NZ football lost a legend of our game on Wednesday 15 November. Bert Ormond was a football pioneer who had a transformative impact on NZ football.
Bert Ormond emigrated to NZ in 1961 after a successful playing career in Scotland where he played for Falkirk, Airdrie and Dumbarton scoring 34 goals in 83 appearances, playing in those days as an inside forward.
Initially Bert and his family settled in Gisborne and he immediately joined Eastern Union, a football powerhouse in those days, and then Gisborne Thistle where he left a rich footballing legacy. In 1964 the Ormond family moved to West Auckland which is where Bert began a very successful playing and coaching career with Blockhouse Bay, and later in his successful coaching career with Mt Roskill.
Bert first represented NZ in 1961 shortly after arriving from Scotland scoring against New Caledonia, and in 1964 he had the honour of captaining New Zealand on its 15 match World Tour. In total he played in 21 Internationals for New Zealand, seventeen of them while he was a member of Blockhouse Bay.
In 1969, Blockhouse Bay, under Bert’s coaching, qualified for the inaugural Rothmans Soccer League. At the time this new competition was rather controversial as no other sport in the country had ever attempted a national club competition. The far sighted administrators of NZFA in 1969 were well ahead of their time and the decision turned out to be pure genius.
On qualifying Bert immediately started to assemble a BHB squad for the start of the season. As a member of that squad I can tell you that we were very well prepared for the rigours of the new national club sporting competition in NZ and consequently we went on to win the first ever National League title and then climaxed the season with victory in the Chatham Cup Final in a thrilling replay at Newmarket Park against Western Suburbs of Wellington.
Blockhouse Bay in those heady days set the standard. Bert insisted on a professional approach to every game: players had to wear a dress uniform to the game, the team always had lunch together prior to the game, and there was always a huge after-match function for players and supporters regardless of the result. It was a formula that other clubs copied.
After the tremendous success of that first season, Blockhouse Bay remained a power in the National League. Bert was coach for seven seasons – the club’s finishing position, in order, starting from 1970, was 1st, 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 3rd, 5th. He was in charge for 122 National league games of which 63 were won, 27 drawn and just 32 lost (52% winning record).
In 1975, Bert took Bay to the Chatham Cup final again, losing this time to Christchurch United in extra time.
It was no surprise that after Bert’s retirement BHB never reached the same heights despite having outstanding coaches in Terry Conley and Wally Hughes. Bert’s influence was lost and so was the magic that made BHB a special club under the Ormond regime.
Bert Ormond was more than a great footballer and coach he was also a natural as a weekly columnist who didn’t mind speaking his mind. Bert was one of the sport’s first high profile “personalities”, writing a weekly column in the Sunday News (then the highest circulation weekend paper) in the 1970s, and helping popularise the sport to a wider audience.
Over that first season and throughout his NL coaching career he became one of the best known names in NZ football as every paper and sports’ magazine in the country sought his comments before and after every game.
It is difficult for the younger generation of footballers to realise how big the RNL was in the 1970s. The double headers attracted massive parochial crowds at Newmarket Park, scintillating football every weekend and publicity that our game today would die for. Much of the success of football in the 1970s was down to Bert Ormond. He knew the value of publicity for the game he loved and this combined with his passion, his coaching ability, his nous for the game all helped football to regain its place on the NZ sporting calendar.
Bert was also a fine story teller, a superb motivator of men, a keen judge of character, someone who genuinely cared about his players. He had the knack of being able to bond a disparate group of “no name” players into a tightly knit and highly successful football team.
Bert was a real character and a connoisseur of fine Scotch whisky, in truth any Scotch whisky, of which he would partake of a wee nip just prior to his team talk at the Great Northern Hotel in Queen St before every game.
Bert’s other great attribute, along with his devoted wife Esther, was to raise two boys who both went on to play for NZ and have successful sporting and business careers; Ian and Duncan were stalwarts of the Bay teams of the 70s.
A final comment from John Ewan, the respected sports journalist from Wellington, perhaps summed up Bert Ormond and his football philosophy. He said:
“1970 may be remembered as the year soccer took its great step forward. It will certainly be remembered in Wellington as the year that BHB proved you don’t win matches on past reputation, personalities or anything other than a down-to-earth 90 minute involvement from eleven well drilled players”. As a member of all Bert’s teams in the 70s, I can confirm that is exactly what Bert expected and got every week.
Rest in peace Bert: a pioneer, a legend, a friend to us all.