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An early Blues champion, with 4 flags to boot...

Rod McGregor


Career : 1905-12 and 1914-20
Debut : Round 2, 1905 vs Collingwood, aged 22 years, 206 days
Carlton Player No. 181
Games : 236
Goals : 26
Last Game : Round 1, 1920 v St Kilda, aged 37 years, 194 days
Guernsey Nos. 8 (1911), 11 (1912 - 1920), 19 (1914), and 29 (1914)
Height : 178 cm (5 ft. 10 in.)
Weight : 75.5 kg (11 stone, 12 lbs.)
DOB : 19 October, 1882
Premiership Player 1906, 1908, 1914 and 1915
Captain 1918
Carlton Hall of Fame (1987)
Team of the Century

One of the brightest stars of his era, Rod McGregor was a four-time Premiership player for the Navy Blues in a 236-game career that stood as a club record for more than half a century, until it was eventually broken by John Nicholls. A brilliant, elusive centreman, McGregor was one the first Blues to be equally skilful with both feet. Pace, superb ball-handling and pin-point passing to team-mates were the keys to his game.

Born in Katamatite in northern Victoria on the 19th of October 1882, McGregor was training as a school teacher and “having a run” with Essendon Town in the VFA in 1904 when he was encouraged to try out at Carlton. Beforehand, he had also played for Daylesford and Brougham Street Methodists.

Blues’ coach Jack Worrall liked what he saw in the 178 cm, 76 kg speed machine, and didn’t hesitate to select McGregor in Carlton’s senior side for the first time in Round 2, 1905 against Collingwood at Victoria Park. The Blues were gathering momentum under Worrall, looking to go one step further after being beaten by Fitzroy in the 1904 VFL Grand Final.

On that sunny Saturday afternoon at Victoria Park, the Blues were beaten by five goals, but McGregor was all poise and purpose in an eye-catching debut on a half –forward flank. Although he preferred playing in the centre, former North Melbourne star Bob Boyle was entrenched there and McGregor was forced to wait for his opportunity. The Blues had recruited well and showed promise all year, only to be toppled again by Fitzroy in the Preliminary Final.

By mid-season of 1906, McGregor had claimed the pivot at Carlton from Boyle and held it for the rest of his long, successful and occasionally controversial career. Wearing a variety of guernsey numbers, he formed a dominant centreline for the Blues with George Bruce and Ted Kennedy throughout seasons 1906, 1907, and 1908 – winning 51 of 59 games, and three glorious, successive Premierships.

By then nicknamed “Wee” (as in small – because of his slight build) McGregor cruelly missed the '07 flag victory due to a broken nose suffered in the last few minutes of Carlton’s semi-final win over St Kilda. The following year, he played three games for Victoria in the inaugural 1908 Football Carnival - a gala affair that included all other Australian States and New Zealand. McGregor played against New Zealand, South Australia and Western Australia, and hot favourites Victoria won the carnival.

The Blues almost claimed their fourth Premiership in a row in 1909, going down by just three points to South Melbourne in a fierce contest in which McGregor was widely acclaimed as Best on Ground. A fifth Grand Final appearance in a row came in 1910, this time against Collingwood. Once again, McGregor was a star early with two goals, before a knee injury ended his day and Collingwood won by 14 points. In 1911 and 1912 a dominant Essendon proved too good for the Blues in the semi-finals. The last of these – the 1912 Preliminary Final – provided a sensation after the game.

Late in that match, Carlton skipper Jack Wells told McGregor to push forward, but "Wee" refused and the pair argued heatedly. Later, the matter was raised at committee level, and it was decided to make an example of one of the club’s favourite sons. McGregor was suspended for twelve months, sparking a furore within, and outside the club. To his immense credit, McGregor refused to inflame the issue, and while he did train for some time at North Melbourne, his heart was always with the Blues and he was back again, aged 30, in 1914.

With an amazing nine first-year players in the side, Carlton beat South Melbourne by six points in the 1914 Grand Final, despite four less scoring shots. In his customary place in the middle, McGregor controlled the match for the Blues, but the euphoria of Carlton’s fourth flag was overshadowed by the advent of the Great War in Europe.

Resisting calls to suspend the competition for the duration of the war, the VFL maintained that football kept morale high, while maintaining the fitness of the nation’s young men. Like all clubs, Carlton’s list was depleted by many of its finest volunteering for active service. Still, the Blues were the form side of the competition in 1915, destroying Collingwood by five goals in another wonderful Grand Final victory – Carlton’s fifth flag in just 20 years. Once again the veteran McGregor took control in the centre, marshalling a young side and providing numerous opportunities with his accurate disposal.

Throughout the remainder of the war years, Carlton was a regular finalist in a depleted league, and the evergreen McGregor soldiered on. Vice-captain in 1916 and '17, he was at last given the honour of captaining the club in 1918 - at the age of 35. Very much a team player, his great value to the side was in his ability to create opportunities for others. A good example of this was his career tally of just 26 goals – because he always gave the ball to a team-mate in a better position.

McGregor’s last game came in Round 1, 1920 when Carlton defeated St Kilda, and Rod was 37 years and 194 days old. A knee gave way during the first quarter, and that injury ended his career. “The Football Record” on May 8, 1920, on pages 11 and 15 told of the circumstances:

'McGregor resumed business at the old address – centre – against St Kilda, but he will be away from football for some weeks. It was an unlucky May Day for him. He and Cazaly collided and both went to grass. Mac’s knee was twisted and shot out of joint. He could not stand for a while, but when he got up the joint seemed to slip back into its place. The accident happened in the first quarter, and from that stage on Carlton practically had to play with 17 men, for, although McGregor went on the field, he could not do anything.'

"Wee" McGregor spent fifteen seasons at Princes Park, and Carlton played finals football in all of them except one - when he was under suspension during the 1913 season. His four Premierships with the Old Dark Navy Blues gained him life membership, and he later served as Vice-President of the club from 1921 to 1927. In his middle years he became a radio sports broadcaster, specialising in football and cricket. Aged 79, he passed away on the 2nd August, 1962, aged 79.

By any criteria, ‘Wee’ Rod McGregor was a champion, appropriately recognised as one of the inaugural inductees into the Carlton Hall of Fame in 1987. In May 2000, he was named as one of four emergencies in Carlton’s Team of the Century.

Milestones

50 Games: Round 16, 1907 vs Essendon
100 Games: Round 11, 1910 vs Geelong
150 Games: Round 8, 1914 vs Essendon
200 Games: Round 5, 1917 vs Richmond

Footnotes

In 1911, McGregor married Alice May Bickford, whose two brothers, Edric and Albert Bickford both played for Carlton. Edric was the father of George Bickford, who was Melbourne's best player in the 1948 Grand Final victory over Essendon. George's son Stephen later played 15 games for Melbourne in the 1980's.

Rod had a brother who played for Brighton in the VFA, the Brighton Southern Cross, July 01 1911 (p6);
' "Wee" McGregor who is the brother of the Carlton player stands nearly 6ft. in height and turns the scales at 14 stone. He entered into the play with determination, and under skilful coaching, should develop into one of the mainstays of the team.'

The Essendon Gazette of September 21, 1916 stated;
"Rod McGregor, the Carlton centre, has rather a unique record. During the 11 years he has played for Carlton, he has played in 11 semi finals, 9 finals, and 4 grand finals. Before going to Carlton he played with the Association Essendon."

"Rod McGregor, who scored 102 for North Melbourne against Northcote, is, in addition to being a very able cricketer, one of the finest footballers in the southen capital. He plays the Winter game with Carlton, and was unavailable for selection in the last carnival team on account of his duties as a school teacher." The Globe and Sunday Times War Pictorial (Sydney) 19 February 1917


"Pilot" of The Leader 20 July 1918 was asked; "Who was the best centreman who ever played, it can be said that no critic can live before his time. On what I have seen in 20 years of football, McGregor, Carlton, is about the best."

HOW TO BECOME A CHAMPION FOOTBALLER

The Weekly Times' "Lynx" June 30 1917 interviews Rod about what it takes to be a top-line footballer, his training methods etc.
To read click here> http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121119940

ROD McGREGOR'S CAREER

The Weekly Times' "Rover" August 31 1918 reported on Rod's sporting career.
To read click here> http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129479345

A CARLTON CHAMPION

The Sporting Globe September 1941 (p5) devotes almost a page to Rod's career.
To read click here> http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181712624

Image

West Gippsland Gazette May 14 1929


The Daily News (Perth) of August 14, 1947 (p10) writing about Rod McGregor and "Sport in Schools", said;
"McGregor, who claims to have been the first man to broadcast a football match in Victoria (1926) and a Test match (1928-29) series ...."
To read the article, click here> http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79613207

Articles: Carlton's Magnificent Seven

Blueseum: Summary of McGregor's playing career | Career Breakdown | McGregor's Blueseum Image Gallery