Brown and gold blood coursed through the veins of ‘Demon’ Ottrey.
On the field he was tenacious, feisty and an opportunist ; after-dark he was full of fun, humorous and a cultivator of team spirit – an ideal person for a coach to have in his corner.
Keith was too young to play in the Rovers’ O & K premiership side of 1948 and by the time the Hawks had gathered sufficient manpower to win their first Ovens and Murray flag in 1958 Father Time was knocking on his door.
In between, he carved out a terrific career. He was a seriously good player.
Neville Hogan, who was an impressionable youth when ‘Demon’ was in his prime, loved the way he attacked the game. He recalls a small man with spunk, ever-dangerous around goals, a beautiful, long drop-kick and someone who was prepared to stand up to opponents of all sizes.
He had just turned 19 when he spent his first full season with the Rovers, in 1949. Actually, he had fleetingly trained there three years earlier, had a stint in the navy, then returned towards the end of 1948, pledging a life-long allegiance to the club.
The Rovers’ admission to the Ovens and Murray League was a god-send to players like ‘Demon’, Les Clarke, Ålan Bell and Ken Batey, who were all youngsters on the way up.
They never forgot some of the drubbings they received in the early years and it is easy to understand why they enjoyed the retribution which came in later years, as the Hawks clawed their way to the top.
Whatever happened on the field, their social life was outstanding and post-match and post-pub activities would often conclude with a barbecue in the Warbys’, where players, wives and girl-friends would congregate until the early hours of the morning.
Often, when suitably lubricated, he would produce a heartfelt and throaty rendition of his favourite song, that Burl Ives classic : “The Foggy, Foggy Dew……”.
Keith claimed the honour of booting the Rovers’ first O & M goal. He kicked another 179 in his 134 senior games and the sight of the 5’6″ dynamo diving into packs and being flung around like a rag-doll was inspirational to his team-mates.
Jack Dillon, who shared the roving duties with him in the early years, dubbed him a ‘Big Little Man”.
Jack said: “He wasn’t much taller than me, but he was a ‘protector’. One of the Magpies’ enforcers whacked me across the bridge of the nose one day. ‘Demon’ was on the spot and re-assured me. “Don’t worry, ‘Dillow’, his chickens’ll come home to roost.”
“My eyes were still watery a couple,of minutes later, when I looked across and the bloke was doubled up in pain, as ‘Demon’ was leaving the scene. ‘ Leave the little fellahs alone, you dirty prick’, he muttered.
“When we won our first game in 1951, after a winless first season, Ottrey and I celebrated for two days”, Dillon recalled.
Until a couple of years ago, history recorded that Keith had been runner-up to ‘Curly’ Gleeson in the 1951 Best and Fairest. But an old newspaper report indicates that he had, in fact, polled the same number of votes and had been defeated on a count-back.
Asked if he could recall any conjecture about the voting, he said : “Nah. I think they just came out of the room and announced that ‘Curly’ had won it and I was second. It was okay by me.”
He was part of an all-star Ovens and Murray line-up which won the Country Championship at Bendigo in 1956.
I asked him last year if he could remember also wearing the Black and Gold guernsey at Echuca, in a match against the Bendigo League, in 1953. He said : “No, I only represented the O & M once.”
Upon being shown the team photo, he started to go through the players, giving me a profile of each one, enjoying the memories. “Gee, there were some good players in that side. I don’t know how I got in there, but it still doesn’t ring a bell with me.”
He could become a little more expansive, with the aid of a few beers, if you prompted him about his brief flirtation with League football, when he had a run with Melbourne and played handily in a couple of practice games.
But he returned home. It wasn’t for him, he said.
Keith’s only premiership with the Hawks came when and his mate Alan Bell steered the Reserves to the 1958 flag, the week after Bob Rose had led the seniors to victory over Wodonga.
By now he was a hard-hitting back-pocket player, giving guidance to the young blokes. He played all the next season in the two’s, missed a year, then made a come-back in 1961.
His good form in the Reserves and a couple of injuries saw him promoted for a handful of senior games during the season, in what proved a fitting farewell to the game.
And that was the end of his playing career.
He found his way onto the committee in 1963. His rapport with the players proved a great asset and he knew what made them tick.
He and a couple of other officials must have decided, at one stage that, with the players in a bit of a rut, they needed a bonding session. The usual Sunday morning ‘barrel’ was in full swing when the players joined in after training had wound up. Surprisingly a short while later, it was announced that ‘time was up’.
‘Demon’ and Ernie Payne gave the players a wink to ‘hang around’. The crowd dispersed and the boys settled down to enjoy a great afternoon of conviviality on behalf of the club.
Whether it was the reason for a subsequent uplift in form is debatable, but that’s certainly what the players attributed it to !
Keith was secretary in 1964 and ’65, Vice-President in 1967 and was a selector for a good seven years or so.
He ascended to the Presidency in 1968 and, with his personality and ability to relate to people, he was a popular choice. But a heart-attack towards the end of the following year forced him to abdicate the role.
‘Demon’ remained closely aligned to the club over the years and watched with interest as popular clubman Mark progressed through the ranks and then his three grandsons, Ben and Jack Spence and Brad Ottrey continued the family tradition.
In 2003, Keith Edward Ottrey, one of the most beloved figures in the history of the Wangaratta Rovers Football Club, was inducted into the prestigious Hall of Fame, a worthy tribute to his unyielding devotion to the Hawks.
‘The Demon’ passed away last week-end.