Bob McLennan’s Nostalgic Recollections of the OBGFC 60 years ago
Robert ‘Bob’ McLennan joins me at another Brighton institution, The Brighton Baths, to reflect on the formation of the club and his memories of the early days from 1957 to 1974 when he started as a young 21-year-old ruckman who went on to become one of our most decorated players, and eventually senior coach.
Bob recalls fondly those early days, although apologetically his memory sometimes fails him, he is quick to recall the events and people that were instrumental in the formation of the Old Brighton Grammarian Football Club.
Bob’s father - George Ormond Carlyle McLellan - worked as the Senior Audit Manager for the then Union Bank (which later became the ANZ Bank) and moved from Port Augusta to Sydney where he married Elizabeth ‘Foss’ Callaghan (a wonderful pianist and many believed could have been an opera singer in another life) and had three boys over eleven years. ‘Orm’ (Ormond), 11 years Bob’s senior, and Ron, 6 years Bob’s senior. At just 6 months of age the McLellan family moved again to Melbourne this time, and into St Andrews street Brighton, on the corner of Outer Crescent, directly across the road from OBGFC founding president, Nick Walsh.
Robert ‘Bob’ McLellan was enrolled into Brighton Grammar School across the road, and this is where he excelled in all sports. Although not an academic by Bob’s definition, he found his mark as a popular and talented sportsman. Not only was Bob Captain of the School in 1954 (and also Captain of the Junior School), he was also Captain of Football, Athletics, and Swimming. After leaving school Bob played some football for Power House FC and one of the Melbourne University teams (Blues or Blacks, he can’t recall).
“The reason I was able to go to BGS was the fact that Mum decided to teach piano at the Shefte College of Music in Elizabeth Street to pay for it. She wouldn’t arrive home till about 9pm”, Bob recalls.
The Walsh and McLellan families were close and one day in 1956 Nick ventured across the road to inform Bob that he was re-forming the Old Brighton Football Club (after the Old Brightonians FC had disbanded due to the outbreak of war in 1939) and that he would like Bob to be involved.
Bob immediately became a key member of the team, becoming the inaugural Vice Captain and was also on the first ever committee, along with OBGFC legends Bruce and Keith Robinson, John Tilton, Bob Lane, John Edwards, & Doug Ridley, among many others. (Bruce Robinson was also the first Captain of the club).
In 1957 the OBGFC were admitted into ‘E’ Section of the VAFA, and under the coaching of Bill Fitzgerald who had previously been involved with the Old Brightonians pre-war, and had come from Collingwood where he had been the reserves Captain, they embarked upon their inaugural season. Bob is listed as coming 3rd in that seasons competition Best and Fairest award, on 17 votes (the leader won with 20).
The following year, 1958, under new coach, popular but strict BGS teacher Horrie Webber, the team made the finals. The team had a formidable forward line that year with Doug Ridley and Bruce Robinson combining for 93 goals, and Bob winning the competition B&F with a staggering 43 ½ votes, which is still a VAFA record tally today.
In those early days, the team played their matches on Saturdays on the Crowther Oval, after relentlessly campaigning for permission from then Headmaster - Canon Wilson. Bob recalls that the oval was much the same today as it was then, “small”, but with one major difference – Cramer Walk which today separates the Crowther and Junior Ovals, was then an actual Road ‘Cramer Street’, with cars and buses regular users between New Street and Outer Crescent.
The team also played out of Halifax Street Oval, and the Highett ‘Gas Works’ Oval in the early 60’s before eventually moving to the current home ground, Beach Road Oval in 1963 (which cost the club the exorbitant fee of £20 for the year).
The social facilities were non-existent back then and most of the socialising was done at Kyhat’s Hotel or at people’s homes. Kyhat’s served as the basis for the majority of recruiting work done back then, as it was the regular ‘watering hole’ for the Old Boys around the area. Bob also wonders how the team managed to play so well back in the days, considering Friday nights at Kyhats was when the team was assembled for the following day, and most, if not all of the players, rarely left without having conducted a “heavy drinking session”.
Other social gatherings consisted of ‘Pleasant Sunday BBQ’s in the backyard of a player or coaches house, and most famously ‘The Shed’ which was just that, a 5x5x1.5 metre dirt floor shed in the backyard of John Boucher’s McKinnon Road house. Furnished with a trestle at one end and with kegs supplied by Kyhat’s Hotel, this was the regular meeting place for the entire team plus supporters. Stories of ‘The Shed’ are hilariously detailed in John ‘Nobby’ Forster’s and Michael Wood’s contributions to the “OBGFC – A Tribute” book.
Bob recalls the passion and efforts of President Nick Walsh to pull the group together, and says that “Nick was a lovely man, and he was very fatherly to all the players, but he was very fond of me in particular. Always making a fuss of me and building me up at every opportunity. He was a wonderful man”. Nick Walsh only passed away in January last year (2016), 6 months after turning 100 years of age.
Bob was a tireless and respected ruckman, who says he like to “hog the position”, which is backed up by a recollection from an extract in the 1967 “Tonner Times newsletter.. “ All those heroes of the Crowther Oval. Buddha’s Uncle Rick, Charlie Sedgewick the greatest of all full backs, Dave Pullman, the best talker in the game (Bert Draper and Steve Priestly rolled into one), and the greatest of them all, the old sage, Bob McLellan – who never missed a knockout. He’d ruck all day, I know, I was supposed to change with him in the back pocket”.
After playing, Bob seamlessly moved into coaching, taking the club from ‘D’ Grade up to ‘C’ grade in his 2nd season as coach. After 4 years as senior coach, Bob (and wife Alison) moved to Cobram as a teacher, and after a period there (with stints in Country football as an umpire) they bought a caravan park in Swan Hill. After 7 years there, they returned to Melbourne, moving from owning hotels and book stores from South Yarra to East Melbourne.
Bob is a regular down the club these days, rarely missing a home game, and was even team manager in 2006/2007. Most notably, Bob is the author of the wonderful book ‘ Old Brighton Grammarians Football Club – A Tribute’ , which brilliantly details the history of the club from its pre-war origins, right up to today. Bob is very humble about this project he took on, and constantly reminds me of all the people who helped and contributed to this book.
Asked about the best players he ever saw represent Old Brighton, Bob gives up names freely and is unable to separate them. In no particular order:
Bob won the clubs Best & Fairest award in 1957, 1958, 1962 & 1964, and was club Captain in 1958-1959, and 1966. He then went on to coach the senior team from 1971-1974. Bob was named in the Ruck position in OBGFC’s best team of 1957-2007, and he was selected in the BGS Team of the Century.
Bob and Alison have two children, Maxine and Adam (BGS ‘89), and 4 grandchildren, Isabella, Ava, Rhys and Emma.