Aussie Rules Footballer & Racehorse owner
Albert ‘The Great’ Thurgood who was born at Errol Street, North Melbourne on 11 January 1874 the son of John Thurgood, a builder and Amelia née Buckland was no mere footballer but a champion of his era with few rivals to match his feats.
After his education at Brighton Grammar School, he joined Essendon (1892-94, 1899-1902, 1906) in the Victorian Football Association (VFA) during its run of four successive premierships (1891-94). At six feet tall (182cm) and twelve stone (76.2kg), Thurgood possessed qualities that made him a versatile key position player: extraordinarily fast, a superb mark, as nimble and agile as a hare, and his greatest asset a brilliant kick; usually playing at centre-half forward, he could regularly punt-kick over 80 yards (73.1m) and drop-kick over 90 yards (82.3m) while one place-kick at the East Melbourne ground on 22 June 1899 was measured at over 107 yards (98.48m) to rival that of Dave McNamara (q.v.) as the longest kick of all time.
During an era of low scoring games, he became the first player to kick more than 50 goals (1892) and in one game against the hapless Richmond in 1893 scored twelve of the team’s fourteen goals, a remarkable feat. Between 1895 and 1898, he left Essendon to seek work in Western Australia and played for Fremantle. On his return in 1898 he continued where he left off with Essendon in the newly formed Victorian Football League (VFL later AFL) heading the goal kicking list in 1900 (25) and 1902 (33); while contemporaries noted that Thurgood was slower, heavier and less keen, he produced his finest performance in the 1901 grand final against arch-rival Collingwood when he kicked three of the side’s six goals the same year that he was voted Champion of the Colony (1893, 1894 & 1901) for the third time. A dispute with the club the following year saw Thurgood retire but returned to play eight ineffective games in 1906 when the team was short and he retired permanently after injuring his ankle. He then became active in horse racing notably with Amazonia who won the Bagot Handicap (1921) and came third in the Melbourne Cup (1921) and Chal winner of the Cantala Stakes (1919).
While heading to Emerald with his wife Ida née Thomas (d 1950) and two daughters, Thurgood was killed in a car accident at the corner of Toorak and Kooyong Roads on 8 May 1927 when his new eight cylinder Cadillac limousine overturned after crashing into another vehicle; the driver of the other car, Cecil Kenneth Shields, a 23-year-old engineering student at Melbourne University was charged with manslaughter but later acquitted.
The Argus writing on his death recalled one match against Melbourne at the MCG when Essendon was three or four goals behind with as many minutes to go;
“Sent to the ruck, he literally carried all before him. He ran half the length of the ground whenever it suited him, marked everywhere and anywhere, kicked goals from all positions, and won the match. There are many living at the present time who saw that performance…seldom indeed that such pace, strength, activity and skill are blended in one individual”.
The writer went on lavish praise on the man with the lordly appearance of a military general;
“There have been many great players, but none more deserving the title of champion than Albert Thurgood. If the defence required strengthening then it became Thurgood’s job. If a desperate effort in the ruck was necessary, Thurgood’s weight and power were thrown into the breach. In fact, there was no position on the field in which he did no excel. As a footballer he was a superman”.
He resided at Greyholm – 18 Dandenong Road, Caulfield.
ADB Volume 12 1891-1939 (Smy-Z).
Holmesby, G & Main, J., “The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers” (1998).
The Argus 9 September 1901, 9, 11 & 14 May 1927, 3, 28 & 29 June 1927.
The Age 9 September 1901, 22 September 1902, 9, 10 & 11 May 1927.
The Herald 9 May 1927.
(Image reproduced with courtesy of Essendon Football Club)