When fifteen year old Bruce Tschirpig left the family farm at Moorook, South Australia, and lined up with SANFL club Sturt’s colts side in 1965 it was to be the beginning of a career spanning over forty years and encompassing four States.
Returning to help with the family business after just half a season at Sturt, Tschirpig later moved to the Victorian town of Wentworth, near Mildura, and played in the Sunraysia League. Married with a child, the eighteen year old rover soon made his presence felt in the strong competition, and in 1969 became the youngest player ever to win the McLeod Medal as fairest and best in the League.
As a result, an invitation to Punt Road was issued by Richmond’s Alan Schwab.
“Trying to get a kick on Billy Barrott and Francis Bourke in a practice game was not all that easy,” Bruce recalled. “I went back to Wentworth.”
Richmond were quickly back in town at the completion of the 1970 season after Tshirpig repeated the performance, becoming only the third player to win two McLeod Medals. “Pack your bags,” said Schwab.
An indiscretion in the second semi final with Wentworth resulted in a month’s suspension, which was reduced to two weeks later, so after missing the opening two games of the 1971 season with Richmond, Bruce lined up on the half back line for Richmond reserves and was among the side’s best. Once again starring a week later on a wing, he was in the league side for the next match, against the Bulldogs.
An injury to Bill Brown saw Tschirpig given his opportunity as a rover, and he didn’t disappoint, earning six Brownlow Medal votes in seven games. A cartilage injury against Geelong proved to be a disaster for the onballer, consigning him to the sidelines for two months. Tschirpig returned later in the year, but was hampered by injury once again, and was part of the Tigers reserves win on grand final day in front of 119,000 spectators.
Placed on the market by Richmond, no doubt because of his injuries, Tschirpig fielded several approaches from other AFL clubs, with Essendon the most persistent, but an offer from former St Kilda champion Darrel Baldock resulted in a move to Latrobe in Tasmania.
The rover continued to excel in the Apple Isle, helping his new club to two flags in succession followed by two years as runners up. He was winner of a fairest and best for Latrobe, plus a Lefroy Medal for Tasmania’s best player in the 1975 Interstate Carnival.
It was in that period that he took up professional running, and entered the Burnie Gift. In a controversial decision, he was placed first, then was relegated to second after a change of mind by the judges.
After being on the brink of joining former Richmond manager Ray Lord at Coorparoo in Queensland, a chance meeting with Ian Stewart led to Tschirpig doing pre season work with South Melbourne in 1976. “I was training at Moorabbin under an assumed name with Kevin Murray when Richmond found out, and wouldn’t clear me,” Bruce said. “So it was back to Punt Road.”
After playing one league and several reserves games with the Tigers, sandgropers Michael Jez and Trevor Sprigg persuaded Tschirpig to move West, where he played thirty games for East Fremantle from mid 1976 to 1978.
In 1979, after doing the pre season work, Bruce was told by new coach Brad Smith that he didn’t fit into his plans. Tschirpig proceeded to underline his ability by signing with the Dennis Cometti-coached Kelmscott and winning the Bowden Medal as best and fairest in the South Suburban League, as well as his club’s trophy, despite missing two games.
In 1980 Perth coach Alan Joyce offered the rover a contract with the Demons, and he made thirty appearances for the club before retiring from league football in 1981 at the age of thirty two. Returning to Kelmscott, Tschirpig brought his total games at the South Suburban club to ninety five before hanging up the boots in 1986.
The leather of the footwear had no opportunity to gather cobwebs, however.
A new career in Super Rules was beckoning for Bruce Tschirpig, and he captain coached Fremantle in the Masters competition from 1987 to 1989. Tschirpig took to the modified game like a duck to water, and in his first season was selected in the All Australian team following the Brisbane Carnival. It was the first of his seven Interstate Carnivals over a decade of involvement with Super Rules which encompassed a further hundred and fifty four games.
In 1991 Bruce was named All Australian captain.
When he finally called it quits at fifty he had played five hundred and seventy one games over both football careers.
It was probably inevitable that the man whose football was played at a hectic pace across the length and breadth of the country should become a new car salesman.
One of Fremantle’s most respected businesses, home to many East Fremantle stars over the years, is where you will find Bruce Tschirpig these days. Commencing in 1976, he is Fleet Manager for New Car Sales at Shacks Holden, and is regarded as one of the top men in his field nation- wide. Coming up to his thirty sixth year at Shacks, Bruce has sold over 6800 vehicles.
Tshirpig has played with and against many fine players, and regards Royce Hart, Ian Stewart, Francis Bourke, Peter Hudson, and Alex Jesaulenko as best he’s seen, while giving Carlton’s Ian Collins the mantle of toughest opponent. “I got three Brownlow votes one day against the Blues but Ian didn’t let me get away unscathed,” Tschirpig said. “He cleaned me up in the end.”
A favourite with East Fremantle and Perth fans, Bruce Tschirpig proved his ability by consistently winning fairest and best trophies over many years, and his induction into the inaugural AFL Masters WA Hall Of Fame this year is recognition of his achievements and service over a decade in that sport.
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