George Ogilvie: Echuca’s gun Thirties centreman
By Richard Jones
YOU have to be a pretty handy player to be inducted into a footy league’s Hall of Fame.
And if you’re one of 20 named in the very first Hall then you’re clearly an outstanding candidate: a star, to be exact.
Such was the case with George Ogilvie jnr., Echuca’s gun centreman of the 1920s and 30s.
He grew up with George senior first in Bendigo and then later in Footscray and Yarraville.
Of course World War 1 was upon everyone by 1914 so the younger Ogilvie enlisted at the age of 18 years and 9 months listing his occupation as ‘engineer’. He embarked for Europe on August 8, 1917, spending time in France and England (although succumbing to illness) after service with the Signals Corps where he’d risen to the rank of lance-corporal.
George returned to Australia in September 1919 and played footy with the Army’s First Division team captained by Dan Minogue, then Collingwood captain and later skipper at Richmond.
[There’ll be a complete story on Long Gully-raised Minogue in a later edition.]
After the war George junior returned home briefly to Yarraville, but it wasn’t long before he settled in Echuca to study accountancy at the Technical School.
He was quickly co-opted into Echuca’s senior team which was then a member of the Goulburn Valley league.
The 1920 season was a shocker for Echuca. The Riverine Herald’s ‘Man On The Fence’ reported that “Ogilvie was undoubtedly the team’s star performer and, I think, the best man in the Valley league.”
Echuca had a real downer in 1920 winning just one game and drawing another to go with 10 losses in their 12 games.
Minogue had kept his ears open about Ogilvie’s exploits.
The Richmond captain convinced George to return to Melbourne footy and the 21-year-old played with the Tigers in the VFL finals.
They lost to Carlton in a semi-final in Ogilvie’s second outing in the state’s major league.
But the Tigers made the 1920 grand final with Carlton lodging a protest with league headquarters during grand final week about Ogilvie’s eligibility.
The rules in vogue straight after WW1 stated that players had to turn out for the district they were zoned to.
As Ogilvie’s family listed a Yarraville address as their home George was legally in the Essendon district.
George had signed on with Richmond under Minogue’s prompting stating that he’d been in the Army for three years and therefore eligible to play for Richmond.
But as the Tribunal ruled Ogilvie’s service had fallen three months short of three years.
He’d actually been an Aussie serviceman for two years and nine months. Carlton won their challenge and George was out, costing him a berth in the Tigers’ winning premiership side.
The Blues went out in the preliminary final to Collingwood before the Magpies went down to Richmond in the grand final: 7.10 (52) to 5.5 (35).
The MCG crowd was 53,908.
But George was so highly regarded Minogue and the other Richmond players invited Ogilvie on their end of season trip to Tasmania, starting off with a few days in Hobart.
In practice games leading up to the 1921 season George tried out with Melbourne before transferring to his father’s VFA club Footscray.
But there was a significant catch. George had no permit from the top body, the VFL, meaning he couldn’t play for any team under the VFL’s auspices, including Echuca.
Nonetheless George starred with the Bulldogs -– the VFA was separate from the VFL’s clutches --- alternating between centre half-forward and centre half-back. He played in both the 1921 grand finals against Williamstown.
Yes, two grand finals, because the first had to be abandoned during the third quarter because of a prolonged hail storm.
The second match was won by Williamstown by three points.
By 1922 George had transferred to rival VFA club Port Melbourne and stayed there until the end of 1924.
He travelled down from the country each week during 1923 as he’d completed his Echuca Technical School course and was by then working as an accountant in Bendigo. He eventually started his own practice in Echuca in 1925.
He’d won the Sporting Globe medal as the VFA’s leading player in three successive seasons: 1922, ‘23, ‘24.
Then comes George’s troubled three years. He sat out footy from 1925-27 inclusive because of a VFL ruling which stated players “who had deliberately flouted the league on transfer rulings” had to step down from footy for 36 months.
George Ogilvie’s case had been floated by Essendon which moved that George be allowed to play for Echuca.
A counter motion from the Fitzroy delegate was ultimately successful.
A petition in Echuca containing 2000 signatures was sent to the VFL but to no avail.
George continued playing cricket in Echuca and an Argus newspaper report of 1927 noted that George had topped the batting and bowling averages in the Echuca Cricket Association.
He played for the Footballers’ team.
By mid-June 1927 Port Melbourne officially transferred Ogilvie to Echuca but it meant nothing without the VFL’s approval.
Finally in late June 1927 the disqualification from 1924 was lifted and Ogilvie was clear to play.
The Argus reported that “so great was the interest in Ogilvie’s case that the remit of his application was broadcast from the ABC’s 3LO for the benefit of Echuca residents.”
Of course after a lengthy period out of the game Ogilvie’s body wasn’t ready for the rigours of footy.
He tore a thigh muscle and had to sit out another month.
But from late 1927 and into the 30s he was in the Bendigo league, although missing in Echuca’s 1928 BFL premiership line-up after copping a suspension for striking.
But he did play for the BFL against the VFL, booting five goals, and being named with a fellow Hall of Famer Eddie “Moots” Esposito as Bendigo’s best players.
George’s playing days in 1929 were split between Yarraville, where he was playing coach, and Echuca.
He resigned from the VFA in late June and returned to Echuca.
He played for the Murray Bombers in the second half of 1929 and was involved in a huge dust-up in the final game of the season against South Bendigo.
The dust-up created interest in the metropolis. The Melbourne Argus of September 30, 1929 reported that “the match was marred by an exciting and unseemly demonstration in which some of the players along with spectators came into conflict.”
After police rushed the arena to restore order, from central umpire Blackburn’s reports Ogilvie was again suspended.
By 1931 captain-coach ‘Oge’ as the Riverine Herald called him continued to play “all out and does two men’s share all the time.”
“He is often the dominating influence in the centre and the pivot of Echuca’s attack. He is repeatedly one of the topnotchers for the day and too good for his man.
“Ogilvie often wanders far afield and it not an uncommon occurrence for him to bag a goal or two.”
The Great Depression of the Thirties had a huge effect on Echuca as young people looked for work.
It was proposed Echuca compete in the minor town league and leave the BFL. By February 1934 the Echuca club was dissolved and George was elected captain-coach of neighbours and arch-rivals Rochester.
He played at Rochy until the end of the 1937 season when George had turned 38 years of age.
Two years prior, in 1935, he was still good enough to be one of Rochester’s representatives in the BFL v VFL match. Other BFL greats such as Bob McCaskill (Sh), ‘Moots’ Esposito (Eh) and Doug Strang (Kyn) were all in the BFL side.
Ogilvie was again listed as one of Bendigo’s best.
In 1936 he played in Rochester’s grand final side which lost to Eaglehawk with ‘Oge’ one of his side’s best.
After his retirement from the BFL George played for Echuca Imperials in the local Echuca league in 1938 before signing up for war service once more, this time in 1940.