Don McKenzie (footballer)

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For other persons named Don McKenzie, see Donald McKenzie (disambiguation).
Don McKenzie
Personal information
Date of birth (1939-03-23) 23 March 1939 (age 75)
Place of birth Mickelham, Victoria
Original team Essendon Baptists-St John's
Debut 4 June, 1960, Essendon
v. Melbourne, at Windy Hill
Height/Weight 188 cm (6' 2"), 85 kg
Playing career1
Years Club Games (Goals)
1960-1974 Essendon 267 (23)
1 Playing statistics correct to end of 1974 season.
Career highlights

Don McKenzie (born 23 March 1939) is a former Australian rules footballer who played 266 senior games for the Essendon Bombers from 1960 to 1974. He played his first match in Round 7 of the 1960 season, against Melbourne, at Essendon's home ground, Windy Hill.


An exceptionally talented "knock" ruckman (who would regularly punch the ball from the centre bounce to centre-half forward), with an extraordinarily high vertical leap.

Employed as an inspector of interstate transport vehicles and their drivers by the Victorian Country Roads Board, McKenzie was strong, tough, and aggressive, and he had the stamina to play hard all day.

He always played far beyond his height and weight, and he regularly outplayed much taller opponents (such as Carlton's Peter "Percy" Jones, St Kilda's Carl Ditterich, and Collingwood's Len Thompson), as well as much heavier opponents (such as Carlton's John Nicholls).


He made his debut for Essendon in 1960, having only played Australian Rules Football for three years. He went on to play 266 games for Essendon; he played 94 consecutive senior games from 1965 to 1969.

He won premierships in 1962 1962 VFL season#Grand Final Teams and 1965 1965 VFL season#Grand Final Teams as well as winning the club's best and fairest in 1966.

He was selected in the Victorian team to play Tasmania in 1967.

He was captain of the Essendon losing Grand Final team in 1968.[1]

He was also selected for the first international tour of "The Galahs" in 1968.

Dispute over player payments[edit]

McKenzie captained the club in the 1969 season. He was removed from his captaincy in 1970 when he and four of his team mates, Geoff Gosper, Darryl Gerlach, Geoff Pryor, and Barry Davis, demanded better pay and conditions. Once the issue was resolved (by the time of the second round in 1970), McKenzie was appointed Vice Captain for 1970 (with Barry Davis appointed Captain). According to Mapleston,

[there was a] sensational beginning to the [1970] season when a group of five senior players — Don McKenzie (the previous year's captain), Geoff Pryor, Darryl Gerlach, Barry Davis (the year before's vice-captain) and Geoff Gosper — requested an increase in match payments much higher than allowed by the League.

The players wanted three dollars for each training session instead of one dollar, and a basic forty dollars per match until fifty games with increments coming each twenty-five games after that.[2]

When their request was rejected they all decided to stand out of football. Essendon had initiated a move in the League for an increase in players' payments and advised the players that consideration of their request would be given when the League finally made a decision. The [Essendon] committee was unanimously in favour of the increase but under League regulations were not allowed to give it.

This was conveyed to the players who then advised the committee that unless their demands were met, the players of the 1969 list would in sympathy refuse to play in a practice match against South Adelaide.

After further discussions, the players decided to play, but, in a later letter, the five senior players submitted their retirement as players. They were not considered for the first match against Carlton.

During a sensational five hours at Essendon on Thursday the 2nd of April, the club threatened to split wide open. The five rebels turned up for training but were not invited to the players' dinner. As well, the club named a new acting captain, John Williams and acting vice-captain, Charlie Payne.

Chairman of selectors, Harry Hunter, when asked the reaction of the selectors said tersely:- "You may need an Obituary Column. It could be the end of them."

But then four days later, the row was settled and the five were all chosen in the second game against Footscray. Davis became captain on the vote of the players and committee with McKenzie as his deputy.

The League, by this time, had agreed on an increased minimum payment to be allowed to be paid to players of thirty-five dollars[3] and the players were advised of the increased payments. In addition, the [Essendon] committee decided to set up a testimonial fund, in addition to the regular [VFL player's] provident fund, by which [Essendon] players would have an amount put aside for them to be collected on retirement only.

Alf Brown in The Herald was very critical of the treatment of the players. He wrote: "Essendon have assets of $115,000 but claim they want this money to buy a new ground. They have been talking about shifting ever since I have been writing football[4] ... The players have been treated like little school boys."

Club president Allan Hird, while admitting that Essendon could have afforded more, was understandably not prepared to break the League rules. He was particularly annoyed with one player who he refused to name, who he described as a "paragon of virtue to the general public but the biggest disappointment."[5]

Parallel dispute at Collingwood[edit]

Two other VFL players, Collingwood's ruckman Len Thompson (later, the 1972 Brownlow Medallist) and its captain Des Tuddenham (later, the captain-coach of Essendon 1972-1975), also went on "strike" at that time, and did not train with Collingwood for three weeks. However "both players eventually agreed to the compromise involved in the League's offer, but Tuddenham was stripped of the captaincy".[6]


McKenzie played his last game for Essendon firsts in 1974 (aged 35) and following his retirement he was given a testimonial dinner. However, he returned to Essendon in 1978, aged 39, and played an entire season with the Essendon Reserves. In his first Reserves game he has 16 possessions.[7] He was made a life member of the Essendon Football Club in 1969. He served on the Club Committee from 1981 to 1996, and also as vice-president of the club. After his retirement from football, Don founded Donric Group, a bus transport and tour group with friend Richard Baird.


  1. ^ 1968 VFL season#Grand Final Teams
  2. ^ To get some idea of the issue involved, and how, in relation to the level of 2007 player payments the amounts involved were far from outrageous . . . If this sentence was to be rewritten with the comparative "buying power" of the Australian dollar in 2007, it would read: "The players wanted $15 for each training session instead of $5, and a basic $200 per match until fifty games with increments coming each twenty-five games after that".
  3. ^ That is, approximately $175 in 2007 "buying power".
  4. ^ Alf Brown started writing in 1945.
  5. ^ Mapleston (1996), p.214
  6. ^ Ross (1996), p.253
  7. ^ Maplestone (1996), p.223.


  • Maplestone, M., Flying Higher: History of the Essendon Football Club 1872-1996, Essendon Football Club, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-9591740-2-8
  • Ross, J. (ed), 100 Years of Australian Football 1897-1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported, Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN 0-670-86814-0

External links[edit]