,908).

As 1921 dawned Ogilvie and several other players in a similar predicament — disqualified from VFL ranks — decided to continue their football careers. George, still without a permit, joined Footscray which was a member club of the Victorian Football Association.

It didn’t work. The disqualification followed him right through to the VFA. Finally in 1922 he overcame his permit problems and transferred to another VFA club: Port Melbourne.

Ogilvie’s form was outstanding and he won the Sporting Globe Medal as the VFA’s leading player in 1922-23-24.

In 1927 he made the momentous decision to head north. At Castlemaine one afternoon in 1928 the big crowd saw Ogilvie at his best.

Echuca full-back Lew Kewming kicked off from the goal square and landed one of his trademark ball-bursters near centrefield. Ogilvie watched the ball carry the pack, snared it, ran his full 10 yards and drop-kicked a glorious goal which sealed the win for Echuca.

That victory also ensured Echuca of top place and the BFL minor premiership for 1928. That season ended on a sour note for the bustling Echuca forward, though. He was suspended by the BFL Tribunal for six weeks on a striking charge and thus missed playing in Echuca’s 1928 premiership side.

The ‘blue’ which saw Ogilvie outed must have been a beauty. Bill Pardon who had exchanged blows with Ogilvie was also suspended — Pardon copped 10 weeks!

Ogilvie applied to the tribunal to have the case re-opened and accompanied his application with testimonies from a range of witnesses, including one from a serving clergyman.

All to no avail. The tribunal refused to re-hear the case, so Ogilvie missed playing in another premiership.

Earlier that year Ogilvie had been named vice-captain of the Bendigo side which played a combined VFL. He nailed five goals from centre half-forward, taking a turn in the ruck when needed.

In 1935 George took over from Alf Firmer as coach of Rochester. He coached the Demons through to 1937, but  without a flag. He’d decided to play with Rochie when Echuca pulled out of the Bendigo league at the end of 1934.

In 1938 Ogilvie played with Echuca Imperials and at the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 he was still playing footy with the armed forces in Darwin.

George Ogilvie also captained Echuca in Victorian Country Week cricket, bowled the great opening batsman Herb. Sutcliffe at the Upper Reserve when Bendigo played England in 1929, won Echuca’s singles bowls championship in 1954 and served as an Echuca delegate to the BFL in the 1950s.

He died of a heart attack at his Echuca home in 1957. George Ogilvie was inducted into the BFL Hall of Fame in September, 1986.

Comments

  1. Great post. I am pretty sure this is my Great Grandfather!
    Just wondering about all the research behind this article. What sources did you use to put it all together?

    Cheers,

    Pat.

  2. Richard E. Jones says:

    GEORGE was inducted into the BFL Hall Of Fame back in 1986.
    As the serving Bendigo Advertiser sports editor at the time I was also heavily involved in the Hall of Fame committee.
    A fellow named Peter Harrick, who also wrote the definitive history of the sadly now defunct Kennington-Strathdale F.C., did a lot of the research, I recall. Also on our panel was the long-serving Addy editor Cyril Michelsen who would have been in his late 80s back in ’86.
    He’d seen George play first-hand, of course, and had a truckload of clippings, old footy guides and the like to refer to. Probably some Melb. newspaper clippings, too, if I remember correctly.
    Cyril was the man who in hie early days at the Advertiser first instituted the weekly Footy Record for Bendigo. Prior to this record coming out each Sat. for the football-going public just a single sheet with names/numbers on it was available as people went into each ground.
    Cyril made it his business to have a professional-looking programme printed each weekend. Apart from the usual player names & numbers and a separate match-ups page, too, he would have previews of each match, news from the training track, a bit of a look at who was playing in the VFL and other footy chit-chat.

  3. Terrific article Richard. George is my Great Grandfather so Pat we maybe related!
    I moved to Bendigo 3 years ago so it was interesting to read some family history. Some of this I knew already but is was good to read and confirm the family myths.
    Having recently retired from playing footy myself I always wondered about playing for Echuca or Rochie and following in George’s footsteps but I guess I will never know.

    Andrew

  4. Boston Rocket says:

    The George Ogilvie Trophy for matches between Rochester and Echuca was inaugurated in the early 50s – long before the AFL clubs began their countless and forgettable naming of trophies for matches between themselves.

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