Feature: The Scot who became a pioneer of football in New Zealand

posted in: All Whites, Heritage, News

By Craig Stephen

At the age of 30, Bert Ormond said his goodbyes at Scottish club Dumbarton and left for New Zealand.

His career wasn’t going north in his home country, but he made the most of this second chance, quickly becoming an influencer, a star player, and a solid professional.

Ormond’s legacy in New Zealand is immeasurable. He was called up to the national side not long after arriving in 1961, and would become its captain.

After retiring, he was a national league-winning coach and a regular and popular writer for a Sunday newspaper for 17 years. If anyone wanted to learn about football, they would have been advised to seek the counsel of Bert.

“As a player, I would put Bert in the same category as Ken Armstrong,” former New Zealand international Paul Rennell told me from his Auckland home.

“Ken was a damn good footballer and Bertie was the same — he was quick and he could beat anyone very easily. He was a left-winger and I was left-half or inside left, so we’d be tearing at the opposition together. It was great fun to play with him.

Paul Rennell, playing for Auckland, tries to tackle Manchester United’s George Best during their game at Carlaw Park in 1967.

“Bert was a lovely fella, he was very easy to talk to and he listened to you. I always had a high opinion of him because he always used to help you when you were playing, and he was good to be around.”

Ormond was the head of a family that is something of a dynasty in New Zealand football.

Eldest son Ian, who died in 2021, was a star turn for the national team in the 1970s and was often considered to be one of the most gifted talents the country has produced.

Vale: Sport mourns for Ian Ormond, ‘one of the best players of his generation’ >>>>

Younger son Duncan was also a New Zealand international, while Duncan’s daughter Vicki was a women’s international.

Robert Donaldson Ormond was the middle brother of the Ormond clan from Falkirk.

Eldest brother Willie is a legend in Scottish football circles: a cog in Hibs’ Famous Five forward line-up of the 1950s, a member of the 13-weak national squad for the 1954 World Cup, and the Scotland manager for the 1974 World Cup in which Scotland were unbeaten but still failed to progress to the second round.

Born in 1931, Bert was four years younger than Willie, and two-and-a-half years older than Gibby, himself a professional with Airdrie, Dundee United, Cowdenbeath and Alloa Athletic. If Gibby’s two caps for the Scottish League can be counted that’s three brothers with international experience across two nations.

Bert Ormond began his career with Falkirk in 1954 when The Bairns were a Division One (ie top flight) side. He would turn out more than 50 times for the club and in a league game in February 1958 against Celtic made what was described as a miracle block in the final minute to prevent a certain goal. He would then have spells at Airdrieonians — at the same time as Gibby — and Dumbarton.

It was while playing for The Sons that he answered the call of the Pacific after seeing an ad in a newspaper to play for Eastern Union in Gisborne.

He arrived in the North Island at a time when the game needed characters and grafters, people who could not only raise the standard of the game but its profile.

New Zealand football at the time was based on local leagues, and there were many of them.

The Chatham Cup was the only national club competition at the time. The national team was generally inactive and hadn’t contested the World Cup qualifiers, and wouldn’t do so until 1969.

Ormond was an inside forward, and his pace and stamina were exactly what the national team needed, and he was picked to play in a dream game against the ‘auld enemy’, England, in the guise of the FA XI in June 1961.

Tom Finney.

That team was captained by Tom Finney and included a young Bobby Moore.

Finney was 39, and had been retired for a year; Moore was 20 years his younger. But it was the legend who was the team’s star, dazzling foes and team-mates alike with his ageless playing style.

Their fellow tourists were international players like John Fantham and Alan A’Court, and amateurs from the likes of Walthamstow Avenue and Corinthian Casuals.

Ormond and co endured an 8-0 thrashing and he was also part of two other sides that were outclassed by the visitors, hardly the welcome to the national outfit he would have wanted. He scored in the 4-2 victory over New Caledonia in the winter of 1962.

Paul Rennell played alongside Ormond in the Auckland provincial side when Ormond was the captain and Tom McNab his able deputy.

The midfielder was with Eastern Suburbs at the time, one of the country’s best teams of the 1960s, but saw enough of the diminutive Scot to regard him among the best imports of the time, especially ex-Chelsea captain Ken Armstrong.

“Bertie would talk to you on the field all the time, and he was such a good footballer that you couldn’t help but listen to him,” says Rennell. “He was very much like Ken. You could talk to either one, they’d listen and you would have a sensible conversation with them.

“Armstrong was without a doubt the best coach I ever had. He played for Chelsea and won the title with them so he had all that top-class experience that all of us [New Zealanders] never had.”

Ormond was the captain of the New Zealand team that embarked on a world tour in 1964 that was so disastrous it set the game back years.

Special feature: The world tour that turned up the heat on and off the pitch >>>>

The 18-man squad and an excess of officials set off without adequate preparation with some players only meeting their team-mates for the first time at Auckland Airport.

They struggled in the heat of Hong Kong, sweltered in the humidity of Thailand and Iran, and couldn’t cope with the professionalism (or even semi-professionalism) of their foes, losing 14 of their 15 games.

The defeats included a 7-1 drubbing by the Thai youth team and an 8-0 thrashing by Nottingham Forest, which included stars such as Frank Wignall, Ian Storey-Moore and Bobby McKinlay.

At 33, the Scot was the elder statesman of the squad, but he was not the only one over 30 or in their late 20s, and the heat, humidity and quick turnaround in games took its toll.

Not though, it appears, on Ormond who played in every single game, the only player to do so.

Bert Ormond, middle front row, was captain of the 1964 New Zealand team that undertook a world tour.

Ormond didn’t play for the national team after that, but then New Zealand didn’t play another game for three years. The spirit had gone out of the game, to such an extent that when Blackpool and Sheffield United came to tour in 1965, they only played each other — 11 times in all.

One player who got his international start on that widely ambitious world tour was Welshman Alan Sefton who joined Eastern Union just as Ormond was about to head over to Auckland.

“Bertie had already carved a substantial reputation for himself in Poverty Bay,” says Sefton. “He was well-liked and respected, so it was only a matter of time before he was head-hunted.

“At the time, Eastern Union was very good at getting great British professionals to come over; there was also Ken Armstrong, Billy Walsh, who was an Irish international and ex-Manchester City, Terry McCavana [Northern Ireland international] and all the Gillies brothers.

“Eastern had quite a team from the 1950s on, and they helped shape the future of the game in New Zealand because many of those guys would go on to places like Auckland, and they would have a tremendous influence on the clubs there.”

Sefton got to know Ormond well on that overly ambitious jaunt around the globe.

“He was a great little character, there was a lot of substance to him. He was quite mischievous, always up for a joke and was a pleasure to tour with. When we had our confrontation with Otto Hilton (the assistant tour manager) who was very authoritarian and treated us like children, he played the captain’s role.

“It was quite a big step up for us to talk to Jim Kershaw, the manager, about Hilton’s ways. Bertie was the main talker and the problem was sorted, to a certain degree.

“Bertie was your typical inside forward in those days, and he was very skilful on the ball, and he had an eye for the long pass, and the short one too.”

After about two years in Gisborne, Ormond moved to Auckland to play with Blockhouse Bay. Despite his accent Paul Rennell found Bertie easy to understand “because he was a sales rep and had to make sure he was understood by his clients”, but he found his two sons Ian and Duncan, who came out to New Zealand as children, harder to figure out. “I didn’t know what they were saying sometimes.”

“I had a lot of respect for Bert, both as a footballer and a gentleman. And as a coach, he won the first-ever National League in 1970, and he won the Chatham Cup that year, too, so he was a bloody good coach. He was very popular with his own players. Having his own two sons in the team helped as well,” says Rennell.

In the 1960s, it was common to see Scottish players throughout New Zealand, and Rennell’s Eastern Suburbs included the likes of Fred Dubber, Jimmy Campbell, and Dougie Law.

Fred Dubber … a Chatham Cup winner with Eastern Suburbs, who went on to coach the club in the 1970s.

Other players at New Zealand clubs included Tom McNab, once of Partick Thistle, Jock Aird, ex-Burnley, Jock Newall, and some who played at a lower level in Scotland or England but who nevertheless became integral to their respective clubs and provinces.

Some of these expats would play for ‘Scotland’ in the international series, a semi-official tournament played at the end of the season which also featured Dutch, English and Irish combinations, as well as a New Zealand team. Ormond captained that team too, and led them to some big wins over the ‘auld enemy’.

To the man who penned Ormond’s obituary, his fellow Scot was “the best inside forward I ever took a pass from”. Iain Gillies, who was on Celtic’s books in the 1960s without troubling the first team, was at Eastern Union at the same time, alongside his three brothers.

He recalls one game in particular where his colleague’s “livewire performances and outstanding skill” were in abundance. The side was behind in a home tie in the Chatham Cup. “Eastern Union were losing, and Bert and I were expected to score the goals that would get us back in the game,” he wrote.

“Bert was small, but he was tough. He turned to me as we were about to go out for the second half, and said: ‘right Iain, it’s up tae us, let’s get some skin.’. We did, and we won.”

As coach of Blockhouse Bay, Ormond prepared his teams rigorously. The game was still very much an amateur one at that time, with all players having day jobs and squeezing in evening training. In 1969, the nation’s blazers managed to thrash out a plan for a new National League, which kicked off the following April.

The National League launched in 1970. Here’s an early match programme, featuring the local derby between Blockhouse Bay and Eastern Suburbs:


Ormond assembled a squad in the way that he wanted, and had his side ready for the new season. They won the inaugural league on goal average just ahead of Eastern Suburbs and beat Wellington side Western Suburbs in the Chatham Cup final replay 3-2, with Ian Ormond scoring their second.

“Blockhouse Bay set the standard,” wrote the club’s goalkeeper for that double-winning season, John Morris.

“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 beforehand, 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.”

Ormond was the club’s coach for seven years, and while they didn’t win the title again during that time, they finished second in 1972 and third on two other occasions. They were close to winning the Chatham Cup again, in 1975, only to lose to Christchurch United in extra time in the final.

The National League was a major boost for football when it was initiated with a big increase in media and fan interest. The travel, wages and other costs ultimately proved its undoing but football for several years had a league for all centres when rugby hadn’t.

“Much of the success of football in the 1970s was down to Bert Ormond,” believes Morris.

“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 New Zealand sporting calendar.”

In 2016, Ormond was presented with the Friends of Football Medal of Excellence Award in recognition of his significant contribution to football in New Zealand. He died in November 2017 at the age of 86.

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Bert Ormond (centre) with John Morris (left) and his son, Ian, when he received his Medal of Excellene from Friends of Football. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Craig Stephen

Craig Stephen writes about football for a number of publications, and for RNZ. He is the author of Bombs and Boots, a book that tells how New Zealand football came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.

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